Food is a serious thing in the South Pacific.
It is labor, nourishment, hospitality and worship all wrapped up together with every other part of the distinctive cultures in the islands.
Food is gathered and pounded and wrapped up in leaves and cooked in underground ovens. And increasingly bought from store shelves and microwaved on countertops.
Food is simple, essentially what grows on the limited terrain and in the tropical climate, and yet it’s complex and strong, like an alloy comprised of different metals.
When I think of Fiji, I can taste the green coconuts I would pick up and drink from a hole in the husk on a hot afternoon.
I didn’t start out planning to do a Southeastern United States craft beer tour.
It just happened to turn out that way.
I’ve become a bit disillusioned by craft beer in the two and a half years since I moved to Chicago.
From hoarding to overnight lines for new releases to subpar beer pushed out as aging liquid and everything in between, the craft beer world doesn’t represent the community spirit that I have come to know in places like Oregon, Montana and Alaska. Small breweries bent on craft and who cater to their immediate audience are what represent the trueness of the profession or art form to me.
We didn’t stay more than a half hour.
But it will go down in our memories like it was hours and hours.
I couldn’t figure out the pay-by-phone system on the parking meters in the tiny lot at the 1st street access to Cocoa Beach.
So my son and I wandered down to the water’s edge to catch the sunrise with the specter of a parking ticket hanging over my head.
We arrived exactly seven minutes before it was scheduled to appear, according to the weather app on my phone.
The sun was set to rise from the cold Northern Atlantic Ocean horizon at 7:12 a.m. on Christmas Day 2014.
And I damn-well wanted to be there to witness it.
Gabrielle and I approached the breakfast buffet at the Comfort Inn in Columbia, South Carolina, trepidatiously.
That is to say we’ve been there before.
That moment when you walk into the foyer of whatever cheap hotel occupies every single exit from here to Modesto, and you discover that it looks like it’s been pillaged by Viking raiders.
The tables were covered in the viscera of yogurts and bananas, whose skeletons and skins bulged in a heap atop the trash can like a pile of bodies ready for the pyre.
Sloppy paper notes indicated the orange juice, waffles and sausages were gone. Forever.
So we made up toast with jam, salvaged the rest of the Fruit Loops and drank apple-juice colored water and headed to the pool, where I taught her my secret skills of playing the mouth trumpet in an echoe-y room.
“You’re really good at that dad,” she said.
“I know,” I replied. “I want you to put that on my grave stone.”
She just looked sideways at me and continued to swim.
The kids are staring at me after I just scolded them for replying to the waitress with their typical “ya,” or barely discernible grunt meant to infer that yes, they would indeed like fries with their burger.
“This is the South, where people are polite, and when they ask you if you want fries with your burger, you say yes please,” I told them.
They replied with those barely discernible grunts meant to infer that they indeed understood what I was saying.
After a long evening with Jon in Cincinnati, I was up early, as is my usual habit. I showered, dressed and sat in bed for a while waiting to wake my sleeping wife and kids.
We were going to blow through Cincinnati after a short beer stop with my buddy Jon.
We’d make our way down to Lexington and have a short hop over to Asheville in the morning.
But we met at the Rhinegeist, which felt good in the way a creative spot feels good. The brewery in a massive industrial space filled with people celebrating the end of a workweek and the upcoming holidays.
The beer was phenomenal, and catching up with one of my dearest friends was too easy in the way that makes a new place feel homey kind of way.
The kids played corn hole, ping pong and fusbal while the adults caught up, and we all waited for the pizzas Jon ordered.
“How’s that phone working out for you?” he asked.
“Fine, fine,” I said.
“That the six?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“You have an iPad too, right?”
“Yes, but I forgot it at home today, so I’m working on my phone instead,” I replied.
“That must be nice,” he said, smiling knowingly.
I don’t know Kenny, but I sort of do.
I’ve been watching him work his social magic on the forward train car on the 5:30 train from LaSalle to Blue Island almost every night since October.
You see, every train car has its own culture, and I spent most of September and part of October trying all the cars out on the 303 to see which culture I fit into.
It’s 11 p.m. on a Sunday night in Panama City. The air conditioner in the cheap hotel we’re in reads 68. The kids are sleeping off three days of sun, sand and water.
There is a commercial on television featuring a dating site for farmers, ranchers and good, ol’ country folk. And there is a plate of grilled Gulf shrimp on the bed and another with discarded shells.
The kids filled their bellies before crashing to sleep drained and content.
Cheryl and I wash ours down with a bottle of cold sauvignon blanc procured at a Winn Dixie on the way back to the hotel.
We’re all sunburned and fun fatigued, which, in spite of the negative connotations, are the best things to be at the end of a great vacation.
Last night my wife and I tallied all the places we’ve lived in our nearly 20 years together.
In that time, we’ve moved more than 20 times. And the longest we’ve spent living in one location was a little over three years in a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of Salem, Oregon while I attended the University of Oregon.
That was 13 years ago.