Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Travel Diary of a Nervous Wreck

The first part of a, hopefully, seven-part series. We'll see how it goes. 

The view from my balcony at Hotel Eliseo

Day one: Off to Rome We Go

I’m pretty sure a taxi from Rome’s Fiumicino airport doesn’t cost $160 US, but I’m too tired to care. I hand Marco a wad of cash, thank him for financially raping me, and head into The Hotel Eliseo located at 30 Porta Pinciana, Rome.

At least he was nice enough to slow down, point out the window and give quick rundowns of the ancient ruins passing by at a disappointing rate.

We are on day one of a seven-day, three-country video shoot, which we somehow finagled our way into. I can’t say much about it, legally, but I will say that this is going to be a priceless trip.  ‘We’ are David, a young videographer who cut his teeth in Detroit and myself.

A car service picked us up from my Brooklyn apartment at 1:30 sharp for our 4:30 flight. This is David’s first time out of the country and it was painted it on his face.

We both settled into our seats on American Flight 4265 to Rome. Somehow, we both had rows to ourselves.

“He’s coming for your empty seat,” a guy with a sport-fishing t-shirt and thick plastic sunglasses resting on his heads the next row over said pointing at the last person to board the plane.

And sure enough, a man with painted on black jeans and a Garfunkel Afro, passing several empty rows, grinned at me while squeezing his way into the window seat.

If a year-and-a-half of riding the NY subway has taught me anything, it’s to be decisive and move quickly. I gathered my things in search of solitude among the masses.

At least the plane wasn’t full.

Of course when we landed in Rome my checked bag was misplaced. But security was properly lax, and even though the ride ends with Marco the cabbie overcharging me about $100 dollars for the ride, the air coming through the open windows was sweet, the scenery spectacular and the conversation minimal and interesting.

We arrived at our Destination Hotel Eliseo at 8:30 am, just as the city was coming to life. We droped our bags and headed to a café for what David called the best cappuccino of his life. It was decent.  

But in my experience, when everything feels right something is wrong.

Planning for an international video shoot with extremely tight deadlines is going to test our mettle for sure, but first thing’s first, I’ve been up for what feels like 30 hours straight, my wallet is $160 lighter and we are already late for my first interview with the head of branding for a major corporation.   

I’ve spent the last three months prepping for this trip and here I was, hurriedly schlepping about 60 pounds of gear through the ancient cobble stone streets of Rome.

Is that Caesar Agustus’ house? Who gives a fuck.

But, all of the pre-planning meetings, late night emails and constant text messaging were not for nothing. The shoot went well, the footage looked great and all was right with the world.

Practice might not make perfect, but it sure as hell helps.

At the end of the interview I asked the ever-important question: Where should we eat? The interviewee was kind enough to share a list of her favorite authentic restaurants.

David and I meandered our way to a suggested pizza and pasta place called Montecarlo where you’re given two options for beverages, bierra or vino. We went with bierra.

We ate too much pizza and got a little drunk on a local beer called Nastro Azzurro.  Which may have been the cause for our rather loud and jovial conversation about the plight of Detroit, gentrification in Brooklyn, the state of the social justice in America and how none of that mattered to us at the moment.

After dinner, we walked around the city, discovering ancient ruins around every corner ending at a random castle I’m sure I’ve seen in texts books and probably wrote an essay about in college.

We hopped in a cab and found our way back to The Eliseo around 1:30 am; a fitting ending to an exhausting day.

There’s so more. But it’s late now and I’m tired, and there are many more miles to go.

Monday, August 11, 2014

My hometown is burning and no ones cares why

It’s a strange thing, watching your hometown burn to ground on the national news. 

I haven’t lived in St. Louis in over a decade but my parents are still in the same house where they raised my two sisters and me in a suburb just north of St. Louis, a stone's throw from Illinois.

I have the best memories a boy could have of growing up in that house.

I remember walking to Halls Ferry Elementary School with my older sister in the morning and playing ball in the streets until dark. I remember the day the entire school made a mural. My contribution was a paratrooper, the mural is there, proudly hanging on the brick wall out front.

I remember waking up early on those ridiculously long summer days so I could meet up with my best friend who lived two houses down. We would ride our bikes until sunset.

I remember my first kiss on the Halls Ferry swing set and all of the other ones that came after.

But return trips home bring mixed emotions.

There is an undeniable comfort in familiarity; the sight of my former high school peaking over Killer Hill, which on second thought, isn’t so killer, seeing the Civic Center ice rink where, as teenagers, we would meet girls and sneak a cigarettes, eating Fritz’s Ice Cream on summer afternoons and going to Old Town doughnuts at 1 o’clock in the morning after a night out.

But my trips home are also a sad reminder of what once was.

Slowly, the things that made my childhood home a great place to live are eroding away, none more apparent than opportunity, or at least the perception of opportunity.

When we were kids, my friends and I would dream of what we were going to be when we grew up; engineers, pilots, teachers, writers.

Our imaginations ran wild at the thought of what we could be. The possibilities were endless.
But what if they weren’t?

What if a ceiling was placed on where you could go in life and what you could be? What if the only expectation placed on you was for you to fail?

Superficially, the rage surrounding the unfortunate death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager is about race.

Ultimately, it’s about frustration.

My Facebook feed is filled with thinly veiled racist comments; a complex issue boiled down to its lowest common denominator.

We have to look deeper.

There are few things more dangerous than a systemic lack of opportunity and the restlessness and discontent that it brings.

I believe we wake up each day and decide who we are and what we want to be.

But what happens when those decisions are already made for you?

What would you dream of becoming then?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Err Plains

I'm the first to admit the adjustment to New York is more complicated than I thought it would be.

The pace is quicker, the streets are busier and the hours longer. I guess the same could be said of any city outside of the Midwest, except for maybe Chicago. But who cares about Chicago?

The real difference, in my opinion, are the higher highs and lower lows.
Amy Haimerl, a good friend and former New Yorker, warned about the extreme swings that come with living and working in The City.

"I cried every night for the first six months I lived there," she told me over one of our many root-beer-float breaks at Mootown Creamery in Detroit's Eastern Market. "I was miserable."

Not exactly the pep talk I was looking for two weeks out from the move. But then again, Amy has a way of cutting through the bullshit and getting to the core of an issue.
When I had to write a proposal to land my new job, I sent her a draft and asked her to give it an edit. I knew she would be thorough, if not brutal.

It came back a sea of red.

But I needed that. I thrive on tough love, just ask my old man.

So when she told me this city left her in tears, I was pretty shocked.

But, for all the stress and pressure and struggle, she also talked about the rewards of taking on such a monumental change.
She talked about the incredible energy of the city and how it will leave an everlasting imprint on my life, both personally and professionally. She talked about how I'll find a groove, adjust and adapt ... and with a little wherewithal, I would persevere.

All I have to do is keep an even keel, make plains out of mountains and valleys.

But if you've ever met me, then you probably know that might not be quite so easy.

I run on hot. I can't help it, runs in my family. It's how I get shit done. It's how I ended up here. It's also why I can't sleep at night.

But those same traits have given me an amazing network of friends from all walks of life.

I've always leaned heavily on friends and family to bring me back to the center; to help make mole hills out of mountains. 

And there's no better support network than mine.

In fact, I haven't even cried myself to sleep.

There's no time for that.

Special thanks to Shawn Wright; a good guy and an even better editor.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My move to the Self-Center of the Universe

The first thing to go after making the move to New York was subtle politeness.

It didn't take long, a week at most.

I remember the exact moment it happened. 

I hopped on the 4-5 train during rush hour at Grand Central after a long day at the office. I was carrying a book bag and I made the mistake of bumping into a lady standing behind me.

"Ummm, you just ran into me," she said.

"So..." I replied in a monotone, I hope you die, voice. I made sure my gaze outlasted hers. She looked away after which I did the same.

This reaction would have been unheard of for me, a five-foot-nothing kid from the burbs whose last physical altercation ended in a black eye, a lost girlfriend and a humiliated 13 year old.

I still haven't recovered.

I spent my first week in Gotham endlessly apologizing to people for minor inconveniences. "Oh I'm in your way, sorry, I was just looking at a map." "Excuse me, I need to reach around you, sorry." Mind if I squeeze through, sorry." "Oh, did I touch your elbow, its crowded in the elevator. Sorry,"

Fuck sorry.

In this city, too much politeness is seen as weakness and there is no place for weakness in a city filled with assholes.

At least on the subway.