…but I pretended I was not. The truth will reveal itself later.
In January of 1992, I ambled through Syracuse, New York’s Hancock Airport and saw all of the “experienced” travelers. Subtly looking for clues as to how to comport myself, I thought “Look calm, Kevin!”, hopefully not aloud for all to hear. It is sometimes difficult for me to remember what thoughts have been spoken, as opposed to repeatedly internalized—a not-so-fatal flaw of mine.
Decades have passed and I am approaching a landmark birthday (Hint: I was born in the late 60’s.) Life has made it clear that Me and Anxiety are destined to be lifelong friends—Two separate entities inhabiting one body. The conjoined twins of my inner and outer self. Like the 1927 song, Me and My Shadow. “Me and my shadow, strolling down the avenue. Me and my shadow, not a soul to tell our troubles to.” This is my relationship with anxiety.
A combination of luck (some might see it as Providence,) circumstance, and deliberate choices have made travel, dining, and the gradual expanding of horizons my antidote to fear. This was not always the case.
The airport experience above occurred when I was 22 years old and would not have happened without a wonderful man named Bill Crowder. Mr. Crowder, as he will always be known to me, was a professor, mentor, and friend during my undergraduate years at The Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam and well beyond.
I met Mr. Crowder in 1987 while filled with fear (big surprise) during my audition process for this highly-touted music school. The Crane School of Music had the added benefit of being a place my family could actually afford. Mr. Crowder—he passed away in 2013—was a calming, stately, African-American man, who was easily recognizable at a nearly all-White college. He laughed his famously subtle laugh when people mistook him for Bill Cosby (I later realized this was an insult to him, as his Blackness and age were the sole reasons people found this resemblance.)
Mr. Crowder took me under his wing a year later as I awkwardly assimilated to Potsdam, the only place I had lived other than my small childhood home in North Syracuse. No summer camps for me growing up. I may have had two or three sleepovers at friends, if that. My life was the definition of provincial.
Heading Towards The Future
A series of small decisions and events led me to that airport in Syracuse on my way to Dallas, Texas (not exactly an exotic destination) in January of 1992. The flight would take me to graduate school at Southern Methodist University. I had submitted a trumpet audition via cassette tape, submitted an application by mail, and interviewed in Saratoga, New York.
At almost 23 years of age, it was my first time on an airplane. I was not coming back any time soon. Determining where to live would occur upon arrival on campus. (Wait—How did I get to campus? Maybe a cab?) I had enough money for two or three hotel nights. As much as I pretended otherwise, feeling “nervous” at that airport was an understatement!
What led to this first-time flying experience can be summed up with a simple anecdote about a meal in a North Country restaurant approximately a year previous…
Going Out For Supper
Mr. Crowder was known for preparing wonderful suppers for his students. He had us over for special events, or just because he knew we were hungry. The man truly cared. Not one to let the barren North Country keep him from finding a good dining spot, Mr. Crowder and I shared several meals at local and not-so-local restaurants. This was before food was trendy and mercilessly memorialized on social media.
To make a long story short, I always ordered some version of boneless chicken or the like. Venturing a few towns over during the autumn of 1991, we pulled into a rustic-looking German restaurant, surprisingly authentic in that region, or so it seemed at the time. The menu came and I ordered chicken schnitzel (breaded chicken, of course).
The Turning Point
Mr. Crowder urged me to order the German coleslaw. Of course, I declined. He laughed his subtle laugh. Our meals came, Mr. Crowder offered me a bite of his slaw, which I also declined. Then, out of nowhere, something completely unprecedented transpired which set me on a path to a life of gradually more adventurous experiences. Mr Crowder, who I had never seen remotely angry, became incensed!
“Every time I take you to a restaurant you order F@#KING chicken! Will you ever try something new?!”, he implored with a quiet rage that shocked me into silence. And then more silence, accompanied by a continued glare from Mr. Crowder. More silence…and then more. What choice did I have? I gingerly reached for my fork, dipped it into the purplish mixture, the color of which I had not previously noticed. My only experiences with coleslaw before this were mayonnaise-lettuce concoctions that I discarded mindlessly during Kentucky Fried Chicken meals.
The tiny forkful met my mouth with trepidation, my left hand on a glass of water for quick relief from what was sure to be a gag-inducing horror show. Without pause, I shocked myself by saying, “This is actually REALLY good!”, while placing down the potentially life-saving water without even taking a sip. Mr. Crowder smiled, produced yet another iteration of his trademark laugh, and no other words were spoken. He ordered me my own serving of German slaw and we went about as if nothing had happened.
I would later realize that this exchange was the turning-point in my lifelong balancing act between anxiety and adventure. The simple act of eating something new would come to transform my future.
In My Unexpected Life: Travel, Food, and More, I will share stories, suggestions, and ideas to entertain and maybe even inspire others to engage with new food, travel, and more…no matter how big or small those experiences may be.
If my intentions do not result as hoped, that is okay—please enjoy the blog!