Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 8, 2014

Road trip provides knowledge, networking and a new look at southern states

— — Gray pavement passes in front of my eyes. It’s a stark river of asphalt leading from the picturesque green mountains of West Virginia to the rolling hills of Alabama. In between, there are scenic woodlands in Virginia that blend, one mile marker after the next, into a landscape dotted with old barns and signs that herald fireworks’ sales marking the territory of Tennessee. I smile when a modern road sign in Georgia combines southern charm with public safety: “Buckle up y’all. It’s the law.”

I am on a road trip. A solo adventure that takes me out of my element — a hectic, chaotic, busy, newsroom — and puts me in a quiet environment where I am alone with my thoughts. There are no phone calls, no voicemail, no scanner traffic or reporters’ questions dotting a crazy day.

Just me, and my busy mind.

lll

Seven miles into the trip I realize I’ve left my iPod on the kitchen table. Typical. I always leave three or more items behind in my frenzied rush of packing. I think of my playlists and the songs that would have accompanied me on this journey.

“Colors,” by Amos Lee, “Breathe,” by Anna Nalick, and Tom Petty’s “Square One” — all are favorites that ease frazzled nerves and calm the soul. Other tunes have a much deeper meaning. Elton John’s “My Father’s Gun” never fails to bring memories of my own dad, while “Blackbird” spurs thoughts of the Beatles’ “White” album and days spent listening to it while helping Dad and my brothers fix cars in the driveway.

I smile when realizing they wouldn’t appreciate much of the “chick music” I listen to now, such as “Tragedy,” by Brandi Carlile and “I Won’t Give Up,” by Jason Mraz. And then there’s the “angry girl” music that fits my mood on occasion, including “I’m a Bitch” by Meredith Brooks.

Mom would have blushed when hearing the “B-word” in a song title; Dad would have grinned and thought it appropriate at times.

lll

I am on my way to an editors’ conference in Birmingham, Ala. Weather and traffic cooperate until the latter part of the trip. A fender bender stalls traffic on the last few miles of my journey. Had the accident been more dramatic, I would have stopped and taken photos — an editor is an editor, no matter what state or county she is in. But the minor accident does no more than delay my targeted arrival time.

I arrive at the hotel in the midst of a horrific downpour. Despite the best efforts of the young men manning the front entrance, I am wilted and soggy by the time I enter the doors of the resort. For the first time in my life, I pay for valet parking. Watching the heavens spew forth venom in the form of rain, I think the few bucks was well worth the cost.

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The conference brings together 20 editors from across the nation. We talk, we network, we listen to a variety of speakers on the agenda.

It’s not easy being an editor, but rarely do we have colleagues nearby to hear and understand our problems. On these few days we are comrades. We discuss ways to improve our products while satisfying our readers. It’s a good feeling.

During a morning session on Wednesday, Bluefield’s headlines become part of the discussion. Illustrating a question, I mention a recent headline that involved a former cheerleader accused of stabbing her husband on a church altar. It’s one of many crazy headlines we’ve had in recent months.

The corporate team smiles, and notes that Bluefield has the strangest headlines — and, in our world, it’s appreciated.

Hours later, I am approached by other editors. “What’s the story with the cheerleader?” They ask. I fill them in and mention other recent headlines. They are amazed by the allegations of a man accused of cooking meth in a backpack while riding a bike, and shocked to hear stories of our recent magistrate scandal.

One editor notes her region has a murder every one to two years. Hearing that, I am surprised, noting our homicide rate is much, much higher. Sometimes we don’t realize how unique our headlines are until they are compared to other areas.

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After two days of intense newspaper networking, I am heading back on the road. The humidity is thick in Alabama, even in the pre-6 a.m. hours. The valet has my car ready at the front gate, with the air conditioner running full blast.

I snap a picture of the beautiful hotel, tweet it, then pull out of the resort. After a few miles of turns and exits, I am back on the interstate and en route to West Virginia.

A few hundred miles down the road, I spy cockfighting cages typical of Appalachian culture, and then, shortly thereafter, I see elegant skyscrapers reaching toward cotton candy clouds. I note the disparity in our society, and wish that things were different. The road trip has provided me another view of our culture — at least what can be seen from a car window on the interstate.

Turning back to the road, I again long for my iPod and the familiar tunes that would drown out the silence. “Here I am, on the road again...,” as Bob Seger would say. “There I go, turn the page.”

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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