Things high above Morgantown could be prettier at 7:15 in the morning, but I’m not entirely certain how that would work.

That was a hell of a sunset tonight Morgantown. Well done. Kudos to those in charge.

That was a hell of a sunset tonight Morgantown. Well done. Kudos to those in charge.

Giant Sky Spider Attack Morgantown

Giant sky spiders attacked Morgantown today, or maybe I just took a picture of an enormous spider who has made an enormous web on my backporch. I Report, You Decide!

Ticket Illegal Driving (A Possible Middle Ground)

Safe Streets Morgantown posted this video earlier today. It features precisely the sort of trucks that would be regulated by the heavy trucking ordinance. Both trucks are making rights from Walnut onto Beechurst, and neither can make the turn without doing so illegally.

Both trucks use the middle lane - a lane designated for either left-hand turns or straight ahead driving - to set up right-hand turns. Both break specific traffic regulations including 17C-8-2 and 17C-3-4. That second one, which references turning on a red light, is egregiously violated by that second truck as it turns right (wrong) from the middle lane (wrong) on a red-light (wrong) between 6am and 6pm when such turns are explicitly prohibited for anybody. 

That this is a heavy truck making the turn simply shouldn’t matter. 

But Morgantown’s Police Department is nowhere to be seen. Tickets for violations here start at $100 and work their way progressively upward. If more than 100 trucks are routinely driving through downtown (numbers that nobody anywhere is vociferously disputing), the city’s coffers could be quickly flush with additional income raised from ticketing truckers. They’re doing this every day after all and now they’re doing this on tape. This is driving that flagrantly abuses the relevant law. 

Giving these drivers a pass isn’t the first favor that city officials have done for protected populations. Churchgoers downtown are barely regulated when parking for services. Noise ordinances that are so important when students party suddenly go unenforced when motorcycle enthusiasts come rumbling into town each summer. And plainly, the city’s police department has given what amounts to unofficial permission to truck drivers to violate relevant law.

So here’s a very workable middle ground - the heavy truck regulations are delayed while the city’s police department aggressively enforces traffic law at the the Walnut/Beechurst intersection. Truckers can get warnings on Monday, and every day afterwards, start burying them in an avalanche of tickets specific to relevant traffic violations. If they continue to decide to drive downtown and violate the law, that can be their decision. If they choose another means of getting to their preferred destination, so much the better.

What cannot continue - and what the heavy trucks regulation proposes to fix - is the utter lawlessness currently at work. What this middle ground does is fix the problem either by forcing safer driving or forcing the trucks out of town, and it does so by making an end run around both the Department of Highways and Greer Limestone drivers. Unless either wants to insist that they should not only be allowed to drive through town, but also to be free from the traffic regulations that would surely ensnare the rest of us if we tried similarly illegal stunts.

Sunset over the coliseum. #morgantown  #westvirginia

Sunset over the coliseum. #morgantown #westvirginia

That sounds absolutely delicious, especially on an English muffin. Or maybe toast!

That sounds absolutely delicious, especially on an English muffin. Or maybe toast!

One Of Morgantown’s Greatest Chefs Has Passed Away

Yesterday, a man that I knew primarily as Uncle passed away. He was one of this city’s great cooks although I can imagine him shying away from such praise. His work has been with me since I was a teenager in the mid-1990s, and my guess is that many Morgantownies are similarly familiar with it. He was the head chef at Cafe of India (his brother Sewa was much more known and recognized) and then Mother India, although his family had recently taken over for him after declining health forced him from the kitchen.

I first remember Cafe of India from eating there when it was on the corner of Fayette and High, where Tudor’s was now. I ate there with my parents at first, and later, when the family moved the restaurant into its larger home on Fayette next to the United Bank, I ate there with friends and eventually by myself. The food never disappointed, a testament to the consistency of its production and the professionalism of restaurant’s family.

When I was 18 and fully in love with the idea of eating extremely hot food, I went with friends and we each ordered the buffet during a lunch rush, but also asked for a single dish of chicken vindaloo made as hot as the kitchen was willing. We were asked if we were sure and we nodded. (What I would later learn is that customers had to earn their way to the hottest foods, having first shown that they weren’t going to return what they had ordered. There is American hot and there is hot-hot and those tend to be different things. There’s no way to take hot out of something after all.) What was brought to us was spicy at a level that was at the time almost impossible to imagine. We split the dish into quarters and each suffered our way through the experience. I ended up being the only one of that group that consistently ate food as hot as I could get it, but because they ended up knowing me as one of a small number of customers who came seeking the hottest foods, they were always willing to prepare the food that I asked for.

I had friends who worked there and eventually, I did too. In the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the restaurant asked its best customers to volunteer for a buffet weekend in which all of the money raised would be donated to charity, and because I was such a constant, I was one of the ones asked. When I arrived, I expected to pour water and bus tables, but I was told to go to the kitchen, and that’s where my first significant interactions with Uncle began. 

That weekend - a weekend in which a staggering $12,000 was raised - I watched a man in total control of his kitchen but who was calm in doing so. Customers lined up from the moment the doors opened until the end of each night for two days running but Uncle didn’t freakout or scream or yell. When challenges emerged, they were dealt with, and onward the kitchen moved. After that weekend, by virtue of something - perhaps the kitchen staff’s delight at my fumbling? - I was asked if I wanted to work a few hours per week doing prep. I agreed. It was a way to put extra money in my pocket and a chance to cook with professionals.

And make no mistake, these were professionals. Whatever your opinion of the food itself, Cafe of India then and Mother India now are thriving institutions with loyal and diverse customers. That doesn’t happen by accident. When Uncle and his brother Sewa brought the Cafe of India to Morgantown, it was a cuisine that was largely new to Morgantown’s scene. The restaurant thrived almost immediately. That happens because a kitchen is able to produce food that customers not only want, but want to return to. Uncle was a huge part of that effort. 

When I worked there, I peeled onions by the fifty-pound bag. I helped to cut up chicken, potatoes, lamb, and carrots. I made aloo tikkis, badly. So much of the work done in that kitchen happens before we as customers ever go through the front door. This includes the production of the sauce and the gravy, the paneer (cheese), the dough, the pakoras and and tikkis and samosas. By the time customers order, all that’s left is putting together immaculately prepared pieces. Uncle trusted me with to peel onions and with the assembly, but that middle portion was his and his nephew Dalla’s responsibility. They rightfully recognized that I should never get anywhere near that work, as it was the heart and soul of the restaurant. It is what keeps everybody coming back. It is, I suppose, the magic.

And from my vantage point, it appeared largely to becoming out of Uncle’s head. He had prepared these recipes so often as to have them memorized, and he could perfectly eye ball the necessary ingredient amounts. If something appeared to go wrong, he would wave his hands and shrug his shoulders. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he would say, and then it would be.

I worked for Uncle for six months. That time included the opportunity to prepare the pre-buffet family lunch. Just sitting at the table with the rest of the restaurant’s staff (both the front and the kitchen) was an honor; to be able to prepare food for them is one of my most treasured memories.

The Cafe of India closed eventually and Uncle moved away, only to return several years later with Mother India. The staffing was different then but the food remained as delicious as ever and, at times, newer foods were introduced onto both the menu and the lunch buffet. The wonderfully diverse community of customers that filled Cafe of India came back to Mother of India and it is obviously still thriving downtown. 

As mentioned earlier, Uncle largely shied from view. He preferred to be in the kitchen with his work, although he became more social as time went on. He would occasionally come and sit with customers, especially when he opened Mother India. Still, the degree to which his work filled the bellies of Morgantownies near and far is almost beyond comprehension. 

I will badly miss him. I feel as though he would wave his hands and say on a day like today, “It’s okay, it’s okay,” and eventually, it will be, but there is a rightful sadness in his absence. Morgantown has lost one of its more unknown culinary giants.

My deepest thoughts go out to his family.

(Here is Uncle’s obituary:
Fresh West Virginia Pears, especially ones cut up right off the tree, are one of my favorite things about the impending autumn.

Fresh West Virginia Pears, especially ones cut up right off the tree, are one of my favorite things about the impending autumn.

I knew a guy who climbed around on the outside of this fence. That’s almost too terrifying for me to even think about.

We’re On The Precipice Of A Whole Lot More Fighting

Morgantown’s City Council is going to vote on proposed heavy-truck regulation for a second time this evening. That vote will almost certainly end up being 5-2 in favor of the heavy-truck regulations. And then the fighting will begin in earnest.

On one side will be those five city councilors and everyone that supported them. That’s no small number, and presuming that the overwhelming majority of those supportive voices are active voters, that’s no small voter bloc either, especially in local politics.

On the other, you’ve got everybody else, including Jeff Mikorski (the city’s traitorous manager) the Monongalia County Commissioners, all local media owned by the Raeses (so, basically, all local media), and the state’s Department of Highways. These individuals and groups have all aligned themselves with West Virginia’s long history of allowing powerful business interests to do whatever they want, wherever they want.

That these trucks rumble through town for hours a day is of little concern. That they annoy residents and business owners alike is of little concern. That their supporters seem to be far outnumbered by their detractors is of little concern.

All that matters is making sure that Greer Limestone gets whatever it wants, because even sending their trucks 3.27 miles out of their way (that’s the difference between trucks taking the Greenbag Road and trucks taking Brockway) is simply too much. Being a good neighbor shouldn’t require any sort of give-and-take between businesses and communities after all. It should require one side to give (the communities) and the other to take (Greer Limestone).

This is going to end up going to court, predictably, and one wonders if those five city councilors and their supporters will have the chutzpah to see this through to the end. Here’s hoping they do.