Back to Texas


Metal critter at the Cook-off


Regular readers know what happens the first September (Labor Day) weekend: this was my 28th consecutive time to judge the World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off in Brady, Texas (pop. 5,425).  Flew to Dallas/Fort Worth, landed at 11:15, hopped in a rental car, and made fast for a spicy Indian buffet lunch with long friends Nisha Pasha (originally from Chennai, India) and Ken Gilbert (Chicago).  We worked together for years at American Airlines, and it was great to catch up.  I would have liked to chat for another hour, but had to keep moving, so hugged them both, then pedal to the metal to Dallas Love Field to pick up son Jack, in his 11th year as a goat judge.  We’re talking experience!  We yammered the whole way south and west 200 miles, pausing, by tradition, at the Dairy Queen in Comanche, Texas.  We were at the motel by 5:45, washed out faces, chilled, watched some football, then headed to Mac’s BBQ for dinner.  Back home, lights out early.

Up at six, to the gym, then coffee, then over to Richards Park, site of the cooking and fun.  The cook-off organizers at the Brady Chamber of Commerce extended the event to two full days, and to be honest, Jack and I were skeptical, wondering if this might be our last year.  That doubt was erased in the first hour, breakfast and chatter with fellow judges, a great group of old friends and new ones, too.  Back slapping, good-natured ribbing, lots of laughs.  Just great to be back in Texas.

Being back in Texas meant being away from what sometimes seems to be an echo chamber of political thought around the nation’s capital.  As I and many others have written in the past few years, we all do ourselves a disservice if we only pal around with people who share our views.  Truth is, Linda and I wouldn’t have made many friends in the 25 years we lived in the Lone Star State if we didn’t learn to get along, and to genuinely like, people on the other side of the political spectrum (it was, of course, better if their views were informed with research or logic!).  So it was that I laughed heartily when I spotted this bumper sticker (yes, it was in uppercase): GUNS KILL PEOPLE LIKE SPOONS MAKE ROSIE O’DONNELL FAT.  Yes, of course, gun violence is serious, but sometimes you just need to lighten up, right?

For the first 20 years or so, we only judged goat.  In about 2010 the chamber added a “mystery meat” competition, and 2018 saw those two, plus (on Saturday) beans, chicken, ribs, and margaritas (we skipped those); Sunday was hot sauce, Bloody Marys (I helped), then MM and, finally, goat.  Whew!  A lot of sampling.  Saturday sped past.  We peeled out at about four, back to the room, Tex-Mex dinner, and early to bed.

Sunday: rinse, repeat.  Back to the park and back to work.  Jack peeled off to help his pals Stewart and Riley judge best cooking rigs, I tasted a few Bloodies, and we headed toward this year’s mystery, bacon, and at 3:00 the goat.  In 2016, I was promoted to senior judge, so we sampled nine Super Bowl entrants (open only to previous first-place finishers) and 18 finalists.  Some nice goat.  I ate all but one sample.   As a senior judge, I felt quite a bit of responsibility, so I pitched in to keep the tables tidy and, at one point, recovered to Super Bowl entries that someone mistakenly tossed in the trash.  Whew, close: good thing I am an inveterate dumpster diver!

We opted not to stay for the awards, back in the car, back to Dallas with the required stop at the DQ in Comanche.  Jack and I agreed that we needed to head back in future years, for the wonderful sense of belonging, the warm welcome, and the fine time with good ole-boys (and, increasingly, gals).  Belonging is so important.  Here are some scenes from the event:


Longtime Cook-off organizers Terry Keltz and Kim King


Left, Jack and fellow young judges Stewart Storms and Mark Marshall; right, three of the women judges — the judging ranks have become way more diverse in recent years


Stalwart judge Eddie Sandoval and local businessman and rancher Jason Jacoby


Two generations of judges; at left, Paul and Lanham McCallum of Grapevine, Texas


The team judging the best cooking rigs


From day 1 sampling: chicken and pork ribs


From day 2, hot sauce and Bloody Marys


Senior judges hard at work


A cupla good ole’ Texans from the Waco Boys Cooking Team, in their signature orange colors


Cook-off still life




The right-rear tire had a slow leak, and the warning light caused a bit of stress, but we were in the Big D by 8:10.  Dropped Jack at a friend’s house, and motored north to our old (1988-2007) neighborhood in Richardson, Texas, and the home of long friends Jane and Brad Greer.  Brad’s sister Vicki was there, and we had a good catch-up.


A common Texas sight: wind turbines, which now generate more than 22,500 megawatts — the equivalent of about 40 nuclear power plants

As I did when I stayed with the Greers in September 2016, I was up before light and out on Brad’s bike for 19 miles around the old ‘hood and beyond to a good chunk of our former hometown.  It all looked good.  Got back, showered, ate a swell cooked breakfast (thanks, Jane!), picked up Jack (he was flying home from DFW Airport, not Love), and flew back to Washington.




Another sign of a changing Texas: lawn sign for the Democratic candidate in our old neighborhood, once almost 100% red!






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