I think it was about the time that a confederate soldier, who I'd just compared to an L.A. gang member, asked me why I was in Hagerstown that I started to wonder.
Why do people keep asking why I moved here? And just how different is
Hagerstown from my other hometown of Riverside, Cal., a city in
Southern California between Los Angeles and Palm Springs?
I expected some questions when I starting working here in October 1998
as the county government reporter. People noticed I had a different
accent and referred to the interstates as freeways. And so I was often
asked the question: What are you doing in Hagerstown?
But I'm still being asked, from government leaders,
from strangers, and often by the people who I'm trying to interview,
to explain my whereabouts.
They don't usually ask what I think of it, which is fine since I'm
still deciding, but rather how and why I came to be here. Which suggests they
question why they themselves are in this town. Not a good sign, if you
ask me, but that's a whole different topic.
The most memorable time was probably during the interview with the
Confederate soldier reenactors.
I had two Civil War-related assignments the same day and for the
second one I just felt the urge to ask some odd questions.
I was thinking about gangs in Southern California and their
similarities to wannabe soldiers hanging out together on weekends like
a clique and wondering just how far I am from home, both
psychologically and geographically.
So I asked:
What kind of initiation rites did they have?
What did they like about playing with fake guns and staging fake
And how is their behavior different from gangs?
While some nodded agreement with my weird analysis, one soldier
pointed out how sharp his bayonet was while another said that
sometimes they don't just shoot blanks.
I realized quickly I'd gone too far in my interview.
So I mentioned that I was from California and was just trying to
understand their culture and that prompted that old question: What is
a California boy doing in Hagerstown?
Sometimes I just dismiss the question with a joke: I was driving
south, heard a voice cry, "Go West, Young Man," made a typical wrong
turn and here I am.
Moving first from California to Fayetteville, Ark., and than coming
here. And now if I travel much farther east I'll fall in the ocean.
But that's not the real answer.
At the time I left Southern California I said it was for professional
advancement. Few daily newspapers were hiring so I figured it was time
to leave the state for a while.
That's still a big part of the reason, I reckon, though another
factor, unbenownst to me at the time, was also present. That was
feeling a drive to try new things, explore new areas, test my
So I have. And still am.
I went from Southern California, where not only don't you recognize
people on the streets but you assume they're armed, to Fayetteville,
Arkansas, where strangers wave at you, not with their middle finger
but because they're having a good day and they want to share it with
you and all other passing motorists.
Sure it was akward at first. Suddenly I was covering a city government
where I heard more colloquialisms in a single meeting than I'd heard
in my life.
But I had a grand old time. After learning that the clocks operate at
a different speed there - though my job demands were still tough - I
began to appreciate the beauty of nature and relax more than ever
After two years, though, it was time to move on and I set my sights on
the East Coast. And after applying for a few jobs I saw the one for
I'd never heard of Hagerstown but the idea of living not only near
Baltimore and Washington D.C. but such historical markers as Harpers
Ferry and Antietam enthralled me.
I find myself staring sometimes at historical markers and am just
amazed at the history of this region. In Riverside, a 70-year-old
building was a historical artifact. Here, some residents seem to have
no problem with the razing of 200-year-old buildings.
Growing up I rode my bike home from school through a city founded in
1870, while Washington County towns were recovering from the aftermath
of the Civil War. Whereas today I cycled along the Chesapeake and Ohio
Canal towpath, which was finished in 1850. Amazing.
This is a great place to explore and learn. I've always had a
fascination with history but now I'm able to see it up close. And see
others who do so too, such as the reenactors. Sure, sometimes I reach
And I'm likely to complain about the snow because I think of snow and
ice as soemthing you should drive to see if you want, not find on your
car when you wake up in the morning.
But with so much history here, how can I not love it here?
And that's why I'm in Hagerstown.