Sunday 8:00 AM: Fairfax Coffee on Fairfax Street, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. A large space: clean, polished wood; cushioned booths; organized counter; hip, polite staff. Susan and I ordered Macchiatos and orange cranberry muffins. A nice break from the hotel continental breakfast of bland coffee and boxed donuts.
Berkeley Springs, a secluded hamlet on the banks of the Potomac River. High-end hotels, Ritz-Carton, Hyatt, and Marriott anchor the tourism economy. Golf courses dominate the landscape. Long views of fairways, mountains in the distance. The town is dotted with spas: hot-soaks, massage, facials, mani-pedis. Artsy shoppes and gourmet restaurants line the cobblestone streets. Ninety minutes from DC, Beltway businesses visit for executive retreats. Wealthy Washington couples escape for pampering and shopping.
This is where Susan and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary. Sort of…
I grew up in the DC Suburbs. As an adult, I moved into the city and began my life as a yuppie. For twenty years, I heard snippets about Berkeley Springs. Not first-person accounts, but just casual references. Once the leadership at my Fortune 500 company came here for a management retreat. You know, a couple hours of meetings, a round of golf, a massage.
A wealthy guy from Gettysburg moved here to open a yoga studio. I heard about that, too.
Without any evidence, I painted a picture of Berkeley Springs. The picture I described a couple of paragraphs ago. Remember, the swanky resort.
We pulled in on Friday night, and we didn’t pass through this part of town. We passed through what looked like West Virginia small town poverty. Ramshackled houses, a decaying shopping strip. McDonalds and Dairy Queen. A couple of Dollar stores. Our hotel, a Best Western, the only lodging I could see.
This is when I mentioned my Berkeley Springs mental image to Susan. She planned the trip, I was along for the ride. “I don’t think there is a ‘nice’ part of town,” she said. “I think that was it.”
Saturday morning, we verified her assumption. Yes, there are spas. And about a million places to get your nails done. But after that, this is a small town with thrift stores and flea markets as the main shopping draw.
We came here to get away. To do some hiking, to write, to meditate, to read. I had no intention of hanging around the up-scale part of town, except maybe to get a nice meal. And since there is no up-scale part, it was easy to avoid. Fairfax Coffee was the closest thing to luxury we found here. And that was fine with me.