Was home from South Carolina for four nights, long enough to tidy up the yard, do a little business, and watch Dylan and Carson head back to school (already in 6th and 4th grades). On Wednesday, August 28 I flew to Minneapolis/St. Paul, first stop in a two (or three, depending on how you count) stop itinerary. Unlike the class-reunion visit a month earlier, Twin Cities weather was glorious: blue skies, breeze, temperature barely 70° F.
First stop on the first stop was literally in front of 1032 Goodrich Avenue, St. Paul, the bungalow that was our first house. I had a bit of time, and walked around the block, admiring the neighborhood with its mix of modest and bigger homes, and the maple and other trees planted when we lived there, 1979-87, to replace tall elms that succumbed to disease.
Second stop was lunch with a long friend, David Herr, a law-school classmate of Linda’s 45 years ago. We’ve stayed connected through the years. He’s had a distinguished career in litigation, and has done a great deal of writing on legal education. We had a long lunch, rambling across a bunch of topics, not least the joy of keeping busy in our seventh decades. In mid-afternoon, I motored north to my overnight digs with two more long pals, Bob and Paula Woehrle (I’ve known Bob since 1963). I suggested a bike ride to Bob, a keen cyclist (keener than me), and we set off for a nice spin around Lake Como, one of St. Paul’s smaller urban lakes. We had a beer when we got home, then headed out for early dinner, back to Grand Avenue in the old neighborhood. Was asleep early.
Up Thursday morning at six, quick cup of coffee, then back onto the bikes and five miles west to the Minnesota State Fair. As regular readers know, I go back every year (as an adult, I think I’ve only missed one year, in the mid-1980s). It was another perfect summer day, sunny, cool, breezy. What has become a core group – Bob and Steve Schlachter from the 1960s, Rick Dow from Northwest Airlines in the mid-80s, and Randy Essell, a former AA exec I met in the mid-90s – assembled for the second year in a row at the Salem Lutheran Church dining hall for a caloric breakfast.
We then walked across the fairgrounds and spent more time than usual, a welcome increase, in the animal barns, admiring the stock and yakking with a few owners. Then back across to the Horticulture Building to admire enormous pumpkins, vegetables, and other plant life. Next, by formula, a mid-morning respite at the stand of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild for some samples (the state now has 145 craft beermakers, astonishing). Then a few zigs and zags for mini-donuts and corn dogs (we insist on the Pronto Pup brand). Into the art show, then creative activities to admire quilts, pickles, embroidery, and dozens of other handicrafts. Then a last stop for another beer, where we had a nice T-t-S with Lynn, Eileen, and Larry, originally from Williston, North Dakota, but longtime Twin Citians; like me, Lynn and Larry had Montana roots, grandparents owned a big spread in the far eastern part of that big state. Check and done.
Bob and I rode home, grabbed a tonic nap, yakked a bit. Paula made chicken salad for dinner. They are literate people, and we always have plenty to talk about. Asleep early.
The local StarTribune newspaper had been warning about huge waits for airport security, so I got in line at 6:06 Friday morning, for an 8:20 flight to Dallas/Fort Worth. But there was no line, which gave me plenty of time for a huge Starbucks and some work. Landed DFW, picked up a rental car, then picked up son Jack: we were headed, as judges, to the 46th World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off in Brady, Texas. Pumped, as we are every year!
First stop, again for the second consecutive year, was a buffet lunch at India 101, a vast restaurant near the airport. Not just lunch, but lunch with longtime American Airlines colleagues Nisha Pasha (from Chennai, formerly Madras) and Ken Gilbert, who I saw in August. Jack had met neither, and we had a swell meal and conversation.
A thunderstorm rolled in while we were tucking into our daal and mango lassis, which slowed freeway traffic to a crawl. We crawled for about 90 minutes, well to the west of Fort Worth on Interstate 20. The road finally emptied, and I could set the cruise control at 80, 5 mph over the speed limit. Whoosh. By tradition, we stopped for shakes at a Dairy Queen enroute, in Cisco, Texas, then zoomed south. We were at Brady by seven, into the gym at the Holiday Inn Express, then down the road for dinner at Mac’s Barbeque.
Up early Saturday morning, back to the gym, showered, and out the door. For years the cook-off was a single day, but this was the second year it was a two-day deal. First things first: the traditional judges’ brunch, first chance to reunite with pals and Texas good ole boys (and gals). This was my 29th consecutive visit, and Jack’s 12th, so we knew a lot of people, and met some promising rookies, like Santiago, newly hired as the chef in the local hospital, and Dr. Bell, a young doc recently relocated to town. Then over to Richards Park, hopping with cookers. On the first day, we judged beans, chicken, and pork ribs, and had some good conversations. It’s always wise to avoid political discussions in Texas, but I did need to ask veteran judge and Native American Eddie Sandoval (of the Mescalero Chiricuahua tribe), about Donald Trump’s “Send them back” remark. He smiled, turned toward Washington, and advised the President, “You go. And take your wife with you.”
Later that day, an urban male couple from suburban Austin spotted “Judge” on my shirt, and asked about how to raise goats. They had recently acquired some land in the country, were keen to put it to use, but had no clue. My advice was simple: “You boys need to get hold of what’s called the county extension agent.” They wrote down the advice. By five, Jack and I were smoky, sweaty, and sorta worn out. Revived with showers, we headed into town for Tex-Mex at La Familia, home for football on TV, and lights out.
Back at it Sunday morning: gym and hotel breakfast, next a good driving tour of Brady (population 5,500), then back to the park. We had some time before “work,” so I wandered around the site a bit, yakking with cookers from two well-known teams: Cook n Co out of nearby Goldthwaite, Texas, and the Waco Boys, perennial characters easily identified by their team color, bright orange that adorns shorts, boots, aprons, the works. Enjoyed a long chat with a rookie cooker from the Waco Boys squad, a firefighter from Lubbock, Texas.
Jack headed out at eleven to judge cooking rigs, and I judged Bloody Marys (0.25 ounce in a straw was all that was needed). Then we judged “mystery meat,” which is never a mystery, and this year it was quail. Neither Jack nor I were assigned to judge dessert, but we managed to sample some wonderful cobblers, and an outrageously good banana pudding (known in much of the South and Southwest as “naner puddin”). Mid-afternoon, a big thunderstorm brewed up. Jason Jacoby, a local businessman, declared “Gonna rain like a cow pissing on a flat rock.” And it did.
Finally, we got to goat. I’m now a senior judge, so first task was to judge nine entries in the Super Bowl, an elite category open to any first-place finisher the previous 45 years. Man, those winning cookers know goat, but one was a total standout. So good. Finished up with 22 samples in the main event, finalists from 220+ entries. Tallied the scores, assigned gold, silver, and bronze medalists, done. Jack and I said goodbyes, hopped in the car, and drove home. Traffic was light, and including a stop at the Dairy Queen in Comanche, Texas, and a needed pee for this old man, we were “home” in north Dallas by 8:15.
Home in that case was the pleasant residence of Julie and Les Ciesielski, longtime friends (Jack and their son Brad have been buddies since age four). We had a good yak with them before needed sleep. Julie prepared a hot breakfast Labor Day morning, some more visiting, then out the door at 7:30. Jack’s flight was at 10:20, and he wanted to see our old neighborhood, and other parts of Richardson, Texas. We had a great drive down “memory lane.” Then pedal to the metal to DFW, dropped him, hugs. I had a couple of hours, so drove around American Airlines’ huge and impressive new corporate headquarters, grabbed a Starbucks and did some work on my laptop, dropped the rental car, and flew to Washington. A great “two-fer” trip to my two homes, Minnesota and Texas.
[A little note about place names in post above: you’ll notice that I append “Texas” to the town or city, even when it’s clear that the place is in the Lone Star State. This is a long and endearing tradition, rooted in the remarkable pride Texans have for their special place, and it bests my writing style that always seeks to eliminate unneeded words and redundancy. Maybe the reader knows Dallas is in Texas, but to me it’s always Dallas, Texas. Or Houston, Texas. Or one of my very favorite place names, Rising Star, Texas.]