There are rules, and there are rules. The first kind, we largely agree to be hard fast: stealing is wrong, kindness is good, unhealthy eating creates an unhealthy body, and cutting off someone in traffic fills your rear view mirror with crude hand gestures.
The second kind of rules, even italicized in our minds, are the ones we might conveniently recast as “guidelines:” wearing a helmet, copying your supervisor on every email, visiting the dentist twice a year and waiting until Happy Hour for an afternoon cocktail.
I brush away these mental italics and sip my whiskey. It’s almost 2 pm here in Milwaukee, which means it’s almost 5pm in Portland. Or Reno. Or San Luis Obispo. I sip, then, in solidarity.
Looking around the lobby lounge, I count two cups of coffee, one tea, one juice, two cokes and five bottles of water. To my delight, however, a handful have also dismissed the italics to enjoy a midday toast:
Mary is waiting for her airport shuttle. She’s traveling back to Tucson where she works in TV advertising. “It’s the only thing I know how to do and, thank God, I do it really well.”
She is originally from Milwaukee, but hasn’t stood on the city’s soil since leaving 30 years ago. A wedding -her favorite niece- lured her back, so she made a point of visiting her old Bay View neighborhood
“It turned out to be a highlight of my weekend,” Mary said. Her skin was tan, her eyes were piercing and her dark hair was collected into a loose bun. “Milwaukee has turned into a hip, forward-moving city … but I can’t wait to get home to my own bed.” We made a toast to Our Own Bed.
Two young women, a blonde and a brunette, are curled to face each other on a couch. Both are attractive, both are in their late twenties and both had plenty on their minds. As I approach, their conversation feels dramatic but not intense. Facial expressions and hand gestures suggest the retelling of some unfortunate transgression by some unfortunate third party whose ears should be, unfortunately, burning at the moment.
The potential plot of their discussion exploded in my imagination once I learned they were political organizers. They met early in their careers during a campaign in Memphis. Brittany, the brunette, lives in Milwaukee now but hails from Seattle. Raven, visiting with her friend while in town from Washington DC, is originally from Houston.
“I’m sorry we were so cold at first,” Brittany said, reaching for her wine glass. Raven only had water. “It must take a lot of guts to approach strangers. Definitely wouldn’t happen where I’m from.”
“It’s true,” Raven said, mentioning a trip she’d made to Seattle. “They’re polite, but they don’t talk to anyone. In the south, we talk to everyone. The mix of those is probably why the Midwest is so confusing.” We laugh and toast Talking to Strangers.
The couple chatted easily across their café table. She had a tea and he had a tall stein of beer. As I explained the Narrator appointment, Theresa listened enthusiastically. I quickly decided that joy and delight were essential elements of her world. She was effervescent, her eyes sparkling when she thanked the waiter, when her husband, Marty, described how they met, when they spoke of their children and, especially, as she remembered their travels.
“We’ve been to 70 countries,” Teresa said. They live in northern Idaho out in the “extreme country.” Soft curls of honey wheat have been pulled away from her face. She is a striking woman. “Our kids have been to 22 or 26.”
“And 48 of the 50 states,” adds Marty. He is tall and bespectacled, sporting a boyish cut to his silver hair, and brandishing an endearingly mischievous grin. Turns out Marty is “America’s favorite veterinarian,” appearing regularly on Good Morning America and Dr. Oz. They’re visiting Milwaukee as part of a book tour.
Although they travel the world –logging Egypt and Bali as past favorites– they’re most looking forward to an extended family vacation in Oregon.
“We love it there. It’s beautiful and simple,” Teresa says. “Perfect.” Toast to Simple and Perfect.
When I explained my Five O’Clock Somewhere Sip Society to Don, he immediately raised his glass in a toast.
“To five o’clock!”
From Ontario, Don publishes a national magazine called Construction Canada. He’d been pecking furiously at his keyboard when I started my Sip interviews. I almost didn’t see his glass positioned behind the laptop.
“If you’re going to be parked somewhere working,” he said, “no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy a glass of wine.”
I told him of my nascent knowledge of wine, that I purchase bottles based on clever names or handsome labels. Don’s passion for wine was sparked by his passion for food. He became interested in pairing wines after his first trip to New Orleans.
“Cajun and Creole foods were every bit as good as I’d heard,” he said, “and the flavors were even more enhanced by the wine.” Don and his wife have been students ever since: traveling to vineyards, attending classes, even making their own batches. They get together with friends often to enjoy one of Don’s gourmet meals and sample a complimentary, new wine.
“Wine is best when shared with people you love and care about,” Don said. He and his wife will be empty nesters soon and have been unwavering about maintaining balance in their lives.
“It’s all about quality of life and enjoying the life you’ve made,” Don says. “At the end of the day, nothing else matters.”
I’ll gladly drink to that.