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This must be the place: Roads that we abandon and others that we take

This must be the place: Roads that we abandon and others that we take

As the decade comes to a close, I sip this cup o’joe in a quiet coffee shop in a small town in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I think of December 2009 and how incredibly different life was. 

At 24 years old, the economy had tanked a year earlier. Living back in my native Upstate New York (in my parent’s farmhouse), I had left the west in 2008 following my first journalism gig at a tiny paper in Eastern Idaho. 

The exact day I headed east (thinking I could find better work), Sept. 15, 2008, I turned on a TV in a cheap motel room in Miles City, Montana, with breaking news flashing across the screen: Lehman Brothers had collapsed and Wall Street was beginning to crumble. 

In December 2009, I was madly in love with a woman I thought I’d marry someday. Finding myself splitting time between her abode in the Adirondack Mountains and my humble space back down the hill in Plattsburgh, I (happily) figured this would be my existence moving forward next to her.

The term “struggling writer” was genuinely true in my case back then. It was articles at $45 apiece for the local newspaper, my income supplemented by stints as a substitute teacher in my old middle and high school. 

Frozen mornings at some school along the Canadian Border for a paycheck to get through another week of uncertainty, just enough money for gas and amenities to go see my girlfriend each weekend. I played the role of history and English teacher, gym teacher, special education teacher, and so on.

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There were a few music magazines I was also writing for, all of which are now gone from the scene. Sporadic work and small checks of $50 here and there. Sometimes I even wrote articles for free, seeing as I was desperate for fresh work to put on resumes in hopes of future full-time employment. 

It was hard to find work in this industry — and still is in many respects — but I wanted to be a writer, even in the face of family gatherings, where someone would pull me aside and say, “You know, Garret, if this writing thing doesn’t work out...” I was even getting chastised by old friends about how ridiculous I was being at not giving into the ole 9-to-5: “Don’t you want a steady job and normal life?” 

And in the summer of 2009, I found myself in Asheville, North Carolina, for the first time, trying to get a ticket to see Phish at the Civic Center. My photographer and I had just completed our coverage of the Wakarusa music festival in rural Arkansas. 

Onward to Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Asheville (all first-time visits). Unable to get a reasonably priced ticket for the Civic Center, we sat atop a parking garage next door with a tallboy in-hand and listened to the muffled show, only to wander down to the now long gone Emerald Lounge, stumbling upon The Bridge mid-set in all its melodic glory. 

Even then, I remember thinking, “What a cool city,” not knowing three years later I’d pack it all up back in New York and call Western North Carolina home, simply taking a chance at The Smoky Mountain News, never once having stepped foot in Haywood County prior (my home for the last seven or so years).

It was Christmas 2009 and a candlelit dinner with this girl I adored. The meal and drinks were expensive for a young couple, but worth it — a cheers of our wine glasses to the blossoming relationship and hopes for 2010. 

She worked at a brewery in nearby Lake Placid, and was behind the counter on New Year’s Eve. Roaming around the cozy taproom, I was surrounded by all kinds of characters and new friends in my life, most of which I haven’t talked to or crossed paths with since. 

When the clocked struck midnight, she emerged from the back and we kissed to the end of 2009. I went outside to smoke a celebratory cigar. Alone, I stood in the frigid cold, puffing away, only to look up into the night sky, exhaling all cares in the world. I was 24 and life was just beginning.

Now, some 10 years later, I look in the bathroom mirror and see lots of grey on my head and in my beard, plenty of well-earned wrinkles from endless laughter and lack of sleep in an effort to not miss any of the universe’s great adventures. 

The 2009 version of myself wouldn’t recognize my Waynesville apartment or my Toyota pickup truck, let alone all the wild times in pursuit of the written word around the southeast and beyond.

My old self wouldn’t know where to start with all these incredible friends (now family) I’ve made below the Mason-Dixon Lines, faces where I’ve turned to at some point in the midst of a magical happenstance and said, “I’m supposed to know you.” And, conversely, how sad it would be to learn of lost friendships through the decade, and also those who are tragically now six feet under. 

But, that’s the crazy thing about time and space — it’s always in motion, always expanding, and ready to surprise you at a moment’s notice. Onward to 2020 and whatever organized chaos it may contain. I’ll be ready and roaring, chasing after the mysterious light on the horizon, as per usual. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 


Hot picks

1 A special live music event, “Holiday Cheer with Newberry & Verch” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, at The Strand at 38 Main in Waynesville.

2 Another installment of “Comedy Night” at 9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 23, at Mad Anthony’s Taproom & Restaurant in Waynesville.

3 A special holiday stage production of the classic “Miracle on 34th Street” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20-21 and at 4 p.m. Dec. 22 at the Smoky Mountain Community Theatre in Bryson City.

4 Kids at HART, the youth drama group at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, will present “Holly Jolly Christmas” at 2 p.m. Dec. 21-22 at HART in Waynesville.

5 The “Singing Christmas Card” show will be presented by the Overlook Theatre Company at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.

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