Thursday, November 8, 2012

Napa For One!



Going to Napa Valley, California without a +1? Nervous about whether or not you'll have any fun on your own? Or how you'll be able to navigate the winding roads while rocking your inevitable wine-tasting buzz? Wondering if you ran off into the middle of a vineyard, slipped on a rock, cracked your head open and died, how long it would be before anybody noticed? Fear not friends, or sorry, friend, singular - I have the answers to all these questions and more in my latest section: NAPA FOR ONE (aka N41)!

N41 TRAVEL TIPS!
1) When travelling alone, it's temping to be more social than usual - talking to strangers about your trip, expressing interest in the lives of others, and being an all-around friendly person. DO NOT DO THIS. Understand that there's an inverse relationship between the willingness a new person has to talk to you and the amount of interesting things he or she has to say.

Also applies to celebrities, the attractive and the generally wealthy
If you insist on rolling the dice, know that most people have a plan for their time that doesn't involve talking to you, and every attempt you make is basically an assault on whatever pleasure they'd otherwise be deriving from their regularly scheduled lives. Just imagine someone talking to you in the middle of reading this blog post right now. Serious party foul, right?

Now, the ones that will talk to you will obviously be more desperate for conversation than even you are, so know that you've just signed a life contract with a guy who's allegedly figured out a way to stop freezer burn or a woman who's been on seven different reality shows.

Look - you've already made whatever friends you're going to make in your life at this point. Just accept that as a fact, and enjoy all the pleasures this trip has to offer you while unshackling yourself from societal norms. If you're feeling any of those annoying urges for human contact, just drink another glass of wine! There's a reason Napa's slogan is: "Top you off, buddy?"

Make sure you choose the Australian accent
2) Be sure to get a GPS with your rental car. This is vital! Take it from the formerly clueless, driving around unfamiliar territory solo is a dangerous prospect. Without the comforting tones of an automated voice directing you around, you'll be forced to keep a map or your smart phone handy at all times. And if you're anything like me (and survey shows all visitors to my site are 90% like me, if not actually me), you won't want to start pulling over every five minutes for a refresher. Instead, you'll risk life and limb keeping the map/phone in your right hand as you drive with the left, wondering how many seconds you can take your eye off the road without crashing.

But really it's the vigilante Corkscrew that's keeping crime down
3) Though you'll want to keep your wine intake in check without a designated driver, you'll notice many locals imbibing with reckless abandon everywhere you go. What's their secret? Well, though DUI's are typically tolerated no more in Napa than they are throughout California, local law enforcement will actually turn a blind eye if you're able to recite the secret phrase of the week, which always involves a specific vineyard, blend, and year. This phrase while I was in town was: "I hear Baldacci's '87 Malbec is best paired with a rosemary and garlic roast leg of lamb." (The irony with the phrase is always that it's actually promoting a terrible blend with the absolute wrong meal!)

A note of caution - take care not to mess up a single word in this phrase or else you'll be beaten as an ordinary drunk/dullard who doesn't know a thing about wine. If you haven't discovered the current phrase etched in the stalls of a vineyard bathroom by the time you've been pulled over, simply pay close attention to the police as they escort you to the local jail, as it is common practice for the police to utter it openly to first time offenders.

N41 WINING!
Wine is a huge part of the Napa Valley experience. Not interested in wine? Well, enjoy...uh, the Napa Valley Film Festival, I guess? Though incidentally, all films in this festival are centered around wine, or in the case of children's movies, wine product.

Now, without a partner to assist or stall for you, you're going to want to ensure you've boned up on your wine knowledge before visiting many of the vineyards and wineries around town. Here are some tips to avoid common mistakes most travelers make:

1) Holding Your Glass - Yes, the way you hold your wine glass immediately reveals your level of wine drinking acumen. Standard wine law calls for you to hold your glass by the stem (that would be the thin, stalk-like piece at the bottom of the glass, if you're really new to all of this), but there is a little bit of wiggle room. For example, no one would ever suggest you hold your wine glass with two hands like some kind of neanderthal, right? And yet, this attractive young woman is totally pulling off:

She takes the most adorable sips from her glass
The key is confidence (or an unquestionable level of attractiveness, if you happen to have that). If you want to hold the glass another way, do it with gusto. For example, I've started practicing holding my wine glass at the rim, like so:

Wait 'til you see how I drink from this
And though it costs me a pretty penny in broken glasses and spilled wine, once I get the hang of it I'm sure it's going to turn heads at parties.

2) Pronunciation
The world of wine is filled some of the fanciest words. And for those of you not in the know, lots of fancy words aren't spelled phonetically. For example, did you know "plaid" is pronounced "PLAD"? Well I didn't, until quite recently*. What was I, just supposed to know there was a useless "i" in the word?

Here are so common wine variations, and their phonetic pronunciation.

Merlot: MER-LOW
Cabernet: CAB-ER-NEIGH
Sauvignon: I actually still don't know how to pronounce this one, but if you're forced to say it, just do what I've been doing, and put on a thick Chinese accent, saying: "ahh SO-VAN-NOOOO??" and laugh at how badly the offensive stereotype you've just created has butchered the pronunciation. Now you've dodged a bullet, and gained a room full of laughter! (Note: if there are Asian people in the room, you'll obviously want to adjust your behavior. After you make your mocking gesture, point to Asians in the room and say "these guys know what I'm talking about.")

We call these fruits on the side here 'non-alcoholic pre-wine pouches'
3) Varieties
Sure, I could list all the different wines for you right now, but that's not really as important if you're new to the game like I was just a short time ago. Some people just assume you know certain things (as I mentioned before with plaid pronounced PLAD), and that certain facts just go without saying. But maybe you don't, and maybe it doesn't, you know? So I'm going to state it right here for the record, without judgement:

Purple grapes make red wine, and green grapes make white wine. There is no "purple wine" or "green wine," so whatever you do, DON'T ask about them.

There, I just saved you the trouble of looking like a real wine dumb dumb. You say you already knew that? Well, enjoy your wonderful, sprawling vineyard, monsieur winemaster! I bet you'll never guess which one of your precious vines I just peed on! Actually, speaking of pee....
Pictured: Inevitability
4) Pitfalls
Anyone who's ever finished a glass of red wine knows the risks associated with it. Splotchy, crimson lips, dark-stained teeth, and the potential for ruined clothes are the unfortunate downside to such a flavorful, intoxicating drink. But did you know that white wine comes with its own set of downsides, too?

It's much less spoken about due to the sheer embarrassment associated with it, but anyone who drinks white white suffers briefly from what are known as "pee squirts." It's like farting, only from from the front, not the back. Actually more like "sharting" because there's definitely more than just air coming out. Now you see why it's such a taboo topic? The point is, you'll have to pick your poison, since as I mentioned, drinking wine is kind of required in Napa. Incidentally, "lip/teeth staining versus pee squirts," the classic wine connoisseur's dilemma, is the actual origin of the phrase "pick your poison."

5) Mingling
Wine tours can be a great place to mingle with singles. Inquiring about market fluctuations, crop rotation, or 'the pest situation,' with the owner of a vineyard can quickly establish you as an educated connoisseur, and of course, the alpha male/warrior princess of the tour group. Referencing a deceased love one - i.e. "I wish Cheryl could have lived long enough to see this" - can also let your status as a single be known, and calm any assertions that you're some kind of unsavory wine-tour creeper (note that anti-creeper behavior should be employed at all times, save for perhaps the seedy motel you're likely staying at). But be sure to do the proper reconnaissance work before fully committing to any given person in the group. That cute brunette that giggles at your joke about "wearing your grape-squishing shoes" could easily be paired with the tall guy way in the back, who's obviously just so tall and confident in his relationship that he doesn't feel the need to stand anywhere near his girlfriend or the front of the group. As a theoretical scenario.

N41 DINING!
There are a great number of amazing restaurants in Napa, including places just outside the Napa area along the Pacific coast. Here you might find what I'd describe as one of the most breathtaking sunsets ever known to man. And like staring the setting sun for too long, fine dining on your vacation comes with own set of dangers.

Beautiful...but at what price??
Studies have shown that there is nothing sadder looking than a person uttering the phrase: "table for one," minus of course: "table for one, and do you have any gluten-free options?" Thankfully, in our current technological age, the pathetic sight of a person enjoying a solitary meal in public can be mitigated by the simple presence of a smart phone. If used properly, it can actually change the world's perception of you. You immediately go from a lonely man with no one to eat with/love him to a man who's too fucking important/busy to be bothered with anyone right now. Even if you're not actually busy at all, and instead, finishing your 300th round of Scramble With Friends, John Q. Public is none the wiser.

So where is the caution, you ask? Well this very restaurant overlooking the Pacific ocean was is in what is commonly known as a "dead zone," free of any wireless or cellular service. The only thing worse than seeing a man sitting staring at the setting sun alone as a metaphor for his own life is the site of him pretending to talk or text with another person on the phone while everyone in the restaurant knows that's impossible. A man on his smartphone with no service isn't feverishly composing emails saving and/or destroying companies with a few keystrokes. A person without internet is most likely looking at the photos of all the people that for one reason or another have disappeared from their lives.

Not eating alone in your car actually puts you in the minority here
You're much safer at a place like In-N-Out, with locations all over the Bay area. Best of all, every delicious burger comes without an ounce of judgment on your solo status or your ever-expanding gut!

N41 BENEFITS!
Enough with the warnings, let's talk about some of the great benefits of travelling alone! Benefits like:

I'm quite the master of disguise you know
1) Playing The Mystery Of You

As an unknown visitor in a new land, it is perfectly within your right to take on a new persona, or personas at your leisure. So go ahead , try on a new personality. Be the bucket list guy with only a few months left to live, be the undercover celebrity who's taking every precaution not to let anyone know who she really is, or be a robot from the future who's come to the past to experience something the now-extinct human race referred to as a "getaway."

2) No Agenda, No Sharing, No Volume Control

Maybe a lot of business travelling types get to do this all the time, but I haven't been in a hotel room alone before, nor have I driven around in a lot of rental cars by myself. And guess what? It's awesome! No sharing the covers, or pillows, or bathroom, and you get to blast your iPod on shuffle and sing along loudly to every song in your eclectic collection. So make the most of this opportunity - it's 100% Me Time, All The Time.

Now, if you plan on interacting with other people, it's a still a good idea practice good grooming and personal hygiene. Alternatively, you can just say SCREW IT and fully commit to being a smelly drifter (or a robot from the future with a poorly programmed understanding of human cleanliness). Point is, you have options.

"Yes, I'm sorry. This seat is taken."
3) You're Never Really Alone

That's right friends. If you play your cards just right, and you'll never have to be alone with your terrible terrible thoughts.

Facebook, Twitter and the like are your friends on these kinds of trips. It's like a road trip with all your friends, followers and spam bots. "Why yes, I suppose the mountain air does remind me of Spring Fresh Tide @charlenon8341!" And when you've got no service or cell phone battery left? Well, you've still got your imagination right? Who says imaginary friends are only for kids, anyway? Why should the little brats with underdeveloped brains get to have all the fun? Think of all the three dimensional, well-read, gifted conversationalists you can generate on the spot and talk to all day long about philosophy, politics, and your favorite episodes of Community. Plus, who says this "friend" can't be a hot chick (or dude) who's totally into you too?

Like a sexy Hobbes?
So talk, laugh, and argue away with the new friend that will never judge you or not know when to shut up. Unless of course that is the kind of person you've decided to invent for some strange reason. See, here I am judging you right now - but hey, I'm real, and real people are flawed, ok? So get over it.

***

Well, that should just about do it. I hope you have as much fun in Napa as I did. Good night everyone, or as they say in Napa: "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!!"

-Matt

*This is actually true.