Humble Pursuit

This post is intentionally for my apologies. I built my website in May with grand ideas and I planned on continuing it throughout my year that I lived in Mexico (sounds exciting, right?). I had blog posts planned, pitches laid out, and restaurants, food, spirits, and wine I was ready to write about. I was excited about it. Then life comes around and tells you it has other plans.

I was trying my best to settle into my life in Oaxaca City but no one explains to you that expat life can be pretty lonely. I felt lonely. I dwelled on how much I was proud of but also of what I wasn’t doing. I was tough on myself. I brought on a big adjustment and didn’t allow myself the time and space to heal and become my own.

Before I could even think of being nice to myself, I got a phone call from my parents saying my mom had one big, nasty headache, and since then had been getting worse. She went in and out of doctors for tests on Lyme Disease and everything else under the sun. Finally, a weekend approached where I thought Cisco and I could see a movie, maybe catch a Guerreros game, really enter into this culture, when I called my dad to find out that my mom was in the ER. She had a ruptured brain aneurysm. She needed surgery on Monday. My dad could barely get the words out and would have to give the phone to my mother to explain to me what was wrong with her while she sat in a hospital bed hoping her injury wouldn’t cause more damage.

I couldn’t sleep. I was up at six in the morning watching that apocalyptic James Franco movie just to possibly get my mind off of real life. I called my brother to assess how serious the situation was. It became evident that I needed to fly home. Francisco searched for a flight. I put a suitcase together in my scattered state (which I later found out ended up being fifteen pairs of pants and one shirt, but I digress). I flew to NJ on a whim one day in June. It’s now almost November and I haven’t been back. I’m 31, about to be married, and live at home with my parents.

But since then, I’ve volunteered at TexSom, been a speaker at BevCon in Charleston, started an internship at Wine & Spirits magazine, and have professionally started writing.

I’ve learned slowly through all of these events that the people I’ve surrounded myself these past ten years with truly know the art of hospitality. I’ve felt welcomed and have learned that the art of wine is universal, that the community has endless support and love to give.

The profession itself speaks to the creative, the analytic, and the hospitalian mind and somehow, I’ve learned that because of this, it is a profession with endless opportunity and endless voice. It is a profession where the knowledge never ends. There’s only becoming better. I’ve watched hurricanes and earthquakes hit old hometowns, shootings happen down the street of my hotel on vacation, and vans take down pedestrians in the place I was standing just an hour before. We’ve watched shooters take down Las Vegas and fires in California. There’s so much out there in the world today that has touched on the industry I’ve come to love so dearly and there is so much more we can talk about. In a real way.

We also need to talk about the things that give us joy in such a heartbreaking reality. I will do my best to breach both but they are both my goals. To face the unthinkable and take joy in the small pleasures. Here goes my humble pursuit.  

Bienvenidos a Oaxaca!

Bienvenidos a Oaxaca.

I’ve been summarizing a bit of my travels as of late but the biggest trip of all was leaving Tucson with a full suitcase and a one-way ticket to Oaxaca City, Mexico. I’ve visited a couple times before. My fiancé works for a mezcal brand, a fantastic one at that, and was asked to come down to the home base for mezcal production and well, I went with him.

I came down here to write more and I have been and intend to. Starting fresh in an international space makes you feel somewhat like a child, relearning steps you thought you had already made, relearning spaces and places and how to get around. For me, it also means creating a new workspace and trying my hand at something new, something solitary, and at something that’s really testing my discipline along with my circadian rhythms.

There’s no map for the bus system. There’s no English spoken. Hell, there’s no Target and paying my AT&T bill has taken a month to figure out with three different trips to the store and a Spanish-speaker in tow. There’s been multiple times I’ve just wanted a cigarette to calm my nerves and I ended up ordering menthols. Clothes haven’t dried for a couple days because I only have a line and it rains a lot during the summer. God damn, do I miss Parmesan cheese.

On the other hand, it’s been a month. I’ve had multiple conversations in Spanish with lovely human beings. Chedraui sells everything including tires (can Target really say the same?), my phone bill costs $30, and well, there’s quesillo, which makes everything better. I also breathe more and my face regained color.

I knew there’d be some challenges, some I realized, some I didn’t, but being down here is pretty damn rad. I do drink a lot of mezcal but those who know me well, know that my bubbly wine intake has suffered here in Oaxaca. To celebrate the idea of taking risks and stretching comfort zones, I give you my first bottle of bubbles that I enjoyed with every sip at Origen in Oaxaca.

Analogía is from the state of Querétaro, about three hours northwest of Mexico City. Querétaro is quite famous in its own right for its sparkling wine production or vinos espumosos. Not much is exported or even seen down here in Oaxaca. They celebrate their harvest with a festival in August and their main tourist attraction is their Ruta del Queso y el Vino, a tour or guide to all the cheesemakers and wineries in the region. There’s a mix here of larger companies versus smaller, terroir-driven wineries. Freixenet made their mark down here and owns Sala Vivé and has their hand in a lot of production including Analogía.

The philosophy here though is taking European varieties and harvesting and growing them on Mexican land. Mexican culture was created from blending Prehispanic rituals with European colonization and winemaking is no different. Grapes here are of international varieties along with Chenin Blanc, Colombard, and Macabeo. Analogía is made with Chardonnay and Macabeo and is done in traditional method.

It was deep straw color with notes of grass and crème fraiche, unripe pears, and savory herbs. We ordered two bottles in lieu of the cheap Taittinger on the menu (after conversion). I'm enamored with Querétaro and hope a trip there happens sooner rather than later.

I am now on a mission to find more of these bottles.

I can drink them while I wait for my clothes to dry.

 

Sand-Reckoner, Willcox, and Arizona wines

How did this obsession begin? Here’s some backstory:

I was transitioning through this insane move from Houston to Oaxaca with numerous moving parts and some of this required me biding my time with Francisco’s mom and grandmother (lovingly ,Mama and Nana T) in Tucson, Arizona.

In the midst of this and lucky for me, I had the honor of being invited to attend the TexSom International Wine Awards as part of the sommelier retreat where we would write for the subsequent magazine as well as attend tastings and seminars. One of these seminars was serendipitously about the wines of Arizona done by the inimitable Elaine Chukan Brown. I went in not knowing what to expect albeit a little skeptical but I walked out a believer and for two months, I worked to track down one of my favorites of the bunch: Sand-Reckoner Vineyards.

They opened up a tasting room in downtown Tucson that I frequented more than I liked to admit. I talked through every wine available with the gracious and knowledgeable, Tana, who is reason enough to visit alone. It’s a stark, modern, and comfortable space akin to its up-and-coming contemporary and artsy neighbors. This is a block of Tucson I get goosebumps about.

Finally, a couple days before our move to Oaxaca, the scheduling gods answered and Francisco and I were able to spend the day with Sarah and Rob Hammelman from Sand-Reckoner. We tasted barrel samples, toured their vineyards (which is basically their backyard), and asked a million questions.

Sand-Reckoner is in Willcox AVA in Southeastern Arizona, very close to the borders of New Mexico and Mexico. It’s an hour and a half drive from Tucson and it sits on the Willcox Bench, a ridge that formed over the course of billions of years which is now essentially a drained lake whose water retention is kept in check by the emergence of its surrounding mountain ranges. The altitudes in their many vineyards including Cimaron, Rumbline, Cochise, Blue Moon, and Red Tree Ranch all vary from 4,000 to 5,000 feet holding newer vines but some at 20 years old. The soil type that remains is mostly sand and clay loam but bands of that infamous limestone zig-zag throughout the area.

You would think in an Arizona desert climate, there would be a lot of just straight-up heat but some viticultural hazards do include frost and a lot of wind and rain from early July. Rob’s way of combating this is all about canopy management and allowing air flow before the rains even begin. Sarah and Rob say that taking care of the vines through every possible seasonal hazard is key. It’s handiwork that resists the changing weather in a desert and monsoon-friendly climate.

Rob and Sarah have collectively worked in wineries all over the world including Napa Valley, Adelaide, Two Rivers Winery in Colorado, and at St. Combe in Gigondas. They met in Colorado and when they decided to run a winery and vineyard, the Arizona mountains called to them.

Their first vintage was in 2010 and their breakthrough in the market started in Phoenix and migrated to Tucson three to four years later. They gained some traction when local restaurants in these places began to feature some of their reds by the glass and now, they have production of about 2,500 cases per year.

We headed into the first room toward the back of their downtown Willcox winery and it’s where they store and keep their wines in old California barrels – all used and all at least five years old. There is little if any oak influence on these wines and it only does these wines and varieties justice. Some processes are somewhat old-school using a hand-ratcheted basket press and even foot-stomping their whites and roses with the stems on. 

Moving into the temperature-controlled second room,  it's easy to go in with a notion that New World warm climates would see barrels full of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but this room would prove you wrong. They take a lot of their influence here from Southern Rhone, Spain, and Italy with Portuguese and Languedoc clones, ones that Rob picks to suit the climate that he finds similar to these Old World-areas.

Their more well-known white bottlings include Picpoul and Vermentino, both with searing acid and beautiful fruit and savory notes that remind me of their Old World counterparts. Rob let us taste through tons of samples, all complex, savory, and so simple but beautifully balanced. The real treat was an orange Roussanne that spent forty days on the skins. The nose reminded me of Basque cider and sherry but the palate was full of apple skin, oranges, and white flowers. We were able to compare Tempranillos from the same vintage but different vineyards, an argument for terroir in this AVA (it’s true). Rather than creating Bordeaux blends in their typical style, Rob’s red blends see Petit-Verdot-dominant wines that carry an incredibly pleasing aroma of green bell pepper and green bean. Two of my favorites included a 2014 Syrah that was so obviously Syrah with black pepper, olive tapenade, and dried meat but also carried beautifully dried blue and black fruit. You’d think it was Northern Rhône but it was in a class of its own. I also found out that Rob and I shared a geekiness towards Southern Italian varieties and we got a tiny taste of Sagrantino - bloody and round yet lifted.

After our tasting, we headed over to meet Sarah (and their dog, Earl) at their vineyards. Everything was just flowering and required that canopy management that Rob had talked about. I was able to learn how to thin some shoots and air out a canopy. Geek central.

I am officially on the Arizona wine train. Thank you to Sarah and Rob for having us. I spent the past year spending a lot of my time behind a wine bar with notecards, blind practices, and popcorn theory over text message. I came out to a vineyard and remembered what it means to study wine and meet the makers and taste what people are doing in their little corner of the world. What seemed to be the case was that these winemakers have a special hand in manipulating wines in the bottle in order to sync with the output that the region is giving them - a true relationship between earth and winemaker and another definition of terroir that I believe gets overlooked.

Not a lot of Arizona wines are getting distributed outside of the state but I think you need to ask for them. They’re ready and willing to show you what they are putting their livelihoods into. Take it! Check out their website here and read more of their story - http://www.sand-reckoner.com/.

DC for the F&B

I grew up on the East Coast and have frequented D.C. on many occasions- for 8th grade class trips, family vacations, volunteer work in college, and even my best friend’s graduation from Johns Hopkins. They all had a purpose and mainly those purposes were to take in the history and the culture. In these first few trips, that’s what you do. You take in the National Mall, the Archives, and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. As somewhat of a celestial dork, I would do the latter again. If you scratch and dig a little deeper, it’s not just a tourist destination with a plethora of sightseeing, it has a thriving food and drink culture with bartenders who are knowledgeable and excited about everything from cider to brandy to mezcal without a touch of pretension.

Eat
Anxo

At Anxo, they remind us that cider is wine and they happen to be the first legalized winery in Washington, D.C. since Prohibition. Their cider list is split into categories from floral and bright to funky and structured and then they help guide you to the right cider, most of them being on their huge draft wall. My fiancé, Francisco and I tried many from floral Vermont ciders to the savory Basque-type, all served in the proper glassware, which included either a porron or an 11oz bottle with the proper escanciador (see: Google images). The bartenders couldn’t be more thrilled to talk to us about the extensive options. There’s also Txakoli a-plenty, a frizzante white or rosé originating from the Basque country and a superior Calvados flight. This place loves their pomaceous fruits.

The food to accompany deserves its own platform but it definitely serves as a complete package offering tiny pintxo bites with smaller, more traditional plates of croquettes, albondigas, and beans ramada. The owners and chefs have traveled around the world and settled in on this type of cuisine as home. They also have another location coming soon with a larger focus on production.

Le Diplomate
A long-time favorite in the Dupont area of DC, a comfortable and traditional brasserie with almost any French fare you could possibly ask for. It was a celebratory birthday dinner for me so it was martinis, sparkling French wine, moules frites, and raw fish. It was a loud and joyful space with thoughtful service, and the space steeped in deep burgundies, brass, and wood that made you feel truly in Paris. The welcoming bread basket with traditional baguettes to sourdough grain is enough to tell anyone to go here.

Drink
Espita Mezcaleria

This was one of the loveliest experiences I had in DC and as the future wife of a mezcal connoisseur, this was a given. They have an envious selection of mezcal and a list of fun, thirst-quenching and floral spritzes. They can also rock out a dealer’s choice and any and all of the bartenders are friendly and geeky about agave. We had some snacks here but they serve traditional Oaxacan specialties like tlayuda and torta but ask them for their heirloom corn tortillas (They have it shipped in!) while admiring the Southern Mexican-inspired murals on the walls.

Columbia Room
This is the candlelit lounge that delivers the experience of being political royalty without actually having to be. Sparkling wines from Jura, cocktails with elegant ingredients, and a focus on wine and food pairing. They have a few experiences to choose from an upstairs lounge to the garden patio, and a self-proclaiming focus on service where I can confirm they took care of a birthday girl with small-bite macaroons and paired spirits.

See
Phillips Collection

A smaller art museum located in Dupont Circle so away from its more famous counterparts at the Smithsonian so that It may be hard to convince your friends that this is the place to go. I’m telling you it’s worth it. I had the pleasure of seeing a special exhibit on Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and more specifically, his printing during the Belle Époque but I was able to marathon around the permanent collection. The Left Wing is set in the old Phillips house and he decided to place his artwork in more a mish-mash style based on how the paintings fit each room and the way they fit around the other works. It’s definitely worth a stroll and the house itself paints its own awe-inducing backstory.

This is also the site of the Rothko room with four paintings on each wall meant to invoke a sense of tranquility and it’s the only site like this outside of the Rothko Chapel in Houston. There’s much to see in the permanent collection including a room made entirely of wax but the coup de gras is Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boat Party and it is definitely worth the hype and the time spent in any Art History class. The colors and the characters can leave you sitting in front of this painting until they tell you it’s time to close. (Whoops..)

The Floor.

“I love being on the floor.” “I can’t wait to get off the floor.” “I can’t wait for a time when I don’t have to be on the floor.” “I can’t wait to get back on the floor”. What is this “floor” that we’re always talking about? Is it a job or a part of a job? Is it something going on in a restaurant that you may have overheard of a time or two?

The “floor” encapsulates a lot more than what may have been overheard by a patron and more importantly, than what it means to us, industry folk, than we realize.

It means we work at night. We, night owls, rebels, or however you’d like us to be called, don’t want to work from 9 to 5. We feel trapped by routine and jailed by an idea that we should ever pray to FrÏge’s Day. We have never quite understood what TGIF means. It’s more along the lines of Thank God the Shift Is Over or Thank God I Have Off on Monday (TGSO or TGOM).

Tomorrow, I’m in at 4, the next, it’s 11am for paperwork, it’s 10am for a seminar, 12pm for a work meeting, and then I’m closing on Saturday at 7:30pm. PM. Post meridium. Based on my scientific background, I’ve deemed this also PJ. Permanent Jetlag.

It means our jobs take a toll on our bodies. It means we get home after a long shift and put our damn feet up because we ran a marathon, carried cases of wine for stocking, and my knees. My God, my knees. They need extra care and I have a permanent crick in my back from washing out wells that were too deep. I’m 31 years old.

It means we’re on stage. That no matter what the hell happened to you that day, you had to put your cat down, your car wouldn’t start, your girlfriend broke up with you, you get your shit together, put a smile on your face, and take other people’s bad days and give it all you’ve got to make THEM feel better.

It means we’re an extrovert (even when we’re not or don’t want to be). I’ve become more introverted the older I’ve gotten and there are just some days I want to bury my head in Word documents, books, maps, or notecards, or maybe an episode of Orange Is The New Black and just forget about everything. This is not an option on the “floor”. It’s almost like answering a dreaded two-hour-long phone call from an unknown number- to an introvert anyways.

It means different hours than the rest of the world. The upside to this is no lines or waits in any possible errand you may want to run. The return line at Target was a godsend but my inability to take weekends off to see family or friends who planned things on Saturdays or Sundays was heartbreaking. I missed a lot of my nephews’ birthday parties.

It means it is what we’re good at and it’s hard to break out. How do you translate these skills when you’re ready to leave? You have to build up the other skills when you’re not on the floor which adds to your work day, your work week, and before you know it, you’re working for 80 hours, hopped up on five cups of coffee, a half-pack of cigarettes, and you forgot to eat, or really, you just can’t be bothered to figure out what your calorie count was that day.

It means you work on tips. Budgeting is a bitch. One month you’re rich and you think it’ll last, the next month, you’re scraping what you can. You can always make more if you turn that 50-hour week to a 70-hour one. Just to equal out what you did in a 20-hour week during OND (October, November, December).

It means you generally don’t have healthcare. You break your ankle and you’re on a peg leg struggling for three months to get people their glass of Chardonnay. Enough said. I’ve been there.

It means you’re surrounded by alcohol. Something that is just beginning to be discussed as somewhat of a crutch (no pun intended) or way of life in our industry. It’s a point of pride. Sometimes you succumb and sometimes you don’t want to do it anymore but it feels in some cases, that you don’t have a choice.

It means you have to be really good (and I mean extraordinary and somewhat popular and really great at self-marketing) at what you do in order to find a way out.

This diatribe may seem like I’m complaining or that this job of a service industry just sucks and I’m persuading you not to do it.

But that’s not true.

Listed here is every reason why you should.

There’s freedom in your schedule. It’s exhilarating, and it is a perfect option for those of us who don’t like to feel confined to the rules. There’s options to make a lot more money to allow us to do other things in life we’d like to do. Sometimes, you want to hole up with a book but the people you meet along the way become lifelong friends. I attended a wedding for my old regulars that I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t have a bar job.

There’s something to be said about choosing a job in the service industry.

Hospitality is a virtue, one that I respect and value greatly after my time in the industry but all these other things listed above have stomped me until I wasn’t exuding and breathing the value that was the most important thing about this career that I chose.

There are people who love it and find it satisfying, find balance, who do it well, and will strive professionally and personally to maintain. I’ve watched them and I admire them but I, myself, didn’t and I’m speaking to those who might just be feeling like me. Granted, I've moved away from the ins and outs of working in restaurants and live in Mexico but one of the major reasons for taking that leap was for self-healing so maybe one day, I can do it again. 

In my conversations and in my research, here’s what I found out:

For example, there’s been a lot of articles on being sober. I don’t think this is the answer. It isn’t that black and white. There are themes and dots and a lot of interesting connections to be made that seem to run through our industry like a string. A string that allows us to read article after article and be glad that someone is actually trying to talk about them whether we feel as if we’re in solidarity or if it just enrages us. Either way, it invokes a reaction, because you know, like I do, there are issues to be fixed and to be dealt with.

There needs to be care of employees, there needs to be budgeting for an inconsistent income, there needs to be healthcare, and possibly, working off of a non-tip based system. There needs to be more talk of staff meals, staff snacks, and alcohol, and not in a cute, gathering kind of way but in an air of sustenance for those of us who serve you food when we can’t eat. There needs to be talk about stress and anxiety and how to quell and balance, and a voice for sexual harassment for both women and men.   

My love for this industry runs wide and it runs deep and it’s my motivation for wanting to make it better and aim to improve it everyday.

There’s a lot of political turmoil these days. A lot of which we follow as industry folk and a lot of which has to do with our working wages, our working taxes, and our working way of life. There’s a lot of action happening and a lot of people speaking out for many work environments and for political change. This is my anthem to say that what personally affects me and the people I work with also affects anyone dealing with these same issues day to day. Those things happening in our government affect this industry. It takes speaking out.

Here are some links below to some of the stories that speak towards the things we can do to take care of our employees and take care of each other:

Stressed by Success a Top Restaurant Turns To Therapy - NY Times

Chefs with Issues

Speaking Out by Daniel Patterson - MAD Feed

This is only the beginning of some work I'd like to do. Let's go. Please comment if you have additional articles to share!

New Orleans, Deux

New Orleans, a city of dégustation, a city of debauchery, and a city of blissful, drunken stupor. I was a bartender in Texas for a period of time and New Orleans was the mecca where indulgence was celebrated and never looked down upon. That’s just as much for the general public than just bar industry folk, told by the solo cups carried around the French Quarter or the fact that bars are open for 24 hours. On my second trip here, there’s no denying the fact that it holds its own culture, art, food, and drink in both old tradition and in a new, innovative direction. New Orleans has always been an amalgamation of culture and the present day doesn’t stray away from that.

Eat
Shaya

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In speaking of the integration of new culture, Shaya, opened by Chef Alon Shaya of Domenica, has been the place on everyone’s lips. With local Louisiana ingredients, Shaya focuses on Mediterranean and Israeli cuisine as a testament to his upbringing. Dinner consists of small and large plates and a hummus-only section that includes the three that I indulged in - curried cauliflower, a short rib with walnut and harissa, and lamb ragu. Let’s be real though, it’s this wood-fired, puffed-up pita that will make eating hummus as a late-night snack never the same again.

Shaya is a wine geek’s dream. There are wines that span different Israeli up-and-coming regions including Galilee, the Judean Hills, and the Negev (a good amount of altitude and proper soil). The white and the roses that I was able to try had body and weight while still maintaining some killer acid to go with the food. The list is rounded out with Mediterranean favorites such as Chateau Musar, Occhipinti, Domaine Skouras, and some lesser known wines from Eastern Europe.

Slim Goodies
Another tidbit about me is my love and nostalgia for diners. I’m a New Jerseyan who has lived in different states and the struggle is real. Slim Goodie’s is located in the Garden District and is every breakfast lover's dream that fuses any brunch dish you could think of into its crawfish and crab ball-loving cousin. Their website is also a sweet homage to the pride in its Gulf-location and in its support from the neighborhood.

Drink
Cane & Table

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Situated in the French Quarter is Cane & Table and its best and most exciting part? The way they structure the menu. I think menu structure is an exciting topic and deserves its own post but the menu is split into historical and classic, boozy and citrus that wraps around a beautiful wheel of ideas and tastes. There isn’t an exact formula but it couldn’t have spoken more to the concept of Cane & Table. I was able to hang out here with one of the main curators of the list and every cocktail we tried had a purpose and every ingredient spoke to the history behind the cocktail. They’re also delicious. I had at least five for research's sake.

See
Ogden Museum of Southern Art
A forever skeptic, I walked into this smaller art museum thinking I’d be looking at a lot of beige and green in landscape form but this became one of my favorite places in New Orleans with the more modern artists being some of my favorite. The collection spans different media from textiles to photography. Personal highlights included John McCrady with his Evening Meal, Duck Hill, Mississippi and The Parade- two paintings that depict Southern life and the life of African-American in the early 1900’s. Clementine Hunter, a Louisiana painter who spent most of her time at Melrose Plantation, used paints leftover from visiting artists and any canvas she could find to create works that depicted that of her life on the farm. Two rare paintings, Flowing River, and Cotton to Gin & Baptism are on display here next to one of her most famous, A Funeral at Isle Breville. The collection goes on to to include many artists that were able to exhibit great representation of life in the South from textural painting to photography from the 1800’s to the present.  

  A Funeral at Isle Breville,  Clementine Hunter

A Funeral at Isle Breville, Clementine Hunter

Train Horns.

I lived across the way from a train station, not quite across the street but parallel to the street I grew up on. You took one of the streets to the left or the right, then down, and then left or right again depending on whether you were moved in particular by Thompson or Anderson Streets. I usually took the Thompson side. This train station made us, the tiny little Italian town of Raritan, New Jersey, desirable.

It was a gateway to the metropolis and defined the life of the commuter- you know, the ones who had that life, that job just different than what you saw around you or right next door. A life that held just a tiny bit of curiosity, a little bit of wonder, and possibly a tiny kernel of fear.

In home videos of myself, at least three years old, I was enamored by the train horn. It was powerful enough to stop a toddler from playing house in the backyard to run to the driveway and watch for the source of this elusive sound. I asked where it was going and my parents would tell me High Bridge. What heaven! The greatness of which my curly-haired head couldn’t bear. This sound was a sound of unlimited possibilities starting and stopping with High Bridge.

Everywhere I’ve lived and everywhere I’ve traveled, I still hear that train horn, that distinct noise and it’s no different than what that curly-haired three-year old heard. This time though, I know who is on those trains at rush hour at 9am and even at 3am coming home at night. I’ve been on those trains in and out of New York, heading back to college or when I was commuting to work. I know them well and I know where to transfer and I know where the Dunkin’ Donuts oasis lays at Newark Penn Station.

When I lived in Houston, I heard the same sounds. It was the train with steel materials rushing and bringing massive structures to and from the Gulf. It’s the sound of the trains running through the desert in Tucson with concrete piping. Both of these, I know now last forever and you should do your damnedest to avoid them at the crosswalk near the house. Outside on the stoop of my rented apartment in New Orleans, I smiled when I heard the sound. I knew it had a purpose but one day, I’ll figure out where that one goes. In Mexico, it’s not quite a train but the gas truck that gives off a fleeting flare that brings me a sigh of relief knowing that I’m not the only one filling this space.

It’s funny how as that curly-haired kid, my eyes opened wide with a sense of wanderlust staring for the train in my New Jersey driveway. A wanderlust, I can say that I think I’ve somewhat proudly achieved in my twelve years away from home, one on many levels, that has deeply satisfied my curiosity from Bangkok to High Bridge, New Jersey.

Nowadays, the best part is that I hear the horn or the flare and I rush out from playing house to see where it might be going. Funny enough, though, it’s not the sense of wonder this time around but the comfort that it reminds of being home.