Thirty years ago, I closed my eyes wide shut and jumped — not so sure where or even if I’d land, but firm in the realization that I needed to do something to change my life.
I packed a gym bag, converted my life’s savings into traveler’s checks, bought a plane ticket and a rail pass, and went to Europe for three months.
It doesn’t sound like much, and in the cosmic scheme of things, it wasn’t. Millions of human beings have done the same, in different ways in different times. I’m just a speck, but it’s the only speck I have, and I needed to relaunch the whole process of figuring out exactly who I was, because back then, the mechanism had stalled.
I was fortunate, and the plan worked. Europe made me what I am today, or more accurately, my stubborn determination that Europe would make me what I became actually bore fruit. It has been one hell of a ride, with only a handful of negligible regrets.
Three decades later, it’s time for another jump, and another relaunch. It’s been time for quite a while. The public end of this process began this morning with the publication of an article by Kevin Gibson at Insider Louisville: After a quarter century, Roger Baylor will move on from New Albanian Brewing Company.
The private side has been cogitating for a very long period. True, the devil’s always in the details, and numerous stories might yet be written about how we got here, but there are three main bullet points that matter to me right now:
I want to be mayor of New Albany, because this city desperately needs challenging from someone like me, and it’s our time.
If not mayor, then I’m looking forward to a “solo” career as yet uncharted; NABC has been and will continue to be, so don’t worry.
I am quite serene about these and other developments.
Thanks to everyone expressing support today and in the weeks to come. If not for that first leap back in 1985, I’d have gotten to know precious few of you, and be the poorer for the omission.
The following was published last week at Potable Curmudgeon. I may even have intended it as prelude. The 1985 travel series will continue in fits and starts, as I have the opportunity to write.
The PC: Euro ’85, Part 15 … The traveler at 55, and a strange interlude.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
(Fifteenth in a series chronicling my travel year 1985)
In 1985, I wasn’t a very good flier.
Given my lack of experience in the air – in life itself – perhaps this is understandable. Up until then, I’d made only two round-trip flights ever, and the first one was when I was a small child. It was a prop plane, and the destination was Detroit. We taxied forever.
That’s all I’ve got.
The second was in 1978, to San Francisco and back, and it was unpleasant in the extreme. I probably required sedation. My problem wasn’t an aversion to enclosed spaces, or to the Hare Krishna devotees still roaming airports back then, but a fear of heights, which plagues me to this very day, even if I’ve gotten better managing it.
Consequently, the prospect of leaving on a jet plane instigated a fair share of anxiety. Everything about it made me nervous, and to make matters worse, I’d gotten absolutely hammered in Chicago the night before the flight.
Boarding Icelandair for Luxembourg via Reykjavik, and the long-awaited adventure of a lifetime, I was in the throes of a brutal hangover, immune to any hair of the dog, constitutionally and existentially challenged, and with certain doom lurking just around the corner.
Was it too late to call the whole thing off?
At least there was a bright side. I wasn’t in the smoking section, which in those days still existed in the back of the plane. Strange, isn’t it? Using the toilet meant cutting through a wall of cigarette smoke, and of course, one couldn’t just step outside for a breath of fresh air.
Later I realized that for a nicotine addict, being deprived of cigarettes stood to greatly compound the sort of fears gripping me, and in physically wrenching ways I’d mercifully never understand because I didn’t smoke.
However, the Rubicon was ripe for crossing. After the usual pleasantries, instructions and delays, we took off and soon reached cruising altitude. The trip was inexorable and irreversible. Europe finally was coming, and I could feel the level of stress slowly ebbing.
Then there was a random act of turbulence, and the plane abruptly took a big, swooping roller coaster dip.
WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE.
Pulse skyrocketing, my heart pushed into my throat, and with a panic attack about to ensue, at least I had the presence of mind to look around the cabin, where dozens of fellow passengers were snacking, reading, talking and napping, utterly serene and oblivious to the commonplace.
Relief yielded to chagrin as I worried whether anyone else had seen me lose my composure.
In short, it was my life of naïve underachievement in a nutshell, but a good lesson for a hick from somewhere near French Lick: Fake it until you can make it. Just stop, look, listen and imitate. I tried mightily to apply it once on the ground, and for the thirty years since, with only varying degrees of success.
Eventually I became a better flier, although it didn’t happen overnight. By the 1990s, I actually began looking forward to transatlantic flights as the only time I could be untethered, relax and not be bothered. Nowadays, these commuting hours are sacred times for decompression and meditation. I’ve come a long way in this regard.
As noted previously, one of the factors most influencing my decision to spend three months in Europe in 1985 was an absolutely debilitating level of self-doubt. It’s nice knowing you’re capable of connecting with reality just enough to get by, but sheer hell being bright enough to realize you’re doing nothing and going nowhere.
Would I return to university and get my public school teaching credits? What about law school? I’d done relatively well on the LSAT. Maybe get a real job at last, instead of stringing together part-time gigs?
In fact, I was damned fortunate to have the space for dawdling rumination. There were no wars to be drafted into fighting, no nearby mines with coal for extracting, and no babies with mouths to feed. I worked, ate, drank and slept alone, because it hadn’t yet occurred to me that the opposite sex’s interest in knowing me just might be enhanced by me knowing something about myself.
Looking back after three decades, it’s quite clear that once I’d made the decision to spend time in Europe, it was necessary to up the ante. To be sure, it was a legitimate fork in the road for me, but one I didn’t randomly encounter. It was self-engineered.
I’d never spent so much time working toward something tangible. Traveling simply had to be an act of self-redemption. There was no Plan B, apart from returning home and following meekly into the mundane world of home, car, job and IU basketball season tickets.
I had to jump, damn it, and trust the parachute would open.
Fortunately, it did.
Thirty years later, with the consummate luxury of perspective, there are times when I’d like nothing more than to return to the blissful, uncomplicated life of the 24-year-old me (who celebrated his 25th birthday in Leningrad), except I’d have to retain what I’ve learned since, and there’s the eternal rub.
No debt or encumbrances and dumb as a rock, or achieving periodic glimpses of wisdom amid being mortgaged to the hilt, both literally and figuratively.
I’ll settle for the latter, because in 2015 it comes equipped with my partner in life, without whom little of it would make much sense. Her presence does not prevent me from trying to imagine a simpler all-around existence, one allowing for a return to those long-ago fundamentals – and that’s what they were, too: Fundamentals.
It was about fundamentals, basics, and growing into a conceptual framework for interpretation of much that followed 1985. Eventually I witnessed the collapse of the post-war European order, stumbled into a career in beer, experienced the transformational impact of the wider-wired world, raised my share of hell, learned, fought, loved, lost and even sometimes won, and now, 30 years on, it seems that I’ve arrived at another of those forks in the road.
Once again I’ve gamed it, because a change has to come, but this time there’s a twist.
The fundamentals that most interest me are currently are undervalued in my career in beer, but they’re sorely necessary in a broader sense in my city, New Albany.
That’s the first fork, and it’s irrevocable. I’m running for mayor, and soon, I intend to be an ex-brewery owner, although I know it will take time to complete the forms.
The next choice is just over the horizon, and depends on the whim of the electorate. Win or lose, it’s time again to jump, and trust the parachute will open.
I trust it will.