1. I told myself I wouldn’t post about this thing on here until I finished the West Virginia entries. So before I write on about that time I stumbled into a Stonehenge made of foam somewhere in Virginia, let me tell you about this thing.

    My project Home, along with two other talented photographers, Sara Macel and Natalie Slaterwill be featured at The Houston Center for Photography's Travelogues show, curated by my friend Caroline. 

    Opening reception is this Friday, September 12, from 5:30 to 8:00 pm, where I’ll blabber on for the requisite five minutes about the project before hiding for the other 2.25 hours.

    If you’re in town, I’d love to see you. I’ll be hiding somewhere, but I’d love to see you all the same.

    If you’re not in town, houstoncenterforphotography's setting up this whole thing where you can call a number and hear me blabber on for two minutes about the project.

    So that’s a little better.

    Anyway, thank you for your support. The Tumblr “Likes” means I’m doing something right and the Tumblr “Reblogs” means I’m doing something worth while, despite being more than a year behind.

    Really, I’m just glad you’re here while I blabber on online about the damn thing.

    Internet hugs and world wide kisses.

    Opening Reception
    Time: 5:30 - 8:00 pm
    Date: Friday, September 12, 2014
    Place: Houston Center for Photography

    On view:
    September 12 - November 2

    Personally dedicated to:
    My grandmother

     
  2. I’ve seen every episode of How The States Got Their Shapes on History Channel and I don’t think they ever addressed how West Virginia got that little thing up north and the little arm to the east and why there are two right angles in between.

    Putting this one together was a little tough, not just because it seemed like the West Virginians I talked to didn’t really think much of the state as Texans do theirs, but because there were a lot of squeezing and cramming into the irregular spaces.

    As long as pepperoni rolls get their moment, I guess.

    Read and annotate the poster at RapGenius: http://lit.genius.com/Nathan-hoang-west-virginia-annotated
    Buy the poster here: http://nathanhoang.com/home-prints/west-virginia

     
  3. The West Virginian scratch-off instructions read, “Get two matching numbers and win that amount.”

    I scratched off two “$100” and thought I was going to be in the positive for the rest of the trip. I could even spring for the $2 scratch-offs, if I wanted to. I wouldn’t, but I could.

    I took it straight to the gas station to cash it in, the attendant scanned it once, scanned it twice and told me I didn’t win anything.

    I reread the instructions and realized I have to scratch off two matching amounts AND the letter V (for veterans) to win.

    It’s a good thing the “Scratch-Off Count” doesn’t calculate dignity.

    Scratch-off Count: $1
    States Scratched: 8

     
  4. Charleston, West Virginia
    July 12, 2013

    The first long drive of the trip, about six hours worth, from Charleston, WV to Charlotte, NC, via Roanoke, VA, was going to be a challenge, so I quickly thanked Joey for the good luck he wished upon me, and left, first for coffee, then for answers to make up for the unsatisfying ones I got from the day before.

    There had to be more to West Virginia than just being to the west of a Virginia. And for having a several Bob Evans. And a capitol with a golden dome. And a time capsule inside. And an Abraham Lincoln on the outside.

    I asked the students manning the West Virginia State Museum front desk about what makes the state so great; what would they miss if they left.

    “Pepperoni rolls,” they told me.

    Like…Totino’s Pizza Rolls? That’s like telling me to try out the food court.

    “No, they’re a little bigger than that.”

    So a calzone, then.

    “Kind of.”

    Basically, they told me, miners’ wives made these cheap, hand-held lunches for their husbands and then it just caught on, like the Cronut™, but without the pretentiousness. There’s history and heritage to the pepperoni roll, something that the Cronut™ can’t claim. Something that I would’ve snuck into the West Virginian State Capitol Time Capsule if I was around to do that.

    Anyway, wish I had known about this roll last night, but something tells me that even though I missed out on a genuine West Virginian pepperoni roll, there’s probably a restaurant in Brooklyn somewhere that only serves pepperoni rolls for $10 each.

     
  5. Charleston, West Virginia
    July 11, 2013

    I asked an Asian West Virginia transplant through the internet about the locals to prepare myself. She messaged back saying the people, though politically incorrect sometimes, are generally pretty nice and mean well.

    The guy outside the Welcome Center asking about my Fiat was awkward, but also nice. And the people who let me wander through the Capitol were nice and not awkward. The lady who was getting ready to jog by the Kanahwa River and gave me a smile and hello was nice. And the portrait and statue of Abraham Lincoln was leading me to believe West Virginia isn’t all that racist.

    I started easing up a bit and becoming embarrassed on my unfounded paranoia.

    Even my host was nice enough to dig through his mail to find me a coupon to Bob Evans.

    I told Joey, my host, to his surprise that I never heard of Bob Evans.

    "Really?" He asked. "It’s all over the area."

    Joey’s never left the area.

    He wants to, but can’t. When I asked him more questions about West Virginia, he didn’t give too many positive answers. He isn’t a big fan, which explains why when I asked him about West Virginia-defining restaurants in the area, he pointed me towards a mall food court.

    I thanked him and went downtown to a FourSquare-recommended restaurant instead.

    The bartender, originally from Arizona, was really nice but getting anxious because of the looming storm clouds. He wasn’t a big fan of the state either, and I began to think perhaps no one actually really liked West Virginia. They’re just here. 

    Though, he told me all about Tucson, the saguaros and the way the desert landscape changes as you head north into the Grand Canyon. But don’t worry about Phoenix, he told me, Tuscon’s so much better. Phoenix is just a sprawling city with no character.

    Joey already left for the night shift so when I got back to his double-wide, so I decided to map out my route for Part Two of the project from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and back, taking cues from Joey’s Roomba meandering up and down highways for two months with an added stop in Tuscon before heading to the Grand Canyon.

    HIghlighted Orange: Part One
    Highlighted Pink: Park Two

    Photo credit: Jeffrey E. Davis, my host in Tennessee

     
  6. Only a week into the new agency and we’re already here.

    Came back the next afternoon and someone already took it down.

    No shorts, no utensils, no microwave signs, apparently.

    Previously: Caution signs

    (Source: nathanhoang.squarespace.com)

     
  7. Canton, OH to Charleston, WV
    July 11, 2013

    You learn a thing or two when you get your driver’s license in Alief, Texas, and drive through Third Ward to get to school.

    My mom always warned me not to go on residential side roads because someone could just jump in front of the car and jack me. She also warned me of frequent accidents on small two-lane highways, and advised me to just stay on the interstate for this trip.

    I’ve been ignoring that last bit of advice, driving on state highways and country roads and getting stuck behind Mennonites on a horse-drawn buggy. America’s best seen slow and steady away from the interstate.

    Well, that’s until I got to West Virginia.

    Before I left NYC in July, a friend of mine warned me not to watch The Hills Have Eyes. The same friend then later photoshopped my face into the movie poster. I’ve seen the movie; I don’t even think it takes place in Appalachia, but I have seen the bad parts of Deliverance and that’s enough for me.

    I’d been driving around Ohio ending up in a national park and a hall of fame up until this point. Now it was time to take my mom’s advice and take the interstate all the way to Charleston.

    I filled up the Fiat one last time in Ohio, right on the border because I didn’t want to run out of gas and pull into some small Appalachian town. That’s how The Hills Have Eyes started.

    I crossed the bridge into West Virginia and went straight to the Welcome Center where portraits of Abraham Lincoln hung with travel brochures. When I came out, a man eyed the car and me.

    This must have been one of my mom’s fears: me getting jacked out in the open right after filling up the damn car, in broad daylight, in a small West Virginian town where brochures are promoting the state’s nature trails or whatever.

    "Is this your car?"

    "Yeah."

    "It must be real fuel efficient."

    "Yeah, like, 40 miles per gallon, I think. 45, sometimes."

    "Cool."

    And he slowly walked away.

    I haven’t been fair to West Virginia, obviously. I don’t even think Deliverance takes place in West Virginia. And if there’s a portrait of Abraham Lincoln in the Welcome Center, things can’t all be bad.

    (Source: nathanhoang.com)

     
  8. Canton, Ohio
    July 11, 2013

    In my quest to delay the inevitability of visiting West Virginia, I saw signs pointing towards the Pro Football Hall of Fame and followed them into Canton, Ohio.

    The name suggests that there must be another, less professional Football Hall of Fame out there, perhaps for some company’s flag football or fantasy league or whatever.

    I was going to find out. And I was also going to find out why on Earth there was a football hall of fame in the middle of Ohio. And I was also going to find out why the field outside of the Hall of Fame is only 70 yards long.

    Unfortunately, these questions either went unanswered or forgotten since I didn’t actually get to visit the hall, just the gift shop to the right.

    Money’s tight, so I couldn’t spare the $23 to get in, but I could buy a Tennessee Titans pencil for my Houston Oiler superfan and superfriend, copyrapper.

    Time’s also tight. I couldn’t spare the two hours or so it’d take to get through it all; I still had a three-hour drive to Charleston, West Virginia, so visiting the gift shop’s a way of getting the Cliff Notes of what the hall’s all about: Professional Football and not college intramural flag football.

    The Pro Football Hall of Fame didn’t sell rosaries though, but I said a few “Hail Marys” anyway.

    West Virginia scared me.

    (Source: nathanhoang.com)

     

  9. You’re a professional writer and you just came up with a clever “We’re Not In Kansas Anymore” headline.

    Now hit send and close your eyes. You deserve this short break for such a creative headline, after all.

    Minutes have passed and you open your eyes.

    Oh shit! The story was supposed to be about Houston and every writer in the country went with a clever, “Houston, We Have A Problem” headline.

    How could you be so stupid?

    Kansas isn’t even that close to Houston. That headline could have been yours, along with thousands of other writers throughout the decades (though theirs wouldn’t have have been as clever as yours obviously), but you fucked up.

    Damn it.

    There will be always be more problems in Houston, you say to yourself. It’s going to be ok.

    I don’t have a problem, Houston’s the one with the problem.

     
  10. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
    July 11, 2013

    I ended up in Cuyahoga Valley National Park on the way out of Cleveland, feeling a little bitter because hours earlier, I got a bag of useless shredded money which can’t be put towards either of the tickets I got in the last 24 hours.

    I wasn’t planning on going to Cuyahoga—I was originally following the signs to Akron, but I can’t resist a national park.

    Cuyahoga is Mohawk for “crooked river,” which is funny because the name of the day’s game was to take the most crooked path possible to West Virginia.

    Of all the states I was most concerned about, West Virginia was the top, so a quick stop at the park just outside a city where a former Clevelander told me to bring a gun, is welcomed.