Poorest Region of America - What It Really Looks Like

Poorest Region of America - What It Really Looks Like

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(door clicks, opens) - Good morning, guys. Here in Bluefield, West Virginia, and today we have quite an adventure we're going on, driving through the south side of West Virginia all the way over to Kentucky. And this is known, arguably, is one of the most impoverished places in the country. Now, this is former coal country. The industry was booming at one time.

It's retracted quite a bit. Many people have left, but some have stayed. So today we're gonna get far out, as far out as we can into the sticks to meet the locals, ask the questions, learn from them, and get a better understanding of what this region is like. Let's do this. (reflective banjo music) (reflective banjo music continues) Here we are in McDowell County, and so this is the poorest county in West Virginia. 25,600 is the average family income.

You see a lot of these people have moved out. You have the coal truck here. Looks like an old school, Switchback Elementary School. So these tracks right here have brought out tons and tons of coal. And since a lot of that coal has declined, well, this is what happens to the towns.

These were once thriving, busy storefronts, people walking around. You got great homes up here above. I'm sure those were like the managers of the coal mines. You can see a lot of these homes, just nature coming back taking them over. Got a little grocery/deli.

Let's check it out. It's like a jungle out here. These forests. Very lush. (birds chirping) Very peaceful. Very closed. (chuckles)

Look at this old place here. Looks like it's been around forever, a staple of the community, pictures of families, people from the town, I'm sure. Oh, that's too bad. But what a different America out here. (train whistle blows) Look at this architecture, some beautiful buildings.

What town is this? - This is the town of Kimball. - [Peter] How long have you lived here? - It'll be 4 years this December. I moved here for work.

- Coal? - Yes. - [Peter] You don't think this video's gonna make 100 million? - I don't think so. Maybe if I 6’5, 260 pounds full of muscle, maybe. - What's up, Clar? - Hey, T! - You all right? - I'm doing good.

Thank you, T. And that's my neighbor. He's... T, you 76 yet? - I'm 77. - 77.

This gentleman is making a video. - Making a video? - Of this area. - [Peter] About Appalachia. - Oh, about Appalachia. - Come on over, T?

- You wanna jump in, T? (T's laughing) T's got stories. I can tell. - His name is Fred Johnson and his wife's school children, she was teacher. - [Peter] Okay. - [Clarence] And she nicknamed T, it's the school- - You got that right, how you doing? - Good, good, T. - You from Maryland? - Nah, it's a rental truck.

- Oh, okay. - Yeah. - Your name? - Peter Santenello. - Peter Santenello. Well, nice to meet you. - Yeah, you too, T.

- [Clarence] You won't find a better man than T. - (laughing) I don't know. - [Peter] T's the best man in town or all of McDowell County? - I'd say in all of McDowell County. - (laughing) Thank you, Clarence. Thank you, man. - [Peter] T, do you grow up here? - No, I grew up in Tazewell.

Tazewell, Virginia. - [Peter] So how's McDowell County? - It's good. It's good. It's a nice, wonderful place to live. People are friendly. - Yeah.

- Everybody's friendly down here. You don't meet a stranger. - [Peter] Yeah. - You know, if anybody can help you, they'll help you. If you're sitting on the side of the road at night and got a flat tire, they'll stop and change it.

Or if they can't change it, they'll bring you home. 'Cause we had a flood here back in 2001, 2002. And a lady from Bluefield worked at Welch Hospital. - [Peter] Ah ha.

- And the water was up all the way through there. And she got to the end of town and somebody called me and I went down and got her and brought her up and she spent the night with us, me and my wife. I let her stay with me. (chuckles)

So I didn't know her from Adam. (laughs) - [Peter] So a lot of old school values out here. - Old school values, a lot.

- [Peter] What about the younger generation? (men laughing) - They're gone. (laughing) - [Peter] They're leaving. They're leaving town? - They're leaving town. And the ones that are here are, they don't really care about anything.

They just, most of 'em on drugs. - Really? - Really. - Drug problems are a problem here. - Yeah. - So from my understanding, talking to some locals, it's either people are on drugs or people are super hardworking.

There's like no in between. - Right. - It's like you got two different groups, right. - Right, that's right. Hmm hmm, two different groups. Mostly everybody around here is elderly except Clarence. (laughing) - I'm 60 and I'm not elderly.

- Well. - Yeah. - [Peter] T's 77 and looking like you're about to play some hoops and dunk the ball. - (laughing) Thank you. (laughs) Yeah, I used to in my day, I did.

In my day but old age catches up with you. - Eventually. - Eventually, old age catches up with you. - [Peter] Did you ever work in the mines, T? - No, I was an electrical motor repair man. - [Peter] Okay. - I worked in that job for 43 years.

Repairing mining motors, steel mill motors. - [Peter] Yep. - I've been, I guess, just about all over the world working on different motors and stuff. - [Peter] What do you mean, be careful going to Harlan County? Why? - On the roads. There's a bunch of drunks on the road on the weekend. This is 4th of July weekend.

You gotta watch out for the young folks. - Okay, what about if I cruise up some of the hollers, like just randomly up some of the hollers? You think that's a good idea? Or it just depends, the one I go up? - It depends on the ones you go up. - Okay. - It really depends.

'Cause you might- - Some of the hollers are real bad too- - Right. - I mean, the roads. - Yeah, the roads are real bad. Even though you got a Ford. You know what they call this, McDowell County? They call it "The Patch." - So could I fit in to "The Patch," no problem? - No problem, you'd fit in.

- Just gotta put a little of that on? - That's all. Just a little bit of personality and attitude- - I can do that. - You'll be fine. (all laughing) - I'll be your neighbor, Mr. T.

Pretty much everyone's involved with the coal industry here. There is a tourism industry starting with side by sides and people getting out on these trails here. But as you can see, even the… The massive hit to a community like this. In the town I was staying in Bluefield, if I wanted to get groceries, the best place was the Walmart.

You want to get a avocado, you want to get probably the most fresh fruits and vegetables outside of a garden, it was Walmart. And so when you have it go away in a community like this, I mean, we're sort of entering, I think we'll get into it today, sort of food desert territory where it's far away to get pretty much all your staples. You know, outside of mini marts and chips and sugar drinks and whatnot. Very interesting story I was told yesterday by a local, and he told me back in the day with the coal mining companies, the miners would be paid in scrips, which was their own currency.

Each coal mining company had their own currency. The catch was, you'd have to go to the equivalent of the Walmart back then, which was a massive general store, depending on the mine, where you'd buy your food, your clothing, whatever you needed, you'd buy there. But you could not take that currency and go anywhere else with it. You wanna leave town, you want to go off to the coast on a vacation with your family, forget about it.

Your money only worked for the business that you worked for, which is insane. (reflective banjo music) (reflective banjo music continues) (reflective banjo music continues) Here we are in Welch. This is the county seat. I'm guessing the biggest town here.

And look at these buildings. Wow. (reflective banjo music) (car door opens) Wow, look at this place. Looks like a massive old school up there.

Wonder what it is now? We have a jail down here. I think that's what that is. I was told in the last town, one of the nicer homes there was sold for $25,000. So something like this is almost a giveaway at this point, I bet.

Closed permanently, 3/13/23. The Panda Garden out of business. Everything, pretty much vacant right now. You could walk right down the center of the street here.

(car whirring) Back in the day, you can see the boss looking over the workers. Very, very hard work. (car whirring) This looks like an office or some sort of manufacturing. Just feels like everybody picked up and left. Very cool old building.

I was told by a local the other day that these rivers just flowed black back in the day. Socialsecurity.gov. Now we gotta meet some locals, eventually. But I was told in these parts, and I can't confirm this at all, but roughly half the people are living off some sort of disability or food stamps or some government assistance and half are working their butts off. Okay, there are two guys up there. First two people in town on the streets.

Iraq from '05 to '06? - '05, '06 in Baghdad. - A lot of guys here were in the military? - My man here signed up. He didn't get to go.

Me and him went in, was gonna go in together and he had to clear some stuff up. (laughs) - [Peter] Were you sad that you couldn't go? Or do you want to go? - Yeah, I wanted to go bad. - [Peter] Do you guys work in the mines? - Yeah, he worked mines. - I don't anymore. I did though. - You don't anymore? - Nah. You ain't got time to spend no money.

So I mean, you don't enjoy life, just ain't nothing enjoyable about it to me. - [Peter] So a miner, how much are they working? - I would work 48 hours every week, at least. But sometimes 60 hours, 60 plus hours. - [Peter] And that's under underground? - Yeah, underground.

- For 60 hours? - 60 hours a week. - [Peter] What does that do to your sleep cycle? - It's terrible. You're always tired.

You're walking around. You're a zombie most of the time, you know, so. - It's not for me. Now, a lot of people, it is for 'em, but it's not for me anymore.

I did a whole three weeks in a coal mine. You did three weeks? A whole three weeks. What was… What work did you like better military or coal mine? Oh, military.

For sure. Good brotherhood in the military? You can’t find it nowhere else. What about a coal mine? Good brotherhood there? I was never wrong with nobody. They do stick out… Yeah, it’s definitely a brotherhood there.

Everybody looks out for each other. - How about in Welch right now? Is it a close community? People uh, pretty tight? - Oh yeah. - Yeah, yeah, it's pretty tight here. Everybody looks out for one another.

You know? - If you get out of here, this town, you know, everybody's so many different walks of life. But if you get outta here, you got these hollers, you got families, they tight. - You get in a holler, everybody knows everybody. - Oh yeah.

You be a kid down there, get in trouble down here, time you get home, about five people done called your mama saying, "Hey!" By the time you get there, they're waiting on you. Everybody knows everybody. That's not a good thing, sometimes. (laughing) - You know, I had a few friends telling me, don't come into this part of Appalachia. It's gonna be super dangerous.

People are gonna be closed off. - Nah, nah. - And everyone's been cool. - Hell, yeah.

Nobody, nah. Hey, people from out of town and stuff, we get it a lot. You know what I mean? Most of these people on these four-wheelers- side by sides. (truck whirring)

They're from other states. They're not from here. They just come down here just to see the country and the mountains. - [Peter] That's the new industry, huh? You got a bit of tourism out here? - Yep, that's right. - That's helped the little stores really good. - Since they built that Hatfield McCoy trail.

- [Peter] Yeah, - It's been mad people coming here from out of town. It's been crazy. - [Peter] Why are the bars here? Is there a lot of crime or not? - Uh. - Or break-ins? - Not really. It's just this area right here, I guess probably in the early 2000s, it was pretty rough, you know? - [Peter] Okay, okay.

- But now, everything's kind of calmed down, settling down. - Way back. - So there's not a lot of thieving and stuff like that now. But there used to be. That stuff's probably- - Yeah.

- That place come in the nineties. - [Peter] Okay, okay. So it's gotten better in that sense? - Oh, yeah. - Oh, yes. It's gotten better and better and better. It just keeps getting better. - [Peter] It keeps getting better? - Yeah. - Okay, cool.

- I mean, the population's going down. Before you walk out here, every one of these streets will be full and everybody, it'd be bumper to bumper, traffic. - The younger generation. Our generation, most of 'em left here. - Yeah. - How old are you?

- I am 40. He's about 43. - 44. - 44. - Most of 'em left. So way back when the streets were busy, when are you talking, 20 years ago? - Uh, the nineties. Probably, it's slowed down in the 2000s. - It's slowed down gradually since the fifties.

- [Peter] And the younger kids just don't like to get outside or what? - These last two or three generations, I believe, they don't really get out much. Most of 'em can't change a flat, so, they ain't... It's a different breed than how we was raised.

- They can tell you how to play any kind of game. - Any kind of PlayStation game or anything like that. - Fortnite and- (man laughs) - [Peter] So they're inside on the screens? - Yeah. - That's all they do.

- [Peter] You guys don't wanna leave, you wanna stay? - Oh, if I didn't have three babies here, I'd done been gone. - If I didn't... I've been gone a bunch of times, a couple times, a few times. And I always end up back. - I think it's like a gym now. - It's a gym now? - [Man] It's a gym, uh ha.

- [Peter] Did you go to school up there? - Ah ha, it was a high school then. Then as the years went by, they turned it into a junior high school. - [Peter] How was it back in the day? - It was real nice, hmm hmm. It was nice, hmm. - [Peter] A lot of kids? - Hmm hmm. - How you been doing? - [Peter] I've been doing well.

Thank you, sir. - This used to be a booming place. - It was booming? - Back in the day.

Well, when the mines shut down and the economy was down, people left and everything. Business shut down. At one time, first, you can buy anything you wanted here in Welch. If you left Welch, it was because you wanted to. But we had all kinds of different grocery stores, hair stands, bus terminals.

- [Peter] You could buy everything you needed? - You could buy everything that you needed. - [Peter] When did the Walmart shut down? - Ahhh… - How long Walmart been shut down? - A while back? - For a while. - It's been a while now. - [Peter] Okay, so you love Welch? - Been here all my life. - Yeah. Good people out here.

- Good to be around. - [Peter] Danny, you working the sun tan, you're out there on the pool side with the ladies or what? - (laughing) Player, player, player. - Somebody told me, and said, "You getting darker, you gonna look like me." I go, "Well, who cares?" (men laughing) - [Peter] I'm gonna go up there, guys. I can't walk in or anything, right? - Nah. - No. (men chattering) - It's got a, a hill mark, you go up like a sideway.

- But I remember going there years ago go in, take you where you wanna go. - Okay. - You have a good day, man. - You too, thank you. God bless.

There are the guys down there looking up at the school that they went to. It's the cycle of life. And everywhere is always at a different point in the cycle. Maybe there'll be a time where people will see this as a place just to get away from everything. Appreciate the architecture.

Some industry would have to move in 'cause everything's cheap here as far as living costs. But it looks like there's some bunk beds in here. New windows, so that's being used. God, I love this old style. Oh, it looks like a nursery.

Or something for kids. So the guys used to run through here between classrooms. You can almost hear the door banging open and closed.

The laughter off the walls, down the stairs. Recess about to happen. The bell going off, three o'clock, end of the day. Gonna get out in town and hang out with friends. This place got me a little emotional. You guys are missionaries? - Yes. - Yeah, we're missionaries.

- From Utah. - Hmm hmm. I'm from Utah. - He's from Utah. - I'm from Oregon. - [Peter] You know Appalachia pretty well at this point. - At least this portion of it.

I think out of all areas is like the Welch, like McDowell, a little bit of Wyoming is about the most like West Virginian type, like deep Appalachian you can get. How have you been received in the hollers? - On the hollers?... - Pretty well actually. - Very well.

- People out here, very humble people. Very kind. I've served in Ashland, Kentucky, down parts of Virginia and stuff.

- [Peter] Yeah. - And then out here it's been the most kind people that everyone will let you in. A lot of time, they're offering like food and stuff and it just really, really nice people. - So it's a good place to be a missionary. - Yeah. - 'Cause some places in America, I'm sure the door just shuts in your face really quickly.

- Oh yeah. - Sorry. I did that once a long time ago. - You did? (laughing) - Sorry. - I forgive you. (men laughing) - Okay. You got some names?

- Yeah, I just wrote down the Panther and Jolo. Those are two places I gotta go. - Yep. - Good luck. - Take care. Good luck. - You too.

- Thank you guys. - No problem. - Take care. - If you don't ever see me again, I'm in Panther. - Gotcha. - Let my wife know.

(men laughing) - We’ll go looking for the body. - All right. See ya. It's always interesting to see the missionaries out in the world.

They go absolutely everywhere and have zero fear. Takes some cojones. It's a one-way road. What, a car every 20 minutes, huh? - Hmm hmm. - (laughs) Yeah.

- Yes. - [Peter] You guys live right up here? - Yes. - She lives right there. And I live on the first house on the corner. - [Peter] So what were you saying about your work these days? - I work 68 hours a week.

Six days a week. - 68? - Yeah. - [Peter] What's your shift from every day? - Five to five.

5:00 AM to five in the evening and all the overtime I want. - [Peter] Do you think people in the country don't understand coal, coal work that well? Or what are your thoughts on- - They don't. Working in coal mines, even if it's underground or on top of the ground, it's hard work.

And you go out 10, 12 hours a day. If you go in the ground, you don't see daylight until the end of your shift. - [Peter] Yeah.

- You work out over top of the ground, you got the heat, you got trucks, you got inspectors you gotta deal with. It's not an easy job. A lot of people don't understand it.

If it wasn't for coal mines, a lot of these people around here would be starving to death. They wouldn't have electricity. They wouldn't have heat.

And here you got the government and everybody wanting to shut the coal miners down. Do away with this, do everything electric. Well, you gotta have coal to run electric plants and a lot of steam ships have to have coal to run, to transport goods back and forth. - [Peter] Hmm hmm, and a lot of your coal goes to China, right? - Yeah.

It's just, you gotta learn the people, you gotta learn the culture. And with people out here, everybody thinks we're just dumb country folk. (woman faintly talking in background) But actually, a lot of us out here are smarter than a lot of people give us credit for.

- [Peter] Yeah. - We work hard. We support our families and we don't let nobody step in between that. People out here will bend over backwards to help you.

They'll give the shirt off your back. as long as you don't make 'em mad or cross 'em. Out here, a man's word and his handshake is his bond. - [Peter] That hasn't gone away? - No, a lot of places around here, it hasn't.

- [Peter] Thanks, you guys. - You're welcome. - You be careful, bud. - Nice meeting you. - You too. All the best. (laid back country music) (laid back country music continues) All right, guys, so this is a holler.

And a holler is just a narrow road that goes up a valley off the main road. So what I've been told is in most hollers, everyone knows everyone really well. And you know, an out-of-state-er car or any different car than they're used to, it's well known. So depending on the holler, this is just what I've been told, it can be very friendly, very warm and welcoming or the opposite.

But from what I've seen so far in West Virginia, everyone's been very, very, very friendly and hospitable. So let's see if we can get up here. And... I don't know what we're gonna see, to be honest. It's looking a little...

Sketch. All right, sometimes you just can't put the camera on things. And they were junking out on something. Anyways.

They were nice at least. I mean, we're deep in now. This is deep, deep, deep countryside, rural America. There's another group of guys I talked to down the road before. I couldn't put the camera on them.

That's the problem. You can't just come up and be like, "Can I put the camera on you?" I have to feel it out. You know, a lot of these guys are used to, maybe not used to, but know of, how they're portrayed.

And you know, most people, not all, but a lot of 'em that come into this part of the country, put 'em under the bus, make 'em look, make 'em look bad. And so rightfully so, they're hesitant to be on camera. And I would be too.

100%, I totally get it. So, it's about feeling it out. And then if they're cool, then it's awesome. I can get that conversation on camera and give you guys a look of what it's really like here.

We got quite a journey though ahead. It's at least another four hours or so to Kentucky as we take this back road. (slow country music) (slow country music continues) (slow country music continues) Looks like maybe an old school renovated into apartments. A guy's washing his house.

You can see the soot, which means we're on a coal route. The truck's carrying coal around this road. (slow country music) (slow country music continues) (slow country music continues) (slow country music continues) So this is definitely a more built out holler. We got some houses that are barely there, but then some newer stuff. So it's a real mix. I'm gonna ask these guys here, "What's going on?" How you doing? (Woman faintly speaking) - [WOAMN] You can come on in.

- Oh, thank you, ma'am. So this is a nice holler. Is that fair to say? - Yeah.

Yep, they call it (faintly speaking), they call it. - [Peter] What's that? - They call this number one holler a long time ago. - [Peter] Oh.

- They got the, now they changed the, what's the name of it now, Maye? - Bartley Branch Road. - Bartley Branch Road? - Yeah. - Okay. - Yeah. - [Peter] So the hollers are basically, they go up a valley.

Everybody knows everybody. - Yeah. - [Peter] Is that the story? - Yeah, everybody knows everybody. - [Peter] Everyone knows everyone's business. - Yeah. (laughing) - Yes. (laughing) That's a good guess.

I've been here since '69. - [Peter] You've been here since '69? - Yeah. - [Peter] Has it changed at all? - Oh, yeah. I thought you might be interested in looking at this. - Thank you, ma'am. - I found it in my closet. Tells about all kinds of mines all around McDowell County.

- We're still in McDowell? - Yes. - Okay. - Yeah, in McDowell County. - [Peter] And so coal is everything here, right? - Yeah, coal's the history here. You know, Biden and Manchin want to take the coal out of West Virginia. What are the people going to do? That's the only thing people got to live on. You know, working in the mines.

- [Peter] It's the only economy out here. - That's the only, there ain't no factors in here, you know? And coal mines the only thing keeping this place going. - [Peter] Did you work in the mines? - Yeah, I worked in the mines. - [Peter] How many years? - I worked a long time, didn't I, Maye? pillar falls and stuff. You had to, you know, crawl on your knees, run and stuff on that, you take all the coal on your pillars. Sometimes the tops are heavy, 'cause timbers wouldn't hold the top.

- Oh, okay. - On the roof faults. You know, roof falls and all come out. When I told a buddy of mine, I said, "Hey, the miner cut too far against the wall."

I said, "Waters are peeping out the right side of the corner of the cup." We got water in the man trip we was riding, we was in the back of it. And that water has 12 breaks of water, backed up. And it just blowed that coal out, just like a explosion. You know? The water was deep, but you feel electricity.

We had rubber gloves and suits on, but you could still feel power. - [Peter] You saved some coal miners. - Yeah. - [Peter] How many? - Had about eight of us working on the evening shift there. - [Peter] You saved eight people? - Yeah, when that water was blowed out there. - [Peter] Wow. Wow.

- See this chapter right here tells you all about what happened down here at this mines. And then it gives you a list. - [Peter] How many people died in these mines here? - I think they said they were 90-something. - [Peter] 90-something people died. - 91. - Wow.

- Down here at this mines in Bartley. It's got all their names listed. There's the big monument.

It was down here at the mount holler and they moved it. - Moved it up right there at that right church, right up from me yard. - Yeah. - [Peter] So do you guys, I mean, you talk about it all the time. You live, you eat and breathe it, right? Coal, that's- - Yes. - Yeah.

That's the only thing that keeps us going, you know? - [Peter] Yeah. - Mine's just like being at home to me. You know, when I worked every day, it was just like being at home. You know, the mine's really safe from what it is out here. You gonna get killed with a car or an airplane.

- This is a man and his young son. Both of them were killed down here in these mines. - [Peter] Mm. So you were saying when Biden came in, he tried to shut the mines down.

His policies? - Well, they talked about Manchin and Biden is against the coal. If we don't get somebody in there for the coal, we going to, everybody be losing a hundred thousand jobs around here. - So, you know what’s interesting. I looked in McDowell County, the voter records. It was very blue here, like 70% Democrat.

And then, it just changed the last couple of elections to hard red. - Yeah, republicans. - 'Cause of the policies, right? - Yeah. - So whatever policies support coal, you're gonna vote for that guy? - Yeah, Trump for the coal. - Yeah. - And general justice for the coal, you know? - [Peter] Yeah. - And if we get somebody in there want to go windmills or gas, everybody be out of a job around here. - [Peter] Yeah, what would you do if you didn't have coal? - Well, if we didn't have coal, everybody be hurting 'cause they gotta make steel with that coal and you know, a lot of the things they make with coal.

And if we don't keep the coal, they ain't going to have no coal to make steel stuff with. - [Peter] So you can't make steel with gas, natural gas or oil, right. You have to make it with coal? - Yeah, you have to make it with coal. Something, you know, burn hot, coal. Natural gas ain't gonna make metal. - My dad was killed down here in this mines before I was born. - Hmm.

- He was killed in March. And I was born in August. - [Peter] Oh, I'm sorry.

Wow. - And my late husband, he didn't work these mines, but he worked what they called the wagon mines. When we were first married, he worked, they had cars. They called them cars then. They hold what, Jay, a ton or so? - Yeah, two tons. - They wasn't very high.

- Okay. - And the coal was real low. And he would come home and tell about how he would lay down on his side and take a big shovel.

And the shovel was about this wide. - [MAN] That's a number four shovel. - Take it and shovel that coal up in them cars. And they'd hold a ton to two ton of coal. And he got a dollar a car. - [Peter] Do you have internet out here? - Yeah. - You do?

- Yes. - Great. I was told you didn't. - Part-time. (laughing) - [Peter] Part time.

- Yeah, part-time internet. - Part-time. - [Peter] So not always, it, what? - It goes in and out. Sometimes when it goes, you know, out, it'll stay out for days and weeks at a time.

- [Peter] Wow, so. - Like the telephone, sometimes they go out for two weeks, don't they, Maye? - Ore more. - [Peter] The telephone goes out for two weeks? - I don't have what they call landline phone no more. I just use cell phone. - [Peter] You get cell phone coverage now. - Yep.

- [MAN] Turn left you go 'round a circle. - [Peter] This holler? So if I go up to the top, you think that's okay? - Yeah, yeah. - Sure. - You can travel all the way.

- Go pass the graveyard, all the way to the top. Go out, pass the graveyards and just keep on going. Then when you get out there past the church, you'll turn down the hill and when you get right at the bottom there, make you a left.

- [Peter] So it's a circle? It's a circle? - Yes, it's a circle. - [Peter] I won't come back this way. I'll just keep going around. - If you want to, yeah. - [Peter] Okay, I think I'll explore.

Why not? Thank you. - Would you like a cold bottle of water? - Yes, thank you, ma'am. Appreciate it. You married well. You married?

- Yeah, I've been married. Let's see. My second marriage, I've been married now. - Here you go. - [Peter] Thank you so much.

- How long I've been married, Maye? - Huh? - 20 years? - Say what? - How long I been married, 20 years? - Long time, Jay. - A long time. - [Peter] I said he married well. - Huh? - He married the right woman. - He married my ex daughter-in-law. (laughing) - [Jay] Ex-daughter-in-law.

- Wait, he's married to you? - He married my ex-daughter-in-law. And his brother is married, one of his brothers is married to one of my daughters. - [Jay] Yeah. (laughing) (Maye laughing) - And now you two are married? - No. - No, no. - Oh. I thought you were husband and wife.

I'm sorry. - [Maye] No, no, no, we just, I've known him all his life, so. - Yeah. Okay, gotcha.

- Like I said, he married my oldest son’s ex-wife. - Oh, okay. Gotcha. - I'll stop in, sit down and talk to her. You know, she don't get too much, you know, a lot of people, you know, too much company anymore. Every time I brought my brothers, I'd stop and see her, stop down here and talk to ya, don't I, Maye? - Yeah. - Oh, that's cool. So you guys are all connected here.

Everyone knows everybody. - Yeah. - Yeah, yeah. - [Peter] That's nice. You don't feel lonely? - If something goes wrong, something happens, the neighbors pitch in and help.

They do what they can, you know? A death in the family or sickness, you know, bad sickness. Somebody gets hurt or something. - [Peter] Pitch in, like just put their time in? Or they actually put help with money too if they need it? - They help with money, you know, and debt. They cook food, bring it in. - Okay. - All that.

- [Peter] Even if it's different families. - Yeah. - That's great. That's really special. - I know everybody. I have been down this road here in this holler. - Yeah. - You know everyone?

- I've watched them grow up. Small kids, they played with my kids. - [Peter] Are you the grandma of the holler? - I guess. (laughing) - Yep. (laid back country music) (laid back country music continues) - About 20 minutes into the holler, we have the Dunford Family Cemetery. Just passed some great people that came up to the door here. We were talking for a while.

I just couldn't run the camera. Just a lot of that. But I'm getting some of it.

I'm getting some of it for you guys. (laid back country music) (car door alert beeping) I'm sure this is super important to the locals here. Family is absolutely everything here. Many generations living under one roof, quite often. And in these hollers, some of these families came four or five generations ago and have stayed. And I've been told some never leave.

They actually like just never leave the holler. Or maybe they get out a bit. But Charleston, the capitol is like a world away. Forget about DC, New York, California, those are like a different galaxy. Well-kept cemetery, Dunford Dial, another Dunford, Dunford, Dunford. And this is the Dunford row.

And we're not gonna get a name on those. Gus Ciphers. Very short life of 18 years. (child crying) Don't know what's going on over there.

(people faintly chattering in woods) All right, just had the coolest conversation with a guy. It's too bad, he didn't wanna be filmed. Him and his family were out there at this pretty nice house. He works as a manager.

I believe it was a manager at one of the coal companies. They cannot hire young people straight outta high school without a college education or anything for 80 to a hundred thousand dollars. He also stated, roughly 60% of kids under 20, so I'd say teen years are on drugs of some sort and don't wanna work.

So I hate to put the negative story in here, but I like to capture the reality. And that's one man's opinion. And his experiences doesn't mean it's, you know, through and through fact, but that's how we learn about like the local, on-the-ground perspective. Great guy, really cool guy. But a bit pessimistic about like the future of this place because of the drugs and the fact that kids just do not wanna work. He was 45, I think, and said, yeah, in his generation, it was everyone got to work and now he said this is gonna die out out here eventually.

He also said there are prostitutes in some of these small towns. The dope heads don't mess with them 'cause everyone's packing. The lady (laughs), grandma of the holler, the dope heads don't mess with her "'Cause she'll shoot 'em," he said.

Just such a good dude. He was honest, straightforward, no BS. And that's what you get. Just going off these random roads.

Deep, deep, deep in the hollers of West Virginia. (slow country music) (slow country music continues) (slow country music continues) Started to get a lot nicer down here as far as properties. But Virginia has from first impressions, a bit of a different feel. I gotta say, I miss West Virginia. Met such cool people in that state.

(slow country music) (slow country music continues) Here in Grundy, Virginia. Been out of West Virginia for just about 30 minutes. Feels like a different world out here. The Walmart is the luxury edition. - Social media has absolutely destroyed, you know, an entire generation as far as the only thing they know how to do is play on the cellular phone. - So you were saying when I was inside, it's tough finding kids to work.

They don't wanna work? - Very hard. Around these parts, I mean, a lot of it goes back to the morals that the families have taught 'em. And I don't believe they're teaching them the responsibility of work ethic in society. - Okay.

I was thinking when I got out to the sticks of West Virginia and Virginia, it was gonna be a bit immune from that. Maybe I was a bit naive? I honestly thought it would be like kids on the streets, BMX bikes. - Society, in general, social media has definitely ruined. - Now I'm creating social media.

But these are long form videos. - The kind of social media you're doing though, if people look at it and understand it, maybe they'll let their kids get out, you know, and... kick rocks, play kickball. I mean- - Right. - Something besides just.

- Except this one you have working. You said she's on it. - We have a very, we have very few kids that are 18 to 24 that actually get out and try to produce at a job.

- You're holding this place up, huh? - I'm trying. - Keep these guys in line. - I'm trying. - He's doing social media.

- [Peter] Is that okay? I'm doing a video on Appalachia. - Yeah, that's fine. - Alright, cool. - So how about the generation you came outta high school with, Shay? What percentage would you say are actually working class Americans at this point? - At this very point? - At this very point. - From my class? I would say maybe 50%. - 50? - If that.

Because personally, I'm gonna be honest with you, my best friend from high school is currently locked up in prison for drugs. - [Peter] Oh. - Just as you were saying a while ago. - [Peter] Yeah.

- I've seen multiple people from my graduating class on drugs and I mean, just down a wrong path in general. And these are people that have been given opportunities - [Peter] Okay. - To like go further in life and they just choose not to.

They're content with being what they are, you know? - [Peter] What is it right now? Fentanyl? - Yes. Bad. - Yes. - Bad. - Bad? - Very bad. - Very bad.

- Okay, so you're saying 50% of kids out here, they're working their butts off. Oh, I don't want to call you a kid. Sorry, how old are you? 18. - I'm 23. - Oh, okay, sorry. 23, okay, young adult. 50% are working their butts off.

50% are junked out on drugs? - Yes. And a lot of these people, they have kids and their parents are raising their kids while they're out here just doing whatever they want do. - They're junked out on drugs or mom and dad still taking care of them.

- Taking care of them. - It's crazy that we're in the same state right now as Fairfax County right near DC, right. That's where the power center is. That's the nerve center of the country. - Without a doubt.

- [Peter] They're not really caring about you out here, huh? - An amazing story that we have here personally. - [Peter] Yeah. - I give people a second chance.

Always have. - Yeah. - We have a girl here right now who just worked two jobs. She finished up 1,400 hours of community service. - From a drug pass. - From a drug situation.

She's really straightened herself out and she is a role employee. - [Peter] 1,400 hours? - 1,400 hours. - 1,400 hours. She would go to the courthouse and work 9 to 4. 9 to 5. - Yeah. - Come straight here and work 5 to 10, 5 to 11. - And then drive almost an hour home.

- Yep. - So when you were in high school, was it hard to avoid the drugs or it was easy? It was just like that crowd's over there and we're over here and I'm not, I have nothing to do with it? - Honestly, there was drug usage during high school when I was in high school, but it wasn't as bad. Like it was not as easy to get your hands on something, you know, like I was one of those people that nobody really talked to me.

I mean, I just stayed to myself. I was kind of a A student. I done what I had to do and then I went home and I worked from the time I was 16 until now.

- [Peter] Yeah. - And I'm actually getting ready to graduate college with my associate's degree in criminal justice. - [Peter] Nice. - Been here since you 16. - Been here since I was 16.

- Congrats. - Thank you. - [Peter] That's cool. - And it was kinda hard. - Now are you gonna pull over your manager when he is speeding now? - Maybe? Yeah. He's gonna get pulled over a lot, I can tell you that much. - And it was harder for me to stay away from it in my generation because everybody was smoking marijuana, which is completely nothing anymore.

- You would be amazed that. - But as far- - What you can walk into a store and buy now. - [Peter] And it's changed that much in five years? - Yes. The drugs are growing rapidly in this little small community.

I hate to admit it. - And it got even worse after Covid. - It did because everybody was just isolated and you had nothing else to turn to at that point. - [Man] Well, they were telling people to sit at home. - Or at least that's what they thought.

- And make more money at home than they were to get out and work. - Yeah. - This is true. Yeah, this is true. - [Peter] So, all those nice houses coming into Grundy from West Virginia… Who are those people? Coal, old money stuff or…? Some of ‘em and then you have you know, your school teachers… They live in some of the nicer homes. - [Peter] So, this is a place where the school teacher can live in a nice home? - Oh yeah.

- [MANAGER] You just got out of high school, right? So how many people from your high school class do you know that are out here in our community doing work? - Doing work? - Yeah. Actually working like you are. - I'd say probably around 25%. Like the majority of them are either on checks or living with their parents and they don't really care to work.

I've tried getting them into an engineering program to tell 'em, you need to do something. Mom and dad ain't gonna be able to take care of you forever. You're not gonna always have people in your life to support you. You have to, you know, actually try to make a name for yourself but. - [Peter] So checks, how do 19-year-olds get checks? - Well, see one of my buddies, he got a check because he had a seizure.

So he gets $600 like every month. - [Peter] What was his seizure from? - They said it was from some Japanese disease he had ever since he was born, he was born with it. And one of my friends, he went on disability, he has anxiety so he still lives with his parents. He still draws those checks. He doesn't try to work.

- How old? - He is 20. - [Peter] Is it legitimate, the anxiety, or is it just like just to get the money? - Honestly, I can't tell because he does seem to have like panic attacks. Personally, I believe anxiety is something we all share and it's just something you can work yourself into. But he's always kind of used it as like a crutch pretty much to get him out of taking tests, to get him out of participating in physical education. - [Peter] Right.

- And now- - So he's milking the system? - I believe so. - Okay. - And.

- So a lot of kids your age are doing that? - Unfortunately, yes. - Me, personally, I came from a long line of drug users. I will be the first in my family to hold a college degree.

I have to protect myself in order to keep getting further in life. When they put me on the anxiety and depression medicine, it was just irritation all the time. Like every little thing, usually I'm a very patient person. I train people here on a daily.

I have a child and everything. And I'm very cool, calm-tempered, like I'm not an angry person at all. And it just, it made me so like irritated like every little thing would just piss me off. But once I quit taking it, like I had a couple days where I just did not wanna get outta bed at all.

It was just horrible. But after about a week of not taking it, I felt normal. And then I figured out, you know, different coping mechanisms like meditation, I do that. I go on my hikes with my son, you know? We walk the dog, you know. - Cool. - And we have a whole farm full of animals. Like we've got lizards, snakes, everything.

So we kinda keep ourself occupied, you know. - [Peter] So you're off the medication now? - Yep. - [Peter] And you found better therapy through natures, walks? - Yes. - [Peter] How many people do you think are on medicine roughly? - Around here? - Yeah. - I would say quite a few but what they do- - What percentage? - In this area? 65% of the people would be on some kind of medicine, some form. And I mean, as far as the depression medicine, I'd say well over half on it, alone.

- But see what they do, is a lot, we had an employee that worked here. He would not let the medicine get in his system. It would make him do all these crazy things and then he'd go to the doctor and tell 'em it wasn't working and they'd put him on something else. And plus, he was doing other things with this medicine.

I don't know what. And it just, and I seen that and I was going- - 18-year-old kid. - Yeah, 18-year-old kid. Ruined his life almost. (gentle country music) (gentle country music continues) - I just caught one like that. - Look. If you look on- - [Peter] You guys mind if I film this? Is that cool? - Let's see if I can hook into it.

If I hook into it, you can film the whole thing. I gotta get down in here though. I don't think you'll be able to get down in here. It's all mud.

- [Peter] I'll get you from above. - Dude, I had one that was bending my pole up under the bridge. And then that one that I just hooked, broke me off. - Yeah that one big one was like that. - Am I scaring the fish? - No. - Sitting up here. - Not really,

but I believe I done scared 'em 'cause I hooked that big one and then it broke me off. - [Friend] Ah, you should have been here 10 minutes ago, man. - I missed the moment? - Yeah. - [Peter] Hey, so your buddy here was saying you're a diesel mechanic. - Yeah.

- [Peter] You're going to school for it, right? - Yeah. - Cool. Good to hear these stories 'cause I was just downtown and they're saying kids aren't working at all these days. - Nice. - Yeah. - [Peter] Nice.

And you boys here from Indiana? - Yeah. - Yeah. - You work at Dairy Queen? - Yep, manager at Dairy Queen. - Manager? - Yep. - [Peter] Nice. How old are you? - 16.

- [Peter] (laughing) Are you the youngest manager in Dairy Queen history? - Yeah. I'm pretty sure. - Blew up in 1939. - What, the mine? - Yeah. - Killed like 50 people. It's still up there too. There's a carving on the mine entrance with the date on it.

They brought a bunch of Italian sculptors in here to do it. - [Peter] Oh, no way. - That says 1937 on it.

The guy I know, Ed Talba, he's gonna start making a heritage trail up there very soon. - Cool. So you guys really respect your miners? - Yes, sir. And then also we're really proud of our veterans here, too.

Matter of fact, during the Civil war, this county supplied units for, or supplied men for three units to go in the 34th Virginia Calvary, 10th Kentucky Calvary and the second Virginia State line. - You're into history. - Yeah. What really got me into it was my grandma telling me stories about my papa or about my third great-grandfather, was her papa.

He was a Native, half Native and he signed up for the 34th. He fought Gettysburg, Sharpsburg, all that. That's what really got me into it. Private Andrew Cole Company C, 34th Virginia Calvary Witcher's Battalion. I got a grant along with university, four years, history archeology up in Farmwell. - [Peter] They’re paying your tuition? - Hmm hmm. - Full ride?

- Yeah. And two years of it, it'll be spent in London. - UK, London? - Hmm hmm. - Sing for him. - What? Sing for him? - Sing for him. - What do you want me to sing? (friend faintly chattering) - [Friend] "Follow You To Virgie."

- Yeah, I sing too. Of course, these boys had to bring it up. - [Peter] Let's hear it. ♪ Back before these calloused hands and all this work ♪ ♪ We used to sit up at the flats ♪ ♪ Actin' like we'd live forever ♪ ♪ Gettin' high and skippin' class ♪ ♪ Yeah, I reckon we were heathens ♪ ♪ But in her eyes, we were saints ♪ ♪ Now you're callin' all the boys home ♪ ♪ 'Cause heaven's angels carried her away ♪ ♪ So I will follow you to Virgie ♪ ♪ An although it hurts me so ♪ ♪ To lay to rest this mountain beauty ♪ ♪ That the Lord's called home ♪ ♪ And I can't see her up in glory ♪ ♪ I can see her through the pines ♪ - [Peter] Thanks, man. That was so cool. - When you're a bored kid in Appalachia, I mean, you get into anything that's interesting.

I mean. - [Peter] So you either get into anything interesting or you get into drugs, right? - I mean, pretty much. It is an epidemic here.

It's bad. And it's not so much the marijuana and stuff like that. It's stuff like meth, heroin, things of that sort. I've seen my family destroyed by it.

I've seen other people's families destroyed by it. My stepfather was on the meth real bad. - He's no longer with us 'cause- - [Peter] I'm sorry, man. - But I want to show people that Appalachia is not, that we are more than just drugs and coal mining. - [Peter] Yeah. - I mean, we have history here that spans, if you're counting the Native American history, it spans about a thousand years.

- [Peter] Right. - We have so much more to offer, the culture, the music, the people. The people are just great. - Yeah.

I agree. - I mean, folks here will help anyone. It doesn't matter who you are. That's what I love about it here is that no matter what your background is, no matter where you come from, they'll help you. - Yeah. - If you're a good person, if you have respect, they will help you.

And yeah, sometimes we get a little rowdy, sometimes we get a little reckless. But you know, just good-hearted people. - So what do you think is needed in Appalachia? - (sighs) Better leadership, I think. Pride. Not a lot of folks are proud of who they are.

- They're not proud here? I thought Appalachian people were very proud. - Well, the older generation is, but a lot of the younger generation, you know, they've kind of lost their way a little bit. - [Peter] Why do you think they're not proud? - Because people's never taught them.

People's never taught them where they come from, how resilient they actually are, you know? - [Peter] Right. - Because our ancestors, at least mine, speaking for mine, I'm a direct descendant of Viking kings. All the kings in southwest Virginia is descended from Bjorn Ironside. First Keene in America was a guy named Jeron Sviness Bjornson.

He got the last name Keene as a nickname, as an epithet, given to him 'cause he was in the Swedish Army. And he was the bastard son of a noble from the house of Munso. - [Peter] Hmm hmm.

- And he came to Pennsylvania in the 1620s and his descendants actually moved South. His great-grandson, Lieutenant Mathias Keene, ended up founding Keene Mountain. And he was a soldier in the Continental Army. I mean, badass people, very badass people.

- [Peter] Makes you proud to be a descendant of that, right? - Yeah. (footsteps rapidly pounding) - That was- - That was instant, man. - [Peter] That was allowed, I got this. - Oh, my cord. (friends faintly chattering) - [Friend] He got off. I had to run down and get my (indistinct).

I just hooked into a giant and lost him! I lost him. - Oh, you lost him! - You lost him again! - The Romans just copied the Greeks homework. Committed a little different. - [Peter] Who are you a bigger fan of? The Romans or the Greeks? - Oh Greeks, a hundred percent. I kind of do have a little bit of beef against the Romans. - [Peter] You have beef against the Romans? A little bit. - Why?

- Because what they did to the Germanic people, not just Germanics but the Celts too. Mass genocide, man. They got 'em back.

Special Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, 85 AD. You know the whole story of Arminius? - You are way more up on this stuff than the me. - Arminius was a Germanic auxiliary for the Romans. But he defected and was a general for the Germanic tribesmen. Led them into the Black Forest, set trees ablaze, cut 'em down, divided up the legionaries.

It was a bloodbath. General Varus was killed, too. - [Peter] Oh. - And it also confused the Romans 'cause Arminius was still wearing his Roman armor. Actually if you go to Munich, there's a statue of Arminius, Me and my camp, the Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Witcher Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, we put up the first confederate statue in Buchanan County, last year, at my family's cemetery.

It was at the grave and my fourth great grandmother, Elizabeth Jackson Cole, and her husband died during the battle of McDowell in Highland County, Virginia. - So, okay, for many people, when they hear confederate, all they think of is racism immediately. - Nah, man. - What are your thoughts on that, like Do you have friends from different ethnicities or is that an issue… - Oh yeah, oh yeah.

I don’t have problem with anybody. My fourth great-grandfather on my dad's side was a Black man who fought in the Confederate Army. His name was private Nathaniel Hawthorne.

And he was a sharp shooter for the 37th Virginia Infantry from Russell County. Racism confuses me. It really does. Simply because of the fact that we all come from the same place. First evidence of humanity popped up in Africa about two million years ago.

That's where humanity come from. We are all humans. That's why racism, I think is, excuse my French, kind of bullshit. You know, it's made to divide people. It's made to tear people down.

- I didn't get my first cell phone until I was 15-years-old. I woke up at daylight, went with my papa, we went, we worked in the garden. When it come hay time, we mowed, tethered, raked all the hay. I threw hay bales since I was eight-years-old. I've pushed around four bales a hay rolls. They're like that big around.

I rolled 'em around. I got a dirt bike one time. Messed the wheel up on it.

I had to have a whole new chain, had to have a carburetor, everything. Dad looked at me and it was because he wanted me to have responsibility and work for what I got because I'd appreciate it more. And I had to go out, I weeded and then I fixed my motorcycle with the money I made. Anything I've ever had, my dad helped me with one vehicle. He paid half on my first vehicle.

That's all he done. From now on, I've probably had, I'm 18 and I've probably had 40 vehicles. - 40? - 40! - Four, zero? - Just trading up. I'd fix 'em up and sell 'em. You can ask Zach.

That's all I've ever done. - Oh, yeah. - Is work on vehicles. I could take his truck right here, take the motor and transmission out of it tonight and tomorrow day, have everything put back together. - [Peter] So you're saying kids don't work like you did? - No, they don't.

Some of them do, now, don't get me wrong. - 50/50? - Yeah. Because nowadays, it's like mommy and daddy spoils you. And I guess that's just how it goes, I mean.

- Not only that, but a lot of people around here are on like checks. They get checks for social security. And that's how the youth is brought up here. They're brought up that, okay, so my mom and dad live this way, so, they probably can live this way- - I can live that way, you know? That's what they think, okay.

- [Peter] But you guys weren't brought up like that? - No. My mom- - I watched this man, I watched this boy right here with his mama. They completely redone the inside of a house that was from what? 19 or 1800s? - Yeah, my house was built 1910. - And I've watched him rebuild that whole house. This man can build anything outta wood, make you tables, make you chairs, anything you want. He's a woodwork guy. - Yeah.

- But now I'm not gonna lie to you. Schooling, you put a book in front of me, I'm an idiot. I'm in college for six months right now. One of my welding classes, I get my diesel, I get my class A CDLs. And then as soon as I'm done with that, I go straight to work.

- And you're really set because less people you're age are doing that now, I think, right. - Right. - I think that I'm doing it because in a way, that's the only thing that I know. And I lived paycheck to paycheck growing up. That's how it went.

It wasn't because dad and him couldn't provide for us. It was because my dad was in a bad motorcycle accident and he couldn't hardly walk. But I want more for my kids than what I had. I'm not gonna give 'em everything. They're still gonna have to work for stuff.

Like I didn't go on my first vacation, like an actual vacation, like let's say to the wilderness till I was with my best friend. And I earned the money to pay for it because dad, he couldn't walk around the way that everybody else did. And then I've carried him from inside my house to his truck, set him in his truck and then carry him from the truck all the way back in the house because he was on a cane.

But besides all that, there's kids here that work and they work their high-end off, but then there's them kids that's privileged that it's because of the social security check. Why would you give a drug head social security when he's putting all of his money towards something that is tearing this state down? Why would you do that? Knowing that they are a drug addict? - [Peter] So why do you think they do it? - I know at least 20 people that have to go to the methadone clinic every other week just because they're so hooked and they draw social security. - All right, guys.

Kentucky, 10 minutes that way. But we're not gonna make it today because it's getting dark. What an amazing adventure, today, through Appalachia, through the far most removed part of Appalachia. You can see how important coal is. It's sort of the center point of everything in this region. It's beautiful.

The people are fantastic, as far as everyone I met today. And some didn't want to get on camera, understandably so. But you saw some of them on camera, which were great. And drugs, obviously, I mean, that's everywhere in the country, going up, but I think it's even mor

2023-07-18 23:35

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