I made my way down the west coast from Victoria, stopping in Seattle, Portland and at the Rogue Creamery, who make the best blue cheeses in the entire world. After spending the night at a rest-stop in Northern California, I woke up early and drove through some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen. The morning light made the carpet of gold-coloured grass on the hillsides glow, and I rolled down my window to take in the warm autumn air. After an hour or two of driving through this enchanting landscape, my car emerged through a line of trees on the side of a mountain, the Napa valley appearing below like some sort of promised land. An Eden of careful rows of vines and robust fields, everything a bright green with tinges of autumn colour.
Wow, I thought. No wonder people come to California and never go back.
As I descended into the valley, the clean mountain air took on a new aroma: the smell of the crush. The sweet perfume of winemaking wafted into the car, and by the time I stopped in the town of St Helena, just north of Napa, all I could smell was the yeastiness of fermenting grape juice. My stomach was also rumbling, and I decided to visit the local Mexican lunch spot, given that authentic Mexican is so hard to find in Calgary.
Wanting to get the most bang-for-my buck, I ordered a Super Burrito and sat down, pondering my next move. I had a meeting set up with a contact in LA in five days, giving me plenty of time to linger in this beautiful area, take in the sights, and plan my future.
My burrito arrived, and the thing looked more like a sauced swaddled baby than food, it was enormous and smelled delicious. Allowing myself to be distracted momentarily from the swirling maelstrom of unfocused thoughts that had been plaguing me since I closed Nectar, I picked up my knife and fork and cut a small corner off, lifting the meat/tortilla/rice/sauce/veg bite to my mouth and allowing my senses to take over.
Over the next half-hour, while I carefully cut, chewed, swallowed, and savored my giant burrito, I examined all the thoughts that had been dancing on the edge of clarity for the past few weeks. I thought about how much I was looking forward to seeing my the ones I love in Calgary again, how sleeping in one's car and rambling around with no direction doesn't count as "making something of yourself", how the idea of moving to LA and never coming back felt more like a punishment than a reward.
I realized how much I loved the life I had. Not Nectar specifically, but the fact that after years of hard work, I got to go every day to a place that I had built from nothing with my two hands. I got to work on my own terms and learn and grow in the direction of my choosing. I got to share my view of the world and my industry with the people who worked with me and came to my restaurant. I got to effect change in the city of my birth, making it (to my taste) a better place to live. The autonomy, creative opportunity and community of the entrepreneur's life was what I loved, and working for someone else felt like some sort of bad consolation prize.
As I slowly worked my way through the last few bites of my burrito, mopping up the sauce left on the plate, I contemplated a phone conversation I'd had a few days earlier. Still unfocused and unsure of myself, I had complained to a friend about the ambivalence I felt about my future prospects.
"I just want my old life back!" I'd whined.
"It was a good life" he agreed.
It's true, I thought to myself, swallowing my last bite of burrito, I do want my old life back. As the thought occurred to me, a voice spoke in my head. It said:
"THEN BY GOD, TAKE IT BACK!"
It was the voice of Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. Weird.
Huh. I thought, staring at the empty platter where my way-too-big-to-eat-but-too-good-to-pass-up burrito had previously lain. I guess all I really want to do is go back to Calgary and do it all again.
And I knew I was right. All the doubts, fears and uncertainties had been erased, replaced with a clarity and resoluteness that I hadn't felt for months. I felt great. I didn't go to LA, instead I got up from my table in St Helena, got in the car and drove home.
I drove through Nevada, drove through Utah and drove through Montana. I stopped for gas, sleep and food where necessary, and arrived in Calgary less than 36 hours later, ready to sort out my life, move forward, and one day, show this town that I still have plenty of tricks up my sleeve.