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Jose Padua: The Color of Bourbon and Other Observations on the Landscape of the Valley Where We Live


This past Saturday, Heather, Maggie, Julien, and I were going south on Route 11 just outside of downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia. We were there for a quick, cheap, winter getaway and, having just left the Discover Museum on Main Street, we were looking for our hotel, the Country Inn and Suites of Harrisonburg. I knew it was right on Route 11, but I wanted to know what cross street to look for, so I asked Heather.

“Ah,” she said, then paused. “The hotel is actually on Covenant Drive.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yup, it’s Covenant Drive.”

That we’d end up staying on Covenant Drive shouldn’t, I suppose, have been surprising. When checking for things we could do in Harrisonburg, Heather found the John C. Wells Planetarium on the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg. Looking at their website, she also found the following disclaimer:

“Please be aware: The John C. Wells planetarium strives to bring cutting-edge science to JMU as well as to the larger Shenandoah Valley community. Hence, the staff presents established science that is based on consensus from the scientific community. We will present the scientific perspective on topics such as evolution, the big bang, age of the Earth, and global warming. All of our full dome shows and live star talks make reference to an age of the Universe that is 13.8 billion years old and that our Sun and the Solar System formed ~5 billion years ago. Our staff will not alter their presentations when discussing what some consider controversial science topics.”

Right away Heather and I knew what this disclaimer meant–that the during the course of making its presentations over the years here in the Shenandoah Valley, planetarium staff have had to put up with creationists arguing against real science. The disclaimer was a polite way of saying that their official policy is not to engage in debate with those who deny science. Heather and I were, at first, surprised that the planetarium felt the need to post this disclaimer. But then, after remembering where we were, we understood–this isn’t northern Virginia, but the Shenandoah Valley which, unlike northern Virginia, is a long way from Washington, DC.

The Country Inn and Suites was easy to spot, as was the sign for Covenant Drive. We checked into the hotel, and as usual when we go to a hotel, the first thing Julien wanted to do was go to the pool. This, in fact, is why Julien is always saying, “Let’s go to a hotel.” Plus, with me fighting the mental weariness I always feel after the holidays, I was happy when Heather suggested the day before, “Let’s go to Harrisonburg tomorrow, and spend the night.”

As Heather, Maggie, and Julien got ready to go to the pool, I looked on the computer for a map of the area surrounding the hotel. I found that if you continued on Covenant Drive past the hotel, you’d find yourself in a neighborhood where there were a number of churches and where most of the streets were either named after cities in the Holy Land (Hebra, Jericho, Jaffa) or else had some other sort of biblical significance. As for Covenant Drive, it went on for several blocks and ended at a little street called Freedom Court. I thought that there might be a monument or maybe an array of American flags there, but when I looked on Google Earth all I saw was a row of eight rather plain-looking, gray townhouses–which meant there wasn’t much to explore in the area surrounding the hotel, and so after going to the pool we headed back to downtown Harrisonburg for dinner.

What we found was a place called Jimmy Madison’s Southern Kitchen and Whiskey Bar. I was intrigued. I like southern food, but what really got me was the whiskey part. Immediately, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “Alabama Song” started going through my head: “Oh show us, the way, to the next whisky bar. Oh, don’t ask why. Oh, don’t ask why…” I hadn’t had any whiskey in a while. Now, when I drink, it’s usually just a beer or two a month at the most. Whiskey–in particular, bourbon–was my beverage of choice in my heavy drinking days, but I mostly stay away from it now. But being at a whiskey bar, it was hard to resist. Heather had a glass of John E. Fitzgerald’s Larceny Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and I had a Blanton’s Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Drinking it, I remembered right away what I liked so much about bourbon–the way your throat seemed to be cooling down and warming up at the same time, the aroma that hit your nose and felt like it was going straight into your brain, and, of course, its color like a planet that could only be seen by reaching an alternate state of mind. Yeah, it was my drink, and this glass of Blanton’s tasted amazing to me, but what was even more amazing to me after ten or so years of this was that when my glass was empty, I didn’t feel the slightest urge to get another one. And when our waitress came back to ask if we wanted to try another whiskey, Heather and I both said no.

“Yeah, we’re lightweights,” I said to the waitress.

Which was quite fine with me. It wasn’t always, but now it is. And even if Maggie wasn’t horrified by the thought of me or Heather having more than one drink, I probably wouldn’t anyway. Which isn’t to say that once in a while I don’t have another one, but those times are rare, and it’s been at least fifteen years since I had anything that could be described as a hangover. Still, it was good to have “Alabama Song” in my head. And that I can hear the song, and have one bourbon, and then stop, is, for me, proof enough of the miracle of my own evolution.

In the morning, we went back to the hotel pool one more time. We never did make it to the John C. Wells Planetarium, but that just means we’ll have to go back again, and make that the first stop. After checking out, we stopped at a bookstore (we never go anywhere without stopping at a bookstore), then headed for home the slow way, up Route 11. This photograph was taken about a third of the way back, at a point when the sun was peeking through the clouds in such a way that the ground, to me, appeared to be the color of bourbon. Some may disagree that this color is in any way similar to that of bourbon, but I’m not about to debate it with anyone. I know, my eyesight is slightly color deficient, but that doesn’t matter because the ground, here, in the valley, is the color of bourbon. That’s just the way it is.

copyright 2015 Jose Padua


Photograph by Jose Padua

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This entry was posted on February 23, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .

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