Monday, September 12, 2011

ST ALBANS & WEST VIRGINIA. SOME PSYCHO-GEOGRAPHICAL FIELD NOTES (II)

St Albans, WV

We pull over into the first Motel we see in St Albans. It was dark and the scattered streetlights had flickered on with a low sodium glow. In the office I was met by a friendly but slightly suspicious desk clerk of faded beauty and the first question she asks was if we were local or from out of town. This question stuck me as odd and when I asked her about it she picked her words carefully telling me she always liked to keep the locals and visitors separated and it was with this information she would use to choose our room. She was obviously hiding something and though she was genuinely glad to see us, her smile was nervous. Outside I began to understand why the clerk asked us this question as I started to see a few of these locals shuffling around in the darkness just beyond the streetlights dim illumination, half shrouded in the shadow, with wild unkempt beards, wearing dirty disheveled clothes and flashing their dark but fearful eyes in our direction “like Zombies” my brother whispered as we got back into the car.

Passenger

Our rooms were located on the far side of the motel, detached from the main block and were comfortable clean and ordinary and we were happy to find them this way. After unpacking my brother and I left in search of food leaving my wife and mother in the room to settle in. Instead of backtracking on the Charleston road we decided to dive on further into the darkness of St Albans on route 60 and on a five mile drive found nothing open, but a long scattered line of neon-lit ‘Gentleman’s Clubs’, Adult Video stores and a biker bar which advertised it’s latest act on the roadside verge outside, simply as ‘Toothless Ruth’. All these dubious establishments had beat up cars and trucks parked untidily outside, all with their front wheels turned tightly inwards, as though they had swung in off the main road and parked in a hurry. There was not a soul to be seen anywhere. After driving some distance deeper into the dense forest darkness we rounded a corner and slowed down to take a closer look at what was called the ‘Playboy Motel’ which was a clap trap two story place, lit with buzzing neon, with a balcony which ran it’s length between the floors where bulging MILF’s in lingerie leaned over languidly blowing smoke into the insect infected night. On the ground floor the main entrance was guarded by a heavy man in a dark suit sitting in a chair, who surveyed the road like a machine and clocked us as we passed with hooded eyebrows. The place looked busy and I was instantly put in mind of ‘Ben’s Place’ from the David Lynch movie classic Blue Velvet. My brother and I looked at one another smiling in disbelief. “Where in god’s name are we?” he said.

St Albans, WV

After another stretch of darkness we eventually saw that unmistakable sign for McDonalds ahead of us, high up on a long pole above the tree line, ‘The Golden Arches’ as I have heard them referred to here with hideous affection. As we turned left into the shadowy strip mall where the ‘restaurant’ was located, I noticed that to our right, sitting on the river bank was some kind of military monument in the form a great cruse missile on a large stone plinth. It stood against the clear star filled night sky like some great erect penis, with its swollen bulbous war-head. This was a grotesquely fitting sight to behold after the drive we had just taken and the sights we had seen along the way.

Waitress (II)

Pulling into McDonald's, scantly dressed toothless teens chased each other around parked cars hissing at each other and cackling and inside we were met by a friendly waitress with a soft southern accent, who, recognizing our own accents, asked us lots of questions about where we were from and where it was we were heading, welcoming us to St Albans West Virginia with an almost poker face, which afterwards broke into a smile of long yellow teeth. We told her about our journey from the motel in search of food, this time with our own questions, and she began to tell us of the altogether more sinister town of Nitro which was located close by in what she referred to as ‘Chemical Valley’ and that Nitro was the true local den of iniquity which made St Albans look like nothing at all in comparison. Nitro was named after the nitro-glycerin powder and other explosives which it was the leading producer of during both world wars. Nitro, I later discovered, was also, strangely, the location of several sightings of the infamous and mysterious ‘Mothman’, a West Virginian legend who was said to be a tall and metallic looking supernatural or alien creature with shining red eyes and a giant 10 foot wingspan. The origin of this creature still remains obscure for me, but over the years has become the subject and inspiration for at least two Hollywood movies and the city is said to boast an impressive monument to it, based on its few eye witness accounts.

10 comments:

  1. Simon this reads better than a Fodor's guide. Staying in sketchy motels is all part of "the road experience". I'm staying tuned for the next instalment.

    Jan

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  2. Cool. And no interesting spellings ;-) You went to Nitro didn't you? You had to. . .
    great stuff.
    Jon

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  3. Thank you guys for taking the time to read (and spell check this :-). Glad you enjoyed it too as it was a pleasure to write. Better than a Fodors guide, I like that very much, thanks Jan.. I intend to do a lot more of this now, time permitting..

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  4. Great reading Simon and knock-out photographs!!!

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  5. Simon, Loved reading your account. Great photos as usual, exceptional narrative.

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  6. First of all I live in St. Albans and 75% of this article is a flatout lie. We have nothing called Playboy motel and we never have had one. Second the place with the strip joints is Jefferson not St. Albans. Get your places straight. The Mothman was never spotted anywhere near here it was spotted in Point Pleasant which is 65 to 75 miles away. You should have taken the lady from Mc D's home with you because if she told you that she is obviously a liar just like you. Didn't you check any facts before you spoutted your lies. I think you may have stopped in Logan County or someplace in KY because I have never saw toothless teens running around the teens here are very materialistic and the have a Paris Hilton mind set on a middle class budget. I may see a toothless person here soon if you ever show back up. You are such a drama queen liar.

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  7. Thanks for the comment, but I do not think you know your town very well..

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