This must be the place: Could have been the Willie Nelson, could have been the wine
Waking up in the hotel room at the Chateau Laurier in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, last Saturday morning, I rubbed my eyes and stretched out in the king bed. Another solo excursion of irresponsible enlightenment, which has now landed me above the border — in the land of friendly faces, poutine and hockey.
After finishing up interviews throughout the last couple days for a Rolling Stone assignment with the remaining members of The Tragically Hip, arguably Canada’s most beloved rock band, the plan now was to keep heading west. Toronto to Detroit, then to Ohio, with Lexington, Kentucky, ultimately in the crosshairs.
But, as I packed up the bags and called the front desk to retrieve the truck, I decided to follow intuition and scrap those plans, instead aiming the nose of the vehicle to the east. Back to my native North Country, back to the starting line of where it all began — that hometown of Rouses Point, New York.
Seeing as I didn’t have to be in Lexington until Thursday afternoon, I figured another day or so back in Clinton County would be a good holding spot until I was ready to trek to The Bluegrass State. Circle back home, see some friends and family for a hot minute, only to say goodbye — onward to the next unknown adventure, unwritten chapter.
It was late Saturday afternoon and I was still two and a half hours away from Rouses Point. But, I knew my last two childhood friends residing in town, Kailey and Erin, would most likely be around to grab an evening beverage at the local American Legion on Pratt Street. With text messages exchanged and plans confirmed, the Legion it was.
Rocketing down the highway out of Ottawa towards Quebec and down to the border crossing in Rouses Point, I put the truck on cruise control and soaked into the landscape. Thoughts of my recent time with The Tragically Hip, of wild nights painting the town red in Ottawa, and of nothing and everything. Soon, the large urban sprawl of Ottawa transitioned into rural farmland, in the distance dirt roads shooting off to nowhere through endless cornfields.
Holding steady at 120 KPH (kilometers per hours), the sounds of the Hip radiated from the stereo speakers. Endless memories of home, and of faces and places long gone, dancing across the dashboard, the late summer sun quickly falling to the horizon in the rearview mirror. Darkness now draped over the silent farmland, the headlights and taillights of fellow Canadian motorists keeping me company as I approached the border crossing and returned back to the good ole US of A.
To preface, Kailey and Erin are two of my oldest friends in all time and space. Kailey was (and remains) the best friend of my little sister, who is also one of my closest chums. Erin grew up on the same street as me, and we’ve been thick as thieves for the better part of 30 years. Two strong women and steadfast mothers, with Erin recently returning to the North Country with her young family after a decade-long stint in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Pulling into Kailey’s driveway, she emerged from her picturesque Norman Rockwell small town abode and hopped in the truck. Erin and her husband would meet us at the Legion. Stepping into the Legion bar area, there was a handful of patrons on the counter stools, most of which I knew from back in the day, all of which remembered me and said hello, “How have you been, Garret?”
Eventually, it was one corner of the bar counter overtaken by Erin, her husband, Kailey and myself. Swapping tall tales. Rehashing embarrassing and/or memorable stories from our youthful transgressions. Laughter. Cheers to you and me and us, and in this moment. Toss some money in the jukebox and crank up the sounds of the Hip, the soundtrack of the North Country.
Order another Labatt Blue and turn to your old friends, the ones who know you the best in this universe, and smile. Simply smile in awe for having kind souls like these on your journey. Tell them you love them, for you must always do so, especially in those instances where your heart feels like it’s about the explode with joy — your soul vibrating at such high frequencies only felt in the presence of those who never have forgotten you or your worth, and vice versa.
The next morning, I awoke at Kailey’s house. Enough Labatt Blues the night before to be safe and crash at her place. With all my travel gear remaining in the truck, I grabbed running clothes, laced up the shoes and headed out the door. Jogging along Lake Street, I trotted by homes that used to house families I grew up with, spaces that made up the story of my early years, those chapters before college, before life after graduation.
Meander along Lake Street, crossing over to Stoney Point Road, to the breakwater on the shores of the massive, ancient waters that is Lake Champlain. With a crisp wind blowing down from Canada, I stood on the rock barrier and gazed out over the rippling water to nearby Vermont, shifting focus back around to Rouses Point, all of those folks still waking up and emerging into their impending Sunday.
Turning around to Lake Street, I made my way into the quaint downtown and Kailey’s house. Plans for Sunday were already in motion and I had to get ready for whatever and whoever may lie ahead. As I passed by Pine Street, where my late grandparents’ home is now occupied by my Aunt Moe and Uncle Chuck, I stopped on the corner, not far from Kailey’s, and just stood there.
On that sidewalk, I was alone, and let out a big sigh. One not of heaviness, but of gratitude. I looked up to the heavens, a slight grin rolling across my face for the journey at hand, the sheer beauty of, “Where to from here, eh?”
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.