@)!^ was a year of tremendous change and drastic shifts. Both in direction and on the keyboard. As I sit here in Rincon (a place I would have never guessed I would be starting 2017) this nobody takes a quick reflection of that which was his past lap. 2016 Started out like they always do, with a breathtakingly pretty girl, hanging out in nature taking selfies. Or did it start just hanging out as two doctors in a hallway? 365 days is a tremendous amount to process and details get a little blurry from time to time. So, here is photographic evidence of either situation.
I was trying to convince myself that Indianapolis was a place that I could stay. I wasn’t doing a very good job, but a couple friends in my life were doing a pretty good job at emphasizing the idea. I also had recently met a truly beautiful and inspiring woman who although her time in my day to day would be short lived, her impact would be outstanding. It always fun and bit intimidating looking down the road of a new year ahead. Just like any road we travel on, we can only see as much as the horizon line will allow and that is rarely telling of the whole story. Little did I know, but New Years Eve would be the end of that young lady’s romantic place in my life, as sad as that is in hindsight. I had not met a person in a long while that inspired me to reach for the horizon again the way she did, and little did I know the impact would slingshot me back into orbit.
I think we can all admit that music took some pretty big hits in 2016. The year claimed Bowie, Prince, Frey, Sharon Jones, Cohen, George Michael, Greg Lake, Leon Russell, Bobby Bee, Ralph Stanley, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Keith Emerson, Sir George Martin, David Baker, and Debbie Reynolds amongst so many others, one stood out a bit more for myself and a large group of my friends. That was the death of singer/songwriter/guitarist James Joseph Campbell. The front man for James and the Devil. My friends and I watched this band grow into an amazing force of love and music. The way he battled cancer with a iron will and glowing smile should be an inspiration to us all. Miss you buddy. Hope you’re still melting faces somewhere.
In February I got a notion to travel to New Orleans to have some cocktails, listen to some wonderful music, visit a few of my favorite spots in the country and battle a few of the remaining ghosts I had been hanging on to. Riggs and I saddled up into the car with books of CD’s and minds set towards adventure (and hot chicken which we stopped for in Nashville, TN on the way). I don’t need to go over New Orleans again, but it was my own kind of hurricane–there is an older blog all about it if you feel so inclined. Slowly but surely I was taking back my favorite spots in the country.
Bad News! You know how sometimes, even the people you love the most can drive you completely up the wall? That is how the trip ended. We were both so pissed by the end of the trip we trashed the magazine we were trying to start together. I like to think that we’ve been through enough shit in 20 years however that one day we will both look back and heartily laugh at how stupid we both were down there.
(Sorry I drunkenly followed a parade into the 9th ward for 10 hours with the car keys in my pocket and no phone. Pumpkins and Parsnips.)
Back Home Agaaaaiiiin in Indiaaaaannnaaa, but it didn’t feel like home. I had tried for nearly a year at this point. It was like trying to get me to like salmon. Give it up. #notgonnahappen. Remember that wonderful lady from New Years? She returned from Guatemala about the same time I returned from New Orleans. She got this notion in her head to sell all of her belongings and travel around the country, living and working out of a van. Pretty cool, eh? (Well, for some of us it’s cool. Save your judgy judgements if you don’t agree.) The interesting thing, she was one of the main voices telling me why Indianapolis was a such a great place to stay put. Her decision to take off was a great enough reason for me to do the same so all it did was get me to thinking, “hey, I have not traveled in a long while. I see a tremendous problem with this. I tried to settle back in my hometown and all it did was make me feel more like a lunatic.” As I watched her prepping, packing, moving, my decision to hit the road again was solidified. So I decided to take what I had been learning about the cocktail world and take it back to the east coast, to the home of sun and skeletons – Martha’s Vineyard. But first I had to knock a few more spots off my list.
Unfortunately, Zeus-the lovable beast you all know and love, is a little too old for intense travel these days. I knew I was going to have to get back to the island and set up everything all comfortable-like before I could bring him out. As much as I hated heading off on my first long adventure without him in over a decade, I knew it was something I had to do and my parents had a dog at their house that Zeus was good buddies with and he would have a nice, kush lifestyle until I could come back to get him. (But he’s good. That’s the point. No need to worry your little heads. The earth is still graced with his presence.)
I only had 3 more states to see before I had seen every state east of the Mississippi: Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. So off to the north east I headed, with a pit-stop in Philly because I had also never been there and it was high time I acquired a proper cheesesteak. I can’t comment too much on Philly as a city, as I wasn’t there for but 2 days. Alternatively, what I can say is… FOOOOOOOD! John’s Roast Pork was (is to date) the best cheesesteak to ever tantalize my taste buds. And Reading Terminal Market…fuggetit. Go see for yourself. Make sure you have several days and don’t eat for about a week prior.
By this time I am starting to send every email and make every phone call I can, in order to set up a place to live on the island I was headed too. Nothing had quite worked out yet. I left Philly and shot north to Vermont. Wow was Vermont beautiful. Somewhat of a combination of Wisconsin and Colorado with seriously Vermonty undertones. Or maybe it was like the Shire. You really could go either way with it. Point is, I liked it. So much so that I added a couple extra days. Vermont was rustic yet relaxed. I wandered through a few mountains in the mist. Zeus would have loved to explore that landscape. I snapped some spring flowers, and made a long awaited pilgrimage.
I left Vermont, headed to Cape Cod. I spent one night in Franconia Notch and woke up to freezing rain and had to quickly tear down my campsite with feelingless fingers. The upside: minutes after the car was packed…that is to say all of the wet tent was stuffed into the back seat, I soon found a tremendous spot to get some stellar pancakes and some legit maple syrup. Man was it good. Then I headed into Boston for two days where I met up with a friend who was there on business. On the way down, I made my usual stop in Lowell to visit Karouac’s grave. I pulled out the wet tent and let it dry in the sunshine as I smoked a cigarette and quietly discussed my travels with the man I would never have the chance to discuss them with in person. The last time I was in Massachusetts was under very different circumstances. I was a few days away from coming face to face with a place I had been pretending was not bothering me. So I took a day out to Walden Pond to ponder my life and situation. I visited the graves of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and we talked. Well, that sounds a bit crazy. I talked. Vocalized my concerns of past, present and future. I left with a more secure mentality and confidence that I could handle whatever was thrown at me. Little did I know how much I would actually be tested. I guess all writers are tormented.
The next thing I knew, I was on a boat and headed away from the mainland. The horse that was my summer has been discussed in previous posts. It had been kicked enough. Cliff’s Notes version: I lived in a car for a month because there were literally no other options. I reconnected with a place I have loved from my past. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I had several conversations with the daughter of Roald Dahl, important ones too. One thing she said stuck with me. That was everything I wrote before I turned 30 was shit compared to what I would write after I turned 30. Namely due to the fact that most men lack the humility to truly write with honesty and create compelling characters. (Maybe you disagree, but I found it to make perfect sense.) Most importantly though, I reestablished my independence in an area I was worried it may prove too difficult to do so. I had good times on the beach with better people than myself. What more can you ask for?
2016 was filled with food. Tremendous food. All the best foods.
I had great friends all over the country busting-out this up and coming food scene. Ed Rudisell was blowing minds in Indianapolis with his constant attack of flavor and knowledge. Jason Foust was simply continuing to impress with his artful cocktails and dedicated study of the craft. Brad Culver was making things happen at 12.05 distillery always trying new things and producing the best gin I have ever had the pleasure of sipping (I’m still trying to figure out how to get your product out to MA, brother).
Back on the island, I was honored at Taste of the Vineyard with the opportunity to run the raw bar with the Chilmark shellfish warden (also a good friend and hands down the fastest oyster shucker I have ever seen)in early June. In August, I left a few other establishments I was working at to dedicate my time and efforts to Alchemy Bistro and Bar in Edgartown. It was potentially one of the best moves I have made if for no other reason than the proximity to an incredibly dedicated and intelligent chef and like minded people that care about flavor and the entire culinary experience of a meal. I found a new food home and who could ask for more than that? The exponential growth of my knowledge of food, flavor, presentation, preparation, pairing and palette is due (in part) to the intense mindset with which my chefs bring to the kitchen everyday. Execution and creativity are equally important. It is also due to the fact that we all share this passion and they are as excited to learn from me as I am from them. Cheers to my chefs. Cheers to Alchemy. Cheers to food. Come see us (if you can get a reservation, that is).
Whats next? Oh yea. More people died. Muhammad Ali died. A bunch of cops shot a bunch of black guys and then a bunch of black guys shot a bunch of cops. (Does this make you feel uncomfortable? It was designed to.) What else…Trump happened. That isn’t a political statement. It just happened. We have 4 years to really decide which side was right or wrong. I don’t actually think it will take 4 years. But traditionally, that is the time frame we have to work with, starting in 2017. Carrie Fisher was taken by the force right before the close of the year. Fidel Castro finally beat everyone that tried to assassinate him and died of relatively natural causes (more natural than a bullet at least). Of all the people on this list, his is the only biography I have read. It was incredibly interesting. One person that didn’t die though! I met Robert Plant. Not only did I meet him, I had the joy of chatting with him about music and our first concerts and what he and I were currently listening to. I won’t go into the whole story, but he asked me to write down some things I was currently listening to so he could go home and give them a listen. The lead singer of Led Zeppelin. Asked me. For suggestions. (This was a life high point. My work here is done. [And who knows if he ever listened to all of them or any of them, but if you’re reading this Robert, come back in on your next trip and tell me what you thought.])
On to something different. As of October 1st I had one state left to visit before completing the entire eastern half of the United States and that was Maine. So I had planned at the beginning of the summer, that at the end of the summer I would go for a trip up through Maine and backpack through Acadia. Well as the National Forest Service would have it, there is no backpacking in Acadia. So base camp and day-hikes it was. But it didn’t start there, it started with a night in Portland. Portland was an incredibly vibrant and young city. I ate tremendous food and had a couple well-balanced cocktails. By the next morning, I was already considering Maine as a place I could see myself living. It would only increase. I drove up the coast to get to Acadia. It was some of the most beautiful vistas and scenery I have seen to date, and those of you who know me, understand I have seen a fair share of vistas. It was so rustic and jagged with the air on antiquity you can only get from New England. I made it up to Acadia, set up camp, and enjoyed the outdoors to the fullest extent. I could have sat for weeks watching the waves crash against the rocks, the endless battle of repetition against solidarity.
Hold on just a second there was another thing. I still had all of the letters my ex-wife had written me many years prior, when we were young and variously different people. After my divorce, I didn’t know what to do with these letters. I didn’t want to throw them away, it felt like I was throwing away a part of myself. I didn’t want to keep them out and read them and just perpetuate my misery either, so they got placed in a box, that was then placed in another box (and then locked in a trunk which was then covered in cement, eaten by an alligator which was then eaten by a whale, which was then sunk to the bottom of the ocean after it died)…or it just went into storage. As I was going through my belongings before leaving for Massachusetts, I came across said box and decided it was time to do something with the letters, so along they came for the ride destined for Maine.
On a cool October night and my last night in Acadia I built a fire. Much like a fire I had built one October, 6 years prior. The fire started small, with just a wisp of smoke and then a slight crackle to let me know it was there but that I needed to care for it if I wanted it to burn. Delicately I fed it rich pine and lightly fanned it, allowing it to breath and grow. One the fire reached a level of independence that did not require my undivided attention, I place large, split pine logs on top and it came to life. With the fire crackling in front of me I pulled out the letters. I organized them orderly and chronologically. I read each letter thoroughly and slowly. Reliving every word. As each letter was finished, it was folded and placed in the fire, words only eternal through memory which is always finite. The last letter was a goodbye. I held it in my hands after I finished reading it, waiting to add it to cinders of the letters before it. With a deep breath, I leaned over and placed the final letter on the fire. One corner slowly caught until the flame crawled over the envelope and consumed the rest. With the last letter gone, I stopped putting new wood on the fire. Slowly the flames flickered consistently lower until all that remained were a few glowing embers that would glow to cinder and ash to soon go out and be scattered by the wind. We must constantly tend to our fires if we want them to burn.
Not to fret my friends. While it was a bittersweet moment for me. It was a tremendous relief. We can tell ourselves that we are not affected by things and we can be so incredibly convincing, we don’t even realize we are tricking even our own minds. This was a moment of rebirth as I discovered something that had been continually affecting me and was able to let it go. I can only wish for you all, the clarity which comes with that type of experience.
I think it is safe to say we had a lot of fun in 2016 guys. It was a pleasure seeing all of you that I was able to and If I didn’t I hope to see you in 2017. Keep being the crazies that inspire and grow and fight for wonderful dreams and create magnificent things and look to the stars.
But wait Eric, did your year end in October? Of course not. November and December were spent on the island, making people smile with our experiments in flavor. I watched Star Wars: Rogue One. (Which, surprisingly wasn’t spoiled even though I waited almost three weeks before I saw it in Indianapolis on the 70mm projector at the State Museum.) My head chef and food mastermind Brian Woods and I borrowed a car to drive to Indianapolis so we could visit our families for Christmastime. We ended up spending over 50+ hours in a 2003 Honda Civic to spend approximately 44 hours at home. Catching the last ferry off the island, we slept just north of NYC. There was a catch with 5th gear on the standard transmission and you needed to hold the shifter in gear otherwise it would kick itself out of gear. Waking up in the front seat of a Honda was pretty normal to me after the summer, but not so much for Brian. We stopped in PA and I introduced him to scrapple. (I’m still very alone in my love for scrapple.) Somewhere in Ohio, 5th gear decided it didn’t like us anymore. So we were limited to 4th. Have you ever taken a cross country road-trip without being able to use top gear? On the way back, we met at a gas station. As we were preparing to leave, it seemed that reverse also did no like us. For the remainder of the trip, we had to push the car backwards to get out of parking spots, with one of us ready to jump in and hit the brake if we started rolling too fast. We nearly died in Wheeling, WV. Don’t really need to discuss that. The engine, started really chugging in PA on the return and we stopped to realize there was literally ZERO oil in the engine. A few more miles and we would have thrown a rod right out the side. We stopped and asked for a mechanic to help but were told (and I shit you not), “We don’t have a Jiffy Lube or anything like that, but there’s a Dollar General right up the street.” We thanked the lady for her tremendous assistance, bought quarts of 5w-30 and drove another hour on country roads until we found a Midas that could throw the car up and take a look at her.
They brought the car down. Informed us they didn’t see any leaks, but we definitely had a broken pin in the clutch. Our fluids were topped off and the car was brought down. Amazed that we had even made it that far and still had several hundred miles to go, the guys didn’t even charge us for their time. Cheers to the guys at the Midas in Somerset, PA. They were a tremendous help. At this point we aptly named the car Pucker. (For anyone that doesn’t get it, wait until the next time you get incredibly scared and see if anything ‘puckers’.)
We got back to the island with enough time to prepare for our giant New Years Eve bash. A multi-course meal that had never been executed by us before, and on our busiest night of the year. We definitely hit a few walls that evening but I couldn’t be more proud of how the entire staff came together to execute and maintain the air of cheer and celebration for all of our patrons, even though behind the scenes, many of us were looking for holes to go crawl in and die. Alas, we made it through and we learned so much from it. (And I’m sure we created a smile for every single one of the 1,500 helium balloons we inflated that filled the restaurant, sticking to hats and floating behind the servers.)
I guess that is the lesson of 2016. Growth. Change. And how every moment that doesn’t go quite the way we wanted, is an opportunity for us to learn. To make better decisions. To be more supportive, more encouraging. To be a force of enlightenment rather than darkness. We don’t always remember these things. So thank you to all of you that have lifted me up and created joy in my life in 2016. Whether you are a vagabond van lady, an erratic fish monger, a chef, an adventure loving couple from San Francisco, an almost lawyer in Denver, a DJ, a server from Edgartown, a half puerto rican new englander, a traveling hair stylist, a music producer, a music lover, an almost magazine starter, a faller out of trees, a whiskey nerd from Noblesville, a hipster nanny from Brooklyn, a nurse from Texas, a car renter from Baltimore, a film maker in New Orleans, a distiller in Fountain Square, a rum nerd from Greenwood, a badass chef from Chicago or a badass line cook from Jersey, an astronomy junky from Golden, a professor in Virginia, a guitar player in Westfield, a medical consultant with a jeep, a lover, a brother, a father, a mother. Thank you. I hope I have been able to at least return the love that you have shown me even if it was only for a fleeting moment. We are human, and flaws are what make us beautiful (or at least I tell myself that because I’m littered with them).
Hopefully our paths cross in 2017. Love and Hopkicks.