Blowing car horns and sirens can blend beautifully together in such unimaginable ways. Skyscrapers and neon lights in every direction. Images of Russian troops and Ukrainian flags flash across my hotel television screen.
I am in Shanghai for the second time in less than 45 days. In a megacity made up of more than 24 million people, I again find myself totally alone with my thoughts and my laptop.
Last month, Lodi received a delegation from Moldova, a tiny, landlocked country that borders Romania and Ukraine. Similar to Ukraine, the geopolitical pressures Moldova faces are immense. Vladimir Putin’s wine embargo against Moldova has been devastating. The former “Napa Valley of the USSR” is now sadly described as the “poorest country in Europe.” Families, often living on small vineyards, are suffering in abject poverty.
Many Moldovan grape growers sell their organs on the black market. Missing kidneys are as common as missing teeth. In a country of less than 4 million, it is estimated there are over 150,000 orphaned children.
I feel so thankful to have grown up in the USA. Both my parents were born in California during the Great Depression. In the 1950s, my father was a young Korean War veteran who could frame a house twice as fast as the other carpenters around him. He had been working like a man since he was 9 years old. My mother once told me that by the time he was in his 20s, my dad’s carpenter paychecks were always at least double his co-workers.’ Maybe it was his dyslexia that fueled his superhuman strength, or maybe he just did not like the idea of going hungry.
My mother knew firsthand what it was like to grow up poor. Although her personal financial situation improved dramatically during her lifetime, she never forgot where she came from. My mother’s clothes were always very neat, but never a name brand. I never saw my mother buy anything for herself. I did see her buy things for complete strangers.
My father always had a dream to own a small vineyard. My mother worked for the Bank of Stockton. She loved her co-workers and her customers. I enjoy going to mom’s bank to this very day. A few employees still remember her. They are the ones that call me “Frankie.”
I would like to say I was a good son that saw to it she had the best of everything, but the sad truth is I never thought about her needs at all until the very end of her life. In the early 1990s, I was a self-absorbed bounty hunter. Like a starving wolf, my focus was 100-percent on my prey: bail jumpers that had failed to appear for their felony court appearances. North America was my hunting ground.
I would stare at the booking photos of my fugitives for hours so that I would recognize them in a crowd, even if they wore a disguise. I kicked down more than my share of doors, not knowing what would be waiting for me on the other side. Sleeping in my car outside a crack house seemed normal. I took off six months from work to help my mother, who died at home in 1992, at the untimely age of 57. I returned to bounty hunting and other law enforcement jobs until I retired in 2004.
It all feels like another life. Today I am scared to ride a rollercoaster, much less get into a physical altercation with a criminal. I guess my adrenal glands finally burned out. Maybe I am just getting old.
I just got off a very long-distance call with my buddy Barry. Like me, Barry has traveled to China many times. Like me, he loves the Velvet Grill. Like me, Barry loves to write. He just happens to be a whole lot better at it than me.
Barry Morrow is the prolific Emmy and Oscar award-winning screenwriter who is most famous for writing “Rain Man,” starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Barry has dedicated much of his life to advocating for people with mental disabilities and other disadvantages throughout the world. He would have gone to China with me this time, but he had promised a friend he would accompany her to this year’s Oscars.
We are working on other projects together, but we are now also looking at ways at how we can aid Moldovan winemakers succeed in both China and the United States. We will donate any of our own profits generated selling Moldovan wine directly back to Moldova-related charities.
Never in my wildest dreams while growing up in Lodi could I have ever imagined I would someday be trying to promote Moldovan wine in China with the help of a famous Hollywood screenwriter. No one but God could have ever written such a script.
My dad tells me he is very proud of what we are doing. I hope my mother approves. I know she never particularly liked me bounty hunting.
Frank Gayaldo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.