Over the past week I have traveled the equivalent of halfway across the country, never to set foot outside of Texas. In a car, in the heat, in thunderstorms that shook our windows and in the cool afterglow of a cold front.I have slept in different beds in different cities, some better than others, but none as good as the one back home. I have lost my voice, my temper and my way. We have found new friends, new wines and new opportunities. And all through this week the undercurrent has been that no matter how far you travel, you still must start out every morning as though the past never happened. Because that is the way of the street in the wine business. There is always some new buck who thinks you don’t know a thing, and there are the old sods who don’t give a damn. There are managers who are just trying to keep the lights on and could not be as concerned with how Cusumano is spelled or if a wayward Chianti slipped into the New World wine category on their list. They will hate you for pointing it out and fight you for wanting to help them look better if you don’t find a way to make it their idea. And along the way, when the day is done and you put your head on the pillow, when you sleep, these are some of the dreams that could inhabit your sleeping ways.
You’ve been traveling all day across the flatland of Texas going from Dallas to Houston and your mouth is dry. You stop to get a soda and a snack. The bathroom is flooded and a man with a harmonica points you to use the handicapped bathroom down the hall. Along the way a woman walks by with a fresh pie and winks at you. The aroma of the baked peaches stirs memories of a Riesling tasting you had earlier in the week in Austin. You walk into the bathroom and people are there with party hats and noisemakers and a sign that says “Happy 60th Joe.”
You are late for a flight and they take you to a special military plane to get you to your appointment. Along the way, someone tells you to don a parachute and tie a special belt to your waist. A man hands you a bunch of fliers, which look like wine list proposals. You look at them as the plane lunges 1000 feet downward. A young girl in ice skates asks you to hold her hand as she recites her grandmothers’ recipes for spaghetti and meatballs. You grab her and head for the exit looking to escape from the plane which is crashing. As the parachute opens you look up into the folds of it and it looks like the inside of a wicker bottle of Chianti.
You have been walking the streets of a large city all day, talking to customers, looking for sales. In your haste to come to the city you haven’t made a hotel reservation, so you take your suitcase with you. Along the way someone opens it up and buys a white shirt you had folded inside. They ask you if it is Egyptian cotton or American. You tell them “Shenandoah,” and a large African American man comes from the back of the building to escort you to an abandoned tarmac. About 100 yards away is a billboard in white with large black letters, in block print, with the word “Patton”.
You get a call to let you know your appointment will see you in two hours. You are 5 hours away, but you convince a pilot to slip you into his jet and get you there in 90 minutes.
Along the way he says he must fly in a formation for a local air show, but it shouldn’t be a problem as he will make up the time by going faster than the speed of light and going back in time. He does so but you get to the appointment 30 years too soon.
You are walking on a country road in the early morning. The ground is still dewy from a late night rain storm. A woman is cleaning the windows and turns to stare at you. She resembles a woman you once loved but who has aged 30 years beyond your age. She calls out your name and asks to you come over to her. But you just keep walking, picking up a stick and hitting rocks on the ground as the sun rises.
You have your first job as a waiter in a family style restaurant. The first customers are a family who resembles your uncle and aunt and cousins. They ask about vegetarian dishes and you tell them the burger and fries would be a good choice. They ask you if you have an Australian Merlot from Italy and you tell them you have a reserve with a llama on the label. They order the wine and ask you to serve it ala mode.
Photographs by Richard Vesey