The first thing that comes to people’s minds when hearing “West Virginia” is likely one of the following: mountains, hillbillies, coal, poverty.
These latter two are best represented in the interview below.
The woman on video isn’t a coal miner nor the wife of one. But the coal industry’s demise, as she mentions, does play a part in her life of struggle.
She’s poor. Her community is poor.
Her son’s addicted. She says half the community is.
Carrie took me on a tour, a sort of bizarro-Beverly Hills tour replacing mansions under the sunshine with run-down trailers under drizzle. We were in Rand, West Virginia, just outside the capital Charleston.
After taking in the culture, the wisdom, the controversies, and the natural beauty (as seen in our previous entry), it was now time to leave the South for one last stop.
I had long been intrigued by this part of the country for its culture, unique challenges, and for being off of most people’s radar. It was, however, the focus of a recent documentary on ESPN. A couple of years before taking this Summer 2016 Southern excursion, I watched this program about NFL star Randy Moss. Only it wasn’t about his playing days for the Minnesota Vikings. It was about his upbringing in the economically-stunted community of Rand, West Virginia.
When looking at the map of this state weeks before I set off from Minneapolis, I decided to stay in the capital, Charleston. Here I could stay with Jim, a host on Couchsurfing.com, the travel community connecting travelers with free host lodging all around the world. I then researched where to explore in this area, and looking back at the map, I found my destination within about two seconds.
Just south of Charleston is Rand.
I drove into Charleston after dark the night of August 2. Too bad, because I could tell by the tunnels and hills and curves along the way that this state was gorgeous. I’d confirm this the following morning when waking up in my host’s hillside home.
I’d catch more stunning scenery that afternoon. In the morning, I set off for Rand.
Under grey, drizzling skies, I entered this community.
Right away, I pulled into into a dollar store parking lot to check my phone. I lifted my head seconds later to the noise of a woman yelling across the road. The 40-something redhead in jean shorts and white t-shirt yelled and pointed down the highway. She soon stopped, turned, and walked along the road in the opposite direction.
Thinking she may need some help, and wanting to know this community, I pulled up alongside her and asked if she needed any help.
She could use a ride.
As she made herself comfortable in my car, she said she needed to find her son–who had stolen her medication to sell for heroin. I introduced myself and my project. She was happy to open up about her life and the conditions in this part of the country:
It’s difficult to find a positive takeaway from the situation Carrie explained. One has in their lap the realization that some things in the world–in the US–are lousy, and there’s not a lot an individual can do about it. Beyond our control, I decided the best thing one can do is help in whatever they can–if even indirectly–and hope that the accumulated affect of everyone’s efforts can improve the conditions where conditions need improving.
After dropping Carrie off at her rundown motel, I spent some time photographing this community.
Next time, we take a look at another aspect of West Virginia: the mountain man aspect. Only these guys probably aren’t who you think they are. And if you’d like to share a story on The Periphery, please email me at Brandon@ThePeriphery.com. We’d love to hear all about your adventure.