I have too much I want to say about this past weekend. I tried to fit in all into one piece of writing, but it ended up being five pages before I was even halfway through. 

Instead, I’m going to share a story a day, until I run out of stories. 

I didn’t know what I was doing. I felt in a rut, stuck in the wrong place, stuck in the wrong mood. My birthday was one week away. I’ve always had an irrational fear of birthdays. Not the fear of getting older, but a fear of being behind in life. Of not hitting the landmarks that have been instilled in my brain I should have hit by the age of 23. 

This is what I needed to escape. 

I wanted time to think, time to be on my own. I opened Airbnb and typed in the date’s “March 29-31”, anxiously clicking the search button. Up popped a few options, a loft here, an apartment there. It wasn’t until I saw a red cabin on the outskirts of Asheville, North Carolina that I knew. That was exactly what I was looking for. 

Mind you, I have never traveled completely on my own to an unfamiliar location before. Ever. I’ve traveled many times with family and friends but seeing as I am usually a very cautious individual, planning my trips meticulously, I was in completely unfamiliar territory with this one. 

Confirmed: March 29- March 31. Check in 3 pm- 12 am. Pack your bags!

Just like that, I was off to Asheville. 

Since it’s a special occasion, I want to skip forward to my favorite part of this trip. Let me introduce you to Patrick O’Shea.

Upon my arrival, I was introduced to my host (and one of the kindest men I’ve ever met), Bob. He asked what I was doing there, assuming I was there to enjoy a weekend of fine dining and breweries, as many other guests had been. 

Funny question, really. I had no idea what I was doing there. 

“I like to write,” I said. I explained how I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by my birthday coming up and really just needed a change of scenery for a second. I wanted to be able to collect my thoughts, hear myself think. 

“Well, if you need some inspiration, there’s the arts district,” Bob began. “It’s covered in art, graffiti. I would describe it as a new age, hipster, rich kid type area.” 

I visibly cringed and Bob laughed. 

“If you’re looking for more of a townie location, I would recommend Jack of the Wood. It’s the epitome of an Irish bar, live Appalachian based music and best bar food in town.” He had me at Irish bar. I was sold. 

I walked into Jack of the Wood and immediately began to smile. The majority of the crowd had beards and were sporting a leather vest and/or a cowboy hat. I was easily one of the youngest people there. Everyone had a beer in their hand and there was college basketball playing on the tv next to the bar. 

Perfection. This is exactly what I had been looking for all along.

I sat down at the end of the bar next to an older man, ordered a beer and leaned back in my chair to watch the game. A few moments in, I felt the older man next to me tap me on my shoulder. I turned, already apologizing if I had been in the way of the tv. 

“Oh no, honey, you’d have to be a few feet taller for that to be the problem,” he chuckled. Fair point. He motioned for me to look to my left and asked me how I felt about “man buns”. About a foot to my left was a younger man, sporting that very look. I laughed and explained that it’s not my favorite, but whatever makes people happy. 

“I’ve got to be honest with you, every guy I’ve ever met with one… asshole,” he said. “Complete asshole. You’re trying too hard buddy, just give it up!” he said, loud enough for me to hear but just below man bun’s level of hearing.

This is how I met Patrick. He was late sixties, a regular at Jack of the Wood, and stole more olives from the side of the bar than I could count. It was truly impressive how quickly he moved to grab them when the bartenders turned their backs. He still wrote and performed his own music every Monday night at this very bar. 

He asked why I was in Asheville, what I liked about it so far. 

“Honestly, I love the people. I’ve found that every person I’ve run into has been extremely nice and so open in conversation.” 

“Do you think that has anything to do with yourself?” Patrick responded. 

Seeing as he was insinuating that the way I looked had something to do with people being nice to me, I responded by saying I really didn’t think so. He laughed and gave an exaggerated “sureeeeee”. 

I knew what he’d meant. However, this is exactly why I had been looking for this crowd. Patrick wasn’t saying anything to try and impress me. When I asked him a question, he answered with complete honesty. He wasn’t trying to prove himself to me, to make me like him, to show the similarities between us. Many people my own age will say what they think you want to hear. Not Patrick. This was him, take it or leave it. 

As Patrick was on a first name basis with everyone who worked at the bar, I quickly became acquainted with the bartenders and servers. Before I knew it, I was on my third beer, the Purdue vs Virginia game had just been tied by a buzzer beater shot and all of us had bets on who was pulling through for the win. Even the bartender who claimed he “didn’t care at all for college basketball” was leaning over the counter, yelling with the rest of the crowd when their team fell behind. 

I asked Patrick how he’d ended up in Asheville. 

“My ex-wife moved here with the kids. It was a no brainer,” he stated, matter-of-factly. He told me what his kids were up to now, what they’d accomplished. “I’m just so happy their mom raised them,” he said. I asked if he thought they would’ve turned out differently being raised with him. He scoffed and informed me they wouldn’t be even half the people they were today, had their mother not raised them. 

The band began to play, and Patrick ended the night by scolding me for paying eighty dollars for jeans with holes in them. 

“It’s outrageous! Ninety dollars for these jeans, holes and little frills sticking all out from them and girls are paying for them! Bring ’em to me, I’ll grab a pair of scissors and do it myself,” he exclaimed, completely exasperated by the whole concept. I informed him that fashion companies were now laser printing wrinkles onto jeans, to sell them with a “pre-wrinkled” appearance. This almost pushed him right over the edge. We both laughed.

He’d stayed around longer than usual “to be chivalrous” he’d said. Another older man had entered the bar that he was not particularly fond of. 

“What a toad. What a complete toad,” Patrick said. I was dying laughing. “He’s just slimy. Maybe if he didn’t look like such a frog, people would actually talk to him,” he fumed. Patrick refused to leave until this guy left, insistent that he didn’t trust him. I appreciated it. 

After he’d left and I had eventually returned to my bed in the red cabin I had rented, I thought back to what Patrick had said. Did I have anything to do with the way people treated me here?

Yes. He was right, but not in the sense that he’d intended. It did have something to do with me. I had to be open to the experience. I had to be open to meeting others, to trusting others. I guess most people my age wouldn’t have picked this bar in the first place, but I noticed that even more wouldn’t have given someone like Patrick the time of day. 

Unfortunately, we tend to look past what’s right in front of us. 

Traveling alone allowed me to be open to others. It forced me to trust in people more so than I normally would. To be open to hearing their little anecdotes, each containing a vital piece of their lives they were excited to share, to teach you about. It’s truly incredible what you can learn from a complete stranger. 

When I listened to myself, felt where I was truly comfortable, I found exactly what I was looking for. If I trusted myself, I could trust in others. If I trusted myself, I would end up exactly where I was meant to be.