“I don’t understand why you do this to yourself,” my mother would say later that day, over the phone, back in my hometown way up on the frigid Canadian border of Upstate New York.
Many might not know or understand, or care for that matter, but I do. Earlier that morning, I awoke under the bed cover of my truck in Walmart parking lot within eyesight of the Waffle House. Leaving Waynesville the previous Thursday afternoon, I had spent the last few days bouncing through Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis, en route to Austin, Texas.
Why Austin? Why not, eh? It’s a music Mecca of a city that provokes the deepest of my melodic urges. That, and who couldn’t use some of that Texas sunshine to thaw even the coldest of mindsets and bodies in this chilliest of winters (metaphorically speaking).
The road is where I feel most at home. Give me some sketchy rocket fuel truck stop coffee, a full tank of gas, some classic rock on the radio, windows rolled down, miles of endless pavement revealing itself to me, and you have a pig in shit, as they say.
While in Knoxville and Nashville, I visited two of my closest friends. One from my high school days back in the North Country, the other my best buddy I met when I relocated to Waynesville several years ago. Both are getting married to their significant others this year. Both looking to either build or buy a house and start their lives together with their new bride and groom.
And I can’t wait for these celebrations. As we caught up over cold suds, we talked about the guest list, the “What are they up to these days?” conversation over names freshly written on the paper, but dusty on the walls of my memory. Each name conjured a face, each face illuminating another image in my mind of days long gone, but ones that still put the biggest grin on your face when wide-eyed shenanigans are rehashed, leading to gut-busting laughter.
There are a lot of miles to think and stare out into nothing between Memphis and Austin. Not so many folks around these parts that I know personally, seeing as most reside on the coasts, more so above the Mason-Dixon Line. So, push harder down on the pedal, periodically looking over at open fields and endless tree lines in the heartland of America.
You wonder what people do way out here. Are they happy? Do they wonder about us anonymous folks blowing by in our vehicles to destinations unknown? Do they want to step out onto the shoulder of the road, thumb pointed up, ready for whatever pulls over and gives them a ride to their destiny?
You see the thing is I’ve always had my thumb pointed up. Whatever peers, friends and family members may do to find stability, I aim to shake it up a little bit. Keep things fresh, always in perspective, aware of the big picture with each decision and statement that strikes fire in my soul and echoes out of my mouth.
Spitting out my toothpaste onto the dirty pavement of the Waffle House parking lot, I locked up my truck and headed into the establishment for some bacon and eggs. Sitting into the booth, I sipped my coffee and stared out the window onto Forrest City, Arkansas. Several abandoned commercial buildings within vicinity, numerous chain restaurants scattered around the landscape, countless big rig pickup trucks zooming by said buildings.
It’s a scene that may seem bleak to some. But, I see it as another collected vision to add to my ongoing narrative, one that I string together with other visions — of my past, the present moment, and the impending future.
I keep moving along. That’s been the internal quest since I was handed that high school diploma and the keys to an existence that’s up to me, ultimately. Who I have become isn’t surprising, say, to my teenage self. Though he may raise an eyebrow about how much of a loner I’ve become, at least in terms of finding solace and a deep sense of self, all while immersed in the lifestyle of a man in his early 30s who wants adventure and not domestication.
There’s nothing wrong with domestication. But, there’s also nothing wrong with wanting something else. And it’s that “something else” that truly speaks to the core of my being.
I write this week’s column from inside a cheap motel room outside of Dallas. It’s Tuesday morning and the coffee within reach is still warm. It’s about three and a half hours until I hit the city limits of Austin. It’s a city I’ve wanted to venture into since I first left the North Country some 14 years ago.
According to Google maps, it’s 1,683 miles from this motel room back up to my hometown on that cold Canadian border. But, when I’m out there on the road, in this all too big and beautiful world, visions of that town and those people dance across the dashboard like fireflies, making the distance that much closer.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 Legendary progressive rock act YES will perform at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.
2 Country music singer-songwriter John Berry will perform an acoustic show at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, at The Strand at 38 Main in Waynesville.
3 The First Thursday Old-Time and Bluegrass Concert and Jam Series at Western Carolina University will continue with Ol’ Dirty Bathtub at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, in the auditorium of H.F. Robinson Administration Building.
4 Folkmoot USA will welcome the Year of the Rooster with a Chinese New Year celebration from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville.
5 The NetWest program of the North Carolina Writers Network will host an open mic night at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.