Sometime in early August of this year.
I pulled into Ashville, North Carolina around 10AM. It was a Sunday and apparently Asheville was the place to be this weekend. The sidewalks were full of families and couples holding hands and cars and trucks lined the streets. This made finding parking almost impossible. “This would be the perfect time to make use of the bike that I have been carrying around on top my car,” I thought to myself. If only I could find a parking place. I was beginning to get frustrated and considered almost scrapping the idea of roaming Asheville, but somehow I convinced myself to stay. Finally, after about 40 minutes of driving around block after block of gridlocked intersections, I nabbed a parking spot from an older couple just leaving. It was a considerable distance from the center of town but no matter. That’s what my bike was for. I unlatched the bike from my roof rack and filled my favorite blue Patagonia day-pack with the days essentials: water bottle, raincoat, laptop, extra phone charger and a half empty bag of dried mango I picked up at a Trader Joes in my travels. I opened the map app on my phone and dropped a pin in my location so I knew where I had parked. I mounted my bike and headed off.
The cool North Carolina wind blew around my face and body as I coasted down the large hill on my bike towards the center of town. The air was clean and crisp and I could feel the sun on my neck and back. I was excited to see where the day would take me. I rode around for several minutes, admiring the people and the little boutiques on the sidewalks of this cute and small little up-and-coming little town. As I rounded a corner at the top of a hilly street, a small quaint brunch restaurant caught my eye. With no real plans for the day other than to explore this city I heard so much about, I decided to stop and maybe grab a cup of coffee and maybe catch up on some of my writing. I didn’t realize I was hungry until my nose caught the scent of unmistakable smell of bacon and maple syrup. It was around 11 o’clock at this point and the thought of a sit-down brunch sounded too good to pass up. After locking my bike to a nearby street sign, I went inside. The Early Girl Eatery. The inside of this small little restaurant gave off a very southern hospitable charm, mixed with that slightly contrived “hipster” aesthetic. All the furniture was heavily used but had been refinished and the walls painted several different shapes of blues and yellows. It reminded me of Austin almost, and surprisingly I didn’t feel as out of place as I expected. I made my way through the crowd of couples and families huddled around the door and approached the small host stand and asked for a table. “Just one” I said with a smile. The cute waitress with black short hair in brown vintage glasses and a flowy grey dress told me the wait was going to be almost an hour. I looked around and noticed a few empty seats and asked if it would be possible to sit in the empty bar stool by the tiny turquoise wall-bar adjacent to the door. “You sure can!” she said with a slightly southern twang, grabbing a menu and a roll of silverware as she sat me down. I guess this seating was by request only, I thought as I adjusted the bar stool from under me and made myself comfortable. I set by bag down around my feet with the strap wrapped around my leg as to not get it stollen. Not that I feared it would, just as a precautionary measure being so close to the door an all. I opened the menu and scanned the laminated sleeve for something that would satisfy my craving. I knew I wanted something hearty and healthy, but at the same time my mouth seemed to want something slightly sweet. And then I saw it.
Local sausage with sweet potato scramble and homemade biscuit – $9. Done!
Within moments the hostess had come back and taken my order. I guess the hostesses had sections to. Moments later, a woman, with long dirty hair that covered most of her face sat down beside me. Without even looking at the menu she ordered- clearly a local. Not really in the mood to talk to anybody, I pulled out my phone and began scrolling through some of my pictures. A few minutes later my food was delivered and I could feel my mouth begin to water as the smell of maple sausage and fresh sweet potatoes filled my nostrils. Without hesitation I ripped the thin white piece of paper around my napkin and let the silverware unroll into my hand. I placed my napkin in my lap and dug in, my eyes never leaving the plate and my fork never leaving my hand. When I finished I leaned back in my stool and rubbed my stomach as if to say thank you to my breakfast for its nourishment. “What did you have?” I hear the woman ask, turning her body to face me for the first time.
She was older. Older than I expected her to be from when I saw her come in. She was maybe around 50. She wore a smile that she seemed proud of and had thick laugh lines around her eyes and mouth that suggested she laughed often. She wore no makeup but didn’t need to. Her skin was clear and well hydrated. I didn’t mean to be so quick to access her and try to categorize her in my mind, but I could tell she was a hippie. The all-natural, organic type. when she spoke her voice was soothing and slow. She words came out calm and friendly. She seemed genuine and I liked that about her. I smiled and told her what I was having. “It was really good,” I said, “I might just have to borrow the recipe.” After a few back and forths of small talk and questions of where we were from, our questions to each other began to transition to slight deeper conversation . The moment she told me she was a gypsie and world-traveler my interest peaked. I swiveled in my stool and faced her directly. She did the same. Little did I know the next two hours would be the two of us, getting to know each other without ever remembering to ask each other’s names.
We talked about life and culture and education and travel. We talked about our mutual fascination with the mountains and flowing rivers and how we would undoubtably find ourselves planted near them both one day. We talked about conformity and our different generationa values. We talked about technology and the vast advances we have made just in the last decade and life before the cell phone. We shared in the love of writing and the importance of being truthful to ourselves. We exchanged our ideas of the meaning of life and spirituality and we were able to talk without any negativity or judgement towards one another. We discussed finding our identity and presence in the world and the importance of being self aware. We agreed on how easy it was to miss moments like these if we weren’t careful and how appreciative we both were for the people we have become because of the experiences we’ve had along the way. We told stories of our travels and moments that changed our perspectives of what we thought we knew about life and love and people in our lives. We talked about the importance of having great friends, and told more stories of people and experiences that have changed us for the better. For the better part of two hours we talked, not once experiencing a lull in conversation, only to be interrupted ever so often by fits of laughter and smiles. As she talked I listened. And as I talked she listened and the whole time we were together, I felt like I was talking to the older woman version of myself. Finally, one of us asked the time and we realized how long we had been sitting there. “I’m Chris by the way.” I said realizing we had not known each others names this whole time.
“Zara” she said smiling. “Its nice to meet you, Chris.” There was a pause.
“Can I take your picture?” I asked.
“Of me?” she questioned as she started combing her hair with her fingers.
“It’s just that I’ve really appreciated talking with you and would like really like a picture of you to remember you by. Is that weird?”
“Sure! That’s not weird. That’s really nice….you mean like of two of us or just me?
“Actually, if I could get one of just you. I don’t want you to pose or anything, I just want it to be natural, you know, they way it really happened.”
“Like this…” she said laughing.