Guest post : Who says there’s nothing to do in West Virginia?

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Here’s the third in a three-part series in honor of West Virginia. Thursday’s guest post was about leaving West Virginia. Here’s a post about staying, by my friend Dave Humphreys:

Ever since my teenage years, I’ve heard people close to my own age talking about how they “couldn’t wait to get out” of our state because there is “nothing to do here.” My response to that has always been “why not stick around and make it better?” West Virginia has to be one of the most exciting places in the country to live right now because, thanks to those that chose to better it rather than evacuate, we’re left with a rare and valuable type of younger generation that is concerned with both preserving history and progressing forward.

Charleston is working hard to become an artistic hub, and as a result, you’d be very hard-pressed to find a place full of creative opportunities that are more easily accessible. It’s almost impossible to overstate how fortunate we are in that regard. There isn’t the sense of exclusivity you’d find elsewhere; our people are as welcoming as they are talented. Today’s Charleston is a place where any visual artist with the will to create is blessed with numerous opportunities to have their work publicly displayed and seen by anyone who passes through our city. We’ve got a great live music scene that, again, is highly accessible, and a world-class concert series in Mountain Stage. In a city that supposedly never gets any good concerts, I’ve discovered a ton of great artists playing less than ten minutes from my front door.

I’d also like to mention an area of impressive growth that isn’t brought up often enough. One of my favorite things in the world is attending comic and various other pop culture conventions. It always drove me nuts that we live in an area where people are so passionate about their interests, but the closest cons were in Columbus or Pittsburgh. Within the last few years, not only have we gained the ability to complain about Michael Bay while flipping through longboxes with guys dressed as Stormtroopers without leaving our borders. Now, we even have conventions in many different subgenres – Comics (Tri-con, Huntington), Steampunk (Vandalia Con, Parkersburg), Horror (ShockaCon, Charleston), Anime (Tsubasacon, Huntington), general pop culture (WV POP, Morgantown), and more I’m sure I’ve left out.

Speaking of Vandalia Con, I can’t think of an experience that better sums up my love for the state. While staying in the historic Blennerhassett Hotel, I was fortunate enough to befriend quite a varied group of people who live here – sideshow performers, fire dancers, war re-enactors,  storytellers, and a couple of magicians. I toured the catacombs of the Smoot Theater- a 1920s era Vaudeville palace – with them, played cards for coal mining scrypt, and swapped stories over drinks while watching impromptu bluegrass jam sessions until the sun came up. To me, this is exactly what West Virginia is.

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There’s nothing to do in this state? This weekend, I plan to visit the Mt. Zion Drive-In, one of our last remaining drive-in theaters and a beautiful and surreal place that, despite being only an hour outside of our capitol city, sets under a starry sky that has to be seen to be believed. The following morning, I’ll head to Capitol Street for the kick-off parade of FestivALL, our city’s annual week-long celebration of the arts. Then I’ll throw on my proton pack and the rest of my Ghostbusters gear to join the Causeplayers – a West Virginia-based group of superhero re-enactors for charity who visit children in hospitals – in a fundraiser for statewide foster care and adoption that’s sure to be a blast.

 

Suffice to say, there’s a lot more to see than the things we learned about while studying for the Golden Horseshoe test. I couldn’t be more excited to see where we go next.

Dave Humphreys is a graduate of the Marshall University School of Journalism and Mass Communications. He has worked as a production assistant and makeup artist for the Huntington-based film-making group Brainwrap Productions. Dave is also a history buff, pop culture fanatic, guitarist, and lover of all things retro. He lives in Charleston, W.Va. 

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Dear Charleston, WV (A love letter)

I know you don’t hear this enough. Your state tops everyone’s “Worst of” lists and someone even said your people are the most unhappy. You do have your problems, but you don’t get the affection you deserve. Even I sometimes catch myself complaining about your small size and a lack of things to do. But I really do love you.
I love your local coffee shops, Taylor’s and Moxxee and the way that locals congregate in them on Saturday mornings or after Sunday services. I can walk in by myself to write and never want for company or a familiar face.

Snow falls outside the window at Taylor Books, one of Charleston’s favorite coffee shops.

I love the way I feel safe walking your streets, even late at night. Despite the occasional bad news reports, I’ve never worried about walking home from the bar after midnight. Never thought to hold my purse close to my chest or to obsess over whether the car doors were locked. No one here has ever cut my purse strap and made off with my belongings while I wasn’t paying attention.

The corner of Virginia and Capitol streets, Charleston.

I dearly love your music scene and the people who play your open mic nights and the Third Eye Cabaret. I love how there’s always live music somewhere. I love the artists that I’ve come to know after hearing them play Mountain Stage.

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Singer/songwriter Mark Bates jams with the Coal River Yacht Club at the Empty Glass one Sunday night.

I love the Red Carpet, the local bar where reporters and lawmakers, hipsters and drag queens alike gather on Friday nights to unwind after a long week.  I love that I can be away for months and yet the bartenders still call me by name when I walk through the door again. I love your cat, even if she won’t go near me.

I love your historic houses on the East End and their inviting porches and yards. I dream of owning one someday.

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East End porch, Summer 2013.

I love the gold dome on the state capitol. I’m convinced it’s the prettiest in the country. Even when I was living away from you, I could drive into town and know I was home when I saw the sunlight gleaming off that gold.

Dear Charleston, I don’t promise never to leave. Life has a way of making those decisions for us. But I promise to always call you home.