This weekend I experienced my first trip outside New York (not counting New Jersey, briefly), as I went to stay with Hillary’s family in Morgantown, West Virginia. I flew from JFK to Pittsburgh, where Hillary was waiting for me. There are three things I associate with Pittsburgh: Heinz Ketchup, the Steelers, and the movie Groundhog Day. What a thrill then to step off the plane and see a life-sized statue of ’70s Steeler Franco Harris, and a giant Heinz billboard. Hillary drove me around town, showed me her old house, visited the café where she used to work, before we eventually sat down to lunch at former Steeler Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36, in view of Heinz Field. I’d never seen such devotion to one team in a city before (perhaps Barcelona). Everyone was wearing black and gold, and as we walked the streets we heard the Steelers’ Superbowl anthem blasting from radios.
We were both amused by the new slogan which appears on a giant roadsign as we crossed the state line into WV: “WEST VIRGINIA: Open For Business.” This seems to have replaced the more fun-sounding “Wild and Wonderful” which still appears on the state license plates.
It was a strange feeling to be in an American family home. This felt like America — the country. New York doesn’t really feel like America, it feels like… New York. Morgantown is a very pretty town, and I spent the next few days enjoying the warm weather, drinking coffee at The Blue Moose Café, eating pancakes at Eat’n’Park, and marveling at the spectacular scenery of the Mountain State. On Saturday night we drove to Salem for an Applebutter Festival, possibly the most authentic experience there is to be had in West Virginia. I tasted funnel cake for the first time and admired the novelty license plates and belt buckles.
Last night I arrived back at JFK, where I was struck by the oddest sensation yet. I was now going home to New York, when just three weeks ago the very idea of going to New York at all would have thrilled me with excitement. Now West Virginia was a special occasion and New York was just… normal.