Sunday, August 05, 2018

On the Road Again: What I Did On My Summer Vacation

The past two months have been a blur. Travel like I’ve never had. Criss-crossing the United States. Seattle. Atlanta. Austin. Kansas City. Portland. New York. San Antonio. St. Louis. Connecticut. Denver. Vail. Dallas. Chicago. New York (again). This is how I’ve spent my summer, so far. I need a vacation.

It hit me yesterday. I was dead tired. Maybe it had something to do with schlepping wine around New York City in the heat of August, walking 10,000 steps across the city, peering into freezing (and often dark) eateries, looking to open a few bottles and taste wine. I was supposed to be finished! Apparently, there is purgatory after work. No Promised Land. Not yet. And that’s OK. For now.

Why? For one, it has given me the opportunity to feel the pulse of America in these historic times. “Is it really that bad out there?” “Are we in a Civil War?” “Is America going to hell in a handbasket?” “Who are we?” Those are just a few of the questions people ask me, as I traverse the country back and forth. Mind you, I’m sticking to wine, most of the time. But wine is just a symbol of something other. Of the way we’re going. Of where we’re at right now. Of the inevitable fix we’ve gotten ourselves into. Of it all. Wine just mirrors, in miniscule detail, the path of history and the people on that path.

It’s July in Chicago. I’m sitting at a table with six Italians. They’ve all come from somewhere else for that something other. Naples. Catanzaro, Bari, and on. They’re here, in America, to regenerate the Italian energy brought here over 100 years ago. And also, to make a new life pursuing The Dream.

You can see it in their eyes. A feral hunger, a desire to not just be someone waiting in line for a stamp.

And what have they come to, washing up on these shores? Is this a haven? Or a detention center?

More and more the America I see looks less like what drew my grandfather to this place. But even then, it was not perfect. But that doesn’t stop the waves from pounding on the shore. More Italians want in.

We sit at the table. Waves of pizza, pasta, chicken, salad, and peppers, small little lethal red bullets of fire, from the garden. Calabria!

Wine from Piedmont, from the Veneto, from Calabria, from the Rhone. Barbera, Cinsault, Glera, Carmenere. “Italians are very complicated,” one of the young ones tries to explain. But I already read the proposal. I know. How do you tell a young Italian about their country before they were born, and from one who doesn’t even speak their language like they do?

I asked a young Napolitano about the language in Calabria, in Cosenza, what is was like to him. “Don’t take this the wrong way, because I mean no insult. Calabria is ritardare.” The progress of progress has gotten a deferral. To take time to enjoy the 15 minutes of life we have been given.

In a noisy market/caf├ę in Queens. I’ve been here a time or two, enough that some of us occasional diners recognize one another. The owners are Greek, and we get along great. I’ve invited a couple of young writers to join me. The cacophony of the place makes it hard to have a deeper conversation, but the wine and more importantly, the seafood, gets top billing. As it should.

The noise makes conversation difficult, yes. But it doesn’t strain our being together. We eat, we drink wine, some better (the Greek wine was the best) and we just spend time in each other’s company. No cell phones popping, no Instagram moments. Just breathing together.

A moment, in the Rockies, with a dear friend who had a terrific accident. He was paralyzed for a while. But he fought against inertia. He gained and lost a mate along the way. A horrendous accident or disease can sometimes render relationships into thousands of little pieces. And they might not be able to be put back together again, as if it were a puzzle on the bookshelf. Sometimes pieces are missing. Sometimes they just don’t all fit. But we must go on. And so, my friend does.

A few miles away, another Italian friend, is sitting eating with his family. He escaped Italy in time for the Great Recession. And he started a business, had two kids along the way. One was born early, too early. But now he’s a lanky pre-teen, a bundle of energy with an ever-protective teenage sister looking after him and trying to fit into her own beanstalk reality, growing daily, upward, outward. All peaks, and pointed to the sky. This Italian, with a burgeoning business, two young adults in the making and a plate of lamb burgers. Another American dream.

In my travels across America these past few months, I’ve also run into a new breed of ├╝bermensch. Sandwiched in between the ever so self- important generations, Boomers and Millennials, what Nathan Heller calls the my-way-oriented Generation X.” They disdain responding to emails, texts, don’t answer their phones. Life is this giant blackboard, and they erase, erase, erase. Must fill it up with their life, their deeds, their priorities. I’ve discussed this with some of my wine and writer friends across the country. It’s as if something has taken ahold of these folks. They’re too busy, too full of things to do, to respond.

“It’s the career thing,” a young friend relates. “They are in the midst of their life, which is important to them. They have momentum, and their priorities, and they cannot stop to tell you they are too busy.” And, if you haven’t figured it out, their silence is their way of telling you that you are not on their list of priorities to warrant a call back or a text in response. They’re done with you. Move on.

There’s this scene in Wim Wenders’ “Angels of Desire,” where two earthbound guardian angels station themselves in a library, attempting to mitigate pain in the beings they observe. They cannot help them, though. They are powerless to alleviate human suffering. They are invisible. They must be over 60. Of course they are. After all, they’re angels. They’re immortal.

You may not be 60 yet. But if you aren’t you will be in ten minutes. Or it will seem like ten minutes. In any case, those people whose emails and texts you didn’t return, will be dead. So, it won’t really matter then. It really doesn’t matter now. Put away your gettones. We’re all in airplane mode.

My perspective, now? Well, not as charged with drama, energy, and the perp walk of fret one does everyday in corporate life. That’s pretty much done. Now the moment d'excitation is whether the baby black cat will like the new feathers on the toy. Or if the older ginger cat will forgive me for being away for three days. That has become the important weather-vane of my life.

And America? She's lumbering under the strain, but I don’t see her breaking. There are too many of us who’ve come from somewhere else, looking for that something other. It’s here. For all of us. And we matter. And we’re not going away.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night...

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