Sunday, May 14, 2023

Peddling Prosecco on Skid Row – An Anamnesis

My last paying gig in the wine trade was as a national ambassador for a venerable maker of Prosecco. One of the days I was out, working the market, in Los Angeles, near where I was born. Los Angeles is a lot of things to a lot of people, but to Angelinos it holds a special place in one’s heart. So, to go back home and be thrust out into the streets, with a bag full of wine and a day full of appointments, was a memorable occurrence.

My first appointment was downtown, and I was told to meet my salesperson on skid row.

Skid row actually shows up on Google maps, like some sestiere in Venice, but without the canals and the water. I parked my car in a lot, on the top floor, and made my way down to the street.

As I walked down the stairs, the fetor of urine and cheap fortified wine filled the staircase. Once I reached the street, it magnified by degrees. It was early summer and the heat of the day was baking the ancient dross to an almost unbreathable intensity. Along with that, the avenue was lined with homeless souls, asleep and asunder, blocking most of the throughway.

I made quick work of getting to my first appointment, which was a wine bar smack dab in the middle of skid row. It was very noir-like. I was expecting Detective Hieronymus Bosch to show up any moment to inspect the latest murder victim. It felt that gritty.

But it wasn’t. The owner was there, he opened the door, we popped a Prosecco or two, tasted, and made a sale. And I moved on to the next account.

It left a lasting impression upon me.

Prior to being a national ambassador, I had a job that kept me in Texas with the occasional jaunt to Louisiana, New York, Chicago or Italy. I worked the streets, a little, with my team of Italian specialists, but I also had some deskwork. Meetings, analysis, reviews with suppliers, visits to wineries, a different experience than hitting piss-soaked streets in my erstwhile home turf. It was a sobering experience.

And it got me to thinking about the whats and the whys of the wine business.   Why do we do what we do with who we do it with?

My rationale was always, “for the winemakers back home in Italy.” I justified it, even though I had to crawl over lost souls, souls who lost some of their life because of alcohol. Maybe not the rarified Prosecco I was schlepping, but nonetheless, a potent brew.

Maybe not to a wino, but maybe to a young woman or an executive who had trouble holding their liquor.

But I persisted. For years. As many of us did and still do.

I say this not because of any regrets. But to know the battleground we fought on and the landmines that were buried in those fields.

Would I do it all over again? In a New York second. But I’m done with that segment of my life now. My recent trip to Venice was the last beneficent nail in that coffin. I’ve moved on, and so has the wine world.

I say this because I have some friends who recently retired and for whatever reason, they couldn’t stay retired. They got pulled back in. I think I know one of the reasons why.

Mainly, in my way of looking at things, they didn’t have anything waiting for them at the end of their work life. Work was their identity. Their relationships were formed there. They earned there and raised their families because of it. They just didn’t know what to do, once they reached the abyss and peered into it. And they ran back to what they knew, even though they were likely way past their use-date.

I’m lucky, I got out. I transitioned to another passion, photography. It fills my days, and requires I stay creative and moving forward. Not to judge my friends who went back in. I just learned that once the final bell of the last round has rung, the fight is over. Time to reconnoiter the terrain, and find one’s place in it.

And thankfully, Venice taught me that lesson, or rather, Venice punctuated my rightful place in the sun. For now.


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