As I’ve explained before in other stories, my first 4 years after college were spent traveling the country. Not the 60’s, hippie, hitchhiking, peace-love-and-understanding kind of travel. (That was my Big Bruddah) No, my adventure was all expenses paid by my employer. Of course, the one catch to this deal was I had to go wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted me to. Not knowing what state I was going to be in from month to month, and sometimes day to day, tended to put a crimp in planning my social calendar.
It wasn’t the easiest way to live, but it wasn’t without its charms. Had I not been living out of a suitcase and eating all my meals in restaurants, I’d have never met the lovely Mrs. 20 Prospect. I’d also have much lower cholesterol. For 3 years I think I ate French fries at least twice a day. Not the healthiest way to live, but far from the worst vice for a field service engineer.
Most of my co-workers and I fell into the category of social misfits, or eccentrics. It really is the perfect sort of job for a person that can’t function for any length of time in normal society. Whether I was spending weeks alone in some God-forsaken corner of the country working at a power plant, or enjoying the camaraderie of a team of coworkers it always helped to be easily entertained. I know it’s hard to believe but such locales as Colstrip, Montana; Stanton, North Dakota; Springerville, Arizona; Pascagoula, Mississippi; and Nekoosa, Wisconsin weren’t exactly hopping places. While the poets of my generation were living in Seattle, or Prague, taking in the “scene”, and spending their nights in bacchanalian orgies, I was usually sitting on my bed in a motel room watching Twin Peaks, and drinking beer from a can.
I had a simple policy that I tried to follow no matter where I traveled; I never went to bars alone. So no matter where I was stuck, unless there happened to be another field service engineer along with me, I stayed inside most evenings. Even at 22 I knew that this sort of lifestyle was all too conducive to becoming a hard core alcoholic. It seemed that in this line of work you were either single and in your early 20’s, married with kids and in your mid-30’s, or divorced and in your late 40’s. I vowed to get out while I was still young.
In the mean time, I was paying off debt, and enjoying the lessons in humanity 101 that seemed to play out before me on a daily basis. I swear I learned more about people in my 4 years of traveling, than any school could ever have taught me. The cast of characters I encountered were drawn with sharp lines, and bold colors. I think I feel a story coming on…
In the spring of 1993, I was one of four engineers on site for a 3 week outage inspection in Central Pennsylvania. We were working 7 day weeks, and the lead engineer on the job was a friend of mine named John, from Philly. He was seemingly always unshaven, cussed with every sentence he spoke, and always had a dip inside his cheek. He amused me endlessly. We’d worked together before out west, and he’d taken me under his wing like a kid brother, always looking out for me as we shot pool in cowboy bars. For my part I became a great non-judgmental resource for him to learn proper grammar, and teach him the ways of normal society.
The second engineer on the job was a short, skinny Irish kid from eastern Massachusetts named Pat. He spoke with a classic Boston accent, and looked for all the world like a leprechaun. Putting a beer into him, was like inserting a quarter in the jukebox. His mouth would start moving, and for the next 20 minutes you could just sit and listen.
The third and final engineer on the job was a 40 something guy from Texas named Steve. I’d had the displeasure of working with Steve several times before in various spots around the country. He was far from being a stellar performer, which explained why his District Manager was always shopping him around to other districts that were in desperate need of a warm body. I won’t mention his last name, except to say that it started with “R-U-D”. This is important to our story because John from Philly insisted on calling him the “Rud-Dud.”
Rud-Dud would show up at the breakfast room at the motel each morning, coffee in one hand, cigarette in the other, and a far away smile on his face. As the day went on, he would gradually become more and more cantankerous, until by 4 pm he was downright surly. John wasn’t the sort of guy that had a lot of patience for ineptitude, so he always teamed me up with the Rud-Dud. It was my job to babysit him, and make sure he didn’t wander off and find a quiet corner of the boiler to take a nap in.
I was still a pretty young and naïve guy, and as such I was curious as to why he was always so happy in the morning, and cranky in the afternoon. One Saturday afternoon as we peeled off our coveralls to eat our lunches, John looked at the clock and asked if we’d like to put in another 4 hours to finish off our work, so that we could take Sunday off. For me and Pat, it sounded like a great idea; a morning to sleep in, and lay around the motel watching TV and reading the paper. So I was surprised when the Rud-Dud refused. John lived a couple of hours away with his wife and small kids, and was hoping to be able to spend a day at home with them, so he pressed on and insisted that we put in the OT. It was at this point that Rud-Dud got squirrely, and started to sweat. He continued to refuse to stay late at the plant, and finally confessed that his issue was the local Liquor Store closed at 7pm, and wouldn’t open again until noon on Monday.
That’s when I learned to never come between and alcoholic and their alcohol. A compromise was reached, and we let Steve stop at the liquor store during our dinner break so that he could restock himself with a bottle of Jack.
Sunday passed peacefully. I sat in my room reading the NY Times, and drinking coffee, while Steve stood out on his balcony smoking and sipping on his Whiskey. When Monday arrived the weather had turned, and heavy wet snow was falling hard. We met for breakfast in the lobby before heading to the plant, and in a momentary lapse of judgment, Pat and I decided to let the Rud-Dud drive.
The snow was piling up quickly as we drove through the dark. Climbing a hill I saw a pair of headlights appear ahead of us, and begin drifting into our lane. Sitting in the passenger seat, my eyes grew big, and my mouth fell open, but the Rud-Dud just drove on staring straight ahead at the onrushing car. Finally Pat let out a scream, and yelled at him to watch the eff out, and slowly the synapses began to light up in the Rud-Dud’s cerebral cortex. He turned the wheel and veered into the other lane, just as I dropped my cup of coffee onto the seat and reached for the dashboard to brace for impact. The whole world seemed to slow down, and I can remember watching my coffee cup bounce off of the seat and land upside down in the Rud-Dud’s lap. I can remember looking out the window and seeing the open mouth of the other driver as he slid helplessly into our path. I can even remember thinking “why isn’t my life flashing before my eyes like it does in the movies? What a gyp!”
Thankfully, the angels were watching that day, and swept down from the heavens to steer us out of harms way. The other car smashed hard into our passenger side door, bounced off of the guardrail and came to a stop 100 feet down the road. We spun in circles on the icy road and came to rest in the ditch facing back down the hill.
I sat there stunned, looking out the window at the tire marks twisting through the snow, as the Rud-Dud screamed in pain from the lap full of hot coffee, and Pat lay in the backseat spewing a stream of profanity that would make a sailor blush. I suddenly had a new appreciation for life. Brushes with death can be like that. To this day, that is the closest I have come to biting it in a car accident. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the incident soon became fodder for Pat to tell over the bar at happy hour. Hell, we even bought a round for the Rud-Dud. Just not before breakfast.
I’m done, I’m spent, I’m exhausted. It’s been one week since I left on this trip, and I am waving the white flag. Country road, take me home… etc.
Japan is an interesting place to visit, but I find that as I get older it gets harder and harder to maintain the pace of these week long trips without wearing myself into the ground. Right now I want nothing more than a pizza, a tall cold glass of milk, and couch. Instead I get 6 hours of waiting to get on a plane, and a 12 hour flight, before stepping back into life. Then follows a two day delay for my soul to catch back up with my body, and the worst of the jet lag to dissipate. So don’t be surprised if you don’t seen much on the intertubes much in the coming days.
So enjoy some music in the comment boxes below, and say sayonara to Nippon.
OK, it wasn’t quite a monster week flick, but today was brutal and epic in its own way. I just put in a 15 hour day, a full half of which was spent in trains or train stations. Pressed cheek to jowl with the populace of Toyko for hours on end I began to sympathize with Godzilla. If I’d have had a pair of lilliputian Japanese twins to cheer me on I’d have probably gone on a Mothra like rampage. Instead I settled for a cup of Gelato on the walk back to the hotel. Never under-estimate the power of frozen Italian confectionery to soothe the savage beast. So instead I leave you with some pics of my previous visits to Japan. Forgive me for the lack of photogenic artistry this time ’round. It’s damn hard to take evocative photos of telephone poles and cinderblock houses. As anyone that has ever been here can attest, Japan is not the picture post card perfect photo of Shinto Temples and Cherry blossoms. It’s about as lovely as a convenience store dumpster.
Laptop open, iPod tuned to the Replacements, I glide effortlessly above the never ending sprawl of suburban Tokyo. Blasting down the track at 60+ miles per hour on board the Shinkansen I marvel at the technical wonders of our age. How such technology could flower in such a short period of human history is astounding. Even as recently as my parents generation, a dumpy middle aged, middle management, white guy could never have dreamed of being here and experiencing the things I take for granted every day. I am a lucky, lucky man.
But as impressive as our age of electronic gadgetry and high speed travel may be, they pale behind the one advancement of mankind that has single handedly transformed the way we live. I am speaking, of course, of the To-Go Cup. Where would our culture be without mobile beverages? Say what you want about Mass-Produced-American-Mc-Culture, but where would humanity be now without our freedom from the tyranny of stationary refreshment?
This was brought home again to me at 6am this morning as I walked the 2 blocks from my hotel to the nearest McDonalds and returned with a cup of coffee. And again, one hour later when I returned to the Excelsior Coffee shop and picked up another cup. But as Americanized as Japan has become, there are still some things that they are struggling to embrace. You can order a coffee to go, and they will give you a paper cup with a sippy lid full of top shelf Arabica brew, but they insist on placing the cup into a little paper bag, and handing it to you so that you can carry it with you like a school kid on their way to school. Clearly they have a lot to learn about the pleasures of mobile refreshment. Oh well, Rome wasn’t built in a day either.
So began another day of shooting about Tokyo in public transit, punctuated by brief interludes of head nodding, and polite discussion. 36 million souls coursing through the veins of this metropolis as orderly as could be. Nowhere else on earth do so many people exist in such close proximity, and appear completely unaware or each other’s presence. It’s amazing really. The level of politeness of the average Japanese citizen knows no bounds. They ride the trains and walk the streets in utter silence. Absorbed in their own little worlds, careful not to speak, or talk on the phone, chew gum, or eat or drink in public. In fact, one of the great mysteries of Japan is how they manage to survive without dehydrating. Despite the ubiquitous vending machines placed every 100 feet along the sidewalk, I have yet to see anyone drinking out of a bottle of Pocari Sweat, or Kirin Green Tea, or a can of Suntory Coffee Boss. I know, because I have been looking non-stop for the last 3 days. It’s become something of an obsession. So help me God, but sooner or later I will catch a Japanese person drinking a beverage in public.
In the mean time I will continue to oogle pigeon toed Japanese women in short skirts, devour as much raw seafood as is humanly possible, and defy convention by drinking coffee while I walk. Cause that’s just how I roll.
Umbrella’s bloom like mushrooms in the steady rain. We move in a bubble of silence through patter of raindrops, and hiss of car tires. After two blocks I have surrendered all sense of direction. The clouds pressing in on all sides make it seem like we are lost in the sky. In the grayness there is only forward and back, and the countless faces of others passing in the street.
The skeletons of trees stretch their limbs in vain, looking for sunlight in this crowded street. We ride the train for hours, and never seem to get anywhere. Just Lego block buildings, and asphalt in this rectilinear landscape. This city is never ending. There could be no better place for anonymity than in a city of 36 million people. Walking past a shop window I see the rain splattered reflection of my umbrella, and overcoat, before I disappear into the crowd.
It’s been another long day of trains, and taxis, and walks down wet streets, punctuated by short meetings of polite silence. I wonder what good these visits ever do. I am not a participant, but a token, to be brought forward on occasion, like a rook on a chessboard. Neither pawn, nor queen, I have little effect on the outcome of the game. So the day passes, lost in clouds of thought, all memory hidden behind curtains of rain. How many years has it been since I first came to this island? How many more before it becomes nothing more than a photograph in an old book? The names fading, like the faces, until even my memories are lost in the mist.
Nothing here seems certain but the sound of the rain.
I’ve decided that the absolute best way of catching up on sleep is a trip to the Pacific time zone. Nothing is more restful than collapsing into bed at 9pm, and sleeping for a full 10 hours, then still having 2 hours to get dressed and eat breakfast before going to work. No wonder folks out here seem so laid back. I always thought it was the dope, but here is was just a good nights sleep.
The drawback in this plan was rolling out of bed at 4:30am yesterday to catch my flight to L.A. Jeebus, that hurt. Throw in the 4 hours on a plane, and I still walked out into the LA gloom at 10:00 am with a whole day of work ahead of me. We had some meetings with a customer down along the coast in Dana Point. It’s funny, but in all my years of trips to So. Cal., this was the first time I actually went to Orange County. Well, technically I’ve been to Anaheim, but that’s not really Orange County, just an extension of the Greater L.A. Sprawl.
Southern California is not one of my favorite places to visit. In fact, only Vegas, Houston, and Orlando rank lower on my list of “Least Favorite U.S. Cities”. Still, I have to give credit to where credit is due, and the coast down there was absolutely beautiful. Without going into details and giving away what it is that I do for a living (not much) I will say that our customer was unique for us, in that it was a Surf Board maker. So we spent the afternoon hanging out in a surf shop. I’m not sure I could have looked more out of place had we gone to a gay biker bar.
Our customer had offered to take us paddle boarding, but we had the misfortune of arriving on the one day each year that it rains in sunny California. So we passed on the offer, which is just as well. The ocean kind of freaks me out. But even in the cold and the rain it was lovely to sit and watch the waves rolling in. Is there any sound more peaceful than the surf?
After fighting our way back to the L.A. mega-plex, through the panicked So. Cal. rush hour, (OMG! What is this strange substance falling from the sky? I better slow down!) we had dinner at a restaurant in Newport Beach looking out at yacht’s that cost more than I will earn in the next decade. As long as I live, I will never understand where all the in places like this money comes from. What the hell do these people DO that they can afford that sort of lifestyle?
Sadly, my coastal experiences are behind me now, and the next day will be spent at the Anaheim Convention Center, wandering around under gray florescent lights while the sun finally returns to the sky. Then it’s back to Minnesota where we still have a full 3 months before we see a temperature above 70 degrees. Sigh…
Oh hell. I’m teaching again, and it’s been a busy week, what with my dark corporate overlords collecting their quarterly pound of flesh, so here’s a
rerun environmentally conscious, re-cycled blog post, following along in yesterday’s great Wisconsin paper valley milleau.
It was ‘round about the winter of 1991, and I was a confused and conflicted young man still trying to re-build from disaster of my last semester at Clarkson and find my place in the working world. I had already been a resounding failure in the first district office I had worked in, Birmingham, Alabama, and I was taking another shot at a fresh start with our office in Chicago. As I mentioned before, I had been placed on a long term assignment at a new construction site in Northern Wisconsin, where I was the youngest and the greenest of our 5 person crew at the site. We were working long hours during the day, and spending the long winter nights in the neon lit bars of Wisconsin’s “paper valley”.
Like I said, I had still not found my groove after losing most if not all of my self confidence during my final days in college. Like most new grads I hated my job, and was very disillusioned about my choice of career. Lucky for me, the other four engineers on the project were all younger than 25, so my life outside of work wasn’t as miserably lonely as it had been during my stint in the South.
It was after work one afternoon, when my friends Cathy and Joe and I stopped into the supermarket across the street from our hotel to lay in some supplies. She was working one of the registers, and when she looked at me and smiled, her piercing blue eyes made me suddenly speechless. There was no doubt, I was smitten. I told Cathy and Joe about it at dinner that night and they both goaded me in to returning. So on my second trip back to the grocery store that evening I made sure to stake out the registers until her line was empty. Then I picked up a pack of M&M’s, walked up to her, and struck up a conversation.
She was just out of college as well, with a degree in Elementary Education, that old stand-by for women who are lacking in imagination. She was living at home and substitute teaching for the winter, working at the store to save some cash until Spring. Then she would hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, before finally entering the working world. I was intrigued. She was fun to talk to, and not at all shy about sharing intimate details of her life, hopes and dreams with a total stranger. Still, I was a chicken, so when someone else got in line at her register I said goodbye and left. Back in my room at the Chalet Motel I was tortured. Why hadn’t I asked her out? How could I let that opportunity pass? So I swallowed my pride and with a pounding heart, and sweaty hands I went back to the supermarket.
On the third trip through her line that evening I confessed to her that I wasn’t really addicted to M&M’s, but that I wanted to know if she’d like to maybe, possibly, like, um… go out sometime, maybe. The date was on.
We met at a local restaurant one evening that weekend and our conversation picked up where it had left off. She told me of the wonderful and amazing subculture that “through” hiking the Appalachian Trail was. How each Spring people from all parts of the country and world, in all different stages of their life, began the journey from Springer Mountain Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Northern Maine. On the way they developed friendships, and “trail families” that looked out for each other, and pitched in to help each other reach that common goal. It was a life changing experience for all of them, and when they finally reached the summit of Katahdin in October they would never be the same.
I was enthralled. Now I had done some hiking in Alabama and Georgia the previous summer. With no friends, and no place but a hotel room to call home it was one of the few pursuits I had found where being alone wasn’t such a socially unacceptable thing. But I had never conceived of such an adventure as that. I wanted to join her, and as we continued to date, I began to read books about “the Trail” and dreamed of quitting my job and going from living out of a car, to living out of a backpack. It was so romantic, and seemed to be just what I needed. A six month sabbatical in the woods to find myself, and my calling.
But there was more. I was smitten with her. She was a tall, apple cheeked, all natural girl, with eyes as blue as a glacial lake and seemingly as deep. She had a mystique that reminded me of Ingrid Bergman in the movie “Casablanca”. I remember one night after shooting pool with my friends, we stayed up half the night talking and telling each other stories about the places we had been and the adventures we dreamed of having. So it came as no great surprise when under a dishwater gray March sky I made up my mind. I was going with her.
I bought a backpack. I bought a tent. I made a list of all the gear I would need. I bought maps, and started planning my trip. Then I told her. She was thrilled, but made me promise her that I was going because deep in my heart I was doing it for me. She said that if I was doing it for her I wasn’t welcome. I lied of course, what could I do?
Then I told my family. Well if the trouble I had gotten into before graduation didn’t kill my parents, this would surely finish the job. They cried, they screamed, they pleaded. How could I be so stupid? How could I throw away a good paying job, and ruin my career. Nobody would ever hire me again after a boneheaded decision like that. They even convinced my big bruddah to call me up and tell me not to make the same mistake he did when he dropped out of college to hitchhike around the country.
I was torn. I wanted so bad to chuck it all, tell my family to get bent, and for once in my life think only of myself. But I knew I couldn’t do such a thing. Then fate intervened. I got a call from my district manager that they needed a body on a job in Alabama. So there it was. I could say yes, pack my bags that night and go to Alabama, or I could say no and…
I packed my bags that night, and said goodbye to Sue. She was cool with it. Nothing ever upset her. After she left I cried like a pathetic little baby.
The funny thing is she never did hike the Appalachian Trail. Her friends backed out, and when Spring came she didn’t have the cash. So instead she found a job in Sequoia National Park working at a snack bar. You see she had spent the previous three summers working summer jobs in Yellowstone National Park, and had become something of a seasonal employment groupie to the National Park System. I never knew there even was such a thing.
So I went South again to Alabama for a week, and when the job ended I was back to sucking flyash, and crawling boilers in Waukegan, Illinois. We wrote letters to each other. The dormitory in Sequoia only had one pay phone. The difference between her letter’s filled with awesome vistas of the Sierra, and mine filled with descriptions of the purple chemical sunsets of Waukegan, Illinois couldn’t be more striking. I was miserable in Chicago. My district manager thought I was a malcontent. I thought he was a jerk. I had to get out of there. It was my second district office in 12 months, and I was running out of country. So during the national meeting that summer I lobbied hard with the Denver district manager and the following week I was headed West. Sure I was still 800 miles from Sue, but I was getting closer.
I had a week’s vacation coming so I decided to fly to San Francisco with my friend Joe, and help him drive an Alfa Romeo Spider he had just bought, back to Chicago. I called Sue and told her, I’d be on her doorstep a week from Saturday. So exactly one week from Saturday, as the sun sank into the California sky, and the stars blinked on above the Sierra Nevada, we drove the Spider up the mountain into the park and showed up on her doorstep. She wasn’t there. She’d left for the weekend, and told no one where she’d be.
I was crushed, and humiliated. The gods mocked me all the way back across the country. I was angry, but I couldn’t let it rest. So I wrote her. She apologized. Her parents had come to town unexpectedly, so she’d left with them for the weekend, and had no way to tell me. Fair enough I assumed, I couldn’t hold that against her could I? It’s amazing the depths to which a person will delude themselves over a pretty girl.
In the mean time I had finally hit my stride at work. I clicked with Charlie, my new boss, and suddenly big time responsibility, and projects were mine. The chances I never got in Birmingham, or Chicago were mine at last. Amazingly, I didn’t screw them up, and soon I was a rising star in the district. I decided work wasn’t so bad after all. I bought a Jeep, and started putting that backpack and tent to use on the weekends. Gradually I began to forget about Sue.
Then while working in Salt Lake City, Utah that September I got a letter from her.
She had found a position for the fall in Yellowstone National Park. She was only 6 hours away! When the job in Salt Lake ended, with no phone number and no idea where to find her in a national park the size of Connecticut, I headed north. It was the week after Labor Day, and the hordes of summer tourists had disappeared. The elk had come down from the higher elevations to mate. The temperature had dropped, and steam rose from the paint pots and fumaroles in the cold morning air as I entered the park that Saturday. After a day of searching, she was nowhere to be found. I was bummed. I thought that intuition, and luck couldn’t possibly fail me now. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d never find her, then I stopped at Old Faithful Lodge to get some lunch before heading home. I looked up, and there she was, my waitress.
She got off work at four, so I stuck around. We spent two hours walking around the trails by the lodge talking. It was funny. There was nothing there. No spark, no interest. Just the same stories I had heard the previous spring, only this time in the midst of all the glory of Yellowstone they seemed as flat and dull as the Midwest. We promised to keep in touch and I left.
Over the years we did keep in touch. Each winter and summer I’d find a letter in my mail box telling me what park she happened to be working at. She never did get a job teaching school. She just cooked fries, and served food to a mobile nation of old guys in Bermuda shorts, and women with bouffant hairdos. A few years later we started corresponding via e-mail. She was working in Colorado for Outward Bound. Still seasonal, but no longer beholden to the whims of Government budgets. Her e-mails were full of the plans she was making, and the things she was going to do. She still hadn’t hiked the Appalachian Trial.
The funny part is I did eventually climb Springer Mountain in Georgia. When I reached the summit it was surrounded in fog. I sat down to take a rest, and the clouds began to part. Sitting there watching the fog roll back from the southern foot of the Appalachians I realized I had done it for myself after all. I may not have walked all the way to Maine, but the path I had chosen I had cleared myself, and it belonged to me alone.
It’s snowing at 20 Prospect! Literally and figuratively.
On Saturday we got our first real snow of the season. Nothing major, just a couple of inches of fluffy, feathery white stuff to make us all feel like singing Christmas carols, holding hands around the tree, and drinking egg nog. OK, maybe not the eggnog part. Drinking egg nog is like drinking latex paint.
Flavored with nutmeg.
My tongue feels slimy just thinking about it. In Minnesota, the holiday drink du jour is something called a
Ben & Jerry Tom & Jerry. I guess it’s not just a Minnesota thing, but I never heard of them until I moved out here, and saw the Tom & Jerry mix in all the grocery stores at christmas time. In WNY we don’t need all that slimy egg white to get drunk, we just put the bottle of cheap brandy in a brown paper bag, and knock it down.
It wasn’t until my 30′s that I realized that real brandy isn’t Blackberry flavored cough syrup. I was on a business trip to Belgium for my dark corporate overlords. We were holding our annual meeting with our Belgian counterparts at a hotel in the very center of Bruges. (Brugge, for my Flemish friends). Before leaving on the trip I had been reading an article in Forbes lifestyle section, (because God forbid I read anything about business in that magazine) when I came across Calvados.
Calvados is a brandy made with apples in the Normandy region of France. The article was talking about how a severe windstorm had deveasted the orchards in Nowrtwestern France, and that the price of Calvados was sure to rise, so it would be a good investment to lay in some vintage Calvados ASAP. Leave it to Forbes to make getting drunk on hooch an investment opportunity.
Anyway, I came acrosss the article and thought “Wow! Here’s an obscure European cultural reference I can use to impress my friends, and make myself feel like a cultured man of the world.” So I decided right then and there, that the first chance I had I would order a glass of Calvados, and look worldly.
Weeks went by, and on the final night of our meetings we had a grand dinner for the attendees and their spouses. Everyone turned out in their best suits, and dresses. There was much feasting on Belgian cuisine, the most sublime of all national cuisines I have ever been blessed to partake of. The Belgian beer, and French wine had been flowing freely all night, and the various tables around the hall buzzed with French, Flemish, and English stories and laughter. I was feeling pretty great, loving life and all of my new found Walloon, and Flemish friends.
After dessert we all headed to the hotel bar for an after dinner drink. One by one everyone stepped forward to order their drink. For the stupid young American coworkers, they picked the blandest Belgian beer that they could find. For the hard drinking Flemish, it was either a stout Belgian ale, or a Jenever. For the refined American and Belgian executives it was either a single malt scotch, or a brandy. When my turn came I stepped forward, looked into the ice blue eyes of the slim blonde bar tender with the apple cheeks, and said “Calvados alstublieft”. She smiled, and in my mind I could see her thinking, “What a handsome and cultured young American. While his boorish friends are drinking Budweiser, he is ordering a culturally relevant, and distinctive drink. I want to have his children.”
Or something along those lines.
She pulled a green bottle from the top of the liquor shelf, and poured a chesnut colored liquer into a brandy snifter. Handing it to me, I nodded, and in my most seductive voice said “Dank U”.
It is so hard to sound sexy in Dutch.
I stepped away from the bar, holding my brandy snifter in my hand, and reveling in my wordliness. How far I had come since that night in the woods at the end of North Street drinking Old Milwaukee from a can with Bella. Here I was in a foreign country, using fractured bits of a foreign language to order myself a drink as old as the ages, demonstrating my knowledge, and taste for everyone to see. I held the glass to the light, and swirled it. Then taking a brief sniff of the bouquet, I tilted it back, and took a long, deep draught.
Then I gagged.
Holy crap. That wasn’t apple cider, it was gasoline! I coughed, and my eyes watered, and I could feel the Calvados start burning a hole in my gut. It was just like my Black Velvet experiences at age 9. Here I was 20+ years later and I hadn’t learned a damn thing.
If that ain’t the story of my life.
Anyway, I recovered my composure, and finished the drink, and with my head swimming, and my esophagus burning, I excused myself and went to bed. It was that night that I vowed to learn how to drink liquour if it killed me. The intervening years have been a long and costly exploration that is recorded in my liver, like the rings in a tree stump. Calvados, Schnaps, Jenever, Grappa, Saki, Soju, Mao Tai, Aquavit, Vodka, Scotch, Bourbon, Brandy, Rye Whiskey, I have sat across from people of every skin pantone, and religious persuasion, and sampled them all. Don’t say High School football never taught me that if you suffer through anything long enough you learn to love it.
Thankfully, I am married to a woman who keeps me sane, and sober. Most of the time. Whether I want to be, or not. The life of an international businessman/businesswoman, is like a how to book on becoming an alcoholic. Without Mrs. 20 Prospect to keep me on the straight and narrow, I’d have been living in a trailer, cashing my welfare checks, and drinking whiskey out of plastic bottles years ago.
So here’s to you Mrs. 20 Prospect. If only I had a glas of Calvados to toast you with. I hope root beer is good enough.
I have been traveling all too much lately. Now I’m not normally one to complain (cough, cough) but this work travel krep is getting old. Seriously, I’m now on year 21 of traveling “for business”. You’d think I would either get used to it, or shut the hell up and find a different job already.
Sorry, but the pay is too good. What can I say? I’m a corporate concubine. I have long since become numb to whatever shame I once felt about selling my soul for a slice of the middle class existence. Someone has to oppress the working class, and crush the dreams of the proletariat, it may as well be me.
It’s a living.
So I’m now on the right coast, for a few short days, soaking in the same blasted heat and humidity I left behind. It doesn’t fell any better here than it did back in Minnesota, in case you were wondering.
Maybe someday I will finally pull off a Shawshank Redemption like escape (minus the sewage pipe hopefully) and kiss corporate life good bye. But for the time being, this is what I do. I fly places, and talk with diverse and interesting people, then I move their jobs somewhere else. Sometimes when I’m feeling frisky I will even rip out their hearts and eat them while they are still beating. But I do that much less now that I’m watching my cholesterol. (The hearts of the working class are notoriously fatty).
So after 21 years in the industry of crushing hopes and dreams, and grinding them up in the gears of global capitalism, there are a few lessons that I have learned. Here’s some of them.
10.) In some cases the nearest exit may be behind you.
9.) Rocky Mountain oysters, aren’t oysters.
8.) You know you are traveling too much when the TSA stops buying you dinner before your anal probing.
7.) Eat yogurt with breakfast in foreign countries. Always.
6.) No matter what country you are traveling in, the salesmen always wear loafers and golf shirts.
5.) If you think that woman across the bar is staring at you, one of you has had too much to drink.
4.) Chicken’s Feet, are really chickens feet. (what the hell people?)
3.) Your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device.
2.) Alcohol will kill the taste of anything, but the sight of those swimming bugs will be seared into your memory.
1.) The mean distance between Dunkin’ Donuts’ in the State of Massachusetts is 0.62 miles.