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Let’s Eat Together

Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper_1942
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. 1942

No red carpet when I come into your restaurant.

I eat alone frequently. I’m often on the phone while doing so. My headset is on so you don’t even know whether I am talking to you or not.

I eat at weird hours. Your schedule matters little to me.

I’ll stomp in thirty seconds after you open with blatant disregard for your pre-coffee drowsiness, I’ll swoop back in ten minutes before you close.

I look forward to eating weird things in strange places. Yet, I can be a finicky brat giving your serving spoon a long once-over if it’s a little dull.

The right side of my jaw makes a loud audible click when I bite down. People look over.

I ask for a re-fill on my water at least five times usually.

I ask a whole lot of questions.

I interrupt your answers with bad jokes.

Then I repeat the questions again. Obnoxious.

I eat half of this, a quarter of that, ask for more bread, confide in you that none of it was great and then ask you to box it all.

I ask what your Signature item is.

I always ask you what makes the Special special.

I follow that up with a specific request for the Top 5 most popular items.

Then I ask you what the chefs eat. They know best, I explain.

Serving staff can lose patience quickly. I’m exhausting.

I usually lose them early. The goal is to get back in their good graces sometime before we’re through. Send them off to the kitchen happy.

My manners are good, but I would not know what fork works if given the Titanic tableware Buzzfeed quiz.

Eating out is a phenomenon. Eating together is a phenomenon.

I have always been curious about it. In music, in movies, in art… people get jazzed about going out to chow.

All over the world, families and friends look forward to breaking bread in the environs an entrepreneur has selected for their best grub to be slapped onto some wholesale trays and plates. The goal of a restaurant should be to offer hospitality and nourishment. Community, even. It’s a place for connection.

When I hear stories of African-American athletes in the civil rights era, it particularly stings me when they share stories of not being allowed to eat with their white teammates. I simply think that each person deserves the right to eat at any food spot as long as they are respectful and not breaking the law. I have acted the fool in more bistros, cafes, diners, restaurants, inns, taverns and speakeasies than I can recall and I can’t remember ever being asked to leave. Well, there was one time I was asked to leave The Brixton but I understood because I had just seen somebody in an identical Court Jester Halloween costume to mine destroy a whole lot of their property. They also asked me once I was already kind of on my way out so I took it as a suggestion more than a rights violation.

I am concerned by this trend (Has happened twice now, is that a trend?) of public figures being asked to leave restaurants in Washington DC because their fellow diners disapprove of their work. Even if they were not asked, just making them feel like they would be better off leaving is disturbing. It is a slope-ery slip. I completely understand that there is important debate happening currently in America and in the world. I understand that as people, it’s important to be vocal, to be involved, and to be cognizant of all that is going on.

That said, what is the goal? Isn’t it to be better? 

If I am upset with somebody and I imply they are not being empathetic, that they are being cruel in the execution of their job – how is it excusable for me to spot them in public and shame them or their family? How can you excuse making them so uncomfortable in public that they have to leave before finishing a meal? Isn’t that hypocritical? Even if it isn’t, it brings nothing good.

This is certainly not a comparison. I’m not here to compare one wrong to others. I am from a country of in-your-face poverty and have closely followed immigration for twenty years. Those are problems and debates I do not have enough information to dissect but I empathize on a personal level with those on the border, now and previously.

What I know about this is this: Americans should not be going down the road of  Democrat Diners and Republican Restaurants. If you celebrated those two women getting pressured to leave their respective eateries – just imagine it happened to you or Michelle Obama. It easily could. How far are we from having people with red hats being asked to leave restaurants? How far are we from other restaurants saying you can’t come in without a red hat?

Are we as a society going to strive to only eat with people who we agree with on everything?

If any kitchen out there doesn’t want to see a certain mouth again, just give them crap food with molasses service, that time honored tradition has steered away many an unwanted visitor.

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April 5th, 2015

Izmir, Turkey

Had the most costly dinner of my trip so far. Adana kebab. Great meat. Clean taste. First proper sit-down meal and it was fresh as can be. Was advised “Go into any place with a crowd” but it was so late, it was a drizzle, all the places were empty and their waiters were standing in each lane trying their best to usher the last few tourist bucks of the night their way. This one guy spoke English and told me he had the best kebabs so I followed him. How did he know I wanted kebabs? He and his uncle wound up keeping the place open for me. He was only nineteen years old but he spoke some of the best English I had heard in Turkiye. After we shut the place down, they invited me to a “FIFA Bar” where buddies drank beer and played Fifa on a massive wall. Eager to destroy them, I tagged along and it turned into a great night despite never actually playing a game. 

What is most memorable now is at 3AM we were drinking on the street boisterously, there were about eight of us and I kept asking questions.

Where you from?

Where you now?

How did I get here? 

Where you going?

Where do you want to go?

The thing I remember is that nobody there lived where they said they wanted to. But some of us lived where the others wanted to be.

The conversation landed on an upcoming election.  The beer goggles cleared suddenly and one of the boys started kind of needling my buddy, and suddenly these two twenty-ish kids were very intensely and loudly debating each other on this quiet street. As people left one by one, including the bald and mustachioed bar owner, we sat in his outdoor patio with 1 more pitcher of Efes as sunrise and the sounds of birds came calling. 

I asked the two what they had been arguing about. My buddy told me in his smooth broken English while his friend peppered me with some jabs of English he retrieved from parts unknown. That’ll happen when you want to win an argument. I do not know how accurate the history/geography specifics are but what they shared can be paraphrased as this: My buddy was born in Izmir, a few dozen kilometers away. His friend was born across a border within hours of Turkey. He had personally crossed a border at some point in his early childhood at risk to him and his parents. That was done for survival. In the upcoming election, my buddy supported a candidate that would close the borders completely, as my buddy and family obviously wanted for their own safety. His friend only wanted that candidate specifically to lose the election, because he wondered about his future, and he still had people dear to him on the other side who wanted to cross into Turkey, who wanted to survive.

One friend exclaimed to the other at one point: “You would vote for my death?” 

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On the train the next day, I thought, if these two can have some beers and debate a subject that hits this close to home with passion and jokes, then I should strive to be able to have a civil conversation with anyone about anything.

I hope their friendship survives.

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Peru

1

The first thing was that long line for money. Endless.

I didn’t have any Peruvian cash, and there were two ATMs in the airport terminal. It was hot, and the two enormous ceiling fans cooled nobody. They spun in slow motion thirty feet above as our queue inched forward even slower.  The disgruntled tourists were of varying levels of sweat and tan. There were orange white people, there were black brown people, some sun-kissed, copper, pale and all other things draped in hats, tanks, and slippers of every bright color.

The people were getting upset. Eyes were being rolled.

I was muy cansado.

I remember standing in that line almost two hours and promising myself I’d request bills at home next time. From a bank long before departure next time. And next time I’d be a better man damnit!

Come on now, I thought next, don’t start a journey of self-discovery by bullshitting yourself. You know this isn’t the last high-surcharge cash machine line you’ll see.

2

I got outside and took immediate offense to the fares taxi drivers quoted me. I mean, the fares were barely out these cabbies’ mouths and I was irate and throwing my hands up. Insult!!

This was all part of my plan to hyper-localize. My hair was slicked back to remove any trace of South Indian curls. My playlist was 100% Latin.  My hope was my terrible Spanish only suggested that I was unable to string a sentence together because I was so upset about Diego Rosales trying to charge me the max suggested fare.

My mustache accompanies me to the negotiation. It protects me from the onslaught of arrows reserved for tourists con fannypacks. Not me, commandante. El ‘Stache seems to habla just fine and we find the hermano to drive us forth to Lima.

The cabbie pulls up to my door. It’s very dark and a residential area. It’s uncannily, exactly what I love most in a neighbourhood. Leafy. Airy. Lagoons overlook city lights and some clean and modern, black and white graffiti. Lima is illuminated. I hear some European girls above me singing Cyndi Lauper. They just wanna. They just wanna.

Oops. It’s not my hotel, they say. Wrong place. El Mix-up. I’m walking round Lima at 1AM with my bags, yes I’m stuck outside-a-Barranco-with-the-Lima-blues-again. I see one of those places that does the new type of ice cream that is cut very fine and scraped off onto a cracker. Done. You just made the list.

1.Machu Pichu

2.Pisco

3.Ice Cream

I find my room, it is at the top of a black spiral staircase about four floors tall. I’m greeted by a delightful host, I am forgetting his name but we had a semi-long chat despite the hour, my Spanish and me being completely zapped. I was chomping at the bit to use the Spanish I had studied on a clearly chill native Spanish speaker, but I soon discovered Amigo was from Brazil, and spoke Portuguese. He was letting the stories come forth more boldly now after each sip of beer, language be damned as long as we could find a glimmer of understanding.

It was one of those moments when I wished my energy matched my excitement. However, it didn’t – and I had decided to be strategic about that and trust the energy.

I hung up my jacket, plugged in my charger. Somebody had left a black Cowboy hat in my closet. I hit the bed hard. I was so exhausted my eyes closed themselves shut as I debated napping and going out in an hour.

I woke, hit the lights and I set my alarm for 20 minutes before the Complimentary Breakfast ends the next morning.

I fall asleep wondering how many others did the same thing and if that’s the worst time to go to breakfast.

Reykjavic Day 1

So here’s the thing I learned on my last day in Iceland. The colours on the Icelandic flag represent the majestic and beautiful nature of the island, something they have been proud of since way back in the day (way way back as in when the first visitor got there). The blue is meant to represent the Atlantic ocean, the white represents the snow and glaciers and the red the lava of the active volcanoes. Save that little tidbit for a swank cocktail party, and watch it kill.

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Views from halfway down a stairwell

Since I am usually taller than the person I am photographing, and I often shoot photos from my eye level or even from an elevated position, I really loved the perspective of shooting from halfway down this staircase outside a very busy metro. It was new. It was Mexico City and it was hot, it made me sympathize for the musician. Why was he dressed like a policeman while he played an accordion in the street?

Photos taken September 2015 with a Nikon D3100 in Mexico City

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Tepoztlan

Sitting across the aisle from me on my flight from Dallas to Mexico City, Ulysses said to me “You go to Tepoztlan. That’s your place. They have Queso ice cream there.”

I was in.

He told me the metro to take to the bus station and which bus to take where. It would be a couple hours. It was a Sunday morning and it was sunny. It was perfection- warm in the sun, with a hint of a chill on each breeze. It was September of 2015 and the town was straight out of a movie, set in another time. 

 

 

Musicians of Plaza Garibaldi.

One day, in early 1996, I was on Church Street and rented Desperado starring Antonio Banderas. That movie, along with the song Mexico by James Taylor formed an impression in my teenage mind of an unrealistically romantic Mexico full of guitar playing mariachi/vigilantes and incredibly beautiful women with impossibly sexy accents. The music was everything.  Arguably my favorite song to listen to on the run in Mexico. Exhilarating!

I cued up the soundtrack for the movie when I walked around Mexico and my musical highlight of the country was an evening at Plaza Garibaldi, a square in Mexico City where mariachis of all shapes and sizes and attire bring their gear and best tunes each night. Beers, smoke and song filled the air, until one by one we all dragged our tired feet to the main road in search of taxis at the end of the night,  mariachis and revelers, every man for himself. They were definitely upstreaming. And they deserved to. 

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Playing an incendiary cover of La Bamba on a harp
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Thick as Thieves
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Voice Like Honey
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The Professional
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Lead Vocals
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The Hired Gun

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