On the last day of November, I was taking blurry photographs of the mist weaving in between the naked trees. I really wished I had a better camera for road trip window shots, but after a dozen blurry pictures, I sat back in the car to appreciate the last of the autumn leaves.
My friend Chrizar was driving, and after dodging a drunk driver, she cranked up her playlist and we bopped our heads to “Play That Funky Music”. We were going to one of her favorite places: Harrisonburg, a small town in the heart of Shenandoah Valley in Western Virginia.
Shrouded in “Silent Hill” fog in the mornings, Shenandoah Valley is bounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east, the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians to the west (Which she said were pronounced “APPA-LAH-CHA” locally), the Potomac River to the north, and the James River to the south.
Our purpose? To venture into the colorful streets of downtown where culture is concentrated in clusters of trendy small businesses, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and wacky food trucks.
Upon arrival, I noticed how shy and quiet everyone is—in a charming way: from our hotel hostess to the waitresses of Cuban Burger to even the talented craftsmen and craftswomen of the market.
Admittedly, this was my first time being in a truly small American small town, and American small towns often get a bad rap of being unwelcoming. This is especially the case with our recent and growing political unrest involving racial, religious, and gender bigotry. I was especially on guard knowing I would be one of the few African Americans walking around.
That said, it was refreshing to see these wonderful multi-lingual signs dotting the town as well as learning about Harrisonburg’s refugee programs. Since the 1930s, Harrisonburg has been known as “The Friendly City”. As a fan of Archie Comics, this honestly reminded me of Riverdale, The Town With Pep!
Since 1988, Harrisonburg has been aiding refugees through organizations such as the Church World Service Harrisonburg Immigration and Refugee Program. The welcoming of refugees has greatly influenced the local food scene, which we traversed across the state to visit.
In the span of a day, we managed to walk all over the town to experience over a dozen spots for food, arts and crafts, and entertainment.
I’ve divided our day and a half trip into 5 Parts that I will release over the next few weeks:
I. RUBY’S, TANGI’S, & CUBAN CHOP CHOP
II. HERITAGE BAKERY & CAFÉ
III. HARRISONBURG’S BEAUTIFUL FARMER’S MARKETS
IV. BELLA & GELATO: DON’T ARGUE WITH A CRAZY PERSON
V. TEN THOUSAND VILLAGES
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