Marching Up and Down The Square

Lexington Travel Blog

 › entry 13 of 16 › view all entries

Miles Traveled: 255                         

Roads Traveled: I-81S, I-64W, US-11S                                

Time on the Road: 4.5 hours             

States Crossed: PA, MD, WV, VA                                                                  

Tanks of Gas: .75                                  

CD’s Listened to: Take The Lead, Darby O’Gill, CCR, Don’s Birthday Mix, Sexy Science Guy’s Alt Mix 3 and The Beatles                                                                                 

“Does Anyone Else Have Anything Better To Do Than March Up and Down The Square?”

~ Monty Python

The Drive

I feel it is now time to introduce another character in this narrative.  Her name is Millicent (Millie for short) and this part of this story revolves around how Millie got me into trouble.  Millie is the name of my GPS.  I have it set to speak to me in obnoxious British English and in turn she deserved an obnoxiously British female name.  The trouble came because I had 2 days to drive 5 hours.  In a moment of absolute genius, I decide to use Millie to find something to do en-route from Pennsylvania to Virginia.  The only thing that even looked slightly appealing was a racetrack and slot casino, but it was located in West Virginia.  I am not a fan of West Virginia in any way, shape or form.  I have refused to stop in that state ever since a college spring break moment that went awry forced us to get off the freeway in West Virginia.  The exit was marked as a no re-entry southbound exit but when there are 5 people in a Saturn and someone decides to vomit…you don’t really have a choice.  Let me recount what happened that fateful evening.  I am not making this up.  I actually got these directions from the guy at the only gas station about 50 miles south of Wheeling, “Inn-near State Seventeeee-Sev-ven?  Hmmmm…Lem’mee see…Tell y’all what…Jus’ keep headin’ down this way and when y’all see the dirt road ‘bout halfff mile bee-yond Black-Bell-lee Mud Pit, tha’s where we all have our tractor pulls on Fry-day nights, make a le-ef.  There’s a general store on the ri-aght and my Uncle Willy runs that store.  He bin there for over theeeeerteee-five yurs.  Be careful on the porch though, its ‘bout rickety and worn.  Jus’ step over Maaay-bull, the coon dawg…oh, and step over my bru-ther, Jessie who will be sleepin’ off the moonshine.  Go on in an tell Willy that y’all are friends with Cletus, oh that’s me, my name is Clee-tus and that I sentcha for die-reck-shuns.”  Wow, directions to get directions.  Amazing!  So, as you can assume I was not thrilled about the prospect of stopping here.

A simple verse of Pit Stop poetry will not do this little adventure the justice it has rightfully earned.  This is one of those, “Jewels was on a verbal banter spree” evenings.  I made more new friends in one night than I have in the last four years combined.  It all started when I exited the freeway and found the racetrack/casino.  It didn’t look too dodgy so I devised my game plan for the evening.  I would eat something, check into a hotel, go gamble for a bit and then peacefully return to my hotel room.  I decided to dine at a Texas Steakhouse (Yes, I was fully aware that the Lenten season was in full swing and it was a Friday... I ordered a steak anyway.)  Within one minute of sitting at the bar, I make friends with Woody & Jeff the bartenders.  About 5 minutes later the two travelers to my right are also now my new best friends.  In about 10 minutes, the entire bar has gone from a collection of quiet solo dinners minding their own business to a full-scale fraternity house keg party.  I can’t help it that I apparently amuse strangers.  My fellow road warriors whom I can remember were as follows:

Jimmy & Lovey from Ocala~ Brother and sister driving Mom from Syracuse back to their Orange orchard in Florida before she dies…I sympathize and buy them beer.

Ben from BAHHHSTON ~ He tells me he works in imports and I respond with some quip stating that the only thing they need to import into West Virginia is teeth…he laughs and buys me beer.

Trent from Baltimore ~ He was driving to meet his buddies at his farm outside of Winchester, VA where he and his crew are planning to drink and shoot stuff all weekend. I told him that Kentucky was the best state to do that in…he laughs and buys me beer.

Dave from Seattle ~ Cannot remember what he does for a living, but he was cute.  I told him a really disgusting joke…he laughs and buys me beer. 

Ted from DC ~ He works for the EPA as an engineer in the renewable energy division.  I ask him if he realizes that he is doing research in West Virginia, the only state that goes down into a hole, blows shit up and comes back up again only to do it again tomorrow…he laughs and buys SHOTS!!!!! Ted is now my favorite.         

            At this point, it looks like I will not be gambling.  I am having way too much fun being a smartass and entertaining others.  I depart from the Texas Steakhouse and check into the nicest Hampton Inn I have ever seen in my life.  I bring my pillow and toothbrush inside and head back across the parking lot to Texas Steakhouse.  The bar cheers wildly upon my entrance (Seriously, I have never seen anything like this in my life.  I think I blushed.)  One of the bartenders had been cut right after I left to check into the hotel.  Apparently, employees that want to drink or dine there after their shift must wait half an hour, change and come back.  Within five minutes of my return Woody pleaded with the drunken mob to please go to another bar for the next 20 minutes.  I round everyone up and we head over to the Ruby Tuesday.  IT WAS LAME and I think we were actually asked to leave because of our volume even though there wasn’t a single table in the place.  We head to BW-3’s.  I ask the bartender, Jim, for a Miller Lite in the bottle and the next thing I know a 24 Oz bottle of Miller Lite is in front of me.  Whoah, there scooter….are you serious?  Jim tells me this is the ONLY SIZE they have in bottles.  I was beyond confused by this and even more confused that the 24 Oz bottle was less than the 22 oz draft.  Apparently when piecing the end of my evening back together via the cell phone, I found that I actually sent some of you a picture of the massive 24 Oz bottle with the quote, “can we please talk about my ‘by the bottle’ options?”  We chug down the bigguns and head back to Texas Steakhouse where Jeff is patiently awaiting our return.  I challenge his bartending skills with a few crafty shots.  Then he blows me away with this amazing creation, The AppleJack.  Upon slamming it back, I name everything in it and he was impressed.  At this time, the gloves come off.  Someone just put a shot of tequila in front of me and I coerce Jeff into drinking Jaeger-bombs behind the bar.  Hell had totally broken loose and it was only 1:30.  We still had over an hour until last call in that part of West Virginia.  Jim the bartender from BW-3’s comes to find us.  All of us, including Jeff & Woody, head across the parking lot to a local shit-pit bar (aha, the restaurant industry bar…I knew there was one around here somewhere!)  Needless to say, I had an amazing evening with strangers!  Even more amazing was that Jeff, Woody, Jim & Allison (bartender at said shit-pit) all gave me the BOGO (buy one, get one) all night long!  I love getting the BOGO from bartenders that I don’t know!  The next morning I woke up to find 4 notes on my Jeep thanking me for the entertainment.  Upon sharing this series of events with my friend Ash, she stated that I was a Rockstar.  I don’t know about Rockstar, but definitely a legend in my own mind.      

The Town

               Lexington, Virginia is a mere pit-stop of a town that plays host to the final resting place of Confederate General, “Stonewall” Jackson (of course, the history teacher within compelled me to tour the graveyards and monuments.)  Small, adorable and filled with historical relics…sounds vaguely familiar, yet it is not as exploited as Gettysburg in the world of historical tourist traps.  The downtown has a very New England type feel to it.  The streets are lined with cafés and little European-styled designer boutiques that cater to the yuppie female student population of Washington & Lee (as in President George Washington, who founded the school and General Robert E. Lee, who not only has a massive statue on campus, but is also buried on the campus of W & L.)  The oddest thing about Lexington is the stark contrast between the campus of W & L and Virginia Military Institute.  The two school a literally adjacent to one another.  W & L has beautiful red-bricked, white pillared buildings surrounded by fountains and manicured lawns.  VMI also has massive buildings, but every building is made of a crème colored stone that resembles Army barracks.  Trust me when I say that you KNOW when you cross from the beauty of W &L into the militarized zone of VMI. 

The Campus Experience

               The concept of teaching cadets at VMI was by far the most mentally challenging experience for me to wrap my head around.  I have a large amount of friends and a few family members that have chosen to make a career out of upholding and defending our American way of life and freedom.  I have heard their various stories of induction (ahem, “hazing”) that was intended to “break them down as individuals” and “re-build them as a unit.”  However, I have never viewed them as soldiers, just as my friends.  The few times that we have all gotten together since high school, I tend to make comedic commentary about how my handsome, hilarious, intelligent and caring boys, that I have known since elementary school,  now have the ability to kill me with their pinky finger.  One of them, who is now a fine-upstanding Marine, that is nearly twice my height and muscle mass, delights in recounting a story that involves me “kicking his butt” on the playground because he kept pulling my braids.  Sure, I know who they are as individuals, but I have no idea who they are or how they behave as a commanding officer or a drill instructor and that scares the hell out of me.  Intimidated is the only word that I can come up with that accurately describes how I felt when pulling into my reserved parking spot (yeah, VMI erected a sign that had my name stenciled on it in front of my assigned spot) on Post (campus) and stepping out of the Doc and into the world of Virginia Military Institute. 

VMI, unlike its other collegiate-based military counterparts does not align itself with any specific branch of the military.  Instead, the cadets are allowed to option themselves to any of the four branches and have the ability to change their enlistment from one branch to another, should they feel that their first choice was not a good one.  On my first day I was dying to know WHY these students chose VMI.  Some of them replied that they NEEDED the structure.  Some implied that they WANTED the structure.  However, the majority of their answers involved the following, “Well, my name is Christopher William Hunter, the FIFTH.  Numbers 2, 3, & 4 ALL attended VMI.  I was not going to be the one to break that tradition and have numbers 3 & 4 hate me for the rest of my life.”  In that one statement that cadet, in particular, told me three things: 1) His family is ridiculously SOUTHERN and 2) His family does not believe that he can make decisions for himself and 3) His family is ridiculously wealthy.  All that was well and good, but I really wanted to talk to the few female cadets to find out why they chose VMI.  Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to ask any of them, as I did not have a single female in my class.  VMI began admitting women in 1997 after the Supreme Court ruled that the school was in violation of gender discrimination.  I can now happily state that within the last 11 years of admitting women, VMI now has enough lesbians on Post to have a NCAA softball team.  Please keep in mind that dig was not at the lovely young ladies at VMI, but rather a direct slap in the face of NCAA softball (Don’t believe that the majority of them are gay?  Ask my little sister Casey.  She’ll explain it to you.)  

               This is a place where manners aren’t learned, they are beaten and brainwashed into the cadets.  “Ma’am, yes, Ma’am!” is a phrase that I have grown to loathe.  After the first day, I implored that the cadets call me Jewels or at the very least, MISS as opposed to Ma’am.  However, there is something to be said for a pack of 20-something year old men that stand when you enter or exit a room, tip their hat to you when passing you on or off campus, hold doors and carry things for you even though you can manage it yourself.  Chivalry is not dead, it is alive and well at VMI.  It took them a day or so to get used to being called by their first names again and to my conversational teaching style, which allowed them to “respond freely.”  By the third day, they were overly excited to speak even when not spoken to.  For the last few nights at VMI I had the benefit of chatting with three of my cadets from the time that class ended until SRC (Standing Roll Call) and I have to say that I was beyond impressed with their social commentary, views of life (including a few government conspiracy theories) and the state of our country. 

               The hardest thing for me to adjust to was the jargon (acronyms), rules and regulations.  (I didn’t have an issue with military time thanks to my family’s very first VCR.)  The golden rule at VMI, “It is easier to just do it and beg for forgiveness than to ask permission.”  The cadets live a very rigid life.  4th class (freshmen) are not allowed to leave Post except on Saturday and have to return to Post by midnight.  In addition, when I had arrived they had just broken out of “Rat Line.”  Rat Line is a stringent set of rules that the 4th class cadets must abide by for from hell week through first semester and the first month into second semester.  This included how/when they slept, the way they ate/what they ate, how they walked on campus and spoke to non-4th class persons.  Again, the intention of Rat Line is to make them a bonded, cohesive group.  I think the most telling statement about college life at VMI from a 4th class cadet was, “VMI Cadets don’t have girlfriends.  We are only weekend boyfriends that are placated by girls that we used to date.  We buy dinner and trinkets once a month and the rest of the time, they cheat on us.”       

               I was able to gain their trust and respect in under one day.  I was told that the company’s CO (commanding officer) or a Tack Officer would be present at their sessions to ensure that the cadets behaved in an appropriate manner for class.  This made me uncomfortable.  So, I kicked the CO out and asked him to wait outside during class.  Halfway into class, I saw the CO glaring in the window at one of the cadets and pointing feverishly to his own wrist.  It took me a moment to figure out what the CO was trying to signal to the cadet and then it hit me.  As I walked around the classroom (like I do while teaching) I said to my students, “So, keep this in mind while organizing yourselves for writing.  Oh, and if you have you sleeves rolled up or top buttons undone, I highly recommend that you non-chalantly address those situations in the next few moments before you get ‘boned’ (boned=gigged=demerit=TROUBLE).”   I received a vocal, “nice one, Rossi!” from my class.

The one thing that I definitely did not expect was that my contact on campus, a PhD and Lance Corporal was a female.  Not, a hard-core military female, but an ex-hippy that used to teach literature in Colorado that took the position at VMI because she needed better health benefits and an incredible government retirement fund.  As she walked me to my classroom, we passed through a section of the main educational building that she referred to as “The big old hall of dead white guys.”  She attended at least one session of my class everyday and at the end of the workshop when I went to shake her hand, she hugged me and thanked me profusely for coming to VMI.  It was a good time.


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photo by: tj1777