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This must be the place: Followin’ the stars through the honky-tonks and bars, dream away on a country music pride

Lake Chatuge. Lake Chatuge.

Last Thursday afternoon. Downtown Waynesville. Rifling through a fresh load of laundry, I was beginning to sift through my clothes to figure out just what I needed for the weekend’s impending road trip to Maryland to cover yet again another music festival. 

But, with the heavy rainstorm overhead and pounding down on my humble abode, I stopped for a moment and walked out onto the porch. The unrelenting raindrops hit my truck parked in front of the apartment building. I stood there and started to feel deflated, like this balloon that was popped by the needle of time and space. 

Screw it. I don’t want to go to Maryland. I’m tired, physically and emotionally. I can’t fathom an eight-hour drive up Interstate 81 to the panhandle just below the Mason-Dixon Line, all while this storm follows the entire length and direction of the route to the festival. Nope. I’m staying right here. So, I sat down at my desk and wrote an email to the organizers, one stating that I would have to, respectfully, decline the invitation to event. 

Typing and sending that message was harder than I could have imagined, seeing as I’m a workaholic who bounces between the journalism world and the music industry, both realms of organized chaos that thrive in the blurred boundaries of work and play. I’m a workaholic who loves what they do, which is the worst kind, because you’ll burn yourself out way before you even realize what you’ve done to your physical self, let alone your sanity. 

And the funny thing about scrapping your plans at the last minute is that you’ve now disrupted the proposed timeline of your endeavors, where a whole new timeline of chance and opportunity arises — this blank canvas of possible interactions and happenstance moments unfolding right before your eyes. All that remains is what you’re going to do, or not do, with whatever unexpected things lie just around the next corner, ready to happily surprise you. 

With the entire Memorial Day Weekend ahead of me, I decided to lay low and see what happens, bop around Waynesville and track down some mischief in my own backyard. Grabs some drinks, hoist them high in the air, and in unison of nothing and everything, the mere idea of simply dropping everything in an effort to circle back your true self. 

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By Friday afternoon, I had planned to venture to Asheville for some shenanigans, but I got a message at the last minute. It was this cute girl I’d been talking to sporadically, where it had been cat and mouse to figure out a time in our mutually busy lives to meet for an adult beverage. She wanted to come to Waynesville for a drink. It was decided to meet up in an hour at a quiet spot just off Main Street.

An hour later, as I readied myself to head over to the quiet spot, she messaged back and said she had to raincheck. She got caught up doing some work and such. Ah, well. Bummer. I hadn’t been on a date in a while. But, alas, it is what it is. So, being all dressed up with nowhere to go, I decided to wander my favorite restaurant in town. I was going to order the finest steak they had and I was going to eat it with gusto.

Chowing down on a New York strip steak, the owner/executive chef of the restaurant emerged from the kitchen and sat down next to me at the bar counter. Like all dear friends in one’s existence, he could sense something was not right in my attitude and demeanor. I told him about bailing on Maryland, the date falling through, and how I was feeling burned out and in need of respite. 

“You should just come up to the lake with us tomorrow. I’ll do you some good,” he said, putting his hand of friendship on my shoulder in solidarity. 

And that’s exactly what I did. Under bright, sunny skies on Saturday afternoon, I jumped in my truck and headed towards Lake Chatuge. By the time I crested over the mountain ridge along U.S. 64 West near the Macon/Clay county line, my shoulders began to relax, the restless thoughts in my mind evaporating into thin air once the truck was put into park at the lake.

For the next 24 hours, it was numerous trips out on the pontoon boat, laying out in the sizzling sunshine, jumping off the vessel into the cool waters, launching oneself from the rope swing on that one small island nearby, grilling racks of fall-off-the-bone ribs for dinner, sunset fishing excursions, and late-night card games amid fits of laughter over tall tales retold once more. 

Come Sunday afternoon, it was time to return to Haywood County. Time to pack up my small travel bag, pack up the road guitar, pack up the toiletries, and return to civilization. But, this time ‘round, I felt more like myself than I had in a very long time. Remember what you set out to do last Thursday, and all of it due to simply scrapping your plans at the last minute. 

Disrupt the proposed timeline of your endeavors. Redraw a whole new timeline of chance and opportunity. The blank canvas of possible interactions and happenstance moments unfolding right before your eyes. All that remains is what you’re going to do — or not do — with whatever unexpected things lie just around the next corner, ready to happily surprise you. Replay those previous sentiments over and over again in your joyous, vibrant heart and soul.

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

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