Some hunt sunken Spanish galleon or busted nickel mines, others prefer leveraged buyouts or tech startups, but this was the annual conclave of the apartment investment industry and the entire braintrust was gathered in Boca Raton eager to find the Next Great Deal.
A sizable portion of the group had split off for dinner at an upscale chain meat emporium. The modern American steakhouse is like an ancient Mayan capital: monied, prestigious, and plenty bloody. Strategically located along only the most lucrative trade routes, the purpose is part ceremonial, part administrative. Worshippers and dealmakers come to signal their devotion to the Gods over a sacrificial slab of meat. Some leave with a deal in hand. Others get their hearts ripped out.
The décor was standard, stiff and clubby. Dark wood paneling contrasted with the bleachy white of the starched linens cloaking both tables and waitstaff. Recessed lighting glinted gently off hundred dollar haircuts, four-figure blazers and bulging wristwatches with faces the size of the choicest of skipping stones. The prevailing smell was that of charred protein, top-shelf booze, and the collective weighty stress of the millionaires who watch the money for the billionaires.
The menu featured all the typical items. Beef, but with no hint of the provenance, the breed, or the practices behind the raising, butchering, or finishing of such. Just the generic lumping into the standardized Sysco order forms: New York, rib-eye, or filet. Not even an attempt at the lukewarm soup of menu factoids you get these days at the hipster places. This was 100% Anonymous Beef engineered by your own generous taxpayer subsidies.
As the effects of the plentiful alcohol slowly set in the conversation around the tables morphed from the latest in Fed monetary policy, coastal levered returns, and employment macro trends to the difficulties of finding a decent “personal vacation advisor” at one of the luxury destination clubs and the historically woeful level of snowpack at Mammoth that season.
It’s the kind of conversation, that – if you are not fluent in luxury autos, Caribbean resorts, or Chilean heli-ski outfitters – is quickly reduced to the topics of weather and apartments, neither of which is capable of sustaining a conversation for more than a single round of appetizers. It can be a tough spot for someone who enjoys felling trees, baling hay, and slopping hogs.
Spring break was approaching and someone offered that a daughter was turning ten, and, as such, would be eligible for her own special vacation. A cruise, or Paris, or the Alps were all possibilities. Our boy had just turned ten. I did not mention that all he got was handed a milking bucket and a new set of work gloves.
Someone else extolled the virtues of a new Disney safari feature. Apparently you can get really pretty close to the elephants. Consensus was that it was amazing. I did not mention that the closest our kids ever get to the animals is gloving up and and reaching in to help deliver a goat kid in poor presentation.
Thankfully the conversation slowed when the blistering plates were delivered and everyone dug into the steaks.
I had been thinking a lot about beef. A few weeks prior I had enlisted my friend to help me haul our first attempt at Angus cattle to the butcher. It was a wet and cold December day, just before Christmas, and John, who bears a slight resemblance to Fred Flintstone, wore a fresh white dress shirt under his faded Carhartt vest. Moments after unloading I heard the bittersweet metallic thunk, then turned the corner to see an old 1,300 lb. friend being hoisted from the rafters.
Afterwards John and I commiserated over Mexican food, the sleeve of his shirt stained with a large brown hoof print after being kicked by one of the beasts. I openly wondered how our beef would taste. Would it be any good?
“It’ll be the best you ever had,” John insisted between large bites of enchiladas, “I can promise you that.”
The steakhouse beef turned out to be fine, but bland, with a noticeable, lingering finish of salty, obscuring overseasoning. It had the taste of everything else dumped off that same eighteen wheeler as it wound its daily circuit from the IHOP to the Chili’s to the steakhouse. It had the taste of meat plucked from a distant feedlot in central Kansas. All the mood lighting and crisp service could not make that professional steak the kind of special it was purported to be.
A week removed from Boca, in the battered, century-old farm kitchen, we unwrapped the first of the Porterhouse steaks, each the size of frisbees. We salted lightly, seared and then broiled.
Our family said a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for the bright noble creature that now graced our table, for the backyard grass, sun, and rain that sustained it, and for the happy lot we have to live in such a beautiful, fertile place.
Then we eagerly partook of the meat that had drunk the same water we use to brush our teeth and had eaten the same hay we bale every summer, the inexperienced, novice beef raised well outside the $100 billion supply chain.
I cried. Alison says I cried six separate times. That’s how good, how real, how tender it tasted. That night we feasted, but we feasted on more than just food.