OUTER BANKS, N.C. — It’s been two and a half weeks since I became homeless. On the morning of Friday, Nov. 20, I took a final few items to my storage unit while the buyers did a walkthrough with my realtor. I returned after they’d left, jumped in the Atlantic for one last (quick and chilly) swim as a Plum Island resident, and then loaded up my car and drove away.
I spent that weekend in a hotel in Concord, New Hampshire, not far from where I spent three glorious, innocent years in prep school. On Saturday I circumnavigated the White Mountains, visiting places I’d not seen in more than thirty years, places like Profile Lake and the cliff where The Old Man of the Mountains once stood. I savored that lovely autumn morning in Franconia Notch all by myself and then continued north and east around the Presidential Range, past places I hadn’t been to since I’d sat in the back seat of my family’s station wagon as a 9- or 10-year-old, my father at the wheel as he drove his kids to all the touristy places that had been there when he was young. They were still there two weeks ago.
The summit of Mount Washington was shrouded in a cap cloud but the lower ridges and valleys basked in sunshine and I made my way south of Conway where I turned west onto the Kancamagus Highway, one of the prettiest drives in the country, especially in autumn. Over the top of the pass and down past Loon Mountain, I crossed over my northbound track on I-93 and continued west, up the flanks of Mount Moosilauke. I made this drive a few times during college, including the Sunday of Winter Carnival in February 1985 when I drove my younger brother to his prep school in Maine. He’d missed his ride back so we wrapped ourselves in blankets and loaded up in my 1962 Volkswagen Beetle with no heat and a boom box for tunes, and made the seven-hour winter trek across the north country, a 19-year-old and a 16-year-old way out of their element but not knowing it. In fact, we loved it. It was an unintended adventure — the best kind of adventure.
As I retraced my steps, I realized that back in 1985 neither of us knew that less than six months later, Scott would be dead. Of course we didn’t. How could we? I don’t think I’d thought of that aspect of our drive together at all until two weeks ago.
My Subaru climbed Route 118 and I turned up the dirt road to Dartmouth’s Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. I hadn’t been there since my freshman trip (a now-defunct Dartmouth tradition) in September 1984. The gate was closed about a half-mile up the road so I parked and walked the rest of the way to the new lodge, a replacement for the old building that I remembered. It’s a stunning structure in a beautiful place and I remembered back to being convinced to run up Mount Moosilauke by my trip leader, a recent Dartmouth graduate who’d been a biathlete in the 1984 Winter Olympics. I made it in a respectable time (half an hour faster than the other person on my trip, a football recruit, whom Glen had also convinced). I also remembered how that night, after the traditional campfire ghost story about the mysterious Doc Benton, another trip participant, the son of a U.S. Senator, had climbed on top of the bunkhouse and tromped around in an attempt to scare folks. I traded emails with Glen a few years ago while I was living in Alaska and working with another Olympic biathlete, but have no idea where Clay and Bud are nowadays.
I continued west to the Connecticut River and then south through Hanover, the town where I went to college. I put in for a job with the alumni magazine there this year and got turned down, and as I drove the picturesque tree-lined streets I got a little miffed thinking of what a great place the Upper Valley would have been to live in, especially now that I’m not the punk-ass, know-it-all 20-something I was as a student.
Down I-89 back to Concord and the first Chinese takeout food I’d had in eons, and on Sunday morning I walked the grounds of my prep school with an old, dear friend and classmate. Despite the challenges St. Paul’s has faced in recent years, it remains hallowed ground to me and will always be special in my heart.
I then drove east to visit two of my closest friends and then back to my storage unit on the coast, where I loaded up my car and made my way to the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. I spent two days there, poking around the land of Arlo Guthrie and Alice’s Restaurant, and also did a job interview via Zoom before continuing west to spend Thanksgiving in Syracuse, New York, with another two of my dearest and closest friends. While I was there, Dave arranged for all of us to get a COVID antigen test; the test came back negative which was surprisingly comforting to receive. Mostly, though, it was great to spend a lot of time with people who mean so much to me, especially as I venture out into the world with almost no ties to my old life remaining.
On the Monday after Thanksgiving, I drove south across New York and Pennsylvania to Annapolis, where on Tuesday I visited Further for the first time in nine months. She looked a little dirty and a little forlorn in her stands in the marina yard, but with a couple of weeks of love and care, she’ll be right back into tip-top shape. Those two weeks will take place come springtime; there’s no point doing it now as we head into winter.
And just under a week ago I left Naptown and made my way down here to Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I came here, to a place I’ve been several times before, because I like it a lot. And because this time of year it’s pretty deserted — a good place to hunker down during a pandemic. Mostly, though, I came to enjoy some surf and some kiteboarding in the East Coast Mecca for both sports.
Sadly, Mother Nature has had other plans. The swell, which on the Tuesday I was in Annapolis, was overhead and clean, has been little more than waist-high and choppy. And the winds on Pamlico Sound have either been too light to hoist a fat ass like me or they’ve been nuking (as they are right now) to the point where it’s out of my league after having not kited in so long. So thus far I’ve struck out on the watersports front. I’m here for one more night in hopes the wind will ease enough that I can get in some kiting today and, hopefully, tomorrow morning, at which point I will start my trek back north.
Despite striking out on waves and wind, I’ve had a great time here on the Outer Banks. It’s a beautiful barrier beach island, much like Plum Island. The Outer Banks are just bigger. Much bigger. It’s kind of like Plum Island on steroids out here: bigger, farther away, more isolated. I’ve been here once during the busy summer and I have no interest in doing that again, but this time of year it’s really, really nice.
So that brings me up to the present. And the future.
Right now, I’m focusing in two areas: one, getting my career going again, and two, finding a place to hunker down for this pandemic winter. They are not mutually exclusive areas.
As I mentioned above, I did a job interview (via Zoom) a couple of days after leaving Plum Island. The enterprise is focused on sports news, and in bridging the gap between local and national. Well, hell, that’s right in my wheelhouse: I spent years wrestling with the local/national divide at Citysearch and one could say I have a bit of a background in sports. Seems like a slam dunk, doesn’t it? We’ll see. I’ve interviewed with other would-be slam dunks including, a couple of years ago, a digital news job with Scripps, the same company as my last “real” job. Those have all gone nowhere so I realize there’s no such thing as a slam dunk, especially in this day and age with content people getting laid off left and right. But this job is intriguing and seems such a good fit that I would like to hear more, so I wait.
I also did a phone interview yesterday with Tegna. They’re looking for a digital team leader, the same job I did for Scripps in San Diego, at a station in New England. Their digital recruiter, a former news leader for Tegna, knows tons of the people I know and have worked with, so we’ll see how that one goes, too.
The bottom line is: I’m searching for work, in news or media or wherever else that might be a good fit for what I do well. And now that I’m homeless, I am truly open to any location. So if anyone knows of a job that I might be good for…
Otherwise, I’m looking for a place to hunker down for the winter, and I have a few possible options. One is right here on the Outer Banks: surfing and kiteboarding in water slightly warmer than home in New England (by about 10 degrees or so), a more slightly temperate winter, solitude, and there are a couple of AirBNB places that are affordable. I’ve also thought about Florida, mostly because that idea of a warm winter is very enticing, but with that state’s reaction to the coronavirus I’m wondering if that’s a wise place to be. What about San Diego? I’d love to go back there but a) it’s super expensive, and b) I’m afraid that Governor Gavin Newsom will close the beaches again (and then go out to a group dinner at French Laundry) and then I’ll spend a lot of money to watch nice, unapproachable waves pour onto the shore.
Sidebar: Hockey is not an option during these COVID days (indoors, cold, 20 guys breathing heavily) so that’s why I’m thinking this might be a good winter for me to opt for a warm locale. Plus, a warm climate means being outdoors and active, thereby getting my fat ass back into shape.
Other possibilities include renting a small cottage on Plum Island, but I’m not sure I want to be in cold water if I can avoid it and I’m also not sure I want to watch someone settle into MY home. A friend offered me his empty apartment in Boston because he’s in a bubble with his immune-challenged girlfriend, but anything that makes city living interesting is closed until healthier times. There might be a mother-in-law apartment in Annapolis which would make working on the boat easier, but many of the things I love about Naptown are off limits thanks to the coronavirus. I’ve thought about Utah or Colorado, where I could backcountry ski my way back into shape. I’ve even thought about loading up my toys in my car and heading west, camping for a couple of weeks at the beach then a couple of weeks up in the mountains, alternating back and forth. Unfortunately, with travel restrictions ramping up, that’s probably out. Finally, I’ve thought long and hard about a winter on the beach in Mexico, but that seems to be evaporating what with Mexico’s handling of the virus being as bad as ours and with airfares climbing.
So there’s much to ponder, which is what I’ve been doing a lot of out here on the Outer Banks. I’ll start north tomorrow, with a first stop in Annapolis to check on that potential apartment. Then I’ll make my way to New England to pick up any mail (I have a mailbox/forwarding service in Massachusetts) and then hit my storage unit for whatever it is I need in whatever destination I choose. And come March, when Maryland starts to warm up, I’ll get to work on Further, with an eye toward a May launch — and steering her to whatever course my life is headed on at that time.