Day 22 – Eat a Hot Dog, Reflect on Life

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At 11:30pm I started a late night bar crawl with Andrew. We met at Ivy & Coney, a dive bar in Shaw, that serves hotdogs, beer, and whiskey. That’s it. Over an IPA and a Chicago-style dog, we caught up on the last few years.

I’ve known Andrew just short of a decade, longer than anyone else in DC. It’s remarkable how much has happened and changed in that time period, and our friendship bears the marks like rings on a tree trunk.

We ended the night at the Gibson, a speakeasy serving craft cocktails. Two drinks in, we were reflecting wistfully on growing older, parents, relationships, and the frustrating seduction of living in this city. DC breaks your balls and gets under your skin, and yet you like it. It knows you, your best self you put forward and your worst self you try to hide. In that way, it’s like a marriage, if you’re willing to stick it out.

Anyway, at one point, the bartender approached Andrew with deference to ask a question about the computer system. Andrew is a general manager at the sister bar next door, and he rattled off the answer with authority in his voice. At the end of the night, we left the bar with a free shot and a nod of respect from the bartender. Managers drink on the house.

Ummm, what?! I remember Andrew as the 20 year old I first met, who lived in a dorm and shunned all oppressions and indignities like management. How did he become an almost-thirty-year-old telling people what to do? And how did I become that guy who reflects on the passage of time during a night out? I might as well have showed off some scars and reminisced about the war.

New places, new drinks, new places in life. Old friends, old stories, and despite the changes, still the same people in many ways. What a surreal combination of old and new for a Thursday night conversation over gin and rye, and a hot dog.

thegibsondoor Mixologist Jon Harris of The Gibson - Washington, DC

Day 12 – Swap Crazy Stories and Take a Drive

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I had dinner last night with strangers, mostly, and the conversation included some interesting stories. A flight attendant for a private charter plane was propositioned by Zac Efron. An optometrist is training for a swim in shark infested waters off Alcatraz, part of his upcoming triathalon. A former underwear model can play the piano by ear and eats at this restaurant several times every week. A friend just visited his newly nudist parents at their Winter home in a naturist community.

I’m not sure who won the competition for the most interesting story. But the meal and the conversation were pure fun. Almost all were strangers to me, but they have been friends for some time. I was fascinated that they shared some fairly intimate, intriguing parts of their lives with someone they didn’t know well.

After the meal I had no plans. So I drove toward the beach. As I crossed the intracoastal, I rolled down my windows to let in the breeze and the sound of the crashing waves. I could smell the salt. I could see the moon reflected on the shore. I could feel my past washing over me, and then away. In its place was the present moment, with new memories of funny stories and good people. Past and present mingling together.

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I drove past other memorable places:

  • I watched the boat show from that balcony.
  • I met my mother for lunch at that restaurant during her visit.
  • I made a passing friend at that bar.
  • I used to work in that building.

With each memory, I wondered, who am I now? Am I the guy who used to live here, or the guy who likes to vacation here? I’ve been gone from Florida longer than I lived here. But I visit three or four times a year. So I have this “second life” now. With each visit, the former life fades a bit more, and new memories take its place. Yet the pull of the past is like the moon at low tide, constant, inexorable, almost rhythmic.

My 8th grade teacher taught us that ocean water rolls around but stays in place. The appearance of movement is an illusion. As I pass the time on my beach vacation in a city I once called home, the past crests and falls like a wave. What exactly is new and what is old, what moves and what stays in place, is a mystery. Both are within and both are true. How they combine to form and shape me is a process I will need to attend to if I’m to experience it fully. Otherwise, it will just wash over me like a nameless, meaningless happenstance.

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Day 10 – Take a New Friend to Old Haunts

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I’m on vacation in Fort Lauderdale.  As it turns out, a friend from DC was also here for a long weekend. Since we arrived at the airport together, we decided to grab dinner and to see the sites. If it is accurate to say this city has sites.

I lived in Fort Lauderdale from 2008 to 2010. I actually hated living here. I had my heart broken and life upended here. But, for some reason, I love coming back for vacation. I get excited every time I feel the humid breeze  and smell the salt air. There is something tactile and visceral about returning to this place.

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Pablo and I landed around 9pm, so it was quick and easy pizza for diner. We then headed to Wilton Drive, the center of gay life in the city. We had a few glasses of wine at the Naked Grape, where I used to work. And then I gave him a quick driving tour of the strip before heading home.

I did not see anything new. But I did see this city through different eyes. I experienced that mix of nostalgia, loss, and yearning that comes from remembering a past both painful and pleasant. I waxed on about places as if they were photographs in a scrapbook, touching them and remembering the whole range of emotions and experiences they signify. I am who I am today because of all that hurt and happiness.

Who doesn’t love the sun and sand? But for me they burn inwardly in a sanctuary where my memory keeps vigil for a life broken and made new. God, I love and hate this place. And then I love it again.

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