A Masshole Visits America: Richmond, Roanoke

Photo by Colin Kingsbury

After settling into my motel room and writing down the collected sayings of my new BFF, I called the friend I was due to visit in Richmond, Va., or so I thought. “I’m not in Richmond,” she said, “I’m in Charlottesville.” I’d gotten the two confused, which is sort of like mixing up Worcester and Cambridge, and we made plans for me to come in the next day. A few minutes later she turned to Facebook to make fun of me: “I just found myself saying, ‘He’s from the Northeast, you know how they are’.”

Charlottesville is known as the home of UVA and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, but the reason for my visit was to visit one of my best friends from high school. We spent a long afternoon and evening carousing through the downtown mall, which was renovated in 1976 along the same lines as Faneuil Hall. We stopped first at The Whiskey Jar, where the cocktails were “crafted” and the waiter took pains to let us know that the melons that came with the prosciutto were purchased at the farmer’s market that morning. However, they came as part of what the menu called the Local Cheese and Meat Plate, which in the 617 would no doubt have been called a charcuterie plate. I suspect this reflects more Yankee pretension than Southern bumpkinism.

My friend Clare and I managed to talk for a good 10 hours, just catching up on our lives. You spend your twenties too broke to travel anywhere outside of Fung Wah’s radius, then life starts getting complicated in your thirties, and if you don’t make an effort, your entire relationship with some of the people who know you best becomes little more than a series of status updates. She poured me out in front of my hotel, and we swore oaths to not wait 10 years to do it again.

The next morning I left for Roanoke via the Blue Ridge Parkway, a nearly 500-mile scenic route that runs along the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains from just outside Charlottesville to Asheville, N.C. While it can get crowded during weekends and especially during leaf-peeping season, on a Tuesday in mid-August it felt like I had the place to myself. It’s a Valhalla of twisting roads, epic panoramas, and largely devoid of law-enforcement, where 10 over the 45-mph speed limit often felt perilously fast, even in a light car built for curves. It felt like driving through a car commercial, and if you own an anti-social sort of motor vehicle, or even a bicycle, it’s a blast.

I picked Roanoke solely based on its place on the map, and on that basis it largely delivered. Like Charlottesville and, it seems, nearly everywhere else, it has a former downtown market square-turned-”festival marketplace” complete with farmer’s market and restaurants serving locally-sourced farm-to-blah blah blah. I’d driven 700 miles since leaving Brooklyn, but Williamsburg, it seemed, had followed me here. Fortunately, I awoke the next morning to discover a breakfast spot next to my hotel, where an order of two eggs, sausage, hash browns, and a biscuit with sausage gravy would set you back $4.89. Yankees are rightly suspicious of this dish, which often comes out like prison food, a stale biscuit swamped with a paste-like slurry of flour, butter substitute, and salt. Thankfully, these were transcendent, and possibly worth the atherosclerosis.


Distance Driven: 74 (784 from Boston)
Hotel Cost: $99, Red Roof Inn Charlottesville; $49 Red Roof Inn Richmond
Cost of a Manhattan cocktail: $7.50
Cost of a pack of cigarettes: $5.50