Each year on St. Patrick’s Day my wife and I celebrate our wedding anniversary. 18 years ago we eloped and, after some scrambling around in Lake Tahoe where the chapels were all closed for the holiday, were married at the Chapel of the Bells on 4thStreet in Reno, Nevada. Ten minutes earlier there had been an emotional and heavily flowered funeral in the same chapel, and I was so broke in those days I couldn’t even afford the VHS tape of the admittedly bizarre nuptial ceremony. Two decades later it still brings a smile, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
This year we decided to celebrate by splurging on an egregiously expensive (and worth every penny) dinner at Bos Taurus, in Bend, Oregon. The restaurant is about a year old and backed by the same trio of energetic young men who built the 10 Barrel Brewing Company into a giant. 10 Barrel was recently snapped up by AB InBev, which turned three young American entrepeneurs into very wealthy young Americans in relatively short fashion. Although they were vilified for “selling out” by certain true-believers in Bend, I have a hard time seeing it that way. The kids busted their asses, built a company with value, and sold it to deeper pockets. In my view that’s a job well done.
The trip into Bend was to be a nice escape, as I haven’t been away from the Figure 8 much lately, what with the snow damage and various other demands, not least of which is plugging the final edits into my forthcoming book.
But Bend, Oregon, is becoming something more like a similarly sized California city these days, with homelessness a growing problem and a proliferation of crime and crazies in the downtown corridor. And so it was that while walking to the restaurant, in a bright but still crisp spring afternoon, while enjoying the company of my wife, a gaggle of crazies began aggressively heckling us as we walked by.
In California, at least among cops, we referred to these people as “Yoachers”. They are essentially gypsy nitwits who follow the handout circuit, which runs roughly from Seattle to San Diego and back again with occasional inland forays. They like hacky-sack, anarchy, and never seem to run out of forlorn and diseased-looking dogs who they shamelessly pimp for sympathy and vodka money. They also smell bad, usually have Hep C, HIV, and/or tuberculosis, as well as a laundry list of mental-health problems associated with a life whose highest aspiration is to get high for free.
The heckling was aimed in my direction, as I had put on my Sunday best for an evening out with my wife. This means a jacket and tie, my requisite hat, with sunglasses to keep the glare down. Boots and buckle complete the ensemble, which somehow solicited unwanted and unpleasant commentary from the street wits. The cajoling was of the typical variety offered up by bums, meant to provoke a response and all of the unpleasantness that inevitably follows, but because I have dealt with many hundreds of drunk, stoned, or just plain crazy hobos, I could smile at them with knowing-ease as we walked past.
It’s incidental that I never leave my front door without a firearm. The truth in modern America is that you just can’t predict when a threat will suddenly appear, or why, or how, and the one day you decide to venture out unprepared may also be the day you must decisively defend yourself, your family, or even complete strangers from bodily harm. And, contrary to the misconception held by many who would like to polish up the reputation of our country’s many hundreds of thousands of aggressive bums, they are not all harmless. In some cases they are quite dangerous, and as a civilian walking down the street it is impossible to know which.
But another thought I have is that average citizens really shouldn’t be forced to wonder if a bum, or anyone else, is suddenly going to go full batshit. The onus of wondering should really remain squarely on the offender, because somewhere in the back of his lizard brain he should be wondering if the well-dressed, mild-mannered guy in the hat is going to run him through with a sword, or double-tap his engine room the minute he steps too far out of line. I like that world view much better, frankly, which seems to restore some dignity back to the average citizen who has been forced by incrementalism to accommodate bums, crooks, and the growing army of belligerent American ne’er-do-wells.
One anecdote I like to share in this regard occurred one afternoon in Santa Barbara, California, in a small alcove near the Santa Barbara Roasting Company off Parker Way. My partner and me were stealing a minute from the city to enjoy a hot cup of coffee, listening to the police radio in a detached way, our backs against the wall while looking across the street at a squat, decaying apartment building full of drug users and sellers, and where we had responded to numerous domestic violence incidents. The calls for service there were always interesting because the rooms upstairs were cheap, filthy, and inhabited exclusively by illegal immigrants. I am aware that such a declaration in today’s environment may actually cause civil defense sirens all across America to wail, but if you are in doubt I would invite you to head on down to Parker Way, go upstairs (be careful not to slip on the vomit, shit, booze bottles, or any of the hypodermic needles in the stairway) and knock on a few doors.
But the RoCo, as we referred to it, was also a favorite among the wealth-and-sensitivity set in Santa Barbara, and so occasionally they would pull in to Parker Way and make a dash inside. In this incident, a young lady was making her way toward the coffee shop when a veteran bum with a considerable criminal history came wandering out of the ice-plant along the 101 freeway. He was outfitted in the requisite bum regalia, plastic trash bags for socks, vomit covered t‑shirt, Abby Hoffman hair, and an old, external frame backpack that smelled like 400 years of Malt Liquor, puke, piss, and decaying flesh.
He had not seen us in the alcove – which is why we were there in the first place — and began his harangue about 30 yards away. Bum harangues tend to hinge on the amount of booze, crack, meth, crazy, or heroin that is actually on board the individual, but in this case a safe guess was that he was just starting out on his daily Search and Self-Destroy mission after sleeping off most of the day in the bushes, or in the culverts under the freeway. What’s most likely is that he really needed some quick money to score a few cans of Steel Reserve, which is how they get well, after all.
As he walked up the street he had the full attention of the young lady, who was quickly filing through her stores of sensitivity memes in search of just the right obsequious tone, and also reaching for her wallet. The bum kept coming, his harangue up an octave and stretching into the deeper realms of crazy, which is when I decided to do this lady a favor and send the bum packing in a different direction.
The woman, who might have chosen an education on the various forms of predation, was instead incensed, suggesting that the creature who had just wandered up from the underworld demanding money was “totally harmless,” and that I was a jackboot and that America was a police state. This is, by the way, the very tired formula that rich and poor alike reach for out of pure reflex when they get mad at the cops. And I’ve asked a few of them, out of curiosity, if they have ever been to a police state, but they generally haven’t so I find their opinions (which are really just emotions) unreliable on that point. I have been to police states, and America is not yet one of them.
But here is where it gets interesting, if only because I knew that the bum in question had done a stretch for homicide, and harmless was not one of his character traits. But the nice lady would hear none of it, and marched away to drop twelve-dollars on an iced-latte while motherfucking the cops over her shoulder.
So the point is, it remains far better to avoid assumptions about the foot-washing potential of the unknown bum, and to have a personal safety plan that incorporates the various possibilities of the dangerous and crazy.
But all of this is a long, roundabout way to say that the dinner served up at Bos Taurus was remarkable. I had never tried Japanese Wagyu beef before. I ordered it after a very thorough course in Wagyu from our server, a delightful guy named Todd who landed in Bend by way of Arizona, Wyoming, and Colorado. Todd is an avid cyclist, professional in his work in the same way that French waiters are professional, and fun to be around.
At any rate, I ordered a 3‑ounce New York Strip cut. Todd had warned me that it was wise to order that amount because the meat was so rich that it was also rapidly filling. He offered the instructional case of a 6’9 athletic specimen from the LA Lakers who, while visiting Bos Taurus, had claimed with bravado that he would devour 10 ounces of Wagyu, but failed at 8. So the reasoning was quite clear: if a professional athlete, whose motor is running at Formula 1 speed, and whose appetites naturally outpace my own, could barely handle 8 ounces, my luck would probably run out at 3. Also, but left unspoken, is the fact that my wallet would spontaneously ignite after 3 ounces.
Another thing I loved about this restaurant were the knives. Todd brought out a box from which we were allowed to choose either a Blue Moon hammer-forged work of art, or a Shun Damascus blade. The requisite jokes about Hattori Hanzo aside, I chose one of each even though I would need neither to eat my Wagyu, which is so tender it actually dissolves in your mouth. But I wanted to spend some quality time with some excellent knives enhancing the beauty of our table. Also, the preferred way to eat Wagyu – I learned – is with a beautiful pair of perfectly balanced stainless tongs that come with the meat.
But first, we began with a Hamachi Crudo, with compressed pear, tamari, pickled shitake, and yuzu. Crudo, I’ve learned, is the “Italian answer to sushi.” The Italians evidently believe that soy sauce and wasabi destroy the taste of raw fish, which I’m not sure I believe, but either way it was fabulous. It was also a dastardly flank attack on my darling wife, who detests sushi, but found the Hamachi Crudo surprisingly delectable.
So with the starter gone and the salad – a brilliant wedge with heirloom tomatoes, shaved scallions, crispy pork, and smokey blue cheese – put away, the steaks finally arrived. At Bos Taurus they do not grill the meats, but rather cook them on cast iron, which creates a perfect char and no doubt benefits from seasoned pans, which every cow camp Dutch Oven chef knows is the key to great cooking. True to the expectations Todd had created, the taste and texture of my Wagyu were extraordinary, and Todd’s initial description of the experience remains the finest: “Eating Wagyu is like eating steak-butter.”
My wife ordered an 8 ounce filet from Cedar River Farms in Tolleson, Arizona, which was probably the best filet I’ve ever sampled.
We finished this epic meal with handmade vodka ice-cream in chocolate sauce, and polished off a bottle of Bourdeaux in the meantime. I like wine in a workmanlike way — think bota-bags hung from the saddle horn — so I don’t have the language or education to describe good wines properly, but it was good enough that even this wine-novitiate was aware of a profound difference in quality from my usual fare.
So the dinner was marvelous. My wife and I won St. Patrick’s Day, without a doubt, and after saying goodbye to Todd and handing over the deed to our house in payment, we walked back onto Minnesota Street in downtown Bend. The sun was setting, the snow in the gutters was filthy, and the annoying Yoachers were gone, scattered to their various hidey-holes that every city has and that always end up housing bums who eat, sleep, shit, and sometimes die in them.
We made it back to the truck without incident, bumped into the banjo player from the Anvil Blasters out searching for green beer, had a quick laugh, and began the half hour drive back to the Figure 8 with the Cascades silhouetted by the setting sun. It was a beautiful evening, the jagged line of the mountains — from Broken Top to Mt. Jefferson — suspended without dimension, brushed into the horizon with blue and black ink, a trick of light that we were discussing with awe when I saw, behind us, the red and blue wigwags from a police car racing up the highway behind us.
The traffic was light and I pulled easily over to the shoulder to let the cop race by. “Smash’em” I said, which is something I always say when I see cops racing by, enjoying the sympathetic jolt of adrenaline as I reflect on my own Code‑3 runs to some dustup or another. I was about to ease back onto the highway when a second police unit raced by.
It turns out that, just ahead of us on the highway, some lunatic had cranked off a couple of rounds at another car — for reasons that will remain unclear even after all of the facts are in, because facts don’t always add up to reason in these cases. At any rate, the victim car followed the shooter car, called the cops, and the boys in tan and green eventually put the guy in bracelets.
These are some of the shenanigans we moved out of California to get away from, incidentally, which is why I now greet all new arrivals to Oregon with the phrase “Welcome to California”. This has a deflating effect and annoys my friends but I am not responsible for the mono-culturing of the entire western-half of the United States. That’s happening without me and against my will.
And, after learning about the shooting that had taken place just in front of us, I was glad for the second time that day that I had a firearm. Not because I would have necessarily engaged in a running gunfight with the road-rage guy, should he have turned on us, but because I am still free enough to make that choice should it be required.
Which may not be a condition that endures. Our freedoms are dwindling even as the road rage shooters, the crooks, and the aggressive Yoachers seem somehow impervious to meaningful applications of justice. It’s fair enough to wonder, particularly if you’ve been in the business of putting these people in jail, or been victimized by them in some fashion, who is actually being served when a culture begins tolerating and coddling crap behavior from crazies and criminals. The question seems more valid each and every day, and while I’m all for diversion programs and creative sentencing ideas, maybe instead of the social-programming mill what we really need is to re-empower normal people to behave like normal people have for thousands of years when faced with the unhappy prospect of capering shitbirds.
Maybe, just maybe, at the end of the day, it is the bums, crooks, and crazies who should think twice when they decide to act-out, and not those average citizens out on the town, trying to enjoy a fine dinner and a sunset drive on the occasion of their anniversary.