A few days ago, returning from a business trip, I was standing in Yeager Airport waiting for my bag to surface from deep below. Not far away, a group of men stood talking. While fiddling with his laptop, one younger man said loudly “Does West Virginia have internet?” When an older member of the group said something to him, the first replied “Doesn’t matter. When I’m enunciating, they can’t understand me.”
Before moving home to West Virginia a few years ago, I lived in Durham, North Carolina for nearly 12 years. When I first moved there, it was an unwritten rule that you didn’t go downtown. They had a serious gang problem. By the time I left, downtown Durham was one of the coolest places I had ever been. There were bars, breweries, restaurants and live music everywhere.
I often write often about the positives I see in West Virginia, be it the history, the cultural legacy or the opportunity for a natural quality of life. I’m not going through life with blinders on, though. There are things here that drive me straight up the wall. Having lived in a couple other states and traveled to many more of them, I will tell you that every place has its problems and drawbacks. What it takes is the people coming together and agreeing to not put up with those problems any more. And then change comes, just like it did in Durham.
Just after the water crisis in January, a columnist wrote how West Virginians are like kidnap victims who begin to identify with their captors; they begin to think they deserve whatever treatment they get. I certainly don’t think West Virginia deserves to be treated as second class by anyone. I do think we need to do a better job of living up to our own potential. Just like Durham did.
I didn’t say anything to the guy in the airport. In some ways I regret that, but I’m confident nothing I said would have changed his mind. That’s the problem with stereotypes; they aren’t based in reality. Facts and logic don’t do much to undo them. There is a saying that “Living well is the best revenge.” It means the best way to get the better of someone who hurt you is to live like they didn’t hurt you at all. It is time we began living well. And when that happens, people from outside the state won’t even consider rehashing those tired, old stereotypes.
I wonder if the guy in the airport would be impressed to know that I typed the first draft of this column on my web-enabled smart phone?.