After looking for about ten minutes, Laura whispers my name.
“Bert, over here.”
She is standing next to a bronze parapet that surrounds one of the 9/11 Memorial pools. Her fingers are tracing the inscription of his name: Paul W. Ambrose
We hadn’t known him personally, but Paul was a hometown kid, and in Huntington, WV, our social ties are rather enmeshed. We’re all linked by only one or two degrees of separation, and we celebrate people like Paul (there aren’t many like him) because they make us proud. From Marshall University to Dartmouth to Harvard, Paul had pole vaulted over the hillbilly stereotype. Engaging, intelligent, and relentless, Paul planted himself among elite company as a congressional advisor, a champion for public health, and senior advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General. Many expected him to become the nation’s youngest surgeon general.
(This piece was shared by CBS News, among other various news and social media outlets.)
Well, the post-election protests have finally made their way to my hometown of Huntington, WV.
We’re always behind the times, but what took so long?
For you out-of-towners, I know that you’ve heard of our little neck of the woods. Just yesterday we observed the bitter anniversary of the Marshall University plane crash—everyone seems to know about that. We recently made national headlines by having nearly thirty drug overdoses in a single four-hour period. The whole Kim Davis / gay marriage saga played out about an hour from here (sorry, Kentucky, that’s your headline, but we’re close enough that we had to suffer through it). It also became national news yesterday when two Clay, WV officials (also about an hour from here) were goofy enough to show themselves on social media, one calling our current First Lady an “Ape in heels” and the other applauding the sentiment.
To the outside world, I bet we don’t look like the mecca of hope. In fact, we get so used to reading our own press that it’s sometimes hard for us to imagine that a ray of light could shine out of our backyard.
However, the first protest has begun. Continue reading
I’ve lived most of my life with a longing gaze toward a distant horizon, believing in a mystical something-better out there.
The constant challenge for most folks who grow up around here has always been geography. In West Virginia, the same hills that protect you from the outside world also tend to cripple your chances of seeing beyond the ridge in front of you. Most West Virginians remain semi-affectionately imprisoned in their own little hollers from cradle to grave (save the occasional big trip to Myrtle Beach, laughingly referred to as the Redneck Riviera). A few—our best and brightest—get out as soon as they can, and why wouldn’t they? If your ticket out of West Virginia gets punched, why would you spend one more second in a state that is ranked among the poorest, most depressed, least educated, most drug-addicted, least healthy, and most miserable places in the entire nation? Continue reading