This weekend, while in NYC with Jason and Dabney, Dabney and I were comparing our rural upbrings (I'm from West Virginia, she's from Arkansas) when the subject of strip mining came up. I related to her and to Jason my belief that the country simply would not tolerate the wholesale destruction occurring in Appalachia were it being subjected upon New England.

Can you imagine the uproar if the headlines read "Vermont forests dynamited for coal baron profit" or "Annual N.E. foliage pilgrimage threatened by mining destruction"? The press would go, in a word, batshit.

So why doesn't anyone take notice of the 700,000 acres of Appalachian mountains that have been literally rendered to dust by this barbaric practice? The answer, I believe, is because it's happening not to upper-middle class New Englanders, but to dumb ol' hillbillies.

The term "hillbilly" has been used for centuries to debase and dehumanize rural mountain people, the the great benefit of those who would make a handsome profit from the region's natural resources. Dismissive and offensive, the term connotes a subhuman class of people who are simply undeserving of sympathy or human dignity. Images of Snuffy Smith and the Beverly Hillbillies or my [irony]favorite movie[/irony], Deliverance, reinforce an outdated and unfair stereotype that outsiders are unfortunately all too eager to believe.

I can't tell you the countless "West Virginia jokes" I've endured since moving from my home state. While no one would have the audacity to walk up to an African-American and start spouting "Uncle Remus" jokes, it seems to be perfectly acceptable in our society to ask a West Virginian if he married his sister or has all of his natural teeth. It's especially prevalent in Appalachian border states like Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas, but I heard them all too frequently during my time in California as well.

But the real problem with the general acceptance of the hillbilly stereotype is not the obviously offensiveness of the term, but that it gives people a perceived moral "out" in terms of being able to look away while a small, but inordinately powerful, industry systematically obliterates the lives and quality of life of an entire class of people.

After all, it's just the dumb ol' hillbillies' ground water being fouled by toxic sludge.

It's just the dumb ol' hillbillies' towns being flooded by deforestation and valley fills.

It's just the dumb ol' hillbillies' livelihoods being taken away.

It's just the hillbillies. Who cares?


The Big Apple: Bitten.

Well, the trip to NYC went fabu. I boarded the BoltBus at the curb outside the Metro Center Metro station, took up my Uker-like front row seat, and instantly connected to the Internet to begin my trip. The bus was brand new and very shiny. The bathroom had a non-smelly chemtoilet, so you could pee en route. The bus left seven minutes late, but took exactly four hours (as planned) to get to NYC, where we disembarked around the corner from Penn Station. For $20 roundtrip, you can't beat it!

I then hoofed it about eight blocks to Chelsea where Jason and his lovely girlfriend Dabney (see photo below) were waiting at Jason's subleased apartment. It was a typical NYC studio apartment, which meant that it was...cozy. But it was also very convenient! Chelsea is a neighborhood I hadn't visited on my prior trips to the city, and it was really eclectic and cute, kind of what you like to think the Village used to be like.

We first went down to the New Museum ("Hell Yes!"), which is an architectural novelty, even in NY, as it is shaped like six boxes stacked one atop the others and clad in expanded aluminum. We got in free, since Dabney is a curator for a well-known New England women's college, which is nice. The artwork was suitably weird and cool.

After the museum, we went out to eat at the Mercer Kitchen (Yum! Pork chops...goooood.).

Later we headed down to the Lower East Side (my new favorite 'hood in NYC) and were deemed cool enough to be admitted by the leatherclad bouncer to The Back Room. In an "only in New York" moment, we approached the unmarked gate to the unmarked, hidden tunnel leading to the unmarked, hidden entrance to the unmarked, hidden bar and were stopped by a mean-looking bouncer who needed to scope out our coolness quotient before letting us inside. A guy next to us was judged unfit due to his use of flip-flops, but we made the cut. We're so cool.

After The Back Room, we went in search of live music, and found it at one of my NY haunts, The Living Room. This place is great because the crowd is over 30, the bands are always eclectic and good (we caught an improv band doing cover tunes with a Siberian throat singer...crazy!), and there is no cover charge to enter.

The next morning we groggily made it down to Washington Square Park and my my good friend Jane for breakfast down in Alphabet City. After some eggs, French toast, and plenty of coffee, Jane updated us on her new passion: kickball league (which started later that day).

The last leg of my whirlwind tour took the whole gang down to see a gallery that Dabney knew about where back in 1977 an artist named Walter De Maria filled an entire 3,600 square-foot flat with soil. Weird, yet strangely calming (see how calm we were afterwards in the photo below). That said, Jason and I also had an overwhelming urge to grab the fire hose and some seeds to perform some "performance art" of our own. :-)

I reluctantly trudged down to Chinatown, where my return leg BoltBus was patiently waiting to take me back to D.C. I was sad to be leaving my friends yet also very excited about seeing my Boo and Jenny (+S.T.B.®) again. It was only a day away but I really miss them!

The trip back to Washington was just as comfy as the ride up to NYC, but I (nor any other Mac users) could log on to the Internet due to a WEP 128 password problem (the router on the first leg of the trip was not pw protected). I hope that BoltBus either gets rid of the password altogether (why even have it on a moving bus?) or can figure out a Mac friendly solution before my next trip.

All in all, it was a fantastic day and a half trip. A big thanks to Jason and Dabney for putting me up and showing me the town and also to Jane for dragging herself all the way down Manhattan to come play with us! You all are awesome!