Sixteen years ago I started a tradition with a man named Adam Mellema, who would later become my best friend. It began in Chicago, on a whim, when we had trouble deciding between two restaurants. In this one fateful moment, instead of choosing one or the other, we decided to eat at ALL the restaurants that we wanted to try, sharing one thing at each place, and seeing how much we could taste in a day. Our first Restaurant Crawl was born.
We loved it, immediately deciding to make it a tradition. This was a bold move in our fairly new and fairly rocky friendship. And yet there was something about a tradition and a commitment that must have compelled us. Over the coming years we sometimes loved the Crawl more than we loved each other. Through eras of highs and lows, growing apart and together, we remained committed to this annual ritual, each year in a different city. And perhaps not surprisingly, very important parts of the woman I’d become were forged on these days of eating and talking and exploring the world with him. Our friendship grew up too, and we both learned an invaluable lesson on what the practice of commitment looks like.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic, she writes about her commitment to become a writer, and how she invented her own rite of passage to commemorate a vow she made to a creative life. It reminded me that beyond the ritual of marriage, our culture offers very few traditions and expectations for serious, long-term commitment. In some ways I get it. We are ever changing and we shouldn’t bind ourselves to too many things we’re not sure we’ll always want to honor. After all, look at how often people switch majors in college, and later in life, careers.
And yet, the Restaurant Crawl created in me a strong faith in traditions, and in sticking with them through thick and thin, no matter how we come of age over and over. Our culture is a bit short on traditions around commitment, but that is not to say we can’t invent them for ourselves. The Restaurant Crawl is one of the ways my bestie Adam and I know we’re never alone or unaccountable in this world. It is how we remind each other that we have committed to trek this life together, no matter how our paths diverge. It is a vow of friendship (which at one point did include actual Friendship Vows) that makes us each stronger inside, safer. And once a year, fatter.
So cheers from the 16th Annual Restaurant Crawl, in Bangkok. Inventing your own traditions with the people you wander this life with makes everything more delicious.