San Pedro, CA, June, 23, 2014-I don’t like to fly. Something about the entire process just makes me want to scream out loud about how crazy we all must be in order to pack ourselves into what amounts to a pile of metal and hurl ourselves into the air. Despite my misgivings about defying gravity, I made the decision to buy a round trip ticket to NC from Denver after talking it out with several of my friends. I needed to downsize my bags and my guitar needed to be put in a closet after sustaining some road wear. I packed the things I wanted to leave, along with the essentials and flew to Jacksonville, where my friend Steve and his family picked me up.
Flying takes it out of me. It makes me anxious and nervous. I know that it’s a perfectly safe way to travel and I’m sure lots of people have no problem with it. It just isn’t me. I’ll save my plane rides for when I can’t catch a boat, vehicle or train to wherever I need to go. Forget that mess. Suffice it to say that I did actually survive the flights back but was grateful to have the ground directly under my feet and seat again.
The first night in NC was exactly what I needed. I made my circuit around all of the bars and restaurants that I had frequented with any regularity and caught back up with several old friends. I didn’t miss the place as much as I missed the faces and smiles that had become so familiar and on the evening that I got in, it was open mic at Lorelei’s Pub and Grill, so I pumped out a few tunes and had a blast. I put the word out that I was in town for a couple of weeks and wanted to pick up work while I was home. The next day, I hitched a ride with my sister-in-law and niece to Southport where I could visit with family.
Those of you who have been following my movement around the country will recall that I started my trip from Brunswick County, NC and specifically the Boiling Springs Lake and Southport areas. I was eager to see how the seasons made a difference in my perception of them. Coming from Colorado, I wasn’t disappointed. I left Denver just a couple of weeks after it snowed and showed up in NC just in time for beach weather to start. My niece melted me when I heard her say “Uncle Nick,” or a close approximation, for the first time. It’s unreal how much can change in just half of a year.
I have to admit that I am not a domestic personality and I get bored very easily. My family in Southport are currently dealing with the fact that my niece is two and is now walking, talking, running and demanding things. She has my heart but after a few days, started to lose my attention. I spoke with some friends about playing some music while home and before you know it had landed a gig at the Tiki Bar on North Topsail Island.
I stopped in Wilmington to visit my mom at her shop, The Shop Across The Street, on the way to Topsail. She recently moved her business from Sneads Ferry to the Downtown Wilmington area, a place that I’ve lived at previously and enjoyed for many years. Mom’s shop is in the Old Wilmington City Market on Water Street. It’s a collection of gift shops and specialty stores nestled in a building that was built in 1880. Wilmington is an old city and has more historically significant buildings and areas than you would imagine. The waterfront in Wilmington has been the venue for many of my shenanigans, so having a good reason to come back and visit is really nice. There is a difference though, that I hadn’t noticed in the past.
As Wilmington grows, it would serve the city nicely to remember not to get “too big for its britches,” as my Grandmother would say. Part of the appeal of the Downtown area, for me at least, has always been the crazy diversity of life that you could find there. There were hobos, hipsters, professionals, t.v. stars and welfare recipients all in the same area and they lived, worked, played and identified with each other. This trip, I’ve noticed a marked difference in the people and the place. It’s being cleaned up and gentrified, which I can understand, but in the process it’s losing its identity.
An excerpt from my journal sums it up, I think. I struggled with whether or not to include this but I have tried to tell it like it is about everywhere I’ve been. I know that Florida, between St. Augustine and Miami, isn’t for me. I love those two cities but the areas in between don’t hold much appeal. Fort Lauderdale, specifically, was a place that I just didn’t enjoy because the place just didn’t seem to like me. I don’t groom excessively and that might have something to do with it but I’ve never liked a place that seemed to come with a dress code. Wilmington needs to remember it’s metal and punk bands.
“I’m sitting on a bench in Downtown Wilmington. I’m dressed in tye dye shorts, a t-shirt and some ragged sandals. Like most folks who are transient for whatever reason, I carry a back pack with the things I may or may not need over the course of the day. In other words, I look like a hobo and despite the fact that I am happy with my life, the assumption that’s being made is that I’m a degenerate. They don’t have to say it, you can smell the condescension in the air like the Cape Fear’s muck at low tide.
Most folks avoid looking at me. It reminds me of the homeless vet in Washington, DC that I spoke with briefly. He told me that the most difficult thing about his situation wasn’t hunger, poverty or unemployment. It was seeming to be invisible to the people that walked by. It infuriates me that if you choose not to be a part of the flock of sheep, if you choose to dress, act or live differently, you are alienated and marginalized as if you are somehow less valuable by people who spend their entire lives buying into the myth that there is a proper or correct way to live. Despite the fact that I’m lucky enough not to worry about having a roof over my head or food in my belly, I sincerely feel more in common with transients, bums and hobos than I do with any of the “respectful” people that are currently wondering where I stole this computer from.”
The Port City is very near and dear to my heart. I’ve worked in many of the restaurants and been a patron of too many of the businesses to recall. I called it home between 2005 and 2009. It pains me to be critical of it and don’t get me wrong, I had PBRs at Barbary Coast, a couple of slices from I Love NY Pizza and got coffee with Seyoum at Gourmet Market. I did the things that I enjoy there and went to the places that best embody the true spirit how I like to remember my time there.
One of the places that I never fail to have a good time at is the Cape Fear Serpentarium. Located on Orange Street, Downtown, they boast a collection of snakes and reptiles that isn’t matched by very many others. An admission of under 10$ makes it an affordable way to burn up some quality hours checking out the exhibits. They have the deadliest snakes in the world alongside of crocodiles, monitor lizards, iguanas, turtles and parrots. I have a tendency to like creepy crawlies and this place fixes that jones, for sure.
Thankfully Topsail Island, Holly Ridge and Sneads Ferry will never change much. These places are truly home to me and always will be. The places and people there help me recharge my internal batteries and I couldn’t be more grateful for them. I grew up there and most of my memories up until I graduated from Dixon High School (Class of 2000!!!) are from there, good and bad. That particular slice of Earth will be a place that I never stop going to until I stop breathing. The beaches are perfect and the people are better.
My buddy, Colton Leighton, and I got the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend and he had just picked up some new equipment that he wanted to use. I showed up early and had a quick dinner before I started to get settled in for the evening. I really enjoy listening to and playing with Colton so I knew I was in for a treat. You will not meet another person who has such an optimistic and happy-go-lucky way of looking at things, while still maintaining the proper amounts of stinging wit and fiery sarcasm. His ability to write songs has translated into a recent release of an EP, Reconstruction, and plans for a full length album within the next year or so. It couldn’t have started to happen for a better person and I’m proud of the work that he’s getting done.
The turnout for the night was incredible and was surpassed only by the good vibes that we caught from the crowd. Despite being an outdoor venue in a crowded residential area, we kept the music and the positivity going until the bar closed at 2 am. There really isn’t much that feels better than performing for people that enjoy what you’re doing and these folks could dig the stuff we were putting down. I decided to stay and party with some people and wound up stranded on the north end of the island. At around 4 am, I started to walk toward the high rise.
The sunrise on Topsail is something that needs to be experienced to be appreciated. That morning, as I walked off the night before, I saw it for what seemed like the first time. I stopped off at Seaview Fishing Pier and had breakfast at around 6:30 am. I ran into a friend who gave me a ride back into Sneads Ferry to the couch I was crashing on. The door was locked but the weather was nice so I took a load off on the porch before finally getting to sleep later on that morning.
One of the places I’ve always enjoyed whether it was playing music, listening to someone else, working or just taking a night out, has been the Brass Pelican on Topsail Island. They’ve been voted “Best of” in several categories by the local publications and I’ve enjoyed knowing their staff for many years now. Abbey, one of the managers, had gotten in touch with me and offered me some work carding people and taking the cover at the door. I’ve been known to enjoy doing this before and I jumped at the opportunity not only to hang out at the Brass all night but also to make money, rather than spend it, on a night out. It gave me the opportunity to hear some great music and reconnect with some great folks.
Another thing I should mention is the late night breakfast at Lorelei’s Pub and Grill. Without that restaurant/bar, I would have half the memories and friends that I do, from that area, and I grew up there. Their late night breakfast is sometimes busy and with a small staff, can get run pretty ragged over the course of their overnight shifts but they produce exactly what you need at that point in your life. Biscuts, gravy, bacon, bacon, bacon…I found a home with the “Big John”. Triple meat means you get all the carnivorous breakfast meats you want and the homefries and eggs and side of a biscuit and gravy finish it out with enough food to satisfy even the legendary (and somewhat bashful) namesake.
I found my way back to Southport and my family for another few days. At this point, the cash I was making was covering my meals and a little wiggle room. I took an afternoon to wander around Brunswick Nature Park again. This is one of my favorite places in NC. There are several biking and hiking trails to take advantage of and the area isn’t all that developed. In November I had hiked it and was rather impressed with it but nothing can compare with the nature you find in NC in the early summer. Everything is lush and green and if you can deal with the heat and humidity (also, don’t forget the bug spray because North Carolina’s state bird is, in fact, the mosquito) there really isn’t any better place to be reminded of how diverse the ecosystems of North Carolina can be. From sandy pine forests to soggy marshland, it encompasses it all. I sincerely hope that the folks reading this take my advice and head down for a day there. It’s free and absolutely one of the most rewarding places on the coast of the Carolinas to visit.
I had my heart set on seeing and photographing an alligator while I was home but I was starting to think that I might not get the chance. They had eluded me in Onslow and in Brunswick counties. I got to see some cool stuff at the Serpentarium but nothing compares to seeing something that’s wild. There were birds and bugs everywhere but I couldn’t quite find anything else. I was disappointed but I wasn’t gone yet.
Around then, I got word that I could have a night of music at the Brass Pelican, so I got in touch with Colton (gig sharing is the best!) and started to plan on another evening in Topsail. Again, the turnout was amazing, despite a late start and the evening was a success. Every red cent that I can make is welcome and that night was a decent one for helping to fund the things I do. Afterward, I only had the door to work, on the next night, and then my obligations to the area were up. I found a ride back down to Southport for some last minute family time before taking off again.
While riding around in Brunswick county, I got a tease of a gator. My dad and I were driving and I noticed a small alligator sunning himself off to the side of the road as we went over a small bridge. I got him to stop, pulled my camera out of my bag and started to wade into the high grass alongside the stream. Right as I got to where I could see the spot he’d been at, I noticed movement and he was gone. As I grinned at the prospect of missing the pictures, we decided to stop by Orton Pond on the way to drop me off at the bus station.
Orton Pond is a large freshwater pond that sits off the road on the way to Brunswick Town, the old military fort that I had written about previously. As we pulled up, I got out and started to get some pictures of turtles that were lazing about on a log. I still didn’t see any alligators but catching those fellas was a treat because as soon as they noticed me, they disappeared.
As I moved along Orton Pond, I finally got what I was looking for. It was a small alligator, no more than 5 feet long but he was all mine for a little while. I snapped off some pictures and got to feel like I had accomplished what I was looking to accomplish.
I caught the bus in Wilmington to Roanoke, VA and bid farewell to “home” again. It was a great trip and was just what I needed to get moving again. I’m excited to get myself into some new shenanigans. Getting to see my folks, my brother, my sister-in-law, my niece and all my friends is something that I don’t take for granted anymore. It’s nice to get caught back up. I missed out on seeing some people and that kind of bums me out (DJ Donna! I miss your face!) but I’m glad that I had the chance to get back into the area.
From North Carolina, I traveled to Virginia and Tennessee for Bonnaroo, a four day music and art festival. It would be my first music festival and my first Bonnaroo. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and it isn’t quite the time to share it all with you yet but it was definitely one of the most incredible things I’ve ever been a part of. I took the bus to VA, and then I continued on the bus to Los Angeles, which is another story all together. For now though, I need to go to sleep so that I can be rested the next time I wake up and see things I’ve never seen before and do things I’ve never done before. Today I dipped myself in the Pacific and watched the night fall on Los Angeles Harbor while playing a little guitar on the porch. Not sure what tomorrow holds but hopefully things keep getting better.