I knew this trip had been a mistake almost as soon as I crossed the state line. Problem was, I had to get to Grandma's funeral, and it just wasn't worth the cost to fly from Pennsylvania to southern Ohio. And that meant a trip through West Virginia.
About three miles in, I passed over a stretch of road stained a dull red. My first thought was an upended truck full of paint. Then I realized it was blood, and spent the next half-hour trying to convince myself that it hadn't been human. Just a deer that wandered into the path of an oncoming car. Sure.
I'd left late, figuring it would be easier to make the trip at night, when there wouldn't be much traffic. Now I found myself cursing that decision as I carefully negotiated an increasingly narrow road winding crazily between mountains where maybe one light shone every couple of miles. Several times someone came barreling up behind me, passing me at what had to be eighty miles an hour, and each time I shrank against my seat and prayed to survive the night.
Eventually I decided to take a break, which meant trying to find something open at 11:30 at night. Of course, there are easier tasks than to find something open in the middle of West Virginia at almost midnight... say, grooming a wolverine with a toothache and a taste for human blood. That sounded good right about now. Thirty miles on, though, I found a truck stop, and since no wolverines seemed to be in evidence, stopping and getting some food seemed an acceptable second choice.
I pulled in next to the top half of a pickup truck, connected by a delicate tracery of rust to its chassis and shored up by a wealth of bumper stickers. Proud To Be An AMERICAN!, declared a flag on the left side of the bumper. Love It Or Leave It, added another flag to the right. On the tailgate was another sticker, with a picture of Barack Obama next to the words If We'd Known It Would Turn Out Like This, We'd Have Picked Our Own Cotton! Charming. Maybe I'd get my food to go. I was driving a Rustmobile too, but the two stickers I'd thrown on there -- one for the Human Rights Campaign, one for my favorite band -- really didn't seem to mesh with the local politics.
A tired-looking waitress looked up as I entered the truck stop diner. "Can I help you?"
"Uh, yeah. Can I just get, like, a sandwich or something?"
She nodded toward a booth by the door. "There's a menu there, if y'wanna take a look."
I slid into the booth, opened the menu, and pondered whether I wanted the Hootin' Holler Burger or the pulled pork sandwich advertised alongside a drawing of a psychotic-looking pig in overalls. Then the door opened.
"Damn, Edda! Who parked that thing out front?"
"Which one?" the waitress replied.
"Th'one with th'stickers!" I shrank back into the booth. A huge mountain man strode past me towards the counter, and I swore I heard banjos. He settled onto the stool in front of the waitress and slammed his keys onto the counter. "Now, what th'hell d'I pay m'taxes for, Edda? Can't we just get ridda these people already?"
I decided to practice becoming invisible.
The waitress shook her head as she poured out a cup of coffee for the man. "People gotta right to their opinion, Luke. Can't help that."
"Hell I can't. I gotta shotgun, don't I?" Then, just as I was about to run screaming from the establishment, he swung around to glare at me. "That ain't your ve-hickle, right, boy?" he growled threateningly.
"Uh, er. Which... one? Sir?" I added helpfully.
"That damned truck with all the bumper stickers!" He pointed a grimy forefinger out towards the parking lot. "If I get my hands on whoever that racist asshole is, I swear I'll--"
"You won't do nothin, Luke," the tired waitress broke in.
"It ain't right," he grumbled.
By this point, I was starting to understand that mister Deliverance guy's anger wasn't actually directed at me. My heart decided to maybe stay inside my chest, after all. "N-no, sir. I'm driving the blue Chevy." I held up one hand. "Honest."
The mountain man sighed, turning back to sip his coffee. "Goddamn people," he muttered unhappily. "What the hell makes a man think like that, anyway?"
"I sure don't know, Luke," the waitress replied.
I decided to get back on the road and worry about taking a break later.
West Virginia is a state of incredible natural beauty, with an insanely depressed economy and drivers who really do go ninety miles an hour down unlit, winding, mountainous roads, in the rain. It's not all toothless hicks, but I have family there, and lived there myself briefly, and I'm sorry, some of it really is Deliverance country.
Someone of my acquaintance really did see that Obama/"picked our own cotton" bumper sticker on a car in Clay County, Indiana. Heartland American values, folks!