December 2007 was a far different place, at least in some respects, as to where we currently stand as a country. This was a year or so before the collapse of our economy, a devastating ripple effect we can still witness and point to in the waters of the present. Barak Obama was still an Illinois senator, his eyes on the White House within the impending presidential race, a “long shot” by most estimates at that time. Donald Trump was in the midst of launching “The Celebrity Apprentice” (January 2008) after six seasons of success with “The Apprentice.”
And there I was, 22 years old and eager to go west, seeking whatever it was I felt my destiny could manifest itself into beyond the horizon of my North Country upbringing. So, I packed my old pickup truck with a couple boxes of books, a couple boxes of vinyl records, a couple boxes of clothes, and hit the road the day after Christmas.
My first stop was an hour south of my parent’s house to pick up my friend, Rob. He was also eager for a fresh start, especially after I offered him the passenger’s seat in my truck merely a week earlier, standing in front of a dive bar in my hometown, drinking cheap beer and smoking even cheaper cigarettes.
He threw his guitar case and bag of clothing into the back of the truck. I started up the engine. We waved goodbye to his mother, the same look of concern and whimsical sadness adorning her face like my mother’s earlier that morning.
It was about 2,600 miles to go from Plattsburgh to Driggs. And in that time, we crossed America, my first of many times doing so. Like something out of a dream, I was actually living and breathing within the spaces and places I’d always hoped to visit someday, to see just where that road on that map goes, and who lives there, and what it’s like to walk and wander these unknown towns and cities across this great big piece of intricate landscape we call the United States.
Excerpt from my road journal:
Jan. 2, 2008
2:31 p.m. – Togwotee Pass, Wyoming
It was a steady run through Lander and the Arapahoe & Shoshone Tribe reservation. Native children played in quiet front yards, holding their ragged jackets against the crisp winds rolling along the valley floor. Deep canyons and steep buttes exposed the natural history of the land. The ancient rock, colored in bright red, pink, and brown, resembled juicy steaks piled high and far into the distance.
The truck huffed and puffed through the mountains. Ascending the Togwotee Pass and sliding towards Moran, the immense peaks of the Teton Range came into view.
Rays of sunshine seemed to collide with the range, sprinkling down upon the ruffled blanket of dirt that surrounded Jackson Hole like a welcoming doormat to the gates of heaven. They were as breathtaking as I remembered.
Rob was speechless. I pulled over.
“Man, would you look at that,” he said. “You were right, you were right. It is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what to say.”
“Say ‘cheers,’” I replied, handing him the bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon.
We sat on the tailgate and saluted to the Tetons, the unknown strangers in the valley below who will soon make our acquaintance, someday become friends, perhaps even soulmates.
Rob would leave the valley a month later, already in search of the next adventure, a journey he remains on to this day, somewhere in northern California last I heard. I myself packed up and left in September 2008.
That entire solo cross-country trek back to Upstate New York was filled with mixed emotions, of leaving the West, of what lay ahead, and of what I saw in that time out there and in that wild place. It was also the same exact week the economy tanked, where each night I stopped at some roach motel and turned on the TV, another financial institution had collapsed.
Sept. 15, 2008
East Dubuque, Illinois
Headache. Sunshine pierces through the morning haze. Glowing box in corner blaring breaking news. Bear Sterns goes bankrupt. Who’s next to collapse in the financial world? Panic in the air. Paranoid views of the near future and beyond. Another Great Depression? What a time to quit my job. What a time to be unemployed. No health benefits. No job. Fingers crossed. Must buckle down and write novel.
Blew through Chicago in the noonday sun. Skyscrapers and tight knit streams of automobiles. Fierce, impatient faces, eager to get to the afternoon meeting. Must climb the corporate ladder, which eventually rots and fades away. Unbeknownst to those who seek fortune.
I’ll be revisiting some of those western adventures in the coming year of this column. With the 10-year mark of that era approaching, I’ve been flipping through my stacks of old journals. Hundreds of pages of endless words, thoughts, fears, hopes, and ultimately a voice I couldn’t get back today if I tried to write it all down in hindsight.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 There will be a New Year’s Eve performance with Porch 40 (funk/rock) and Colby Deitz Band (Americana/rock) at 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 31, at Lazy Hiker Brewing in Franklin.
2 A community holiday jam will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 21, at the Marianna Black Library in Bryson City.
3 The New Year’s Eve fireworks celebration will be held on Sunday, Dec. 31, at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds.
4 The Annie Moses Band will perform a Christmas show at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 22, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.
5 There will be a performance by 100 South Main during “The Arrival,” a concert of contemporary Christmas music, at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 22, at First Baptist Church Waynesville.