West Virginia

 

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O#36: Morgantown, West Virginia
OOctober 6, 2007

 

While I'm not a big John Denver fan, I've learned that when you've been driving for about twelve hours and are about to put the truck into the ditch, you can keep yourself awake by singing, as loudly as possible:

COUNTRY ROADS... TAKE ME HOME...

TO THE PLACE... I BELONG...

At which point, you can substitute any four-syllable place-name you wish -- "OK-LA-HO-MA", for example, if you are passing through the Green Country; or "SAN DI-E-GO", my home town; or speeding down the Masspike in Worcester, "MASS-A-CHU-SETTS" -- and then wonder how you would go about meeting a "MOUNTAIN MOMMA" in any of those places, and exactly what kind of woman that might be.

TAKE ME HOME.... COUNTRY ROADS...

If you're old enough to remember the Sex Pistols, it's amusing to sing the next verse in your best Johnny- Rottenesque Brit-punk-rocker voice. I'm still not convinced that it's a great song, but it's better than falling asleep and putting the truck in the ditch.

 

In October of 2007, I finally had a chance to sing the original WEST VIRGINIA version of the song on my way to the University Motors Mountaineer Balloon Festival in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Morgantown is a city of about 30,000 people. It is located along the Monongahela river in Monongalia county -- both long ago contracted to just "Mon" by irritated and tongue-tied residents.

 

 

Morgantown is the home of West Virginia University. The campus sprawls across much of the city, linked by the futuristic Personal Rapid Transit system. At West Virginia football games, John Denver's "Country Roads" is sung by players and fans -- not something calculated to strike terror into the hearts of opponents, so they only do it at home games and only after they've won.

 

 

Morgantown was also the birthplace of actor Don Knotts. Knotts grew up in the area, and was educated at Morgantown High School and West Virginia University. His comic persona, who Knotts referred to as "the nervous man", would have made a great cluster balloonist -- eyes bulging with alarm, scrambling desparately to escape being strapped into the harness. Knotts is honored in Morgantown by a major street bearing his name, Don Knotts Boulevard.

 

The Mountainer Balloon Festival's major sponsor is University Motors, a Toyota/Chevy/Mercedes/Cadillac dealership located on Don Knotts Boulevard. University Motors is owned by Andy Claydon, who came to the U.S. from the England many years ago, and settled in West Virginia. The balloon festival is a great labor of love for him and many of his employees. who volunteer their time to bring this event to the community.

When I arrived in Morgantown, I was treated to the famous Anglo-West-Virginian hospitality. I had flown out for the event, and Andy graciously provided me with a car to use for the weekend. I assured him it was exactly like my chase vehicle at home.

 

 

On Saturday afternoon, my crew chief Roland Escher and I began inflating the cluster balloon at Mylan Park. The festival had been plagued by rain for the past several years, but this year it was sunny, the temperature in the high 80s. We were assisted by some local Boy Scouts and their scoutmasters. A few of the boys expressed some disappointment at having to help us while the Miss Balloon Festival teen pageant was going on, but most bore this loss manfully, and soon my 86 balloons were all inflated.

 

 


 

I got into my harness and crew attached the huge red and white balloons to me. My friend Bob Redinger was setting up his hot-air balloon a short distance away, preparing to accompany me on the flight. After a few last words with Roland and balloonmeister Van Anderson, I was ready to go.

 

 

 

 

 

Continued....