Despite the rhetoric in politics which claims that America [The USA] is built upon its small businesses it is well known to anyone who actually runs a small business that the various Federal, State and Local jurisdictions they happen to inhabit are often their worst enemies. There are [literally] countless ways in which governments and their numerous agencies provide exsanguinatory services to their life blood so it is not surprising in the least that this evening I happened upon one I’d never considered.

My small family of expecting wife, toddler son and I just completed the first half of our journey home from Pennsylvania for a family celebration. I’m writing this from the small mountain town of Floyd, Virginia where we’ve found a fantastic hotel tucked away slightly off the beaten path of I-81 with the campy and misleading name of Hotel Floyd (I swear it really is nice). While en route we realized, via our friend Google, that no dining places in Floyd were open past 5pm and those that were are all closed on Monday being a touristy typed town. So if we didn’t want to starve finding some place off of I-81 was our best bet. While back in our not so distant past a quick stop at an Arby’s to keep on truckin’ would have been in order these days taking some time to let the little boy run around and the pregnant wife a chance to stretchmountainviewScreenshot out calls for a slower pace. As my son started to hit the wall of contentment in the back seat we realized we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere. “Barely even a fast food joint until Roanoke, 37 miles” my wife said. Then in a ‘Lando System?’ moment she said that there is a place nearby called The Mountain View Restaurant. “How are the ratings?” I enquired. “Seems ok”. I press the issue, “Are they open on Mondays?”. “There are no hours listed”. “Can we call them??” “No phone number.” Now, desperate, I ask “Does it actually have mountain views?”. She looks at her phone a moment… a moment more “I think it might, it’s coming up at the next exit. We can just drive by and check it out.” We then come up on the ‘EXIT 168 FOOD’ sign and all I see on it is a Burger King, no Mountain View Restaurant. “Are you sure this is it?”, now seconds from the exit. “YES YES, 168 this is the right one!!”. We get off at the exit and on the ramp the sign says to hang a right if you want a Whopper and that’s all it says. We come to a stop at the end of the ramp and look around half expecting this place to not even exist and then… there it is. Off to our left. A big red sign… Mountain View Restaurant. We cross over the highway and approach it cautiously as if it were a homeless man lying on the street… “is… is… he alive??” . As we approach there is only one car outside the unassuming building. “Is it open?”, I ask. “I don’t know” she responds. Then we see it. The homeless man stirs under the newspaper and like a beacon of sustenance the red and blue neon sign shone “OPEN”.

Still approaching with caution I ask my wife “So… uh… I don’t know uh… you want to eat here?”  “Yes, there is lots of space for our son to run around and there isn’t anywhere for miles, plus… we’re the only ones here so no one will care that we have a crazy toddler running around”. Oh the contrary considerations of parenthood. As we exit the vehicle the warm afternoon sun feels fantastic as I realize that our AC was probably only a few degrees away from allowing us to see our breath. So we commit and go inside. We are greeted by an understated gentleman who seats us. The mountain view was obstructed by the blinds which were extended to abate the soon to be setting sun low on the horizon.

My son, true to fashion, was not hungry but was quite eager to explore the whole restaurant and even leave it occasionally which, with each occurrence, began my leg of the toddler fetching relay race. After about the third escape attempt the proprietor of the establishment took his key and locked the door. Again, under any other circumstances and with a Bates Motel looking place just up the hill a little ways this may have been alarming, but our lives as they are now it was a welcome gesture of kindness. Realizing that we’d never see any rest from it to eat the proprietor also entertained our son for bit with a paper airplane he fashioned out of a flyer for some real estate listed by Sotheby’s. MountainView3a

It was around this time that I asked him why his restaurant wasn’t on the sign leading up to the exit. He said “It is too expensive”. I enquired further “Wouldn’t the state run those signs as a service to the commuting public?” He responded “Yes, The Virginia Department of Transportation is in charge of them and for me to get this restaurant on the 4 signs on the interstate is $1800 per year”. While that is a chunk of change I still asked the obvious question “Well, wouldn’t the $1800 pay for itself at least over the course of a year?” He said “I really don’t know but it doesn’t matter anyways, they want the money upfront and I don’t have $1800.” He adds “It used to be $200 per year”.

We then sat and enjoyed our rather chaotic but pleasant family dinner. The food was good, nothing special, but good. As the sun set behind a mountain the blinds were lifted and indeed there was a really nice view of the mountainous area and a commanding view of the freeway below which this place was built to serve. Being who I am I couldn’t stop thinking about the signs at exit 168. I am fairly certain that the $1800 could be recouped over the course of a year since we nearly missed it ourselves due to the signs and we were actually looking for it and knew it was there. That’s not really the issue though is it? What I am sure began as a service to the motorists who fund the interstate highway system has evolved into a revenue stream for the ever increasing appetite of the state. What I am sure began as simply offsetting costs of making the sign for the restaurant and hanging them developed into an overbearing tax on those who it was meant to serve. For not only is loss evident to those proud owners of empty seats in a restaurant but it’s also a loss to those who turn right for The Whopper instead of left for the mountain views, better food and friendlier service.

In an example of how the state promotes corporate America and strangles small business it is my assumption that large franchises might negotiate bulk discounts with the VDOT or assist startup franchisees in payment. Maybe it’s just their better business acumen, after the owner of The Mountain View Restaurant is not doing himself any favors not updating some basic information into Google, but having deep pockets helps too.  If he can’t come up with $1800 spare dollars to help his business I worry that it might not be there next time we pass by. I can only speculate as to the financial position of The Mountain View Restaurant of course. Maybe it was only an off day.

He unlocked the door and unleashed the little bundle of energy he’d kept bouncing in his walls for 45 minutes. He came back out as my son ran around in the grass next to the restaurant and gave him and orange popsicle. When he went back inside he locked the door again and the open sign went out. It was 7:45pm on a summer eve with over a hour of daylight left off of one of America’s busiest roads. The part of this story which does give me that same feeling as when I exited my frigid vehicle into the soothing warmth of the sun is that we still found this place despite the state’s [deliberate?] efforts thanks to technology and crowd sourced reviews to which I shall contribute my share. Instead of passing exit 168 clueless, running on empty with a ticking time bomb sitting behind me we had information. Information from people we didn’t know or have any reason to trust which was valuable to us nonetheless. Perhaps as the state continues be obviated by technology and with my helpful review many more will enjoy The Mountain View as we did.

We rode off into the sunset and here I am mere hours later feeling a little nostalgic over this little lost (and found) place on the mountain interstate highway. Luckily I have the leftovers right here in the hotel fridge