The Miles Could Tell a Million Tales
Strange, the little miracles that rocket through our nervous systems these days. From the passenger seat of a Saturn wagon passing first North, then West through the outskirts of St. Louis, I project my voice, via cellphone, to the waiting ear of a driver in a late model VW sedan barreling South on Highway 1 between Cayucos and Morro Bay, on the Pacific Coast, and she returns the volley, meanwhile deftly swerving to miss an unobservant squirrel retrieving something all but invisible next to the striped line in the center of the road.
And thus is a plan changed, and for the first time in a month I will not leave my house in the dark hours of a Sunday morning to travel to yet another market to hawk my wares and tell my humble tale for the better part of a week, returning home on a Thursday, only long enough to find myself leaving, yet again, before the next Sunday dawns. The details are unimportant; the main thing is, I will have time to become re-acquainted with my home and family, to remember again, for awhile, what town I’m in, and, perhaps, even who I am.
At the very instant when I decided to postpone a four day trip to the Central Coast Counties (San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura) to visit accounts, I encountered an internal image of myself jumping from a precipice, certain there is a pool below, into which I will, inevitably, plunge, yet I’m not at all certain what that landing may be like, or just where I will be when I emerge from it. There’s a certain kind of intoxication, I guess, that comes from being on the road for weeks on end. (“Coming down’s the hard part, man,” we used to say, back in the sixties.) I know it requires endlessly being “on,” being truly present, and keeping my chops honed. And because I’m not easily satisfied with my performances, I’m constantly stretching my improvisations, trying to find a better way to tell my story. To give my customers a more and more compelling, fleshed-out look at how I do what I do, and what makes it different from how my colleagues do what they do. At its most dramatic extreme, it feels a bit like creating an entire world, and thus, in a way like holding someone’s very heart in my own hands. It gets me out of bed in the morning, no doubt about it.
But, of course, when it’s time to stop, it takes awhile to figure out how to be whoever it was I’d been before I started. I could feel that, there in that Saturn wagon. Almost like I suddenly found myself on Saturn, with no idea how I’d gotten there, or how to get back. Or just what, exactly, back was, and was it still there? (And is there any there there? “There, there,” my old friend Fran Eliot used to say, whenever someone looked like they might be feeling lost.)
Mere days after the birth of tiny Sophia Pascale Rose, I’d traveled North to Portland, Oregon, to spread the Gospel according to Edmunds St. John, carrying the Good News, the way any self-respecting Lone Pilgrim would, to one humble wine-buyer, thirsting-for-the-truth, at a time. Eating, drinking, and carousing along the way. By the time I got back to Berkeley, three days later, I was exhausted.
No rest for the wicked, though; two mornings later I stepped into the Bayporter Express to SFO. It was 5am. When I got off the plane at JFK, it was a little after 4pm, East Coast time. And, I’d made the mistake of booking a hotel room near Times Square, because the rate was (relatively) low. I was on the 9th floor. The room was 89 degrees Fahrenheit, 24 hours a day, air-conditioning or not. I must have had too much fun in Portland.
I headed downtown to Savoy for supper, and was given a seat in the window looking out on Prince St., perfect for people-watching on a very balmy evening in SOHO. This was more like it. Sunday I went for a long walk, from Times Square up to the upper-60s on the East Side, wandering aimlessly, just to re-familiarize myself with that part of town. Then into Central Park. It was a glorious day, and it was nearly elbow-to elbow in the park, over acres and acres of grassy meadows. First great Sunday of the Spring, from what I hear, and the whole city seemed to be out, soaking it up. I bought a Sunday Times, stopped for a beer on my way back to the hotel, and after some reading in my room, I headed out to Gramercy Tavern for a bite to eat.
I like to eat at the bar at Gramercy when I’m alone; I can always get a conversation going if I want company, and service is usually pretty quick and comfortable. And the food always rocks. I ended up next to a couple of extremely attractive women drinking martinis. When I asked the bartender about what appeared to be a very old Spanish wine on the shelf behind the bar, and he told me what it cost (I think it was three or four hundred a bottle), the blonde woman on my immediate right smiled and said to me “you’ll take it, right?” I laughed, and replied that I thought its charms might be lost on me.
A couple of minutes later the bartender handed these two women fresh drinks, and explained that the drinks were being bought for them by the gentleman seated at the table just behind them. They smiled and took the drinks. A few minutes later said gentleman stood behind them and began to chat. Very shortly after that he handed the bartender his credit card, instructing him to “take care of these ladies’ dinners, won’t you?” Then they left, arm-in-arm-in-arm.
I spent the next three days wooing the buyers from some of the great wine stores and restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Southern New Jersey, and it’s my impression that a grand time was had by all. I think New York energized me, and I knew it was energy that I’d need for what I thought would be nearly eight straight weeks on the road.
Cornelia was headed to Minneapolis for a conference on the same afternoon I was returning to SFO, so we arranged to meet at the airport, for what would be the only hour we’d have together over a two-week stretch. We had lunch in an airport restaurant. We could have been anywhere; I sure didn’t know where I was. Next thing I knew, I was in Chicago, racing through the rain to Harry Caray’s restaurant, for a plate of grilled octopus. Somewhere in there, between lunch with my wife, and the rain in Chicago, I’d managed to visit with some friends at Oyster Bliss in Berkeley, Kermit Lynch’s annual parking-lot jamboree, but I’d had to cut it short because I had so many loose ends to tie up before the next mornings’ flight.
One of the highlights of the Chicago trip was dinner Monday night at MK, a wonderful restaurant, at which I got the chance to taste the Pinot Noirs from Littorai, a winery operated by Ted Lemon. I’d heard of them, and had the impression that they must be quite special, based on what people whose judgement I respect had said to me about them. I was not disappointed; they were superb. Ted had just begun to sell his wines in Chicago through the same distributor I have, and this dinner was one he’d arranged, in order to familiarize the sales people with his wines. The wines were obviously received with great enthusiasm; before we knew it, the bottles were empty, and there was still food on the table. As it happened, I had with me the now half-empty Edmunds St. John bottles from which I’d poured samples during my sales calls that day, so they were quickly passed around and (seemingly, to nearly everyone’s surprise) the wines provided the same degree of pleasure as those that preceded them! Littorai is certainly thought of as one of the elite producers of Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy, and of red wine anywhere, and their wines are expensive, and highly sought-after, so that, of course, made me feel quite good about the impressions my own wines made that evening.
I was in a nice hotel in the Windy City, and, before I knew it, I was in a suite in a nice hotel in St. Louis! Whatever happened in between is a kind of blur, though I do remember (at least I think I remember) a brief visit with my new grand-daughter, and her parents.
The alarm-clock radio in my St. Louis hotel suite had been left in the “armed” position, and it took me three days to figure out how to disarm it, so that at half past six in the morning I wouldn’t be awakened by the insane moaning-growling kind of static you get on the radio band in between-station frequencies.
St. Louis was a brand-new experience for me, and I really enjoyed it. It’s Heartland America, so it couldn’t be more different from Chicago or New York (or Portland, for that matter), yet it’s a city where the charms of food and wine are growing, and I ate and drank well during my stay. But I think my favorite time there was in a blues joint, hanging out with a couple of other winemakers and a few of the sales people, over beer and pizza.
Upon my return from St. Louis, Cornelia and I hosted a table at the Annual Spring Luncheon fund-raiser for the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, providing the wine for the event (the food for which was courtesy of Chez Panisse). Saturday, May 8th, we hiked near the Palisades, above Calistoga. I went to the Giants’ game this past Thursday, and, afterward, walked along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building to see the new Marketplace. Little by little, the road wears off. A massage Friday morning helped, too.
While I was in St. Louis, I got a phone call from John Alban, asking if I’d like to moderate the Domaine Tempier seminar at Hospice du Rhône this year. So that’s the next leg of the Odyssey, as it’s currently constituted. I’ll be headed South on Wednesday, with some wine, and my guitar. As Bob Dylan once sang: “me, I’m still on the road, headin for another joint!”