Late last year, after 23 years in the Washington area, we decided on a lifestyle change. I realized I had been working fulltime at one job or another since my sophomore year in high school.
Time to slow down.
The decision came after spending Thanksgiving with my mother in Floyd County, Virginia. I left Floyd County after high school in 1965, but had been returning more and more in recent years. We own a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains now and the county offered a relaxing respite from the madness that is life in the National Capital Region.
My mother volunteers one day a week at The Jacksonville Center, a new arts facility in the county, and gave us a tour of the old dairy barn converted into a two-floor facility with galleries and space for working studios. We found a corner location still available for studio space, met with facility manager Wayne Bradburn, and signed a one-year lease.
After 40 years of running around the world, the new studio gave us a chance to settle down, sort through four decades of photos, slides, clippings, videos and the like and display some creative work. So we created Blue Ridge Creative, a new photography, video, graphics and web company based in Floyd, Virginia.
Our life now is a mixture of old and new – alternating weeks between our home and business obligations in Arlington and our new business in Floyd. In Arlington it takes 45 minutes to drive the five miles from our home to Washington, fighting traffic and the always unpredictable tempers of fellow drivers. In Floyd County, it takes 30 minutes for the 15-mile commute from the farm to the new studio, including a stop for two coffees (black, no sugar) at the West-End Market.
In Arlington, each trip anywhere in the traffic-laden region brings frustration. In Floyd, trips are tranquil drives along winding mountain roads with peaceful vistas.
I was heading home from the studio in Floyd the other night when a client in Fairfax called (yes, cell phones work up there in the hills).
“Where are you?” He sounded anxious.
“I’m stuck in a Floyd traffic jam,” I said. “Three cars backed up at the county’s only stop light.”
“I don’t want to hear about it asshole,” he said. “I’m sitting on I-66 and haven’t moved for 35 minutes.”
Life in the country does have its tradeoffs. A trip to the grocery store can take 30 minutes or more. The nearest shopping mall is 45 miles away. Floyd does have two fast-food franchises —Hardees and Subway – but don’t ask for a Starbucks. In Floyd, we like our coffee strong and black, not flavored and topped with whipped cream. And local residents are still divided over whether or not the new Food Lion Grocery Store (which opens next month) is a good or bad thing for the county.
But technology makes it possible to serve clients while in the hills. The DSL connection in the studio runs at 1.5 mbps and both UPS and FedEx manage to find their way to the community each day.
The Blue Ridge Restaurant serves good country cooking and Oddfellas Cantina offers an eclectic menu called “Appalachian Latino.” Readers of the local paper voted Mama Lazardos the “best pizza” in Floyd but – then again – it is the only pizza parlor in the county. But if you want chicken from Hardees, get there early on Fridays. They tend to run out by early evening.
Last Sunday, driving back to Arlington from Floyd, we ran into little or no traffic for 294 of the 300 miles – until we got inside the Beltway on I-66, where progress slowed to a crawl. The last five miles on I-66 took as long as the previous 64 miles from I-81 near Front Royal.
City life has its advantages, but we were hard pressed to name any of them while sitting in traffic less than five miles from home in Arlington.
Oh well. Only a week before heading back to the mountains.