I met S close to fifteen years ago.
I was driving my car aimlessly around the United States, after having spent nearly a year in Europe. It was an ignorantly blissful, free, and yet confusing period of my life as I tried to cobble together my place in the world as it unfolded in trees, and leaves, and mountains, and trails, and adventures all around me.
I found it on the road. Driving by myself. Looking at trees and stopping to hike muddy trails tangled with weeds.
I remember waking up one day close to the end of my semester and lamenting that I'd seen nary little of the good ole U.S. of A. in comparison to all those European countries I'd tromped through with my backpack and bike and tent the previous year.
I started driving.
I took a stash of cash (a whopping $600), stuffed my little Honda Accord with a cooler of PB&J fixins, some clothes, a pack of cigarettes, a mummy sack and some CDs for my portable CD player (remember those things? skip. skip. skip.).
I drove. I slept in that mummy sack at rest stops in the boring states and when I didn't sleep there, I couch surfed.
First a trip to Colorado, and then after lamenting that I'd only ever traveled west, I resolved to do the rest different and headed east. I headed east through northwest Iowa for a wedding.
Then, straight south.
I stopped anywhere I had a contact; stayed until I'd overstayed my welcome. Thus began my great love affair with Nashville, Tennesse. It's another story for another day, but my overnight quickly turned into a week of adventure; which has years later turned into multiple friends moving there by my prodding, two marriages and babies. From Nashville, I headed south, east, and then north up the coast. Kind of.
I drove and I fell in love with Asheville, Charleston, Chapel Hill, among a whole bunch of other beautiful places tucked in the eastern half of our country. I called in favors. I sought out brew pubs. I called old classmates, people I put up when I lived semi-permanently in Germany; friends of their friends. I met people, swapped stories, drank beer with them and sometimes stayed with them. I backpacked. I camped. I hiked. I got lost in the Smokey mountains in the thick of so much kudzu I thought I might never find my way out. I stopped in every National Park I passed. I tried to also hit every state park; I missed a few. I went to a couple baseball games.
I had no plan.
I did have it my mind, that I had to eventually, before the $600 ran out, make it to Vermont. I'd been told by a man I loved that the state reminded him of me, and that intrigued me. I'd also been told by an American woman I met in Germany that I would fall love with Vermont; more than I would ever love any man. And that really intrigued me.
So, true to my style during this portion of my life, I pulled into South Royalton, Vermont at around 3 p.m. on a week day about a month and a half later with $5 left in stash, a maxed credit card, very little gas and the name of a woman named Kate scrawled on a bar napkin. Kate was a friend of the woman from Germany, the woman who said I'd love Vermont more than any man.
I was to call Kate who lived in this totally random Vermont town with not more more than a cute square of funky shops, a law school and a meandering river running right through town. My friend in Germany promised me Kate would put me up. I called Kate, and there was no answer.
I went to the next most appealing place. The bar. It was a friendly looking joint called The CrossRoads, sitting just across the railroad tracks from the square. There was a golden retriever laying in the sun on the deck; I saw that dog as the perfect invitation to go there and spend my last five bucks on a beer. The place wasn't yet open, but the door was (it is VT after all) and I went in and took a seat.
A guy appeared who I'd later learn owned the place. Tall, slender, with dark short hair, a defined jaw and piercing grey eyes; this guy with a thick east coast no bullshit accent and I struck up a conversation within seconds and of course, he asked me where I was from. I laughed. Did he know I was a tourist? He smiled. It's not that big of a place. He poured me a beer.
When I told S what I was doing, he didn't so much as blink twice. He listened as I told him where I'd been, then told me he'd done the same, only for years at a time just before tiring of caring for the tourists he drug around, and buying this place. S pointed out the places I'd missed, told me about how he himself had stumbled upon this place I now sat, and told me about Vermont.
He poured me another beer. I told him I was out of cash. He said not to worry, consider it a welcome to Vermont. Turned out he knew this Kate I was looking for. He knew where she lived and knew where she worked. He knew she was at that moment, in fact, working. He called her work and introduced me to her. She gave me directions to her house. A cabin on the side of the mountain, about half way up, near the babbling brook, she said. I swear to god, that is what she said. She said go there, take the room with the skylights, put your stuff away, have a drink, a smoke and and a nap and she'd see me later.
This S guy poured me another beer. But I have to FIND this place without an address, half way up the mountain, I protested. Oh, not to worry, he said, I can have someone mind the bar, show you there.
Life was, for all practical purposes, perfect.
And as perfectly and as easily as those pieces fell in place that night; even more would fall into place in the coming days, weeks. I belonged here, half way up this mountain, in the little wooden house next to the babbling brook in the room with the skylights.
To be continued.....