The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Dining at the Longbranch

Posted on | May 21, 2020 | No Comments

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(This is the second of two parts. Click here to read the first part.)

“Hey, somebody told me you guys were serving beer?”

“Outside service only,” said the guy who had come out of the kitchen. “We’re closed now, though.”

“When do you open?” I asked.

“Three o’clock.”

“What time is it now?”

“Two thirty.”

“We’ll wait.”

So I walked back around to the parking lot, where Kirby still had the car running. “Park it. They’re opening in 30 minutes.”

We sat down at one of the outdoor picnic tables. It was a nice sunny day — a little cool and windy, but nice. An awning shaded the tables that serve as the Longbranch Saloon’s smoking area under normal operation, but which are now the dining room due to “social distancing” rules.

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Only 25 people were permitted to congregate outside, which I suppose might be a problem on a weekend night, but on a Wednesday afternoon, Kirby and I were the only early-arriving patrons, so there was no danger of us violating the health department regulations. After a few minutes, the guy from the kitchen came out to ask us what we’d like to drink.

“Do you have any beer specials?” I asked.

“Not really. Everything’s two dollars.”

“Two dollar beer! Do you have Yuengling?”

Indeed they did. So I ordered Pennsylvania’s finest lager, and Kirby ordered iced tea, because he is a professional driver.

Normally, Kirby drives a semi truck, but last summer, high blood pressure resulted in the suspension of his commercial license, and this eventually led to the decision to move him up here with our family while he recuperated. His health has been improving, and we hope in a few more months he’ll be able to resume his life on the road, but for now my brother is the professional driver of our old Nissan. So he drove us the 30-odd miles to the Longbranch Saloon and Grill, the mailing address of which is Hedgesville, W.Va., but which is actually nearest a crossroads hamlet called Johnsonville. It’s about 10 miles west of I-81 via West Virginia Rte. 901, which passes the historic Hammond House at Spring Mills, then loops down to Hedgesville, where you turn right and head west on Rte. 9 for four miles then turn left at Baxter Road. The Longbranch Saloon is about a mile down Baxter Road on the right.

Anyway, when the man returned with our beverages, I asked his name — Brian — and if the kitchen was open. Yes, and he furnished us with menus, then left us to consider our choices. After a few minutes, he returned. I ordered the cheeseburger with fries ($7.50), while Kirby ordered the jalapeño poppers ($4), and I said: “Oh, and bring me another Yuengling.” Journalism is thirsty work, and after two months of lockdown, I’d gone through that first 12 ounces with surprising rapidity.

Honestly, there are few places in America where you are less likely to contract COVID-19 than in Hedgesville. West Virginia has one of the lowest infection rates in the country, with just over 1,500 known cases so far. The Mountaineer State didn’t report its first case until March 17, and a month later still had only 777 known coronavirus cases. The peak of the pandemic, in terms of daily new cases, was April 24, when 48 new cases were reported statewide; in the past week (May 14-20), 163 new cases were reported, an average of about 23 new cases per day. So far, there have been a total of only 69 COVID-19 deaths in West Virginia, which has a per-capita death rate 97% lower than the rate in New York.

Hedgesville is scarcely a hotbed of viral contagion, although Berkeley County has been relatively hard-hit by West Virginia standards, with 245 coronavirus cases and six deaths from the disease. This is no doubt due to the proximity to Washington, D.C. (about 90 miles southeast of Hedgesville), and the county being bisected by Interstate 81.

Despite the relatively low risk of infection, “social distancing” regulations were still in effect Wednesday at the Longbranch Saloon, so we were sitting outside on this pleasant spring day. The awning-covered outdoor dining area was adjacent to a wide lawn, with a weeping willow tree, and there was a fire pit, where I suppose people huddle around on cool evenings. After a while, Kirby and I were joined by a third patron, a retiree who had come to have a mid-afternoon beer, and we made polite small talk for a few minutes before Brian returned to bring us our food.

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The burger was good, and served with crinkle-cut fries. Perhaps the gourmets of New York would turn up their snooty noses as such a meal, but they can’t go out to dinner because New York is still locked down under the regime of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Probably there are lots of people in New York — not the snooty gourmet types, but regular New Yorkers — who dream of sitting outdoors near a willow tree on a spring day, enjoying a $7.50 cheeseburger plate and a cold $2 Yuengling.

It’s “almost heaven” in West Virginia, if you appreciate simple pleasures, and I was grateful for Tim Carney’s Washington Examiner column this week that alerted me to the opportunity to enjoy a meal at the Longbranch. When the cook/waiter Brian returned, I asked him if he realized that this establishment was now the most famous saloon in West Virginia, but he apparently hadn’t read Tim’s column. If you keep up with the news in West Virginia, however, the news is good:

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed an executive order allowing his state to enter the “Week 4” phase of coronavirus reopening on Thursday, which will include reopening indoor dining at restaurants, malls and outdoor recreation.
Large retail stores, tanning businesses, outdoor recreation rentals and campgrounds will also be reopened.
The new order also rescinds the requirement for out-of-state travelers visiting West Virginia to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival.
The governor also outlined the plans for Week 5 reopening, expected to begin after Memorial Day, which will allow bars to open at 50 percent and museums, visitor centers, zoos, spas and massage businesses to open their doors.
At the same time, the Republican governor announced the results of his initiative to test every nursing home patient in the state, the first such policy in the U.S.
In total, 22,598 people at 123 nursing homes were tested, including 8,911 residents and 13,687 staff members. This resulted in the identification of COVID-19 in 28 new facilities. Thirty-one new staff and 11 new residents were identified as COVID-19 positive.

Thousands of New York nursing home patients have died because of Cuomo’s policy, while West Virginia is the only state in the country to have tested every nursing home resident for COVID-19. Tell me again, New Yorkers, how much smarter you are than these rustic hillbillies.

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We finished our meals, and Brian brought the tab — $16.50 for a cheeseburger and fries, jalapeño poppers, two beers and an iced tea. I tipped $3.50, bringing the total tab to $20. Helping the local economy, like a patriotic American. There was a deadline looming, so we bid adieu to beautiful Hedgesville and made it back home by 5. Thanks to everyone who hit the tip jar for our trip to West By God Virginia.



 

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