Scratch off: West Virginia

Added on by Nathan Hoang.
In front of the West Virginia Capitol, next to the statue of Abraham Lincoln

In front of the West Virginia Capitol, next to the statue of Abraham Lincoln

The West Virginian scratch-off instructions read, “Get two matching numbers and win that amount.”

I scratched off two “$100” and thought I was going to be in the positive for the rest of the trip. I could even spring for the $2 scratch-offs, if I wanted to. I wouldn’t, but I could.

I took it straight to the gas station to cash it in, the attendant scanned it once, scanned it twice and told me I didn’t win anything.

I reread the instructions and realized I have to scratch off two matching amounts AND the letter V (for veterans) to win.

It’s a good thing the “Scratch-Off Count” doesn’t calculate dignity.

Scratch-off Count: $1
States Scratched: 8

Charleston, West Virginia

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

The first long drive of the trip, about six hours worth, from Charleston, WV to Charlotte, NC, via Roanoke, VA, was going to be a challenge, so I quickly thanked Joey for the good luck he wished upon me, and left, first for coffee, then for answers to make up for the unsatisfying ones I got from the day before.

There had to be more to West Virginia than just being to the west of a Virginia. And for having a several Bob Evans. And a capitol with a golden dome. And a time capsule inside. And an Abraham Lincoln on the outside.

I asked the students manning the West Virginia State Museum front desk about what makes the state so great; what would they miss if they left.

“Pepperoni rolls,” they told me.

Like…Totino’s Pizza Rolls? That’s like telling me to try out the food court.

“No, they’re a little bigger than that.”

So a calzone, then.

“Kind of.”

Basically, they told me, miners’ wives made these cheap, hand-held lunches for their husbands and then it just caught on, like the Cronut™, but without the pretentiousness. There’s history and heritage to the pepperoni roll, something that the Cronut™ can’t claim. Something that I would’ve snuck into the West Virginian State Capitol Time Capsule if I was around to do that.

Anyway, wish I had known about this roll last night, but something tells me that even though I missed out on a genuine West Virginian pepperoni roll, there’s probably a restaurant in Brooklyn somewhere that only serves pepperoni rolls for $10 each.


Charleston, West Virginia

Added on by Nathan Hoang.
2013-07 week 2 export-166.jpg

I asked an Asian West Virginia transplant through the internet about the locals to prepare myself. She messaged back saying the people, though politically incorrect sometimes, are generally pretty nice and mean well.

The guy outside the Welcome Center asking about my Fiat was awkward, but also nice. And the people who let me wander through the Capitol were nice and not awkward. The lady who was getting ready to jog by the Kanahwa River and gave me a smile and hello was nice. And the portrait and statue of Abraham Lincoln was leading me to believe West Virginia isn’t all that racist.

I started easing up a bit and becoming embarrassed on my unfounded paranoia.

Even my host was nice enough to dig through his mail to find me a coupon to Bob Evans.

I told Joey, my host, to his surprise that I never heard of Bob Evans.

"Really?" He asked. "It’s all over the area."

Joey’s never left the area.

He wants to, but can’t. When I asked him more questions about West Virginia, he didn’t give too many positive answers. He isn’t a big fan, which explains why when I asked him about West Virginia-defining restaurants in the area, he pointed me towards a mall food court.

I thanked him and went downtown to a FourSquare-recommended restaurant instead.

The bartender, originally from Arizona, was really nice but getting anxious because of the looming storm clouds. He wasn’t a big fan of the state either, and I began to think perhaps no one actually really liked West Virginia. They’re just here.

Though, he told me all about Tucson, the saguaros and the way the desert landscape changes as you head north into the Grand Canyon. But don’t worry about Phoenix, he told me, Tuscon’s so much better. Phoenix is just a sprawling city with no character.

Joey already left for the night shift so when I got back to his double-wide, so I decided to map out my route for Part Two of the project from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and back, taking cues from Joey’s Roomba meandering up and down highways for two months with an added stop in Tuscon before heading to the Grand Canyon.

Highlighted Orange: Part One Highlighted Pink: Park Two  Photo credit: Jeffrey E. Davis, my host in Tennessee, via Facebook

Highlighted Orange: Part One
Highlighted Pink: Park Two

Photo credit: Jeffrey E. Davis, my host in Tennessee, via Facebook

Canton, OH to Charleston, WV

Added on by Nathan Hoang.
Horror movies also start with rain.

Horror movies also start with rain.

You learn a thing or two when you get your driver's license in Alief, Texas, and drive through Third Ward to get to school.

My mom always warned me not to go on residential side roads because someone could just jump in front of the car and jack me. She also warned me of frequent accidents on small two-lane highways, and advised me to just stay on the interstate for this trip.

I've been ignoring that last bit of advice, driving on state highways and country roads and getting stuck behind Mennonites on a horse-drawn buggy. America's best seen slow and steady away from the interstate.

Well, that's until I got to West Virginia.

Before I left NYC in July, a friend of mine warned me not to watch The Hills Have Eyes . The same friend then later photoshopped my face into the movie poster. I've seen the movie; I don't even think it takes place in Appalachia, but I have seen the bad parts of Deliverance and that's enough for me.

I'd been driving around Ohio ending up in a national park and a hall of fame up until this point. Now it was time to take my mom's advice and take the interstate all the way to Charleston.

I filled up the Fiat one last time in Ohio, right on the border because I didn't want to run out of gas and pull into some small Appalachian town. That's how The Hills Have Eyes started.

I crossed the bridge into West Virginia and went straight to the Welcome Center where portraits of Abraham Lincoln hung with travel brochures. When I came out, a man eyed the car and me.

This must have been one of my mom's fears: me getting jacked out in the open right after filling up the damn car, in broad daylight, in a small West Virginian town where brochures are promoting the state's nature trails or whatever.

"Is this your car?"


"It must be real fuel efficient."

"Yeah, like, 40 miles per gallon, I think. 45, sometimes."


And he slowly walked away.

I haven't been fair to West Virginia, obviously. I don't even think Deliverance takes place in West Virginia. And if there's a portrait of Abraham Lincoln in the Welcome Center, things can't all be bad.

Courtesy of  Marcus Liwag . Friend, Photoshopper and rile-upper.  via Facebook

Courtesy of Marcus Liwag. Friend, Photoshopper and rile-upper. via Facebook

Canton, Ohio

Added on by Nathan Hoang.
I'd probably be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, too, if the field was only 70 yards long.

I'd probably be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, too, if the field was only 70 yards long.

In my quest to delay the inevitability of visiting West Virginia, I saw signs pointing towards the Pro Football Hall of Fame and followed them into Canton, Ohio.

The name suggests that there must be another, less professional Football Hall of Fame out there, perhaps for some company’s flag football or fantasy league or whatever.

I was going to find out. And I was also going to find out why on Earth there was a football hall of fame in the middle of Ohio. And I was also going to find out why the field outside of the Hall of Fame is only 70 yards long.

Unfortunately, these questions either went unanswered or forgotten since I didn’t actually get to visit the hall, just the gift shop to the right.

Money’s tight, so I couldn’t spare the $23 to get in, but I could buy a Tennessee Titans pencil for my Houston Oiler superfan and superfriend, Mark.

Time’s also tight. I couldn’t spare the two hours or so it’d take to get through it all; I still had a three-hour drive to Charleston, West Virginia, so visiting the gift shop’s a way of getting the Cliff Notes of what the hall’s all about: Professional Football and not college intramural flag football.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame didn’t sell rosaries though, but I said a few “Hail Marys” anyway.

West Virginia scared me.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

I ended up in Cuyahoga Valley National Park on the way out of Cleveland, feeling a little bitter because hours earlier, I got a bag of useless shredded money which can't be put towards either of the tickets I got in the last 24 hours.

I wasn't planning on going to Cuyahoga—I was originally following the signs to Akron, but I can't resist a national park.

Cuyahoga is Mohawk for "crooked river," which is funny because the name of the day's game was to take the most crooked path possible to West Virginia.

Of all the states I was most concerned about, West Virginia was the top, so a quick stop at the park just outside a city where a former Clevelander told me to bring a gun, is welcomed.

Cleveland, Ohio

Added on by Nathan Hoang.
"That thing," more commonly known as The Soldiers and Sailors Monument to those in downtown Cleveland.

"That thing," more commonly known as The Soldiers and Sailors Monument to those in downtown Cleveland.

The evening before, a couple ladies visiting from Fort Wayne, Indiana, were admiring the Cleveland skyline from a pier on Lake Erie. When they found out I was from NYC, they quickly suggested that maybe I wasn’t as impressed.

I told them the truth: I kind of like Cleveland’s skyline. They have that thing and the other building sticking out. It wasn’t that bad.

Before I set off for West Virginia, I walked around downtown Cleveland looking for that thing and the other building sticking out I was earnestly telling those two ladies but must have come off sarcastic.

"That thing" referred to The Soldiers and Sailors Monument. "The other building" referred to the Horseshoe Casino.

Personally, the monument was nice, but I felt duped trying to seek out a building only find out that it was a hotel casino.

I dejectedly walked back towards my car parked near the Federal Reserve Bank and found the meter guy to put the finishing touches on my parking ticket.

"I could have sworn I had a couple minutes left," I told him.

"Nope," he told me as he handed me the ticket, sparing him the routine of lifting up the windshield wiper.

And that’s how I got my second ticket, just a day after getting a traffic ticket, minutes from leaving Cleveland. If only I could pay the ticket with the shredded money I got from the Federal Reserve.

Cleveland-Sucks-To-Rocks Scale: Cleveland Rocks but c’mon, man. 

30 minutes prior: Cleveland Rocks
12.5 hours prior: Cleveland Sucks
16.5 hours prior: Cleveland’s Rocky

Cleveland, Ohio

Added on by Nathan Hoang.
A Clevelander shows love for Cleveland, not to be confused with Grover Cleveland, former president of the United States.

A Clevelander shows love for Cleveland, not to be confused with Grover Cleveland, former president of the United States.

After a quick visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center next door in the morning, my opinion of Cleveland hadn’t changed much from the night before.

Cleveland’s nice, sure, but I don’t think it defines itself by the Hall of Fame.

I parked, paid the meter and walked towards East Fourth Neighborhood, a revitalization project in downtown Cleveland, in search of coffee and postcards, but detoured into a Federal Reserve Bank I saw on the way.

I still can’t explain what a Federal Reserve Bank is, despite listening to a ton of Planet Money podcasts, and I can’t explain why there’s one in Cleveland, and I can’t explain why there are 11 other Federal Banks in 11 other cities, but I hoped the museum inside would clear things up.

It didn’t. But at the end of the exhibit, I got shredded money as a souvenir, so maybe that’s one thing they do?

I continued on and found Cleveland Clothing Company, a store that celebrates Cleveland in shirts, accessories and postcards.

Immediately, I appreciated its mission of giving Clevelanders a way to celebrate their underdog city and show their pride, because if they don’t, how would anyone?

Sure people started fires in the streets because the hometown kid spurned his hometown team to go to Miami (Florida, not Ohio). And sure, some people think you need to go into Cleveland with a loaded gun. And of course you can’t overlook the racist caricature used as a sports mascot.

Every city has their shortcomings, but not every city has shops and residents who are so in love with their home that they’ll work, wear and tattoo it on their arm.

So on the ongoing Cleveland-Sucks-to-Rocks Scale, after a visit and a chat with Clevelanders, Cleveland Rocks.

12 hours prior: Cleveland Sucks
16 hours prior: Cleveland’s Rocky

Cleveland, Ohio

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

I met Mark, my host for the night, at his place not far from the lake and got right down to business.

Lebron James: Over it.
Chief Wahoo: People should get over it, Redskins is far more offensive. Chief Wahoo is just a logo.
Economic woes: Yeah, sure, but Cleveland also has world-class art museums, symphonies and the aforementioned sports teams. Over it.
Food: There’s a “New American” movement happening in Cleveland.

Mark pointed me towards Melt as an example of the New American cuisine, so I made my way.

Melt, like NYC’s S’mac or Crif Dogs, focuses on one American food, in this case, grilled cheese sandwiches and makes it even more American, thus “New American.”

What could be more American than putting fried eggs, hickory bacon and american cheese into a grilled sandwich and calling it the Wake and Bacon? Not much.

At the end of the day, on the “Cleveland Sucks to Cleveland Rocks" scale, I’m going to have to say New American rocks, but you can't have "New American" without having an Old American and Old Americans are the Native Americans, who are, very unfortunately, portrayed by the Cleveland Indians with Chief Wahoo, which sucks terribly.

On a personal level, I haven’t had to use the gun Dino told me to bring yet, so my impression of Cleveland so far is “Cleveland Sucks in Sports and Racially Insensitive Sports Logos but has a lot of Rockin’* Upside.”

*Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tomorrow.

4 hours prior: Cleveland's Rocky

Lake Erie in Cleveland, OH

Added on by Nathan Hoang.
Standing in Lake Erie wearing the flip flops I use for gym showers.

Standing in Lake Erie wearing the flip flops I use for gym showers.

I called my dad while standing in Lake Erie, he offered his moral support. Then my mom, she was just happy to know I was safe (I didn’t tell her I was gun-less in a city that required a gun) and wanted to know where I was a week ago. I had no idea. 

Driving through New England, experiencing new things everyday and documenting it all will do that to you.

But standing in a Great Lake relaxed me and slowed time down a bit.

Until I realized I had to put socks back on with wet and sandy feet.

Thus far, on a scale of Mr. Hanrahan’s “Cleveland Sucks” to Drew Carey’s “Cleveland Rocks,” I'd say Cleveland is sandy with a bunch of tiny rocks. So overall, "Cleveland Rocks, but is not rocky."

Couple standing on a bunch of rocks at Lake Erie looking at a sunset. A potential break-up in progress? I don't know. Only time will tell.

Couple standing on a bunch of rocks at Lake Erie looking at a sunset. A potential break-up in progress? I don't know. Only time will tell.

Cleveland, Ohio

Added on by Nathan Hoang.
Man stands on the beach of Lake Erie as the Battery Park Wine Bar's smoke stack stands behind him.

Man stands on the beach of Lake Erie as the Battery Park Wine Bar's smoke stack stands behind him.

I've had minimal, but memorable exposure to the existence of Cleveland throughout my life:

1990s: I ate ice cream out of a souvenir Cleveland Indians hat-shaped ice cream bowl with Chief Wahoo on it. I have no idea how my mom got it—she doesn't care for baseball and has never been to Ohio, but I think of orange sherbet every time I see it.

2000s: The story my high school economics teacher, Mr. Hanrahan, told us about a guy painting "Cleveland Sucks" on the side of his house to stick it to the man, and The Drew Carey Show's opening song, "Cleveland Rocks."

2010s: The little research for The Great American Typeface Road Tour I did with Mark.

2013: When I met a gentleman named Dino at The Why Coffee Shop in Niagara Falls, NY, and he instructed me to "come strapped" to Cleveland.

Up until this point, I wasn't worried about getting jacked in Cleveland. West Virginia was my biggest concern, but Cleveland?

Sure the city's fallen on hard times, especially with Lebron James packing for the Heat, but Cleveland, as far as I was concerned, was a land of cleves, whatever that is, and you don't bring a cleaver to a gun fight, ergo, there are no guns.

Is that how the saying goes?

I cautiously drove into Cleveland with one eye open for danger and one eye open for traffic safety (because of the ticket earlier that day) so I could put two feet in a Great Lake.

Always wanted to do that.

New York poster

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

New York has the distinction of having its most populous city share the same name as the state.

This creates some problems with New Yorkers (the state) as they see themselves very different from a New Yorker (the city).

For starters, every New Yorker has their own definition of where "Upstate New York" starts.

A Manhattanite might say Upstate is north of White Plains. An Albanian (from Albany, NY, not Albania) might say they're on the southern border of the imaginary Upstate line. It goes on until you're 30 minutes south of Canada.

Opinions of New Yorkers of all regions differ from hot dogs (four kinds) to sports (two baseball and basketball teams and three football* and hockey teams).

Deep down, all New Yorkers are pretty nice and pretty great, but let's face it, New York (city) could very well be its own state and if only New York stuck with the name New Amsterdam, maybe they would. Or at least there wouldn't be a whole confusion of having to specify New York City or State.

Read and annotate the poster at RapGenius.

Buffalo, New York

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

Buffalo, NY, started three things: Buffalo wings, Buffalo Bills and Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency.

Understandably, these three things can keep a Quora writer busy.

"Why are they called Buffalo Wings?" asks a nationally-televised Jessica Simpson. Because they originated in Buffalo, NY

"Why are they called the Bills?" I asked, while researching team names for my 2013 MNF Prediction Paintings. Because fans love a good historical reference despite having zero ties with the Buffalo Bill Cody.

"Why did Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency start in Buffalo?" asks a history test somewhere, probably. Because Teddy was sworn in at the nearby Ansley Wilcox House immediately after McKinley died from a gunshot.

I didn’t plan on taking the Teddy Roosevelt Inauguration House tour, but I guess when you’re on a 50-state road trip and you happen upon your favorite president’s inauguration site, you should swing in.

And honestly, I didn’t plan on eating at the birthplace of Buffalo wings, either, but when’s the next time I’m going to be in Buffalo?

When the Texans play the Bills in a Conference Final game, perhaps.

So there it is, as I leave my seventh state asking why people call New York their home, these three things call New York home because location, location, location and the residents of Buffalo, known as Buffalonians.

Later in the trip, I visit the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum in Iowa, look at a real buffalo in the eyes in Wyoming, and look at a giant head of Theodore Roosevelt in the eyes in South Dakota, but first, we still the South and Atlantic Coast to finish.

Niagara Falls, NY to Cleveland, OH via Buffalo, NY

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

I told my mom I’d let her know everyday where I was headed and when I’d get there, so when I told my mom I was headed from Niagara Falls to Cleveland, she called me on the road to warn me about the upcoming storm and how to drive in rainy conditions.

That’s when an officer pulled me over for talking on the telephone while driving.

I tried to explain the irony to the cop, but got the first of many tickets on this trip instead.

Who would’ve thought? It figures.

Niagara Falls, New York

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

Ray, my host for the night, suggested a couple places for me to eat while in town: The Silo, featured in Man V Food, used to be a silo on the river and The Why, named after the YMCA next door.

Both restaurants have a pretty literal name—even the Twist o’ the Mist is shaped like the food it serves. And if you zoom out a little bit on Google Maps, the city is named after the second biggest attraction, only second to the Rainbow Bridge (or is it the other way around?).

The whole city, it seems, gives their businesses obvious names. And in a time where the city’s fallen on tough economic times, a little honesty is what we need.

Ray lived in NYC for several years. He rattled of ad agency letters like JWT and Y&R and when I asked him if he was in advertising, he said MIS.

As he grows older, Ray finds himself inching closer and closer to Canada. Perhaps it’s because his family’s there. Or maybe it’s because fresh fallen snow Niagara Falls is gorgeous. Or maybe because with a name like Ray, he was destined to be in the same city as the biggest attraction in the city (or is it second?).

Niagara Falls, New York

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

I visited Niagara Falls, Canada twice in my life and both times, we never crossed the border. “Why? You can’t really see the Falls on the American side,” my parents told me.

I’ll tell you why, Mom (circa 1998): Because the American side is pure, and not as commercially polluted as the Canadian side. Because a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not shop has no business being in one of the most beautiful and natural landmarks of this continent. And because we’re Americans, damn it.

As I argued with my mom in my head, I realized this was the first time since I left NYC on July 1, that I truly felt lonely. I’ve always been here with my family and now I sat on a bench looking at families taking photos while the sun set.

The mist was all over my face and I had to wipe it off to ensure everyone I wasn’t sad, because how can you be sad when you’re at one of the most beautiful landmarks of the country, where the country-in-question is America?

Cooperstown, New York

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

From one hall of fame to another, I made it to Cooperstown where the streets were filled with a ton of future hall of famers and their chaperones.

I can’t lend much of an opinion on Cooperstown, since I don’t know enough to name every World Series Champion (I can probably do that for the modern era of the NBA), but I know enough to name every MLB team in the country and the Sugar Land Skeeters for bonus points.

Objectively, I can say that like Saratoga Springs, this city was built around one hobby, and if I played little league, seeing all these signed baseballs and baseball cards would be pretty awesome, which is more than I can say for the International Boxing Hall of Fame, a one-story, sheet metal-sided building off the interstate I saw on the way to Niagara Falls.