After we woke up Saturday, Anna's sister Tonya took me, Anna, Ricky and Little Jimmy out for breakfast at Suzi's, which Tonya insisted had better biscuits and gravy than Tudor's. Suzi's looked like a fast food restaurant, although it is not a chain. After tasting Suzi's gravy, Anna and I agreed we liked Tudor's gravy better, although Suzi's biscuits didn't crumble as easily as Tudors. But then again, having been born and raised in New England, I'm not really qualified to be a critic of southern cooking.
Suzi's drew a brisk business, and a wide variety of customers, including some guys in camoflague jackets. "Look, there's a Skoal ring!" Anna said, pointing to the back of some dude waiting in line, where she could see the outline of a can of tobacco worn into the back pocket of his jeans.
On the way back to her house, Tonya accomodated my request for some Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and we got some hot from the oven. These light, airy and sticky-sweet treats practically melt in your mouth! Although Krispy Kremes are all throughout the south, you cannot find one in Rhode Island (and, vice versa, you will not find a Dunkin Donuts in Charleston, W. Va.).
Like many houses in the area, Tonya's house, which is in South Charleston, sits atop a hill overlooking the Kanawha valley. The street to get to her house is extremely steep on one end (it seemed like a 45-degree incline, but it was probably not quite that much). Then, once you park on the street, you have to walk up a steep set of concrete steps to get to the house. A gutted deer hung in the nextdoor neighbor's carport.
Anna and I decided to go home on Saturday, after hearing that highway traffic would be much worse on Sunday. We left at 3 p.m., while we still had some daylight left. Along Interstate 79 in West Virginia, one can see groups of three crosses in the mountains along the highway every so often. They were placed by a West Virginian, Bernard Coffindaffer, who became a Christian at the age of 42 and began putting up the groups of crosses in 1984 (see http://www.christiancrosses.org/). Since there were no leaves on the trees, we could also see where people lived on the sides or tops of the mountains. Some were rundown trailers with winding dirt roads leading up to them; others were luxury houses. But many of these houses were alone, with not a neighbor in sight. I also saw at least three dead deer on the side of the highway.
I don't think there is any significant straightaway on Interstate 79 in West Virginia. I was constantly driving long, sweeping curves either to the left or right. Then, when we got on Interstate 68 and rode into Maryland, we contended with steep grades. The temperature was cold, and there was some snow on the side of the highway. My tires felt skittish, so I slowed my speeds considerably; at a rest stop, I confirmed the road was definitely slick, so I kept my speeds to 45-50 mph. Going down a steep grade is worse than going up - I felt like I was descending into an abyss, and doing it on an icy road only intensified the white-knuckle experience. (Later, I noticed that my black car had the telltale white residue of road salt.)
Fortunately, though, the roads dried up after about 20 minutes of driving, so I could relax a bit. Once near Hagerstown, Md., the highway flattens out, and it was smooth sailing through the rest of the states. We stopped at the same highway service area off Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania where we had stopped on the way up. At the McDonald's there, three members of the Hell's Angels from South Carolina saw the writing on Anna's hooded sweatshirt that said Federal Hill, Providence, R.I., and told her they had just been in Providence to pay their respects to a brother who had passed away.
After a quick dinner and gassing up the car, we were back on the road. Traffic was relatively light. We went back the same way we came, but it seemed like we were in New Jersey forever, so I had to pull over for a map check. I was on course alright. After crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, we were soon in Connecticut. After we stopped at a highway service area in Fairfield, Conn., I let Anna drive the rest of the way home. We arrived home an hour or two before daybreak.
I'd like to visit West Virginia again, preferably in the summer, but definitely not in the winter - the roads are difficult enough in dry weather. Anna can't see me living in West Virginia. "My baby don't like the mountains," she teases me.