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.
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.
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.
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.
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.