Travelblog: Morgantown, West Virginia
Before last weekend, I’d been to 40 states. I’d missed 10: Hawaii, Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and West Virginia. Strike one off that last. West Virginia’s admission to the Big 12 took me to Morgantown, W.Va., for the dangdest football game you’re ever likely to see.
But apart from football, the trip was a blast. We only got to see a sliver of West Virginia – Morgantown is in the northern part of the state, 10 miles south of the Pennsylvania line – but what we saw, we liked. And here’s what we saw.
I wrote about college football’s best mascot, The Mountaineer, last week. You can read that column here. But WVU student Jonathan Kimble, the mascot this year and hopefully next, offered us a tour of campus and town. And he made good on it.
Jonathan, in costume — he was coming from an appearance at a Morgantown elementary school – drove us around town in his Jeep, showing us the sites and giving us insight into state and university culture.
Jonathan is from the small town of Franklin, W.Va., in the far eastern part of the state. As a freshman, at his first West Virginia game, other students saw his passion for the Mountaineers and told him he ought to try out for the mascot. So he did and eventually was selected.
He told us great tales. How he went to New York for the Big East Tournament one year, his first trip to Gotham, and spent all his money on counterfeit tickets. But he made it to an ATM, found another ticket and, complete with coonskin cap and singing “Country Roads,” landed in the middle of Notre Dame fans.
When ESPN’s GameDay came to Morgantown a year ago for the LSU game, Jonathan camped out for a prime location and eventually gave his coonskin cap to Erin Andrews.
Jonathan carries his rifle with him – he even loaded it and shot it off in a parking lot in the middle of town. He told us that West Virginia law gives him special dispensation to carry and shoot his rifle.
Jonathan is a natural at his job. He makes frequent trips to WVU’s Children’s Hospital and public appearances all over the state. We would support WVU giving him a lifetime appointment as The Mountaineer. He’s among the best ambassadors I’ve ever seen.
Jonathan had promised me some deer jerkey and was appalled that he was out when we met up. He promised me some after the game; his dad was bringing up a stash from Franklin. After the game, I found Jonathan, and the deer jerkey was gone again, but no worries. Hanging out with The Mountaineer is better than any deer jerkey.
RIVERS & MOUNTAINS
The drive from Pittsburgh to Morgantown, along Interstate 79, is beautiful. You drive through the Allegheny Mountains, and the beauty doesn’t end in Morgantown.
The town reminds me of Fayetteville, Ark., except the West Virginia mountains trump the Ozarks. Plus there’s the Monongahela River, which flows north to Pittsburgh.
The topography makes for a wildly eclectic town with the worst Big 12 traffic, maybe including Austin. Morgantown streets wind up and around. Seldom do you go more than a block or two without a curve. Traditional intersections are rare.
That makes for some traffic logjams, especially around campus but also people trying to get around town in late afternoon. Put me in Oklahoma City or Norman or Stillwater, and if there’s bad traffic, I take the first turn and weave my way around. You don’t do that in West Virginia. There’s nowhere to turn.
But the city is gorgeous. Jonathan took us to the university president’s home, high upon a hill that overlooks downtown and the Monongahela. Beautiful.
Jonathan came upon some OU fans already setting up for tail-gating, and he didn’t put the charm in his pocket. Walked right up, welcomed the Sooners to West Virginia and posed for pictures.
Now, there are definitely some West Virginia stereotypes. In Morgantown’s arboretum, Jonathan told us, people jog and ride bikes and go bowhunting for deer. Uh, I think I’ll pass. Nothing ruins a good run like an arrow in the leg.
Also, pristine homes might be a house or two away from a shack. A sort of trailer house lot – it would be wrong to call it a trailer park; it wasn’t that well manicured – sits right across from Milan Puskar Stadium. I blame it on poor zoning laws, as much as anything.
Morgantown has a quaint train that travels from downtown through campus – PRT, Personal Rapid Transit system, which was built by the U.S. Department of Transportation as an experimental mass transit, citing Morgantown’s wide climate changes. Nancy Sue Kuzydym rode it to the game and said it was a blast.
Morgantown sits just south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Col. Zackquill Morgan founded the town in 1783, just after the Revolutionary War. West Virginia itself seceded from Virginia in 1863, as part of the Civil War conflict.
Morgantown would be the largest city in West Virginia, if they counted students, which they don’t but should. The largest cities are Charleston (51,400), Huntington (49,138), Parkersburg (31,492), Morgantown (29,600) and Wheeling (28,486). But Morgantown would be pushing 60,000 if you counted the nearly 30,000 students.
WVU opened in 1868. The university was not placed in the middle of the state, but near the state line (another similarity to Arkansas). I don’t know why legislatures did that kind of thing.
We had two meals in Morgantown, both at distinctive places.
We had lunch Friday at Black Bear Burrito, which most certainly has embraced the Mountaineers’ new conference. The Big 12 Nacho is a huge plate of nacho delights. I assume it was called Big East Nacho in a previous life, but I forgot to ask.
Banjo music played over the intercom, and available for purchase was moonshine: $3 a shot. I passed, but Nancy Sue couldn’t resist and everyone tried it. Someone said it tasted like corn whiskey, which I assume would be no surprise. I also assume it wasn’t as good as the stuff you could get somewhere up in the mountains.
We had lunch Saturday at Tudor Biscuits, a diner known for its massive biscuits of all kinds. I had a pepperoni biscuit, plus biscuits and gravy. Very good.
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