Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Robert St. John: Wandering Westward, Vol. III

Life on the road is all about attitude. I have never minded road travel. I was raised by a single mom who funded our very limited— but wonderful— lifestyle on an art teacher’s salary. We didn’t have a lot, but I felt like I never missed a thing.
If we traveled somewhere it was by train in the early years of my life, and by car thereafter. The drill was always the same, my mother behind the wheel, my older brother in the front seat, and me bouncing off of the windows and doors the backseat with my mind and mouth racing at probably the same speed that registered on the odometer. As a kid I was never officially diagnosed with ADHD, though had that been a thing back then, I would have been the poster child for that particular disorder. The doctors just told my mother, “He’s hyperactive.” And we probably left the doctor’s office and bought a bunch of sugar-laden snacks at the Minit Mart on the way home.

It must have been hell to travel with me in those days. I can remember on one specific trip to Jackson, my mother— who had apparently reached the end of her patience with me that morning— offered a crisp $5.00 bill if I could be still and quiet for the next 15 minutes. I remember it well because $5.00 was a lot of money to a eight-year old in 1969. It was right around Piney Woods School that everything that had been pent up inside me for the previous ten minutes came blurting out in one big, long, rapid-fire, arm-flailing, leg-kicking, vowel movement. I don’t think my mother ever thought she was going to have to give up the $5.00, but she was grateful for the 10-minute respite from the back seat.

It’s just the way I am. I’m hyperactive, I have the attention span of a gnat, and I accept it. Big deal. Everyone has problems. I just look at mine helping me to become a multi-tasker. There are probably dozens of positive benefits that I gain from being the way I am. I don’t remember ever being truly tired until I was in my late 40s. Seriously, I got into the bed one night and commented to my wife, “I think I’m tired. This must be what ‘tired’ feels like.” True story. I don’t ever remember feeling tired before that. I could stay up late, wake up early and go for days like that. I was just blessed with a lot of energy, I guess.

Conversation with me is probably no cakewalk because I interrupt a lot, but— on the bright side— we’ll cover a lot of subjects in a short amount of time. Oh yeah, I’m not a great listener either (that’s one I truly try to work on).

In my teen years and very early 20s, my quirks manifested themselves in a few negative ways with alcohol and drug abuse, but that hasn’t been a problem since 1983. I sincerely believe that my early success in business was due to the seemingly limitless energy I possessed in my 20s and 30s, and the fact that I seemed to be able to tackle several projects at once (or at least get them all started and halfway finished until one of my team members could pick up the reins and see it through to completion).

In my late 30s and mid 40s my restlessness developed into a hardcore case of wanderlust and my wife and I began to travel. Our daughter was born in the late 90s and we didn’t slow down a bit. She was an excellent travel companion and the first four years of her life took her all across the country. When our son was born things changed a little. His early behavior was a lot like my early behavior and likely God’s little payback in that arena, which slowed us down for a while. We still travelled, it was just more measured, and we had to make sure it was child-friendly travel.

Then, when my son was 10-years old and my daughter was 14-years old, we took the ultimate trip— six months in 17 European countries in 72 cities. I’ve written about it often, so there’s no need to cover that trip again in this space, other than to say that my personal and family travel ramped up in a big way thereafter.

Though what I have learned is that travel begets travel. As a result of that extended trip to Europe— namely the 10 weeks we spent in Italy— a new business emerged, and as a result, I have spent three months a year in Italy for the past several years.

I feel 100% that I was born to be a restaurateur. But I also feel that the skills I developed— and continue to develop— over this almost 40-year restaurant career, are the same skills that I employ as a tour leader. It’s all about hospitality and fun.

So, I write this on the final morning of a two-week cross-country adventure with my wife. We loaded up the truck and headed out to some areas we had never seen before and some old haunts that we have missed for several years.

We put over 5,000 miles on my vehicle driving through 14 states, almost to the Canadian border and back. We listened to Audible books by Greg Isles, John Grisham, and Cormac McCarthy, ate barbeque in Memphis and Kansas City. Enjoyed a chuckwagon dinner with an authentic western music show afterwards in Wyoming, picnicked in the Tetons, had an early morning horseback ride along a babbling mountain stream in Colorado, ate well over a dozen Mexican/Tex-Mex/Southwestern meals from Montana to Texas, visited some old friends, and met some new friends along the way.

The past five months have been the most challenging in my career. It is absolutely the worst time in the history of the restaurant business to be in the restaurant business. I needed a break. Road travel doesn’t bother my wife or me. As long as we are listening to a good book with changing scenery, life is good on the road.

Yesterday, as we began to wrap the trip up and move into our final leg, my wife asked, “What has been your favorite part of this trip?” My kneejerk reactions were the aforementioned picnic, horseback ride, mountain scenery, and music show. But as I sit here and look back at the past 14 days, I know the true joy has been traveling with the love of my life in the passenger seat, experiencing new adventures and re-visiting locations from our early days together. Many of the places have changed. The people certainly have changed, and the times are definitely different. But the lady who has been seated next to me though all of the craziness of the past 32 years, the one who endures the conversational interruptions, the fidgeting, the compulsive behavior, the “multi-tasking,” and uber-short attention span is still the rock that our family clings to, whether it’s in turbulent waters or calm seas. And for that I am grateful.

I am re-energized and ready to hit the ground running as we prepare to open a new restaurant concept and make sure all of the others are ready to compete and thrive in the new paradigm going forward. Until the next adventure.


Black and Blue Nachos

I use filet mignon, but ribeye or a New York strip would work well, too.

4 6-inch corn tortillas, each cut into eighths (as you would a pie)

Peanut or vegetable oil for frying the tortillas

Fry the tortilla chips according to the directions on the package. Season lightly with salt.

Cheese Mixture

2 tsp olive oil

2 TBL minced shallot

2 TBL minced yellow onion

1 tsp minced garlic

1/2 tsp salt

2 TBL minced sun-dried tomatoes

1 tsp dry basil

1/4 cup milk

3/4 cup blue cheese crumbles

1/4 cup shredded pepperjack cheese

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Place olive oil in a small sauté pan over a low heat. Add onions and shallot and cook for three to four minutes. Stir in garlic, salt, tomatoes and basil and cook two minutes more. Stir often to prevent the sun-dried tomatoes from burning. Add milk and remove from the heat. Allow to cool completely.

In a mixing bowl, combine the sundried-tomato/onion mixture with the cheeses. Add pepper.

Refrigerate until needed.

For the Blackened Filet

1/2 pound beef tenderloin, cut into 2 inch long strips, 1/2 inch in diameter

2 TBL blackening seasoning

2 tsp kosher salt

2-3 TBL light olive oil

Dust the strips of beef in the blackening seasoning and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat. Scatter the beef over the surface of the hot skillet. Turn the meat after 1-2 minutes and cook evenly on all sides. Do not overload the skillet. You may need to cook the beef in batches depending upon the size of your skillet.

The beef can be cooked in advance and held until you are ready to serve the nachos.

To finish:

Preheat oven to 375

Place the individual tortilla chips on a large baking sheet.

Place one two tablespoons of the cheese mixture on the center of each tortilla chip, top with a blackened filet strip. Bake five minutes or until cheese is melted.

Top with fresh chopped parsley and serve.

Yields 32 individual nachos


Green Acres said...

I enjoy Robert's ramblings and ruminations. And that nacho recipe looks delicious. Thanks for posting, KF!

Anonymous said...

If Robert and Sid went on a "road trip" together, I would bet we would have two very different versions of the same trip.

Robert would indeed have the most fun.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS