By Robert St. John
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Two weeks ago, while looking for a non-traditional location for the St. John family spring break of 2013, I came up with Austin, Texas. It was a brilliant idea. Unfortunately the vacation gods had other plans.
Austin’s South By Southwest music, film and interactive festival is a weeklong event I have wanted to attend for years. The timing has never worked out. This year the timing was perfect. It was spring break week. Unfortunately, by the time I decided where the four of us – my wife, daughter, son and I – would spend our spring break, the state capitol of Texas was fully booked.
So our intended spring break fell apart. My daughter headed to the beach with friends. My son hung around the house for a few days. For my wife and me, it was business as usual.
Trips usually need foresight and planning. This was certainly the case with Austin the week of March 8 through 16. A year ago I spent six months travelling. It took two years to plan that journey. In college my friends and I would take a spur-of-the-minute road trip without any planning. But those were days where if hotel rooms were booked, we would sleep in the car or on the beach.
Today I am too old to sleep in the car unless it is absolutely necessary. I was pondering this and wondering if I was also too old to rekindle the spontaneous spirit of my youth. Have I gotten so old and set in my ways that everything has to be planned months in advance? If one wants a room in Austin during South By Southwest, the answer is yes.
The six months abroad last year was the trip of a lifetime. Though certainly in my top five was a father-son ski trip I booked a few years ago. It was during a short winter break from school, and was really the first time he and I had been away – just the two of us – for any length of time.
So last week I was feeling too old, too settled, and miles away from impulsive. I was worried my son was going to have a crappy spring break. I got on the phone, and within a matter of minutes found a ski-package deal to Park City, Utah. I booked it.
I don’t have many regrets over the course of my life. I am a firm believer in “it takes what it takes” to get one through life. Though there are things that were never done. I would have loved to have had a father-son trip with my father. Unfortunately he passed away when I was 6-years old. That would have been a nice memory for me, as a son. But what I know now, it would have been a great memory for him as a dad. Quality time with a son is a dad’s best medicine.
We have had a blast in Utah. I write this early on our last morning here. As I look back over the past four days, I can’t imagine any trip being better. We aren’t staying in a fancy hotel on the slopes. We aren’t eating at fine-dining restaurants, and we aren’t even tearing up the slopes. What we are doing is spending time with each other – away from televisions, away from video games, and away from the time-suck of school routines and work schedules. We have had a blast.
This one-bedroom apartment is a wreck. There are delivery pizza boxes on the counter, half-eaten Chinese delivery in the refrigerator, and dirty clothes piled up all across the floor. Towels are on the bathroom floor and the toilet seat is up. Male bonding is messy. We are in heaven.
When we have dined out, the two meals have been enjoyable. One of my favorite sushi restaurants in the country is Flying Sumo in Park City. We hit that on the second night and the Tokyo Nacho appetizer – spicy tuna, wasabi mayo, cilantro and flying fish eggs on a fried gyoza chip with a side of guacamole – is still as good as I remember.
A men’s outing wouldn’t be complete without a grilled steak, and so we did that, and the boy devoured a char-grilled slab of beef that would put a lumberjack in a coma.
As usual, my favorite meals have been breakfasts. The two of us, with the entire day ahead, spent time talking of what we would do that day. We also talked about the future and the past.
The best-tasting meals have been at lunch. There is something about being active outdoors that makes the simplest of foods taste better. It’s true, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich eaten on a fishing boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico at high noon after a morning of fishing can sometimes taste like a $100 fine-dining meal. A bowl of chili on top of a snow-covered mountain after a morning of snow skiing can taste as good as the best mushroom bisque in the finest bistro in Lyon – especially if it’s eaten on a father-son outing.
Sometimes the “best laid plans” work out for the best.
Robert St.John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books. This week’s recipe for Duck Confit Nachos can be found at www.robertstjohn.com.