The Real Roadrunner

*By: Christi Shingara*

Anthony Bourdain in a still from Morgan Neville’s documentary Roadrunner.

I first learned about Anthony Bourdain years ago in New York City when I was working at a bar on the Lower East Side and my manager at the time would talk endlessly about the show No Reservations on the Travel Channel. I never saw the show and soon forgot about our conversation. Weeks later on a Sunday afternoon, I found myself sitting in front of the TV flipping through channels. Certain I wouldn’t find anything to watch, I switched to a channel that featured a lanky guy walking across a glacier in Iceland being somewhat vulgar and also pretty damn funny. I continued to watch, and then realized this is who my manager had been talking about.

After that episode, I started tuning in to the show on a regular basis and wanted to know more about who this Anthony Bourdain guy was. His shtick was traveling to the most unique and faraway places, meeting the locals and indulging in exotic food. What I was particularly drawn to was his style of narrating, which came across genuinely authentic and somewhat gritty. He was funny and also sometimes a jerk, but whatever mood he brought to the episode, you always learned something about places you might not ever visit. Essentially, he made you feel like you were traveling with him.

Those few months of enjoying No Reservations, I ended up reading the book that put Bourdain on the map, Kitchen Confidential and fell in love with it. Working in the NYC service industry myself, I could relate to a lot of the behind the scenes mayhem he talked about. It also turned into the go-to book on how to eat and where to eat in NYC. When it was time for me to finally buy my own set of knives, I referred to that book. To this day, I still have the Global knives that Bourdain mentioned. Even more notable were the little bits of culinary advice sprinkled throughout the book. One of them being that you don’t need to buy an expensive block of knives because, realistically, you won’t use most of them. He also despised buying dry herbs from the supermarket, which in his terms, was the “equivalent to sawdust.” He believed the best dishes were made from simple, fresh ingredients.

In 2013, a few years after discovering Bourdain, I started working in media. I remember looking up at a huge billboard in Time Square with Bourdain’s face on it promoting his new show on CNN, Parts Unknown and thinking to myself, Wow this guy really made it! From the underbelly of the culinary world to a cultural icon, Bourdain had to be living the dream. But was he? My friends and I would talk about how we would love to have a job like his, traveling the world and eating the most amazing food. However, thinking about it more deeply, was it really what it seemed? Did Bourdain’s extreme lifestyle have its repercussions? Could loneliness, never being in one place long enough to actually enjoy it, and always living out of suitcase to catch the next plane, train or automobile be the harsh reality of his existence?

The day I found out that Bourdain had passed away on June 8, 2018, I remember walking to my office when my sister texted me these exact words, “Oh my God! Anthony Bourdain died!” I stopped in my tracks and called her immediately to find out what happened.

After I learned how he died, I was in shock. Almost a year before Bourdain’s death by hanging, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, died in the same tragic way. A year before that, Chester Bennington. Was this some kind of weird trend? Were these guys that depressed to go to this diabolic extreme? I found myself having a hard time believing that he was actually gone. I didn’t know him and only knew him through his shows and books, but he certainly had an impact on me. I always thought that I would run into him on the streets of NYC. He was truly someone I really cared to meet one day, and now that could never be.

Fast forward to this summer, and the trailer came out for the movie Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. The moment I saw it, I knew I would be at the theater on opening day. However, it was only playing in select theaters for a few showings. Thankfully, a tiny theater in the Hudson River Valley had showings for it and I was thrilled! I knew it was going to be a bittersweet moment to see a film that paid homage to Bourdain.

The film was honest, sad, inspiring and funny. I haven’t seen a film recently that has hit on so many emotions. Bourdain’s inner-circle of friends and family were interviewed throughout the film and his suicide was talked about, but wasn’t the main focus. To sum it up, it was a poignant story that illustrated Bourdain’s inner-life and personal turmoil.

Another great aspect of the film was the music from Queens of the Stone Age, Iggy Pop, the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Bob Dylan to name a few. This wasn’t music chosen by the director, but was the musical taste that Bourdain loved. It seemed all Bourdain really wanted was to have a normal life and be the quintessential “family man.” Sadly, he had no idea how to do that. That evening, I walked out of the theater missing him even more.

When I need a Bourdain fix, I still watch old episodes of his iconic shows, No Reservations and Parts Unknown. I will always love his sarcasm, wit and authenticity. There are many travel/food shows out there, but no one did it like Bourdain did it. One quote that stuck with me from the book No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach was this…

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

Even though Bourdain isn’t on this earth anymore, I do think he left a lot of good behind and we are lucky enough to have that!

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