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This must be the place: Ain’t it funny how you feel, when you’re findin’ out it’s real?

Sacandaga Lake. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Sacandaga Lake. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

Much like New Year’s Eve, the Fourth of July is one of those holidays that everyone you know will definitely be doing something of some sort. But, for some damn reason, nobody ever seems to decide what that something is until the last minute. 

Like clockwork, plans with friends and family are vaguely made shortly after Memorial Day, only to simply jump into whatever beautiful mischief or organized chaos arrives in the 11th hour of Independence Day.

Case-in-point, it was around midnight on July 3 when I found myself standing in a dive bar on the corner of Margaret Street in downtown Plattsburgh, New York. As I was sipping a cold Labatt Blue, my smart phone vibrated with a text message. It was my buddy Kevin from Tampa. 

He was randomly in Lake George (two hours south of Plattsburgh) and wanted to know if I had any plans for the next day. “No plans, as of yet,” I responded. Turns out, his best buddy from Florida (Scott) has a summer home on the shores of Sacandaga Lake on the southern edge of the Adirondack Mountains. 

“Want to come down for the 4th?” Kevin asked. “Sold. See y’all tomorrow afternoon,” I replied. 

With a blazing sun overhead, I cruised down Interstate 87 South towards Sacandaga. Windows rolled down in the ole pickup truck. Neil Young’s “Decade” album blasting from the speakers. My hands held steady on the wheel, my mind drifting into the high peaks of the ancient Adirondacks, one by one flowing by my field of vision.

Somewhere along Route 9N, I found myself approaching the Town of Hadley. To the left was Lake Luzerne, the picturesque Wayside Beach filled with patrons balancing a need for cold water immersion and practicing social distancing. Beach balls and hot dogs. Bathing suits and sunglasses. Laughter and splashing. Like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. 

Pulling into the dirt driveway of Scott’s family abode, the summer home was more so a compound. Over 180 acres along the waterfront of Sacandaga, filled with numerous old cabins still owned by the extended family, mostly rented out to close friends throughout the year.

Parking the truck, nobody was in the main cabin. I yelled around the house and front yard, only to be greeted by silence. Cracking open a beer, I strolled down to a small beach below. Finally found Kevin, eventually introduced to the genuine friendliness and hospitality of Scott. 

The last time I’d seen Kevin was down in Tampa in February, running around the never-ending nightlife, right before the pandemic and shutdown — when “normalcy” was something in real time, not something thought of in the past tense as it seems to be nowadays. 

Throwing on my bathing suit, I jumped into the lukewarm lake, happily floating around, the rays of the hot sun slowly falling behind the tree line. Sand between my toes, I emerged from the watery depths and shook my long hair like some shaggy, wet dog eager for the next adventure. 

Placing some steaks on the grill, Kevin, Scott and I talked about our respective industries and how our lives came to a halt in the era of Covid. Kevin owns a prominent brewery and restaurant in Ybor City. Scott works in the Tampa school system. 

And myself, a journalist who travels and covers events for a living. Our daily routines shattered, with nothing better to do with our newfound time than high-tail it up to the mountains of Upstate New York for introspective moments and reflective thoughts.

After dinner, we hopped into Scott’s golf cart and headed for the beach — it was time to light the bonfire. This newfound group of friendly faces now huddled around the massive pile of dried wood. Scott set the pile ablaze just as someone else began to launch the fireworks over the lake. 

In that instance, I felt normal, if but for a moment. The idea of a social gathering on a national holiday amid a slew of traditions being showcased has seemed like such a foreign concept to me (and probably you, too) within these last four months in a time as uncertain as it is haphazard.

But, in that moment of exploding gunpowder and crackling flames, I also felt a deep sense of self. The journalism and music industry are each such a whirlwind circus, these landscapes that I’ve figured out how to navigate and ride steadily over the years.

What’s wild is this deafening silence: no music onstage, no words spilling out of my fingertips across the keyboard about the music witnessed, experienced and, most of all, deeply felt. It’s odd to go from this speeding melodic train to being somehow left at the last stop way out in the high desert of isolation. 

I haven’t stopped writing about live music since I was 21 years old. Several shows each and every week. And now, at 35, here I am, sitting in Upstate New York (for the time being until I return to North Carolina), reflecting on the past and trying to paint a picture for the future. 

A few months ago, I figured the shutdown would drive me crazy. But, if anything, it’s justified why I truly, honestly live and die for my work in this career path I’ve called home since college (some 14 years ago). 

I’ve spent this pandemic and shutdown brutally looking at myself in the mirror, trying to figure out what it means to do what I do, and in what capacity I do it. I’ve been so busy working and wandering, that I never really made time for anything or anyone else (for years and years). 

This pause has made me take a hard glance at who I am, what I am about, and who I want to be moving forward. I’ve circled back to my old self, but with new eyes and new thoughts of what the future could be — if only I remain optimistic and determined, filled with passion and grace that is meant to not only push forward my hopes and dreams, but also that of others, too. 

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

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This Must Be the Place

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    A story about second chances A friend in a book club to which I once belonged disliked Anne Tyler’s novel, Saint Maybe. “I’ve read other novels by her,” she said, “and her characters are always eccentrics.” Her comment brought a smile then and brings one now.
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