I’m sitting inside a local coffee shop with big picture-windows that look out onto the main-street. The morning light struggles against the fog, succeeding in a diffused illumination against the black-tarred street and the red bricks of the surrounding downtown buildings, as if everything was under the glow of a giant soft-light box. The trees that line the sidewalks sway back and forth, their green leaves invaded by the quickening march of oranges and reds. As I sit here plopped in front of my computer screen, I can’t help but stare out the window and watch the people walking by. “People-watching” has always been a hobby for my family. Today, there appears to be more cars than actual people.
The same can be said about the inside of this coffee shop. Okay, maybe there aren’t any cars lounging about in here, enjoying a nice cup of warmed motor-oil as they gossip about the Henderson car 2 miles down the road which rather recently received a very disrespectable pink paint-job. Instead of a multitude of people crowding in about this time for their morning cups of coffee, dispelling the weight of the weekend placed on their sobering heads on this now Monday morning, there are perhaps a collected dozen strangers milling about. Strangers to me that is, for they all seem to know one another. Greeting the barista or each other with friendly “hallos” and “how ya doins?” Things amble here. There is no impatience, no “fast-paced.” This isn’t the San Diego I know. This is Virginia. Salem to be exact.
Salem, Virginia is a small, independent-city situated in the Shenandoah valley, but was originally founded in 1802 as a town. Like much of the surrounding Roanoke county, Salem is steeped in rich natural beauty, while still celebrating its “ever-living” history. Nature, history, and people, none in conflict but all in co-existence. Local businesses line the streets. Roanoke college thrives here. It’s a city that lives in every respect.
How did I get here? Flatly, I needed to get away. I needed to get away from the monotony of San Diego living, as crazy of a statement as that sounds like. I felt stuck there. I needed to see how somewhere so far removed from my hometown functioned. Someplace with a different mindset and a drastically different past. And no, a “Disneyland getaway” wasn’t going to cut it. Nothing fabricated as to be a “safe-little-bubble” for tourists to be blissfully removed from reality where they can wonder if the $40 stuffed-animal that was made in Taiwan for $1 is a good value. I didn’t want an escape from reality, just the reality I had known all my life.
Virginia is so much different, but all in the best ways. I’ve done the touristy things; I’ve seen the small “roadside attractions.” I’ve taken just enough pictures to make my local tour guide cringe every time I lift my camera. No, I didn’t move. I’ll be back in San Diego soon, hopefully much recharged and with a different perspective of things. I’ll talk in length about some of the sights I’ve seen in another entry. For now, I’m just sitting here in this small coffee shop, watching the people and cars amble by. A customer somewhere behind me is saying, “Well it’s my birthday. I’m forty-five.” The barista at the counter squeals. “It is?! Happy, happy biiiiirthday! Happy, happy biiiiiiiiiirthday……”