Take one aspect of your personal or professional life. Such as where you are, what you are doing, or the person you have become.
Now, think—really think—what happened way back when, which put you on the particular path to that position.
I have been thinking about this topic since the promo last week on the No Reservations show foretold of this week’s episode, which traces Anthony Bourdain’s formative years as a cranky chef, prolific author, and world traveler.
Not that I fantasize about being Tony—no, my fantasies are much more the typical male machinations—but the theme of the show this week got me into some serious introspection.
Bourdain spent years putting in the long hours amidst the grease, smoke, and sharp knives, while gaining the kitchen-cred that eventually elevated him to become a chef. Interestingly, in his retrospective on this week’s show, he tells the story of what got him from menial kitchen tasks to the coveted grilling position when, during a meal of a wedding party, the chef du jour was “doing” the bride in some back room, and left Tony to cover for him.
My restaurant experience as a flunky in a fast-food drive-in, led me to NEVER want to work in a restaurant kitchen again.
I found the grease and smoke disgusting and I swear I can still smell the stink of the garbage shed.
While I recently mentioned the similarities of how Bourdain and I began our (not very similar) published writing careers, if I really go back to my writing roots, I recall sitting on the lawn between classes at Chabot Community College, while I wrote down my deepest and most sensitive thoughts in a small notebook—like, I sure wish I could get a date.
(Note: I did not call my notebook a diary, as that would have been un-manly.)
The writing that got Bourdain on the radar was his blunt exposé, Kitchen Confidential, which revealed what really goes on in a restaurant kitchen. I am currently well into his recent follow-up opus, Medium Raw.
His travels apparently began more as a result of his chefdom and writing notoriety, than as a pure desire to become a travel writer. In other words, TV show producers approached him and, in essence, asked him if he would like to travel the world to out of the way places and eat weird food, drink to excess, and wax philosophical.
I wonder how long it took Bourdain to give his answer.
While I give copious credit for my interest in both travel, and writing about same, to Tim Cahill, my earliest recollection about an inspirational writer and traveler, was really John Steinbeck.
Steinbeck’s captivating stories of colorful characters and his descriptions that gave a palatable sense of place in his iconic book, Cannery Row, and then later in Sweet Thursday, inspired me to both want to be there with those people and to dream about writing to convey such emotions from a reader.
His book which really provided me a desire to travel, and then write about it, was his delightful, yet sometimes serious, tale of circumnavigating this country in Travels With Charley, a story about a guy and his dog in a pick-up truck with a camper.
Another travel tale from Steinbeck, albeit much less known, was the Log of the Sea of Cortez, where he and “Doc” explored Baja and the Sea of Cortez in the early 40’s, long before the glut of seaside condos and even paved roads.
By coincidence, they are giving Steinbeck a big “birthday bash” down in the central part of California this coming weekend, in Salinas.
Somehow, I got from Bourdain looking back to a festival celebrating the life of someone that I found to inspire me to travel and become a wannabe writer.
I would like to think that Bourdain and Steinbeck would have been drawn together by their love of honest characters, and would probably be very comfortable sharing a bottle. I can just imagine them sitting in some funky bar in old Monterey or in a fish camp on a Baja beach telling lies.
And I would like to imagine myself sitting there with the two of them, wondering if I could hold my own, both in terms of the storytelling and alcohol consumption.