A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘I cherish my intercontinental friendships, we talk it over continental breakfast’

Vero Beach, Florida. Garret K. Woodward photo Vero Beach, Florida. Garret K. Woodward photo

The smart phone dinged incessantly early this morning ‘round 8 a.m. at my small Waynesville apartment. Social media notifications and text messages. Then came the phone calls from my mother and father way up in the North Country. It’s my 39th birthday. 

My girlfriend rolled over in bed and wished me a happy birthday, only to get up and make a fresh pot of coffee. Even if it’s my “special day,” it’s also a Monday and the newspaper still needs to be kicked out the door come Tuesday afternoon. I have a couple more things to submit to my editor, as well as this column to my publisher.

Peering out the bedroom window, there’s sunshine and blue skies. A bustling Russ Avenue filled with anonymous faces zooming back and forth to destinations unknown. Neighbors from the down the block walking their dogs. Folks pulling up to the drive-thru bank teller across the street. Sip the cup of hot coffee with gusto.

It’ll be somewhere in the 50s today temperature-wise. I think of my earliest birthdays, at least the ones I remembered, where we’d go to the local McDonald’s on the Canadian Border in Champlain, New York, myself ordering a bevy of chicken nuggets and ice cream with some elementary school chums alongside.

Back then, Feb. 5 was most-often the coldest time of the year in the North Country. Either temperatures way below zero (-10 to -20), a massive snowfall, patches of black ice on the roadways or all of the above. Sometimes my peers weren’t able to even leave their driveways, so their parents would call our house for a raincheck.

Every other birthday was pretty much a blur through the rest of elementary and middle school. Nothing really sticks to the walls of my memory until I turned 16 and was able to get my driver’s license. Once that happened, I was gone every single weekend, usually chasing down live music in nearby Plattsburgh, New York, across Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont, or just over the border in Montreal, Quebec. Some things never change, eh?

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Turned 18 years old in 2003. Onward back over the Canadian Border to drink beer legally. Rural Quebec with my riff raff crew of high school cronies, just a few miles or so past the immigration checkpoint to some shopping plaza in the small town Lacolle for cold Labatt Blue bottles at the Brasserie Du Mail or a poutine platter at the Witsend Pub along Route 202 in Hemmingford.

On Feb. 5, 2006, I turned 21. A junior in college at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. My riff raff crew and myself en route to Sidestreet, the off-campus watering hole. I was eager to get ID’d after numerous rejections prior to walking in. Sat down and ordered a beer. Bartender didn’t even ask for ID. Sheesh. I was ready to reach for my wallet and prove my place in the adult world.

Feb. 5, 2008. My 23rd birthday. I was a rookie reporter for the Teton Valley News in Driggs, Idaho. Community news journalist. My first writing gig post-college in a town of 1,400 cattle ranchers and ski bums on the high desert prairie of the Grand Teton Mountains. Some 2,250 miles from my Upstate New York hometown.

I remember sitting alone at the bar counter of the Knotty Pine Supper Club not far from the TVN in Victor, Idaho. At the time, I was still new to town. All familiar and beloved faces in my life were somewhere across the country. The bartender said happy birthday to me, a fresh Pabst Blue Ribbon draft on the house soon sliding in my direction. I wondered just what the future held.

Skip head some 16 years and I still wonder just what the future holds. But, more so, it’s always been about living in the “here and now,” to be present and attentive to the world swirling around your position at any given moment in the grand scheme of things. In all honesty, I feel that the older I get, the more I realize just how young I am, or was looking back on it all thus far.

I think that getting older is a privilege. Every second you exist is a miracle in itself, so why not choose to be grateful and kind to fellow humans? Walk outside your front door with a never-ending thirst for connection, compassion and camaraderie with others. As I believe wholeheartedly, to have a life well-lived, one of the main facets is to start at least one conversation each day with a stranger. You’ll be the better for it, trust me.

But, mostly today, I’m taking inventory of this life, what lies in the rearview mirror, what’s sitting next to me in the passenger seat and what’s just beyond the unknown horizon outside the windshield. I remain curious. I remain steadfast in my resolve to do what I want to do with my time on this planet and to do it well.

To that, once a year, ask yourself these three questions: “Do I love what I’m doing? “Do I like where I live?” and “Am I happy with those I surround myself with?” I count myself lucky to once again answer “yes” three times, enthusiastically and with gratitude.

I’m also thinking of those I miss dearly who no longer walk this earth. My childhood best friend who was killed in a motorcycle accident at age 19. My high school and college friend who tragically passed away in a car wreck a couple years ago. My cousin, who was like the older brother I never had, who left us in 2021, where it’s weird to be catching up to him age-wise as time marches on.

The previous paragraph isn’t to sound morbid. Far from it. Rather, it’s those junctures in one’s journey that dictate the sentiments moving forward. Luckily, I’ve always chosen to use their memory as fuel to push further down the road of life — spirits held high, with a deep appreciation and eternal respect each time you get to blow out the candles on your birthday cake.

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

Leave a comment


  • Nice column, again. Treasure your advice. I am 80 and celebrating today’s events, the love of my life who is also 80 years old, and looking for a stranger.
    Hope you have a nice birthday.

    posted by Ken Wilson

    Monday, 02/12/2024

  • Happy Birthday to you. I really look forward to your weekly messages in your writing. Each one is always so inspirational. Just so you know, I am the same age as your mother. I really loved the writing about her. You and Sarah have a good day. Hang in there. Happy Birthday and have many more and keep writing. Sincerely, Polly Davis

    posted by Polly Davis

    Wednesday, 02/07/2024

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