This must be the place: Ain’t nobody slowing down no way, everybody’s stepping on their accelerator
It was about 4:30 a.m. when the cover of the hot tub was finally pulled off and we jumped into the warm waters in the early hours of New Year’s Day.
The air temperature was around 20 degrees, our current location less than two miles from the Canadian Border. The town of Rouses Point, New York (population: 2,200). My hometown until I graduated high school and put this place in the rearview mirror. The hot tub was on Smith Street, my childhood home (sold when I was in college) just up the road at the top of the hill.
It was one of my oldest friends, Ryan, his girlfriend, and myself. Hopping into the hot tub at Ryan’s parents’ house, seeing as his folks were gone to Maine to visit his older sister. Poaching the hot tub wasn’t planned for our New Year’s Eve adventure. But, like anything worthwhile in life, it just unfolded in that manner of happenstance and serendipity.
New Year’s Eve. I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling in the guest room of my parents’ farmhouse, just outside of Plattsburgh, New York. Yawned and stretched, emerging from my slumber and meandering down the creaky wooden stairwell in the back of the house.
Make a pot of coffee. Cook up some eggs and sausage on the stove. Glass of orange juice. Glass of water. Two cups of coffee. Turn on the small TV in the kitchen corner. Watch the local news for the weather expected today. Eat with gusto, for it’s the last day of 2021. Another go-round on this hurtling rock through infinite space and time.
The plan for this final day on the calendar was to go for a trail run at nearby Point Au Roche State Park, get lunch with my mother, wander up to Rouses Point to pay my respects to my late cousin’s (Nate) gravesite, then head back to downtown Plattsburgh for unknown New Year’s Eve shenanigans.
Although the North Country landscape was covered in a thick layer of snow and ice pack, a slight rainstorm was expected at some point in the afternoon. The last week or so of below freezing temperatures now gave way to high 30s and low 40s, seemingly “warm” for these parts during this time of year. Threw on my Yaktrax spikes into my trail running shoes and trotted into Point Au Roche, pushing along these backwoods routes that bordered the ancient Lake Champlain.
Popping out at the end of Long Point, I stood there in the immense silence of a single entity immersed in the depths of Mother Nature. Then, I could hear the sound of the waves hitting the shoreline below. Soon, the trickling tone of freezing rain fell from above, through the trees and branches, ultimately dripping onto my windbreaker.
Gazing out onto the lake, I turned and glanced over at Plattsburgh situated across the bay. I thought of all those souls, whether lost or found (or lost again), buzzing around the small city, all of us reflecting on the end of another year. I smiled, wished them well, turned around and jogged back to the truck.
Ryan decided to join me in going to visit Nate’s grave in Rouses Point. Nate passed away unexpectedly last June at age 42. He was my first cousin, but more so he was one of my best friends, ultimately being the “big brother I never had.” When I was a little kid, he introduced me to rock music, to all of the bands I still love to this day. He would sit me down in his bedroom with a sly grin and go, “Listen to this.”
Just as it got dark and the frozen landscape of the Champlain Valley got quiet, we rolled up to the cemetery, an endless cornfield behind the rows and rows of headstones. Leave the truck lights on and walk over to his grave (I hadn’t been back since they placed the headstone).
I placed a drink token from our beloved Monopole bar in Plattsburgh on his headstone and poured a full beer out in his honor. I told him I loved and missed him. Kissed my fingers and placed them on the headstone. I then walked back through the wet snow and drove away.
Before we left town, Ryan and I stopped at the local American Legion for a quick beer and meal. That simple intent led to he and I staying there for a few hours, seeing as a several of our old high school friends happened to walk through the door. Faces I’ve known since elementary school. Faces I haven’t seen in years, but they still know me as good as anybody, and vice versa.
That American Legion encounter parlayed itself into all of us heading across town to our friend’s house to watch the ball drop. Ryan called up his girlfriend and told her to join us once she got done work. The Plattsburgh shenanigans were scrapped for a totally by-chance New Year’s Eve celebration in a hometown I hadn’t really dove back into in many moons.
The ball dropped in Times Square. The champagne was poured. Tall tales from back in the day rehashed over hearty laughter and a sense of camaraderie that will never be broken by distance or time apart. By 3 a.m. it was goodbye hugs. Ryan, his girlfriend and I left to crash at his parents’ humble abode.
It was about 4:30 a.m. when the cover of the hot tub was finally pulled off and we jumped into the warm waters in the early hours of New Year’s Day. The air temperature was around 20 degrees, our current location less than two miles from the Canadian Border.
With nightcaps in-hand, we saluted each other, and the moment we had found ourselves in, too — one of togetherness and solidarity. Talk of our trials and tribulations that occurred in the last year. But, more so, we spoke of hopes and dreams for the unknown days, weeks and months ahead in 2022. Onward.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.