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art theplaceShe knows me better than anybody.

She’s a little rough around the edges. Her beauty has seen better days. She’s a dirty girl, one who’ll take to cosmopolitan city streets as easily as rugged backwoods trails. Her needs always seem to take all the cash in my wallet. She’s provided me a place to sleep on my loneliest nights. Her patience with my demands knows no bounds. Our time together has been a love/hate relationship.

Her name is “Grace” and she’s my 2001 GMC Sonoma pickup truck.

I first laid eyes on Grace about a decade ago. I was home for summer break during my sophomore year in college. My grandfather rolled into our driveway in his new(ish) shiny white Sonoma. It was a few years old by that point, but she was in pristine condition, with very low miles. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Immediately, my loyalty to my old 1998 Isuzu Hombre pickup across the yard diminished. My field of vision was now consumed with Grace. 

Sadly, my dear grandfather passed away almost exactly two years later. It was a heartbreaking time for my family. And as we packed up his house and figured out what to do with all of his possessions, the fate remained unknown for one thing outside, in his driveway — Grace. 

My Isuzu was on its way out at that time and the thought of another truck had already been mulled over in my mind. After some discussion, it was decided that I’d purchase the truck from the estate. Although I’ve never been one to care about or take value in possessions (things are just things after all), taking ownership of Grace meant a lot to me, seeing as my grandfather and I were very close and this would be all I had to remember him by. Not even a few weeks after I got the title to Grace, we headed west, for my first reporting job in the Grand Teton Mountains of Eastern Idaho/Western Wyoming. 

Though I was truly excited to have a new(er) truck, let me be the first to say that Grace was quite possibly the worst type of pickup to own in the Rocky Mountains. Living right outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a place that gets hundreds and hundreds of inches of snow a year (not to mention an area filled with treacherous mountain roads), driving a heavy, low-to-the-ground, four-cylinder, rear-wheel drive truck was not ideal by any means. But, like always, Grace and I made it through that first winter (with daily help from my trusty tow-rope and kind folks with 4x4 diesel rigs). 

And for the rest of that year out west, she and I bounced around, heading to concerts in Montana, seeing friends in Colorado, exploring the Midwest and beyond, only to head back to Upstate New York following the economic collapse of 2008. Throughout the next few years, as I tried to find footing as a freelance journalist, I drove Grace all around the continental United States, covering music festivals and tracking down leads for feature stories. One week I was on the coast of Maine, the next down in Chattanooga, up to the Great Lakes of Michigan, over to Manhattan, and everywhere in-between.

When I interviewed for my current position at The Smoky Mountain News in 2012, Grace and I blasted down I-81 nonstop (1,100+ miles) overnight to be in Waynesville in time for my sit-down with publisher Scott McLeod. A week later, we made the same trip, this time with the back of Grace filled to the brim with all my things in hopes of a fresh start in Western North Carolina.

In my almost three years here, Grace and I have wandered seemingly every back road, highway and byway of Southern Appalachia. With her 15th birthday around the corner, she’s starting to show her age. This past week, after endless hard miles as a workhorse for a journalist, her transmission blew. As expensive a repair as it is, I found myself at a crossroads with my beloved truck. Now what? 

I thought about all of our adventures together, parked at the top of a mountain beside a bonfire, cruising the high desert prairie under a canopy of stars, windows rolled down along an oceanside route as the mesmerizing salty air wafted in. I thought of all those nights sleeping in the back of that truck, nights where I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but I was ready, and no matter what the distance was between my starting point and my destiny, that I had the wheels to get there.

And with that, I’m not ready to say goodbye to Grace. Not yet, at least. Though she’ll probably break the bank when I bring her in for a transmission rebuild, she’s worth it to me. She’s been alongside since day one of my career as a journalist, and hopefully she’ll be there for a few more years of curious travels — I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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


Hot picks

1 In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the “Last Shot Fired” at the Battle of Waynesville, there will be a weekend of events May 8-10 around the community.

2 The Lost Hiker (Highlands) will have The Corbitt Brothers (southern rock) at 9 p.m. May 1.

3 Derailed Bar & Lounge (Bryson City) will have Heidi Holton (blues/folk) at 7 p.m. May 2.

4 Art After Dark will open its 2015 series from 6 to 9 p.m. May 1 in downtown Waynesville.

5 The Whole Bloomin’ Thing spring festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 9 in the Frog Level district of Waynesville.

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