Somewhere out along a West Virginia highway, a passerby desperately waved and honked their horn, yelling out the window that the trailer dragged behind had lost a tire. A quick glance confirmed a leaning tag-along and appreciative waves were sent — relieved nods of “You shoulda known,” returned. Living on the 94 corridor makes it all the more striking to find regions of the country so scarce of civilization — stretches that make up north seem closely interconnected — so after brief inspection that found the round rubber wrecked, but intact, it was decided to inch along the shoulder onward toward the nearest exit.
Quite fortunately, at the top of the road encircled hill resided a fueling station. Rather less fortunately — nothing but a scattered few houses otherwise lay in sight. Thus on a subtle incline to the side of the row of pumps, decades of rust were addressed on bolts not ever turned, with a wrench that did not quite fit, a bracket securing the spare whose cracking gave doubt to whether the effort was even worth it.
During the colorful serenading cursing nuts, a rather large and sweaty fellow approached from the pumps and noted he had observed significant frustration. Clear personality defects led to all-too-typical attempts at dismissing the obvious, exhorting lame effort in sounding sincere that all was well: He said something along the lines of, “Well… Ya seem ta be gettin’ at it…” Which was utterly hilarious and we both had a little chuckle. He turned away, walking back toward his truck, and with relief, the wrench was tossed to the ground, the admission of futility.
In the service center, a sincerely sympathetic woman explained they didn’t carry wheels, and suggested checking with the grain and feed, “It’s about twenty-somethin’ over.” She kept apologizing as if it were her fault — we assured her, no big deal, but at that point, the trailer was about to become acquainted with the term abandonment.
Back out on the asphalt, the big guy was back and hanging around the trailer. He opened his hand on approach to show a number of sockets, suggesting one might be a better fit. Resigned, they were given a shot, but, of course, none did match. The big guy was shaking his head and gesticulating, beside himself he couldn’t help — he too was assured it was really no big deal and he’d done more than necessary.
Then he offered us a wheel. He said along the lines of, “We got about the same size — it’s sure to be a decent fit.” A quick glance over to his trailer, filled with landscaping equipment, noted two wheels — one a side. Such was mentioned, but he said he’d leave it there and come back for it later. That led to quite a bit of back and forth — he really wanted to give us his tire! Eventually he relented and we spent some time discussing the best alternative.
As we spoke, a little pickup arrived and the big guy waved a hand. From the truck slid out a man — late fifties, maybe sixties,. He sidled over and, after greetings, was apprised laconically of the situation. They had a bit of a conversation as both walked around the trailer.
I swore I’d never forget their names, but they’re long since lost — somewhere, possibly posted on a long discontinued blog…
Apparently the owner, he asked me for the size — I crouched down and read it off. He nodded knowingly and rubbed his chin in thought, then said (along the lines of…), “I had a carny pass through a few days back: They needed gas, but low on cash — they traded me a tire.”
Such a larf: Like that was possible… As if a passing carny could possibly have traded in a tire to fit our trailer at some middle-of-nowhere gas station in West Virginia.
Of course he had the tools to address the bolts and pulled the spare no problem. He looked it over and said it wasn’t bad as it appeared — and offered to put it on for some nominal charge. It still looked pretty rough… He shrugged and put the carny tire on the rim, put the wheel onto the trailer for a paltry twenty five..
Quite a while has passed since wanderings led that way, but did again last week, stopping off in Charleston, just beyond the capitol dome for early morning calories and caffeine. At that locale there were multiple Taco Bells and a McDonalds, all located about the medical center. Jared quipped that you could grab yourself some breakfast then head straight across the street for coronary bypass surgery: Funny fellow. After spinning around in circles for a bit in search of better options, we settled for hash browns and coffee.
Seven days later, fourteen hours of driving found us at the Hampton Inn — in Charleston, once again. Going south, there was not a problem — returning north were multiple delays: Construction, random and unnecessary slowdowns, accidents and a two hour crawl toward the first tunnel on 77 — no real reason why, just everybody stopped.
The lady that checked us in made small talk asking where we’d been, where we’re from and so on… A bit complaint about the traffic elicited rolled eyes and query on the traffic toward the tunnels. She explained the slowdown was a daily occurrence, and when asked why, stated the answer was not appropriate with small ears present. The next morning, she also checked us out, cheerfully relaying we were the last ones she’d checked in the night before, and the first ones to be checked out on that day! Both processes were the most pleasant hotel experience we’ve ever had.
And the great attitude and cheer extended to all the staff as well: The chefs and servers that mingled during morning breakfast — also, the best complimentary hotel breakfast we’ve had — to the several staff members wandering in and out as we re-packed the van. Everybody was pleasant and conversational.
Backing up: The night before, we’d arrived weary and hungry, having skipped past lunch to try and make up time. We queried on a place that had piqued our interest, and while not dissuaded, were told the parking near there was rather fraught; advised good options otherwise were near. We pressed on, regardless, the joint just a few blocks away — tantalizing combinations, irresistible.
Parking was indeed a challenge, but a lot just across the street advertised five-bucks. In Detroit, such a lot will usually be packed so full that leaving later on becomes an aggravating challenge. So the attendant was asked if easy out: He good-naturedly replied we’d be out in no time, whether 15 minutes on or 15 hours! We paid the price and pulled through to a spot with a direct evacuation route to the exit.
Walking from the lot a conversation overheard took place, regarding race. Things seem different, many places where we go: Here, we all get along with cattle prods in what feels like some barely held detente. Deep South, it feels much different – more conversational and incorporate, but not always in a positive way. In West Virginia, it seemed like everybody separated on the street, separate islands passing by without acknowledgement. As we walked, we heard the owner of a Caddy note the grouping of black youths in a park adjacent, observed a bill slid into the attendant’s hand, and request to keep a special eye upon his ride, in light of the perceived nere-do-wells present.
The attendant was a jocular, lay-it-out like it is type of guy, and after securing the cash, noted, “That’s why I always take the extra insurance — never know what’s gonna happen. Granny might feel like makin’ donuts in the lot, some kid might feel like goin’ for a ride.” He pretty much cracked himself up; the Caddy owner didn’t look too pleased.
On return, after dinner, the attendant conversed at length regarding numerous things. He espoused the fantastic Pies and Pints joint just down the street that had recently been bought out for expansion as a national chain: $10 Mil? Owner said, “Alright…” Much to the jealousy, we were told, of the other local business-folks. He went on at length about the many pizzas, as well as their wings — unparalleled, he claimed — and said he couldn’t decide between that and the place we ate as the best thereabout, the other, the Black Sheep Burritos and Brews.
It was the sort of place we tend to like, casual and a bit eclectic with decent beer, but that would disparagingly be referred to as a hipster sort of place back here. The sort of place that Nolan Findley would observe was void of African Americans and filled with young-adults, no doubt cutting teeth with Compuware or Quicken, or possibly still wading through their years of college. No idea what demographics look like down in Charleston, but Mr. Findley could not make those sort of observations at the Black Sheep, at least for that single day – beyond amassed young adults.
We went for burritos, but came away with tacos. The sides were disappointing and unremarkable, especially the sweet potato-chipotle – not quite cooked as tender as preferred and not chipotle enough either: That should have been a no-brainer, as the two are well documented favorites that match spectacularly well. The tacos, on the other hand, were outstanding.
Grilled asparagus with sriracha honey glaze, pickled onions and fried wonton strips. Tempura fried avocado with chipotle orange mayo, greens and pico de gallo. Jen joined her own grilled asparagus with a tempura fried shrimp with hoisin-peanut sauce, carrot-daikon relish and cilantro. Will broke down a cheese and steak with a big side of seasoned rice — best side of the lot we tried — and Jared, who likes to try new things, had a cheese quesadilla… Wow.
Michigan brews are uneclipsed, but the IPA was decent if not very complex, definitely good enough for a second glass. The mango-coconut margaritas were fantastic and put up no resistance going down.