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This must be the place

art theplaceThrowing my father’s old Dodge Dakota into park, I stepped out of the truck and felt the crunch of snow and ice beneath my feet.

Tucking the keys behind the gas tank flap on the side of the vehicle, I took a deep breath of the frigid North Country air and sighed quietly, peacefully. Back home for Christmas. Plattsburgh, New York. Land of the frozen winter and all that is familiar to me, physically and emotionally. 

Leaving the truck in the city parking lot, I tightened up the laces on my running shoes and began my semi-annual jog around downtown. Though an usually warm holiday weather pattern greeted me exiting the airport a few days prior, Mother Nature finally got around to making us remember just what December should feel like within an earshot of the Canadian border. 

A college town of around 20,000 residents, I spent many years running around its bars and restaurants. It was in an effort to pick up girls, perhaps a few new tricks of the trade, a few new skills from the billiard tables, or simply just being around for the chaos and madness to ensue from an unknown night — all that life experience I figured one needed to become a “good writer.” 

The first few steps of the jog flew by the Campus Corner Diner on Bridge Street. A greasy spoon haven of hung over students and blue-collar folks, it is where bacon and eggs are piled high atop a generous helping of hand-cut home fries and your coffee gets a “warm up” only after two sips. My kind of place, especially when you’re hungry and only have $10 in your pocket at the moment when you walk by. 

Around the “Oval” and its dozens of townhouses. Once the center of the now defunct Plattsburgh Air Force Base, the enormous property was reclaimed by the city 20 years ago and turned into large parcels of mixed use residential and commercial spaces, all of which lie along the great Lake Champlain. When my parents sold my childhood home my senior year of college (2007), they moved into one of these townhouses. And I lived in one of the rooms for a few months after graduation before I headed out to Idaho to start my first reporting gig. 

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Down along U.S Avenue by the Dry Dock, the first stop on any Friday night in Platts Vegas. My best friend back in the day was the cook there. Burn your mouth off chicken wings and stiff drinks. Hard scrabble locals. Characters as jovial as they were mysterious. A few games of pool, onward into downtown. 

Side streets back towards the center of the city. Scattered about, houses and apartments of girls I used to know — some unforgettable, others memorable, a few not so much. Second floor bedroom windows I awoke next to with bluebird skies cascading into the humble abode. Nearby porch conversations that tiptoed around the possibility of dating or in deflection of the eventual demise of the relationship. Two paths crossed with a trajectory of two different directions come tomorrow. 

Pushing down South Catherine Street and through neighborhoods walked endlessly in times of celebration and in times of sorrow. Knocking on doors of old friends (dusty in memory these days) when things either did or did not go in my favor that day. Wondering what the hell was going to happen to my writing career if nothing ever stuck to wall that I typed up and threw at it. I was 22 and nobody knew if this wild dream of written word and adventure would ever come to fruition.

A brisk pace blasting by Bobby’s Lounge. For the three summers leading up to my departure to Western North Carolina in 2012, I played in the bar’s horseshoe league. A highly competitive array of townies and backwoods good ole boys, I was the youngest member by far, maybe even by 20 years. And yet age is the key to being a successful ringer. The older one gets, the more patient and focused you become — the most important traits to getting that U-shaped piece of cold metal around a rusty pole in the distant sandbox.

Back to the old Dodge Dakota. Sweaty. Breathing in that fresh, cold air. A deep sigh, quietly and peacefully. Flip open the gas flap. Grab the keys. Hop into the truck. Thoughts of the yellowed pages of my past, the actions and moments that led me to here and now — so close to home, yet so far away. 

Approaching the nearest intersection, my blinker was ticking right. But, when the light turned green, I changed my mind and went left. South Catherine Street. Bobby’s Lounge. In my running clothes, I bellied up to the bar and ordered a beer. The bartender slid it down the wooden counter. I took a sip and listened to the banter of the long-time mainstay customers. Weather. Politics. Sports. The same ole, same ole. I smiled and took another sip.

“Hey, I know you,” an older gentleman pointed to me from a few seats down. “Electric company, right?”

“No,” I shook my head. “I used to work for the newspaper up here. Used to come in here a lot then. Played in the horseshoe league.”

“Ah, that’s it. Yeah. Horseshoes. You were quite good, as I remember. Whatcha doing now?”

“Newspaper down in North Carolina.”

“Well, good for you,” he saluted me with his bottle, turning his attention back to the football game on the television.

I looked out the window onto South Catherine Street. Several snowflakes started drifting down from the heavens above. Finishing my beer, I said goodbye, jumped into the truck and headed home, with a grin on my face from ear-to-ear — home sweet home.


Hot picks

  • 1 The Hooten Hallers (rock/blues) will perform at 9 p.m. Jan. 10 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.
  • 2 The Jones Von Drehle Food & Wine Pairing event will be held at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at The Classic Wineseller in Waynesville.
  • 3 The Freeway Revival (rock) will perform at 9 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Water’n Hole Bar & Grill in Waynesville. 
  • 4 The Drink-N-Think open dialogue discussion will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 11 at The Sneak-E-Squirrel Brewery in Sylva.
  • 5 Heidi Holton (blues/folk) will perform at 7 p.m. Jan. 16 at Lazy Hiker Brewing in Franklin.

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