A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘To laugh at the impossibilities which are here always after we are not’

The Hayford Road is in Champlain, New York. Garret K. Woodward photo The Hayford Road is in Champlain, New York. Garret K. Woodward photo

Saturday. Late morning. The Waynesville apartment was quiet save the occasional motorcycle roaring along nearby Russ Avenue. My girlfriend had already gotten up and was at work by 10 a.m. I slept in a little bit, though my restless soul wouldn’t let the day fade.

Slowly peel myself out of bed and mosey on over to the coffee pot in the small kitchen where too many cooks in it would be the two of us. Her half-full coffee mug was cold. Not enough time to finish the caffeinated liquid. Can’t be late for work. Out the door in a flash.  

I rinsed her cup out and reached for my special mug atop the sink. It was the only souvenir I purchased on a trip to Seattle, Washington, back when I was 22 years old (39 now) and pondering a post-college move from New York to the Pacific Northwest. See the Space Needle. Drink the rich coffee. Smell the salty air. It still remains a dream.

The name on the mug is spelled wrong: “Garrett.” But, no matter. I was just happily surprised to see my name, or some semblance of my name, on a souvenir. All y’all named Ashley, Michael, Brittany or Rick wouldn’t understand. Same goes for you, too, Scott.

I bought the mug to take home to my native North Country to be a constant reminder of a place I wanted to live, more so a notion to keep living and to never stop. It’s like that Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers song “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” says: “Well, I don’t know but I’ve been told, you never slow down, you never grow old.”

The mug used to sit atop the sink at my parents’ 1840 brick farmhouse in my hometown of Plattsburgh, New York. I had just gotten out of college and I had no damn clue as to what to do or where to go or who to ask about the previous two queries. Who cares? Follow your instincts. Stay true to yourself. That’s it, really.

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In those days during the end of the Bush administration (2007-2008), I was living in a tiny storage closet in the farmhouse. I didn’t want to use one of the guest rooms. I just wanted some privacy, surrounded by shelves of books and a bitchin’ stereo system.  

The closet was tucked away in the back of the farmhouse. A space no bigger than probably the broom closet at your job. Maybe smaller. Four walls, with one wall ice cold at night when the frozen winds from beyond the Canadian Border would lick and fog up the single window above the small mattress in the corner.

I was 22 and looking for full-time work as a writer. I’d take anything in the realm of the written word, in the journalism industry, so long as it was far from the starting line of the North Country, so long as it become a vehicle, literally and figuratively, to meet strangers soon to become fast friends, to have wild adventures and stories to share.

Eventually, I ended up in Driggs, Idaho, working as community reporter for the Teton Valley News. Population (at that time) was around 800, mostly cattle ranchers and ski bums. Oh, and a slew of rich folks from just over the Teton Pass in Jackson, Wyoming.  

Whatever didn’t fit in my 2001 GMC Sonoma didn’t come with me. Leaving home on Dec. 26, 2007, it was a 2,247-mile trek across the country. First time driving through the Midwest, too. Unpacking the trash bags of clothes, boxes of books and vinyl records and bins of kitchenware in Idaho, I pulled the Seattle “Garrett” mug out.   

Peeling away the newspaper used to wrap and pack the mug, I placed the coffee cup on top of the all-in-one kitchen in the studio apartment. Rent was $500 a month, which was attached to an abandoned trailer a few houses down from the intersection of Route 33 and 31 in Victor, Idaho. Over 600 inches of fallen snow that winter, one of the snowiest winters on record for that area.

That Victor apartment was home until I left to return to Plattsburgh on Sept. 15, 2008, my departure date the same exact day Wall Street collapsed. Truck all packed up, the Seattle mug wrapped and secured in old Teton Valley News pages. I landed in Miles City, Montana, that first night back to the East Coast. Flick on the television in the quiet Motel 6 room, the news blaring about Lehman Brothers and what despair may lie ahead for America.

With the United States economy in tatters and in limbo for the next few years or so, I returned to the farmhouse. Hustling at the local newspaper for $45 an article. Substitute teaching at my former high school (Seattle mug within reach) for an additional $65 a day. I managed to float myself in some way or another until I landed this gig at The Smoky Mountain News in August 2012.

It’s Feb. 10, 2024. I sip from the Seattle “Garrett” coffee cup and stare out the window onto the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains cradling Waynesville and greater Haywood County. The liquid is warm and sweet with the oak milk creamer my girlfriend prefers. I’ll take whatever milk I can get to chop down the bitterness. Just give me that caffeinated goodness.

There’s talk of she and I heading over the ridge into East Tennessee for a friend get-together tonight to celebrate some upcoming nuptials in May. We’ll see how it all shakes out when she gets home in an hour from work. Stay or hit the road. I could go either way, truth-be-told.

Part of me keeps leaning towards a nice meal together, just the two of us, in Waynesville or Asheville before the kickoff of spring and impending writing assignments coast-to-coast start to fill up the planner she keeps in the right drawer of my mid-century modern desk that faces out onto Russ Avenue for natural light and inspiration.

Sip the Seattle mug. Think of all the memories and moments that have erupted, unfolded and led to the here and now. It’s pretty astounding when you think about it. Your journey and trajectory. The decisions made and outcomes experienced. It’s as incredible and overwhelming as the person sitting next to you has also felt.

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

Leave a comment

1 comment

  • Nice thoughts..good memories of the Garrett mug from Seattle. Glad I was there when you got it. Xxxoo

    posted by Kathy Woodward

    Friday, 02/16/2024

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