West Virginia has all kinds of reputations, and the hokiest of them all is probably the first idea that surfaced to mind. Thanks to Deliverance, Silent Hill, the Mothman Prophecies, the Wrong Turn movies, and the Wild & Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, many people think the Mountain State is filled with hillbillies and *very* close families.
Well, they’re wrong, dangit.
West Virginia is a beautiful, clean state of rolling hills, diverse natural beauty, and friendly and polite people. And at its northwest border sits a small town that has its own reputation entirely, one that I can’t confidently say is entirely wrong. It’s Morgantown, WV, the home of the Mountaineers. And they’re pretty good at drinking beer.
The road from the east into Morgantown passes through Cumberland, Maryland and weaves up and down over the mountains, leveling off momentarily over Cheat Lake. Cheat Lake is often glassy, just screaming for wakeboarders and skiers and jet ski riders and boating enthusiasts to jump in and take advantage of the setting. It’s also a favorite spot for kayaking and paddle boarding.
We, of course, had to first find somewhere to eat, and the Mountain State Brewing Company came to mind. Chris, having gone to college at WVU (or “duhveeyu” as many of its alum pronounce it, throwing in the tiniest hint of the “b” sound), knew it was a good spot and was happy to oblige my whim.
The brewery embodied what I admit I thought every structure in West Virginia would be like, for some reason. I knew better than to believe everyone was a hillbilly, but admit I did think every place would have some kind of rustic feel. The Mountain State Brewing Company is a large, open lodge-style restaurant with comfortable rustic wooden benches and high-top tables with wrought iron chairs. A large brick pizza oven sits in the center of the room, sitting there for all to watch the flames. And, lots of their made-in-house beers are on tap, visible at the long wooden bar. We enjoyed several Mountain State brews, my favorite being the alpha blond.
Morgantown features a great rail trail that traces alongside the Monongahela River and is popular for walkers, runners, and bikers. And we were planning to check it out after having pizza and a beer or two. But Morgantown is built on a hill, and that fact becomes hard to ignore when one has a belly full of beer. So, on my first trip to Morgantown, we ditched the plan to walk the rail trail and opted instead to have another pint (to ward off the cold, of course).
But our time at the Morgantown Brewing Company was just a precursor to the amount of fun we’d have during the main event: the game! We’d gotten tickets through friends of friends, and found ourselves tailgating a few hours before kick-off. And make no bones about it: Mountaineer tailgating is serious, serious business. We were in a parking lot safely sandwiched between two major figures in healthcare: Ruby Memorial Hospital and Milan Pushkar stadium, which seemed appropriate because some people definitely made you wonder if they would need a little extra TLC later in the night.
The parking lot was the size of ten football fields all by itself, it seemed, and it was packed wheel-to-wheel with trucks, RVs, and peppered with a few cars. I’m from the country, so I have seen that many trucks in one place, but it had been awhile. The sight of it made me laugh aloud, and I also felt a strange sort of undeserved pride (my college doesn’t even have a football team) to see all of those people there to support a bunch of college kids playing a game.
There was no shortage of places to hang out, and we had our little collection of beer that we brought. We hardly needed it, though, because so many people wanted us to share theirs. We were watered, fed, and patted on the back just for being there. We ran into people Chris knew, met people Chris had heard of, and made friends with some random strangers.
It was cold at the game, and we sat through it and had a good time, cheering and shouting–I don’t really know much about football but I did my best to learn some things on the fly. I’ve forgotten it all now, but I do remember a cheer that involved a drawn-out “Oooh” and wagging my fingers in the air. Whatever that’s worth.
At the end, we found Chris’s friends again and sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” a song that has a special place in most West Virginian’s hearts. It has an especially special place in mine now because we played it at Chris’s mom’s funeral. To me, it’s a song of pride mixed with longing, something that captures a feeling of being alone, but also reminds everyone that they are alone together. Maybe that’s a depressing way to look at it, but I think trying to convince oneself they never feel lonely is a fruitless endeavor.
Back on to the happy stuff! Most of the bars stay open until 3:30 a.m., and many restaurants and grub hubs are open until four or later. We wanted to go to the Rusted Musket, but were on the wrong side of town and way too hungry to make the trip, so we went to the trustiest place around: Sheetz. It was the answer to my not-so-silent prayers (ok, I whined). Their M-T-O (made to order) menu is extensive and fairly priced, and there was an alarmingly large crowd waiting around.
My first trip to Morgantown was filled with many things I certainly expected from West Virginia, and several I didn’t. I’ve been back since and always had a good time, and often want to see more.