“Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain.”
State 2: West Virginia -June 8th 2017
It was a restless night sleep at the Elkins, WV Walmart. Walmart typical runs their street sweeper machines in their parking lot between 12:00 pm and 2:00 am, and we have become accustomed to sleeping through it. Either the parking lot at the Elkin's Walmart was extremely dirty, or we just came across an OCD street sweeper operator, because they ran that damn machine at high speed until 6:00 AM! In addition, we felt as if we had track side seats to the Daytona 500, because cars sped by our van at high speed all night long. It is also possible we have it all wrong, and the street sweeper was playing a game of chicken with the cars that sped by. Either way, we both had sporadic night sleep and from there the day only got worse.
After filling up Rosie’s gas tank, and picking up a few essentials, we left the Walmart in Elkins around 11:00 am, and headed North towards Harper's Ferry, WV. We soon learned the universe had other plans for us today. We headed up another steep yet stunning West Virginia Mountain I have yet to get tired of viewing, when our van Rosie began making a moderate humming noise. At first we thought nothing of it, and decided we would have it looked at when we reached the next decent sized town. Rural West Virginia is speckled with one horse towns, and there are very few places to pull over on the steep winding roads in the hearts of the Appalachians. A few miles later, the moderate humming noise became a loud screeching noise, and we smelled something electrical burning! We knew we had to pull over immediately, and just around the corner was the quaint town of Harman, WV population 143! Immediately I had flashbacks of a movie I once saw called, Doc Hollywood starring Michael J. Fox. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should. Not only was it a great movie, but you will gain a better appreciation for my story.
Harman central business district consisted of a gas station, a restaurant, and a quaint repair shop called Midway Motor Co, Inc. As our crippled Rosie limped into a parking space outside the repair shop, we were approached by Linda the shop’s owner, who greeted us with a hearty “Hello, how can I help y'all?” in a West Virginia twang. We have come to love the West Virginia accent. It is like none other we have ever heard, and it becomes more prominent the farther south in the state you travel. Linda was a middle aged brunette with short hair and was of average build. She wore stiff rolled up blue jeans, leather boots and a flannel button down shirt. When speaking, she looked you square in the eye and spoke directly to you with honesty and sincerity. She exuded confidence, but also had a kind and sympathetic energy about her.
After looking at our van, she stated the alternator belt and bushings need to be replaced, but she did not have the parts to fix it. She recommended we have the Dodge dealership back in Elkins take a look it. Elkins was 24 miles back over the 3400 ft mountain we had just driven over, and we doubted Rosie could make it back there. Lori picked up the phone to call AAA, but there was no signal. To which Linda responded “You’re in the mountains now, and we don’t have no cell phones or internet”. She picked up a radio and called Dave who is in the next town over who owned a “wrecker” and could tow our van back to Elkins. Dave’s son answered Linda’s radio call and said his dad was down near the river and would be back soon.
While we waited for the wrecker to arrive, we sat with Linda in her office and made small talk. She stated she lived in WV her entire life, and had never seen the economy so bad. She spoke about the good people she knew whom have lived off the West Virginia land for generations that were forced to move because there was no work! Coal mining is a big part of the West Virginia economy, and it was on the decline. We heard the same thing 2 days prior during our tour of the WV Capitol. The state legislators were in a special session to trying to cut 500 million from the budget to avoid a government shutdown. The look of despair we saw in eyes of the House of Legislatures, was now the same look of despair we saw in the eyes of a small business owner, in the tiny town of Harman, WV. Everyone in West Virginia was suffering. In spite of this, everyone we came across in the mountain state was very kind to these “out of towners” from Connecticut. That is one of the many things that makes West Virginia a very special place!
Around this time, Dave radioed Linda back, and said he would be there to tow Rosie back to Elkins at 1:30. It was now 12:00 pm and Linda announced the entire town eats lunch until 1:00 pm, and directed us toward the pink restaurant next door, which felt more like a diner. We entered the restaurant, and were invited to sit wherever we wished by our hostess. Our hostess who was also our waitress, and as it turns out, our chef as well, was a young, thin, soft spoken lady, who appeared as if she was fresh out of high school. Her brunette hair was tied tightly in a ponytail and tucked neatly inside of a hair net. She wore a blue sundress, a white apron and a warm friendly smile.
It was lunch time and the diner was empty except for 3 jovial elderly women whom we decided to sit next to. One of the elderly women, Shelby, made periodic small talk with us during our entire meal. By the time our meal was finished we knew her entire life story, all the towns gossip, and the stories of all the “out of towners” who had passed through Harman in the past year. We told her of our travels and how we were looking for a new home state. We added how nice people are in WV compared to CT. Shelby and her 2 elderly female friends were shocked when they learned we didn’t know all of our neighbors in CT and their friends and family. There was no doubt in my mind we would be part of Shelby’s story with other diner patrons long after we left the tiny town of Harman, WV. Never before have I had conversation with strangers sitting at another table when dining out. However, for Shelby doing so was a perfectly normal thing to do. I was surprised to have enjoyed our conversations and found them to be genuine and welcoming.
We decided to order breakfast for lunch. Since there were no vegan options on the lunch menu, we decided to eat vegetarian, because there was nowhere else to eat in town. I ordered pancakes with home fries, and Lori ordered eggs with toast and home fries. We finished the meal off with the most delicious piece of blackberry cobbler topped with the creamiest scoop of vanilla Ice cream I have ever tasted in my entire life. The food was delicious, the service was great, the prices were fair, and since there was no internet, they only took cash.
About half an hour after lunch, Dave’s “wrecker” arrived, and loaded poor Rosie on a flatbed to be transported back to the Dodge Dealership in Elkins. Linda had also told us she had contacted the service manager at the Dodge dealership, who said he would have Rosie fixed first thing in the morning. Once Rosie was loaded on the truck, we sandwiched ourselves in the cab of the tow truck with Dave, and began the 30-minute trip over the 3200 ft mountains that crippled Rosie. He filled us in on his life, his kids, and his business. What a great guy! Rosie looked absolutely ridiculous on the back of that “wrecker”. Not only did she barely fit on the truck, but she was actually bigger than the tow truck. It actually looked like Rosie should have been towing the tow truck. Rosie is a big girl, and I was nervous about transporting her on this small truck over the steep and windy mountain roads of West Virginia. David put our worries at ease with his evident expertise. This clearly was not his first rodeo.
Thirty minutes later we arrived at the Dodge dealership, and learned Rosie needed a new alternator costing $1006.00 for parts and labor. Also, they did not have one in stock, and had to have the part delivered from Clarksburg, WV 58 miles away. They said they could have the new alternator installed by 11:00am tomorrow morning. The only hotel we could find in close proximity to the dealership was a Hilton Hampton Inn at $129.00 a night. I have never stayed in a Hilton hotel in my entire life. I have always felt the extra accommodations they offer do not justify the increased price. I also prefer to support small local business whenever possible. However, since our van is our home, and our van was in the shop, and there was nowhere else close by to stay, Hilton Hampton Inn here we come!
Some consider us homeless because we choose not to rent an apartment, or own a home. However, there has never been one single moment when we felt homeless, because absolutely everything we need is always in our van, and we are very comfortable in there. However, I sit here typing this blog post from a Hilton Hotel I would never ever stay at if it wasn’t for being geographically convenient to the repair shop. I sit here and type this blog post as my van and home lays in pieces on a mechanic’s bench at a Dodge dealership; a place I would never bring my van unless there were absolutely no other options. As we sit here typing this blog post reflecting on the events of the day, we feel the deep despair of homelessness for the very first time in our lives.
We do not believe in coincidence. We believe there is an order to the universe, and situations occur for a reason. If Rosie never broke down, we would have drove straight through the town of Harman without a second thought. Although Lori grew up in a small town in Upstate NY, small town living is very unfamiliar to me, and I enjoyed the experience. We really got to know a few of the locals the in our short time in town. I learned about their values, struggles, fears, sincerity and kindness. The biggest lesson we learned from the day’s events was to look for opportunities on the journey to slow down and be open to whatever experience enters our path. Traveling 48 states in one year while avoiding highways is an ambitious goal to say the least. At the end of the year, we will find a new state to call home, which we will enjoy for many years to come. On the contrary, our cross country trip is finite, and when our year of travel is over, so is this amazing journey. We both agreed prior to leaving that our experiences over the next year on the road are even more important than reaching our unknown destination. We hope we never lose sight of this fact.