Josh Ozersky was hungry. He looked like a man who could put it away. And put it away he did, for his own satisfaction, sure. But also for yours.
Because Josh Ozersky lived to chow and tell. He was hungry for whiskey and argument (always a good pairing); hungry for validation of his work, which he received but probably distrusted (writers are like that); hungry for camaraderie and song. And, of course, just plain hungry, for the new-school and the old, the salty and fatty, the crispy on the outside and juicy in the middle—especially if it once possessed four hooves and a tail. But deeper than his need to ingest great cooking was his hunger to share his discoveries and to soak in the pleasure of affirmation from his audience. In that sense, Josh possessed a drive like that of great chefs, equal parts generosity and need for applause—not just for praise but also for surety that the rest of us tasted his discoveries and understood.
Josh chose most of the restaurants herein and devoured as many of their delights as he could, just in time to exhaust the Best New Restaurants travel budget, but not in time, sadly, to write the stories. Every death is untimely, but Josh's was especially so, happening as it did when he was just forty-seven in the early hours of May 4, 2015, the very day he was supposed to cheer on his favorite chefs at the James Beard Awards in Chicago. So a team of Esquire pros and great new voices from all over the country, including Beard Award winners John Birdsall and John DeVore, picked up the fork and finished the job.
No tribute could be more fitting, because we are as blown away by these restaurants and the cultural shifts they represent as Josh was. There is something of a New Food Order emerging—the rules, like the complexion of the country itself, are changing.
The restaurant of the year, Shaya, serves Israeli cuisine—in, of all places, New Orleans. And if you doubt that pita and tabbouleh could merit such an accolade, consider that their elevation comes at the hand of a chef, Alon Shaya, who has cooked for NoLa revolutionary John Besh since his first of (now) twelve restaurants began transforming that former time-capsule culture of Commander's Palace and Brennan's. And if that's not enough, imagine sinking your teeth into a pomegranate-lacquered lamb shank, blackened and glistening from hours at the roast.
There is a restaurant that basically serves only birds. A restaurant on a bleak block in Harlem that no sooner saw success than it was shut down by a ridiculous rent increase. Yet somehow it managed to reopen ten months later, bringing its beacon to a different careworn stretch of the city.
In more restaurants than ever, Latin Americans are not just rocking the line but also running the show, with confidence and style. Witness Ray Garcia: I went to his L.A. joint Broken Spanish in its ninth week, before it even had a sign out front. He takes familiar flavors and formats from the Mexican playbook and brilliantly interweaves them with surprises like black garlic and foie-gras butter.
Perhaps most important is that after a decade of tatt-sleeved male chefs whose primary concern was building empires rather than flavors, we are entering a new era of collaboration and cooperation that focuses more on cooking and less on big-swinging solo-artist brand development. Chefs who use the pronoun we when describing their creative process, like husband-and-wife chef-owners Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza, of the Progress in San Francisco. These are craftspeople with their chests unpuffed and their heads down over their pots, developing loyal teams of homegrown cooks just as surely as they develop killer dishes—and upending the bro culture of the American kitchen.
If only Josh could have seen this through. The last memory anybody seems to have of him belongs to John Currence, a friend and the chef at City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi. Having decamped from the Beards' annual Chefs' Night Out cocktail party in search of Jim Beam, the two, along with Charleston chef-kings Jason Stanhope and Mike Lata, found their way to a basement karaoke dive. "Nobody was singing, so Josh just started devouring the microphone and dragging people onstage." Among the selections: the duet "Islands in the Stream," with Stanhope. "It was really one of the most joyful things to watch."
Because for food, for whiskey, for one more song, Josh Ozersky was hungry. You're hungry. I'm hungry. Let's eat.
THE BEST NEW RESTAURANTS IN AMERICA 2015 LIST
Shaya, New Orleans
The Progress, San Francisco
Muscadine, Portland, Oregon
The Grey, Savannah
Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, Morristown, New Jersey
B.S. Taqueria and Broken Spanish, Los Angeles
Dolo Restaurant and Bar, Chicago
The Duck Inn, Chicago
Little Park, New York
Shuko, New York
Santina, New York
Mountain Bird, New York
-Published in November '15 Esquire
At 8:48 on the morning of September 11, Michael Wright was a thirty-year-old account executive working high in the World Trade Center. Two hours later, he was something else. The story of his escape is the fastest 3,863 words you will ever read.
Originally published in the January 2002 issue of Esquire
Up to that day, I'd had a Brady Bunch, cookie-cutter, beautiful life. I now know what it's like to have a 110-story building that's been hit by a 767 come down on my head. For better or for worse, it's part of my life. There are things I never thought I'd know that I now know.
It was as mundane a morning as you can imagine. Tuesdays are usually the days I go out to see clients and make sales calls. I get to my office at a quarter to eight, eat a bran muffin, drink a cup of coffee, and get my head straight for the day.
I was actually in a good mood. A couple of us were yukking it up in the men's room. We'd just started sharing the eighty-first floor of 1 World Trade Center with Bank of America, and they'd put up a sign telling everyone to keep the bathroom clean. "Look at this," one of us said. "They move in and now they're giving us shit." It was about quarter to nine.
All of a sudden, there was the shift of an earthquake. People ask, "Did you hear a boom?" No. The way I can best describe it is that every joint in the building jolted. You ever been in a big old house when a gust of wind comes through and you hear all the posts creak? Picture that creaking being not a matter of inches but of feet. We all got knocked off balance. One guy burst out of a stall buttoning up his pants, saying, "What the fuck?" The flex caused the marble walls in the bathroom to crack.
You're thinking, Gas main. It was so percussive, so close. I opened the bathroom door, looked outside, and saw fire.
There was screaming. One of my coworkers, Alicia, was trapped in the women's room next door. The doorjamb had folded in on itself and sealed the door shut. This guy Art and another guy started kicking the shit out of the door, and they finally got her out.
There was a huge crack in the floor of the hallway that was about half a football field long, and the elevator bank by my office was completely blown out. If I'd walked over, I could've looked all the way down. Chunks of material that had been part of the wall were in flames all over the floor. Smoke was everywhere.
I knew where the stairs were because a couple of guys from my office used to smoke butts there. I started screaming, "Out! Out! Out!" The managers were trying to keep people calm and orderly, and here I was screaming, "The stairs! The stairs!"
We got to the stairwell, and people were in various states. Some were in shock; some were crying. We started filing down in two rows, fire-drill style. I'd left my cell phone at my desk, but my coworkers had theirs. I tried my wife twenty times but couldn't get through. Jenny had gone up to Boston with her mother and grandmother and was staying with my family. Our son was with her. Ben's six months old. It was impossible to reach them.
The thing that kept us calm on the stairs was the thought that what happened couldn't possibly happen. The building could not come down. After a while, as we made our way down, we started to lighten up. Yeah, we knew something bad had happened, but a fire doesn't worry you as much when you're thirty floors below it. I even made an off-color joke to my buddy Ryan. The intent was for only Ryan to hear, but things quieted down just as I said it, so everyone heard. I said, "Ryan, hold me."
He said, "Mike...I didn't know."
I said, "Well, we're all going to die, might as well tell you."
Some people were laughing, but not the guy in front of me. "I really think you should keep that humor down!" he said. I felt lousy. In hindsight, he may have known more than I did. Even though I'd seen physical damage, what I can't stress enough is how naive I was at that point.
Some floors we'd cruise down; others we'd wait for ten minutes. People were speculating, "Was it a bomb?" But we were all getting out. I didn't think I was going to die.
At the fortieth floor, we started coming in contact with firemen. They were saying, "C'mon, down you go! Don't worry, it's safe below." Most of them were stone-faced. Looking back, there were some frightened firemen.
When we got below the thirtieth floor, they started to bring down injured people from flights above. There was a guy with the back of his shirt burned off, a little burn on his shoulder. One woman had severe burns on her face.
We got down to the twentieth floor and a fireman said, "Does anyone know CPR?" I'm no longer certified, but I know it from college. That was ten years ago. You wouldn't want me on an EMT team, but if it comes down to saving somebody, I know how.
So me and this other guy volunteer. We helped this one heavy, older man who came down huffing and puffing, and we kept our eyes out for anyone else. "Do you need help? Do you need help?" Nobody needed help. The stairway became wide-open. It was time to go. The other guy took off in front of me. We were going pretty fast.
Have you ever been to the World Trade Center? There's a mezzanine level, then you go downstairs, which is subterranean, into this big mall. Our stairwell exited out onto that mezzanine level. At that point, I could look out across the plaza at 2 World Trade Center. That's when I realized the gravity of what had happened. I saw dead bodies everywhere, and none that I saw were intact. It was hard to tell how many. Fifty maybe? I scanned for a second and then focused on the head of a young woman with some meat on it. I remember my hand coming up in front of my face to block the sight. Then I took off. As I ran, people were coming out of another stairwell. I stopped and said, "Don't look outside! Don't look outside!" The windows were stained with blood. Someone who'd jumped had fallen very close to the building.
It felt like my head was going to blow up.
I made it to the stairwell and got down. The mall was in bad shape. It must have been from chunks of the plane coming down. Windows were smashed. Sprinklers were on.
I saw Alicia, the coworker who'd been trapped in the bathroom. She'd seen what I'd seen in the plaza and was traumatized. She was crying and moving slowly. I put my arm around her. Then there was another woman — same thing. I put my arm around the two of them, saying, "C'mon. We gotta go. We gotta go."
We were moving through the mall toward the escalator that would take us back up to street level and out to Church Street. There were some emergency workers giving us the "head this way" sign. I think they were trying to get us as far away from the fire as possible and out toward Church Street and the Millenium Hilton hotel.
I got to the bottom of the escalator, and that's when I heard what sounded like a crack. That was the beginning of it. I ran to the top of the escalator as fast as I could and looked east, out toward Church Street at the Millenium hotel. The windows of the hotel are like a mirror, and in the reflection I saw Tower Two coming down.
How do you describe the sound of a 110-story building coming down directly above you? It sounded like what it was: a deafening tidal wave of building material coming down on my head. It appeared to be falling on the street directly where I was headed.
I turned to run back into the building. It was the instinctual thing to do. You're thinking, If you stay outside, you're running into it. If you go inside, it might not land there. So I turned and ran into the building, down into the mall, and that's when it hit. I dove to the ground, screaming at the top of my lungs, "Oh, no! Oh, no! Jenny and Ben! Jenny and Ben!" It wasn't a very creative response, but it was the only thing I could say. I was gonna die.
The explosion was extreme, the noise impossible to describe. I started crying. It's hard for me to imagine now that when I was on the ground awaiting my doom, hearing that noise, thousands of people were dying. That noise is a noise thousands of people heard when they died.
When it hit, everything went instantly black. You know how a little kid packs a pail of sand at the beach? That's what it was like in my mouth, my nose, my ears, my eyes — everything packed with debris. I spat it out. I puked, mostly out of horror. I felt myself: Am I intact? Can I move? I was all there. There was moaning. People were hurt and crying all around me.
Then I had my second reckoning with death. I'm alive, yeah. But I'm trapped beneath whatever fell on top of me and this place is filled with smoke and dust. This is how I'm gonna die — and this was worse. Because I was going to be cognizant of my death. I was going to be trapped in a hole and it was going to fill with smoke and they were going to find me like one of those guys buried in Pompeii.
I sat there thinking of my wife and son again. It wasn't like seeing the photos of Jenny and Ben that I had on my desk, though. The images I had were of them without me. Images of knowing that I'd never touch them again. As I sat there, thinking of them, I suddenly got this presence of mind: I gotta try to survive.
I tore off my shirt and wrapped it around my mouth and nose to keep some of the smoke out. I started crawling. It was absolutely pitch-black. I had no idea where I was crawling to, but I had to keep trying. It's haunting to think about it now.
I saw a light go on. I can't say I was happy, because I was horrified, but that light was hope.
Luckily, I was buried with a fireman. I got over to him and stuck to this guy like a sticky burr on a bear's ass. He was frazzled, but he had it a lot more together than I did. I was like, "What are we gonna do?" You can't imagine the ability to have rational thought at that point. I was purely in survival mode. It wasn't like, The smoke is traveling this way, so I'll go that way to the fresh air. It's whatever presents itself.
The fireman looked like a big Irish guy. Big, bushy mustache. He had an axe. He was looking at a wall, and it looked solid, but when he wiped his hand on it, it was glass, a glass wall looking into a Borders bookstore. There was a door right next to it. He smashed the door and it spread open.
Everyone gravitated to the light. Now there was a bunch of us. People were screaming. We got into Borders, went upstairs, and got through the doors heading outside. The dust was so thick, there was barely any light.
At this point, I still had no idea what was going on. I didn't know if we were being bombed or what. I didn't know if this was over or if it was just beginning.
I took off into the cloud. I crossed Church Street, and some light started coming in, and I could see a little bit. I saw a woman standing there, horrified, crying, lost. I stopped and said, "Are you okay? Are you okay?" She couldn't speak. I kept going.
I went along Vesey Street, using it as a guide. It started clearing up more and more, and I got to an intersection that was completely empty. That's where I saw one of the weirdest things — a cameraman near a van with the NBC peacock on it, doubled over with his camera, crying.
I was all disoriented. I saw a turned-over bagel cart, and I grabbed a couple of Snapples. I used one to rinse out my mouth and wash my face. I drank some of the other. Then I started running again. It was chaos.
Even though I'd been around these streets a million times, I was completely lost. I looked up and saw my building, 1 World Trade Center, in flames. I looked for the other tower because I always use the two buildings as my North Star. I couldn't see it. I stood there thinking, It doesn't make sense. At that angle, it was apparent how devastating it all was. I looked up and said, "Hundreds of people died today." I was trying to come to terms with it — to intellectualize it. My wife's family is Jewish, and her grandparents talk about the Holocaust and the ability of humans to be cruel and kill one another. This is a part of a pattern of human behavior, I told myself. And I just happen to be very close to this one.
Maybe it seems an odd reaction in hindsight. But I was just trying to grab on to something, some sort of logic or justification, rather than let it all overwhelm me. I was raised Irish-Catholic, and I consider myself a spiritual person. I did thank God for getting me out of there for my kid. But I also tend to be a pretty logical thinker. I'm alive because I managed to find a space that had enough support structure that it didn't collapse on me. I'm alive because the psycho in the plane decided to hit at this angle as opposed to that angle. I'm alive because I went down this stairwell instead of that stairwell. I can say that now. But at that moment, I was just trying to give myself some sanity.
I was still running when I heard another huge sound. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the other tower — my tower — coming down. A cop on the street saw me and said, "Buddy, are you okay?" It was obvious that he was spooked by looking at me. Aside from being caked with dust, I had blood all over me that wasn't mine. He was trying to help, but I could tell he was shocked by what he was seeing.
I was looking for a pay phone to call my wife, but every one I passed was packed. My wife never entertained for a minute that I could be alive. She had turned on the TV and said, "Eighty-first floor. Both buildings collapsed. There's not a prayer." It was difficult for her to look at Ben because she was having all these feelings. "Should I be grateful that I have him? Is he going to be a reminder of Mike every time I look at him?" At the time, these thoughts just go through your head.
Finally, I got to a pay phone where there was a woman just kind of looking up. I shoved her out of the way. I guess it was kind of harsh, but I had to get in touch with my family. I dialed Boston and a recording said, "Six dollars and twenty-five cents, please." So I pulled out a quarter and called my brother at NYU. I got his voice mail. "I'm alive! I'm alive! Call Jenny! Let everyone know I'm alive!" It was 10:34.
I started running toward where my brother Chris worked at NYU. I'm the last of six in my family. The two oldest are girls, the four youngest, boys. Chris is the second oldest above me. The classic older brother. The one who'd put you down and give you noogies. He probably would have had the best view of the whole thing going on. But he'd left his office, thinking, My brother is dead. He walked home to Brooklyn across the Manhattan Bridge, unable to look back.
On my way to NYU, I met this guy — a stranger named Gary — who had a cell phone. He tried and tried and couldn't get through to Boston. I said, "I gotta get to NYU" and left him. But he kept calling Boston and eventually got through to my family. At that point, four of my five siblings were at the house. My wife's father was on his way from New York with a black suit in the car.
The people at NYU took me in. They were great. I said, "I don't need anything. Just call my family." They kept on trying to get through. They couldn't, they couldn't. Finally, they got through.
I said, "Jenny, it's me." And there was a moan. It was this voice I'd never heard before in my life. And I was saying, "I'm alive. I'm alive. I love you. I love you. I love you." We cried and cried. Then the phone went dead.
At that point, I went into the bathroom to clean myself off, and suddenly I couldn't open my eyes anymore. They were swollen. I knew I wasn't blind, but if I opened my eyes toward any amount of light there was intense, intense pain. I didn't feel this while I was running. It seemed to happen as soon as I was safe and the adrenaline came out of me.
At the NYU health center, the doctors said, "Yeah, your eyes are scratched to shit." They put drops in them, but they needed more sophisticated equipment to see what was going on. I wound up having 147 fiberglass splinters taken out of my eyes.
Chris came back from Brooklyn to pick me up, and I held on to him and hugged him. Later, he said, "You know, Michael, this is why I stuffed you in sleeping bags and beat on you all those years as a kid. Just to toughen you up for something like this."
When we got back to my place, I collapsed and it all hit me. I cried like I've never cried in my life. I finally let loose, and it felt better. My brother helped me pack, and we got to Westchester, where my wife and family had gone. Jenny came running to the door. I can remember hearing the dum, dum, dum, dum, dum of her footsteps.
My mother was there. My dad. My father-in-law. They all hugged me. Then they gave me my son. I could tell by the noises he was making that he was happy. I hugged him and sort of started the healing process there.
Later, I went to Maine to sit by the ocean for a few days and get my head together. I saw all of my old friends. It was amazing. Everyone I know in my life has called me to tell me they love me. It's like having your funeral without having to die.
For a while right after, I wondered,
How the hell am I going to work again? How am I going to give a damn about selling someone a T-1 line? I had a list of people who were going to be my business for the next year, hundreds of people, all on my desk -- blown up. For the life of me, I can't dredge up those names. That will cost me a quarter of my income, maybe more. You know what? Who cares? I'm alive and I'm here. A big deal has gone to big deal.
I lost a friend in 2 World Trade Center. He was one of those guys you liked as soon as you met him. Howard Boulton. Beautiful person. His baby was born three months ahead of mine. He was on the eighty-fourth floor and I was on the eighty-first. The last conversation he had with his wife was by telephone. He told her, "Something happened to 1 World Trade Center. It's very bad. I don't think Michael Wright is okay. I'm coming home." I like to think Howard wasn't scared like I wasn't scared in the stairwell. I like to think that he heard a rumble like I heard a rumble and then he was gone.
I went to his funeral. To see his wife and his baby — it would have made you sad even if you didn't know him. But it was much more loaded for me. Here was a perfect reflection of what could've been.
One of the hardest things I had to deal with up to this point — and still do — is that my brother Brian, who's one year older than me, has cancer. He and I are practically twins. He has germ-cell cancer in his chest. He recently told me that the good news is they can go in and get it. But the bad news is they might have to take a lung with it. Before September 11, maybe the fact that he was going to lose a lung might have thrown me for a loop. But I found out I love my brother for my brother. I don't love him to run up mountains at a brisk pace with me. My reaction was: Thank God they can get it.
Luckily, I've been well equipped to deal with this. I have a family that's unbelievably close and supportive and a lot of friends. I've been to therapy, and I can do the whole checklist: Do you have a sense of fear and not know where it's coming from? Yup. Can you no longer take pleasure in things you once took pleasure in? Yup. Claustrophobic? Yup. I have nightmares. I jump when I hear a siren. But it's the smell that haunts me. Talk to anyone who was within ten blocks of it and they'll tell you that. I had vaporized people packed up my nose, in my mouth and ears. For weeks, I was picking stuff out of my ears.
I've been giving myself the space to be a little freaky for a while. I don't think this is going to turn me into Rambo or motivate me to go out and sleep with nineteen-year-old girls. Yeah, it's gonna bug me for a while. I'm gonna have some scars on my brain. But I don't think it's going to affect me long term.
I don't wonder, Why me? Some people say, "You made it out; you're destined for great things." Great, I tell them. I made it out, now why not put a little pressure on me while you're at it.
An investigation into the power of the uniform.
I was a priest, standing at the bar of the Billy Goat Tavern beneath the great concrete decks that brace up downtown Chicago. Strike that. I was not a priest. I shouldn't say that. I was me, me wearing the uniform of a priest. It was 10:30 on a Friday morning, the bar a well-lit temple of Formica. I was visiting my favorite bartender, as is my wont when I am in Chicago. Priest or no: My uniform was an old-school liturgical cassock. Twenty buttons rising to a traditional clerical collar. Part tunic, part Nehru jacket, with a big open flare at my feet. That thing really kicked up in the wind when I walked the city. The thing really had some sweep.
When I walked in, my friend immediately set me up with a no-disrespect-intended pour of bourbon, with a draft beer back. My shoulders were turned to the half-full restaurant; a small circle of recent acquaintances screened me. I'd like to say I was mindful of being the most visible man in the room—me, the priest—but who was I kidding? People had been staring at me for twenty-three blocks. One hour in the uniform and I knew this much: On a bright summer's day, in a sprawling city, a priest in a cassock is a thing to behold. People draw out their eye contact with a priest. They give nods or bow just a smidge. Or they stare. Openly. Respectfully. Distantly. When walking in pairs, men wind up their cheeriest selves to blurt out suddenly, "Good morning, Father." A habit learned in high school, revisited gladly. Twenty-three blocks and the world could not take its eyes off me. A priest, striding north.
And so, in a what-the-hell moment, I lifted the glass, nodded to Jeff the barkeep, and took that long good swallow. Only as I put the glass back in its ringlet of condensation did I notice a woman who'd maneuvered herself to some pass-through window, filming the whole thing on her phone. "You're going to be on the Internet before you eat lunch," said the barfly to my left without looking up, adding, "Father."
I picked up the beer, took a sip, and told him, "I'm not a priest." He turned, narrowed his eyes, gave me a lazy up-and-down. "What is this, then?" he said. He meant the frock.
"It's a uniform," I said. That was true. This was always my plan. Be honest. And that seemed to be enough, because he went back to his box scores. A couple minutes later, he said, "One thing's for certain, some priest, somewhere, is going to get in trouble for that."
I have no uniform. Most of the time, I work alone or in conversations across tables in some restaurant in some unfamiliar city. At my most exposed, I stand in front of a classroom of twenty-one-year-olds. Unless you count a track jacket, a T-shirt, and a pair of overly expensive jeans as a uniform, I have no dress requirements. Sometimes I wear a blazer. I have a really nice blue shirt when I want to wear one. My choice.
This is a ho-hum freedom, earned in some societal shift located broadly in one or another populist surge last century. People see it as a kind of liberation. We are individuals, after all. We are not automatons or drones. We are not our work. And so on.
But a great many people put on a uniform for work every day. I'll admit that I've often longed to wear a uniform, one that demanded something from me and maybe from the world around me. A good uniform represents. It makes sure you show up. It suggests a simplicity of mission. Once you slip it on, any uniform calls for its own posture. Everyone reacts. They step aside, shoot knowing glances, make room for you; or they turn away, try to forget their foggy prejudices, and ignore you.
So I bought four uniforms, modified them using the advice of people who wear them for real, and wore each one for a full day to test the reaction. A priest, a security guard, a mechanic, and a doctor. I stitched my name on—first, last, or both when appropriate. But I didn't forge a thing. No fake lanyards, no ID cards, no crucifix, no rosary in hand. The idea wasn't to trick people. I wasn't pulling a con or even acting very much. I wasn't trying to get anything: no free entry, no cuts to the front of the line, no undue respect. I issued no false blessings, gave no advice, made no diagnoses.
Tom Chiarella as a Priest
I bought my priest outfit at a religious-wardrobe store just west of Canaryville on the South Side of Chicago. At first I tried on clerical shirts, all black, with the familiar collar. Both long-sleeved and short. I wanted to look like the Jesuit priests who'd taught me how to write. All business with the comings and goings, a little tired, utterly content to forget the annoyance of deciding what to wear every morning.
The salesclerk was a former Dominican priest. There is fashion among the priests, he said. It's rare for an American priest to wear a cassock outside the church. But, he said, it's becoming more common: "It used to be considered a little vain. But you go to the seminary now and young priests insist on the cassock. They're more conservative and they want to be seen as committed."
He thought I could pass. "Just look like you're going somewhere on church business."
At that, the third-generation owner of the store stepped out of her office to tell me that she disagreed. "No priest would wear that in public."
"Just tell them you're Greek," the salesclerk said. "You look Greek enough."
Generally, when you wear a uniform, no one will touch you. Except the priest. People will touch a priest. On the wrist mostly. It happened to me twelve times, just a tap in the middle of a conversation. An assertion of connection, an acknowledgment of some commonality I could not fathom. Weirdly, the priest's outfit was the most physically demanding uniform to wear. All day with the hugging, and the kneeling to speak to children, and the leaning in for the selfies.
I suppose it is sacrilegious to say this—though I'm obviously way past caring about that now—but sweeping the city with the hem of my cassock hither and yon was more like being a beautiful woman than it was representing myself as a celibate guy who lives in a two-room apartment in Hyde Park. I'm telling you: People lingered in their gaze, without lust. I was a fascination, looked at fondly so many times that fondness itself seemed the currency of the world to me. It made me like the world better.
In front of a diner, an old woman seized my wrist firmly and pulled me in for a question. Oh, boy, I thought. Serious business. I prepared to deliver the news that it was just a uniform. "Father," she said earnestly. "Are you Greek Orthodox?" I told her I was not. The truth is easy enough when you're in uniform. Before I could say anything, she released my arm, scowled, and cast me off. "You are Russian! Ugh!" She turned and shouted to me from twenty paces, held up a finger like the curse it surely was. "You are Russian. Russian!" she said, rolling the R as she retreated. "Russian!" she shouted up the street.
No one asked my name. No one called me Father Tom. But that's what the uniform made me. People want to believe.
Especially people in need. All day long, I was faced with homeless men, homeless families, crouched in the street. Sometimes they reached up to me, touched my wrist. Twice I was asked for a blessing that I could not give. Not in the way they wanted. I started wishing that I were capable of performing a service for the world. And I found I could not do nothing. The uniform comes with some responsibility; otherwise, it is just a party costume. I started kneeling down, holding out a ten-dollar bill, and saying, "I'm not a priest. But I feel you." And I couldn't do it once without doing it a couple dozen times. Chicago is a big city, with a lot of souls stuck in its doorways. It still makes me sadder than I could have imagined.
It's easy to put on a cassock. And it's really not easy to wear one at all.
Late that afternoon, I stood across from the Tribune building as Father Tom and watched a loud and lousy sleight-of-hand magician working a trick involving a signed twenty-dollar bill and a lemon. I stood off to the side, hands clasped behind my back, trying to look ponderously unthreatened by magic. And then I saw the magician's move very clearly, the very moment he jams the rolled-up twenty into the lemon. Just like that. Busted. For a moment, I thought it might be the mind-set of a priest taking over. Or maybe he wanted the priest to see, because he winked at me a second later. And suddenly, for the rest of his routine, he called on me, to bear him out, to provide faith, to witness the machinations. Questions like "That seems honest enough—right, Father?" And could I back him up on this? The request to weigh in as the conscience of the moment really wore on me. Finally, I turned and walked away. "Father," he called out. "Don't leave. Only you know the truth! You're the most trusted man here!" Too much subtext. Exhausted, Father Tom walked to a food cart, bought a tamale, and waved to a tour bus that honked at him. They waved back, too. Both decks.
Tom Chiarella as a Security Guard
If it's true that everyone likes to look at a priest, then let me tell you that no one likes to look at a security guard. Especially not a geeked-up security enthusiast like Tom Chiarella, Security Officer. Not even other security guards. There is no brotherhood of the law among guys who mostly watch a crowd and ask people not to sit on the stairs in front of a museum. People avert their eyes, stare at the horizon.
When I told my friend, a longtime cop, that I was going to be wearing the uniform of a security guard and asked if he'd help me think out ways to make it look more authentic, he had a question: "Are you gonna be one of those happy guys? Or are you going to be, I don't know, that other kind?" At the time, we were going through containers of defunct equipment in a police-department storeroom, looking for spare parts. I wanted Tom Chiarella, Security Officer, to care about the details.
"In my experience, some security guys put on the uniform and it makes them," my friend said, "and then they have a certain way they carry themselves. You've seen it. It's a military posture. They stand up into the job. They get squared up. The uniform squares them up. They look so happy. Happy guys. And there is the other kind. They get into the very same outfit and the whole thing looks permanently sloppy, and they can't do anything about it. Not ever. The first guy, he listens. He's the one I'd use. The other kind, you look right at them and you know they might as well work at Taco Bell."
Tom Chiarella, Security Officer, was the first kind. The happy guy. Not ebulliently happy, but happy inside the obligation of the uniform. I stayed quiet, hid behind a pair of dark glasses, carried many things on my belt: handcuffs, a 2400-lumen flashlight, a pair of plastic gloves for evidence collection, a radio and a corded handset, a completely redundant earpiece, a can of Mace, a notepad and a penholder. So many leather pouches. My friend had warned me to match them up carefully. If one pouch was braided leather, they all had to be. "It matters," he'd said. "If you don't match up, people will start to wonder. You'll see. People look at you. In a way, even as a security guard, you are the law. You need to have it together. People do a check down on you. They check out your stuff. You don't have a gun. So they'll look even harder at what you do have."
"I'm just security," I said. "Not police."
"Law," my friend said. "They represent the law. That's what they teach them. You represent. You can't say you're a cop. But you can look like the law matters."
I could represent. So I paid to emblazon every surface of the uniform I set up—jacket, hat, shirt, badge—with the word Security. I bought and had fitted my first-ever pair of double-knit pants. I tucked in, buckled up, and made an orderly appearance.
On the campus of DePaul University, people asked if I was with the university. Near a hospital, I was asked? if I worked for the clinic or the theater across the street. I told the truth. Neither. Nothing more. Somehow people accepted the nothingness of my answers as if they were answer enough. No one ever followed up. The uniform made me feel terse. Not tense. Terse. Abbreviated. Interfacing with the world, as Tom Chiarella, Security Officer, liked to call it, was an occasional occupational obligation.
I just went places. Breakfast joints. Yawning retail spaces. It was the same everywhere I went—people treated me like part of the background. I stood for forty-five minutes in an Anthropologie store in a mall in the Loop, my arms folded across my chest, hips swaying, sunglasses on. No one talked to me, so I drifted into a way of thinking that I associated with the uniform. I watched my six. I kept my head on a swivel. I checked flanking positions, though I really wasn't certain what that meant. Not one clerk or salesperson asked me if I needed help. Why would they? The posture and the uniform asserted that I belonged. Belonged to the mall. I didn't have to speak in my job, so I was not spoken to.
At one point, I hitched my belt and went out to look for a restroom. A janitor was mopping when I got there. I told him I could wait. He didn't even seem to hear me. He spoke to me as if we saw each other daily. "It's slow today," he said. I looked around, nodded. Then he said, "Yesterday, with the rain … "
"… Things were slow," I said, thinking I was agreeing with him. He looked at me then like he'd been stung by a bee.
"No. Yesterday was crazy in here, remember?" he said. "The rain drives them inside, right?"
"I wasn't here," I said. Again, the truth. The day before, I'd walked as Father Tom.
"Yeah," he said. "You were off yesterday. I didn't see you at all yesterday." Then he waved me through to the urinals. He had zip-up overalls, name stitched on the pocket.
I returned to Anthropologie, to my self-claimed post near the rack of semitropical cotton blouses, again not drawing a glance. Soon I got restless. It was a big getup. A lot of work to put together, and to wear. The sight of me drew no reaction. I could have done an eight-hour shift without comment from the world around me or the women who worked there. The security officer fit only in the background. Sometimes the uniform simply fits the place so well that people who should know better don't give you any thought at all. On the street, amid the hubbub, the priest occupied the foreground. People wanted something from him. The security guard? Backgrounded. He and his uniform became just another furnishing. Nobody wanted anything from Tom Chiarella, Security Officer. Except directions. People get turned around in that city.
I bought a vintage patch on eBay—it read JOHNNY ANTONELLI TIRE CO. INC., an out-of-business tire retailer from my childhood in Rochester, New York. I affixed it to the left side of a blue zip-up jumpsuit I'd purchased at a tractor-supply store and had my name stitched on the other side. I put it on and walked. So I was a tire guy, Tom, who worked at a shop so small that most people assumed they'd never heard of it.
And though it's not fair to any tire guy anywhere … no one cared. The uniform didn't register. I never got so much as eye contact, except from a student nurse sitting at a table at an Italian grocery on Randolph Street. I was waiting in line. "Is that a Wall Street Journal?" she asked, referring to the hotel newspaper that I'd folded up and stuck in my back pocket like a racing form. It felt like she was picking on me.
Only anachronisms got even a vague reaction. I hailed a cab with a torque wrench, walked blocks dangling a Twix bar from my fingers, carried a half-dozen roses, sat on a city bus reading 50 Poems by e. e. cummings. It started to feel like I was jumping up and down, asking to be seen. No one saw me. I gave up and went to a movie.
Tom Chiarella as a Doctor
Finally, I became a doctor. I bought a pair of scrubs, got them fitted, and had my name stitched on yet again, this time over a logo that read DEPAUW UNIVERSITY, the name of the Indiana college where I am a faculty member. I knew that with a quick glance most people would mistake it for DePaul.
Since basically everyone wears scrubs at a hospital—nurse, orderly, X-ray technician—I had to find a way to convey that I was a doctor. I tried a lab coat, even put my name on it, but I could see that made me look more lab tech than cardiologist. I needed something better, so I sat in a hospital beforehand and watched the foot traffic of doctors and med students. The doctors moved with a chronic urgency. And they unfailingly stared into their phones and tablets distractedly, or carried clipboards or stopped to flip pages rapidly. They seemed to spend significant time looking into the guts of a problem, blocking out the world around them, a perceptible purpose and direction to every step. Slow or fast, the doctors seemed to be moving from one situation to another by social contract.
I started with that. Walking, north. But I walked fast and stopped only to look into my phone or flip pages on my clipboard. I looked up the street anxiously. I pictured the destination dimly to the north and manufactured a problem that demanded I get there now. I wanted people to think: This guy doesn't even have time to hail a cab. Somebody needs him.
He's got to be a doctor.
And, you know, the world gives way to a doctor. People step aside, cabbies wave you through intersections. Before long I started to really sweat, ducked into a restaurant to pick up a little AC action. Almost as soon as I was inside, the urgency subsided. This would not stand. So as the hostess approached, I held up my finger. "Hold on one second," I said, and then I stared into my phone, perhaps at some test results that had just come in. I decided to just stare, to see how long the routine could last. Minutes passed. Eventually I pretended to scroll down, using two fingers rather than one on the touch screen. I thought this was a nice touch, rife with verisimilitude. When the hostess approached again, I interrupted her and took a shallow half step back. "Just one sec," I said without looking up, knowing full well that I risked being the rude doctor now.
But she said, "Of course, of course. We just wanted to know: Do you need a glass of water?" She didn't even consider me a customer anymore. I was just a doctor who needed a place to work.
I went to the next block, stepped into a sporting-goods store, and did it again. Asked for forbearance and a little space, looked into a problem. Then a bank, a waxing salon, a shoe warehouse, a veterinary clinic. People made room. Room for responsibility. A little space to help. They offered me a seat. When people asked me where I was headed, I just hooked a thumb over my shoulder, to the north—true!—and then looked back into my phone.
Sometimes they even knew where I was headed. Right through the haze of my vagaries. "I know. The breast clinic. On Diversey, right? You need to be closer to the lake!" And I'd thank them. They offered to get me an Uber. Or a bottle of water. I didn't feel like a liar, or a lying doctor. I felt like they were seeing into a doctor's life and I was seeing into the city.
In a dank basement bar called the Manhole, where they were playing thumping dubstep at 4:30 in the afternoon in preparation for a lube-wrestling event, I breezed past the bouncer and asked the shirtless, leather-pantsed bartender for half a beer. "Because," I said, distractedly indicating the scrubs, the life, the predicament implied. Then I hooked the thumb northward. "Well, you know …" And he really did know. Half a beer. Cold, too.
Past Wrigley Field, at an empty skating rink, the janitor offered me his phone when he saw mine die. "You shouldn't be without a phone," he said. At a mattress warehouse, I was offered a seat on the closest bed to the door. Five minutes I sat there before I took a deep breath and leaned back. I actually lay down. I was exhausted. Then I popped up and apologized. "Perfectly okay," the salesman said. "Happens all the time. As you might imagine." He paused. "Well, not with a doctor. That's never happened before." Bam. He said doctor.
The world wants to help a doctor. The uniform conveys a responsibility that people are willing to share. They took little bits from the priest, and ignored the security guard, and didn't bother to see the mechanic, but they gave to the doctor. Ceaselessly and for many city blocks.
The only time I really wore a uniform to work was when I was twenty-four and waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant called Cucos, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I dreaded the idea of wearing a uniform then. And that uniform—such as it was—consisted of a blue knit polo shirt and an apron that I picked up every night off a hook in a broom closet. No logo, no stitched-on name. The manager, a redhead whose name I can't remember, pulled the shirt from a cabinet in her office, threw it to me, and said, "This is the best I can do right now." The shirt was tiny, two sizes short of what I needed. I told her it wouldn't fit. Then she looked from the shirt in my hands to my face and said, "So leave it on the desk. I'll give it to the next person who walks in here looking for a job." I huffed some lame apology, but she stated again, "This is all I have for you."
Just then I didn't matter one bit. I'd never done a damn thing for her and still she had handed me a uniform. A job. So yes, the shirt mattered more than the man. I understood the deal.
That week, I pulled that miserable shirt over my frame like a tube sock four times before I banked enough tips to pay the day-shift bartender twenty bucks for his spare blue shirt. He was a big guy, two sizes larger than me. And so it was that I came to have two uniforms for work. Impossibly small and implausibly big. Every day I had to choose: pantyhose or circus tent.
I quickly learned that no one else noticed. No snickers, no comments. The blue shirt was all that mattered. Me—my body, my corporeal self—I didn't register one bit, so long as I refilled the chips and delivered the 'ritas while the glasses were still icy. I just had to do my job. The blue shirt was me. Me in that job.
You might find this depersonalizing. Not so. The blue shirt meant I owed the world only what the job demanded, and only for those few hours. I came to relish disappearing into the hectic mechanics of work, into a routine of expectation and ritualized tasks. It turned out I could forget myself for a few hours. I was soon named employee of the month. Twice.
The uniform meant something. And when I left through the same doors into the darkling lot, freed from the grip of Cucos, the uniform suddenly and absolutely meant nothing at all. I took it off in the crook made by the door of my pickup and drove home shirtless. I see now that the uniform itself was liberating. Had I never had it in the first place or shaken it off when I had to, I may never have sensed the power of work and the confining limits of a lousy job.
In Chicago, on the night before I was to walk the streets as a priest, I went to a theater fundraising event at Chicago's Soho House. I'd been invited as Tom Chiarella. I attended as Father Tom, the priest. These were my first hours in the cassock. And there, during the fundraising part of the event, two pretty women exposed me.
"You're not a priest," the younger one said. So right out of the gate I was caught, the only time in the four days it happened.
I told them the truth. Then I asked how they knew. "There are a million things," one said. "You have a tattoo on your wrist. Your hair is a bit too long."
"And look at the way you occupy space," said the other. "You get in too close!"
They stared at me as I shifted on my feet. "There are just ways a man of the cloth will stand when he's in the company of women," said the woman who first spoke. "You are simply not standing in that way. You're too close. And you aren't aware of your hips. You're angled wrong."
They went on. No crucifix. I'd sat on a barstool—that would never happen. The cassock was a problem for them. They had never seen one outside the church.
I knew that was a risk. I told them as much. "Besides, it's a tricky thing to wear in public. There are no pockets," I said. "I have to hitch the whole thing up to get to my wallet." I bent a little and started to demonstrate the issue, how I would have to hike up this giant skirt to retrieve five bucks for the valet. Both of them waved me off. "It looks kind of pervy, right?" I said. I asked them if they knew how a priest would have dealt with it.
Neither of them did. "There are some things only a priest would know," one of them said.
They thought I must be an actor. I told them no. Eventually I asked about their faith, since they seemed to know a priest when they saw one. And when they didn't.
They told me, too. I just listened. It seemed like what was called for.
-Published in Esquire August 2015
There are literally hundreds of websites written specifically for men. Some offer self help while others offer men’s entertainment or products (click here for a list of men’s product websites).
In researching for my upcoming men’s trivia app Mantelligence, I read through almost all of these sites. To save you some time, I decided to create a list of my favorites.
For each site, I give you a quick breakdown of what the site is all about, the site’s highlights and a few of their best articles.
The 10 Best Websites for Men
So here they are. The top 10 websites for men in no particular order.
Picture Huckleberry Finn in your mind’s eye. Now imagine that Huckleberry Finn could be a website site a voilà.
Huckberry sells men’s products but also has a phenomenal blog. They post some of the most interesting content on the web that you will not find elsewhere
- Amazing photography
- Unique articles
Warning: Alden’s site is not for the faint of heart.
His tagline, “Helping you not give a f_ _k,” well illustrates this. His articles aren’t the traditional self help. They are written in a very gritty, personal and honest voice. He gives great advice and his writing style is a nice change of pace.
- Great advice without any fluff
- Lots of cursing
The Art of Manliness
The Art of Manliness wins the side prize for the best website name. Manliness, as the name declares, is truly an art.
A repeat offender on any list of the best websites for men, the Art of Manliness features articles written to help men break free of today’s stereotypes of what a man is. Many of the articles leverage advice from the past (like how to shave like your grandpa). Anything you read on the site will leave you with something you didn’t know before.
- Well thought out and in depth articles
- Very well written
Man Made DIY
DIY for men (I hope you got that from the title).
This is by far the best website for men’s DIY projects. It offers a wide range of projects that can inexpensively make your apartment look great. The website also has a great weekly post on Wednesday called “Blow My Mindsday”. This post brings you the best articles from across the web and, as the title suggests, may potentially blow your mind.
- Abundance of men’s DIY
- Blow My Minsday
Pinterest for men!
This site is a great mix of beautiful women, inspirational quotes and pictures, and other generally awesome photos for men. If you have a few minutes to kill, this is the place to do it.
- The web’s best collection of photographs for men
- Photos you won’t find elsewhere
“Smart Stuff for Men”
His Potion is a great mix of men’s products and entertainment. My favorite post is their Friday Inspiration. This weekly post is a list of really high quality photographs designed to inspire your weekend. I highly recommend subscribing to their newsletter to get your weekend started right.
Disclaimer: The newsletter comes Friday morning. If you read it at work, it’s going to be a long day.
- Friday Inspiration
- Great mix of men’s products and entertainment
“Stand up. Fight Hard. Win.”
Fearless Men’s articles cover a wide range of topics. Their articles are well written, easy to understand and always concise. The authors are great at giving you the information you need without making you read through 5 pages to get it.
- Diverse content
- Succinct articles
Primer has a great tagline, “A guy’s post college guide to growing up.” The website does just that.
It is a great mix of advice, entertainment and fashion. They shine in the fashion department. The site helps you look good without ruining your bank account.
- Fashion advice for the average man
- Lots of animated infographics
Menprovement is designed is to make you a better you. Their mantra is “helping men reach their maximum potential”.
It was founded in 2013, and in less than a year has developed a strong and dedicated following. Their articles always seem to answer the questions that you’re asking right now. They are written in a easy to understand and a very relate-able voice
- Lots of how to guides and infographics
- In depth articles
Can anyone say selfless promotion? Well I sure can…
Mantelligence, and the Mantelligence app, are designed to give you all the manly intelligence you need. The site has easy to read articles answers the questions you’re having in your daily life. They’re easy to read and will undoubtedly help you become a better man.
- General and overall awesomeness
- All the manly intelligence you need
Photo Credit: Dottie Mae on Flickr
It's the moment of truth. Your phone lies facedown on the polished mahogany, the relaxed pulse of the music blends with the sounds of a couple dozen voices engaged in pleasant conversation, the lights shining through the ranks of whiskey bottles behind the bar enfold you in an amber glow, your companion is amusing–or even, perhaps, charming–and the cocktail you've just taken the last sip of was cold and strong and necessary, and you can feel it reaching into each individual capillary in your body, soothing each individual nerve. The bartender stands in front of oyu, her eyebrow raised. What will it be?
Sometimes, of course, the answer is easy: another, please, just like that one. But despite their modest size, modern cocktails are strong, and there are times when you don't want another just like that. You want to prolong the experience, but for whatever reason (and that's certainly no business of ours) you don't want to double your buzz. Fortunately, there's a simple solution, and it doesn't involve punting to champagne or beer or the like. As pleasant as those drinks are, they somehow seem like a missed opportunity when you've got an expert drink mixer standing in front of you, waiting to roll up anything you desire.
Drinkers in the 19th century were aware of this problem. Their cocktails, originally made of nothing more than straight booze with dashes of this and that, had to be. The first solution was the manhattan–one of those straight-booze cocktails but with a third or half of the fuel replaced by low-octane vermouth. But if you've ever drunk manhattans, you know that while the pleasure is great, they are no aid to sobriety whatsoever. It took another turn of the wheel to solve the problem. What if you took that manhattan and replaced the remaining spirits with sherry? Mixed thus, this Spanish wine has the texture and depth of flavor of whiskey or brandy or gin (depending on the style) but the same low proof as the vermouth.
The same solution seems to have popped up on both sides of the country simultaneously, in the early 1880s. In San Francisco, little Louis Eppinger, proprietor of a popular saloon on Halleck Street, made his version with dry vermouth and called it the Bamboo cocktail. In New York, "handsome" Joe McKone, of the famous Hoffman House, made his with sweet vermouth and called it the Adonis, after a musical.
Either way, it's a great cocktail. If you like 'em dry, a Bamboo with fino sherry and dry vermouth is as cold and dry as the Atacama Desert; if you want something bordering on the plush, an Adonis with a mellow old oloroso sherry and one of the richer sweet vermouths we're getting these days is as comforting as fleece pajamas.
Whatever you call it, the beauty of this formula is that it's easy to order in any craft-cocktail bar, even if the young Picasso behind the bar has never heard of ti. Simply ask for sherry and vermouth 50-50 with a couple dashes orange bitters and a twist, up. Not an order you could get away with at McSwiggan's, but you aren't paying 12 bucks a cocktail there, either. And if they don't have vermouth, well, you were planning on moving on anyway, or you would have that next one just like the first.
Stir well with cracked ice:
- 1 1/2 oz chilled fino or Manzanilla sherry
- 1 1/2 oz dry French vermouth
- 2 dashes orange bitters
Strain into chilled cocktail glass and twist lemon peel over the top.
Stir well with cracked ice:
- 1 1/2 oz oloroso or amontillado sherry
- 1 1/2 oz sweet Italian vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Strain into chilled cocktail glass and twist lemon peel over the top.
-From Esquire May '15
It isn't the fancy shmancy cocktail bar you love to order dealer's choices at. They don't have the same booze the other spots do. They surely don't have the right ice and there is not an Edison bulb in sight. A coaster slung across the wood and a "What are you havin'?" may be the first introduction to a very important drinking establishment you should learn to appreciate. Here are a few guidelines you need to know if you want your local dive to be a sanctuary and not just that neighborhood "hole in the wall" into which you've never ventured.
1. Make it yours.
Don't bring your friends here. Don't bring your girl here. Don't even talk about it. It is your secret now. Make sure it's on your daily route and a place you can frequent without having to go out of your way.
2. Pick your standbys and stick to them. Every. Single. Time.
By choosing something easy ie. generic beer, a pour of whiskey or a [insert booze] and [insert mixer], and ordering it every time they will remember you. Nothing is better than walking in and having the bartender put your drink in front of you without you having to ask for it and being able to settle up at the end without having to pay every time you order.
3. Tip 100% to start.
These drinks don't cost anything comparatively. You are drinking a beer for two bucks and change when you are used to paying six or seven. Just hand the guy a fiver and say we're good. Do it again on the second one and he will probably pick up your third. He'll also remember you next time.
4. Cash is king.
Pay in cash. The drinks are dirt cheap and it makes the transaction much faster and looser. The point is not to be a nuisance. The bartender is not waiting on you in the service sense. He's actually waiting on you so he can get back to the game or a better conversation.
5. Be quiet.
Don't talk other than ordering and stay off your phone in every way. You are new. Everyone else in the bar has been bellying up there for years. No need to spout off what you heard on ESPN yesterday—they watched it sitting where you are sitting right now and probably discussed it in length then. You will earn your spot to talk when you can be trusted. And it will likely start by someone saying "Hey I've seen you in here before. Let me buy you a drink (see rule 2)?"
6. Say "thank you."
When you leave, look the bartender in the eye and thank him or her by name. This and this alone goes a very long way. The whole point is to be remembered so next time you walk in they say hello, pour your drink, start you a tab and start up the conversation where you left it.
You can have multiple spots around the city at which you use this regimen. If your place serves burgers for lunch, stop in once a week and have one with a cold beer. They will remember you over time. When you get done with work, stop in and have another before hoping on the train. Before you know it, you'll have reached regular status just by being polite and having a few drinks. Use your spot before a date by stopping in and relaxing with some liquid courage. And maybe some great tips from the old timers for after dinner. What you are doing is creating a space that is different than your normal reality because it isn't your scene and it isn't what you normally drink and the conversation is not what you usually partake in. If you are anything like me, it will become a peaceful sanctuary in no time.
- Your passport
This one is obvious. You’ll need your passport to go anywhere out of the country. But once you’ve reached your destination, no need to bring it with you everywhere you go while backpacking or sightseeing. United States licenses serve as acceptable proof of age. Keep your passport locked up in the hotel or hostel. Make sure you keep a copy of it in your luggage too, in case you do need to bring it out and it gets lost or stolen somehow.
What to bring to keep it safe: Avallone Antique Handmade Leather Passport Holder
- A decent bag
This depends on what the purpose of your trip is. If you’re backpacking, you’ll want a big enough bag to hold all of your items while still feeling comfortable on your back. If you’re just sightseeing as a tourist, any luggage will do. A bag on wheels (and the wheels that roll in all ways, meaning you can also roll it at your side, not just behind you) might be the easiest option, but it depends on your preference. You shouldn’t need much when you’re out on the town – probably just a wallet, a map, and maybe your phone. You’ll leave most of your things where you’re staying. And if you’re traveling for business, you’ll probably be bringing your briefcase.
What to bring (if you’re traveling on business): Avallone Executive Handmade Leather Briefcase
- Your wallet
A slim wallet tends to be the best choice for travel. You’ll want to keep your money in a front pocket instead of the back – you’ll be walking through busy areas that will be full of tourists, and therefore likely pickpockets. If traveling through a few different countries on your trip, you might want to simply keep your debit card in your slim wallet and take out cash when you arrive to each destination. I’ve done this before and found it to be the best method – it’s a bit easier than exchanging a big wad of foreign currency with your bank before leaving the U.S. Check out fees before you leave. Your bank might charge a fee when you make a withdrawal from a foreign ATM, but certain ATMs don’t charge fees at all, and to be most economical, you might think about estimating how much you’ll spend in each country. Then take the money out just at one time when you arrive – and maybe take out the largest amount that the ATM will allow. You shouldn’t have to go back to the ATM until you get to the next country. (I’ve found that it feels safer to do this rather than using a debit or credit card for actual purchases.) And make sure you notify your bank that you’ll be traveling!
What to bring to guard your cash: Avallone Slim Credit Card Leather Wallet
- Mobile phone
You already bring your phone everywhere, so this one is obvious too. Look into international data plans if you need to stay in touch. Keep in mind that most places have Wi-Fi (hotels, hostels, coffee shops, restaurants), and you can probably find enough places with Internet to stay connected throughout your trip without spending any money. Some phone plans will also allow you to pay a flat fee for a limited amount of data to use when you aren’t in a WiFi area – for example, if you need to contact someone when you get there, and you’re not sure if you’ll have WiFi access, you can pay something around $20 to $30 that will allow you to use the Internet anytime, anywhere. The fee might be worth the security of knowing you’ll have the Internet if you need it in a pinch.
- Comfortable shoes
The right shoes are essential for traveling. You don’t realize the amount of walking that you’ll do until you get there. You’ll want to see everything and will likely walk more than a few miles a day. Go for comfort over style, or better, find a shoe that will allow you to combine the two.
Styles to check out: Desert Boot by Clarks, ‘LunarGrand’ Wingtip by Cole Haan, or Seawalker Oxford by Ecco
Written by Alyssa Avallon
Eat out in America, particularly in high-end restaurants, and you tend to see the same people, eating the same dishes, and you start to take them for granted. Then you find a place like the Cecil and you wake up. Yes, its food was the most thrillingly unique tasted this year, loaded with flavors of the African diaspora – that trail of taste that moved from West Africa to India, the Caribbean to America to China, and then back again. But more remarkably, the Cecil has made a community restaurant in one of the most polarized places on earth. Very rich, very white grandees with $3 million condos go there, and so do middle-class blacks who have lived in Harlem for decades. Asian-American people eat there, and Hispanic people and grad students and he-men – everybody more or less. Go in, even on a Monday, and the place hums with happiness.
Much of this derives from the ubiquitous presence of its genial co-owner, Alexander Smalls, a white-bearded former opera singer with a deep, mellifluous voice. The rest comes from the great young chef Smalls enlisted to bring his vision to life: JJ Johnson, whose classical training provides the backbone for all the exotica. The oxtail filling in the dumplings wouldn’t be possible without veal stock and demi-glace; and the gossamer dough that wraps it isn’t something you just pick up overnight. And the melang of flavors is found no place else – from the bird’s-eye chili and Madagascar vanilla in the opulent feijoada, a Brazilian black-bean stew with merguez and oxtail, to the Chinese cinnamon scent of the fried guinea hen.
Both culinarily and culturally, the Cecil feels like a restaurant from an alternative universe, or possibly better future, a great melting pot of gumbo and good times. The Cecil has the unique distinction of creating not just a new kind of cooking but a new kind of culture. 210 West 118th Street, NY,NY; 212-866-1262.
-Review from Esquire Magazine 2014