I saw an old friend today. He watched me crawl into my twenty-year-old beat-up truck and couldn’t believe I was still driving it.

“I don’t understand why you still drive that thing,” he said.

Well, it’s not difficult to understand. Vehicles are important to the ordinary people I come from.

When I was a kid, we would take long Sunday drives to nowhere. I wonder what happened to the American Sunday driver. There was a time when working-class families used to hop into station wagons and just play.

I remember one such Sunday after church. My father was on the sofa, his necktie hanging half mast. He was scanning the sports page.

“Yankees beat the Red Sox,” he said in mock amazement.

If there’s one thing I was brought up to dislike, it was the Yanks.

“Glavine pitches shutout in Atlanta. Unbelievable...”

“Gashouse Gang gets slaughtered again, fourteen to nothing, holy...”

And so on.

Usually, after he finished reading, he’d put on a pair of piddling clothes. Then he’d change the oil, organize the garage, mow the lawn twice, or repaint fifteen

houses using only one arm. My father could not sit still.

But on this particular Sunday he said, “Hey, let’s all go for a drive, what d'ya say?”

My mother was knee deep in preparing cornbread and whatever else was on the menu.

“A drive?” she said, “But I’m cooking dinner.”

Sunday afternoons were the only time we called it “dinner.” Every other day of the week it was “supper.”

So my father looked at me. “How about you, Tiger? Wanna take a drive?”

A Sunday drive was big. On the occasions my father took me on these outings, I knew for certain that one thing was going to happen: Ice cream sandwiches.

We piled into my father’s ‘74 F-100, forest green, rusty, with welding equipment on the back. Oxygen canisters, cables, air hoses dangled every which way.

Once the holidays are over a lot of people curl up on their sofas and sink into clinical depression. And I am not kidding.

I base this statement on an article sent to me by Glenn, a family therapist who notices a spike in depressed patients after the holidays. He gives examples of why this occurs:

1. Less sunshine.
2. No fun stuff to do.
3. Nobody parties in January.
4. Or travels.
5. Going back to work sucks.
6. And you’re fat.

I called a family therapist to get a few comments on the issue. But I got his secretary who said that he would charge $800 per hour for a phone consultation, so I decided to:

Go roller skating.

Again, I am serious. This seemed like a good idea because evidence shows that skating might help with post-holiday blues. Also, my cousin’s children were attending a birthday party at a roller rink.

So the next thing I knew, we were in a rundown skating rink with cars arriving in the parking

lot by the dozen.

Carl, the man who runs the rink said, “Rinks like ours ain’t gettin’ much business no more.” Carl spit into a Mountain Dew bottle. “But today we got a big party, so hey, that’ll pay the light bill.”

The first order of business at any rink is to exchange your perfectly good shoes at the counter for some truly disgusting ones. Behind the counter, I met a woman who also appeared to be suffering from Seasonal Depression. I have met junkyard Rottweilers with warmer personalities.

“What size?” she said.


“Thirteen? You joking?”


“We don’t have thirteens.”

“How about a twelve and a half?”

She looked on a rack. “Biggest I got is an eleven.”

“That’s not gonna work.”

“Take it up with the complaint department.”

The woman slammed down a pair of skates that smelled like…

HELEN—There is a special feeling you get when you are in this Bavarian-style town nestled in the Georgia mountains. A warm feeling in your belly that makes you tingle all over. It is called beer.

This town is famous for serving German beers behind every door. It's also famous for Bavarian architecture, Appalachian views, and some truly breathtaking tattoo parlors.

But wherever you go someone is always selling beer. Even when visiting, say, the men’s room, where they sell five-dollar pints from vending machines in each stall.

It’s a tourist-driven town with shops that advertise things like 101 flavors of hot sauce, body piercing, CBD oil, and deep fried Twinkies.

The nearby vistas of the Chattahoochee River are serene. So is the earthshaking noise from gangs of thundering motorcycles riding Main Street like the allied forces invading Europe.

Even so, I found many nearby scenic views pretty enough to inspire a hymn like “Beulah Land.” Which, since we’re on the subject, is a song I have performed at more funerals than I

can count.

When I was a kid, our small church only had a handful of singers to choose from for funerals, weddings, baby dedications, and 4H competitions. You had Maude Tolbert, a proud grandmother of six who’d been tone deaf since the Lincoln administration. And Robert Vanderbilt, whose repertoire consisted of three songs: “He Touched Me,” “There’ll Be No Thorns In His Crown,” and “Are You Rapture Ready Or Will You Burn In Hell?”

So I sang a lot of funerals. The most requested song was always “Beulah Land.” I learned to sing it when I was a kid. It never fails to make me cry. And looking out at this Appalachian valley, I understand the lyrics a little better.

So there isn’t much to do in Helen unless you plan on visiting a beer palace or getting an elaborate pectoral piercing by a man named “Snake.” Many…

It’s late. She’s driving. She's on her way home. There's something in the road. She hits it. She swerves. She loses control of the car.

A loud crash. A bounce. She’s going downhill. She's rolling. Her car is really rolling.

She screams.

And in this moment, she’s thinking, “I wish I could tell my children I love them.”

Funny. In critical moments, nobody says to themselves: “I wish I had better retirement options.”

She's tumbling down an embankment toward an icy river, thinking simple things.

Like the day she slid a ring onto her husband’s finger and promised to love him until death.

She thinks about holding her newborn daughter. The same daughter who was born with an extra digit on her left hand. A “supernumerary finger” doctors called it.

She thinks about how she nicknamed her daugher “Six.” And how the name stuck, even after surgeons removed the appendage.

She remembers her son. And Little League games. And the day after school, when he told her that he’d found hair in his armpits.

One second. That’s all it takes. One second to relive her

entire life.

How strange. Only a few minutes ago, her life felt permanent. And now, it’s too short.

Her car hits water. She is upside down, dangling. Blood in her eyes. She is too beat-up to even cry. She is falling in and out of sleep.

The water is above her head. Then it's touching her hair. Then her forehead. Then her eyebrows. Her nose.

In her stupor she manages to say one word before she's submerged. A three-letter name which, despite what many claim, has nothing to do with politics, wars, or religion.

She swallows a lot of water. The world goes black.


Sharp sickness in her gut. It is overwhelming. A burning in her lungs. A headache which feels like she’s had an argument with a hammer.

“I’m alive,” she’s thinking.


The North Georgia mountains are cold tonight. I am inside a cabin with my wife. It’s late. Music is playing. I am watching a fireplace.

We are minutes away from a new year, I am keeping an eye on the clock. Nobody here is watching the Time Square ball drop on TV. For one thing, there is no television in these remote woods. For another, you can’t replace Dick Clark.

But there is a record player. I am listening to Ray Charles sing. My wife and I are drinking glasses of magnesium citrate because my wife’s favorite sport is taking vitamins.

I know we should be drinking champagne, or beer, or something fun. But it’s just too dang late. We are middle-aged people who don’t even eat spicy foods past 5 P.M. anymore.

So we drink fizzy magnesium which my wife forces down my gullet each night because it helps with “regularity.” And she wants me to be a “regular guy,” if you catch my drift. My wife stole this particular concern directly from my mother’s playbook.

When I was

younger, New Year’s Eve was a wild holiday. Mainly because ever since my teenage years I played barroom music after hours. On New Year’s, anyone who owned a guitar played a party.

Thus, every December 31st of my adult life was spent with a band on a rinky-dink stage, playing for people in sparkly hats.

We used to play some big shindigs. We wore neckties, sang until morning, and the money was always good. When the clock struck midnight, we would play “Auld Lang Syne.” Whereupon the guys in the band would hug each other and make deeply emotional remarks like, “How much will you pay me to drink bourbon out of Mike Brahm’s shoe?”

“Ten bucks.”

“I’ll pay twenty if you do Fireball.”

“I’ll take that action.”

“Count me in.”

“You can’t plug your nose though.”

Before the night…