Driving two blocks to the old laundromat, I tossed my old clothes into the old dryer and hopped back into my old truck. Adjusting the rearview mirror, I saw my old face in the reflection.
Though I’m not necessarily old by the numbers (36), I do sometimes feel well-worn and road-weary. Hundreds of thousands of miles traveled. Thousands of interviews conducted and stories written. A constant, endless stream of friends, acquaintances and strangers of the night.
Countless days lost in the blurry haze of people, places and things, and in seemingly every corner, nook and cranny of this country. And all of it culminating on a quiet Monday afternoon in an empty laundromat, the lone soul being a scruffy writer scrounging enough quarters in the change cup of the old truck to ensure the old clothes get enough heat from the old dryer.
And I use the word “old” as a term of endearment. Nothing negative or demeaning. More so, from an old soul like myself who’s deeply sentimental and always in awe of the stories being older folks and antique objects. What stories do they have to tell? What things have they seen, felt and understood about the world surrounding you and me?
This balance of thought between appreciation of all things and a possible existential crisis occurring at the neighborhood laundromat was brought on by a visit this weekend by my best friend of all time and space, Andy, alongside his darling wife, Ashley, and their new baby girl, Alice.
Living in Knoxville, Tennessee, I’d see Andy & Co. almost monthly for several years. Of course, that all changed with the pandemic and shutdown, where this past weekend was pretty much the first time I’d spent quality time with them in over a year.
Meeting up at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville, we sat at a table next to Richland Creek. Sunshine and smiles all around. I missed my friends. I missed a lot of things as I sat there and caught up with them. It was surreal to interact with their baby girl, this entity of beauty and grace created by Andy and Ashley. Wild stuff, to say the least, eh?
I sat there and sipped my cold beer, reminiscing of when Andy first brought Ashley to Waynesville, where all met up at Frog Level for drinks. Back then, Andy was still living in Waynesville, Ashley in Knoxville. We were all just at the starting line of our respective careers and impending adulthood. Those days were the better part of a decade ago, and yet it feels like yesterday.
They’ve worked hard to get to where they stand today, and continue to do so. As their love for each other continues to grow, so does their lives together in East Tennessee. There’s a nice house that they call “home.” New cars in the driveway. Baby crib in the former guest room. Heck, they even have their own washer and dryer onsite.
It’s not that these things are foreign to a longtime bachelor like myself. But, they do remain elusive, in many respects. I could care less about the material stuff. I like my rusty, musty Toyota Tacoma, where I’m able to throw it around the backwoods without a care about getting it scratched or all muddy (badges of honor and symbols of fun, truth be told).
To each their own, I say. Some folks aim for the family and white picket fence kind of lifestyle. Others, like myself, tend to gravitate towards the lifestyle of a glorified dirt bag. Now, the idea of a “dirt bag” has nothing to do with a lack of hygiene or lack of a work ethic.
It’s more about minimalism, the idea that you can you pack up with very little and take off in a moment’s notice for the horizon in search of new adventures and experiences. I purposely have very little, and don’t have much interest to own more than a one-bedroom apartment filled with shelves of books, stacks of vinyl records and a few old guitars leaning against the wall.
But, even minimalists and those who forever ramble after the horizon desire a companion, someone to share those sunrises and sunsets with. Who wouldn’t want that, right? Us ramblers seem to lose track of the ever-ticking clock, where months and years have passed since you turned around and realized you might just be the last of your friends still running around all in the name of irresponsible enlightenment — those beloved faces that used to walk alongside you, now small dots way off in the distance.
Which is why it means so much to rendezvous with those dots, whether it be by happenstance on the road or next to Richland Creek over a cold beer and fond memories rehashed, where so much time has swept by, but all present in conversation still remaining on the same page — a unique and cherished thing in a fast-paced society of meaningless distractions and white noise.
Take the old clothes out of the dryer at the old laundromat. Toss them in the old laundry basket and hop into the old truck, onward to the old apartment. Adjust the rearview mirror and see the old face in the reflection.
Not necessarily old by the numbers (36), but well-worn and road-weary. And yet sincerely happy and full of gratitude: for the knowns and unknowns, for things out of my control, and for the deep, sometimes fleeting, splendor just within my field-of-vision.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.