Monday, April 21, 2014

Fear and Loathing in Abingdon -part 1

The snow started falling in the gray, early hours before dawn and continued to call to fall even as the bus pulled away from Charleston’s newly remodeled Sheraton.

It was a little after seven o’clock in the morning. Tour South’s three-day convention had finished in the city and there I was sitting in the back of the bus with about 20 travel agents and tour planners from 12 different states, on route to Southwestern Virginia for what was called a “Post-Fam” tour.

"Post" meant after the event. "Fam" meant familiar. Someone had to explain that to me.

The convention had been a big deal for Charleston. Travel planners had come to meet with convention bureaus from dozens of cities and counties from all over the south –places, like Charleston, that wanted tourism dollars.

Charleston had hosted and done its best to put on its best face –not an easy task with a chemical spill in the water supply still very much on everyone’s minds.

How that all went, I have no idea. Everybody was very polite about Charleston, but nobody openly admitted they'd be bringing busloads of tourists to take in the dubious scenic beauty of a place usually referred to as "chemical valley." 

I was not invited to attend that part of the show --or the pre-fam tour which wandered around parts unknown. 

The Post Fam tour was something else. The bus headed to Southwestern Virginia, to Wytheville, Abingdon and Bristol with a few stops in between.

Tour South asked if The Gazette wanted to send someone along –and I jumped at it like a dog begging for bacon. It hardly mattered that I’d been to Abingdon, Wytheville and Bristol; had practically grown up there. Winter had been horrible in Charleston, what with the bad weather, potholes and whatever weird shit was in the water.

Slumped down toward the back, crowded in a narrow seat with a backpack stuffed with an aging laptop, two cameras of suspect quality, plus an assortment of pens, pencils and notebooks, I tried to blend, but I stood out. I didn’t have a badge with a travel company’s name on it. My clothes were all wrong: no cruise ship or airline logo. My bag was a generic. Everyone else had one tagged by a leisure company, resort destination or mid-range city nobody thinks about seeing.   

Also, virtually everyone on the bus was at least 65 --discounting the driver and the two people from the convention bureau. A couple of people were around 80, but most hovered somewhere in the low 70s.

I'm 43 and had never felt so young in my entire life.

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