Friday, June 29, 2007

Snob Knob

South Hills has the reputation of being the rich side of Charleston. Even though the largest, most ostentatious homes in town are found in places like Foxchase and Quarry Creek, it is South Hills that retains the reputation of the stomping grounds of the rich. Many people hold the erroneous belief that everyone who lives in the 25314 zip code is filthy rich. But I know better.

I grew up in South Hills. I went to John Adams Junior High and George Washington High. I know every street in South Hills, having ridden my bike as a teenager on every one of them. There is indeed some enormous wealth scattered about the hills, but there are also a few pockets of real poverty. A large segment of the area's population has always been working-class folks with incomes at or below the Charleston median. Growing up there I didn't know of the stereotypes until I was in high school, and by then I was so familiar with the truth that I didn't pay much attention to the myth. The bottom line for me was I lived in South Hills and I was definitely not rich.

Although my family's economic station was no where near the median of the families of my peers I had no trouble fitting in during elementary, junior high and about one-fourth of high school. Then things changed. Big time.

Looking back, I now know what was the trigger for the change, but I was oblivious then. All I knew was that many - OK, most - of the people who had been my friends since second or third grade were quite suddenly aloof. Guys that I had played little league baseball with were all of the sudden too preoccupied to take in a Charlies game with me. My buddies wouldn't go to the Kanawha State Forest pool with me any more and didn't invite me to go to Windemere or South Hills Pools with them. No more golf at Coonskin or Shawnee for the ol' gang: Nothing but Berry Hills would suffice any longer. Girls that I had known for years and years, and even dated, would act as if they didn't remember my name if we were to meet in unfamiliar places when they were with unfamiliar friends. It was very clear: I was no longer on their level.

It seems that these striations were revealed in the second semester of tenth grade.That was when there was no more denying that there were marked differences in the societal landscape between the "haves" and the "have mores." That's when the truly upper crust kids began to disappear from school one by one. We never knew where some of them went, and some were rumored to have been shipped off to Linsly or another far-away boarding school with names I did not know. These were the future leaders of Charleston, West Virginia and the Nation: They had to be schooled accordingly.

The next lower tier were less likely to be sent away to school unless they got into some trouble, but they were still separating themselves from the chaff with the clothes they wore and, more importantly, the cars they drove. In fact it was the introduction of cars into the high school society mix that triggered all of the separation of the classes - socioeconomic class, that is.

Now there were basically three levels of vehicular status at George Washington High School in the late 1970s. There were those with no car (I would reside in this class my entire high school career), those with cars and then there were those with really expensive cars.

The No Car people, my people, were carless for a variety of reasons, but none of them would be kids from affluent families who denied their offspring a car; no, that never happened. The carless class was made up of those whose parents couldn't afford cars for them, those whose parents thought cars were an unnecessary luxury, those whose parents felt that cars corrupt kids, those who had once had cars but had lost them because they wrecked them or had some run in with the law. There were probably many other reasons that our group had so many members (lack of driver's licenses for one), but we didn't discuss it amongst ourselves.

The largest group were the regular Car Kids. They drove anything from shiny new Trans Ams or Camaros, to the ten year old Datsun Uncle Ralph had given them. This group also had lots of pick up trucks and four-door Caprice Classics, Monte Carlos and an Olds Cutlass or two. Most of these cars were second hand or were daddy's toys that the kids were allowed to drive to school.

The chasm between the Car Kids and the Expensive Car Kids was vast. The lowest of the expensive car kids had new Corvettes. Porsche, BMW, Audi, Mercedes were typical for this group. These are the people who now, 30 years later, drive the highest priced Mercedes and Lexus models, and whose wives all drive Escalades.

And they all eat pizza at Lola's; which is actually what I wanted to write about this evening.

I finally made it to Lola's. I've been trying to get there since I first heard about it last Summer, but the place is tiny and always full to overflow. So my wife and I went a little early recently and got a table with no problem. Nice little place with interesting and expensive gourmet pizzas and lots of interesting and expensive imported beer and wine to wash it down. We had two 10" specialty pizzas and water to drink. The bill? $30. That's-a some-a pricey pizza!!

The little old house that is home to Lola's sits below Bridge Road in the curve that signals the end of the Bridge Road Business District. Its tiny parking lot and
the overflow lot across the street is full of expensive machinery anytime the restaurant is open and especially on Friday night. The drivers of said machinery sit or stand around on the front porch waiting for one of the eight tables and few bar stools inside to become vacant, or for their to-go order to come out of the oven. Inside the patrons order from the pricey menu and sip their wine and guzzle their beer until their pizza comes, then they eat their crispy crust pizza with Gorgonzola cheese and caramelized onions with a knife and fork. They chat with their neighbors about the trip they took to Tuscany last summer and how dreadful the champagne is that is served in Delta's first-class.

It was like deja-vu. Like I was back in the GW cafeteria, except that none of these people would have eaten in the cafeteria.

By the way, the pizza at Lola's is good. Not to die for good, but very good indeed. All things considered I think I'd rather go to Lorobi's in St. Albans: They have pizza that is to die for, and my Ford would fit in better in the parking lot.


Paul said...

Good stuff.

The wife and I are 1971 Herbert Hoover grads. We had a similar distribution of haves and haves-not, except our whole curve was shifted toward the lower end of the wealth spectrum. But there was that one couple who talked their parents into buying them matching Mustangs...

We've lived in Columbus ever since graduation, and have raised two kids here (the youngest just graduated from Ohio State). Schools are quite different here in that they are organized by municipality, not by county as in WV.

The consequence is that rich communities have astonishingly nice schools, great resources, and highly paid teachers. The New Albany High School campus looks like the University of Virginia, except brand new. At the same time, the schools in the urban core are typically 100 years old and falling apart.

Our country prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, but we have substituted economic segregation to the same result very effectively. The widening gulf is the greatest threat to our democracy, not terrorism or any external enemy.


The Duck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. Thanks for writing it. I'm new to the area as of last October, and my wife and I bought a house right around the corner from Lola's. You probably do too from all your bike rides as a teen.

Anyway, we bought in South Hills for three reasons:

1. We were told they had the best schools in the area.
2. The resale value is hopefully better since we'll have to sell in another year or two.
3. It's extremely close to my downtown workplace, and I love a short commute.

There are times I wish we hadn't bought in this particular area, because of the assumptions people make about me now. Believe me, I'm not rich, but I work with locals who are significantly less rich, and they make snide comments from time to time about it.

I personally haven't run into any problems with my immediate neighbors. They're all very nice, and don't make all that much money either, but I see it at places like Lola's as you say, and some of the other Bridge Road shops. I don't get too upset since we'll only be here for a relatively short time, but it seems like a lot of these people could use a reminder that they're big fish in a very small pond...

Oh, and I think that Lola's pizza is fantastic. By far the best in town that I've found. It reminds me of a gourmet pizza place in Portland, OR called Pizzicato. Also, I have to applaud the owner for starting up a small business around here. We need more entrepreneurs like her around here in my opinion.

Anyway, nice blog. I'll be back.

Anonymous said...

Disregard the "You probably do too" portion of the above comment please. It's left over from editing the original comment...

demosthenes.or.locke said...

Lola's aint the center of Charleston's snobby-for-no-reason south hills culture.

Thats bridge road bistro.

Funny you mention quarry ridge, from the folks I have met, thats where the down to earth self-made types build in Charleston. Most of the people in South Hills are pretentious wannabes who pay $350,000 for a house thats barely worth $200,000 so they can chat about the clay center and what they ate at "the bistro" on friday night.

Its all quite funny to a fella who ain't from kanawha county.

just me. said...

Interesting blog. I too, am a transplant into South Hills. I live very close to all of these places that are described in the blog. I think you all have valid, somewhat humorous points, but I wanted to take a moment and stand up for Lola’s.
I have done a great deal of traveling, and after trying many similar places, Lola’s does a wonderful job. Their service is always great, and the food always fantastic. The sangria is what they are known for, and it’s wonderful. The owners are fun, young and always aiming to please.
I hope that your blog doesn’t discourage people from going there.

Jennetically said...

I love Lola's (the pizza and sangria) and the majority of people that work there are my friends. I tend to sit in the corner of the bar up against the wall when the seat is available to people watch until my heart is content. I've noticed quite the snobbery going on in there and am very put off by it. It's obvious that if you are not wearing the latest fashion, have the best haircut and don't carry the hottest new bag you simply aren't worthy. It's a shame really because I love the food and getting to see my friends in action. I suppose most people don't actually grow out of that high school clique mindset. Meanwhile, I'll just sit back and sip my sangria and laugh. It's likely most of those South Hills people are much like the rest of the country and are sweating the mortgages and car payments that they bought on borrowed money with the expectations that the economy would continue to boom. My guess is that a chunk of them better get a taste for Papa John's soon.

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