I wonder how many posts have started this way. What is awhile? For this post that means almost three years. That seems more than awhile and closer to a long time, but my mind tends to often associate life events and time with lyrics and I love the Staind song more than the Boston song so here we are – it’s been “awhile” folks.
There is a long story to this missing timeframe in my online presence, but I’ll make it a short story. The short story is the medium sized global company I worked for in NY got bought by a much larger global company who decided to break the company up, consolidate operations, and sell off certain business units.
A local factory in a small town with a one-hundred-year history was now going to close over a two year period. Some employees would stay on with the company but have to relocate, most would lose their jobs, and a few of us became employees of another company as a result of a product line being sold off. I happened to be one of the employees who now work for a new company, in a brand new factory, and in a brand new state. More importantly, I’m blessed to still have a job and with the same familiar product I’ve been supporting for the last 12 years. Still… changes.
That’s the short story. It has been a crazy two years closing down one facility, being part of another being built, and relocating my family but it’s done and now I’m catching my breath. Yes, even during this entire pandemic we’re living through.
So why today? I miss writing and despite the increased work load in my day job, I have more time. And I have stories. It’s funny how despite not writing, the stories remain in my head. So here we go again.
A New Life
So where am I calling home these days? The South Carolina Lowcountry.
Southern hospitality, sunshine, beaches, salt life, sweet tea, planned communities, great trails, plenty of local craft beer, more restaurants than I will ever be able to eat at, and a dish I will put right up there with tacos – shrimp and grits. Who knew?
If we were having coffee, I would have a few choices to offer your today. I have a breakfast blend and an espresso blend. For creamers, I have French Vanilla and Hazelnut. I’m going with the espresso blend and black. I’m normally a cream guy but have been trying to mix it up some during the week and keep the sweet calories down to a respectable level. That and there’s a music festival we are going to this weekend so I’m saving a few calories for an extra beer. Or two.
Had this been last weekend, I’d have been offering you a camp chair and we’d be having fresh brewed coffee. Camp coffee. We spent three days and nights camping so coffee was made each morning in an old percolator type coffee maker on a camp stove. Those were definite creamer days for me. This was our second camping trip this summer. I wrote about the first trip HERE.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you that enjoying nature soothes me. It rejuvenates me in a manner that allows me to filter out much of noise I return to afterwards. By noise, I’m referring to much of the news we’re all being saturated with. That’s a subject for another post though. This morning is coffee and happy thoughts.
And I am happy. And healthy. I’ve been very conscious of my health for the last six months. In a few days I will celebrate seven months without a cigarette. I’ve also reduced my blood pressure to a normal level and genuinely just feel better. Oh, I’ve lost weight too! For a number of foolish reasons, I had gained weight last year. I didn’t feel good. I do now.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I can attribute feeling good to a number of things: not smoking, eating healthy, and exercise. It’s really not rocket science although there is a science involved. We have made eating an adventure in my house. Some days, food is purely fuel but other days, food becomes an exploration in creativity. My wife is a Pinterest fanatic and takes advantage of the wealth of recipes available there. She’s clever (and I tell her).
Exercise has been a few trips to the gym each week (for both cardio and strength training), daily walks, and hiking. All of it usually involves the entire family and the walks often include our three dogs. They need the exercise too. We walk roads and trails most every day and recently have been hiking more difficult trails at nearby state parks. Our camping trip last weekend included some challenging trails. I had the week off from work this week so I hiked two nearby trails with my kids and my son’s girlfriend. Those trails rewarded us with numerous waterfalls, dense woods, and heart-rate rising climbs.
Like I said, soothing. And happy. A therapy of sorts and no hourly charge.
Although I don’t think my happy trails were what Dale and Roy envisioned, they are my hikes and now my trails, so, my rules. In a happy way of course.
So… how about you? Do you walk or hike? Urban or country?
I was looking through CD’s this morning to find something to add to my iPhone. I wanted something mellow to listen to while walking or running. I came across Outside Looking In – The Best Of The Gin Blossoms. Sync completed and the music takes me back home to Arizona.
Outside looking in is how I feel sometimes as writer. Or how I felt as a musician. I suppose some of this feeling comes from feeling stuck along the fringe. The perpetual wallflower.
But how do we define being in or how do we define success? Success to me now means nothing more than enjoying myself along the way as I do the things I love. I would write for no one much the same as I would play guitar for no one. Anything beyond that is a plus.
Back to Arizona and the Gin Blossoms. I spent the majority of my life in the east valley area of Phoenix (Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale). There was a bar/grill in downtown Tempe called Long Wong’s where we used to walk or ride our bikes to at least once a week for cheap beer and chicken wings. Long Wong’s had a small area set up for live music in the bar section. For the better part of a year, it seemed the Gin Blossoms were playing there more than any other band. I spent many Fridays and Saturdays enjoying their music at Long Wong’s and other local venues.
7th & Mill
On New Year’s Eve, the Gin Blossoms were playing at a club around the corner from Long Wong’s (much larger venue and with two floors). It was one of those New Year’s Eve specials where one buys a ticket in advance and the evening includes a concert, some sort of food, and cheap champagne to toast at midnight. There was a second band called August Red who should have been the headliner but oddly opened that evening, the reason unfolding later.
When it was time for the Gin Blossoms to go on stage, a local radio DJ came out to introduce the band. During that introduction, he announced the band had just been signed to a record label. Headliner explained and a few months later in the early 90s, the rest of the world got to enjoy a band from my neighborhood. Success.
I got to see them a few more times over the years. Surprisingly, one of those times was at a music festival in Racine Wisconsin. I wore an ASU sweatshirt but never got close enough for the band to notice. Or anyone else to make the connection for that matter. It’s alright. I knew the connection. I’d have worn a Long Wong’s shirt if I had one.
7th & Mill Today
Maybe I’ll see them again. I just read they’ll be on my new side of the country in July and August. Twenty five years later and they are still making music. Yes, they’ve had their own tragedies over the years. Who hasn’t? No, they are not selling out venues they might have easily sold out in the early 90’s. Long Wong’s is long gone – a casualty of corporate greed. The Gin Blossoms are still around.
So am I.
Outside looking in? More like the inside looking out. I can relate to that.
As I woke up to snow this morning, our first for the year, I was reminded of where I live now and of something I never thought about while growing up: seasons. This isn’t a bad thing and although I’ve experienced a total of twelve years of my life in areas with snow, I still find myself enjoying the novelty of its beauty. There is a part of me however that finds it all surreal along with every other aspect of my day to day life. Through a few responses to recent posts of mine, I’ve stopped to think about what a vast country we live here in the United States and along with that, the cultural differences that are prevalent. It also reminded me of a time a few years back where I felt I had made a mistake in my decision to live where I live now.
I’ve done it twice. I grew up in the Southwest. I was born and raised in a small town along the Mexican border and moved to Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix, when I was sixteen. Although many might see this as a major change, I really didn’t We had been to Tucson and Phoenix enough times as kids that the change was more about adapting to a much larger school and a never-ending supply of things to do. Arizona has both its own culture and has absorbed so much of the culture of the many transplants that call Arizona home today. It’s a growth state with many of its inhabitants bringing a little bit of their own culture with them. So you moved from Ohio to Arizona? No problem, there are Midwest style restaurants, Cleveland Browns bars, and plenty of other venues to keep you in touch with your roots. Are you from the Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Texas, Mexico, Canada, China, Japan, England, India, or (insert where you call home here)? Again, no problem. Everyone brings a bit of themselves and will equally be able to find a bit of themselves in the greater Phoenix or Tucson area.
I went the opposite route. My wife is from New York and our annual trips there were becoming increasingly expensive after we had our first child. She wanted to be closer to her family, a day’s drive, and I agreed provided it would be in an area that would offer reasonable airfare to visit my family back in Arizona. We made the decision to move and that move would be to Wisconsin. We could visit her family multiple times a year and had four nearby airports in Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago that all offered reasonable flights back to Arizona.
The Green Bay Packers
Wisconsin: major culture shock to me but in a good way. We had visited there twice as a family and then I spent a few days there interviewing for jobs. During my solo trip, I stopped into a little dive restaurant to get a few tacos. The menu offerings assured me I would not have to give up Mexican Food. The owner assured me I would not have to give up my Hispanic background either. There was an entire Mexican community in this city, complete with dances, festivals, and numerous restaurants and stores. This surprised the hell out of me to be honest. I thought we had the patent on Mexican communities in the Southwest. There were also Greek, German, Irish, and Italian communities to name a few.
I could write a very long blog post about nothing but Wisconsin but I will sum it up with a number of words: the Packers, brats, cheese curds, beer, the Badgers, the Brewers, S.C. Johnson, Case tractors, Lake Michigan, the Dells, fishing, hunting, the Packers, polka, flatlanders, Happy Days, Lavern & Shirley, Summefest, snow, summer, Friday Fish Fry, cabins up North, any festival you can imagine (chocolate, Greek, Armenian, Italian, German, Irish, strawberry, every church imaginable & with beer, Mexican, Kraut, and so on), oh, and did I mention the Packers? I didn’t bring much of my culture to Wisconsin. It had so much of its own. Well, I did wear an Arizona Cardinals coat into a bar once during a Packers game and lived to tell about it.
We lived in Wisconsin for five years. My second son was born there. It was his birth that prompted my wife and I to recognize one thing we were missing: family. My oldest at the time had just finished first grade and our youngest was just over a year old. My wife and I discussed moving again and knew there were only two choices. We would either be moving to New York or back to Arizona. I had a chance to purchase a small company in Arizona so we opted to return to my home.
My business went well, providing a nice living for us and allowed my wife to stay home with our youngest, something she had been able to do with my oldest until he was three. I was home and life was great. The greater Phoenix area had changed some over the five years we were gone, mostly growth but also in areas we hadn’t given much thought to the first time we left: crime. We lived in a very nice Tempe neighborhood that was within a few blocks of Arizona State University. Our oldest son was now playing with kids in the area but allowed only to stay on our street. There was no venturing past one of his friend’s house who only lived about ten or so houses away from us.
My wife was from a small town and I’ve already mentioned that I grew up in a small town. We both grew up being able to run around town without the worries that so many children in a large city deal with on a daily basis, yet here our now ten year old son is only allowed to play on one street. It just didn’t seem fair.
In the summer of 2007, my wife and two sons went on vacation to New York to visit her family for four weeks. Having a business, and working ungodly hours, I of course stayed home. One week into their vacation, my oldest son calls me up to tell me he wants us to move to New York. He was excited about fishing with his grandfather, hanging out at the local Little League field, and mostly about being able to just play all over the neighborhood. My wife asked if I would fly up for a few days toward the end of their vacation and then we’d all fly back home together. I agreed and when I arrived, my son and wife now pushed the idea of a move.
As a family, we went through an exercise weighing the pros and cons of living in Arizona and in New York, an exercise led by my ten year old son. New York won and within two months I had closed my company down, left a city of close to five million people to move to a small town of just over five thousand people in New York. I was fortunate that one of the two larger companies in the area was hiring and I was able to land a great job.
New York: once again, major culture shock to me and this time on so many levels. We moved to my wife’s hometown, a place we had been to many times before on vacation but it was different now. It was home. I settled nicely into my new job and the kids loved their new school. My wife took a job only to realize her calling was nursing so she went back to school to become a nurse. She loves it.
For me, something was missing and I got into a real funk. Depressed might be a better word. When you live in the city, you love the times when you can get away to the small towns or explore nature. We did it on a regular basis in Arizona and a few times in Wisconsin. Often one wonders what it would be like to move to an area like that. Well, we were living it. Small town, beautiful hills, river, little to no traffic, and our home was six miles out of town in an even hillier wooded area. Despite our postcard living environment, I wanted to move back to Arizona.
I thought at first that it was due to the fact that I was living in a small town and despite my growing up in a small town, I had become a city person and there was no going back. We started taking occasional weekend trips to the city and although this satisfied my yearning for the things a city has to offer, I was still depressed. I kept searching for something to make me feel more at home here and one day it hit me. I guess I didn’t see it because we had adapted so well to Wisconsin. The only thing I really had to give up in Wisconsin was the geographical features of Arizona, and of course the 330 plus days of sunshine. Wisconsin had everything else plus things I hadn’t experienced in Arizona. The town we moved to in New York however is a predominately white town with a culture of its own and was missing something that I have had every day of my waking life: some aspect of Hispanic culture.
OK, with a name like Cunningham you are probably wondering why that is important to me. I’m predominately Hispanic and was raised in a Hispanic household and environment. I’m Irish and Basque to be exact with a little bit of Mexican in there somewhere.
One day at work, I called my wife and explained to her what I felt the problem was. She understood and what happened next was nothing short of amazing. I came home from work and while getting out of my car, I was welcomed to Mexican music escaping through the open windows. I smiled and walked up the steps opening the door to the kitchen, and was smacked in the face with what only can be described as a heavenly aroma: the smell of Mexican food. Now I know what most of you are thinking. Big deal, everyone can make Mexican food. Yeah, and so can Taco Bell. This wasn’t just any smell; it was the smell of my mother’s tacos, in my home in the woods, some 2.200 plus miles away from my mother in Arizona. No more pre-made taco shells, or store bought taco seasoning. My wife had made taco shells in a frying pan with fresh corn tortillas and had seasoned the meat just the way my mom does. After the phone call from me, my wife had called my mom, gone to the store and bought what she needed, even stopped at the liquor store for Tequila and Margarita mix, hurried home and made a meal my mother would be proud of. A meal I was proud of her for making.
My mother started sending me numerous recipes and we now make and eat all the food I ate growing up with the exception of Menudo and Tamales. Those two will come as soon as I find tripe and masa. I’ve even shared this food with friends at work, making me the local “Mexican Food” expert. I was already a novelty to most of them as they jokingly call me Paco or Mexican Bill at work. It’s in jest and I have never been offended by it. They’ve even encouraged me to open the first Mexican Food restaurant in our town and told me what I should call it: Taco Bill’s of course. I don’t see that happening but I will continue to bring in red chile con carne, green chili burritos, carne asada, barbacoa, and tacos.
You see, what was missing is what so many people before me have done and that is brought something of themselves to where they moved. I didn’t have to do that in Wisconsin since an entire community of Mexicans from Texas moved there in the sixties many years ago I was told to work for CASE and that culture was thriving in the cheese state. But for this tiny town along the New York/PA border, I am the first (at least at work). And I’m gladly sharing.
As I write this, my wife is slow cooking chile verde venison for burritos we will eat later while we watch the Arizona Cardinals on TV. Not such a strange land anymore.
I found Lucian on Twitter, which happens to be where I find a number of new authors. He ran a special, offering his book for free on Amazon one week and I decided to give it a try. I love thrillers and was not disappointed after reading this book. Quick pace, interesting characters, and a hostage scene with a comedic twist that rivals anything I’ve read or watched on the big screen.