Yesterday, I had to take the afternoon off in order to attend two meetings and a doctor’s appointment. It occurs to me that people in some other professions do not use their own leave to do things like this, that it is simply a right, an understanding. Then it occurs to me that there are people in some other professions who do not urinate strictly on a bell schedule like some sort of macabre Pavlovian experiment and who are allotted more than one half of one hour in which to prepare and eat their noon meals. It’s hardly Sinclair’s Jungle, and I realize that many, in particular those who work for an hourly wage, have it far worse with far fewer benefits, yet I cannot help but think about how the conditions of my own profession could be improved.
And so, yesterday, when I walked out of the doctor’s office a full hour earlier than expected, I had a notion about what to do with the bonus time. I had noted in an email that the wine bar a mile from our house was running a flight of wines from a winery that Sonja and I had visited once. I headed home and, admittedly fearing rejection, brought up the idea of visiting for a flight before I went to pick up the kids and teach my night class. With minimal reluctance she agreed, and the next thing I knew we were seated at a high top table with three short pours of wine in front of us and a small box of truffle popcorn as a snack.
We couldn’t decide if the visit had been on our honeymoon or the following year when we went back for our one year anniversary, though I remember distinctly driving north on Highway 29, the main artery that runs north to south on the floor of the Napa Valley, with the Mayacamas rising above in the west and the Vacas in the east. It was to the east that we turned, into the parking lot at Freemark Abbey. I’ve concluded that most don’t know the history of this winery, yet I find it intriguing. In particular, that their Cabernet was selected for the “Judgement of Paris” tasting in 1976 is a fascinating fact, and while it didn’t win (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars did), it is worth noting that it was so excellent even back then as to be included. Further, the winery was founded in the late nineteenth century, making it one of the oldest still in operation in the Napa Valley.
Sonja and I sat and talked about work, both hers and mine — I’ve been having a few personal struggles with my profession and how I view myself in it, and we chatted about our upcoming trip to Napa and the possibility of again visiting Freemark Abbey this summer. Outside, it was sunny, a rare treat in Nebraska in late February, and sipping on crisp Sauvignon Blanc while eating truffle popcorn in a wine bar on a weeknight afternoon felt to me very much like playing hooky. Normally at that time I would still be working, and this unexpected hour of relaxation before returning to other obligations was good for my soul. I ordered a bottle of the Merlot, the wine Sonja and I had purchased when we visited them so many years before, to go.
I picked up the kids from daycare, wolfed down a bowl of ramen, and took off and taught my night class. Back to the grind. When I got home from class, however, Sonja and I had a glass of the Merlot, continuing our conversation where we had left off. It may seem hyperbolic or even cliché to say so, but wine does tend to make everything a little bit better, doesn’t it? I know that my already enjoyable day was enhanced by the addition of wine, seasoned with good luck and a healthy dose of spontaneity, and I can’t help myself from looking around and wondering how and when I might recreate such a moment again in the future. For now, the memory will be enough to thrive upon. See if you can add a little wine to your life spontaneously today. I think you’ll enjoy the results!