Here are some snapshots, hipshots and night shots, from wandering the highways, byways, and lifeways of the world through which my iPhone moves, in the small towns, small cities and hills of West Virginia. ~ douglas john imbrogno
US Route 60 in Putnam County WV | september2023 | thestoryisthething.com photography
Gas stations are the waystation oases of modern life. In the countryside darkness, they emblazon the night and put people back upon their feet. Stopping to take a break for a moment, from moving here to there in our lives. Trying to decide if we should buy Milk Duds or something healthier.
Fourth Avenue and 10th Street, Huntington, W.Va. | april2021 | thestoryisthething.com photography
I don’t know who they are, striding across a thoroughfare in the midst of one of West Virginia’s bigger cities, such as they are. Me, shooting from the hip with my iPhone, catching a moment. Some local graduates on the cusp of their post-high school lives and that long, eventful trek into old age. So many stops and starts await them along their way. One of them doing that thing generations of humans younger than me now do. Adopting ‘the face’ — their go-to scrunchy visage for selfies. Staring into a glass-screen, a snapshot mirror version of themselves. The one they curate for the world of their friends and followers. One for the ages, maybe.
My buddy, Rich Collins, trains a scriptorium monk’s attention on the workings of what looks maybe like a Gretsch guitar and its headstock. There, hunched over his workbench to the back of Route 60 Music, which used to actually sit along the self-same road between Huntington and Barboursville, but is now tucked back a bit in another locale. The shop’s owners are purveyors of all things musical. From them, I have bought thousands of dollars in strings, picks, straps and songbooks these many decades of my weekend playing out. One time, in a fit of ambition, I even purchased a weighted-keyboard, 88-key electric piano, thinking I was, at last, ready to walk my piano noodling out into the world. Traded it back in a year later after I took it out my door — it was like hauling a coffin — just once. Rich and I shared a singer-songwriter songswap stage one night, maybe a decade ago, in West Virginia’s capital city in the basement of the historic Quarrier Diner. We are all in this together, we sometime, part-time, good-time musicians scattered about the Appalachian hills. Maybe the owner of the maybe-Gretch is one, eagerly awaiting his instrument’s return from Rich’s workbench. Fixed! Ready to get back out there.
Deck world, Huntington, W.Va. | october2022 | thestoryisthething.com photography
I have been faithfully reading the New York Review of Books since my mother subscribed to it when I was a kid. At what point did I omnivorously, religiously begin to read it, ingesting its deep dives into literature, history, music, dance, biography and beyond in a north Cincinnati suburb? Maybe age 12 or 13? Unlike most local newspapers and magazines, which have shaved hundreds of thousands in paper costs in these parlous time for print publications by whacking their width, the NYRB feels, to my hands, exactly the same. The identical heft of pages jammed with thought, nuance, and long trains of thinking, so much longer than the boxcar-length of most contemporary prose. There, still, the NYRB sits in front of me on the deck dining table in back of a house near Barboursville. I’m so close to the West Virginia woods that I can be in deep forest in 10 to 15 minutes, starting out in any direction from my front porch. And, then, return home to pick up where I left off in the pages of the NYRB, a half-century after I first discovered it in the mail as a suburban Ohio tween. If you would know me and the way my mind works — or seeks to work when I write — here is an urtext.
On the homefront, Huntington, W.Va. | september2023 | thestoryisthething.com photography
Life is just better with cats. They do come with costs, it’s true. Stray, outside-the-litter-box expressions of cat pee and feline scat, certainly among Nature’s most noxious craftwork. Matted hairballs that look like hairy, twisted intestines on the rug. And the signature upchuck soliloquy of my Tuxedo cat, ejecting the grass she has just chomped from along the front sidewalk onto the most inconvenient of places once inside. A goopy mess. (Unless I leap into instantaneous action and snatch her fuzziness from off the carpet. My batting average is about .456.) But … but … but … Our two are sweet girls. This one here is a stray, adopted one cold night in Columbus, yowling out back of my son’s house. He’s a cat whisperer and softie (homeless cats know the glow of the houses where they live) and he and his housemate accepted her into the garage. Pregnant. Helped her birth her babies and then found homes for all four kittens. We’re talking some seriously fine and fuzzy good karma, right there. Boogie, here, came to us since the Boy’s house already had a passel of cats, whose costs — from kibbles to vets — can go stratospheric as us Cat People know all too well. Doesn’t matter. We simply won’t do without them in our extended families, the one that we choose, the best kind. Even if some come howling to us out of the darkest night.
‘MOUNTAINS & KIDS’
Overlook in Tucker County, W.Va., near the Mt. Storm wind farm. | april2022 | thestoryisthething.com photography
West Virginia is a mess politically. It has an absentee, tax-dodging chief executive whose pet bulldog avatar has more charm than its governor’s faux, grating, aw-shucks shtick. It’s a billionaire’s Vaudeville act. He is book-ended in not doing the right thing by a rightist super-majority of empathy-free statehouse politicians who live to showboat backward-looking politics, instead of prepare the Mountain State for a post-Trump future. You know, the ones that these kids, perched on the veranda of West Virginia’s oceanic hills, will inherit. The hills where a post-carbon economy must unfold or where climate refugees will stream West Virginia’s way via the hundreds of thousands, when rising seas push the Atlantic coast inland, overhwelming a million homesteads. And, so, where do you find modestly fresh, free-flowing water and seemingly endless wide-open spaces? These young ones are looking at it. Who will look forward to their future? Certainly not the shallow calibre and character of the man and the woman repping the state right now in the U.S. Senate. Or the circus-worthy reps in the U.S. House. Recently, I bought a colorful print of Mother Jones, from the killer ‘100 Days of Badass Women’ series of painting by the mondo-talented West Virginia artist Sassa Wilkes. I hung it in an office bedroom. A reminder and an inspiration. Not everyone associated with the state at the level of politics and culture, people and energy, labor and family, history and its future, is working against West Virginia’s best interests.
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