Around 9 am Wednesday morning, I was all set to head to Danville, VA – the little town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge where I spent my college years. I have driven the Richmond – Danville route many times and despite the fact that haven’t been to this area in at least 5 years, I knew it probably had not changed much.
After a short drive on a few expressways on my way out of Richmond, I got on 360 West – a beautiful highway that connects Danville to Richmond and then goes all the way to the Northern Neck of Virginia. Just a word of warning if you’re ever on this highway – do not speed. When I say do not speed, I mean do not go over the speed limit AT ALL. If you think that you are OK going only 5 miles over, you’re wrong. Trust me, I know. 360 West in Charlotte county is where I got my one and only speeding ticket.
360 can be boring to someone who drives it frequently because there is hardly any traffic and you’re basically driving through the countryside, passing only the occasional gas station or diner. But yesterday, the Fall colors were on full display and the drive was gorgeous! And all those gas stations and diners had a familiarity that warmed my heart and made me feel like I was coming home. As the signs to Danville counted down the remaining miles, I got more and more excited about visiting old friends at my alma mater, Averett University!
My first stop when I got here was the Admissions Office. I got my first campus job here giving tours to prospective students in the afternoons and working in the tele-counseling center in the evenings. At the tele-counseling center, we used to call prospective students to invite them to open houses and special events. Most of the time, we would leave voice mail messages and incessantly recite the Averett 1-800 number, which I remember to this day! Most of the tour guides in Admissions were international students because the Admissions Ambassador position was one of the few on campus that was not paid with federal work-study money, which foreign students are not eligible for. I was glad to see that this was still the case – I got a short campus tour from one of the current ambassadors, a girl from Albania!
Ariola showed me the numerous changes on campus that have taken place since the new president came into office – a new bookstore, new Student Success Center, and a consolidated student services area called Averett Central. There were other small but significant changes such as the additions of signs (how did I ever find my way around before?) and a general sprucing up of campus that made it look a lot more welcoming and modern, despite the fact that most buildings are relatively old.
Once I got the new lay of the land, I set about to track down my friends and faculty who I knew were still on campus. Most of the faculty had their schedules posted on their doors (also a new development, if I remember correctly) and I was able to track down all of my Computer Science/Math professors as well as my old history professor, whose engaging lectures on European History became the reason I have a History minor. I also got to catch up with my old friend Randy – we reminisced about our days at the telecounseling center over a plate of AU cafeteria food, which had also changed for the better, albeit only marginally.
Once I was done catching up with everyone on campus , I met my friend Yana, who drove up from High Point, NC. Her husband went to Averett with me and, being from Bulgaria like me, we immediately clicked. We’ve been friends for over 12 years now and even though we haven’t lived in the same city for the last 8 of it, when we see each other it’s always as if no time or distance has ever separated us.
She first took me around town to show me how many of the businesses and shops in Danville had closed down. Danville is a small town of only 50,000 and used to be anchored by the textile company Dan River Inc and a few other big companies like Diamond, Corning, Nestle and Good Year. When Dan River Inc and Diamond closed a few years ago, the city lost many of its white-collar jobs, and it’s been affecting many of the small businesses in the city. We drove by one shopping plaza that is now bare save for a a karting center and a Japanese restaurant. Many people continue to drive to nearby Greensboro, NC in search for better dining and shopping options but their numbers are not enough to bring those businesses to Danville, and with very few new companies putting down stakes, it’s been hard for businesses to survive and for people to find good jobs. It’s a chicken and an egg dilemma – well-educated people won’t come to Danville because they can’t find jobs, and companies won’t come to Danville because there are few well-educated people. It seems that Danville’s claim to fame – being the last capital of the confederacy in 1865 – will continue to be a thing of the past.
But at least there’s a Starbucks now. 🙂 We grabbed a coffee there with our Austrian friend Barbara – another member of the surprisingly large population of foreigners in such a small city – and then we went for dinner. It was great catching up and remembering our days in Danville, which we both fondly think of as our American home. We love to visit it but I think we would both go crazy if we had to live here.
By the time I started driving back to Richmond, it was already dark, and that turned Highway 360 into the boring drive I knew it could be. But I didn’t mind too much, as I was re-visiting in my head the dear places and faces in Danville I knew I would likely not see for yet another long period of time.