This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.
Clay, West Virginia
West Virginia is the heart of Appalachia and is the only state that is completely encompassed by the Appalachian Mountain chain. West Virginia is like the slightly dopey but kind-hearted sister of Virginia. It's poorer, less populated, and it is the only state to secede from another state in the history of the Union.
With all of the talk of the "backwoods" nature of Appalachia I felt I had to work in at least one truly bumpkin community. Clay, West Virginia is a typical rural Appalachia town.
With a population of around 2,000, most folks in Clay know each other by name, grew up together, and will probably read each other's obituaries in the only newspaper.
Clay is an industrial town teetering on the brink of economic apocalypse. Things move slow here because half the people are unemployed and the other half don't really have anywhere to be that can't wait five minutes. The mayor shakes hands with the citizenry every day and deals with problems like a rise in stray cats or an abandoned car left downtown.
Clay is the sort of town that lives for two things: high school football and hokey festivals. It's the kind of place where the local casino is run by the Lion's Club and where the only hotel shares the block with the only mechanic and the only bar.
The coal mines are mined out and what jobs remain are either unskilled labor or related to local services. The people are down, but not out, and the natural splendor of the mountains that envelop Clay can't be spoiled by the shabby provincial downtown and the rusty refrigerators at the local scrapheap.
The folks here are nice, maybe a bit wary of outsiders, but friendly in that sort of way that's almost a little creepy. Come in the Fall for the Golden Delicious Festival, have some cider, get your face painted, and sample some of Lou Ann's award-wining chili.
Up in the mountains, with a twang in the air and barely two nickels to rub together, you might find out you're pretty welcome. Just don't go looking for a WiFi hotspot so you can check your email on your laptop.
Clay? It's big in Japan! Let's find out what our foreign reps are up to as they tell us all about glorious Nippon.
Are you concerned that you may be a character trapped in a Tom Waits song? Be smart and learn the warning signs before it's too late. Also, it's too late. It has always been too late.
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
The Something Awful front page news tackles anything both off and on the Internet. Mostly "on" though, as we're all incredible nerds.