It had been a mediocre week and a pretty bad weekend. The pinnacle was the destruction of Tracey’s car, but lots of little things added up, too: the scene drama, the impending term papers, the lack of time to write or hang out or watch bad movies because of piling up school work. Therefore, it was a very pleasant surprise when the Panty gals reminded me of the Leftover Crack roadtrip we’d planned months earlier.
Rachel is one of my oldest “scene buddies.” She and her BFF Jamie are in a band called the Bloody Panties. They are some of the few and proud ladies in the misogynistic WV punk scene, and certainly the only ones that make a habit of demanding your attention and calling out your bullshit. As a result, they got very polarized reactions when they first started out, but the negative ones just inspired them to fuck with your head even more. For awhile a lot of the Coalfield punk boys spoke in frightened whispers of “that band where that chick played guitar with blood - yeah, THAT kind of blood! - running down her legs.”
Anyway, Tuesday afternoon we load up the Panty Mobile, a 1991 Dodge Battletank with a pink spray-painted skull. With one last longing look at West Virginia, Rachel flips her blinker and drives into Ohio. Listen up, kids, because this is an important theme to remember while reading this story…West Virginians have a deep-seated mistrust and hatred for Ohio. Ohio residents don’t make it any better by acting like jackasses any time West Virginia is mentioned. They have the audacity to shit talk us when they have dives like Youngstown?!? That’s like a vegan criticizing you for eating Jell-o while wearing head-to-toe leather, including a gimp mask!
We were afraid we’d have a hard time finding Bernie’s, hearing how notoriously small it is, but we turn a street corner to find this mass of black t-shirts. Jamie hops out to secure a place in line while Rachel and I find a place to park. We circle around the block a few times before settling on a parking lot across from a Starbuck’s along with several other Leftover Crack fiends. We wait in line for about an hour. I have to explain my favorite homemade tee – “This is not a Fugazi t-shirt… it’s a Ben Folds t-shirt” – to the girl in front of me.
The first band is one of those sludgy Profane Existence-sounding bands, not my cup of tea at all. I only like one PE band, and that’s because I grew up with the guitarist and drink Jager bombs with the bassist. I see this as a good time to grab some of my zines from the van to hand out to interesting kids and maybe a hot rude boy. As I leave, I hear the band take the mandatory pot shot at Christians and roll my eyes. If you have to do it, at least say something funny or original. Yeah, yeah, I know: they shove morals down your throat, exclude people that aren’t carbon copies of themselves, base their life off vague old dogma, and listen to shitty music. To paraphrase a Mitch Clem comic: I know why you hate anarchists. Tell me why you hate Christians.
Defiance, Ohio, the second band, is a different story all together. I’d never taken the time to check them out before, and for almost an hour I’m completely transfixed. They start the set with “Bikes & Bridges” and I’m suddenly all smiles. They immediately kick the whiny music curmudgeon I’d become in the balls. The band, the fans, the energy, all took me back to a time when I was 15 and every band was a new experience. For the first time in half a decade, I feel the combination of hope, happiness, and platonic crushness that only comes from hearing something musically new. After their set I run to the merch stands grinning, another first since my days of chain wallets and bad haircuts.
By the third band I’m getting antsy. I was promised a ska show, dammit, and I was ready to dance! West Virginia only gets like one a year, so I was way past having two-tone blue balls. Citizen Fish finally takes the stage, and I launch into a teaming mass of skanking kids. There’s barely any room to move, but somehow still people get worn out from dancing and have to sit a song or two out at the bar. The room is an unbearable sauna at this point, and Jamie and I debate rocking the rest of the concert Mia Hamm-style. I compromise and tuck most of my tee into my bra.
Finally, Leftover Crack assembles on stage. The lead singer goes on about something I can’t quite catch for ten minutes. “What’s going on,” I ask Jamie.
“He’s freaking out because people won’t get off the stage. I gotta admit, I wouldn’t be too happy with some sweaty punk kid being in my face when I was trying to play.”
“Yeah, but it’s been like fifteen minutes and they still haven’t played a song!”
As if this phrase were some sort of mystic incantation, the crowd immediately doubles in size, the first song starts, and the kids surge forward. Jamie shrugs and swims her way to the front while I take shelter. It’s almost impossible now. I finally hop onto a pool table with seven other people. The table wobbles every time I take a breath, and the two kids pogoing certainly don’t help. Left to imagine a horrible Great White-esque end, I hang onto an overhead pipe for dear life. If I had to pick a place to die, I can assure you it wouldn’t be in a dive bar beside some fat dude in a Skrewdriver shirt.
I can’t really tell what’s going on. The Leftover Crack dude is still obviously pissed over something and continues to ramble. I think they play like five songs total. The concert is over before I realize it. I leave mostly intact, now with a new hat (courtesy of Defiance, Ohio) and a Sharpie heart tattoo around my belly button (courtesy of the Asian girl in front of me who, at the sight of my makeshift tank top and pot belly, screamed “BELLY!” and insisted on drawing it).
After a good concert, the Panty gals and I stumble toward the parking lot, tendons aching and ears ringing. We round the corner and-
“Uh, guys…. Where’s my van?”
We look around at the now desolate parking lot. Oh no! Not only is the Panty Mobile missing, but so are the rest of our fellow concert goers’ cars! We flag down a tow truck. The driver informs us that we owe him $140 and that only one of us can ride with him to retrieve the van. I study the tow truck man’s face in case Rachel isn’t back in 30 minutes.
Jamie and I wait on the sidewalk. With nothing left to do, she beatboxes while I freestyle. “We came here from afar/ Ohio stole our mothafuckin’ car/ Witch Hunt, Defiance, Citizen Fish/ Leftover Crack ain’t worth this shit/ we’re representing 3-0-4/ we don’t wanna be here no more/ Columbus sucks! mothafuck Ohio!” Luckily for everyone involved, the tow truck man was not a serial killer as I had suspected. We cheer when Rachel pulls the van up and ushers us inside.
There’s this weird feeling that sets into native Appalachians when they’re away from home. It’s hard to explain to strangers, but it’s a sort of agoraphobia. When you’re used to mountains blocking anything beyond 500 feet, it’s really jarring and uncomfortable to suddenly see miles and miles of flat land. I always have this background anxiety when I travel, and it’s always washed away by an overwhelming sense of joy when I see my mountains again. It’s a particularly welcome feeling when coming home from a hellhole like Columbus. With one last look out the window, Jamie’s quip sums up the group’s feelings. “God, this place is a dump.”
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Alexis Stewart is a thief and a shitkicker living in Huntington, WV. She edits the zine the Rhododendron Reader (a collection of Appalachian culture and weirdness) as well as the occasional one-shot. When she's not wielding a gluestick, she's making movies, working at her college radio station, collecting records, or stalking Ben Folds. Her column explores the weird nuances of the West Virginia underground scene from her command post in a fake fraternity called SKA House.