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This must be the place

Doc’s Bar, Tybee Island. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Doc’s Bar, Tybee Island. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

It’s 11:16 a.m. Wednesday. Sitting in the lobby of the Dunes Inn & Suites on Tybee Island, Georgia, I can finally collect myself and write this column, seeing as the Wi-Fi is only good in the lobby and not the motel room (#132) at the back of the property. 

I awoke not knowing where I was for a moment, which usually happens now and again when you’re on the road. You awaken into this unfamiliar space of seashell bedsheets and cable TV blaring from the corner of the $57-a-night room. Half-drank bottle of beer on the nightstand. To-go containers from that delicious burger and potato salad on the table nearby.

The sun is out and streams into the room. It’s definitely morning, but what hour is it? The smell of cigarettes on your clothes and in your hair. I don’t smoke, but everyone else did who I sat next to at the bars last night, this seemingly last vestige of indoor smoking in public places, especially in terms of late night libations (last call is 3 a.m. ‘round these parts). 

Currently, I’m en route to Florida to be the stage emcee for a music festival. Quite possibly the final melodic boogie of its size on (at least) the Eastern Seaboard until spring. Several high-profile acts. Thousands of concertgoers. Grab the microphone and get the people excited for live music once again, eh? 

Whenever I’m within vicinity of Tybee Island, I swing through. It’s not necessarily by necessity. More so, this magnetic urge to, perhaps, circle back to a place that resides in the back of my mind, in the depths of my memory. Even so, it’s the holiday season. The air is cool. The beaches empty. Nobody really around. But, I’m drawn by the forces of the universe, whether known or unknown. 

Cruising along U.S. 80 East into Tybee, I see the sign to the right amid bright lights: The Quarter Bar & Grill. It’s already after 9 p.m. and I know damn well it will be hard to get a meal elsewhere if I don’t stop and order a cheeseburger and potato salad to go. Plop down at the bar counter. Place a food order. Order a Budweiser. Glance at the college basketball game on the TV above me. Make small talk with the locals — all smoking and drinking, all talking about how wild the now long-gone summer was. 

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I can see my signature still there in black marker on the wall, with the years 2007, 2009, 2010, 2016 and (as of that night) 2021 on it. Back in 2007, when I was 22 and a senior in college in Connecticut, my two best buddies and I (Brett and Dan, whose names are also still on the wall) hit the road from New England to Tybee for spring break. 

We crashed my parents vacation home for a week — laying out on the beach all day, running around the bars all night. Chasing girls. Drinking beers. Taking shots. Sunburns and sunshine. Memories for a lifetime. Organized chaos. We were young adults and the world was our oyster. 

I remember first signing this wall some 14 years ago and wondering if or when I would ever return to post up another year underneath my name. Fourteen years later, here I am, here yet again. 

Since then: the endless miles traveled, numerous loves found and lost, trucks driven and junked, all the wondrous (and mysterious) people, places and things, the idea of nothing and everything (and anything in-between). It’s all so damn overwhelming and incredibly beautiful at the same time.

Pay the tab and check into the Dunes motel. Eat the burger and potato salad. Take a shower. Freshen up in an effort to, well, hit the town — in search of strong drink and hearty conversation. No sense in heading down that lost highway if you ain’t going to make any new friends or new experiences. Sheesh. What’s the point of not participating in life as it happens in real time?

Walk a couple blocks to Doc’s Bar. Downtown Tybee. The exact last place I drank a cold beer and hungout with good folk before the nationwide shutdown in March 2020. I was working my way down to Florida to spend a week with my parents. Stopped in Tybee for old times sake, for the pure love of the place. 

At that time, my native New York was already shutdown. My home in North Carolina closed a couple days prior. I ended up in Tybee with the rest of country and our new normal quickly closing in on me. Everything going dark and uncertain in the rearview mirror. Talk around Doc’s that night was about Georgia shutting down the following day. The vibe in the bar was, “Let’s live it up, who knows when we can do this again?” Truth, my brothers and sisters. 

By the time I rolled into Florida the next afternoon, St. Augustine had just mandated its shutdown and restrictions. So much has changed since that night at Doc’s. For me, for every soul on this planet. Each day is a new, unfamiliar landscape, at least for the time being. And yet, I remain optimistic. 

It was so damn ironic that Doc’s is closed right when I return for the first time since March 2020. Off-season and the impending winter means early hours. Just as I was about to walk back to the motel, I heard the ocean waves crashing onto the nearby beach. I wandered down to the shoreline and disappeared into the darkness, away from the streetlights. Looked up at the night sky and the luminous constellations. Surreal. Stupendous. 

So much gratitude for this existence in this universe, come hell or high water. Leave the beach, head into a nearby dive bar. The Wind Rose Café. Order a cold domestic ale. Sip with gusto. And I think of all you reading this (or not reading this) on an ocean side night of cold sands and hopeful hearts.

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

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