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This must be the place: Sipping an old fashioned like a divorcee in Vegas, I’m too young to be feeling this way

The view from Room 813 in the Cambria. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) The view from Room 813 in the Cambria. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

I forgot to pull down the window shade and awoke to the early morning light on Saturday. There was a slight drizzle overtaking downtown Asheville. I emerged from the king size bed and reached for the bottle of water on the nightstand. 

Room 813 at the Cambria boutique hotel across the street from the Grove Arcade. Two nights of jam-band juggernaut Umphrey’s McGee at the Harrah’s Cherokee Event Center (aka: Asheville Civic Center). Too wild of a weekend to tempt the idea of driving home to Waynesville way past midnight amid inebriated shenanigans. And the mere fact of FOMO (fear of missing out) creeping up on you when everyone is planning to go to the late night after-parties.

My buddy was still asleep in the master bedroom. Leaving the guest room, I slowly made my way to the living room. Half-full lukewarm left behind beer bottles on the nearby dining room table. Empty leftover pizza boxes on the floor in the corner. Hastily ripped off wristbands from that final stop for live music at 1 a.m. last night. 

It was 9:30 a.m. and the two of us had promised we’d help a dear friend of ours move from her apartment in Woodfin to new digs in Weaverville. A week ago, that promise seemed like a no brainer. But, amid a hangover and another evening of debauchery ahead of us, I started to wonder just what I had signed up for. 

We didn’t have to be in Woodfin until 11:30 a.m., so I decided to throw on my running clothes and lace up my shoes and go for a chilly, rainy morning jog around downtown Asheville. Though I’m wandering the city endlessly throughout the week for work and play, I rarely get the opportunity to jog around the “Land of the Sky” city in all its aesthetic and cultural glory. 

Popping out of the Cambria elevator, I swung around the corner to Otis Street en route to French Broad Avenue over to Montford Avenue. Trot over the bustling Interstate 240 and into the quiet, serene Montford neighborhood. Slightly gaze up, over and across at the grandiose Victorian-era homes and newly built eco-friendly abodes. 

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Suddenly, a slew of memories started to wander into my thoughts, as per usual when one is in the midst of the ancient, sacred act of running, of being alone in motion and soaking in the energies and ambiance of whatever environment you’re immersed in. 

Visions of many-a-night at my friend’s home on Montford Avenue. Holiday gatherings and afternoon happy hours before some event we all were gearing up for that evening. Numerous dinner plans at the now-defunct fine Italian restaurant across the street. Bottles of wine popped open over fits of sheer laughter in the presence of good company and hearty conversation. 

Push along the sidewalks and down side streets. Barking dogs and other morning joggers. Down Chestnut Street and by the Five Points diner. Hazy early mornings stumbling into the beloved establishment after a raucous night, always in search of a greasy spoon breakfast and endless cups of coffee. And those other mornings of sharing a booth with a once-adored femme fatale, now long gone from my daily existence, but never straying too far from my thoughts. 

A slight uphill through Lexington Avenue, by that building once known as The Emerald Lounge, the first show I ever saw in Asheville. June 9, 2009. Unable to acquire tickets for the sold-out Phish show at the Civic Center, my friend and I caught the post-show gig at the lounge, but not before some cold beers with new friends in the parking garage next door to the arena, myself some 1,100 from home back in Plattsburgh, New York. 

I’d never been to Asheville before that warm June day some 13 years ago. Who knew three years later I’d get offered my dream writing job and move to Western North Carolina, and still be here (happily) in 2022? Now entering a decade in the mountains in Southern Appalachia, it feels like 10 days, truth be told, in how fast everything has moved (and continues to accelerate) when it comes to time and space, nothing and everything (and all of it in-between).

Steady myself on the steep uphill that snakes around the north side of the Civic Center, all of those dozens and dozens of massive stage productions and concerts that I’ve been lucky enough to witness in that building. Not to mention Christmas Jam 2018, where my number one dream in life came true — being tapped by Rolling Stone magazine to go on assignment for the publication and cover the 30th anniversary of the event. 

Circling back to the lobby of the Cambria, I slowed down and stopped at the entrance. It was still chilly and rainy, but my body was warm, my mind content. Another joyous run under the belt. Another chance to sweat it all out, physically and emotionally. Hit the elevator button and make my way back to Room 813. 

Open the door of the suite and grab for the bottle of water. Unlock the door to the patio overlooking downtown Asheville. Sip the water with gusto, and with gratitude. Scan the landscape and all which surrounds you. 

Look westward towards the high peaks that cradle and nurture all of us. Think about my minimalist apartment and my deep roots planted in Waynesville and Haywood County. Again, sincere gratitude — for this moment, and any before or thereafter. 

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

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