Pete Insel was a cross country runner in college. He had a radio show called “This Licentious Monstrosity” with another good friend of mine. Pete also digested a lot of wine knowledge and experience, having worked in the Main Street Wine Cellar in Grinnell, Iowa, and later, I believe, at The Cannery in San Francisco while attending New College. By this time he had become Peter, but I’ll always remember him first as Pete.
Pete passed away early in the morning a few weeks ago in Michigan. He’d been diagnosed with ALS in May of 2007, while still living near Oakland, CA. At the time of his diagnosis, he was a card dealer for the Oaks Casino. He had an amazing capacity for knowledge– he remembered wineries, vintages, vintage years, Wine Spectator scores, and the like. He was a great resource for finding great deals– great tasting bottles of wine for five or ten bucks that tasted like they should be priced four to five times as much. And he was just as savvy with music, remembering lyrics and playing tunes that I really liked but have still yet to locate.
I lived across the hall from Pete in Norris Dorm my first year at Grinnell College. He and his roommate Tom had suffered through a bad number at the room draw the year before, and had landed back in the decidedly worst dorm on campus. But they made the best of it, designing and building large lofts for each of them, thus opening their space-challenged room into a much more expansive place. And it was unique.
That first year, I went to Chicago with Pete, Tom, and a couple other of their friends, for Fall Break. I’d only been there about a month and a half, so our friendship was very new. We drove the six 0r so hours, sharing driving duties, making jokes, getting to know each other. I took my camera, and at the time saw myself as a budding photo-journalist.
Or something like that. I took this one of Pete and later added the caption “Pete’s driving. Pete’s happy. Pete just ran over a squirrel.”
That was somehow very funny to me at the time. Don’t worry, he didn’t run over a squirrel.
We did however have the occasion to stop at the Cheese Hut.
L to R: Gail, Tom, Me, and Pete
There were many moments in our ensuing friendship that come to mind fondly– playing hacky sack on Mac Field in the warm spring weather, drinking beer and hoping to impress women; late nights/early mornings spent drinking at The Bar or at Link’s, playing pool and/or snooker; off-campus meals of gastronomic genius with fabulous pairings of food and wine; and many a party of great and momentous occasion with little or no first-hand recollection.
Pete was always a kind-hearted, gracious host. Even when I got out of control, he took me under his arm and nurtured me back to earth. There were many times, later in our college experience, where it was just me and Pete, hanging out, drinking, smoking, talking into the morning hours. He graciously shared what he had with me– bottles of wine, finely crafted microbrewed beer, his music, and more as we talked and talked about the world, its problems, and our solutions. We discussed the universal constructs of our personal philosophies and plans to make all things right in the world. And sometimes, if we went too late, my kind host would offer me his couch to sleep off the salty ruminations of the evening (and morning).
For me, Pete will never die. He’s always alive and vibrant in my mind. I still haven’t fully conceived what it is that he went through, and what ALS did to him. At 41, he was taken from this world much too soon, certainly. And I don’t know of a way to force myself through that hellish, disintegrating process that he was forced to live through. I really don’t want to. I’ll just remember Pete as I already do, and mourn the lack of future, new memories. But to try and fathom his battle, I just come up short.
So be it. Rest in peace, my friend. Know you are loved. I hope someday we can play hacky again. Looking forward to it.