We got to Truist Park before the gates opened. There were multitudes swarming the gates, sort of like the Children of Israel waiting to enter the Promised Land. Except this Promised Land had nachos.

I weaved through the Biblical throngs, making my way to the main office where I was given an unofficial press pass because I am a writer.

Over the years, I have learned that writers get lots of unique privileges. I have been fortunate enough to experience many exciting situations, simply because I was a writer with a press pass. A 24-hour layover in Philadelphia International Airport is only one example.

“The press does not get free beer,” I am told by an Atlanta Braves employee. And by the way the employee says this, I get the impression that writers with press passes are the reason this rule is in place.

Before I entered the park, I passed through a metal detector, emptied my pockets, recited my ABCs backward, etc. Then, they gave me several official bracelets, lanyards, badges, and

a gentleman performed a cavity inspection. And I was good to go.

Next, I was immediately greeted by Larry, my personal tour guide for the evening. I don’t know Larry’s last name, but I know he’s from Chesterfield, South Carolina, because it was on his nametag.

Larry escorted me to batting practice on the field.

Larry is 66 and cheerful. He is an easygoing guy with a raspy voice reminiscent of Louis Armstrong. On our journey through the stadium, everyone, apparently, knew Larry inasmuch as we were greeted by dozens of employees and volunteers who gave him high-fives, handshakes, and fist bumps. Everyone likes Larry.

“You’re a popular guy,” I say to Larry.

He shrugs. “Been here a long time.”

Larry started with the Atlanta Braves organization when he was much younger. “At the time, I’s working three jobs at the time, putting my kids through school.…

Lake Erie looks good this morning. The sun is rising over the shoreline. There is a heavy mist on the surface of America’s fourth-largest Great Lake. And it’s so cold in Ottawa County, Ohio, that Starbucks is serving coffee on a stick. And it’s June.

“Hi there,” one passerby says to me. “Cold enough fer ya?”

Legend says, the ancient natives believed this cold lake was filled with good fortune. One such myth states that Lake Erie is so full of luck that lucky stones wash ashore. The stones still wash onto the shore each day. The stones have the letter “L” embedded in them. I’m hoping to find one.

“The rocks are actually the ear bones of freshwater drumfish,” says the local. “They are very lucky if you find one.”

Fingers crossed.

I’m in town with my friend Bobby Horton. Bobby is doing a history lecture and musical performance in the town of Lakeside. I’m playing with him.

Bobby is my father’s age. We have music in common, which is how we first met. Whereupon he took

me under his wing. He lets me hang out at his house on holidays. He comes to my gigs, along with his wife, and he claps for me harder than anyone else. He’s among my closest of pals.

Since arriving in Ohio, wherever we go, Bobby introduces me as his “godson,” and I introduce him as “the Godfather,” even though—and I mean this sincerely—Bobby weighs considerably less than Marlon Brando.

“Shake hands with my godson,” he tells everyone, happily.

And when the strangers in the theater shake my hand, they look at me as though I truly belong to someone. Which isn’t a bad feeling.

This morning, America’s shallowest Great Lake is tinted with oceanic colors, and smells like a giant fish rectum. I’m wearing a jacket even though it's mid-June, plugging my nose, wandering the shore, hunting for lucky rocks.


Hi there. This is that Little Voice inside your head speaking. Yeah, I know. It’s been a while. But how are you? How’s life? How’s the fam? You still doing keto?

Listen, I know we haven’t talked in a long time, but technically, that’s not my fault. You probably don’t remember this, but you quit listening to your inner voice just as soon as you hit the fourth stage of puberty.

The moment you developed armpit hair, you became a lot more concerned with getting a driver’s license, French kissing, and eradicating zits.

So over time that voice inside you got quieter. Oh, sure, every now and then you’d hear me droning in the background like Charlie Brown’s teacher. But you never actually listened.

Although there were a few times...

Remember that rude waiter a few weeks ago? When the meal was over, you almost stiffed him with the tip. But then, you dug into your wallet and gave him a ridiculously generous gratuity.

Did you ever stop to wonder why you did this? Well, I’ll tell you

why. Because the teeny, tiny voice reminded you that being generous was not just kind, it was right. That Little Voice was me.

There was that other time, when you gave a ride to two Mexican young women who didn’t speak English. Their car broke down in the Walmart parking lot, and they were crying. You helped them out because that faint voice would not shut up.

Also me.

And let’s not forget about the time you almost got into that fatal car wreck.

No, wait. You never knew about that one. You never did know how close you came to the end. Because the Little Voice told you to pull off the interstate immediately before the disaster happened. And you actually listened. In a few seconds there was a ten-car pile up on I-65, and four people were killed.

Still, most…

I drove four hours to meet the editor of a big-city newspaper. I walked into a large office wearing my nicest necktie. I was young. Wide-eyed.

She told me I had five minutes. I handed her a pathetic resume so tiny it needed a magnifying glass.

“You’re not even a journalism major?” she remarked.

“No ma’am.”

“You’re still in community college?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You’re wasting my time. I’ve got journalists lining up around the block. Find me a good story, and maybe we’ll talk.”

A good story.

The next day, I stopped at a nursing home. I walked inside and asked if there were any storytellers in the bunch.

The woman at the desk gave me a look. “They’re ALL storytellers, sweetie.”

She introduced me to a ninety-four-year-old man. We sat in the cafeteria. I asked to hear about his life. He said, “You with the IRS or something?”

He talked, and he was eighteen again. A rural boy who’d never set foot in a schoolhouse. His father used a wheelchair. His mother was dead.

Then, he met her. She’d moved to town to teach

school. When he saw her at church, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He approached her with an idea.

“I played on her sympathy,” he said. “Was my only hope, she was too pretty to be seen with me.”

He asked her to teach him to read. She agreed. He made fast progress—which was no surprise. He would’ve rather died than disappoint a pretty girl.

They married. She taught, he farmed. During those years, he remembers how they sat together in the evenings, watching evening take hold of the world. Love can be simple.

She died before age forty.

It was crippling. He gave up living. His fields went to weed. He lost his farm. He lost himself. He checked into a room at the motor-inn.

“I had nothing left,” he said. “I sat…

“Just Married.” That’s what’s written on the back of a ratty tailgate in white shoe polish. The plates are North Carolina. The old Ford Ranger has seen better days.

I’m a younger man. I’m at a gas station when I see the truck. The windows are rolled down. The vehicle is empty. The young couple is inside the convenience store, paying for gas.

I am at the pump, filling my tank.

My friend is nosy. He is inspecting the small Matrimony Wagon. He peeks into the truck bed.

“They sure don’t travel light,” he says. “There must be ten pink suitcases in there.”

Welcome to marriage.

My friend and I are on our way home after playing music in Mobile. It was a pathetic venue, but the music wasn’t bad. And besides, I’ve been playing pathetic gigs since I turned eighteen. What’s one more?

I’ve played some doozies. Bingo parlors, bowling alleys, rundown bars, a shoe store clearance, and the dreaded all-you-can-eat seafood joint.

A girl exits the store, walking toward the vehicle.

My nosy friend is almost caught red handed.

He trots away from the truck. He lights a cigarette and pretends to be inspecting my tires.

The girl reaches through the window and grabs her purse. She counts a few dollars, then steals handfuls of change from her ashtray. She counts quarters in her palm. She darts inside.

Money. It’s hard to come by when you’re a newlywed.

My friend tells a story: at his wedding, twenty-five years ago, his sister placed a money tree on the cake table. People clipped dollar bills to the branches to fund the couple’s honeymoon.

“We had ninety bucks on that tree,” he tells me. “We needed that money for our honeymoon, we were flat broke.”

My honeymoon was no lavish affair, either. We went to Charleston on a shoestring budget. I’d hocked a guitar to help fund the trip. We rolled…

The world’s most remarkable human? Easy. Meet Paige Perry. She is 33 years young. She is a caregiver to multiple persons.

You’d like Paige. Everyone does. She is sweet. Brunette. Pretty. She has a personality so pleasant she makes Santa Claus look like a jerk.

Paige lives in Adamsville, Alabama (pop. 22). And although she has every right to be disgruntled with the universe, she isn’t.

Paige’s whole life consists of caregiving. From sunup to sundown. Caregiving. She eats, sleeps, and breathes caregiving. If you were to look up the word “caregiver” in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, you would see a picture of Paige, waving at you.

And yet somehow, every time you meet her, she is always in a great mood. To be around her is to be happy. She is always cracking jokes. Always smiling. Always laughing.

She listens more than she talks. She hugs often. Dogs and children follow her around.

In short, Paige has a great personality.

And like my mother used to say: “If you want to get ahead in this

world, Sean—” My mother always called me Sean. “In this life, Sean, you must be extremely smart or you must have an extremely pleasant personality.”

Well, that’s exactly what Paige is. She is pleasant.

Heaven knows she has every right not to be. Namely, because her primary role in life is taking care of her father, who has dementia, and her older brother, C.C. who has cerebral palsy. Before that, she was a caregiver to her mother.

Paige is like every caregiver you’ve ever known. She cooks, she cleans, lifts, strains, carries, transports, schedules doctors appointments, wipes backsides, bathes, grooms, changes soiled sheets, pays the bills, and does the grocery shopping.

Oh, and somehow she manages to tie down a full-time job.

That’s right. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. Paige is a full-time hospice nurse. She spends her weeks…

I’m driving. The Tennessee mountains tower in the distance. The hills are so green they appear blue. The sky is so sunny it hurts your eyes.

I am listening to WSM 650 AM, traveling 55 mph on backroads. They’re playing old country. “Whispering” Bill Anderson is singing “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking.” My father loved this tune.

Last night, I sang on the Grand Ole Opry. Before my performance, 85-year-old Bill Anderson performed. He was exiting the stage as I was entering. Before they announced me, I shook his hand and I was quivering. I told him I grew up listening to his music alongside my father. I almost started to cry.

He said, “Thank you, son. Is your daddy here tonight?”

I looked into the rafters of the theater. “Yessir. I’d like to believe he is.”

He just smiled.

And right now, I’m thinking about all this while driving on this winding highway. I’m winding through thickets of black gums, live oaks, sycamores, and conflagrations of other Tennessean trees.

Tennessee trees don’t grow the same as in other states. These trees

don’t just grow straight up and down. They grow sideways, downways, upways, rightways, wrongways, and everywhichways. They swallow everything, growing so close together they resemble a head of giant broccoli.

I see a barbecue-shack-slash-beer-joint in the distance. I pull over. The door dings upon my entrance. A radio is playing.

It’s not yet noon, but there is an old man at the bar, getting an early start on his day. An army of empty Budweiser bottles sits at his elbow. He is playing scratch-offs, trying his level best to make Cooter Brown look like an amateur.

His words are rounded on the corners when he speaks.

“Where you from?” he asks.


“First time in Tennessee?”

“No, sir.”

He nods and goes back to his scratch-offs. “What brings you here?”


“What kinda work you do?”

“I play…