Day 271: The Man and the Dignity of Hotel Dining; ‘Champion’

So I’m on the road again this week, and after a long stint in the office it’s nice to feed the wanderlust again. As is my custom, all last week I was researching the towns and cities I’d be visiting for work and finding the restaurants I’d be dining at for dinner; you know, highlight of each day’s work is a nice meal on the company budget. That’s why I stay at hotels that offer free breakfast. Hahah. For today’s trip I found a great seafood shack that served Cajun style seafood boils and fried or blackened seafood as well. I’d be coming off of a two hour drive so without even considering it, I was already planning on spending my entire budget on a few items and ordering them all to go to eat in my hotel room. My brother heard me and said ‘you’re really going to eat $40 worth of food alone in your hotel room at night? Isn’t that kind of, you know, depressing?’

Nostos Octopus

Nostos Greek Restaurant, Allentown PA, grilled octopus starter

And I really had to think about that! After months and months on the road, I don’t really bat an eye anymore at the concept of having a few nights where it’s just me in a dimly lit cheap hotel room with a mountain of food in front of me and just taking bites from one styrofoam container to the next while the umpteenth episode of Law and Order: SVU plays on the TV. The life of a road warrior is very different from that of the leisure traveler. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a very real sense of adventure and glamour in being able to travel at someone else’s expense, and it’s certainly one of the key factors that convinced me to move into this department. But it’s not always the best destinations. Believe it or not, some of the most beautiful places in the world aren’t exactly the best for business, and some of the best for business aren’t exactly always beautiful. There’s a lot of Bumble-whatever, USA and remote hotels whose sole sign stands as a beacon along long dead and desolate dark highways. That’s why when I get the opportunity for a nice meal at a nice restaurant and be among civilization, I want to take it. But you really can’t say you’ve lived the road warrior life, or that the road warrior life is for you, until you can reconcile a certain level of love and affection for cheap, greasy Chinese takeout or generic pizza in the same box with the same mustachioed chubby paisano that every small town pizzeria uses. At a certain point the ‘sad’ is elevated to the ‘unique’ and ‘oddly endearing’.

I could be home right now actually, believe it or not. In fact, the hotel I am in right now is no more than an hour away from my actual home. My own bed. My own shower. My family. But when given the option if I wanted to, to stay on the road or to just go back

Seafood Village Crab

Seafood Village, Wayne NJ, fried soft shell crab platter

home and then drive back to another store the next day, I decided I’d just keep going on the road. Could I say I would always choose that? No, definitely not. But I really hadn’t had the opportunity to sleep on the road in a while and I was beginning to miss it. I think it’s like when a chef, long out of the kitchen, develops a twitch. A friend of mine was a professional restaurant chef for twenty years and after she left the kitchen…her body, so used to the frantic chaotic pace of the kitchen, developed some twitches to cope with the sudden and uncharacteristic calm. Her fingers constantly drum the desk and she finds herself often times craving the adrenaline of handling ten different dishes on the burner at a time. But she left because she wanted to focus on family and recover from a failed marriage (partly due in fact to the job). She misses the field but when asked, she vehemently says she would not go back at all. In much the same way I know that this chapter of my life, though fun, is not sustainable. The road can get wearisome. The isolation can become comfortingly addicting or painfully alienating. Single, no place of my own yet, no ties or roots to one place, I can continue to enjoy the benefits of the job. But there’s going to be a time when I’ll only be able to reflect back on this unique experience.

This is the sentiment, the complicated love-hate, consistent yet unsustainable, feeling of

Nostos Gyro

Nostos Greek Restaurant, Allentown PA, gyro platter

the road warrior’s life that John Updike’s On the Road so beautifully and somberly portrays. It’s why it speaks so deeply to my own experience and best illustrates why anyone would ever choose the nomadic life of the unique brother/sisterhood of the road warrior. A calling that is answered in the most uncertain of terms. For a good, long time vita can be found on the worn out treads of a tire and the accumulated mileage of a frequent flyer card. It is in finding…maybe not joy, but peace, and fulfillment, and equal parts thrill, in that familiar dusty smell of the hastily vacuumed and cleared hotel room. For someone who is so often times reserved, quiet, and comfortable with his own company, it is a great fit.

On the Road

-poem by John Updike

Those dutiful dogtrots down airport corridors

while gnawing at a Dunkin Donuts cruller.

Those hotel rooms where the TV remote

waits by the bed like a suicide pistol.

Those hours in the air amid white shirts

whose wearers sleep-read through thick staid thrillers.

Those breakfast buffets in prairie Marriots-

such venues of transit grow dearer than home.

 

The tricycle in the hall, the wife’s hasty kiss,

the dripping faucet, and uncut lawn-this is life?

No, vita thrives via the road, in the laptop

whose silky screen shimmers like a dark queen’s mirror.

In the polished shoe that signified killer intent,

and in the solitary mission, a bumpy glide

down through the cloud cover to a single runway

at whose end a man just like you guards the Grail.

The road warrior’s life is by no means a life for everyone. Nor am I trying to champion it as such. It is a unique occupation that inhabits a niche corner of life, whose best paragons are the long lost traveling salesmen of old, carting their wares through old, marked, hastily folded atlases. And since I imagine a good majority of you will not have

Seafood Village Cajun

Seafood Village, Wayne NJ, shrimp and crawfish combo in spicy Cajun sauce

the opportunity, or the desire, to live like this, it is my rare and wonderful opportunity to share a glimpse into it. To try my best to portray why even the supposed ‘saddest’ and most lonely aspects can be so wonderful, when they aren’t not. Maybe one of the best ways to show you some of the highlights is to share with you pictures of my meals the past two days. In the end I did relent and decide to eat at the seafood restaurant. Not out of loneliness or the ‘sadness’ of the alternative, but because I won’t always have that luxury in some of these locations. They’re not half bad looking, and let me tell you, they all tasted incredible. If you know where to look, you’ll find something good every time. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, or how far removed you may think you are from it. People always appreciate good food. Bad food doesn’t last long.

Day 271

Man: 238 Loneliness: 33

Day 191: The Man and the First Solo Culinary Adventure; ‘Exquisite’

Image result for no united airlinesOh my god. If you have to fly and you ever have the choice between United and literally anything else, I highly recommend you choose something else. My brother’s trip was off to quite the inauspicious start. I dropped my brother off yesterday at Newark airport with plenty of time to spare. His flight was scheduled to leave at 1pm, we were already hugging and saying goodbye by 10am. I made sure he had everything, told him he was going to be fine, to be safe, that I would miss him, and I saw my little brother walk off for his first real taste of adventure.

At least…I thought I did.

I get back to an empty, quiet home, and before I can finish contemplating how I feel about that, I get the text message from him.

Flight delayed. Won’t be leaving til 7pm.’

Okay, there’s a problem there. He has a connection in Hong Kong to get to Manila, there’s only a two hour window between the two flights. He’s definitely going to miss this.

Take your itinerary to the gate agent. Let her know what’s going on. Stress that you are traveling alone ESPECIALLY to surprise your mother in the PHILIPPINES. They’ll get you on the next best flight or take care of the connection.’

If any of you happen to follow me on Twitter, you’ll know what happened next. When this happened to me with JetBlue I took to Twitter and they not only helped me get on my next flight, they upgraded my seat, gave me extra miles and future travel credit, and when I jokingly mentioned how hungry I was and how much I love the blue Terra chips, they had an agent bring me ten. I’d never felt so special and so appreciated by an airline before. I told my brother to get a Twitter, and what followed was a complete mess of him telling his story on Twitter, me liking and retweeting, both of us trying to get United attention, and both of us trying to get him out of this situation.

For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter, first his gate was changed last minute to Image result for travel stress gifbe across the airport. Second it was delayed further because they didn’t tell the catering crew and so their plane’s food was at the old gate. Third they were on board waiting to take off because the plane had to be ‘de-iced’. Fourth, as they are preparing for takeoff, the captain informs them they’ve reached their FAA limit and can no longer legally fly and they will need a new crew. Fifth, they can’t, so they end up CANCELING the flight altogether. Sixth, you’ve got an entire plane now of distraught travelers and only one gate agent and one customer service desk.

Ultimately they had to reschedule my brother for an early morning flight on Sunday. Which was still better than most, as a family of four wouldn’t be accommodated until Monday. They offered him only $20 food credit for the inconvenience and were going to put him up at a hotel, but I picked him up again and just had to bring him back at 4am. Fun times. United didn’t even give him extra miles or anything. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Come on guys, really?!

I dropped him off and there’s been no trouble at least since. He’s on his way to Hong Kong and by the time I wake up tomorrow he should be in the Philippines to surprise our mother. Meanwhile I’ve been living it up all domestic style. I did some grocery shopping, cleaned the house, cleaned the bathrooms, did the laundry, and prepped my meals for the week. I even hooked up some Bluetooth speakers around the house so I could play music from my phone while moving around the house. And some of you will be very happy to know, I kept all my clothes on, despite a past post to the contrary. Hahah.
Wanted to share with you all the first of the next couple weeks’ culinary adventures. Japanese umaki (eel omelet), shrimp tom yum noodle soup, and Thai iced tea. The eel was particularly tasty, marinating it first in eel sauce and grilling it before wrapping it in a sweet Japanese style egg omelet. The soup had a spicy richness that was cut with lemongrass and lime and the sweet shrimp. I made a whole pitcher of Thai tea and opened up a can of sweetened condensed milk so anytime this week I can make myself a cool tall glass of that uniquely dark, sweet flavor. My dinner was tasty, filling, and not to pat myself on the back too much but, dare I say, exquisite.

Good start to the month, looking forward to more!

 

 

 

Day 191

Man: 160 Loneliness: 31

Day 153: The Man and the Way Back Home

It’s…good…to be back…I guess? Hahah.

Well actually I got back yesterday, but spent most of the day resting and bringing my BAC back to a reasonable and livable level.

Cold Winter.jpgThere are a few things I definitely missed though. I missed the biting cold. It was hard to register that it was December and only two weeks before Christmas when it was so warm in Cancun. Everywhere we went there were Christmas decorations and the staff even wore Santa hats and I couldn’t quite understand why until someone had to remind me it was Christmas season. I guess I’m just too accustomed to cold, wintry Christmases. And honestly, I wouldn’t have them any other way. So while my family lamented the weather, I was glad to be back where I could bundle up.

I also feel as though nothing really brings you back home like a warm shower in your own bathroom. As soon as I was unpacked the first thing I did was jump into the shower and savor the sensations. Mind you, I wasn’t exactly wanting for a nice shower either. The hotel had a rainfall shower which was just, oh man, so luxurious. But there’s just something about a shower you know how to use, settings you’re familiar with, just the right amount of water pressure, your own soap and shampoo, and the comfort of your own bathrobe and towel that just reminds you you’re home.

The flight to Cancun was uneventful, which is kind of what you want out of you know, flying 35,000 feet in the air. There’s really no love lost between myself and United. I don’t have much to say about whatever it is they do with themselves. But just about the only Stroopwafel.jpgthing I look forward to when it comes to early morning flights with United is that I get to have a delicious, chewy, sweet, stroopwafel. If you haven’t had these yet, just order them from Amazon or ask your friendly neighborhood Dutchman. It’s much easier to get than to fly United for it. They’re wonderful thin waffles with a spread of caramel sandwiched in between. At room temp they’re chewy and sweet but if you place it over your coffee or tea mug for a bit, the caramel melts and softens and the waffles become warm. About the only thing to do besides sleep is snack on a stroopwafel for the four hours until we landed in Cancun.

The Resort

beach-view

The resort itself was fantastic. Absolutely gorgeous. In the center of the main building was a Japanese style garden with koi ponds. This is where Toji, their sake bar, and Bana, their Japanese restaurant, are located. A beautiful and fitting centerpiece to their resort. The other restaurants surround Bana, with Market Grill outdoors. They have three pools: a quieter adults-only pool, a family pool that is shallower, and a long sprawling main pool with a swim-up bar and little islets with water jets. They have a long sprawling expanse of beach right outside the resort.

pool-and-swim-up

I’d wake up in the morning and then either order room service or stop by the breakfast buffet. A sausage, mushroom, and mozzarella omelet on my balcony overlooking the ocean. Or maybe mimosas at the breakfast buffet while I loaded up on waffles, smoked salmon, freshly made omelets, cheeses, bacon, and fruits. Then I’d spend the day taking a paddleboard or kayak out onto the water and riding the waves. The Caribbean Sea picks up a bit of temper by the time it hits Mexico so there was definitely some action in the water. Lunchtime I’d go to the poolside grill and grab my body weight in guacamole and pico de gallo, seafood ceviche, burgers, hot dogs, and chicken wings. Then I’d laze the afternoon away in the pool, swimming up to the bar and shamelessly sipping on Miami Vice after Miami Vice.

day-view

Dinners we were spoiled for choice. Our first night we went to the Market Grill which is styled like a Brazilian rodizio, with skewers of meat traveling from table to table. Sirloin, filet, chicken thigh, beef short ribs, picanha, round after round as they brought it to our table fresh from the grill and sliced it in front of us. For meat, Scotch is best, so Blood and Sands were the drink of order.

sashimi-and-sushi

On the second night we went to Bana, their Japanese restaurant in the center of the resort. Best location, excellent food, terrible lighting and hot. Still. Dock and avocado eggrolls. Seafood shumai. So many pieces of sushi and sashimi. Octopus, scallop, tuna, salmon, soft shell crab, eel. And lychee martinis! They also had the best dessert, fried banana tempura with a chocolate sauce and green tea ice cream and black tea ice cream.

blue-corn-sopes-with-shrimpOn the third night we went to Mole, which to be honest with you I had the least hopes for. It was Mexican modern, and I’m not a big fan of Mexican so  I wasn’t too sure I would enjoy it. But man was I wrong! For appetizer I ordered these little blue corn sopes with shrimp and spicy sauce and mixed greens. Wonderful bite sized amuse bouches. I went all out for the entree. Entrees actually! All-inclusive after all. I had a goat canneloni with a cream sauce. The goat was tender and flavorful with the earthy spices of Mexican cuisine goat-cannelonibut stuffed into wondefully al dente pasta sheets and served with a rich creamy sauce. I also had the pulpo (octopus) roasted with garlic. Just the right level of toothsomeness and char. Dessert was a tres leches cake that they finished table side by pouring a tiny pitcher of condensed milk over and watching the cake absorb it all was definitely entertaining before digging in. I definitely wanted an appropriate drink but wasn’t feeling like margaritas so instead had caipirinhas. The lime was refreshing and helped me power through all those courses!

roasted-garlic-octopus

Our final night we ate at Fuego, which is the Paradisus’s Peruvian inspired restaurant. I had the highest hopes for this. I love Peruvian food. Of course I had to start with a ceviche of crab and shrimp. Then a bowl of mixed grilled seafood including squid, octopus, shrimp, and scallops. Followed by the thickest, richest, creamiest version of lobster bisque I have ever had. Then a pan fried sirloin with mushroom risotto and a parmesan tuile and then a roast breast of duck with sweet potato puree. Still room for dessert and drinks! I had plenty of Pisco Sours to keep me company and finished with a coconut creme brulee served with almond liquer ice cream.

The food was great but the luxury of eating whenever and whatever was just so freeing. I still feel new and fresh to the all-inclusive experience so any opportunity to order a drink at a bar or some food was always taken. Late night my brother and I would order room service. Buffalo wings, omelets, cheesecake, nachos, burgers, hot dogs, our poor hotel staff having to keep lugging everything! Because of my connections with the travel company they placed us on the highest floor with the best view so they really had a trek each time.

paradisus-cancun-room

Of course we couldn’t spend the entire time eating! On our second day we took an ATV tour of the jungle and got to ride them on Maroma Beach, one of the world’s best beaches. The ATV tour was fun but not as thrilling or challenging as the ATV tour I did in Cabo where we were riding on and over sand dunes and drifting in the dessert and going up cliffs. But it was just challenging enough for my family and the rest of our group apparently! There was one couple who were riding together. We hadn’t even left the parking lot, just going single line heading out, when you see them riding top speed streaking across the line turning wide. I think the boyfriend didn’t know how much kick these machines had. They ran straight. Into. A palm tree. Knocked it right over and they got stuck over its dead body. Luckily it was a young tree whose roots weren’t so deep yet. Then, as we were riding along the road heading into the jungle, my parents missed the turn and were headed into the highway. Our guide races in front of them and tries to signal them to stop and turn but my mother, riding as passenger, thought he was just being friendly and told my father to smile and keep waving back.

night-view

We also visited Dubai Palace, Cancun’s largest and newest casino. Cancun just recently legalized casinos so the selection is pretty sparse, unlike Aruba or the Dominican Republic. Still we had a good time, and in fact my father and I won around $1200 Mexican pesos playing some card games. It’s not much, around $50USD, but to them it sure was a big deal!

It was a great trip, with just the right amount of relaxation and activity. Most of all it was great to spend some time with my family. We haven’t had a vacation all four of us in a long while. My brother and I had the VIP room since it was under my name and my parents stayed in another room a few floors below. Still we were always together, either at the beach or by the pool, and we always ate together, though my brother and I would also have our late night snacks! We would even play cards in our room and play penalty games to punish the losers. I think I most cherish though the ability to just go bar hopping with my brother and drinking together.

It was a fun time and I think my family is hooked on the all-inclusive now. I still have a few more free rewards nights to use so I anticipate we’ll be back next year! Maybe a different place in the Caribbean though.

Honestly I needed this after finishing NaNoWriMo, and it was a refreshing restart. Ready to get back into things though! Missed writing, missed this community, and ready to start up again!

Day 153

Man: 125 Loneliness: 28

 

 

 

Day 146: The Man and the NaNoWriMo; By the Numbers

NaNoWriMo.png

We did it everyone! We survived November and we set out on a seemingly impossible task and we blew it out of the water! What an experience. What an exercise. While I am very proud of the result, I know there is still much left to be done.

But first, let’s look at the past month by the numbers shall we?!

Final word count: 57189.

Average words per day: 1906

Man days: 22

Loneliness: 7

Definitely a higher Loneliness count than perhaps any month so far, but I think that had a lot to do with the chapters I was writing those days. I had to bring up a lot of old memories and really dig up some emotions, and also face a few demons and mistakes. I’ve also never written so much on such a consistent basis. I’m all worded out.

CertificatNaNo.PNG

It’s ultimately fitting then that I am all set and packed and ready to take a vacation with my family!

Paradisus.jpg

We are all headed to the beautiful Paradisus Cancun in Cancun, Mexico. One of my company’s best-selling all-inclusive resorts. In fact they were kind enough to send me some free nights for me to use. We leave on Friday, Saturday we’re doing an ATV tour across the jungle and beaches of Cancun, and every day it’ll be eat and drink and play all you want. I want to windsurf and paddleboard and ride a hobie cat.

Evil Dead.gifIt’ll be a nice change of pace, especially since the last few days are really when I felt the strain of having to write out everything between Beautiful and I. I also realized how much I really want to share this story, and to that extent, even after vacation I want to spend the rest of this month away from the story to let it age and mature and so that when I come back I can look at it with fresh eyes. I want to keep working on this, improving it, beyond an exercise in word count and the cathartic benefits of throwing all these words on paper, and turn it into something real and wonderful and hopefully, helpful to others. In January and February I will be revisiting and revising what I wrote but right now it’s all about celebrating and being thankful to finish.

I want to thank everyone who has joined me along this journey. To those of you who were brave enough to take on this challenge, I’ve enjoyed sharing the battle scars with you and reading your stories. For all of you who have been so generous with your time and comments and attention, thank you for letting me into your daily lives and sharing with me your valuable insight and advice and wisdom. I’ve looked forward to hearing all your stories and comments. I’m glad to be done with it, but there’s a part of me that just can’t wait for next year’s NaNoWriMo. But first the break and first the relaxation. Some space and some time to relax.

Your regularly scheduled programming will return on the 6th! Adios y vaya con dios!

Day 146

Man: 118 Loneliness: 28

 

Day 116: The Man and the Beauty of the Path; ‘Bridge’

Bridge Cars.gif

One of my favorite parts of driving everywhere for work is whenever I get an opportunity to drive over bridges. Going north, I have my choice of the George Washington Bridge or the Tappan Zee Bridge. Heading south, like say to Atlantic City, I get to cross over the Driscoll Bridge which goes over the Raritan River. Did you know that Pittsburgh is second only to Venice for having the most bridges in the world? When I was there for work I made sure to book a river cruise sightseeing tour to go under or around as many as possible. Same for Chicago and even in New York, one of my favorite date options is to take a girl on a sightseeing tour of Manhattan that goes under every bridge around the island.

Obviously the question asks itself. ‘Man, why so fascinated by bridges?’ It, hopefully, isn’t for what you might think. See, most of the time when I hear bridges being mentioned GWB.jpgeither figuratively or literally, it is to discuss the importance of bridges as a means of ‘connecting’ people, places, or ideas. Bridges literally cover the great divide that separates us. And in that though, the inherent beauty of bridges is lost. People are so focused on getting from point A to point B that they forget to appreciate the path. Bridges unfortunately lose their individual value and are seen only as a means to an end.

I love bridges not just for what they do, but for what they are. Did you know that the George Washington Bridge’s towers were originally supposed to be covered in stone? The original design was meant to make it look like most other bridges at the time, constructed of stone and concrete. Once the Great Depression hit, the cost of procuring that amount of stone and installing it became much too impractical, and besides, the architects thought, there was a natural beauty in exposing the steel frame to the world. You can however, still see the giant hooks installed on the bridge to help hold and anchor the stone slabs.

Bridges are beautiful pieces of architecture and marvels of innovation and design. I love seeing them in the distance and watching them become larger than life as I get closer and eventually cross over them. When I was in Singapore I loved walking along the Helix Bridge at night. When people actually care about how they get from point A to point B, some beautiful things can be created just along the journey.

helix-bridge

All this reminds me of a conversation I had with my cousin last weekend.We were discussing how to be more open-minded and non-judgmental. For her it was specifically a matter of craft and skill as being able to investigate multiple approaches, multiple perspectives, and multiple paths to a set point would allow her to broaden her range of expression and character development. But both of us could agree and appreciate the applicability of that flexibility when it came to relationships, expectations, life goals, etc.

london-bridgeSee we are goal driven people. I think that’s true of most people actually. We have desires and wants and we are often more equipped to figure out what we want than we are given the tools to investigate how to get it. Being open to possibility and opportunity gives us more chances and instruments to get to where we want to.

What I wanted to share with my cousin, the point I wanted to get across to her, and now to you, is that sometimes letting go of control can still get you to the same destination and perhaps might even illuminate other things along the way.

Take for example, since she is studying to become an actress, the plot of a story in relation to its script and its characters. As the performer, you know that no matter what you do, no matter how you do it, or what you say or how you say it, the plot will continue. The play will end, the characters and conflicts will gain resolution, and all the major points that needed to be hit, will be hit. That’s point A to point B. So, wonderful, we can trust the process, trust the journey, know that we are aware enough to know the destination and set the objective, but we are flexible and open enough in how we get there.

nowhere-bridgeThat freedom, that license for investigation, that’s where the meat is. That’s where the fun is to be had. Where characters become more human because of the choices we make. NOT the choices in getting to point B, because that’s already been set for us. Just the choices in how we choose to get there. But we will, no matter what, get there. There’s less pressure on us when we think like that. When we trust our resolution and that the entirety of the summation of our decisions and choices will get us where we want, not just in every single minute one. That lets us be a bit more free, have a bit more adventure. That makes a performance unique because you had to fill in the space between A and B. You had to build your own bridge, not just march heavy footed across one already made.

So how does that then reflect back to relationships, of which the majority of the rest of us can still relate to, since not all of us possess the grace or poise of a thespian. Well, let’s take this past week for example. On Sunday while walking around with my cousin, and during the week when I was doing store visits around Manhattan, I couldn’t help but notice just how many beautiful women there were in the city. Riding on the subway, walking from station to destination, buying my bubble tea (ViVi Bubble Tea all the way), there’s no denying that a city as densely populated as New York is going to have a large population of attractive young women. I’d be lying if I didn’t say those little pangs of bitter loneliness didn’t spark every now and then. Of course being single and alone made me look at every one of these girls and feel the pain of loneliness and missing the company of a special someone.

And it would have been this pain that to me, was what I needed to build a bridge over. And if point A was me alone, point B was me with someone. And if I wanted to just get over that river as quickly and easily as possible, I would have thrown myself at online dating or just ask to be ‘set up’. But that is a fragile bridge and it lacks the beauty and substance and foundation of a bridge that is meant to stand for years to come and to be admired and appreciated and, most importantly, be one I would want to cross again.

I’m not slamming online dating or even the well-intentioned ‘set up’ of a friend. I’m night-bridgesaying I would never invest the time or energy to make it more than just something to keep me from getting my feet wet in the river or getting swept up in the current. What I want, what I need, what is important, is to realize that the bridge is part of the journey. I am not at point B yet, and I for the most part do not yet feel any pressure to start running. My bridge is strong and stable, and there is beauty in the architecture I have yet to unlock and appreciate. I know where my destination lies. There is a beautiful woman who will love me on the other side of this bridge. So I don’t have to worry about if my next step is the last one, because no matter how many steps it takes, I will get to the same place. Bridges aren’t meant to just be crossed as soon as possible. At least I hope more people can see it that way. They’re gorgeous and they often cross some of the most beautiful landscapes you can imagine. Long, winding, majestic structures that can take you across long distances or elevate you to a point where you can see for miles around.

I hope more people get a chance to appreciate them just for being there. It doesn’t matter where or when or how you find yourself at the beginning of one. Be brave enough not only to take the first step to cross, but be brave enough also to know you can take your time and trust whatever it is on the other side. After all, we aren’t exactly in the habit of creating bridges to nowhere.

Day 116

Man: 95 Loneliness: 21

Day 72: The Man and the Road Home; ‘Slog’

Update on the work situation after a week on the road with the new girl.

There’s a four hour slog ahead of me tomorrow to get from Syracuse, NY back home. I’ll have no problem with four hours on the road. It’s the four hours in the car that’ll whittle my senses down to the bone.

No, that’s especially harsh; that was uncalled for. But quite good, no?

The truth of the matter is I can’t stand her vaping in the car. The window has to stay open to release the smoke and it causes a terrible noise that hurts my ears and gives me a headache. She makes Asian jokes because I eat ‘strange things’ to her (I ordered sushi). Drives take extra long because we have to take multiple pit stops along the way.

But the true, truer truth of the matter is…at least now there’s two of us. Two to answer emails. Two to travel. Two to handle calls. And in that respect I am appreciative. I can work with her. She seems to learn quickly (we’ll see how much she processes over the weekend). I now at the very least have a work companion.

I am a very reserved person; I do not like crowds and I am not really one for socializing. I don’t know if it’s the company I work for or a thing in general, but I don’t understand the constant push and pressure for people to constantly be together. Was it rude of me to decline her invitation because I would honestly prefer to sit here in my hotel room writing while she went off to the nearby mall? I haven’t been so uncouth as to force her to eat alone; we’ve always had our meals together but with us finishing so early today I wanted to use the opportunity to write instead of socialize.

Maybe I am too used to either being with friends and family or being alone on the road. This middle ground is murky and the outline is too foggy to really see clearly. I think I’ve been balancing the line pretty well though.

I understand as adults it is difficult to foster relationships with other people because life becomes so controlled by work and home. This is probably why most adults make friends of coworkers. I’m not looking for that though. Is it so wrong to want to keep coworkers coworkers? I don’t snub them in conversation. I don’t ignore them. I enjoy catching up and spending the occasional lunch with some of the other people who work back in HQ. But with five days on the road together constantly being in each other’s face I need some alone time to recharge.

All I’m trying to say is, the week went by okay. The stores were fine, I focused more on training her while she focused on training consultants. I’ve not made such a disaster of the trip and have been able to enjoy myself. Some fine meals, a few nice conversations, a relief not to have to always be driving. Just…someone tell me it’s okay to not have to be friends with people you work with or spend all the time with them.

Day 65: The Man and the Work Invasion

Invasion.jpg

Not to sound too melodramatic, but my workplace is being invaded by hostile forces and they threaten my very peaceful existence.

I know I’ve mentioned before that the travel is beginning to take a toll on me with work and how relieved I am that we are looking to hire more people in my department so I can spend more time at home. But I didn’t know that meant that they had already found someone and that she starts…wait, what…yesterday?!

Yep. My boss failed to mention that the new hire, a former manager of one of our travel agencies, was already here. Did I greet this news with elation and gratitude? Was I overcome with feelings of relief and joy? No. I very quickly realized that what I was looking at was the main threat to my otherwise agreeable arrangements.

When I’m on the road it is certainly very difficult to maintain some semblance of a normal routine. I lack the rigidity and uniformity that allows me to thrive on consistency and rely Passenger.gifon expectations for the next day. I don’t get to go to practice as often as I’d like, I spend more time eating and drinking out, my sleep pattern is shot, and I am often isolated for long stretches of time in the afternoon and evening. But on the bright side…I am often isolated for long stretches of time in the afternoon and evening. It’s a tough life but for someone who needs to be alone in order to recharge it can be…very Zen. And it gives me plenty of time to reflect on the day and formulate my writing better.

What I wanted in a new addition was someone to assume some of the burden and load of travel, but assume that mantle on their own. I was not anticipating that my boss would decide that she would still need to shadow me in this respect. I had no guidance when I started. There was no mentor, no book, no protocol. I walked into stores very unassuming and timid but have learned to command with my presence, share my knowledge, and establish urgency and necessity in their compliance. So what if I choose to reward myself for driving the distances and spending the long hours and repeating the same lessons over and over with you know…say…a work day that ends at 4 and an afternoon movie. It was one of the pleasures of setting your own schedule and traveling of your own accord with very little overhead.

But next week I find myself mentor, guide, and chauffeur for our new hire. I am to pick her up from our headquarters and transport us from here to Connecticut to Boston Airport, fly buffalous to Buffalo, then continue to drive us from Buffalo to Amherst and then Syracuse and then back. Along the way I am now responsible for showing her the ropes, shuffling her from store to store to hotel to airport to store to store to hotel to store to store to hotel to store to home, and bringing her…oh lordy…to dinner. We’re going to Buffalo. BUFFALO, NY. Do you know what’s in Buffalo? Yeah, that’s right. BUFFALO WINGS. As in, Anchor Bar, the origin of the buffalo wing. I wanted to go there. I recommended it. I requested it. ‘You know there are better and classier places in Niagara Falls to go to. I’m a foodie.’

God I hate that word. I don’t use it, by the way. I would never refer to myself as one.

‘Okay…uh…what do you recommend.’

‘Oh I usually eat at the Hard Rock Cafe or the Planet Hollywood.’

…sorry….what…

I wanted less travel. Not group travel! Oh god. What do I do. I’ll be very British about it. I’ll grin and bear it. Chin up old chap and all that. All because of the promise that after this, she’ll be ready to go on her own, I’ll be on my own, and everything will return to normal only with less travel. But if she starts staying in stores longer than I do…she’s gonna make me look bad.


Now that we’ve tackled the foreign invasion, let’s talk about the homefront.

Do you know what I do when I’m at headquarters?

I’ll admit it. Nothing. Hahah. I call consultants when they need help. I answer emails to work-aloneput out fires. My boss has me do some reports, check in with some stores, do a few Skype sessions. Otherwise I’m at the company bar or playing arcade games or walking around or writing. My most productive writing has always been during work! Since I work on a laptop I get to be highly mobile and move around the building. My boss is used to this and knows this so she never really quite knows just what all my busy work amounts to. Hey, being on the road is tough. The rare times I am grounded are a luxury.

As we are not traveling as of yet, I find my solitude threatened by her constant presence. She ‘shadows’ me as I furtively try to write in secret. She observes how I spend most of my Go Away.giftime in our leisure deck. She laughs and smiles and says she finds it amusing and refreshing but I do not know this woman. I do not know what she is thinking. I do not know if she is threatening this arrangement. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t have a laptop or phone yet. That would at least tie her to her desk. But what would it say if I’m not right there as well. Should I be concerned that she is able to relate more easily and readily with my boss. Whereas I could only casually ask about how her son is doing and how school is, they are sharing mother stories of girlfriends and high school shenanigans and the difference between the eldest and the youngest. We are creatures admittedly of consistency and habit and change does not come easy and this is certainly the biggest change in my work so far.

I know how I sound right now. I’m not proud of it. I don’t like having a new coworker. I don’t like not having the distinction of being ‘the only person in my department’ as I would often half-complain half-brag to friends and family. I don’t want a travel companion from work (don’t get me wrong I’d loooove a travel companion in my personal life). I don’t want people to find out how good I’ve got it back at headquarters. She threatens all these things. But if I’m not too harsh, she does represent a lightening of the travel load. She represents the possibility of the same amount of work being done by two people and thus less for both. But god I hope my boss doesn’t see how much free time we have.

It’s okay. I got this. I can handle this. I’ll train her, she’ll go on her way, I’ll go back on mine. I can do this.

Day 65

Man: 48 Lonelines: 17

WAIT WHAT?! SHE’S HIRING A THIRD PERSON IN TWO WEEKS?!

 

 

Day 58: The Man and the Road; Chicago, IL

I’ve just finished a lovely meal here in Pittsburgh that I want to share with you all but before I do it has reminded me to bring you back in time to my first trip to Chicago. I had been meaning to write about this meal ever since I had it but right soon after was the craziness of retreat, meditation posts, weekend with friends, and busyness in Pittsburgh. There is some finally some quiet and peace in my life and so I’d like to revisit what I have to tell you all, with no exaggeration, was one of the best meals I have ever had. Chicago is now permanently engrained into my memory because of the fantastic food scene in the city and the gem that is…

Quartino in Chicago, IL.

Quartino is located three blocks off Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile, very close to the equally famous Pizzeria Uno, originator of the deep dish pizza. It is a two-storey building with seating on both levels and an outdoor patio. When I was there it was hustling and bustling and with the temperature not nearly cold enough, I opted for a seat inside. Eschewing my normal post at the bar I took a seat at a table in the main dining room.

Quartino Dining.jpg

I am a big proponent of the open kitchen. I think it allows diners to engage with their food long before it arrives at the table and I believe people should know more about their meals. A look, even a cursory glance, at the amount of skill and the techniques used to coax out every incredible flavor heightens your awareness of the dish and informs your senses in a very tangible way. What I love about Quartino’s layout is how comfortably casual and intimately informal it is. The seats and tables are all wood and the plates are piled high for you to grab and share with the people you’re with. In the back you’ll see the full kitchen and can watch as the chefs shuffle from station to station preparing orders. In-between is their charcuterie and fromagerie. All kinds of incredible imported and house-cured meats hang from the display window and their entire selection of cheeses is housed there as well.

Ambiance and the best scenery aside, it was time to get to the meal itself. Before diving into the dishes, it is important to note one of Quartino’s key appealing features. The restaurant addresses the age-old dilemma of reconciling the fact that the best Italian restaurants serve family style, meaning to share, but with portion sizes so large that often times diners who wish to try a lot are limited to only one or two or three (depending on company) dishes. Borrowing from their neighbors, Quartino serves some incredible Italian dishes in a very Spanish way, as tapas-sized portions still meant for groups to share and enjoy. Or you know, one very hungry man. This meant a lot of dishes and a lot of good drink. Now did one affect the other, perhaps, but you can’t break up a good pair.

On to round 1!

Quartino Round 1

Drink: Negroni

Dishes: Angus Beef Carpaccio and Taleggio

If possible, and especially in Italian restaurants, I like to begin my meals with a classic, THE cocktail of Italy and perhaps the world, the timeless Negroni. To me this is the best cocktail in the world. Perfectly balanced sweetness and bitterness to open the palate and excite the appetite.

The Angus Beef Carpaccio was served with a crunchy, bitter salad of shaved celery and arugula. A generous helping of shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano and a drizzle of EVOO to add that richness and salty creamy tang. The beef was so toothsome. A wonderful play of textures. Tender but meaty slices of Angus beef. Crunchy crispy celery and soft arugula. The thin slices of Parmiggiano Reggiano crumbling and melting in your mouth.

The taleggio, made from cow’s milk, was complex and tangy. The aroma of the cheese fills your head when it arrives at the table. There was a nutty, earthy, slightly bitter taste in the rind that holds together a semi-soft almost creamy texture of cheese on the inside. It spread so tantalizingly on their house-baked rye bread and the apricot jam paired beautifully. The sweetness of the jam balances with the rind and the rest of the cheese rounds out the flavor.

The thing about carpaccio and formaggi is that there is very little involvement in the kitchen with the preparation of these dishes. But it is a great indicator of the level of quality and attention to ingredients that the restaurant chooses to present. I knew very quickly from these two dishes that I was not going to be disappointed. The meat was fresh and flavorful with a strong taste and texture. The cheese was pungent and aromatic.

On to round 2!

Quartino Round 2

Drink: Coletta

Dishes: Wild Arugula Salad and Pappardelle

The Coletta is a very versatile pre-or-post meal dish of bourbon enhanced with vin santo (an Italian fortified wine often served as desert) and Ramazotti, a type of Italian bitter. Much more spirits forward with less sweetness than the Negroni and a wonderfully velvety feel as the bourbon coats the mouth and lingers on the tongue. The drink is smooth and silky with just the right amount of body.

I am not usually a salad man but I love arugula and could not resist. That bitter peppery bite is just so irresistible and Quartino further enhances that with oranges, farro, hazelnuts, and a house-made goat’s milk ricotta. You need no further dressing as the oranges give off their sweet aromatic juice and the ricotta spreads as you press down with your fork. The hazelnuts were such a good addition to the dish. They were slightly roasted to give warmth and smoothness.

Housemade pastas are very difficult to prepare properly. If you’ve ever made pasta from scratch you’ll know that the big difference between that and dried pasta is you can never fully get yours to al dente. Still their housemade pappardelle was thick, broad, and had just the right texture. You could hold a ribbon between your fingers and feel that bounce and firmness to the touch. I am usually not a fan of tomato sauce but this was almost like having a meat dish. Shredded juicy chunks of braised beef short ribs were all over the sauce. The tomato sauce was just tart enough to separate the flavors of all the ingredients. You could pay attention to the pasta and the sauce independently and see that both were prepared with care.

I absolutely could have knocked myself out just gorging on their selection of housemade and imported pastas. The portions were as advertised and so I knew there was still more left in me to continue. I’m glad I ordered the salad because the lightness and freshness of the vegetables and fruits lifted the heaviness of that beefy meaty robust tomato sauce and thick pappardelle.

On to round 3!

Quartino Round 3.jpg

Drink: No Nino of Mine

Dishes: Roasted Baby Octopus and Procini & Truffle Risotto

Sticking to the whiskeys, my third cocktail was a mix of amaro, rye, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, and bitters. Sweeter than I would have anticipated or liked, perhaps wrongly times in my meal, but still a strong cocktail.

Let me tell you, this was the best round of all. I could have contented myself to repeat this course tenfold, forgetting all the rest. It all came together right here. Clearly, as you can see in the picture I had forgotten myself and dug in before I could take the pic. The aroma of the truffles in the risotto was so luxurious. The porcini with the intense flavor. That firmness of the mushroom compared to the creaminess of the risotto. There was bite in each smooth mouthful. Luxurious and rich yet light enough to enjoy more than once. I usually feel with truffle dishes the aroma drowns out other senses and it becomes heavy on the palate. Luckily the cocktail and the octopus were able to cut that. But man alive, that octopus. I miss it already. Just…they should have sent a poet. There was just enough char to make the edges of the tentacles crispy and smoky. I loved the feel of the crunch on each tentacle, especially over the suckers as that was where they had the most interesting surface area and char. The meat was tender but spry. You would take a bite, there’d first be the charred surface and then this wonderful texture of flesh. Not at all rubbery or runny. I love when my meat has just enough fight to make the eating interesting. I couldn’t decide if I preferred the thinner, crispier ends of the roasted octopus or the slightly chewy meaty part closer to the main body. Underneath the tentacles are some braised escarole as well with some thinly sliced red chilis that invigorate and revitalize. One main taste seriously lacking in the meal up until this point was heat and the chili provided just the right amount.

I loved every course of that meal. I think there were some real stars though. That octopus blew me away. The carpaccio was a delight to the senses. Such a pleasure to bite into. The salad captured my attention and my imagination. The added complements to the arugula were so intelligently chosen. If you are ever fortunate enough to be in the Windy City, please do visit Quartino and see for yourself. I have not even begun to scratch the surface of their offerings.

Day 57: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Fierce’

Tell me what you would do in this situation.

You check into your AirBNB for the weekend in the Poconos. Your friends have all split the cost for two nights and it came to ~$140 per person for this house rental.

You find out only after opening the door that the house has no central A/C. It is currently 89 degrees. You would like to turn on the fans around the house, but they are all coated in dust. You blast the central A/C unit in the kitchen and hope it spreads while you explore the rest of the house. Luckily the rooms have their own individual units but again, fans and surfaces are dirty. It’s been a long two and a half hour drive due to traffic and you go to relieve yourself. You reach for the toilet paper and the holder drops with a loud, threatening metallic THUD as the stainless steel paper holder drops to the ground, seemingly attached to the wall by a strand of hair. You go to place your towel on the towel rack by the shower and THUD it falls as well.

Whatever. It’s fine. We’ll just place the toilet paper on the window sill and our towels by the sink. You and your group all go grocery shopping, spending more than $200 as the plan is to cook all your meals as part of the experience. You return home hungry to begin the first meal and notice that the stove fire is weaker than normal…and weakening…and weakening…and then…it’s out. Like, completely out. You try to reignite. The starter works. You hear the characteristic *click click click* of the starter and you can see the spark. But no flame. In remote PA, you know all the houses rely on their own propane supplies versus hooking into a gas line. You fear the worst…and check the fireplace. You hit the start and hope to see a flame. It flickers…flames…and then dies again…

The propane is out. You notify the homeowner who tells you that, while they apologize for the inconvenience, they cannot get anyone to refill the propane until Monday. When you check out. It is Saturday and you have two days’ worth of food in the refrigerator. It’s fine. Whatever. We have an electric rice cooker, an electric griddle, and a microwave. We’ll cook everything hibachi style like our ancestors at Benihana (note, I am Filipino, one friend is Korean, and the rest are Taiwanese).

Ultimately, for the inconveniences of the house the owner reaches out to your group and offers a consolation of a $50 refund. The groceries cost $200, and each member paid more than $100 for the two nights. You feel it is a paltry sum and not reflective of nearly the amount of inconvenience, but it’s fine. Whatever. We’ll go spend it on gas and tolls.

TigerI know there are many of you reading this who would have been up in arms by the third paragraph. Outraged by the fourth. Livid by the fifth. There would have been harsh words. Demands for more compensation. Sharply worded complaints and negative reviews.

So what did my group of friends and I do? We wrote a four star review noting how wonderful the owners were for caring and trying to make us happy.

This is the curse of the Asian attitude. A cross-cultural embedded ethos of humility, meekness, and tolerance. It is why issues of racism against Asians and Asian-Americans are never as widely publicized or heard. This is why American actors are cast in Asian movies and no one cries foul. It is why relationally, American women are not as interested in Asian men as they are seen as ‘weak’ and American men fetishize Asian women as ‘submissive’.

When I was a travel agent, this presented a whole new level of complication and issue because my capacity to endure trouble and hardship without complaint was now affecting my clients. Clients who, primarily Caucasian, would call me furious about the fact that the ‘blankets are gaudy’ or that the room is ‘ocean view and not ocean front’ or that ‘the hotel has to move us from one room to the other in the middle of the trip’. All of these issues that, were it me or my family or friends, we would have accepted as part of the unpredictability of travel and would simply soldier on. But for my clients this was the end of the world and somehow I had to find within me a fierceness and an aggression not characteristic to me or my culture to demand of equally confused hotel staff refunds, upgrades, special amenities, things I have never dreamt of asking for.

KittenThis is by no means a criticism of American culture. It is an observation of the Asian mindset that has characterized many of my social interactions. I don’t know who of us is more right or appropriate. There are certainly times when the fierceness of a tiger is more apropos than the meekness of a cat. But conversely there are times when the ability to accept and move on is critical and better for the heart and the blood pressure.

I think the Filipino is even more at a disadvantage than most other Asians. See a key characteristic for the Filipino is in fact their ability to endure. ‘The Filipino endures’. Corruption. Poverty. Natural disaster. The Filipino is applauded for his ability to endure and smile and move on. They never cause a ruckus, never raise a voice, they are the most adept at adapting. You could throw one of us anywhere in the world in any situation and we would find a way to succeed. It is a matter of strength and resolution but also of accepting one’s fate and making the best of it, rather than subvert or augment it.

But there must be a turning point when to adapt is no longer acceptable. A firm stance is necessary. It seems so difficult, combining Catholic values of ‘suffer in this life to be rewarded in the next’ with the natural tendency for Asians to be more reserved, less open about troubles and difficulties, for us as Filipinos to ever ask, expect, or seek better in life.

Take meals for example. If you are not Asian and have ever eaten with them, you will notice a certain phenomenon near the end of the meal. No matter how hungry people are there seems to always be one last morsel of each dish still on the table. And now comes the song and dance of trying to get others to eat it and being offered by others to eat. There are smiles and gestures and gestations and it’s all a big commotion. Until your white friend, confused by what is happening, unused to the rhythm of the dance, helps himself to it all.

EatingThis is a huge social faux pas. What is happening behind the scenes is every good little Asian boy and good little Asian girl is doing what was always taught to them. Concern yourself with others and, ignoring your own condition, offer to someone else and allow yourself to take only what is offered to you. We are all hungry. We all want something. We know who to offer what so they can get what they like and we know someone will offer to us what we want. We won’t even find the ability to tell our friend what happened because again, we should simply be good diners and allow him to finish what he would like. To the untrained eye though, it looks like the perfect environment for more aggressive and self-assured people to thrive and take advantage.

Filipino Eyes.gifMake no mistake. Asians are fierce. Fiercely proud and protective. Fiercely loyal. Fiercely attached to honor and tradition that we endure the mark of meekness. If you cross us we will fight back. We have overthrown governments and dictators. Started revolutions. We just think that going a little hungry is less important than the contentment of our friends. We are used to a bit more hardship, and in the grand perspective of things, we shrink to the common trivialities and difficulties of the everyday. But we are fierce. And Filipinos? Some of the fiercest lovers. Blame that on some of our latent Spanish blood.

Day 57

Man: 41 Loneliness: 16

 

Day 55 Supplemental: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Witness’

Eye.jpg

We have always been a society of observers. We take in information most frequently, efficiently, and primarily through sight.

We witnessed fire. The wheel. We witnessed the migration patterns of animals and the cultivation of agriculture.

When civilization rose we witnessed the advancements of science, mathematics, government, and art.

As our borders grew we witnessed great battles and advanced weaponry and tactics and the making of legends.

When we were comfortable we witnessed entertainment. We were there to watch the great tragedies and comedies. We witnessed mortality in the Coliseum. Drama at the Globe.

We have always been a society of observers. But somewhere along the line there was a shift, and we went from observers to capturers.

As we reached the pinnacle of observation technology we began to focus on the ability to capture what it was we were observing. We have telescopes powerful enough to observe the farthest reach of our galaxy and microscopes powerful enough to view in between the minute infinity in the space between atoms. But we wanted to capture these images, for posterity or study or vanity, so we worked also on the ability to freeze sight.

But now I feel people have forgotten how to observe and cherish. There was a time when beauty before our eyes was enough to bring us to our knees. It was a very intimate moment between object and observer. And we never really felt that we lacked the ability to portray it afterwards. We have our words, our stories, our drawings and pictures. We have always had the ability to share. Never once did I ever feel that I lacked the ability to observe and relay the great things I have seen.

StadiumBut now people have forgotten how to appreciate the things in front of them. I cannot see the stage past the bright LED sea of cell phones. I cannot enjoy a meal without fussing over the placement of plating and the composition of light. Those I speak to have lost the words to portray what they’ve seen. Their minds have forgotten beauty because their devices have captured it for the lazy.

Being able to observe, being the one to see, was once a private and reserved pleasure and privilege. You felt empowered and special. It carried the responsibility of commitment and dedication to share with others. Now we are all consumers, capturers, but we do not know how to appreciate what it was or how to share it. We just post and share and tag and like but forget the subject.

Even more dangerous, in times when observation is not enough and participation must be warranted, we are now so occupied with the former that we often miss every call for the latter. How many videos are there of people being hurt versus stories of those who stepped in. How many more videos are there for people to consume of game and sport versus how many actual players.

I cannot believe sometimes how many viewers someone online playing a game can get Food Photowhen I cannot get enough people to fill a board game. I cannot believe how little people can tell me about the pictures and videos they have captured. Yes, the food looks incredible. But what did it smell like. Taste like. Feel like on the tongue. Did the dish shine and shimmer as you cut into it. Did you see the freshness in the fish, the richness of the meat. Did it crackle and crunch and slide and bounce when you cut into it. Did the flavors dance on your tongue with bright vibrant spices and seasonings. You were there! I was not. This is how our society grows. This is how we have conquered the world. Share with me. I don’t want your grainy video. I don’t want your shaky cam. I don’t want you to be satisfied with simply capturing.

I don’t want to witness the great and vast and beautiful infinite world through a five inch screen.