Several weeks ago, I received Joe Parkin’s second book, Come & Gone: A True Story of Blue-Collar Bike Racing in America. What interested me the most was particularly coincidental, since it was about West Virginia, and well… y’know… I kinda live in West Virginia…
Joe Parkin mentions West Virginia at least five times in this book; roughly spanning the early to mid 90’s, and even now… his comments resonate with me, in terms of culture and locations.
With permission from Ted Costantino, VP/Editor at VeloPress, the publisher of this book, I’m going to quote some of these portions:
Knowing that the guys who had raced the Tour DuPont would all either be flying (in which case they’d be untouchable) or completely wrecked (in which they’d be dangerous to be around), I wasn’t looking at Pittsburg or West Virginia as anything but training. It was a good thing too because in Pittsburgh I rode about as well as a first-year junior.
West Virginia on the other hand, was different. After nearly being arrested by a local cop for “playing on my highway” while we were out on a training ride, we arrived in Morgantown, West Virginia, and survived the prologue.” (Parkin, p16-17)
This made me cackle like a hyena! Even in 2010, I could imagine some Cletus or Billy-Ray policeman stopping a pack of people training on some rural road!
Another portion of the book talked about the night before the prologue of the Kmart Tour of West Virginia, Parkin is looking for a place to grab a bite to eat:
I came across a little hippie place called Mountain People, where the menu promised I could get something both healthy and tasty. I parked my bike outside where I could still see it and wandered in. I placed my order and sat down to wait, excited at the prospect of my first interesting meal in a long time. One of the other customers whom I took to be a regular, had been speaking nonstop since I’d first walked into the place, but with only waiting for my food on my mind, I unfortunately started to hear what he was saying.
“So which one of our merry band, do you think, will represent us in this bike thing?” he asked in no particular direction.
After receiving answers in the form of shrugging shoulders and barely audible grunts, he directed his attention at me, the only Lycra-kitted patron anywhere near the Mountain People.
“Hey, You,” he started, “are you here for this bike tour thing?”
Secretly I wanted to pull a pistol out from some secret, all-concealing jersey pocket and shoot this guy in the face. Instead I channeled my dad.”Yes sir, I am. Beautiful country here”
He continued to wonder aloud which locals would be represented. he then shifted his attention toward one of the other customers.
“Hey Benny,” he barked, “you should join this thing. You ride your bike all of the time.”
The guy then turned back to me.
“Hey, where do you sign up for this tour?” he asked.
“Well,” I said carefully, “this is an invitation-only race… one that’s open to professionals and a few amateur national teams only.” I shrugged.
“So how many professional women are there?” he said.
“You know, I don’t really know. There aren’t any here, though.”
“Why not?” he asked, as if looking for a fight. “Are you scared they’re going to beat you? Would that embarrass you?”
“That’s awfully sexist, now isn’t it? he interrupted.
“Listen,” I answered, glaring and pointing, “This is not about that. This is bike racing… elite level bike racing. There is not a woman I know of who would be dumb enough to come and get her ass kicked here. It is a muscular, physical, and hormonal thing that has nothing at all to do with any sort of equal rights.”
“Hormones… like testosterone? Are you even tested for steroids?” he asked, confusing the subject. “No wonder you don’t allow women!”
“Yeah, we are. But fuck you,” I replied. “Fuckin’ hippies.” I turned my back on the guy and walked out. I’d been in West Virginia less than 24 hours, and I was already done with it.
The last portion really sets Parkin over the top, but retrospectively is hilarious. He is still trying to find something to eat, and gets ready to go to a coffee shop with his adjunct director Mark to go with him to this spot. I’m thinking it was the Blue Moose Cafe. he encounters a certain character along the way, and the drama starts…
As Mark and I made our way up the sidewalk toward the coffeehouse, an old man took offense at what he apparently viewed as my scofflaw attitude and started screaming, “Get. That. Gosh. Damned. Bi-cycle. Off. The. Gosh. Damned. Sidewalk!”
He came at me with all the speed and fury that an old man could muster, smacked me across the back with his cane, and then stuffed it into the spokes of my front wheel. In his eyes I could see nothing but hatred- hatred toward me, this race, and life itself. In the old man’s glare I also imagined that I could see my dad’s eyes and the confusion that lived inside his brain Alzheimer’s set in. Despite that sensation, I became the ugly visitor, spewing obscenities at the top of my lungs. I pushed the old man back with no regard for his age, his dignity, or his physical or mental condition. Had he swung at me, I would have come back with full anger of a frustrated and homesick skinny guy.
Wow. Just wow. This mirrors a situation that happened to me two or so years ago when I attempting to deposit a cheque at my bank. I rode down Main Street, and popped up onto the sidewalk, wanting to get to the entrance of the building. Maybe fifteen feet after I was on the sidewalk, an older, snaggly man shouted out “What in hell do you think you’re doin’ on this walkway with your bike?”
I had no clue how to reply, so I just pointed at my bank, and walked into the building with my bike, just in case he tried to destroy it or take it or some other crazy old man thing…
I’m sure people living anywhere have experienced situations like this with people young and old… I don’t personally believe this is a specific trait or attribute of West Virginians…
Morgantown though… It produces quite a crowd of odd people… If Joe Parkin ever decided to come back to West Virginia for just about anything, it would not surprise me if he attempted to avoid Morgantown~ I don’t blame him, I don’t think the town has changed too much in the past fifteen years~