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Blacksburg, Virginia

Blacksburg is dominated by the 20+ thousand student Virginia Polytechnic Institute, VPI, aka Virginia Tech. My opinion of that particular institution is not particularly favourable in as much as my experience with them has been mostly precipitated by their antiquated views about technology and progress. For example, their forestry school still forces students to believe things that have been repeatedly demonstrated to be scientific, economic and ecological bunk, thus each year raising yet another crop of professors teaching antiquated views. The same goes for their shallow concepts regarding transportation (how long do they really think we'll be driving individual cars on asphalt?) and architecture. Furthermore, like most great institutions of the south, they pride themselves for their atheletes far more than they do for their intellectuals. Finally, I believe they were one of the institutions that "confirmed" Pons and Fleischmann's Cold Fusion test results, now regarded widely as pseudo-scientific wishful thinking.

The town itself, however, has a decidedly "alternative" flavour if you can, as I can, block the frat boy noise. A substantial influx or people from Seattle occurred in 1994, and among these were Heather Bissel and her boyfriend Jeff Brecko, both of whom were good friends of mine in Oberlin in the late 80s and very early 90s. This attracted me to the place, and I made a number of visits in late 1994.

Good bars include "The Cellar" -which has live music in the upstairs and a more informal dive-like scene in the basement. The pizza there is good. For live music, I strongly urge you to check out the South Main Cafe. There is lots of Grateful Deadesque garbage performed there (for example "The Kind"), but punk and metal occasionally happens too. One of my incisors was seriously damaged in a mosh pit incident there one particularly crazy evening. Off the beaten track, you might try the upstairs Ton 80, accessible only from an ally off Main Street. It features pool and darts and an informal atmosphere conducive to rendezvous with friends.

For coffee to treat the next-day hangover, I recommend Bollo's, off College Street on S. Draper Road, though I can't find any evidence that it still exists.

Blacksburg is not a pretty city; it appears to have been built, along with Virginia Tech, in the midst of huge flat agricultural fields, and no one seems to have ever considered how much better the place would look if it had trees. Perhaps this reflects the substantial influence of the forestry school and their pro-clearcutting ideology. But the mountains are not far away, and since gas is relatively cheap in Blacksburg, driving to the mountains is mostly a consideration of time. Beware though; you're in the middle of deepest Redneckistan, and the Athens-like atmosphere quickly grows rarified several blocks from the corner of Main Street and College Avenue.

One skill that is very handy to have in Blacksburg is the ability to parallel park. There are many two-hour limit parking spaces scattered around the downtown, and all of these require parallel parking. So on any day of a vacation in Blacksburg, one finds oneself having to drive around the corner every two hours to repark the car in some new parallel-parking scenario. In the Fall of 1994 I became skilled at parallel parking my Volkswagen Bug on the streets of Blacksburg. Recently I've applied such skills to the far more challenging task of parking my Dodge Dart on Wertland Street in Charlottesville.

My friend Jeff Brecko used to live in a horrible drafty house near the Virginia Tech football stadium where he paid about $100/month rent (rent is cheap in Blacksburg). But Jeff soon discovered an interesting benefit resulting from his geographic position. People wanting to attend football games usually have great difficulty finding a place to park. So Jeff would direct them to park densely all over his lawn for a modest $4/car. Those who agreed to the deal were usually most grateful, showering Jeff with free beers and gracious thank yous.

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