In the aftermath of this election, the elite coastal media has had to face its failure to communicate its wishes to middle America. As members of the fourth estate, we wish to guide our fellow thinkfluencers of New York and Washington in venturing beyond the gentrified havens of Brooklyn and U Street. There lie the voters we ignored until two weeks ago.
Alice, a Southport, Conn. native and Dartmouth graduate, and Shawn, originally from Ohio farm country but now a bonafide member of the Washington press corps, departed from DC in a BMW convertible for a day trip into the Virginia countryside. Driving west for about 90 miles, we escaped the pull of the city.
We advise care while driving. You will likely encounter wild fauna out beyond the exurbs. A low-flying turkey nearly hit our windshield as it crossed the highway. Deer also abound.
Waffle House Is Real—Real Good, That Is
Aim to arrive between 11 a.m. and noon for brunch. Alice quickly identified an indigenous “Waffle House.” Brunching outside of the city can be challenging for those of diverse dietary needs. Vegans, vegetarians, paleos, and gluten-free customers will find fewer menu options. Your correspondents enjoyed the namesake waffles, grits, and smothered- and capped-hashbrowns as a hearty start to our day.
Our waiter warned we would find little to do in the local environs. But if we had children with us, he would have recommended “Dino Land,” Stephens City’s first and finest tourist trap. He takes his children there, the waiter informed us. We decided to take each other. Every small town boasts some local attraction, its own offering to the cult of roadside Americana, Shawn explained. Alice took his word for it.
You’ll find a fiberglass T-Rex and a necky Brontosaurus, joined by a third smaller dino, watching over the junction of Stonewall Jackson and Lord Fairfax Highways, beckoning automotive wanderers.
“You can’t miss ‘em,” our waiter had accurately instructed. From their conception in 1963, the initial roadside trio and accompanying gift shop were the whole show. But ever since the 1980s a wooded park packed with prehistoric creatures has delighted easily amused visitors. Many bring their children, the gift shop ladies will tell you, because their parents brought them when they were kids.
Dinosaur Land is worth your time, not as a passage back to the Jurassic era but because it will transport the out-of-touch twenty-first-century yuppie back to the Oldsmobile station wagon and avocado-colored kitchen appliance era. It will transport visitors even a century further, in one sense: At Dinosaur Land’s gift shop, grey teddy bears in snappy little hats and uniforms charmed Alice, until rebel general trading cards and an arrangement of child-sized Dixie flags gave it away that she’d found the “Confederama” section.
You’ll Find What You’re Looking For, For Sure
Driving aimlessly to pass the time until the 6 p.m. show at the drive-in, you’ll come across cigarettes at $5 a pack. (In high-tax DC and Manhattan, any major brand runs north of ten bucks.) Come mid-afternoon, chances are you’ll be drawn in by a “deli” with no sandwiches, pickles, or pastrami. Wary of scrapple, we bought a bone for the dog.
Richard’s Fruit Market sells apple dumplings worth a trip from anywhere. Richard, if there is such a person, wasn’t available. But we can attest Richard’s womenfolk will be ready with a long slow chat about the weather and where you good folks are passing through from. They’re about to close for the season, but they open the shop to sell apples and smoked ham the third Sunday of every month till May. Plan accordingly.
Or else there’s always Woodbine’s, a competing farm store two miles up the road, which caters to modern convention with scented soaps, central heating, and baroque barbeque accoutrement. Shawn picked up an espresso-flavored pork rub. Alice, who couldn’t resist a $30 carton of Camels from a nearby tobacco outlet although she does not smoke, contemplated an ashtray decorated with woodland creatures.
Take it from us: get to the drive-in early. Regulars will be lined up for the center-front parking spots. And please note: drive-in movie etiquette, a forgotten art, dictates that on a chilly evening a gentleman will want the speaker post on his side. This is to spare his lady companion a draughty car window cracked for the cable.
If you don’t beat the rush to the crowded concession, you’ll have to wait for a counter worker to refill the ketchup. But soon, burger in hand, popcorn in lap, you’ll have realized why we sent you on this trip. If at the end of your day in Stephens City, you’re surprised to hear the National Anthem play before the $6 double feature, it’s possible you, arbiter of public opinion, have missed the point altogether.
Ninety miles west of Washington DC, where fiberglass dinosaurs stand tall, cigarettes cost next to nothing and scrapple is unexotic, you should have realized what you’ve overlooked. Here in flyover country, a common faith in American greatness goes without saying.