A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘Stop the bus, turn the radio up high and grab the first guitar you see’

Old Edwards Inn is the oldest building in Highlands. Garret K. Woodward photo Old Edwards Inn is the oldest building in Highlands. Garret K. Woodward photo

Hello from Room 1029 in the Blue Valley Cottage at the Old Edwards Inn, situated near the intersection of U.S. 64 and Main Street in downtown Highlands. 

I awoke in a king bed to the sounds of birds chirping in the large maple trees just outside the second-story window of the cottage. It took me a moment or two to realize where I was and what I was doing there.

Old Edwards. Highlands Food & Wine Festival. Cover the culinary madness. Shake hands and make acquaintance with locals and visitors alike. Eat the oysters and pork belly with gusto. Sip the craft bourbon cocktails ever so carefully. Wander the streets from noon to midnight.

Emerging from the bed, I gazed around the cottage. It was about twice the size of my apartment in Waynesville and easily ten times nicer. Canopy bed. Two-person tub. Heated marble tile in the big bathroom. Two massive TVs, with one in the common room, ideal for watching Saturday afternoon college football between culinary events. 

While I decided to get in a quick mid-morning gym workout, my girlfriend, Sarah wanted to get at least one use of the tub. So, as the hot water flowed and a bubble bath soon appeared, I headed out the door and into the world of knowns and unknowns right outside.

Walking through the small parking lot for the cottages, I noticed Sarah’s trusty 2008 Honda CRV sandwiched between two rather swanky Audi SUVs, the kind that’ll run you six-figures at the dealership — this juxtaposition of working class and affluence.

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And just as I thought about maybe getting Sarah some shiny new headlights for Christmas, I observed an older couple waiting for their luggage to be loaded into their candy apple red Ferrari. Bags placed in the front of the car where most vehicles house the engine. Designer bags tucked away neatly in anticipation for a Sunday cruise to somewhere, anywhere that probably resembles this town.

I started calculating how much a Ferrari such as that one would cost. Quarter-million? More? It’s a weird feeling to watch a sports car roll by you where its monetary equivalent could purchase a nice home in your hometown up on the Canadian Border. I could save my entire yearly salary for the better part of the next decade and still not be able to afford that luxury of European horsepower and premium gasoline.

At this point in my wanderings and ponderings this past weekend, imposter syndrome begins to set in, but only slightly. I realize I’ll be 40 years old in a year and a few months from now. I drive a hardscrabble 2013 Toyota Tacoma. And I realize that I still inhabit the same apartment in Waynesville that I moved into when I first set foot in Haywood County in August 2012.

In regards to my humble abode, the rent is incredibly agreeable, where if I lost my apartment tomorrow, well, my rent would likely triple if my landlord were to sell the highly-desirable property in downtown. I wouldn’t fault him for it, but where would I go? I’m not wealthy enough to compete in the real estate market. That ship sailed years ago here in Western North Carolina for us folks living paycheck to paycheck.

It’s funny, you know? The first five years or so living in my apartment, I’d say to myself, “I can’t wait to get out of here and finally buy my own place.” And for the last five years, I mumble to myself (or Sarah lately), “Thank the lord we have this place. I don’t know what we’d do without this spot. Probably have to leave town or the state.” How’s Kansas this time of year, eh? Quarter-million seems to go pretty far out that way.

But, then, in the midst of one’s existential crisis, I remember the most important thing to carry in your toolbox marked “Life” — gratitude and a deep sense of self, of appreciation for what is, what is not and what could be. Nothing matters, in essence, just kindness and being grateful for whatever your lot in life is.

Truth? The real currency in this world is friendship, adventure and love — moments that make you appreciative to be able to wake up each morning and experience these people, places and things that put a kick in your step. 

Heck, I may not be rich, but I sure do live a rich existence. It’s made up of melodic magic, culinary delights, whirlwind treks coast-to-coast and the pure love of a woman who sees me for who I am and what my worth is in this all too wild, wondrous rock hurtling through space — always flying by the seat of my pants, always with gratitude in mind. 

When you pop out of a peaceful slumber like I did on Sunday morning at the Old Edwards Inn, scanning the splendor of the cottage and taking note of the precious woman in bed within reach, you reflect back on the road to the here and now — how it’s all just some crazy dream from birth to death, the years zooming by with a reckless abandon you can barely keep up with.

I remember years ago, sleeping in the back of my old GMC pickup in truck stops in Montana, Colorado, Michigan, Tennessee and points beyond. Scooping out cold, generic SpaghettiOs from the can at rest areas between festival writing assignments, the paycheck barely enough to get gas in the tank and afford some cheap beers at a corner bar in Reno, Memphis, Rochester or New Haven. 

Emerge from the king bed and listen to the birds sing from the maple trees outside the cottage window. Kiss the sleeping beauty next you and wish her a good morning. Pack up the bags and begin the journey back down the mountain to the humble abode. Deadlines looming, but no matter, the words will flow in due time. Gratitude remains. Always. 

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

Leave a comment


  • Great article! All so true.

    posted by Pauline Davis

    Wednesday, 11/22/2023

  • Well done!

    posted by Rick Rawlins

    Wednesday, 11/22/2023

  • I always enjoy your articles. However, this one resonates with me in so many ways. Life is what we enjoy daily and how we live it is what truly matters.
    And as you stated in your article, Gratitude remains.

    Thank you so much. Truly grateful for your insightful thoughts.

    posted by Sharon C Gardner

    Monday, 11/20/2023

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