A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘It’s hard enough to gain any traction in the rain’

Grantham is in Wayne County, North Carolina. Garret K. Woodward photo Grantham is in Wayne County, North Carolina. Garret K. Woodward photo

Hello from the nearly empty bar counter of the Vail House Oyster Bar & Grille on the outskirts of downtown Goldsboro, North Carolina — a city seemingly forgotten by the sands of time and 21st century progress elsewhere. 

It’s 1:31 p.m. I’m currently watching college football (Texas A&M vs. LSU) while awaiting the completion of my wheel alignment for my truck across the street at Precision Tune Auto Care. It’s the day after Thanksgiving. My girlfriend, Sarah, and I are trying to make the best out of a somewhat bust of an early holiday season, truth be told.

Sarah is from Goldsboro. Well, actually, the nearby unincorporated community of Grantham. But, most folks (all folks) have never heard of Grantham. It’s one stop light, old homes and vast farmland. It also is home to an elementary school and gas station that deceive the passerby motorist — two buildings that may look deserted, but there are people still inhabiting both.

And, since this past July, Sarah and I have motored down to Grantham to visit her father. Just about once-a-month. He’s terminally ill with brain cancer and has been in hospice since around Halloween. Thus, for Sarah, it’s heavy, hard and heartfelt each time we pack up my truck and venture east-by-southeast some five hours.

It’s wild, you know? These places you’ve never heard of or never, ever thought in a million years would become a fixture or fixed destination in your travels and/or GPS, more so continued existence on this earth. Goldsboro and Grantham. Never heard of’em until Sarah came into my life. Not even a blip on the radar.

Now? I can mostly drive from Waynesville to her father’s cabin in the backcountry of Wayne County without directions. I also know the best spot for a jerk chicken sandwich and seasoned fries in town. Just so happens to be a seafood restaurant. The Vail House.

Related Items

Sure, I live and die for devouring the ocean’s bounty. But, today? Felt like some jerk chicken. Sit and wait for my truck to get off the mechanic’s rack, keys soon back in my hand. Hit the road to somewhere, anywhere. Looks like Texas A&M is up 24-14 on #14 LSU in the midst of the third quarter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

On the 327.6-mile door-to-door drive from our Waynesville apartment to the Grantham cabin, I noticed that the steering wheel of my beloved Toyota Tacoma was a couple clicks off and to the right. A definite signal of a much-needed wheel alignment. Shit. I just got the truck back from the mechanic for a tire replacement and it’ll be back in there for new brakes comes Tuesday.

But, with the Tacoma at the core foundation of my journalistic livelihood and it (the pickup) being my vehicle — literally and figuratively — for all things beautiful and true, all people and places in the name of curiosity and discovery, it’s of the utmost importance to ensure the 4x4 is in tiptop shape for any and all road endeavors.

So, why did the Tacoma need a wheel alignment? Funny you should ask. Last Sunday afternoon, a motorcycle slammed into the back of my parked automobile. Yeah, that happened. In broad daylight. Thankfully, there was another car driving by who phoned 911 when they witnessed the accident in real time. 

Me? I was out jogging around downtown Waynesville as I do most days of the week as the local residents and tourists alike have come to realize over my 11-plus years here in Haywood County. Nearing sunset, the plan that Sunday was to wait for Sarah to get off work on Main Street and we’d hop in the truck for a nice end-of-the-weekend dinner in Asheville, perhaps Mela or Vinnie’s.

As I finished my run on Walnut Street, nearing Hazel Street, I heard sirens. Turning the corner at Angelo’s Pizza, I saw a fire truck and two police cars in front of my house. One police officer was wandering around my front porch knocking on doors and such. I calmly yelled over to him: “Can I help you?” He replied “Yeah, is that your truck?” as he pointed to my Tacoma parked out front.

In the exact moment, I noticed an odd tilt to my truck, I also observed a nice Yamaha sport motorcycle behind it, the biker seemingly shook up and somewhat disoriented. I quickly put it together that the biker hit the nearby speedbump too fast, lost control of the bike and skidded out, the bike sliding under my truck and popping the driver’s rear tire. 

Sparing all of details, the driver was OK and there was minimal damage to my truck. Couple scratches and a busted tire. He paid for the tire following its repair two days later. Shake hands and walk away. Skip ahead to today (Saturday) and here I still am, sitting at the Vail House, the truck in the shop across the street for a wheel alignment.

Over an hour waiting. My server took away the empty plate some 40 minutes ago. Sip your beverage and gaze up at the Texas A&M/LSU game for live action. LSU is slowing coming back. It’s now 24-21 A&M. Maybe once the Tacoma is back in order and Sarah has a free weekend, a trip down to the Bayou is in the crosshairs? Who knows? It’s all nothing and everything and something in-between. 

Thus, the holidays are now underway. And so, too, is the weird, chaotic and rollickin’ unfolding of the next month or so — for me, you and the whole lot of us kind (and not-so-kind) souls pushing forth into the impending, unknown day.

To quote the late 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns from 1785, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” For yours truly? I just shake my head in awe, in complete awe and appreciation for life itself. All experiences — the good, the bad and the ugly — are all one thing, you dig? It’s all one thing. 

And the only thing you (we) can do is see humor in everyday life, like sitting in an oyster house in some random southern city, where you order a chicken sandwich in an empty bar and wait patiently for the finalized wheel alignment of your truck, the result of a motorcycle hitting it while parked on a quiet residential street.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.