While attending college in Connecticut, I started to discover who I was as a person. For the first 18 years of my life, growing up in a rural Upstate New York farm town, I figured everything I wanted out of life, or thought I wanted, were the same things that everyone around me had — a family, nice house, two cars in the garage, and a 9 to 5 gig in hopes of retirement at age 55.
Far away from home, some 300 miles down the road in Connecticut, I crossed paths with people and ideas I’d never been exposed to prior. I realized I didn’t want the whole John Mellencamp “Jack and Diane” thing. I didn’t want to go to the Tasty Freeze every Saturday night. I didn’t want to marry my high school sweetheart. I didn’t want to do what my father did, what my mother did, what all my friends were hoping to become. I wanted something more, something else.
And as I wrestled with that identity, a battle between a small town existence and eternal cosmic exploration, I would find refuge in many 24-hour diners around Southern Connecticut. These locations were a familiar childhood reminder to me, where I’d feel at home in a space and establishment similar to the ones I’d frequent with my father and grandfather every weekend as a kid.
During the summer after my sophomore year of college, it all clicked. I decided the only way to cure my wanderlust was to feed it with adventure and experiences, and becoming a writer would be the vehicle to do so. Thus, I was told that the first thing in becoming a writer was to get a notebook and start writing down whatever came into your mind. I was also told to start writing down conversations overheard, to sketch down details of people around you, and maybe write a fictional story about their lives. Practice makes perfect, right?
And with that, I started bringing my notebook into the diner with me, where I’d just sit, literally for hours, writing about nothing and everything that either entered into my mind or entered through the front door. These many years later, I still take a notebook with me when in search of the all-mighty American diner. I still open up my eyes, ears and soul to the noises and faces of daily life commiserating around me in these culinary icons of the highways, bi-ways and back roads.
Following college graduation, I took off. I headed for the furthest corners of the United States, seeking out whatever it is I was in search of. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was looking for was, well, myself. And that person, who I’ve ultimately become, was tracked down within the hundreds of handwritten pages I brought to fruition in diners from San Francisco to Savannah, Boston to Denver, Chicago to Seattle. Too many cups of rocket fuel to count, with innumerable internal questions solved at the hands of caffeine, bacon and egg plates, and periodically staring out the window to a horizon which was once the starting line of my youth.
I believe every one of the world’s problems are solved each morning at diner counters across the country, all lined with seemingly every member of society, bellying up for a meal and an open forum of discussion. The dialogue is as unique and insightful as the voices putting thoughts into words for all to hear. Though humanity is rapidly changing as the years fly by, shelter can be sought at a greasy spoon diner, where neon lights glow proudly in the darkness of the open road, where those friendly folks ready to take your order and “top off” your coffee haven’t changed one bit from those you encountered as a child.
So, somewhere at a diner around Western North Carolina, you can find me tucked away in a booth, with a pot of coffee and numerous blank pages eagerly waiting to be filled with the sentiments of the day. That spot is where it all began for me, where I once stood with hopes and dreams, only to finally cross the threshold into my intent and purpose.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The inaugural “Banana Dash” will take place at 3 p.m. April 11 at Tonic Delivers in Sylva.
2 "Peter Pan: The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up” will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. April 16-18 and 3 p.m. April 19 in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center at Western Carolina University.
3 Country/southern rocker Joe Lasher Jr. will perform at 7 p.m. April 18 at the Colonial Theatre in Canton.
4 The production of Civil War drama “The Actor and The Assassin” will be at 7:30 p.m. April 10-11, 14, 17-18 and 3 p.m. April 12 and 19 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.
5 The Smoky Mountain Oyster & Seafood Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 18 at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.