5 Questions: Tom MacDonald

Tom_MacDonald Tom MacDonald | Photo credit: Marc Pagani

Born in 1966 in Lafayette, Indiana, Tom MacDonald is the youngest of 8 children. He attended Catholic schools from K1 to high school, and then worked his way through Indiana University from 1984 to 1988, graduating with honors, Phi Beta Kappa, #41 in his class.

After a 5 year stint at Peterson Consulting, now Navigant, he opened Webster’s Wine Bar in 1994 (still open), opened The Bluebird 2007, closed it in 2014, opened Telegraph 2012, which he closed in 2015, and opened Reno 2013, which is still open.

Tom MacDonald Takes on a Bunny | Photo credit: Marc Pagani

1. What’s been keeping you up at night?
If it’s not a semi-conscious, subtle, yet lingering fear regarding the risks and hazards of some rock climbing or mountaineering adventure I’m planning, then it’s definitely the future. We have so many very serious challenges presently facing us as a species, and if we don’t rise to those challenges and come up with creative solutions, well… then survival of the fittest will prevail upon us, leaving this planet to those with four or more legs and much smaller brains. Maybe that’s how it should be. Our species seems these days to have the collective judgment and wisdom of teenagers who’ve been drinking whiskey while driving really fast on winding country roads. The outcome isn’t that difficult to predict. But there is hope. I believe that our young people are aware of these challenges and are ready to face them. We just gotta get all the old white guys, like me and you and our Twitter-loving politicians out of the fucking way. Then we’ll actually have a fighting chance of preserving an environment that allows our species to survive, but equally importantly, perhaps enabling ourselves to advance our consciousness to the point where we honestly feel connected as fellow human beings and abandon our prejudices related to skin color, religion, gender, sexual preference, etc. It has to happen. The question is when?

Our species seems these days to have the collective judgment and wisdom of teenagers who’ve been drinking whiskey while driving really fast on winding country roads.

Tom MacDonald | Photo credit: Marc Pagani

2. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen or heard lately?
I just spent ten days travelling through Sicily with my Webster’s Wine Bar staff, touring vineyards around the entire island, and Sicily is just mind-blowingly (is that a word?) inspiring. The light, the wind, the food (the seafood!!!), the wine, the people. and the history. At one point of the trip, we stayed in a house just a few miles from the 2500 year old Greek ruins of Agrigento. We swam and relaxed on the beach, then hung out drinking cheap beer and wine in the main square of San Leone, surrounded by hundreds of college kids mingling between an uncountable number of Vespas parked everywhere. I’ve always had a burning desire to spend time in the oldest parts of Europe, and I’m not sure why. The history is so deep and so present, and it reminds me of just how amazing and fantastic it is to be alive on this planet at this time. It reminds you, if you stop to consider it, how ridiculously lucky you are to be here when you realize that if just one of your 100+ preceding relatives since the days of Julius Caesar had died before procreating, well… you wouldn’t be here to be able to ponder your fantastic luck.

Webster Wine Bar | Photo credit: Marc Pagani

3. What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?
I’m actually in process of developing a website that will (or would) be the most comprehensive resource on technical rock climbing systems and techniques. The emphasis is on providing an on-line resource, compiled from dozens of expert sources, of the most current methods and best systems for all applications related to climbing activities. Despite having a life-long terror of heights, about 10 years ago my wife Janan, having purchased a charity auction day-at-the-rock-gym ticket, convinced me to give it a go.

Tom MacDonald, Drilling the Cliff Wall | Photo credit: Marc Pagani

Fifteen feet up, legs shaking like Elvis, I realized I could come down and never climb again (happily, despite perhaps some deriding comments from my wife), OR… I could face the fear. Realizing I was connected to ropes and gear that could hold a cement truck, I decided to avoid the shame and fight that fear. It took a while, as in months and months at the gym, but today, more than ten years later, I look back at that moment as one of the best moments of my life. I’ve since climbed hundreds of hard climbing routes in the US, Canada, Cuba, and Mexico, where I currently live most of the year. I’ve also climbed many first ascent routes in Mexico and, with my climbing partner Miguel Moore, have put up a speed record on Peña de Bernal, the world’s third tallest monolith. And every time I drive between San Miguel de Allende (where I live in Mexico) and Chicago (I just finished my 17th trip driving the 2,200 miles between Chicago and San Miguel), I make a point of getting off the freeway and finding a climbing destination. I usually end up soloing something (with a rope), while my dog Taco keeps an eye on me. It’s amazing what a charity auction purchase can do. I’ve come a long way from the days of imitating Elvis on a climbing gym wall.

Tom MacDonald | Photo credit: Marc Pagani

4. If you could add anyone, alive or dead to your team, who would it be?
David Byrne. I have no use for MBAs and others that think they already know everything. I believe that raw creativity is and always has been the spark that ignites profound paradigm shifts. Who better to bring that to the table than David Byrne????

5. When the movie of your life is made, what will it be called?
Que Pedo! I’ll leave that for you to translate!

Tom MacDonald | Photo credit: Marc Pagani