Yesterday I read an old note on the facebook page of this guy Larry C. He shares an ignominious distinction. He's probably the closest approximation to an Ohio version of myself. He generally shares my "take" on East Ohio and Northern WV. But he resides on the other side of the Ohio River. He spoke of "the way of things" in East Ohio and made a list of 15 observations. He took more of the obvious stuff - DiCarlos Pizza, wings, excessive tattoos & piercings, Jamboree, the weather, Ford vs. Chevy debate via Calvin urinating on one or the other, etc.
So in keeping with that same spirit, here are some Wheeling area anecdotes and observations...
1) Whenever a new restaurant opens up, everyone must be there for the grand opening. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. It's imperative that you be the first one to experience this epic new cuisine. The waiting line loops around the building. The parking lot is exceeding capacity, but it's now or never. The irony is that it's always one of those chain restaurants - usually a Red Lobster, Olive Garden or Applebees (I believe their spokesperson used to be John Corbett).
And another aside along these same lines... Why is it that when locals travel outside the area, say Chicago or Philadelphia... When they select a restaurant, it's usually that same type of mid-range establishment (Olive Garden or Chi Chi's). We came all the way to Indianapolis for the Indy 500... so naturally, we decided to hit up Cracker Barrel.
2) Having severe problems with non-traffic related issues. If you're from Wheeling, you find it unacceptable or very disconcerting to go through an additional rotation of green/yellow/red light. How on earth could this have happened? Why was I stuck at the stoplight for a full extra cycle? There must be a reason and I want answers! Something doesn't make sense. There must be a problem with the electrical or maybe it's the Department of Highways fault. Or maybe people around here just don't know how to drive. Something has gone horribly wrong. And I will voice my complaints about this particular traffic light to all my friends at church bingo. After all, they dealt with this same atrocity/traffic injustice on the way here.
3) A fascination with all things Texas, despite never having been there. Northern panhandle residents are obsessed with the state of Texas for reasons unknown.
A. They must name their male children after cities in Texas (Austin, Tyler, Dallas or Houston) or even worse, a combination of those aforementioned names.
B. They must dine at any Texas themed "Roadhouse" restaurant which offer "humongous" portions. And they revel in the novelty of discarding peanut shells on the floor. For some reason, this excites the locals to no end. They also enjoy it when the waitress introduces herself and writes her name on the paper towel using a crayon. No matter how many times it happens, it's always a seemingly unique jubilant experience. Forgive the poor service. It's okay. Our waitress was busy with the other employees... line dancing the night away.
C. And some must express their die hard love and support for the Dallas Cowboys, usually because they have issues with a Steelers fan, likely a close relative. It's how they secretly manifest their disgust for cousin Billy, not because he slept with my wife... it's because he likes dem Stillers. The odd thing about all this - they've never been to Texas and don't know a soul that even lives there. Most likely the farthest West they've ever been is Indy (you know, for the big race).
D. And of course the cowboy hat wearing phenomenon exhibited during mid-July at Jamboree in the Hills. Other than this one week, the hat stays in the closet year round.
4) There seems to be this odd fascination with bad 90's music. It doesn't matter the band. Spin Doctors, Gin Blossoms, Collective Soul, the band that plays that atrocious "It's good, good, good, good" song. As long as the lyrics are bad, and the song is overplayed and the melody is something you can annoyingly hum in a long line at Krogers. And the other prerequisite, local cougars must aggressively charge the dance floor. This is their time to shine. It is their American Idol moment, a moment of hedonism. They will bask in the glow of Friday night as their ex has the kids for the weekend.
5) The greatest game in the world is... Cornhole. We refuse to call it by its other name... Beanbag Toss. Only southwestern PA folk use that terminology. In these parts, it's Cornhole. Most locals believe this game to be worthy of Olympic status. And they take tremendous care in hand-crafting and designing the wooden boards. One is WVU, the other usually says "SHIT" cleverly disguised as the PITT logo. That's some down-home creativity.
6) The ultimate honeymoon destination of choice is a Caribbean resort, preferably Aruba or for the more flamboyant newlyweds... Jamaica. And we will not leave the confines of the hotel. It's far too dangerous. Women are routinely raped by the locals. Men are fearful of being sodomized. It's strictly airport > hotel room > hotel bar > hotel beachfront and back to the airport. We had such a wonderful time despite the fact that we never ventured from this 1/4 square mile vacation hot spot. Our only experience with the local culture was getting ripped off by the cab driver on the way back to the airport.
7) We must let the world know (usually via facebook) if we venture outside the confines of Wheeling. Any trip to Pittsburgh or Columbus is deemed newsworthy. For some reason, it usually involves a trip to Ikea or Kennywood and a sandwich at Primanti's. God forbid you go to Cedar Point or board an airplane. All must be immediately notified of your heroic journey. You have indeed achieved the status of world traveler. Let no one doubt your brazen spirit and vehicular navigation skills. You survived the big city and lived to tell about it.
8) Ahh, the Festival of Lights. Despite the fact that this ordeal runs nonstop for 6 months, there are only 2 viable options, you must go the night before Thanksgiving or the night before Christmas. Sure enough, this coincides with the only time traffic is backed all the way into the Wheeling Tunnel. But you must load up the Dodge Minivan with all the children and relatives. You must embrace the spirit of the season. It takes you 5 hours to get through the whole display, but it was well worth it. The florescent, blinking nose of Rudolph alone was well worth the $20 suggested donation. In retrospect, you were admittedly too eager to impress your out-of-town relatives with your charitable generosity, supporting the noble holiday efforts of the Oglebay Park Commission.
9) All John Corbett sightings must be spoken of immediately via every communication device (payphone, text, internet, make a sign and stand on the corner). It is more than your duty. It is a moral obligation. Everyone must know that I saw this famous Wheelingite at Exxon or the Alpha. I must know that he purchased a bag of Munchos or was drinking an Amstel Light. And I must tell every living soul. Rest assured, we will all sleep well tonight after having been sufficiently briefed on all that is Corbett.
10) There must always be an incessant number of reoccurring DUI Checkpoints at every hundreth block on National Road. Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday... Fulton, Woodsdale, Elm Grove, Tri-Dirty... 7-12am, 8-1am, 10-3am... Does it really matter? Oddly enough, no one has ever been caught in one of these valiant sting operations. But it's the goal of every resident to spread fear and paranoia. It's some kind of anti-DUI-awareness, anti-cop-awareness campaign. And the best part... if you wish, an alternative route will be provided. But your decision to take it results in getting pulled over by some "alternate-universe, rogue, cleverly hidden" cop car . If you hadn't been scared shitless, they would have just waived you on through.
11) It's the obligation of any local dee jay or musician to play as loudly as humanly possible. If the people in attendance are not screaming at the top of their lungs, you have failed to provide an enjoyable atmosphere. When your head hits the pillow, if your ears are not ringing, the entertainment has been an abysmal, abject failure. We the locals need it amplified to the next level. I love it loud. Which brings me to the irony of #12...
12) We must sit in complete silence on our front porches and... just stare. Chain smoking cigarettes is widely encouraged. And it's also permissible to drink cheap, domestic canned beer. But of the utmost importance... ABSOLUTELY NO TALKING (with 2 minor exceptions... if a family member has been charged with a felony or misdemeanor and/or a family member just discovered she's pregnant or has decided to file for divorce).
13) There seems to be an unusual per capita number of weirdos with gaping holes in their earlobes. Yes, tattoos and piercings were part of the last forgotten Bush/Cheney decade. We need more youth with frisbee-sized disc openings in the ears. It's a matter of great pride and distinction. The bigger the hole, the more superior your act of rebellion. Do not bother expressing yourself through athletics or academics. Earlobe hole girth is all that matters.
14) When devising plans for a picnic lunch or park outing, quantity is of paramount importance. Variety is scoffed at. Why grill chicken or fish? It's all about the amount. We need MORE burgers, MORE hot dogs, MORE macaroni salad, MORE cheesy poofs. This will make it intrinsically better. We will never run out of average picnic food. This will make it a great day. We will have an endless supply of food. And this will make it much more fun.
15) We must wrap our entire identity around a specific brand of domestic beer. Bud, Bud Light, Miller Light, Coors Light, Rolling Rock and... drumroll please... the newest other possibility is now Yuengling. We have waited so long for the Yuengling to cometh. And now it hath arrived. Choose from only these selections, lest ye be labeled as a "fag beer" drinker.
Honorable mention: You must play the gambling machines in the back of the bar. The enclosed, smoke filled room will not be a deterrent. You must feed your social security check into the machine. Cherry, lemon, orange, starfuit, mango... these colorful representations of fruit are a source of inspiration. Ricky's college fund will be secure. The $5.00 bill I inserted will magically turn into $362.00. Then I cash-out at $80.00. And I will buy the entire bar Jagerbombs and be regarded as a hero. Little Ricky's educational dreams will take a backseat, until my triumphant return (tomorrow evening).