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This must be the place: My dreams fading down the railway line, I’m just about a moonlight mile down the road

Super 8 Motel, Macon. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Super 8 Motel, Macon. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

It’s 9:21 a.m. Monday. Room 130. Super 8 Motel on the outskirts of Valdosta, Georgia. The air in the space is cool from the ragged old air-conditioner underneath the window. TV blaring some holiday rom-com flick, but the sound is muted. The Rolling Stones’ “Moonlight Mile” swirling around the bed from the laptop speakers. 

The sorrowful melody of such intense and genuine emotional depths popped onto the truck stereo along a solo late-night drive from Tampa, Florida, to Valdosta. Amid all of the usual road dog songs blasting to keep me awake and focused — Seger, Zeppelin, Skynyrd, Allman Brothers — it spilled out from the speakers and hit me with such a force. 

My old truck rolling down that lost highway, the cruise control hovering around 80 mph as vehicle after vehicle flew by my current position (speed limit is 70), seeing as law enforcement seems to be minimal in these parts at these hours. With out-of-state plates, best keep a safe distance from those zooming by in the unknown night. 

No matter. I’m not in a hurry to get back to my humble abode in Waynesville. Hell, I’m making good time anyhow. A full circle drive that started out just about a week ago — another arduous, yet glorious, road trip to baptize the soul and clean out the mind. 

The holiday season continues to tick away on the calendar. Christmas is quickly approaching. Will the nose of the old truck be aimed at the North Country in the coming days? Who even knows at this point, eh? The body and the head are tired. 

Long year, even longer life (if you’re lucky). The long game is heavy, but bountiful to those who seek wisdom and solace within the confines of white noise and incessant distraction in the digital age. 

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Leave the motel room and walk down the long corridor to the lobby. The smell of musty carpeting and years of transient inhabitants. Reach for the watered-down coffee and prepackaged blueberry muffin before the front desk clerk takes it all away at 10 a.m. sharp. Back down the corridor. Back through the musty carpet smell. 

The housekeeper knocks on your door. Most of the guests are long gone by 10 a.m. The parking lot outside the first-floor window deserted. But, I continue to type away on the king-size bed. Damn right I’m going to get my full stays worth of this $49-a-night room, seeing as I checked in ‘round midnight after several hours on the road, lost in deep thought. 

Dec. 6 and here I sit. The whole year feels like some gigantic wave — of incidents and inspiration — rolling towards the shoreline of New Year’s Eve, crashing into this invisible line between one day being left in the past, the next being a step in the future. The finality of it all, some shoebox of memories and moments we careful pack and tuck away in the closet of our minds come Jan. 1. 

“Moonlight Mile” and the exact moment I find myself in. Aside from an unrelenting passion for the Stones, the melody conjures visions of those no longer standing atop this earth. I think of a musician friend of mine, who took his own life not long before the pandemic. It was a shock to all of us in the music industry, whether as his friend or music fan alike. 

In his suicide note, he asked that “Moonlight Mile” be played at his funeral, “It’s my song, always has been, it’s me. I used to lay with my headphones on and listen to that song over and over again and it would make me cry and inspire me to live and create. It’s beautiful and elegant and tough and sad and hopeful all at once. Everything I ever wanted to be.”

I concur. It is beautiful. Elegant. Tough. Sad. And hopeful. When the song echoed out of the truck speaks along a lonely Interstate 75 North, I recalled the times spent talking with my late friend, and how incredible he was to behold when he’d grab his guitar, plug into the amp and roar into a whirlwind set of nitty gritty rock-n-roll. I think back on him fondly. I miss my friend.

And I think of my late cousin, who passed away unexpectedly this past June. He was 42. The older brother that I never had. In some serendipitous chain of events, I found myself back in my native Upstate New York just as he returned from a two-year stint of living out in Montana. He was in bad health when I finally saw him, sitting in an old chair in an even older motel room, chainsmoking cigarettes and chugging can after can of light beer. 

I sat with him and we reminisced about the good ole days, way before he gave up on living and started to just wish he’d never wake up someday. We sat and drank a beer together. I never wanted that one beer can to feel empty in my hand. I never wanted the conversation to end, for I felt it was probably our last one together. 

A few days after I said goodbye — after I told him I loved him, and closed the motel door — I got the call from my little sister that he was found dead in the motel room, still sitting in that old chair, an unfinished cigarette within reach. All that was left behind was a trash bag of cherished items, half-drank 30-pack of Miller Lite and several years of life left on the table that should been his before he checked out.

The whole year feels like some gigantic wave — of incidents and inspiration. The finality of it all, some shoebox of memories and moments we careful pack and tuck away in the closet of our minds come Jan. 1. Head held high, for what else is there to do in this beautiful sadness and gladness we call life? Onward. 

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

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