Near the top of the mountain, there's a series of switchbacks that makes me a little dizzy every time I drive up this way.
It stopped snowing sometime early this morning, but the plows haven't been able to keep up. I'm in four-wheel drive, but I still slide through the corner, which makes the toxic stew in my stomach churn and foam. I slow down a bit, but the next turn sloshes the roiling sludge up one side of my gut and fills my throat.
No time to pull over, and no where to do it anyway: the shoulder is banked up with snow. So I open the door and lean out as I take the next right-hand switchback, jettisoning last night's Salisbury Steak dinner special and the fuming dregs of all the beer and liquor that bartender kept forcing on me. My eyes water as I try to focus on the road again. I close the door and open the window, spitting into the cold fog. I feel a little better.
I woke up this morning pretty sure that I wasn't going to ski today, but then I talked myself into it. I hadn't spent last night at the Marlinton Motor Lodge just so I could wake up and drive back to Charlottesville. I figured after a couple runs my hangover would fade.
The storm had hit Charlottesville on Wednesday afternoon, and by yesterday morning, it was almost two feet deep and still coming down. My partner and I had been hanging siding on a house in a subdivision that didn't even have paved roads yet. There was no way we could get in there. So I decided to jump in my Blazer and drive the three hours to Snowshoe, ski all day, and then drive back home.
The skiing yesterday was about as good as it gets around here. Shin-deep powder, mild temperatures...but it's still, you know, West Virginia. Not exactly a skiing Mecca. But it's the best we've got.
It snowed off and on yesterday, and after the lifts closed it started falling hard again. I called my partner from a payphone and asked how things were going back in Charlottesville. He said the whole town was closed down, so I said, screw it, I'm gonna spend the night here and ski again tomorrow.
I didn't have enough money to stay at the resort, but I knew there was a motel in Marlinton, about 20 miles away, where rooms were around thirty bucks a night.
I checked into my room and there was nothing to do; so I walked over to the 7-11 and got a six pack of Corona, the closest thing they had to decent beer, and watched some of the movie Billy Jack on TV. I noticed that the sign in front of the motel said Thursdays were karaoke night at the bar. I figured that might be some good entertainment.
In all the years I've lived in Virginia, I've heard people make fun of West Virginians. Like they were a bunch of ignorant, toothless rednecks. And while it does turn out that West Virginia has the highest rate of edentulism in the country, I've met a lot of cool people here. I know shitloads of rednecks in Virginia, and in a lot of ways they're pretty interchangeable. They all love hunting, Nascar, and Top 40 country music, and hate taxes, unions, and fags.
But West Virginians are not so predictable. They tend to be more independent thinkers--maybe a little isolated from mainstream values, so likely to make up their own. I come here maybe a dozen times a year to ski, mountain bike, and hike, and I always meet some freaks when I do.
So I was hoping that karaoke at the motor lodge's restaurant/bar would be worth a laugh. But I didn't think there would be much turnout in this weather.
My ski clothes were all I had to wear, since I thought I was just coming for the day. I had worn neoprene bike tights under my black North Face shell pants, but I sure as hell wasn't going to wear tights to dinner. So I put my ski pants back on, and my black sweater, and headed to the restaurant.
Besides me, there was one couple eating at the restaurant. The bartender was also the waiter, and we chatted for a while about this and that: the weather, where I was from, the usual bullshit. I asked him if he thought the karaoke thing was going to happen and he said, yeah, definitely--the regulars are very serious about their karaoke. He asked me if I was going to sing, and I told him no--hell no--I'm just gonna watch.
Dinner was filling--that's the best I can say about it. I had a drink before my food was ready, and the bartender brought me another one that I didn't order, so he didn't charge me for it.
The karaoke host showed up a little late due to the snow, and started setting up his equipment. And sure enough, as he did, more people trickled in, got drinks at the bar, and talked. Everybody seemed to know each other.
When I went to get another drink, the bartender introduced me around and joked that he thought I would probably sing if they all encouraged me. The guys--and it was all guys, no ladies so far--were all friendly and kind of excited about the storm, swapping stories about the wild rides they had been on to make it to karaoke night. A couple of them had been on the road for more than an hour.
I hung out at the bar as the karaoke started up.
The first few singers were just awful. The next three were even worse.
And they made some odd musical choices. Sure, they warbled a couple popular country tunes, but a number of these bearded lumberjack-looking guys seemed to prefer pop ballads like Journey's Open Arms. That's what I'm talking about when I say these West Virginians are unpredictable.
Whenever anyone finished their song, they would come back to the bar, and order up some kind of shooters for them and their buddies, like B-52s or Kamikazes. The bartender would always make too much and pour what was left in the shaker into a glass and give it to me. After a while I didn't even know what I was drinking anymore.
I think everyone else had already sung by the time the guy with the handlebar mustache took the microphone. The murmuring stopped as his song started. It was something I knew from my childhood but it took me a few seconds to recognize it: I Started a Joke, by the Bee Gees. But why? That wasn't even from Saturday Night Fever, which at least had some campy retro-novelty value. What a weird selection.
But, by God, he nailed it! I got chills after the first line, and they lasted throughout the song. I hate to admit it, but I even got a little choked up. You should listen to that song sometime. You would get a lump in your throat too.
Things started getting a little fuzzy by then, and the next thing I knew, I was up on stage with the mic in my hand, singing Folsom Prison Blues. I had never karaoked before, and I had always thought it was pretty lame. But there I was, in front of a dozen or so of my new best buds, singing my heart out.
And I gotta say: I tore that shit up. I was the Man In Black, even if it was black Gore-Tex.
After my first number, everybody slapped me on the back and bought me drinks, congratulating me on losing my karaoke virginity. The bartender complimented me profusely, telling me how surprised he had been to hear such a big baritone booming out of a slim guy like me.
And I couldn't wait to get back on stage. I filled out the request forms as fast as I could, mostly for Johnny Cash songs, since they're all in my range.
I asked my buddies why there weren't any ladies at karaoke night, and they said it was because they were afraid to drive in the storm. I was like, That's bullshit! Why don't you make some calls and get some chicas up in here? It wasn't like I wanted to hit on them or anything--I have a fiancee, for crying out loud--but it just seemed like a shame that there were no chicks to swoon over my buddies and me. And maybe sing some duets.
No ladies ever showed up, but we kept rocking till--I don't even know how long it went on. I just have little snatches of memories that I'm piecing together. The guy with the handlebar mustache singing more Bee Gees, plus some Earth, Wind, and Fire. Drinks that looked like Pepto Bismol. The bartender telling me how handsome I was. A number of times. A group rendition of Margaritaville. Waking up sweating in my ski clothes with heater cranked all the way up.
I'm not sure exactly what I stumbled onto last night. The bartender was definitely into me. Right? But what's up with a bunch of guys in the hills of West By God Virginia getting together every week to sing Bee Gees and Journey songs? Is that what passes for a gay bar here? Or is it just what any bunch of dudes would do if they didn't give a shit what anybody thought?