Editor’s note: Tim recently returned from Virginia and North Carolina. This is the first of two columns from the trip.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Idahoans are known for their friendliness, but we’ve got nothing on Virginians.
My wife and I and some friends recently returned from Virginia, where people not only were friendly but Idaho-Virginia connections seemed to be everywhere.
Monticello, for example. I’d been to Thomas Jefferson’s home once before, to cover the opening ceremonies of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, and have never been colder. The grounds were buried under a foot of snow and ice. Taking notes was all but impossible – the ink in my pens froze.
This visit was more congenial. We’d come to Charlottesville for the Boise State-University of Virginia football game. But our BSU shirts made us targets not of hostility, as happens in some cities civility prevents me from naming, but of southern hospitality.
“We’d like to welcome the Boise State people who are with us today,” a Monticello guide said to our tour group. “For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, they’re the ones who are going to beat the University of Virginia tomorrow night.”
That was a surprise. Hospitality is one thing, but predicting victory for the visiting team?
No one in the group – many of them Virginians – seemed to mind.
“Are you going to go easy on us tomorrow night?” a man in a UVA T-shirt asked us.
“I hope not,” one of his friends said. “I hope you beat us good. Then maybe we’ll get a new coach.”
A bigger surprise, however, was Ed Imhoff, our guide.
“I know Boise State better than you’d think,” he said. “I taught geology there when it was Boise College. It was only about five buildings then.”
Imhoff painted a different picture of Monticello than the one I’d come away with in 2003. Then it was all about Lewis Clark (and avoiding hypothermia). This time the weather was perfect, the grounds verdant and productive. Trees, over 160 species, showed the first hint of fall color, flowers bloomed along the walkways and harvest was in full swing in the sprawling garden.
In Jefferson’s time, Monticello was a cottage industry. Hundreds of workers, from artists and craftsmen to housekeepers and gardeners, built and maintained it. Many were slaves. Enlightened as he was in most ways, Jefferson was a paradox, condemning both debt and slavery while enjoying the luxuries they made possible. Our third president lived very well – French cuisine and fine wines, a butler and staff of servants, the best of everything. Even with the benefit of free labor – he inherited some 200 slaves – he died so deeply in debt that his grandson struggled much of his life to pay it off.
Monticello is four miles from Charlottesville, where a couple wearing BSU shirts gave us the standard “go, Broncos” greeting in a parking lot. Nothing unusual about that, except that they were Virginians.
“Our son works at BSU,” they explained. “And the Broncos are a great team so we wanted to show our support. Welcome to Virginia.”
In downtown Charlottesville, a coffee vendor outside a cafe was sporting a “Welcome BSU fans” sign on a chalkboard beside his cart.
“I’ve been a BSU fan ever since that game where they beat Oklahoma (the 2007 Fiesta Bowl),” he said. “That was one of the best college football games ever. Good luck tonight.”
Inside the cafe was the trip’s most colorful character. The specialty of the house was homemade ice cream; she was the dipper. She was in her 70s, had lived in Virginia all her life and had an accent thicker than Virginia sorghum molasses.
“Y’all are from Boise, huh? Y’all ever get out to Vegas?”
Without waiting for an answer, she added that she went “mostly to Atlantic City, but I like Vegas better. Y’all gamble? I do, but I’m not any good at it.”
With that she went on to say that she had won $19,000 on a dollar slot machine and $9,000 on a penny slot machine.
But she’s not any good at it.
Virginia all but reeks of history. In Richmond, we visited the Edgar Allen Poe Museum and learned that in addition to writing chilling tales, Poe was a boxer, set a school record in the broad jump and swam six miles upstream in the James river, a feat said to have never been duplicated.
We also ran into the grandmother of a BSU player there, and a woman from Idaho City who knew one of our daughters.
The most admirable example of Virginia hospitality came from a man we met in a restaurant. When a member of our group saw his UVA T-shirt, he couldn’t resist asking him what he thought of the game. The man hung his head and looked as if he was about to cry. When he noticed a couple of BSU shirts in the group, he smiled ruefully.
“Y’all beat us good,” he said. “But no hard feelings. I hope y’all have a wonderful trip.”
The Broncos had defeated his team on the field, but the Virginians’ hospitality was unbeatable. Some schools closer to home could learn from them.
Next: North Carolina’s Outer Banks.