Wooden's World of Baseball

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The First Road Trip

One of the enduring memories of any summer of baseball are the road trips taken. This is particularly true when you go it alone and stay overnight, but I count it as a road trip if you spend more than twice as much time driving to and from the game than the game took to play. In other words, if you drive more than 2½ hours to get there (5 hours of driving for a 2½-to-3-hour ballgame) .

This past weekend was the first of 2007, as I drove 3 hours to see the "Baby Nats" beat the Lynchburg Hillcats 7-1 in a brisk 2 hours and 11 minutes and a brisk 49 degrees at games' end. As usual, I enjoy the drive as much as the game, especially when it's seeing the country or a part of the state I've never seen before. Central Virginia is no exception, though it is a time machine of sorts.

As one of the Damn Yankees that have invaded Northern Virginia in the past decade or so, I'm aware of the effect that locals call "the grits line" — where the "true South" begins, as the Mason-Dixon line ain't cutting it no more, to use their vernacular. I can understand what they mean, as the townhouses that us invaders live in are, in a sense, "vertical trailers." With the exception of the "Dixie Heritage" shop, I enjoyed most of what I saw, even if I had last seen it in the early 1980s.

What's bothersome to me when I take jaunts like this is the feeling that the prosperity that's made Virginia a national success story has passed these folks by, recognizing the similarities to Central and Western Massachusetts (where I grew up, even if I'm forced to use "Boston" as shorthand; funny how few folks wonder why it is I can pronounce the letter "r" like "are" instead of "ah"). Searching futilely for an ATM on Friday night was just such a reminder — the last time I remember seeing a bank without one was, well, let's just say Reagan was in office.

Day 2 took me to Ridgeway, VA, which sported a dirt-cheap Days Inn near Martinsville Speedway (seriously, I ran by it on Sunday morning). I was smack-dab in NASCAR territory, and I began to see chain stores I didn't recognize, which actually piques my interest: Who, besides the shareholders of these chains, wants to see the exact same stores and restaurants everywhere? So I ate brunch in a place called Biscuitville, which features breakfast all day and fresh-cooked breakfast and is located in what I believe is known as the Piedmont Region of both Virginia and North Carolina.

The most memorable thing about this area was my trip to Wal-Mart. Now this wasn't just your everyday Wal-Mart. At least not like I had ever seen before. My friend who grew up in Florida tells me that this is typical of the small-town boxes, but I have never seen a store that was about the size of a 1970s shopping plaza. Or to be more accurate, it was like that in reverse: The whole plaza was under one roof, with a full-fledged grocery store at one end, a tire-oil-change place at the other, the department store in the middle, and along the edges (still inside) were a pharmacy, barbershop/salon and a eyeglass store. And a McDonald's in the back. I went in for a couple of things and bought two more impulse items, yet still spent less than $40. That's something I could never do at a Target, at least not usually.

I was supposed to see a ballgame on Saturday night, but apparently to North Carolinians, 40 degrees was too cold to play and I learned this only after driving the hour and 20 minutes from Ridgeway to Winston-Salem. While I'm still deeply disappointed about this, the upside is I stopped at a little roadside diner and had some good food real cheap. (Isn't that the essence of any good road trip?) So my baseball road trip was but one game and 700 miles of driving, but I saw a lot and listened to a good book (Dean Koontz's "Forever Odd"). Maybe next time, it'll break 60 degrees. I have heard that it sometimes gets that warm down here this time of year.


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