A group of us from The Smoky Mountain News staff met up at Frog Level Brewing Company a few blocks from our office in downtown Waynesville. Seeing as it was Tuesday, which is “press day” for us, we usually head for a 5 o’clock beverage once the week’s newspaper is sent to the printer.
Sitting alongside Richland Creek behind the brewery, we basked in the sun’s rays, drinks held high, saluting each other and wishing all the best with the unknowns of the impending isolation period. We laughed and we smiled, trying to feel at ease with whatever was around the corner for our community and the world at-large.
A couple of days later, I headed down to St. Augustine, Florida, to check on my parents. Hailing from the cold depths of my native North Country (Upstate New York), they make Florida home for the month of March, and have for the better part of a decade. They’re 71 and 78 years old, and I wanted to make sure they felt safe and were able to get needed supplies.
Just as I arrived, the beaches and businesses began closing, almost like a domino effect following me from Western North Carolina. Local law enforcement put up signs stating “Beach Closed,” all while the beach bum bars and eateries locked the front doors and began their quarantine.
Each morning, my folks and I would make breakfast as President Trump or New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were streaming across the TV, giving the daily briefing on the coronavirus: where we stood and where we might be in a day, week or month (or year). Even with the Florida sunshine streaming into the bungalow, there was a sense of trepidation running through our restless minds and responsible actions.
Fast-forward two months and here we still stand in midst of the unknown. But, seemingly with a better sense of self in the grand scheme of things. Sixty or so days of waking up to the “new norm” of isolation, quarantine and shelter-in-place protocols.
Sitting at home and/or keeping your travel circle small. Keeping your family and friend circle even tighter. Gas is extremely inexpensive, and yet we can’t really go anywhere (or fly for leisure). Oh, the irony, eh?
Nowadays, masks aren’t even given a second glance in public, where it’s become so normalized, we as a society have even found ways to color-coordinate mask designs to match our outfits or show allegiance to a particular sports team.
For someone like myself, who (purposely) is constantly in motion, it’s been a surreal experience to sit still and not be wandering, chasing down some story or music-related event. But, I’m finding several silver linings within all of “this.”
In my tight friend circle, it’s been quite enjoyable to find and make time to sincerely sit and visit with beloved faces I’d normally see in passing or make vague plans to meet up with. Now, we’re grilling out a few times a week, usually sitting on a porch, sipping a cold beer, engaged in thoughtful conversation, and simply watching the sun fall behind the Great Smoky Mountains.
And I’m finding my alone time very soothing. Though I’ve always kind of been an extroverted loner, I’m using my solo hours and days hiking into the depths of the mountains surrounding my humble abode. I’m experimenting with cooking more dinners for myself, as well as learning the true ins and outs of grocery shopping.
But, most importantly, I’m diving into things I’m passionate about. Where now I’m learning (and obsessed with) the ukulele, I’m also peeling back the covers of numerous books that have been on the “to do” list for way too many years.
In my hands at the moment are Studs Terkel’s Hard Times and Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory, both poignant reads for where we currently find ourselves as a country.
Though the books deal with first-hand accounts of those who experienced and survived The Great Depression, the sentiments in the air back then (politically, socially, culturally, economically) stills ring true today — nothing is the same, everything is the same.
Right now, Bound for Glory has captivated my attention. As someone who serendipitously become a writer after reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, finally tracking down and devouring the words and tales of folk music legend and road poet Woody Guthrie have evoked a wondrous, cathartic feeling within my heart and soul.
The vernacular and attitudes of Guthrie rolling around America during The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl, in search of work and of a platform to perform his songs, is riveting, to say the least. Guthrie speaks of the lives of the common man, for good or ill, and how true beauty in this universe can be found in the smallest and most simple of pleasures in life.
And as I set the book down, while sitting on my couch last night, gazing out the open window onto the falling rain, a small glass of Kentucky bourbon within reach, I can’t help but remain hopeful for the future — for all of us. We’ve come this far, and we’re still here, ready and willing to create a better tomorrow for each other.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.