it is raining like a son of a bitch outside right now. my living room window faces west, and that seems to be where the wind’s coming from, and the rain is coming with it. and it is howling.

I walked down the 7-Eleven to stock up on essentials — potato chips, beer, newspapers. it’s only a block or two from here, but I got pretty soaked all the same. I hope that this will be the extent of my hurricane adventure, walking to 7-Eleven. but considering the forecast, I kind of expect to lose power. which would suck. and to think, I drove back into this horseshit on purpose.

I took, ahem, a driving tour of West Virginia this weekend. I had few plans. except I knew I was aiming for a family friend’s home south of Charleston.

this is a hike from DC. there are no straight shots from here to Charleston, and there are many hills. if you get on the interstate and hustle, you can get out there in about six hours. more like seven, though, if you drive like I do. but I’m not exactly on a time frame here for the next week or so, or at least not a terribly strict one. which, I’ll acknowledge, is all just a long way of saying “fuck the interstate.”

yes, fuck it. we’re laying down those kinds of statements here.

the plan was to stay a day or two with the family friend and then wander south, find a state park, and wander around some more. but the weather didn’t cooperate, and now here I am, back in my apartment. I’ve got the shades all the way up, and I’ve killed a pot of coffee. I’m on kung fu movie number two, and I’m listening to 69 Love Songs by the Magnetic Fields. there are a lot of songs on this album, you’re right, but me and the rest of the east coast has the time today. and after all, the power might be out soon. hell, it probably will be. which, I’ll acknowledge, is a convoluted way of saying “I don’t need an excuse, goddamn it.”

the Magnetic Fields play the sun goes down and the world goes dancing

this album came out over a decade ago, but it is news to me. I keep on telling you, I am not hep. I have no idea what the kids like, though I’m pretty sure it was never this album, 69 Love Songs. the lyrics are too ambiguous, but spoken too clearly. this shit is weird. and I like it. even the bad songs are catchy.

I found this in a friend’s CD collection that he passed along to me. two big books of them, a walk through the partial soundtrack to his life. they ride around with me in the truck, and so me and the truck and these books drove into West Virginia.

I read an essay about what makes red states red and blue states blue, which — while researched and cited — still suffers from a touch of stuffiness that I imagine would be derided if passed around in a red state. still, one passage stood out:

The North was largely settled by English farmers, the inland South by Scots-Irish herders. Anthropologists have long noted that societies that herd livestock in rugged terrain tend to develop a “culture of honor.” Since their wealth has feet and can be stolen in an eye blink, they are forced to deter rustlers by cultivating a hair-trigger for violent retaliation against any trespass or insult that probes their resolve. Farmers can afford to be less belligerent because it is harder to steal their land out from under them, particularly in territories within the reach of law enforcement.

well okay. if we’re willing to accept this, then nowhere is this more true than in West Virginia. it’s a rural, mountainous place. national statistics name it among the poorest states. fattest too, I think. everyone lives clinging to the side of a hill. and the economy is almost entirely dependent on the coal industry — and the going presumption that Democrats are all super green is probably reason enough to make this state red. coal is what keeps the lights on, and it’s all the state’s got, and it is where the money is, and it’s where livelihoods lie. the growing pressure on the coal industry creates a feeling of siege.

this is the scene as I see it. and it helps me buy into the culture-of-honor suggestion. West Virginia is a little clannish, as a lot of its communities are isolated and remote. insular. and all of this, admittedly, is just longspeak for “everybody knows everybody!”

this idea, I think, dovetails nicely with one of many anecdotes our family friend told me during my visit. our family friend is an attorney, and the cases he describes are a web of names and relations and conflicts of interest, where everyone works with someone’s cousin who went to school with someone’s neighbor who’s fucking someone else on the sly who happens to be a co-defendant in the Matter before the court.

our friend the attorney described magistrate court, which handles misdemeanor charges and civil cases less than $5,000. judges to the magistrate court aren’t appointed but elected, to four year terms. each county has at least a couple of them. but! what sets apart magistrate courts from other in the West Virginia judicial system is that a JD isn’t required to reach its bench. oh no. you just need a high school diploma.

I call this America

to further color the workings of this illustrious system, our family friend the attorney rattled off a few moments where he found himself gently explaining to the judge some of the tenets of the American legal system. like where the burden of proof lies, for instance. “I’ve known [the judge] my whole life. all he ever graduated from was high school.”

the lights just flickered.

so a few caveats: I haven’t any idea if this is common in many state’s legal codes. and I recognize that these are relatively minor cases. but at the same time, you don’t need a law degree to be elected to the magistrate court bench in West Virginia.

so, caveats acknowledged, I must say 1) that’s awesome, and 2) what the fuck? that’s a notable bit of acquiesence, to shrug off a required understanding of the law and hand judicial matters of a certain scale to those who are effectively local elders. and that’s a fair designation, because who else is gonna win a goddamn race for a seat on a countywide court bench in a rural, sparsely populated state? connected locals, that’s who.

West Virginia’s government knows this. and its citizens know this, or have a deep seated, tacit understanding of this. this is the law, this is a rule on the books. and that, I think speaks volumes concerning the culture of the state: to West Virginians, local problems will be handled locally. am I reading into this entirely too much? probably. but West Virginia is an interesting place.

the power is going to die any minute now, I know it. but while it’s still here: I was planning on staying longer, driving out farther, touching Kentucky or far southwest Virginia. there are towns out there called War and Man, and I wanted to visit both. go on hikes. drive slow.

but then Hurricane Sandy showed up and proved that I should pay more attention to weather forecasts, and I decided to beat it home, lest I be stuck on the road until the weather dies down on Wednesday. so that’s what I did in West Virginia, mostly. I drove blue routes and took unnecessary detours and listened to albums I’ve never tried before, like the one I droned on about above. wrote postcards out on the hood and dashboard in the middle of nowhere.

this sounds exciting, I’m sure. I suppose everybody’s got a weird way of relaxing, and I’ve got mine. I’m donig this again next week, just before a wedding for a friend in Colorado. I’ve got a car rented in Denver and two days free, so I’m going to drive out into the sticks and look around and listen to the radio. and you will get a postcard.

the Magnetic Fields play epitaph for my heart

I am on kung fu movie number six now. I’ve been taking my time in writing this. it’s been a rainy day, to say the least.

the roads in West Virginia hug the mountains, and when you’re driving through a hollow it feels like the hills are going to fall in on top of you. but when the road gets leads out of a valley, and you can see the path in front of you carved into the land like the trail of a knife drawn through cake frosting, you will forget all of the gas you’ve burned, your back pain, how badly you’ve got to pee. it will be worth it. and, I’ll acknowledge, all of this is just a long way of saying “go out and see these United States, everybody.”


2 comments so far

  1. Caitlin Cakouros on

    Caitlin Cakouros
    Flat 22B, 22nd Floor
    Hang Tat Mansion
    161-165 Lockhart Rd.
    Hong Kong

    Get on those postcards…

  2. Anonymous on

    On your next trip, you should go to Helvetia, WV. -Spencer

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