redefining wanderlust

a life blog by Bekka

Posts for family

Reflection on Time & Iselton, CA

Being behind on content, especially when it comes to travel is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it forces me to revisit my adventures and look back fondly on them in a cloud of nostalgia. A curse, because as I edit photos and video footage I see the difference between my skill now versus then. A curse, cause I’m constantly dipping into the past and that’s not very healthy when it comes to being happy in the present. A curse, cause new memories are being layered on top of the old ones and distilling information into a new story.

Next up on my content calendar for YouTube and my blog was when I visited Iselton, the hometown of my Bachan. I was incredibly close with my Bachan, and was proposed to with her ring. Earlier this summer I went on a pilgrimage to Tule Lake concentration camp where she was detained during WWII for being Japanese. As I edited the footage from my 2015 Pacific Northwest road trip headed for Iselton, I ended up capturing Mt. Shasta on film. At that moment when filming the mountain and scolding Dan for trying to take a picture and drive at the same time, I had no emotional attachment to that mountain. Now, in 2016 after going on the pilgrimage, I see that mountain as a landmark for the hundreds of Japanese who were shipped off to Tule Lake, completely lost and confused as to what may lay ahead.

Iselton is a rundown small town that holds historical significance as one of the first thriving Japanese and Chinese communities pre-World War II. I found a fascinating paper on Iselton that I’ll link to here, as it will highlight the history of the town much better than I could. We went to Iselton looking for a building that could possibly be my O-Jichan’s (great grandfather’s) boarding house and soda shop. A few buildings were pointed out to us as potential sites, but nothing confirmed. On one side of main street was the formerly Chinese neighborhood and the other side was the Japanese side. Today the Japanese side is falling apart, while the Chinese side has a new museum and a few of the buildings are newly renovated. But mostly this little main street was a shadow of its former self, families now using the store fronts as housing.

We fortunately had the opportunity to walk around main street with a board member of the Iselton historical society, and she graciously answered as many of my questions to the best of her ability. Sadly, I didn’t film any footage of our tour. Honestly, I just felt too uncomfortable to film. Now, I’m disappointed with myself as all the details of our time there has now fallen through the cracks of my memory. I should have at least recorded audio – something to remember for next time.

Iselton 13 Iselton 14 Iselton 12 Iselton 11 Iselton 7 Iselton 9 

Also in my vlog I remark on how I found my Bachan’s records of being at Tule Lake. I had completely forgotten about that and I’m not entirely sure what records I found. But yesterday, my mother did send me my Bachan’s official Tule Lake records; documents that include medical history while at the camp and a letter of recommendation to her “Americaness” from a former employer.

The past can be painful but it’s powerful, it lays the foundation for who we are and who we will become. I’ve now seen the hometown of my Bachan and my Grandpa (my Dad’s father). I’ve seen how these once middle class vibrant towns have been beaten down by time. I’ve seen the metaphorical dirt in which the seeds of my story was planted and how my family has grown, following the line and realizing where I am on this tree is very far from where it originated.  As I dip into my own past adventures, seeing where I’ve been and who’ve I’ve met along the way, I’m reminded I am growing and living my best life. Day to day I can become restless, anxious, frustrated by the present. But if I’ve learned anything from my adventures it’s that time waits for no one. Time will pass anyways and it’s what we do with time that shapes our present and future. It’s how we experience every minute, every hour, every day that adds up to the sum of our life. It’s not just the roadside attractions and destinations that make up the memory, but the in between parts to and from places as well.

Iselton 8

Iselton 4

Iselton 6

I was going to do a separate post just outlining my thoughts about my plans from now till 2017, but I think it’s more fitting to put it here. Since I’m talking about time, the past and present etc. I obviously have trouble with past content versus posting in the present. Publishing a story that happened 2 weeks ago is completely acceptable, 2 months ago sure why not, but 2 years ago just seems lazy. And I have a lot of feelings when it comes to completely abandoning stories that I have every intention of sharing, even though it’s not even remotely current. So I post with a non-existent timeline that may be confusing. and press publish with an attitude of “Hey it’s me take it or leave it” (awkward smile). I want to be more present for my blog and in my life. So between now and the end of year. I will be finishing the stories for my 2014 road trip, completing all the 2015 PNW roadtrip blog posts and videos, and finally getting to a few other miscellaneous adventures that are taking up space on my hard drive. Then in 2017 I start fresh. I have a 7 day turn-around, no more than 14 depending on external circumstance. My adventures in “real time”, then I can stop dipping into the past and instead relish in the present.

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A Reflection on Japanese American Incarceration : Tule Lake Pilgrimage

The real talk aspect of this blog is about to get REALLY REAL – this is not a happy fun post, but a post that must be written. Thank you in advanced for reading this post, my reflection on Japanese American incarceration. 

On Tuesday, I woke up from a 4 day trip up to Tule Lake, the site of one of the ten Japanese Concentration Camps, and wondered “how do I do life?”

The pilgrimage to Tule Lake was a Christmas present from my mother. Her mother, my Bachan, was incarcerated at Tule Lake and my mom and aunt had attended the pilgrimage a few years ago. She had asked me a little before Christmas of 2015, if I wanted my fiancé and I’s Christmas present to be the Tule Lake pilgrimage and we both gave a resounding yes. On Tuesday when I woke up in my own bed, in my own home, I had this moment of confusion about how to go through my day. The pilgrimage is an intensive workshop of history and community, from the time we boarded the bus at 10:00am on Friday, July 1st.  Upon returning home, I forgot my routine and was filled with reflective thoughts. My eyes new with a changed perspective on life as a whole. If this is what I was experiencing after 4 days, I can only wrap my mind around how the innocent Japanese Americans felt when released, the same way I can wrap my mind around the concept of infinity. It’s feeble and lacking, false by all measure.

Everything was taken from them in an instant, and then 4 years later in a flash they are let back into the world with nothing.  Except for a country that betrayed them and a society manipulated to reject them.

We were surrounded by people who understood the history of Japanese American incarceration during WWII, from the moment we stepped on our respective buses. But maybe not the atrocities that took place at Tule Lake, nor the divide Tule Lake caused with in the Japanese community. And this is what we would learn over the next two days.

Tule Lake Pilgrimage

In Japanese culture, you don’t make waves. You don’t speak out against authority, and you respect the establishment to the utmost degree.  So when the American government presented the Japanese American people with a distasteful and deceiving “loyalty agreement”, after already being incarcerated for over a year, those who rebelled against it were sent to Tule Lake. In turn they were seen as “disloyal” to America within the Japanese American community. When in reality, these “disloyals” were really men and women who believed in their civil rights or were infuriated with the country who just incarcerated them when innocent. Basically, flipping them the bird. I come from a lineage of the latter, and I don’t blame my Great Grandfather for his decision to mark No, No.

Tule Lake around 1943 was turned into a segregation camp, sending all those who refused to sign the “loyalty agreement” from the other Japanese American concentration camps to Tule Lake. What I found interesting and heart breaking, was that after the war when the Japanese American community began to rebuild, those who were incarcerated in Tule Lake never shared that information. They didn’t want to be judged by their community and seen as troublemakers or disloyal, so this fraction of the community couldn’t even bond or connect with fellow Japanese Americans about their experience, because they were shamed into silence.

Many of the people who were incarcerated at the Japanese Concentration Camps never talked about their experience there. And everyone on the pilgrimage seemed to be desperate for pieces of the puzzle in order to create a full picture of the Tule Lake experience. The adults who were incarcerated have already passed on, and now we scrape at the memories of those who were teens or children at camp to collect their stories and perspective on the time. Our elders have died with their stories locked behind the doors of trauma, and their children search their own memories for what stories might have slipped.

As I write this I’m conflicted with what I can share and what is left behind closed doors. It is not easy for people to share their trauma and pain, and it is not right for me to exploit those stories for my own readers without their permission. All I can do is paint a picture. Imagine you are told you can only take what you can carry, heirlooms and family pets are left behind. You are trying to figure out what you can sell off for the best price, because you don’t know when you’ll return home, and your customer knows the desperate situation you’re in and does not have a compassionate heart. The plans you had for the future were stolen from you. The family dynamic is dissolved, and you end up living in a barrack with 10 other families. Your bed is merely a cot with a mattress cover you stuff with straw. The holes in the walls bring in dirt and dust from the outside. You’re never clean. You’re never comfortable. You don’t have a home. You’re innocent. You were born in America and have pledge the allegiance during school, “with liberty and justice for all.” But you have yellow skin, almond eyes, and black hair; apparently that excluded you. So you had to board a train to destination unknown and live in a prison for an undetermined amount of time.

On Saturday, the pilgrimage collected in front of the jail that is currently undergoing a restoration at Tule Lake, and held a memorial service for all those who had died and lived through the Japanese Concentration Camp. The pilgrimage hosted a Christian and Buddhist service and the attendees were able to lay down flowers and cranes for our family and fallen. It was a moving service. Later in the day my fiancé and I took a bus tour of the camp, which was massive, and my heart broke for the lack of preservation. An airport runway now runs through Block 25 where my Bachan lived at Tule Lake. The Tule Lake cemetery was turned into a landfill. All but 10 bodies which were unidentified have been returned to the families. And as I sat on the bus with our guide vaguely pointing out where certain buildings of the camp would have been, I looked out onto a neighborhood and a grassy field confused as to what was where, and then just in awe of the size of this camp that held up to 18,000 people. It’s the closest thing to walking a mile in my Bachan’s shoes I could ever get.

Tule Lake Pilgrimage

Tule Lake Pilgrimage

Tule Lake Pilgrimage

A few of the ‘super seniors’, those who were teens while at Tule Lake shared their stories.  One explained the process of building the jail (can you imagine building a jail to house your own people?) and then the abuse that took place to those who were put behind bars, inside the fence they were already trapped behind. These people further incarcerated, not because of legitimate crimes, but because they were brave enough to talk back and express their freedom of speech or were labeled a “troublemaker”. Another ‘super senior’ shared his story of refusing to answer the loyalty agreement and in turn was sent to a department of justice camp. In the middle of the night he was thrown on his knees in front of a firing squad verbally abused until the guard wanted to let him and his fellow rebels go.

What were the questions he refused to answer that led to this kind of psychological torture.

Question #27 asked:

“Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?”

-Question #28 asked:

“Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?”

This same gentlemen had tried to enlist after Pearl Harbor to defend his country, America, but was denied and told he was an enemy alien. Now, he was asked to draft himself again after a year of imprisonment! And how can you forswear allegiance to a country you were never aligned with in the first place? Disgusting.

Tule Lake Pilgrimage

Both Friday and Saturday night I listened to those who were incarcerated tell their story, and I was moved. I listened to their memories like they were water and I had been thirsty in a desert. Sunday morning, the 450 attendees were divided into smaller groups to reflect on their experience and ask questions to try piece together the past. In the afternoon I watched a talk by Nancy Ukai, Dr. Satsuki Ina, and Dr. Junko Kobayashi on Camp Artifacts: Giving Voice and Bearing Witness. There were 6 other amazing talks going on concurrently, but I had met Nancy in our morning discussion group and was intrigued by the story objects can invoke. Nancy was an integral part in stopping the sale of 450 concentration camp artifacts at a Rago art auction. I wasn’t aware of this when it occurred, but it was announced in the New York Times and quickly there after the Japanese American community did a “hell no!” and a petition circulated effectively stopping the auction. Nancy shared the stories behind three different pieces from the collection that would have been sold, and their connection to Tule Lake. The piece that was most moving was the propaganda photo that was taken to shed a positive light on the Japanese American incarceration of an adorable Japanese boy in a cereal box flower crown. Nancy was able to track down the boy, now a 70 year old man, who shared he did not even remember the photo nor the fabricated fairy tale attached to the photo – that the class was putting on a cheerful Labor Day performance. She opened the discussion with this powerful poem that I think should be kept in mind when viewing any of the photos from that time.

Because my mouth

Is wide with laughter

And my throat

Is deep with song,

You do not think

I suffer after

I have held my pain

So long?

Because my mouth

Is wide with laughter,

You do not hear

My inner cry?

Because my feet

Are gay with dancing,

You do not know

I die?

“Minstrel Man”, Langston Hughes

tule lake pilgrimage

The pilgrimage ended on July 4th, my Bachan’s birthday, and we boarded our buses back to our respective airports or pick up points and said good bye to this moving experience. While headed back to the Sacramento Airport, we shared out thoughts on the pilgrimage and as I shared my feelings I broke into tears. The night before I had sobbed thinking of my Bachan, missing her. On the bus, my tears were for her pain and the anger she held inside. I commented about how my dirty and draining days in the sun at Coachella for two weeks inspires a deep desire for comfort. After the festival I immediately book a shiatsu appointment, manicure, give myself a face mask, and sink into my comfortable bed like a heavenly cloud. This is only after a few days of the elements, and my Bachan experienced the same sun and dirt relentlessly for 4 years. No comfortable bed. No spa like shower. No privacy.

Tule Lake Pilgrimage

Airport runway now runs between where my Bachan barrack would have been.

Tule Lake Pilgrimage

The foundation of the 73rd block latrine.

Tule Lake Pilgrimage

An example of what the camp barracks looked like on view at the Tule Lake museum

What I haven’t talked about are the riots, the Marshall Law, the guard abuse, the deaths, the torture, the renouncing of citizenship under collusion, and the endless examples of total civil rights violation. I hope my sharing of the pilgrimage inspires you to search out that information independently. I also hop e my story inspired people to educate themselves and stand up against the fear induced hatred toward any community of innocent people. The people who experienced this are still alive, this is not ancient history, THIS is living history. We must hold onto our stories and history in order to keep it from ever happening again. Refuse to become complacent.

When I think of my Bachan and what she endured, I am humbled. My troubles become trivial, and I tell myself I come from good stock. I was born with a strength inside of me to persevere, to move forward and thrive. If my Bachan can live in a concentration camp for 4 years and go on to see me born, love me, and make me feel like I am supremely special – then I will not disrespect her belief in me by not believing in myself.

Thank you for reading my story and following my journey to #knowbachan

Bachan - June Ritsu Murakami

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Unfocused February

Bowerbird’s real name is Dan, Bowerbird is a nickname he picked up in his early twenties playing with bands. When I was first dating Dan, he asked not to be named so I started saying Bowerbird and find it fun to call him Bowerbird on the internet. But for this story I will call my fiancé by his real name.

It’s time for some real talk because at the end of January I was focused and ready to post multiple times a week, grow my YouTube channel, and take Blanket Fort Adventures to the next level! Now, February is almost over and I don’t know what happened to this month. As I was explaining to Dan, our expectations for the month weren’t just thrown out the window but were shoved down a t-shirt cannon and launched off the freeway going 60 miles per hour.

The day after my birthday, Dan and I had planned a fun day trip to Big Bear. Usually we like to start our adventures as early in the day as possible, but I had a last minute client project that I had to finish before we left. So we weren’t ready to head out the door until 11:00 am and just as we were about to drive away I noticed I hadn’t flossed. I had every intention of vlogging the day trip, so I ran back inside to quickly floss and hop in the car, that’s when I saw a 714 number appear on my phone. At the moment, I’m without 95% of my contacts in my phone so I figured it might be a cousin calling me to wish me a belated birthday. Instead, I heard the sad voice of my future sister-in-law, Dan’s father had passed away. My heart dropped and I handed the phone to Dan. We were with his family for the rest of the day. I can’t express enough how much I love and adore the family I will be marrying into. Right when Dan and I started dating his father had a terrible stroke that left his mind confused. It worsened over the years, but I’ll never forget he had a faint idea who I was during Christmas after meeting me at Thanksgiving.  I know he liked me and I’m really happy I was able to show him that we were engaged, even if he didn’t fully understand who I was.  I’ve tried to be here for Dan as much as possible and we are riding the waves of emotion the best way we know how.

This month we also had scheduled our floors to be redone. So my office and our bedroom has over flowed into the other parts of the house, leaving me to work from the kitchen table and have minor anxiety attacks realizing the amount of junk I possess. Basically, we have no homeostasis! And it’s been a rollercoaster of emotional anxieties. Now, I don’t want to first world problem myself into oblivion because we have immense blessings and are free from severe worries. I just did my “fake” taxes and discovered I have enough to pay the IRS, woot woot, first year of being a sole proprietor. So, even though our expectations were shredded like a beehive in the same radius of a honey badger, our life is still filled with love and support.

I also volunteered to take photos at the LA Marathon this month for Students Run LA, which was an incredibly moving experience, and was a completely new adventure to partake in. And this weekend I am helping out one of my best friends at her first bridal expo, she’s a wonderful bridal photographer who sadly will be in my wedding and not shooting it.  Planning the wedding, yeah that’s stressful.

Anyways, I have had no direction or focus this month. I feel more forgetful than usual and I’m just trying to keep my head above the proverbial water. Now, like I said I realize my issue are trivial and there are so many more terrible and important things going on in the world than my unfocused month or jumbled up expectations and loss of direction. But I felt I should share where I’m at, so I can lay a foundation for where I’m going – which is more frequent blog posts, youtube videos, and any other content you want to throw at me. Give me an idea and let’s roll with it. Life is an adventure, let’s explore. (( PG-13 style ))

One thing I have been doing consistently this month is my new Little Things series, I’d love if you would check it out and subscribe!

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The Story of Loulou Edie Reed – Dog Adoption

The story of Loulou Edie Reed is filled with suspense, drama, and lots of love. A Yorkshire terrier with a full name and mysterious background, she waltzed into my (our) life when the last thing on my mind was adopting a new dog. But like most of the pets my family has acquired, we don’t pick the time for a dog- the dog picks us.

FINDING LOU:
On February 5th, 2015 I was working in my home office that faces out into the front yard. It’s not rare to see a stray cat wandering outside and using the brick wall that separates my house from the neighbors as a highway; so when I saw a small black body pass my window I assumed it was a black cat. It wasn’t until the animal waked away that I noticed it was a dog. Usually, I am the first one to jump into action when it comes to a stray dog; but on this day I had a meeting in North Hollywood with a potential client. In forty-five minutes I was supposed to jump on the freeway and charm a cosmetic company into hiring me as their social media manager. So, I decided to leave my interview clothing intact and to continue to prep for this client, leaving the dog to another Good Samaritan as the neighborhood is filled with retirees and stay at home moms.

Well, the universe and Lou had a different idea, because she came back to my yard after a five minute hiatus. Taking the hint, I threw on jeans and a ratty t-shirt and went to my front yard to find the dog. I called out for the puppy and found her hiding behind my car. She jumped into the flowerbed and army crawled all the way to me, making it very easy to pick her up and secure her in our dog runner. She was the friendliest dog I had caught since my baby Blondie who had come into my life 15 years prior and passed away 4 years ago. There was so much about this little dog that reminded me of Blondie, I swear she was our other dog incarnate, but I refused to get attached. We (my fiancé and I) were not looking for a dog.

I changed back into my interview clothes and drove to the client, who I also secured for 2015. When I returned home I figured out next steps; wash the dog, get a collar in order to control her when dropping her off at the pound tomorrow, put out a request for dog rescues on Facebook*, and contact my aunt to see if she would be open to adopting this new found dog. Since I have an older dog, Mystie, and we didn’t know what this stray might have, Lou slept outside with lots of blankets, food and water. She cried a little bit, but her temperament was always pleasant and sweet.

Stay Dog_ Loulou Edie Reed

ADOPTION:
The next day I took her to our local shelter, the place I knew any family who would be missing her would search, and found out she wasn’t chipped. The receptionist was a capital B. When we found out Lou wasn’t chipped I was ready to bring her home and set up a rescue situation, but the shelter said it was policy that she remain at the shelter for 5 days in order for the rightful owners to locate her. I felt so incredibly guilty and sad for letting this darling dog into the hands of the shelter and beat myself up for days. Since I work from home I visited her every day I could, twice a day, petting her through the cold bars. The pound was heartbreaking and I even tried to push the other jailed pups onto friends that were interested in Lou. My name was first on the adopt list from day one, but by day three of my morning and night devotion, Bowerbird and I decided to adopt Lou.

On the second to last day before I could break her out, I received a call from the pound informing me someone was claiming Lou was their dog, my heart dropped. I was excited if it really was their dog, but I found it odd it took so long for someone to come forward. I know if I lost Lou, I’d be all over every website and shelter; I’d likely get a vinyl banner made to hang across Main Street. Fortunately by the end of the day the shelter called and informed me the dog did not belong to those claiming her. They didn’t give me any specifics, but they do request evidence from those claiming a shelter dog to prove ownership. I was ecstatic and now my anxiety shot up fearing I’d have to face a confrontation with the false owner.

I couldn’t sleep that night, I was terrified I’d oversleep, miss my alarm and the other people would come and swoop up Lou. I was at the shelter right when it opened to sign the adoption papers and with a swipe of my credit card, Lou was mine (ours). We took her out of the jail cell and into the gated play area outside. I was so happy she was finally able to be in the sun.

Dog in a Birthday Hat

THE DRAMA:
As we were playing with Lou in the shelter yard, a man was lingering by his car and watching us the entire time. Eventually, he asked the shelter worker if he could see the dog. I knew it was the “other family” my heart started racing and I pretended to be ignorant of the situation. The shelter worker said no, as I had just adopted the dog. The man then went into a long story about how his puppy had been stolen a year ago. When the shelter worker asked if the dog was chipped or had received shots, the man said no because the dog was too young. It was a tense twenty minutes, but the shelter worker was a strong advocate for me and eventually the man drove off. After playing with Lou for a solid hour, she had to go back to the shelter for one more night in order to get all her shots. The next day when it was finally time for her to come home with us, the receptionist left her file open on the desk and I could see notes on the person claiming it was their dog. I quickly snapped a photo of her file like Nancy Drew when the receptionist went to retrieve Lou. The notes said that Lou was too young to be the dog they were claiming had been stolen. They also didn’t have any medical records or photos of their dog. Since, the total cost to adopt Lou was around $160, it’s no wonder these people were trying to nab Lou for free. Apparently, Yorkshire terriers are premium dogs in the shelter world.

I believe that Lou ended up with the right people, those people being Bowerbird and I, because she had a lot of medical expenses post adoption that the sneaky people may not have invested in. She had caught kennel cough, had worms, and still needed to be spade. We were making weekly visits to the vet for about a month and I officially capped off the cost of this new pup around $400.

Loulou at Shelter

NAME & MYSTERY:
Lou was just a hardcore street dog that managed to survive as a stray. We still see her habits of from days on the street. She likes to sleep under things and in tight spaces, her favorite place to hang out is under the bed. When we would take her for walks, she’d always want to rest under cars. She also knew how to drink out of a water bottle. We suspect that she had been the dog of a homeless person. It makes me sad thinking that they might have lost her, but maybe she lost them. She is incredibly friendly and sweet. I’ve never seen her snap or growl at a person and I’ve only seen her show teeth to another dog once, because she had just been bullied by a large-breed puppy.

I named Lou after Lou Reed the first day I found her. I had just given her a bath and was thinking of names. At first I thought Nico, since I was going through a Velvet Underground phase but remembered my friend Nima’s dog was named Nico. Then I thought of Lou Reed, I called out to her with the name Lou and it seemed to fit. I had also been reading Edie at the time, about Warhol Superstar Edie Sedgwick. I thought Loulou Edie Reed has a delightful ring to it and that’s why my dog has a full name.

WOAH this is over 1,500 words! If you read to the end I commend you. As a bonus I’ve included a playlist to a few of my favorite Lou Reed and Velvet Underground songs. Enjoy!

Do you think the “other family” was actually Loulou’s owners or trying to pull a fast one?

First Night At Home

First night at home ♥

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WV: What’s In Wheeling?

wheeling west virginia

OCTOBER 14, 2014 | DAY 13 of #ONTHEROAD1014

In the sidebar of this blog you will see I am currently reading “Drinking, Smoking & Screwing: Great Writers on Good Times”. It takes me an embarrassingly long time to finish a book, so that has been up there for months. And just last week I finished a passage where Wheeling, West Virginia was mentioned. Here is the section “-knock out drops, which had been familiar in American criminal circles since the first Grant administration. My own great-uncle, Julius by name, got a massive shot of them in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1870, and was never the same man afterward.”

I myself have visited Wheeling, West Virginia; and I would have never imagined coming across the name of this Ohio River city in my little bedside book. Having not written about my road trip for weeks, possibly months, and West Virginia being the next stop in my story – I took it as a sign it was time to make time to write the story of Wheeling.

After Louisville, my intention was to drive up to Chicago and see the David Bowie exhibit and then drive diagonally to Richmond, Virginia. That was until my mother, aghast, said “you’re not going to Wheeling, West Virginia.” Confused, I asked “What’s in Wheeling?” Well, my grandfather on my Dad’s side was born and raised in Wheeling, West Virginia. As I am a curious person, who is close to my family and interested in historical roots, I decided to skip Chicago and go to Wheeling. I don’t regret this decision, but I think the David Bowie exhibit would have been more fun and light-hearted.

We left the Brown Hotel early on October 14, explored Louisville for a few more hours, and then was on the road. Driving through Ohio on a very cloudy day, the fields and water droplets made for a scenic backdrop to the Sun Kil Moon album I insisted on playing. I sung about a whoopee pie I had purchased at Whole Foods and wrote in my moleskin journal. I was in a frightful state of melancholy, a dangerous place to be as I was supposed to be on the road trip of my dreams and yet I couldn’t shake this negative energy that lingered over me. Plus the gloomy weather seemed to feed my hum drum attitude.

It’s a 5 hour drive from Louisville to Wheeling, and we only stopped for gas, where I purchased some Popeye’s fried chicken. That chicken happened to be our only sufficient meal past noon. By the time we got to Wheeling, it was sunset. The gray clouds cast a blue shadow on the city. My aunt had given me all the details of my grandfather’s census records and we were searching for 48th street. Initially, we made a wrong turn and landed on the wrong side of the Ohio river on 47th street and could not find 48th, so we got out of the car to walk around.

wheeling wrong exit

Being from Los Angeles, I don’t think I’ve even seen the real effects of the downward economy. It seemed the bad neighborhoods were still bad, and the good neighborhoods just slowed down. It wasn’t till I visited Wheeling, did I truly grasp and feel what it’s like to be affected by a downwards economy.

wrong side of the river

 

The homes on the street we explored were old and beautiful in their own right, like an aged ballerina who was stunning in her youth, but now walks hunched and weathered from years of strain on her body. Paint chipped and walls likely creaky, they were solid homes in what felt like an unstable city. We drove to the other side of the Ohio River crossing a bridge where I attempted to snap photos of the West Virginia sign. Following our GPS, we finally arrived to 48th street. There was a historical marker on the street and a welcome sign, you could tell had been there a long time. Only about a few blocks long, between the river and the highway, we tried to figure out where my grandfather could have possibly lived and if the building still existed. The only buildings that looked old enough to have been around when my grandpa was a child, was an abandoned apartment building that sat across from a sad looking long house, and at the end of the street a factory.

wheeling signs

48th street

We saw a few gentlemen attempting to fix a broken electrical box at the river’s edge. One man in his seventies and two younger guys probably in their forties. The young men left the older gentleman to grab tools and a few beers from their house, and the old man guarded the broken box. Seeing an opportunity to talk to a local, I asked the man if the factory had always been there, wondering if at one point it could have been homes. He told me that for as long as he remembered the factory had been there. It’s switched manufacturers a few times, but when he was a kid it was a potato chip and pretzel cannery. The factory would throw out dented cans, and he would grab them to use for fishing with his friends. I could see the warm memories come to his mind, to be dashed by the current state of Wheeling. He shared things were better than, “the good ol’ days, when we didn’t make much money, but everyone had a job.” –“gas was cheaper too.” He shared with us how the box had been broken and it was a hazard, they had to fix it, not placing responsibility or blame on Wheeling for it not being fixed yet, but that it just needed to be done.

When the younger guys came back, Bowerbird and I received, are these strangers bothering you eyes. So I thanked the old man for telling me about Wheeling, and we walked back to our car. Under the glow of the street lights, the melancholy I had been feeling on the inside was now full blown manifested in a city.

apartment building in wheeling

old house wheeling west virginia

I had been trying to find lodging in Wheeling, which was difficult, but finally found a reasonably priced B&B thirty minutes north. We drove along the Ohio River to the hotel. At one point in the darkness we saw a huge flame illuminate the inside of a steel factory. It was a dark. Even driving through neighborhoods it was dark. We were hoping to find a restaurant to get dinner but it seemed everything was closed. The two illuminated signs I remember, was one announcing the new talent Candy at the local strip joint and a men’s homeless shelter.

When we finally reached the hotel, it was like a scene from the Shining, and it didn’t get less creepy from there.

I promise not to leave a month between describing the haunted hotel in Wheeling, West Virginia and now. But that experience needs its own post. This is only my experience of Wheeling, West Virginia. If any local happens to read this and I have completely gotten the sense of the city wrong, I sincerely apologize.

ohio river

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