I went to visit friends in Williamsburg, Virginia. There was a lot of American Revolution history there. They had the neatest visitor center—they even had a movie in a theater. The woman at the help desk was perfect—she gave me good directions to my friend’s house. I showed her the directions I got off of the internet. It turned out that the Colonial National Historical Parkway was closed because of the government shutdown. If she hadn’t told me, I would have been in a whole world of lost. I have volunteered at the Appomattox Visitor Center, and one time a woman came in asking where the town office was. I didn’t know.
On this vacation, much of my time was spent with my friend Brad; I saw his wife, Allison, and their daughter, Tabitha, for a little while. They are some of the nicest people I know.
Brad and I met in Harrisonburg, Virginia, 18 years ago. It was a mid-sized city with a small town feel. James Madison University was the primary people magnet. While we were hanging out during my recent visit, Brad mentioned how much he had enjoyed living in Harrisonburg. I did too, very much.
In 1988, I moved into the dormitory at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond. There I met Brian Temples. We both played bass and liked Pink Floyd. Some years later, he became my last roommate. The apartment was on Marshall Street—literally on the other side of the tracks. Brian was originally from Harrisonburg, and his friends would visit. Tom, Clay, and Dave came to attend a G.W.A.R. show. I met Dustin when I was unemployed and trying to start a house painting business. He helped put fliers on everyone’s doors. (Dustin is the friend I eventually followed to Nashville. He recorded some fantastic drum tracks for songs that will never be finished.)
After leaving Richmond, I spent some time with family in Appomattox. I would visit Harrisonburg often. I realized that I had more friends in Harrisonburg—a place I’d never lived—than anywhere else. I got a nice, cheap apartment on Port Republic road, a mile or so from JMU.
Even though I only stayed for a year and a half, Harrisonburg is a bright spot in my memory. The scenery was incredible—mountains all around. I lived in an area where I didn’t have to lock my car at night. I worked at the JMU cafeteria for one semester. I put together some zines, that was always fun. Collage artist Dave Kyger made some dynamite layouts for Rip Snap Meow and Tranquil Breezes.
I spent some time with DIY pioneer Jim Shelley. He was quite prolific, always releasing tapes, records, and compact discs. He was an English teacher at the high school. The last time I was in Harrisonburg, I saw Jim’s band, Book of Kills, featuring Brian and Dustin—it was a magnificent performance.
One night, Brian and I were walking around. After discussion of his home town and my adopted residence, Brian summed it up: “Harrisonburg is a rest stop on the road of life. It’s a nice place to stop and take a leak, but you’ve got to move on.”
While chatting with Brad in Williamsburg, he mentioned about how he had been to Harrisonburg in the recent past. He said I would hardly recognize it. The city has grown a lot, he said, it’s more spread out. I said, “That’s too bad,” and he agreed.