The Idea of Order Near the Exit to the Interstate

Photograph by Jose Padua

This morning when I got to my
local big chain coffee house I
ordered a breakfast sandwich
and the woman behind the counter
asked me my name and I said “Jose”
and she grimaced and said “huh?”
and I said it again louder, clearer,
prouder and sat down at a table to wait.
A few minutes later another person
behind the counter starts saying
“House. House. House!” and I realize
he’s trying to say my name, and
I pick up my sandwich, look at the
wrapper on which the word “Hose”
is written instead of “Jose” meaning
that the English-speaking person
behind the counter couldn’t even read
or say the English word “Hose” correctly,
and as I sat down to eat my sandwich
I thought about the long, slow day
ahead of me and all the beautiful
ways I fail to be more American.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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4 responses to “The Idea of Order Near the Exit to the Interstate

  1. I was born in and grew up in the rancid hamlet of Front Royal about which you and your wife write.

    One of my biggest motivations in life, and one to which I attribute my present success, was to escape that Erskine Caldwell novel of a hellhole and live somewhere populated with “thinking people,” as I used to think of them and as opposed to the caricatures of Appalachian lunacy who comprise the majority population in Front Royal.

    Lest this turn into an oversharing rant, I just want to say that I can empathize with you and your wife. However — much as I now view local teachers, artisans, and others of a more intellectual bent who complain, yet remain in that town — I often wonder, particularly of transplants to the region: why live there? Why not cede that remote part of the country to the backwater hicks who so fight so fiercely to keep it in the 19th century? Whether it’s superstitious religious ideals, Bush doctrine politics, casual racism, or obdurate ignorance of anything beyond the McDonalds to 7-11 loop, the Front Royal natives (including my own relatives) never cease to evoke at best irritation and and worst angry indignation with me during my few brief and infrequent returns (the last visit being over a decade ago).

    There’s probably an explanation of why you moved to Front Royal buried in your blog archives; but, as an “escapee” from that town, it’s both interesting and reaffirming for me to read well articulated views from non-natives who moved there from a more affluent area. It’s also disheartening, yet unsurprising, to hear how little things have changed in that town since I left it twenty five years ago.

    Will Front Royal ever become a gentrified DC exurb or even grow in stature to be Winchester Jr.? Given the local politics there, my money is on the deer population overrunning main street before that ever happens.

    It’s funny, I hadn’t actively thought about Front Royal in such a long time, but recent stochastic email correspondence with a relative who still lives there caused me to Google “I hate Front Royal,” which led me to this blog.

    • shenandoahbreakdown

      ah, thanks for your note! Wow, twenty-five years since you left and so little has changed. Yes, I do explain how we ended up here in some of the different posts/poems I present here in the blog. To put it briefly, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into by moving out here. It’s been challenging in many ways, for sure. We’ve come across some scary things, but also some things that give us hope. Still, there are times when you have to look real hard for the things that give you hope–which, I guess you know all too well.

  2. I can see this is mainly your poetry blog, so I’ll end my Front Royal comments with this: most people who grow up in Front Royal and who don’t fit the right wing religious culture leave as soon as they can. That, along with lack of an industry that attracts newcomers, the residents’ hostility toward outsiders, and being too far from Northern VA for most commuters, may be why the town remains in cultural stasis.

    Also, if you haven’t visited Shepherdstown, WV yet, you may want to give it a try. It’s one of the few more liberal small towns in your area. It’s been a while since I’ve visited it, but the University there tends to make their local scene a bit more progressive relative to the region.

    Best of luck — I’ve enjoyed reading your and your wife’s writing.

    • shenandoahbreakdown

      Thanks! Yes, it doesn’t look like there are going to be any big changes here anytime soon. That’s why we do go to Shepherdstown whenever we get the chance–and back to DC for visits as well. I do think we would have left here by now if we didn’t have the means to get away regularly… Regards, Jose

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