I do most of my writing on airplanes and nearly all of my thinking behind the wheel of a car. I used to do it the other way around, but I kept clipping curbs while driving, and on airplanes, I found that when I stared straight ahead and silently mouthed the kinds of things that appear in these pages, people had a tendency to assume I was a suicidal hijacker. A man can only take so many cavity searches before the novelty wears off.
I know that I'm incredibly lucky when it comes to travel. CBS flies me first class everywhere I go, and as I sit in my nice big comfy seat in the sharp end of the bird, I always feel pangs of guilt, as people who probably work much harder than I do shuffle past me into the back. Although I do get over it.
In fact, by the end of the season, I am usually in full-on, belligerent, pain-in-the-ass mode by the time I check in at the airport.
"Did you pack your bags yourself, sir?"
"Hell no! Smedley, my butler, always does that for me!"
"Have you left your bags unattended at any time?"
"Certainly not. I even took them with me into the crapper in the Admiral's Club."
"Has anyone unknown to you given you any packages?"
"No, I know everyone who gave me a package. I just don't know what's in the packages."
Of course, travel these days is a serious business, and there are good reasons for asking what might appear at first to be silly questions, which is more than I can claim after some of the interviews I've done this year. I am the Tiger Woods of stupid questions. But at the end of the season, as we approach the big white-bearded fat boy's time, it's a relief to be at home watching the poor sideline saps in other sports, and I often wonder if their lives on the road revolve around the same simple pleasure that sustains the CBS golf crew from one day to the next. That is, dinner.
You see, after a long day of talking garbage about golfers and making up quotes because they didn't want to talk to you, invariably the thoughts of the average tired, pissed-off, old hack will stray toward supper, and I am no different. Being long-winded, pompous, and opinionated is tiring and thirsty work, I can assure you, so at the end of the day, a good restaurant with a good wine list and a hotel with a good bed are all-important to me.
Having said that, no matter how good the restaurant is, the last thing I need is a long-winded, pompous, and opinionated waiter. I know, it doesn't seem fair, but hey, that's show business for you.
Now I'm the kind of announcer who is very meticulous about his diet, and I believe that in a good day's eatin', all the major food groups should be represented. I like to start the day off with a bit of vigorous mastication in the fiber department, say, about half a box of All-Bran or a small wicker chair, and then I'll generally wash it down with about 17 cups of coffee. So, now that I have my fiber and caffeine to get the day off and moving, all I have to worry about is whether or not I can ingest enough meat and wine (both red) -- and, of course, Rolaids -- before bed time. This is not usually a problem, unless I run out of Rolaids.
Being a born-again Texan, I am naturally drawn to those Tour stops that are in the vicinity of great steak houses. I can hear you all now, muttering about how that shouldn't be too difficult in this country, but just hang on, there, pardners -- I am a cowpoke of a different ilk.
After a hard day in Akron, ropin' bum steers like Kostis and Rymer on the Midwestern plain, I like to hop aboard McCord, grasp him firmly by the handlebars, and gallop sidesaddle down to the Diamond Grille to order me up a filet of cow with a mess of Willie's fries. I want that cow burned on the outside, pal, and let's have no pink on the inside, either. I want beef, the other gray meat.
You see, in a lot of supposedly good steak houses, the chef will look at an order like this, assume that the customer is a moron, and subsequently find a piece of ligament-riddled roadkill, which he will then cremate into a small asteroid and serve garnished with a sprig of charcoal.
In a really good steak house, like the Diamond Grille, while the chef might still assume the customer to be a moron (lucky guess, mind you), he will select a nice cut of meat from the center of the filet, and cook it exactly the way I like it. Then I will smother it in A-1 sauce and Tabasco, and eat it far too quickly. This, of course, would make the NEC Invitational at Firestone one of my favorite Tour stops.
But the clear winner for me is the Byron Nelson Classic in my hometown of Dallas, Texas, which is also home to the world's greatest steak house, III Forks. Whenever we can, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I mosey on down there for dinner. I, of course, will be wearing my aardvark Lucchese ropers, jeans four inches too long, a 62-gallon Stetson hat, and a belt buckle the size of McCord's forehead. (Actually, a forehead that size is a fivehead.) With me looking like this, my wife, understandably, always asks for her own table, but I can cut that little cowgirl out of any herd. Yee-ha! (Sorry about that.)
Of course, a great restaurant is as much about people as it is about food, and Dale Wamstad, the proprietor of III Forks, is a giant in the cow-broiling business. He founded the legendary Del Frisco's before moving on to this latest and greatest venture, and, as always, he is omnipresent in his restaurant. There is nothing worse than a restaurant in which the first impression the staff gives you is that you are incredibly fortunate to have secured a table in the first place. At III Forks, this is your last impression. Dale has the ability to make everyone who visits feel special. For a while, I thought it was just me, but I've been there often enough now to notice otherwise. Also, he has been able to instill the same qualities into his staff, which I think is the real trick.
For example, his general manager, Rick Stein, is perfectly capable of holding a deep and meaningful wine conversation with the balding, mid-life-crisis businessfart at the next table who is trying to impress his date, a 19-year-old topless dancer.
Don't ask me how I know, I just do. They make a nice couple and are obviously in love. The man is droning on about the wine's "huge nose," and its "subtle nuances of tobacco, sawdust, and black cherry."
Rick nods, neglecting to mention that he has not yet opened the bottle, and the man has just gargled a mouthful of iced tea. He knows I am listening. He opens their wine and sidles over to take our order.
"Now, you have a huge nose," he says to me. Oh, ha ha ha...
Down here in Texas, you see, wine is treated with salsa-like reverence, as it should be. Anyone who knows anything about hot sauce is aware that the really good stuff makes your taste-buds feel like they just burst into flower, and the only way to make your tongue feel any better is to have some more. Exactly like wine. If you do not humor your tongue, it is quite liable to make its way out of your mouth and into the bottle on its own. So I always say to Rick, "Bring me a bottle of that red one with the nice label," and he always does.
Black cherries, my arse.
I'm kind of old-fashioned, even a little squeamish about food, and the folks at III Forks know it. Don't even suggest Japanese; I am just not into squid chitlins, thank you. Once I've put food into my mouth, I don't want to have to take it out again for any reason. Trout is out, forget shellfish -- especially if it has watched me enter the room -- and if I get one stringy or fatty bit of meat, the meal is over. Even the menu can put me off my grub. To me, the description of food is like voice mail: If it lasts longer than about eight seconds, it gets deleted.
"Thinly sliced medallions of pork, in a raspberry port-wine reduction, served on a tower of crispy parsnip strips, nestled into a bed of wilted arugula, accompanied by tiny new potatoes and truffled pearl onions, with Chef Otto's own special pickled swine nuts in aspic."
Forgive me, but I'm liable to barf halfway through a description like that. And then of course...
"Would you like to hear our specials?"
"No, thank you, I would like you to go away and fry something, preferably your own left nostril."
Rick would never say anything like that, even if nostrils were on the menu, which they never would be.
All I want is a nice big steak, which, even though it's cooked all the way through, is tender and juicy, some kind of spuds, and plenty of elbow room. Once at III Forks, during a particularly excellent meal, I thought I'd bitten into a nasty piece of gristle. Turned out, it was the knuckle on my right index finger. Looking back, I don't blame myself for being overeager.
Like they say down here, "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as soon as I could." Merry Christmas/Happy Chanukah pardners!