Saturday, June 25, 2011

California, there I went...

As the jazz pianist and composer Bobby Troupe wrote, “…won’t you get hip to this timely tip; when you make that California trip, get your kicks on Route 66.”

It wasn’t exactly the way Troupe told it, but the Amtrak train that took me home from Los Angeles through the Southwest to Chicago and then to New York, followed a great deal of the old Route 66, even made stops at some of the places mentioned in the song. The return trip was delightful.

On the way to the West Coast, however, the story is not so pretty. In fact, it was a nightmare, thanks to the floods and fires that caused Amtrak to cancel all trains.

In any case, I got to where I was headed in one piece and then Wednesday, June 15 came and it was time to meet some new friends.

That evening, I reconnected with Tom Wark and Jack Everitt, two guys that I first met online and then came to meet in person on a couple of past trips to the West Coast. That was a blast. But the real treat for the evening was to meet other Internet friends that I had yet to meet face-to-face: Samantha Dugan, John Kelly, Ron Washam, Charlie Olken, and Marcia (whose last name I didn’t get) plus Wark’s new wife, Charlie’s long-standing wife, John’s winemaking assistant, all of whom I was introduced to by name, but in my oncoming dotage have not held in memory. I apologize for that gap, and should have taken notes.

What I do remember of that evening wholeheartedly was conviviality. We ate good food served at Harvest Moon in Sonoma (oh, those sardines), drank fabulous wines brought by each of us, and talked trash as well as serious. (Have you ever sat at a table of nearly a dozen self-confident people with opinions? If not, don’t try it without some practice.)

I was especially pleased with the overall good reception of the Finger Lakes wines that I brought to the dinner.

The memorable evening fell in the middle of my trip, and that made it all the more wonderful, as it was a fine break from the combination work and scouting that I was doing while on the West Coast (in seven days, I racked up 1800 miles on a rented car). The work was to interview a few people for research pertaining to my next book, which is under contract. The scouting was to satisfy a sense that I had that it is time for me to move on, to relocate.

Unfortunately or not, the places I had planned to visit in southern Oregon as candidates for that relocation did not live up to expectations. Or maybe it is simply that I am not ready. Whatever, I have decided to stay put for the time being. It didn’t help that, despite a proliferation of coffee kiosks throughout the region, or maybe because of them, I could not find a decent cup of unadulterated espresso in southern Oregon.

People who deal with and survive cancer are also faced with our mortality, and that often makes us believe either that what we have may not be enough or it may not be the right thing for us. In the past few months, while facing mortality, and although I’d like to claim exceptionality, I proved to myself that I am as ordinary as any man. But after searching on this trip, and doing a lot of thinking as well, I have come to the conclusion that what I have is enough and it is right for me.

The only thing that I need to do to make comfortable the time that I have left on this earth is for me to escape the deep winters that often afflict this part of the country. For that, I don’t need to go to a warmer place; I need to be in a place that provides me with access to things that I cannot have while hibernating in my rural community, and that includes a good unadulterated double espresso—daily.

My latest thought, then, is to find a temporary apartment each winter in Manhattan. There, I can indulge in what truly makes me happy—cultural events. To do that in the Finger Lakes in winter it takes clearing the driveway of snow and ice, warming the car, driving in snow and ice for a minimum of 35 miles one way, and then trying to enjoy the evening while thinking of the energy-draining drive home in the dead of night and winter.

In Manhattan, all it takes to enjoy cultural events is to get dressed, go downstairs and either walk or take a taxi, whatever the weather is.

I am so glad to have reached a stage in my life where I get to enjoy conviviality more often and to also make decisions mostly on my terms. So, fuck cancer. It has nothing on freedom, friends, and conviviality.

I think I'll need another conviviality trip to the West Coast soon—better still, maybe some of my new friends would like to see how green is our valley during a Finger Lakes summer here in the East.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
June 2011. All rights reserved

Lifting a blog entry without the author's permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement--period.


  1. I am glad your train ride home was much better than the one out to the west coast.

  2. As you might expect, so was I.

    I haven't forgot that I owe you some answered questions--tomorrow in an email.

  3. Thomas--

    We here in California wine country would love to have you visit any old time.

    It is hard to criticize NYC as a place for cultural life, but I might point out to you that San Francisco is not exactly an intellectual wasteland, and our weather is better in winter.

    My guess is that you could get a pied-a-terre in some central location for an affordable price and be able to walk to opera, symphony, museums all in a few blocks and be able to take the bus (at your door to the rest of the city and its attractions).

    OK, enough of the Chamber of Commerce stuff.

    Thanks for bringing the NY wines. I have developed a real fondness for Finger Lakes Riesling. I wish CA could do nearly so well on a consistent basis as you all do. Oh, well, a little diversity is probably good for us all.

    And do plan on coming back often.


  4. Charlie,

    I am quite familiar with San Francisco. In the 70s and 80s my work in the audio visual industry took me frequently to the city, where we put many industrial shows together for IBM, et al. (As an aside, I worked with Leigh Knowles on the audio visual piece that used 35mm slides and film at the winery's visitor center--loved Leigh).

    My choice of cities runs this way: NY first, Chicago second, San Francisco third, and that's because the third doesn't put forth the energy that the two first put forth. I guess that having grown up in NYC, I'm all about energy!

  5. Now, Charlie, when will you commit to a visit here?

  6. Fuck winter too. Our Southern Italian DNA doesn't really care for it. We have been thinking of going Deep south (Pompano or close), but I would be content in Jersey close to a train that could take me into the City and all that's there. Go for it.

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  8. Marco,

    After all is said and done, I recognize that I do despise winter. But almost 30 years married to someone of Welsh/Irish blood, who accepts and even welcomes cold weather, I've learned to make allowances, if not compromises.

    Still, my idea are making progress inside my wife's head, and she, too, seems to think the Manhattan apartment one is a good way to go--now, all we need is to figure out whether or not we can afford the double life, but we are going to give it a try next winter.

  9. When will the Finger Lakes Wine Consortium of Promotion and Drinking hire you to tour the country to promote their wines, now that you're a wildly famous Internet Wine Celebrity...the one who actually drinks the(ir) drink?

    Oh, and next time, haul out four cases of wine here - show some muscle, Thomas.

  10. Thomas,
    While I am sorry that the road west was paved with derailment and flooding I am so thrilled that you finally made it. Still jumping through a few of the hoops it took to get up north and hang with you cats but it has been beyond worth it.

    Was so very wonderful, albeit too short, to finally meet you face to face, listen to you playfully snarl and Tom about Chronic Negress and writing awards, be a part of the banter that was a table full of strong voices....made me very proud to be there. You have always been so sweet and supportive of me Thomas, so giving of your time and praise, not sure what I've done to deserve it but I simply adore you and wanted nothing more than to be at that table, by your side....stealing a bite of your grits and gravy.

    So glad you finally made it!

  11. Hey, Krakhead...don't tell me, tell the Finger lakes wine industry how much of an asset I am to it, even if four cases is too much for me to handle.


    You turned out to be in person exactly what I expected, a mix of sexy, reserved, libertine and libertarian, a food thief, a good argumentor (if there is such a word), a smart wine drinker who, unlike Krak, knows exactly what's wrong with the orange wine fad, and an all around perfect mouthpiece that makes someone as irrelevant as I seem larger than life.

    Plus, how can I not like someone who identified the Ravines Vineyard Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc as Chinon-like.

  12. Thomas,

    I absolutely loved your Finger Lakes contributions to the table! I just found the Keuka Springs 2006 Gewürz and 09 Dry Riesling to be so lovely. And the Cab Franc was delicious as well.

    It is ironic that even in the 21st century with travel (usually) fairly quick, many wines remain mostly locally distributed. So it was a real treat to sample some from your neck of the woods (even though I can't possible provide the eloquent descriptions Ms. Sans Dosage can always come up with).

    Most wonderful was getting to meet you and so many of the other guests whom I only see onscreen (with your words). I wish there had been more time for further conversation, as lively as it was the whole evening.

    It is Oregon's loss that with inadequate espresso production, they will lose out on a fine addition. But your Manhattan plan seems to have you excited. So I'm sure that will work out well. (Instead of Troupe's tune, we'll all have to hail Bernstein's NY, NY song for you.)

    Hope you can return soon!

  13. Marcia,

    Macomber--how could I forget? It's all over your comment posts.

    Idiot that I am.

    Bernstein became a consummate New Yorker, but Gershwin set the benchmark. Me, I've always been a New Yorker, no matter where I've lived--even during two years in Tehran I kept comparing, which really was a ridiculous thing for me to do.

    The Riesling in Iran was, however, quite good at the time. Not kidding.

  14. Cannot complain about Gershwin either. His various concertos immediately pop into my head when you mention George. (And, of course, Ira was most deft with his lyrics--vastly underappreciated.) It must have been quite the era to live in Manhattan!

    Riesling in Iran,eh? Cannot even imagine... But I've not been there.

    I believe, despite your westward progression difficulties, you caught the right train, date wise.... I've done Amtrak from Chi-town to Glenwood Springs and back. The best part is the Rockies, no doubt for the glorious scenery.

  15. Thomas, I can see that you had a great trip to California.

    It seems like you've regained some mental resources....


  16. Marcia,

    Iran is one of the oldest sites for a wine discovery, evidence that goes back to 7600 years ago in the Zagros Mountains. The Persian culture exalted wine--think Omar Khayyam.

    When I lived there, the Shah was still in power and so it was a secular existence, mostly. Alcohol was served in restaurants and bars. Now that it is controlled by a state religion, I understand that wine is still being produced in Iran, but under cover.

    The Riesling was good; it was produced in the north of the country. In the south, they had a wine named "yech hezar yech" (1001) that was a spicy red, closely related in taste to Syrah.

    Henrik, I like to think that as I age and my physical resources deteriorate, my mental resources stay close to par...I like to think it, anyway...

  17. Better late than never I hope, I want to finally tell you what pleasure it was to finally meet you in person. I'm really glad that despite the travel snafus you were able to join us for the get-together, and thank you for bringing the wonderful wines.

    It's a sad fact that Finger Lakes might as well be a small foreign country so far as it gets treated by most West Coast wine buyers. And if the wines you brought are representative, it's also true that the Finger Lakes wines that do make it out here for sale are just average for what the area can do. I want more.

    I think I insulted the friend (Jack?) that brought the orange wine. I also believe there is plenty wrong with that fad and I let him know it. Oops. ;-)

  18. John,

    Orange wine is indeed a fad.

    To me, the fad illustrates the nature of conformism, especially in geekdom.

    Technically, the wines are likely as bad as most ancient wines would have been without the scientific knowledge that we have today concerning biological instability and BUGS.