Celebrities die a lot (they’re people after all, and people die). When it’s someone I don’t know, I offer those who did kind words to help them get through their grief. When it’s someone I somewhat know, I offer kind platitudes to my fellow fans and take part in the spontaneous Internet memorial. But every once in a while someone gets taken that shatters me so much it’s hard to find the words. Anthony Bourdain is in the latter category.
It’s hard to articulate how he affected me, but I’m going to try. I simply would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for him. He kindled a passion for a certain type of travel within me that I think was maybe always there, but just needed a small spark to truly light up. I’ve always loved to travel, but my idea of travel was to snap my photo in front of a monument and check off boxes on a list of “things to see.” After many years of watching his show, that didn’t cut it anymore. I needed to immerse myself in a place, get off the beaten path, and see things you didn’t find in the travel books.
During my college years his show was a near constant hum in the background of my daily life. Various cable channels aired his various series, but my particular favorite was No Reservations. When I was planning my trip to southeast Asia back in 2010 I watched the Malaysian, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore episodes in preparation. I even visited the same stall in Singapore that he did and giddily took a picture of the sign to prove I’d been there.
But I didn’t just stick to things he did. No. What he taught me was to just get off the beaten path and explore the area I’m visiting in earnest. This caused me to find myself in a situation where I had to jump off a moving bus in a remote neighborhood in Bangkok, catch a small boat to an island to see a Wat, and eat a bunch of food I didn’t understand. I rented a bike and road around that island and bought food off the carts that lined the single small dirt road and it was delicious. And I’m not sure I’d have been brave enough to embark on that adventure if No Reservations hadn’t inspired me to leave the well worn roads and see new things. I can’t thank him enough for that.
A few years ago at San Diego Comic-Con I saw him lingering outside the Funko Fundays party. I’m not sure if he was actually going to go to the party (he doesn’t strike me as a Funko collector, but who knows!), but he was taking in the spectacle with the same interest he took in all those far away places. It was something unique and he was absorbing the world around him as he always did.
I wanted to go up to him and say hi, but I was too nervous. I’ve talked to other idols with no problem. I’ve met actors and journalists and writers, but Anthony Bourdain was just a step too far for me. How do you approach someone who fundamentally changed how you view the world? How do you thank them for all the experiences you’ve had because of their influence. So I just watched him for a minute and then walked away. And I’ll never have that chance again, sadly. But for one wonderful minute I was in the same room as my idol and I’ll never forget it.