Wednesday, January 24, 2007

East Kentucky

The Kittywink (my Toyota Camry's name - long story) and I went on a road trip for business. I was visiting some important clients in East Kentucky. After driving through snow, salt, coal mining areas and considerable road construction, Winkycat (her nick name) is now out in our NC driveway looking pretty gray. Some parts are salty (I'll have to give her a wash-up soon) and other parts are covered in a thin coating of Kentucky clay. You can hardly see Cwab (her pet stuffed crustacean) through her rear window.

On the way out we drove part of route 58 through the southern tier of counties in Virginia. 58 might be one of my favorite roads anywhere, and when it got closer to Kentucky it got even more interesting with coal mining and processing facilities.

It was a fascinating trip. We had to dodge coal trucks (though more often they roared past after dodging us - see one in photo). We got to drive home through West Virginia in the snow (I want to go back and photo all the railroad and bridge arrangements in Charleston). I noticed that East Kentucky seems frozen in the late 80's, with almost no new construction since. The economic boom of the 90's and the last few years even took hold in WV (Huntington and Charleston, at least) but not in East Kentucky. I felt out of place in my suit and bowtie - this is a land of hard working, outdoor, truck driving people. I liked everyone we met. Like most of the people "between the mountains" they are real and comfortable in their skins in a way that seems more rare on the coasts of America. G.K. Chesterton wrote about this decades ago, and Laura and I noticed it on our trip to Colorado and back in 1987. It's still true. The coal mining towns of East Kentucky (and West Virginia) remind me of the coal mining towns in Western Pennsylvania. Hillsides lined with rows of neat box shaped houses, not enough color in the winter, not enough trees, barely enough money to get by.

In the afternoon I drove from Whitesburg, KY to Ashland, KY. On that drive I stopped and ate some sandwiches while walking a dirt road (see photo). A road trip is not complete without a stroll down some narrow dirt track. I must have been an odd sight carefully maneuvering between the large puddles in my dress shoes and walking carefully to keep the clay off the cuffs of my charcoal suit. The bowtie was the crowning incongruity. The only other vehicle anywhere in site was a mud encrusted muscular pickup that was probably black beneath it all. I parked Kittywink near it for company while I took my walk.

On the way back from visiting the second client, the next day, Wink and I dilly dallied and got off the highways more - but that's another story.

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