By David Simmonds
Nick Gallo died a week ago. No one saw it coming, certainly not his wife, Laurie, and the two sons he loved so much, Alex and Noah. From his Seattle home he boarded a plane bound for Greece on yet another writing assignment and he didn’t come home, succumbing to pericarditis and pneumonia after several days in an Athens hospital. By all accounts he was getting better after several bed-ridden days, then suddenly his temperature was 104 degrees and then he was gone at 57.
By definition Nick was a freelance writer, taking jobs where he could find them, often traveling to Mexico to research a travel piece. But Nick was much more than a travel writer. He was a damn writer…period. He had the gift– the talent, the humanity, the honesty to tell a story that you would read and believe. He told it straight and pure, often with wicked humor, and hacks like me knew that we had to always try harder if we wanted to compete. Quite simply, Nick was the best of the bunch. He was my friend and I will miss him dearly, but he will not be forgotten.
Mexico Premiere will be establishing an annual excellence in writing award focused on Mexico travel, to be named The Nick Gallo Award. One day, perhaps twenty years from now, some young journalist will ask “Just who was this Gallo dude”? Nick would like that.
Here is a web site where you can see some photos and read some of Nick’s excellent writing http://www.cathybrown.com/nickgallo/index.html
And here are some thoughts from a few of Nick’s many travel writer friends.
How I miss our Nick. Smiling always. Spreading his sunshine. Casting humor on his foibles. Boyishly humble and polite. Endowed with a family he obviously loved. Enthusiastic about so much — his family, friends, life, work. Mexico. Imbued with the joy of a well-turned phrase. Brimful of ideas to spin into perfectly crafted stories. Deeply intrigued by people and places and feelings. Compassionate. So refreshingly unafraid to embrace emotion. How much I admired all of this about him. I will always remember Nick Gallo.
Nick–you were one of the all-time greats among travel writers. Your words always made me envious.
I guess when writing about Nick’s smile and laugh, I’d have to paraphrase the Borg: resistance was futile. Why even try? With his biting wit, his keen insight and amazing power of observation — tempered buy his ever-present sense of humor — Nick Gallo easily peeled off the layers of pretentiousness that so many people love to wrap around themselves. After one tequila, two tequilas, three tequilas (but never floor), he regaled those around him with stories that would touch off fits of laughter. I feel privileged, very privileged that he included me in his circle of friends. Our communication wasn’t constant, but it was real. Just like everything about Nick, who will always be for me “el Gallo Mas Gallo”.
I’m in shock!!! Man, he’ll be missed. Damn it for taking him. Nick was and always will be a great spirit. Always up, always had something funny to say or write. His compassion for Mexico and his writing about the country is unparalleled. The way he carried himself was a lesson in manners and dignity. Always respectful of the Mexican people and their culture. I considered him to be a very good friend of mine. He never let me down and I could always rely on his counsel with respect to our industry.
I will miss not being able to talk to him. I will miss his wonderful spirit. I will miss his friendship.
When I heard the tragic news about Nick Gallo, I was devastated. It wasn’t that we talked often or knew each other beyond our occasional crossings in Mexico, it was because people like Nick don’t come along too often in the freelance writing world. He was so kind, generous and everyone knew him as a consummate professional. After we met for the first time at the annual Tianguis trade show in Acapulco, I asked him to send me some of his work. I was more than impressed; I was moved by the passion in his words and quality of his articles. He had won the Pluma de Plata and was kind of a celebrity to those of us who aspired to be at the top of our profession. But all that aside, he was just a hell of a good guy. I know I’m on a long list of people who feel that way. Nick Gallo was an icon in this business and I’m privileged to have known him.
As the air darkens and darkness descends earlier each day, my thoughts turn to my favorite Mexican celebration. It’s called Dia de los Muertos, and falls just after Halloween on the Catholic feast days of all souls and saints. At the end of each October, my thoughts turn to those people who linger in my life long after their bodies leave this earth, as I practice my romanticized version of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. I gradually assemble an altar, searching for Dad’s cuff-links and Mom’s engagement band. You’d think after so many years building altars small and large I would keep everything in one place. Not me — I do best with scattered memories.
This year, sad to say, some memories are far too recent to be set aside. A few days ago, while traveling in Baja, I found out through cyberspace that a dear friend and fellow travel writer had died alone in Athens. His home was in Seattle, where his wife, sons, relatives and abundant friends were in total crisis mode. His body was on some soulless morgue in Greece. And all around the world people were mourning a loss that seemed utterly unreal.
Nick Gallo’s death has affected me on so may levels I’m not sure I’m ready to put his picture on my altar. The pain is sharp and reverberations raw.
To be honest, I didn’t even know Nick all that well. We shared e-mails weekly, talked on the phone every few months, and saw each other almost annually at Mexico’s big tequila-fueled bash. I can’t even tell you how many years that cycle’s been repeating itself. Bit I do know he was one of the first people I wanted to email when I heard of his death, odd as that sounds. It was one of those the sum is far more than its parts moments. I wanted Nick to know I missed him and that someone we shared and cared so much for was gone.
Let’s say I’ve known Nick for eight years, maybe. We met in Mexico — I’m sure of that. Our acquaintance moved quickly into friendship and camaraderie built upon a place and a profession. We were writers sharing a common topic and plenty of similar complaints. We both suffered from “whining and dining” syndrome, as Nick once wrote.
Few people outside the business get the downside of travel writing. Nick, being (I think) genetically sensitive, got it in spades. He loved exploring new places — and hated leaving his family. Though outgoing and funny and genuine, he wasn’t all that crazy about being thrown into trying circumstances with perfect strangers. Yet he wanted so very much to experience something new and powerful and to write about it from the heart, giving readers a true feel for his experiences. In doing so, Nick gave me, and many others, a tremendous gift. Writing was a passion for him, a talent he treasured and used judiciously. He cared so much about every word, even when his assignments trivialized his abilities. He had the fury to fight for his words and their meanings and the drive to spend hours composing thoughts that might never be published.
Those of us who write for a living sometimes lose our voices as we labor to earn dollars for every word. Granted, I only read the best of Nick’s writing and didn’t see his everday labors. but when Nick was on, he could write with a worldly, yet personal, perspective that comes only from genuine practice, persistence and skillful observation. I loved reading Nick’s work, and I’ll miss his words.
So, this year Nick Gallo will prominently displayed on my Day of the Dead altar. I’ll choose a photo that best portrays his spirit and smile, and the finest bottle of tequila I can fined. I’ll fan out the pages from his essay on walking the dog and his stories about traveling with his wife and sons in Mexico. One night, when I’m trying to come up with the perfect sentence or am internally raging at some absurd abuse of my words, I’ll talk with my elusive friend. And I’ll thank him for being a part of my life forever.
Nick was a travel writer friend of mine; we saw each other most every year at the annual travel writers convention in Acapulco and kept in touch via email and the occasional phone call. When I think of Nick I remember his laugh, which seem to gain momentum quickly and ranged from husky through a whole range of notes and pitches, depending on the joke or situation.
Nick wan’t usually the center of attention, preferring, it seems to me, a one-on-one or small group conversation. Although I didn’t see him as a late-night party person, he didn’t abandon the fray. During after-hours convention parties and club visits he’d usually hang on ’til the more effusive among us called it quits, even if he was on occasion spotted napping at the table, while others danced on.
The two of us sometimes groused about the state of the world, and although politics and pettiness sometimes made him blue, he was also always philosophical and stoic. Thoughtful in all senses of the word. He was proud of his work but extremely modest, while always quick with praise and generous with suggestions and advice for others.
Like everyone who knew Nick Gallo, I was shocked and saddened to hear of this recent death. I valued him both as a colleague and as a good friend. Nick was a gifted and dedicated writer. I never failed to learn something new from him every time we found ourselves traveling together, usually on a press trip to some corner of Mexico. His warmth and irreverant sense of humor were infectious, as was his love of Mexico. If Nick were here, I’m sure that he would still be telling us “Yes, folks, you can find plenty of Cheez Whiz atop your huevos rancheros south of the border these days, but here’s an antidote…” And Nick never failed to deliver that antidote. We’re all going to miss him.