Home for Christmas… - When I reluctantly took my leave of Saint Croix, I spent only one night in South Florida before I jumped into the Spitfire and drove straight through on the Interstate 95 from Ft. Lauderdale to Jacksonville. The sun was setting as I drove through the interchange to I-10, which was fine with me because after I stopped for gas and a bite to eat, I’d be heading West through the night to Houston. It was in Jacksonville that I realized the weed I picked up in Savannah was still stashed under the spare tire in the trunk.
I’d already covered the baggy with duct tape but since I’d be driving through the Florida panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas in the middle of the night, I took the extra precaution of taping my dope inside the left hand side of the rear chassis about six inches from the exhaust pipe. No cop would be dumb enough to reach under there in the dark and risk burning his hand.
After taping my stash to the underside of the Triumph, I pulled out of the greasy spoon parking lot and headed west across the panhandle, stopping only for gas and coffee in Pensacola, I slowed down and hung out with the truckers in the right hand lane as I traversed the short distance along the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Mississippi. When we made it past the state line into Louisiana, the flow of traffic picked up about ten miles an hour and I pulled over into the left lane cruising at seventy-five. At some point east of Lake Pontchartrain, I pulled back into the right lane and began drafting an eighteen wheeler. The relative quiet six feet off his rear bumper was so relaxing I could have taken my hand off the steering wheel, leaned back in my seat and taken a nap. After what seemed like forever we took the bypass northwest and the lights of New Orleans reflected on the dark water to the south.
I was well over half way to Houston, just 350 miles to go and barring catastrophe, I’d be home in time for breakfast. At night, Louisiana west of New Orleans is a long flat boring ordeal of oncoming headlights with nothing else for reference except for the lights of Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Lake Charles.
The sun was coming up when I drove over the bridge at Lake Charles, looked at my watch for the first time in two weeks and figured I’d be home by 8:30 or 9:00 at the earliest - too late for Mom to make me breakfast - so if I wanted coffee and eggs I’d have to stop along the way. What the hell, I could kill an hour in Beaumont and save the hassle of rush hour traffic in Houston. The folks were at work when I pulled into the driveway so I retrieved my stash from under the chassis, grabbed my backpack and went into the house to shower and crash.
I had a few days to do my Christmas shopping but as usual I waited until Christmas Eve - nothing like limited time and selection to facilitate decisions. I bought some excellent Nicaraguan cigars for Dad, a set of gold plate flatware for Mom, albums and a portion of my stash for my little brother Rick and an embroidered burgundy red velvet dress for Jude.
…Rothschild’s… - After New Year’s I rented a studio apartment in Montrose and went looking for an indoors job that didn’t require any lifting, sweating, industrial solvents or paint or dragging my butt out of bed at the crack of dawn. I don’t remember if it was a want ad or someone at Prufrock’s who turned me on to the brand new restaurant that was hiring, but somehow I ended up working as a waiter at a place called Rothschild’s. The experience was memorable for several things: First, it was my first job in the dining room of an upscale restaurant and my introduction to wine and fine wine. The owners were big time aficionados and I suspect that the reason they opened Rothschild’s was so they could expand their collection and write it off as a business expense. It was at Rothschild’s that I had my first taste of the legendary 1960 and 1964 vintages of Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
In 1974 the ‘64 retailed from $60 to $75 a bottle and could cost you $200 or more in restaurants. Today that same bottle goes for $700 to $800 and on Christie’s Auction website a bottle of the 1960 runs over $1800, but to an uneducated palate such as mine, the Lafite was already beyond the point of diminishing returns. To my taste the difference between a $20 bottle of Washington State Chateau St. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon and most Grand Cru French wines is hardly an improvement of an order of magnitude.
My mentor at Rothschild’s was a German guy named Rolf, in his mid thirties, who had an engineering degree but preferred to work as a waiter. He and I hit it off and we’d go out drinking after work or just grab a couple of bottles of wine and kick back at his place where his very young and very attractive wife fed us cheese and fruit and home baked Persian delicacies while we listened to music and bullshitted about the sad state of affairs in the world.
Murphy's law was working overtime because at around five o’clock on the night of Rothschild’s grand opening a nearby water main burst and before the city crew shut off the flow we had giant pots of water heating on the stove so that we could wash dishes until they restored service. With every food critic from every newspaper in town sitting at tables in a packed restaurant, the owners were up to their elbows washing dishes, glasses and flatware by hand to help us maintain the flow of service. If it weren’t such a monumental stressor, it would have been a laugh riot. Somehow we muddled through and after we closed, it was free drinks for the entire staff. Despite our trials and tribulations the restaurant got great reviews and was an overnight success.
Then there was my Thursday night four top. Two redneck couples in their forties came in every week and ordered steaks and lobster. The first night they ordered Heinekens and a bottle of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch for the ladies and I served it to them.
Over the course of the evening we had time to talk about restaurants in Houston and they took a liking to me so when they returned, they asked to be seated in my section. It was then that we began their exploration of wine. On that second Thursday I turned them onto an inexpensive California Chardonnay and a Chateauneuf du Pape.
Every week for the next six weeks they’d sit down and ask what kind of wine are we having tonight? I’d make selections from the wine list, make sure that they knew how much it cost and so it went until I was hired away from Rothschild’s and they arrived for their last meal with me as their waiter. Nearly in unison all four of them said, “Well shit.”
Then the Big Guy who was kind of the alpha dog said, “You’re the reason we keep coming back. Well hell, I guess it’s time to try the Chateau Lafite on for size.”
We all had a laugh and after I put their standard order into the chef, I returned to the table with two bottles of Lafite, a ’60 and a ’64, and a Puligny-Montrachet for the ladies. It was well over three hundred dollars worth of wine for a seventy dollar meal and the Big Guy said, “What the hell we’ll take ‘em all. Go get yourself a glass ‘cause we’re gonna need help drinkin’ all this fine wine.”
…Prufrock’s and Kevin – When I ran into Kevin Crowley at Prufrock’s his voice sounded a whole lot like another big guy I’d met in Los Angeles named Kevin Martinez. When someone at the bar called out his first name, I walked over tapped him on the shoulder half thinking that by some bizarre twist Kevin Crowley might be Kevin Martinez. Kevin C’s red hair and freckled face blew that theory out of the water, but we immediately hit it off. We bought each other beer until the place closed and then we went over to my little studio, drank more beer, smoked some dope, listened to music and told tall tales until the sun came up. Neither of us knew it at the time, but it was the first night of a friendship that would last for twenty five years.
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