Driving Miss Mobley: A Wintertime Odyssey in California Wine Country. Act V (The Finale).

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Gin & Tonic at Venus Spirits Distillery.

Venus Spirits Cocktail Bar & Kitchen

[The scene opens with a tracking shot of Tesla driven by Esther with Boke sitting beside her as it pulls out of the Ingalls Street Courtyard parking lot onto turns left onto Swift Street].

[Before the Tesla reaches the intersection with Delaware Avenue, it turns right and pulls into an open slot in front of the distillery. Inside, a crowd of tastefully dressed patrons are gathered at the bar with mixed drinks in hand and bottles of spirits in holiday gift bags next to them].

[The two enter inside and head to the bar to order, returning minutes later to take seats on a wooden bench next to a table decorated with lit candles affixed to abalone shells and drought tolerant plants in pots fashioned from miniature types of winter squash].

[Boke has ordered Esther a Sazerac cocktail while reserving a perfectly made gin and tonic for himself].

[“If This Is Goodbye” by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris plays from outside speakers as they sit together in silence].

[E. starts to speak, more laconically than usual].

E: So, is this goodbye?

B: You tell me.

E: I didn’t fire you! Hearst did.

B: Worst Christmas gift, ever.

E: I can’t risk my job by pissing off my editors any more than I already have. If we don’t toe the line, they will cut them off, one digit at a time until we bleed to death on the floor in front of them. Corporate jobs come with perks, but it’s all just better organized slavery, in the end.

B: Have you tried being jobless lately? It’s not the same thing. At least someone still cares about you.

E: ‘Caring’ is a term at The Chronicle that we tend to use lightly. Still, what an awesome place to get over a workplace breakup! This is, like, the best Sazerac I’ve ever tasted.

B: You should try the G&T.

[Esther samples from Boke’s drink, her eyes lighting up in pleasure].

E: Like, what botanicals do they put in this thing?

B: That’s Gin №01, which has over 10 different fruits, herbs, and botanicals like lavender, angelica root, ginger, lemon, and orange. Seasonal blends are made in winter, spring, summer, and fall. If you are into Scotch, ask to try their smoked peat single malt, which was just released a few weeks ago. Micro-scale, super hands-on distillation, all of it.

E: Wow, your mood totally picks up when you talk about stuff like that, doesn’t it?

B: Yeah, I guess it does. But that’s because Sean, the guy who runs the place, is a true craftsman who creates each batch using organic ingredients in Spanish made, hand pounded copper stills and ages some of his gins, aquavits, whiskeys, and tequilas in charred American oak barrels before release.

E: Dude, you’re still fired. Shame to let all that passion and knowledge go to waste writing Yelp reviews and not getting paid for it, don’t you think?

B: I don’t think. Not about stuff like that, I mean. It’s just fun for me. And I like having fun. Don’t you?

E: I’ve been having nothing but fun ever since our first tasting in Napa four days ago! I wish we could meet up next time as friends, and not as wine critic and hired driver.

B: I’d like that. How about next Valentine’s Day?

E: What, like meet you here?

B: You could bring Sol. Meet Pen and me here for cocktails, and then we’ll have some wine at Stockwell before sharing a pizza dinner at Bantam just across the street.

E: Sure, what the hell. I’ll ask Sol and see if she’s game.

[The two clink glasses and take sips of their drinks].

B: Is it really that hard?

E: What?

B: Getting paid to write about food and wine the way that you two do.

E: It’s journalism, dude. And journalism is hard. It’s not like Yelp.

B: Because you have jobs that pay and we don’t?

E: We interview people. On the record. Our pieces are fact checked and copy edited. We work full time at these gigs. We attend events, post officially on social media, create lists, give lectures, and do a ton of other things as well. We show up and put out, each and every day of my goddam working lives. You just post online whenever you feel the fucking need to vent.

B: Go on.

E: Being a professional wine or food critic, it’s a balancing act between performance and pretentiousness. If you sound too judgmental, your readers will think of you as snobbish, but if you don’t sound like you know what the hell you’re talking about, you crash and burn — big time.

B: Sounds tough.

E: Even after 100 columns, I admit that I’m still working my personal style out. Maybe I overdid it lately. I gave up my true voice in favor of an affectation that my editors felt would attract more attention and ad money. It worked, but I felt dirty acting that way, because it wasn’t true to the real me.

B: I think you’re far more real than you give yourself credit for. Your passion for fine wine and the people who create them are genuine. I’ve read your columns. I read them ALL, Esther. Every word. As for the accent thing, it had its moments. And how can you give up the act now?

E: You’d think you’d be right, but as usual, dude, you’re not. I’m way ahead of you.

B: Meaning … what?

E: I’ve decided to write a mea culpa column confessing to faking the accent and publish it next month, once the holidays are over. I will resolve to be more honest with my readers and refocus the column away from the cult wines and commercialized wineries and highlight the more authentic and honest ones instead. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even work in a hike or two amidst the vines angle as well: real grape to glass, dirt under my manicured fingernails shit, if you see where I’m going here.

B: I am a hillbilly, but I’m not THAT slow. I get it. It will be another case of corporate branding gone bad, and you’ll get the credit for blowing the whistle and then turning over a new leaf. Clever. Your editor might even go along with it — assuming you’ve still got a job.

[Esther grins and flashes an enormous smile].

E: They won’t fire the talent. Yet. I still bring it too much revenue. Wineries in need of a boost to elevate their sagging sales numbers still try to pay us up front to get good copy. It’s questionable, ethically speaking, but it can’t be ignored.

B: I wonder whether they will still do so once you unveil the real you.

P: It is risky, but it might be a nice angle to play given the natural wine trend these days and the turn against Parkerized wines among younger wine buyers. As much as I liked the old Esther, I may just enjoy being the real one a whole lot more.

B: I am smitten by them both.

E: Yeah, fine. Whatever, Less bull-shitting. More truth telling. Why the redneck from the sticks act, anyway? I mean, for real this time. We’re drinking buddies now. Plus you’ve seen me nearly naked in Napa. I think we both can handle the truth.

[Boke Looks down at his half empty glass and takes another sip before responding].

B: Shame. Embarrassment at having fallen so low after losing my last teaching job followed by years of being unemployed followed by a mental breakdown for schizophrenia compounded by an undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Level 1, which is severe. Plus, there is the lingering PTSD from my military days, which I still can’t talk about. So, being an ordinary redneck with a normal job making a decent hourly wage just made sense.

E: Sounds tough, though.

B: It is. I mean, with my education and background, I should have done a lot more with my life by this point. Being a driver for Lyft and Uber was a sign that I had failed, so I gave it up and went back to being jobless for a while. Then you entered my life, not as someone writing a wine column, but in real life. Driving you around wine country, it was more than a job. It was the start of something new.

P: You was, dude.

B: So, I faked a heavy Appalachian accent just so you wouldn’t notice how much of a wine geek I was and how badly I wanted to be like you and write about wine for a living. When I was with you, it was like I wasn’t such a failure in life.

E: You aren’t a failure, wine critic credentials or not. Screw that shit. You’ll get back on your feet. Maybe it won’t be in print journalism — which is a dying already — but there is more to your future than being my driver. All kidding aside: you sucked at that part, dude.

[Esther sips from her drink].

B: Can we still be friends after all of this?

E: It’s gotta be about more than the wine, you know.

B: It will be. I promise.

[Esther smiles].

P: Not all your dreams are delusions. Some of them are real.

B: How do I tell the difference?

E: You don’t. Live your life like each dream is real and forget about the countless times you fuck up in the process.

B: How do I do that?

P: That’s what God invented wine for, dude. Because it sure as shit wasn’t to wash down those Communion wafers of yours. I’ve tasted one before. And I thought that matzoh was dry …

[Boke smiles in spite of himself].

B: I’m really gonna look forward to your next column.

E: And I’ll look forward to your next review on Yelp. Because you never know where the next great wine critic will be found.

B: I’m looking at her right now.

E: I said the ‘next great,’ you idiot. And are you actually serious about the Valentine’s Day meet-up with Sol and me?

B: It was a dream to meet the two of you in the first place, and that came true, so why not double down and try my luck again?

E: You’re talking about inviting us both to a cocktail bar slash micro-distillery slash farm-to-table kitchen in goddamn Santa Cruz. And then ordering fucking Merlot to wash down wood-fired pizzas after, right? Of course we’ll come! What could possibly go wrong next year, anyway?

[Boke laughs. His face betrays a faint glimmer of hope].

E: The key. Now. Oakland is calling.

B: Could you let me drive the Tesla one last time? I knoz me sum ruds youz jes’ gonna love, Miss Moblee. Yes’um, ya’ weel.

[E. tosses B. the key].

E: Merry Christmas, you unemployed hillbilly freak.

B: Happy Hanukah, you spoiled Smith girl wine slut.

[Esther and Boke embrace warmly as friends].

E: Enough lovey dovey. Let’s motor. Don’t go easy on the Tesla. It ain’t ours no more, dude.

[Esther settles into the front passenger seat with the “made in Montana” hat on. Boke starts the engine and maneuvers onto Swift Street, makes a left on Highway 1, and rolls to a stop at the last traffic light out of the city. It changes to green, but he hesitates].

E: The light’s green, Gatsby. Green means go.

B: Hand me your sunglasses first.

[Esther hands Boke her mirrored aviator sunglasses].

B: And I get to pick the music.

[Boke puts on the glasses, then taps on his iPhone and presses play. Both recognize the song immediately. They begin to lip-sync the opening lyrics of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” as a flashback montage plays of them over the past five days, intercut with scenes from their Williams and Smith college years].

[The song swells to its first crescendo as the camera zooms out on the Tesla streaking northward with the sun fading into the ocean. The song plays loudly through open windows as they race along curving backroads to the Kings Mountain cottage where Penelope anxiously is waiting].

[Boke exits the car and hands the key and aviator glasses back to Esther. They hug again, and then Esther reaches into the backseat to hand Boke her “Wine Critic” Panama hat, which he accepts after a moment’s pause to consider the offer].

[Esther then speeds off into the night, streaking north on Skyline Boulevard as she drives the Tesla solo for the first and only time].

[The camera zooms out to reveal the lights of San Francisco and the East Bay glowing in the distance].

[Slow fade to black].

[Roll credits to “Tell Me When It’s Over” by Sheryl Crow featuring Chris Stapleton, followed by “Falling Free” by Madonna].

[The End].

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Sazerac at Venus Spirits Distillery.

I am a gender non-binary writer and founder of the eco-consultancy, sempervirens117.com. I live and work in the Santa Cruz Mountains, outside of Silicon Valley.

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