A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘Olden times and ancient rhymes, of love and dreams to share’ (Part Two)

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s typewriter at the Grove Park Inn, Asheville. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s typewriter at the Grove Park Inn, Asheville. Garret K. Woodward photo

Somewhere between the treadmill and the free weights of the complimentary fitness center, my mind started thinking on all the different hotels and cities I’ve found myself in this past year. This go-round it was the Cambria in Columbia, South Carolina. 

It’s Dec. 30 and the nose of my truck will be aimed towards Charleston later this afternoon for New Year’s Eve shenanigans via the live music spectacles of Hiss Golden Messenger  and Futurebirds. Onward to the Holy City. Onward to 2024. Onward to a brand-new wall calendar and a clean slate for things to come. 

The mood swirling around my girlfriend, Sarah, and I is much more upbeat and festive than that of last week, spending the week of Christmas back in her hometown of Goldsboro, North Carolina, for the funeral of her father following a courageous bout with cancer.

For obvious reasons, Sarah has been a shell of her usual perky, ray-of-sunshine self. Although she’s pretty much been on her own most of her life (including childhood), it never gets easier to bury loved ones, especially when you share the same blood and certain physical characteristics.

But, nonetheless, we left Goldsboro immediately following the funeral services on Dec. 23, exactly a week ago. Instead of getting another hotel room in town, Sarah wanted to put the town and what it represents to her, for good or ill, in the rearview mirror of the pickup as quickly as possible.

About five or so hours later, sometime around 11 p.m., the Tacoma pulled up to our humble abode of an apartment in downtown Waynesville. Sarah was still snoozing in the passenger’s seat when I nudged her awake. Slightly disoriented from the drive, she emerged from the vehicle and headed inside. We’ll grab the luggage in the morning.

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Heading for the bedroom, she got under the covers. I stayed up like the nighthawk I’ve always been and listened to some music in front room. In the midnight hour, it dawned on me that it was now Christmas Eve. With all of this culmination of her father’s sickness and passing, the two of us had pretty much forgotten we were in the midst of the holiday season.

Sadness overhead like some black cloud following the current endeavors of life. But, as per usual, gratitude remains. Hold tightly to cherished memories with beloved faces either six feet above or below the ground. Remember those moments that carry you forward — that Adirondack mountaintop, the beach in St. Augustine or the filet mignon on the outskirts of New Orleans.

By this time next month, it’ll be a year since Sarah first walked into my field-of-vision. A whirlwind of people, places and things, all while this singular figure remains by my side, come hell or high water. It was a cold January night when we went on that first date, an even colder temperature within the beating chest muscle with dead end pursuits of femme fatales in valiant attempts fallen short. 

Six dates in the first week of meeting, with the seventh day being a Saturday when my best buddy was rolling into town for one night only. A couple weeks thereafter, I found myself rolling down to New Orleans to rendezvous with Sarah for Mardi Gras — bright lights and rollickin’ noise, spilled drinks in gusto and quiet late-night walks back arm-an-arm to the hotel in the Tremé neighborhood.

From there, it’s been wanderings and ponderings from coast-to-coast. Saint Augustine. Dallas. Las Vegas. Whitefish. Denver. Lexington. Missoula. Indianapolis. Winston-Salem. Nashville. Savannah. Montgomery. Raleigh. Cheyenne. Jackson Hole. As of last count on this day before the final day of 2023 — 25 states traveled together and a quick trip to Canada amid the splendor of the Old City that is Montreal, Quebec.

It’s all been a whirlwind of tens of thousands of miles trekked and hundreds of thousands of words written. It’s all a blur of laugh ter and tears, sunrises and sunsets, empty glasses and glasses refilled once again. It’s reconnecting with old friends and sparking the fire of new ones over happenstance interac tions, the pure wonder of standing somewhere, anywhere and finding solidarity in a stranger. 

And, throughout this organized chaos and madness of mind and body, what remains are the words, sentences, paragraphs and pages of whatever emerges from my fingertips onto the blank page before me, usually during my third sip of my second cup of coffee, tucked away in some corner of a neighborhood coffee shop, eager to clear my head of the restless nature of self that continues forward.

Sliding into 18 years doing this gig that is the written word. The intent today was the same it was back then, a 21-year-old college junior typing away wildly in the attic room of a shabby old house shared with four other students on the edge of campus, just outside of New Haven, Connecticut.

And I think of the Long Island Sound and how the waves crashed along the shoreline of Hammonassett Beach State Park about a half-hour or so down Interstate 95 from that shabby old house with those roommates, some not heard from since graduation, others still messaging hello and asking what’s new from time-to-time.

Recently, I found myself at the Grove Park Inn overlooking downtown Asheville. It was the Christmas Day buffet. Sitting at the table with my best buddy and his family, Sarah and I gazed out the big dining room windows onto the picturesque property. It was foggy out, a slight drizzle and the kind of cold that gets in your bones.

After our meal, we wandered over toward the numerous entries for the annual gingerbread completion. Incredibly intricate designs of all themes, shapes and sizes. But, as we waited for the elevator down to another floor of entries, I noticed a rocking chair, desk and typewriter roped out for safekeeping. A small sign stated the items were used by famed American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, who used to frequent the inn and the city.

I thought of Fitzgerald and his seminal 1925 novel “The Great Gatsby.” Faces and places he wrote about, many similar scenes to my travels in the northeast and greater New England during college, those early days of scribbling in notebooks at 24-hour Greek diners about nothing and everything.

I think of today and where I stand, how it’s all some crazy dream we dream, eh? And I think of the last line in “The Great Gatsby,” too: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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

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