By long tradition – back 27 years to 1991 – summer’s last trip was over Labor Day weekend, down to Brady, Texas, to be a judge in the World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off. Hopped the Metro to National Airport, flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, and rendezvous with son Jack, who has also been judging, nearly a decade now. We picked up the rental car and zipped west to Fort Worth and the venerable Paris Coffee Shop, just south of downtown. It’s old-time Foat Wuth at its best, with waitresses who call you Hon or Sweetie. They’re also known for homemade pies (pronounced more like “pah” in the Lone Star State), but we opted for treats at the Dairy Queen in Comanche, Texas, about 120 miles west. We arrived in Brady at 4:15, time for some exercise before dinner at Fat Boys’ BBQ, wonderful turkey breast and a big ol’ jalapeño sausage link, plus beans, Cole slaw, and wot brayud (you can figure that out!). Back to the hotel room, watch some football, and clock out early.
Up at 5:30, down to the gym on the fitness bike, showered up, and off to the judges’ brunch. We normally convene in Melvin, Texas, 18 miles west of Brady, but this time we were set up at Jacoby’s Railyard. The Jacoby family in Melvin are clever people, rural visionaries, and they have built a good business milling grain, and now playing a part in logistics. There’s a small branch line that runs 67 miles from the mainline of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) to the east, and the Jacobys essentially run the town freight yard. Jason Jacoby explained it all as we entered the building. It was good to be back with a fine and familiar bunch of good ole boys. We tucked into a filling brunch, were formally introduced (my long tenure got me promoted to senior judge in 2016), and got our (by now familiar) marching orders.
Drove to the cook-off venue, Richards Park, and strolled around the grounds for a couple of hours, yakking with cookers, fellow judges, and strangers. Some years back, the local chamber of commerce, which organizes the event, added “Mystery Meat” judging, and at two we started on pork ribs, which we generally excellent. Senior judges sample and rate two types of entrants, Super Bowl (open only to first-place finishers in any of the prior 43 years), and the current-year competition. There were nine SB entries, and we ranked those in short order, then waited for the 200 current entries to winnow down to the best 18. It’s hard work, made easier with cold beer and a lot of good-natured ribbing.
Toward the end of the judging, a nice T-t-S moment with an older Mexican fellow, who with his family had driven five hours from Muleshoe, Texas (northwest of Lubbock in the Panhandle) to the event, their first visit. “We don’t know nothing,” he said, so I gave him a quick overview of the cook-off, then handed him two foam containers of already-judged goat, adding “don’t tell anyone about this.” Without missing a beat, he reprised: “We don’t know nothing.” Each year, the cook-off becomes yet more diverse, and that makes your correspondent hopeful. E pluribus unum, y’all.
The cook-off is, like the Minnesota State Fair the week before, one of those serial experiences that give comfort, and it was so wonderful to be back in Texas in general and small-town Texas in particular. I noted above that Minnesota will always be Home, but Texas runs a close second.
The judging over, Jack and I hopped in the car, retracing the route (including a stop at the DQ in Comanche), and were back in DFW by 8:15. Dropped him at his pal Lawson’s house in North Dallas, then continued on to my bunk with Peggy and Ken Gilbert. Hadn’t seen them in about a year, and it was good to catch up. Ken and I worked together at American Airlines, and we’re both retired. We caught up on family and travel (they are intrepid globetrotters, recently returned from Easter Island in the South Pacific).
Up Sunday morning, a slow start with coffee and a good yak in the kitchen, then north to breakfast at the Maple Leaf Diner, dropped Ken at home, and out to the airport. I had some time, so I motored past American’s corporate headquarters, passing the several buildings where I had worked. It had been almost exactly 30 years since I pointed the silver Ford south from St. Paul to take up a job with a company that provided so much wonderful opportunity over more than two decades. I paused to think about the day I crossed the Red River into Texas, October 5, 1987, and drove to the low building on Amon Carter Blvd. to start work. I drove on to what we affectionately called “Taco Villa,” the vaguely Spanish Colonial apartment complex where I lived for three months before the family moved down. Headed west to see, from a distance, the huge new headquarters complex that American is building. Then back to the big airport for the Silver Bird home to Washington and the end of a colossal summer of travel, just some great trips: Vienna, London, Montana, Argentina, the beach, the fair, Up North, back “homes,” and lots more.