Friday, June 20, 2008

West Virginia Day - Let's Celebrate With a Hot Dog!

Over the past couple of years of blogging about hot dogs I have learned two things about my fellow West Virginians: We are proud of our state and its culture, and we are a damned creative bunch of folks.

Consider the evidence that I have unearthed just doing hot dog reviews:

Hillbilly Hot Dogs - While poking fun at a tired, old stereotype, Sonny and Sharri have created a whole new genre of theme restaurant, and from all appearances are doing quite well in its promotion on a national scale. Their appearance on The Food Network's Dives, Diners and Drive Ins this past year has made Hillbilly Hot Dogs a bona-fide tourist destination. I can attest that many visitors to this blog come from Google searches for "WV hot dog bus" and other such combinations of words that make it unlikely that the searcher is looking for anything other than Hillbilly Hot Dogs. They could be accused of exploiting the stereotype, and in doing so helping to solidify it, but I prefer to think that people who actually take the time to check it out will be forced to see that it's all in jest and the only logical conclusion to which they can arrive is that the whole stereotype is built on exaggerations and fed by prejudice; which it absolutely is.

Barnyard - In Buckhannon there is another theme restaurant that confronts our cultural reputation and instead of letting people see the ugliness in it, they make it as cute as a speckled pup. Barnyard is a great little restaurant that brings a kind of sophistication to some of the staple foods of our culture while at the same time showing the real charm of rural Appalachian culture. The creativity that exists in the motif of the restaurant and the menu makes it obvious to any visitor that there is a sense of pride that caused this kind of effort to be unleashed.

But it doesn't take a theme restaurant to show pride and creativity in our culture. Last year I took a couple of kids from New Jersey to Skeenies Hot Dogs, the quintessential West Virginia Hot Dog Joint on Sissonville Drive near Charleston. After enjoying a couple of Skeenie's famous hot dogs, my guests had the chance to meet the owner of the restaurant as she was leaving for the day. Her genuineness and charm made a tremendous impression on these two young men. They found out how good our hot dogs are, to be sure, but what they really learned was how happy a person could be in her work and how much a person can express themselves through their work. What she has created with Skeenie's isn't art by any normal definition, but it is something that demonstrates and communicates who we are in ways that words can never express, and she obviously receives great validation through sharing her art. All over West Virginia there are hot dog joints that proudly sell this simple little sandwich that in itself is a testament to our creativity. Our Huntington Weenie Wonk, Chris James, has said it best: A WVHD is all about taking the most simple elements and combining them in such a way that they taste phenomenal. In other places hot dogs depend on the best quality premium weenie or the best gourmet toppings or an artisan bun for its worth. Here, we take any weenie, the cheaper the better, throw on some stuff from pot that has been simmering for hours, plop a dollop of slaw and we have a creation fit for royalty.

A few years ago I read Richard Florida's book "The Rise of the Creative Class" and was amazed at the parallels that I saw between his description of the values of this new "creative class" and those I had been exposed to my whole life. I remember thinking then that Appalachians might be the model that this new class is unknowingly imitating as they express their creativity in ways that transform their culture. Could it be that we are the original creative class? I think a decent argument could be made that we are.

I know that what we create as a people might be seen as simplistic and unsophisticated when compared to standard set by Madison Avenue and Hollywood, but I also know that people from all over our country are drawn to whatever it is that we have here: It strikes a chord in the souls of people who are yearning for something different in their lives. The people who have left here for greener pastures nearly always long to return and those who come here often wish they could stay forever. I heard a transplanted Mountaineer say once that sums up how he felt about his adopted homeland: "I wasn't born in West Virginia, but I got here as soon as I could."

Well, I was born here. And I stay here on purpose. I've traveled to many other states and have never found anyplace with as much to offer as this one.

Especially when it comes to hot dogs.

6 comments:

The Film Geek said...

What a great post. I agree with you that the state is a special place, of which to be proud. I just wish more people from outside would find a reason to spend time here, and see that too.

Buzzardbilly said...

Stanton, what an excellent post! It made me both prouder to be a West Virginia and pretty darned hungry (I love Hillbilly Hot Dogs dogs with kraut and mustard.)

Susan said...

Great post. If you think about it, the finest things in life are the simplest things.

oncee said...

Great post. WV hot dogs are are one of the best things about West Virginia, both the blog and the site, and the food version.

Chris James said...

TFG: Tell folks about the great places to stay at Summersville Lake or the Four Seasons Lodge in Richwood or anywhere in Pocahontas County (God's Country). If they go once, they'll come back.

BB: what kind of kraut do they use? Does it taste fresh? bagged? canned? cooked with beer? Any fancy-pants brown mustards to go with the kraut? If it is good, I might have some outta-town friends who'll dig that.

Susan: taste the hot dog sauce at Sam's or Yann's and tell me that they aren't complex. :)

Oncee: One of?!?!!? :P

Big Daddy said...

I've had the honor of living in other parts of the world while serving in Uncle Sam's Army. I have always been proud to tell one and all that I am from West-By-God-Virginia, and that there is no other place like it on the planet. I can certainly testify that there is nothing else in the world as comforting as a West Virginia hot dog.