A handful of years ago when I was just beginning to write weekly essays, I indulged in an experiment, that experiment being…writing an essay with a solid buzz going on. The culprit: a hefty Dewar’s-rocks. At the time, no one seemed to notice…and life went on. Years later, having just spent a week in the Asheville area of North Carolina, I’m returning to the concept. Tonight it just seems very appropriate, so here goes:
Most of you know that Pam and I have spent 30+ years in scenic Bucks County, Pa. I’m here to report that Bucks is still scenic as hell. It’s beautiful visually, but as it grew up, it got more sophisticated, way more wealthy, and with that, some ugly changes came about.
I think money and power tend to corrupt and with that, things changed and not much for the better. The cars are way more impressive now, as are the houses…mostly Mc Mansions, but that came with a hidden cost. Like the proverbial frog on a stove of rapidly heating water, the frog often doesn’t know it’s “too late” until it is, indeed, too late. Pam and I baled out, went to the Asheville area and here’s what 10 years of visiting and a couple weeks of living here have taught us: What I’m telling you, you can take to the bank. There’s no ambiguity here.
In ten days, we’ve made more genuine friendships than ten years up north. Why? I’m not sure, because I don’t believe that people are basically that different. But circumstances change people. Down here, you can walk cold turkey into a hardware store, restaurant, gas station, boutique, any kind of store and meet people with…a terrific sense of humor, grace, and an interest in communicating. Really. No b.s.
As a very typical example, Pam and I went to Gibbs Hardware store this morning, met Scott and then eventually Bruce and about six or seven customers. Stories were swapped. I contributed and the stories got deeper and more interesting. I think many of these people have suffered more than their share and how did they choose to handle it? They decided to see the humor, the irony in life. It’s a very attractive character trait. Personally, I have had it up to my ears with being snide and ironic and uppity.
As a small sidebar, some good friends of ours are down here this week as well. Why? Because they’ve sensed the same growing loss of humor and empathy. They’re about our age and have come to the same conclusion about life: It’s short and getting shorter and to steal from James Taylor, the secret to life is enjoying the passage of time. AND YOU CAN DO THAT IN SPADES DOWN HERE !!!
In the past week, both of us have slept…like we did when we were kids, something I had begun to think was impossible. There’s an old old song that begins, “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning….” The mornings here border on being magical. Freshness to the air that is so palpable, you could slice it up and serve it with your bacon and eggs. Clouds… I never ever expected to see clouds like the ones you see on vacation in the Caribbean…but they’re here. Every day, “Oooh, Pam! Look over there! Looks like a Norse god fighting an alligator!” or something on that order.
The food tastes better down here because… Well, I’m not exactly sure why, but it does. You can order a lowly English muffin and they put it on a grill and add some real butter and some cheese, and you’re moaning with delight. The cost? Mind-blowingly inexpensive.
Our taxes? One tenth.
A bit of irony: On the last leg of our PA trek to NC, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was bumpity-bumpity-bumpity, tar strips and people cutting each other off for 2+ hours. Those two hours on the turnpike cost us $21.50 for the privilege.
Kids actually play with each other down here, playing hide and seek, tag, chasing fireflies, shrieking and giggling….sans cellphones. It happens all the time, every day. If you’re spotted on your cellphone in your car in NC? You get a hefty ticket. Why? Because it’s fucking dangerous and will kill somebody. Reason enough?
It’s even affected our three pups, Moose, Gigi, and Scooter. We have never- ever- ever seen them happier, racing across the property, going for a swim, chasing Frisbees. They eat more, sleep better and parallel our own mood.
When I bring this up to North Carolinians, no one bats an eye. Many, many, many of these folks are expats from other states. They are happy, “doin’ their thing,” as we used to say.
Think you need a Maserati, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Jag, to show everybody that you’ve made it? Share a little of your life down at the hardware store, the restaurant, the bakery, the boutique, the…well…anywhere and you soon begin to remember what’s important.
Our friends who came down to see what all the fuss was about have decided to stay until they’ve found their dream home. It won’t be hard.
To my friends, I say, c’mon down for a week and see for your self! To my small treasured cadre of frenemies and/or out-and-out enemies…..I smile. I think Sinatra said, “the best revenge is living the good life.” You can do it down here.
To our many friends up north….we’re working on fixing up the guest house right now.
Henry and Pam
P.S. Well now, this really is weird… I thought I was done with this article, so I took a little break and walked out to see where Pam had gone. She was down in the lower field on our souped-up golf cart with our pups…just stopped. I didn’t know till I was half-way down the field that there was another golf cart parked close on the other side. Well, I was in my t-shirt and briefs, but it was too late to retreat, so I called down, “Pretend they’re swimming trunks!” They were our new neighbors, checking out 12-acres of sculptures in their own golf cart. And then an hour went by, swappin’ stories and getting to know each other. This never happened in 30 years up in Bucks. Made some new and fascinating friends just sittin’ in my skivvies in the golf cart. Life is weird and Life is GOOD!!! All it takes is good people and a sense of humor. H.