Discovering Parts Unknown

Ken Mergentime is the former executive editor of Sign & Digital Graphics and WRAPS magazines.

Sometimes major life decisions can be informed and made profound in unexpected ways. In my case, the source that informed my life decision was a celebrity chef TV show.

Okay. Let me explain.

When news broke last year about the death of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, I really didn't know who he was or what all the fuss was about. I was aware of, but had never seen a single episode of his cable TV show "Parts Unknown."

What struck me was the flood of profound reactions that emerged—the near reverential tributes and expressions of heartfelt loss—and not just from other celebrity chefs, but journalists across the world. Journalists?

I decided to investigate, so I went on Netflix and began watching the CNN-produced show. Correction, I binge-watched the entire series.

This was unlike any TV show I'd ever seen. The show took Bourdain to strange and dangerous places—including Libya, Kenya, Vietnam and Nigeria—as well as familiar American places like East L.A., Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Detroit. He not only mingled freely with locals and sampled unique cuisine from fine restaurants, but also dined on street-vendor food and enjoyed meals prepared in the kitchens of local families in homes around the world.

Beyond food though, he created a context for his locations that did not shy away from looking at the lasting effects that war, revolution and urban decay have on everyday people; but also somehow always came around to showing an underlying human goodness and a shared zest for life—regardless of locale.

Bourdain asked good questions and he listened—and fearlessly opened himself to the possibility of having his own preconceptions proved wrong. He actually tried to understand the perspectives of people in sometimes wildly different cultures. His primary philosophy seemed to be one of compassion, curiosity and a genuine appreciation for the senses. He expressly denied being a journalist, but through his stories, he got to the heart of an essential subjectivity and a humanity that is missing in much contemporary journalism. Which brings us back to me—a business journalist for most of my adult life.

I have made the major decision to leave my familiar life as an editor and embark on a whole new adventure with my beautiful wife of 30 years. It's been a long time coming.

And as I look back on my career, and my role in helping to inform the sign and commercial graphics industry, and all the wonderful people who make it what it is, I am gratified. It has been an honor and a pleasure.

Looking forward, I see that I am ready to discover my own parts unknown. I hope to approach my new life with the same openness and honest curiosity that Bourdain displayed.

And as I head for the door, please know that Sign & Digital Graphics will remain in the very capable hands of Matt Dixon, my partner in editing-crime for lo-these-many years. Be well.

Okay, back to work.