My wife and I swayed a bit to the song "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line but moved on after their next set of songs sounded strangely exactly like the last. Apparently, my innovative idea for the New Year had been surreptitiously appropriated by 20,000 or so total strangers as the crowd was quite large. My plan for café au lait and beignets was felled by a monster line as well. Accordingly, my wife and I took up an early position on the waterfront sidewalk for the upcoming fireworks that also afforded us a view of the soon-to-be flaming fleur-de-lis affixed atop the old Jackson Brewery building.
It was there a couple standing next to us introduced themselves as the misty fog slowly rolled in and out on the darkened river in front of us. "My name is Dan, and this is my wife Emory," he said with contagious friendliness as he thrust his hand toward me. At first glance he looked like he was with the Florida Georgia Line band tour: His arms had tattoos that extended all the way down to his wrist, he wore a full beard, and his head was shaved. The Australian accent was unmistakable. "We're from Melbourne, and we are touring all the famous barbecue cities in America."
Now Dan had my full attention. France has its wine, Switzerland its cheeses, but America's contribution to the culinary world is barbecue. And there is no such thing as American barbecue. Each state or region has made its own unique contribution: Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, Carolina, the list goes on. Dan's itinerary was to hit all those places, having just left Austin, where he'd sampled the fabled brisket at Franklin Barbecue. (NOLA was a detour just for New Year's.) With the enthusiasm of a proud parent, he pulled out his cell phone to show me over 40 photos of his beloved "barbie" smoker that he had lovingly hand built years ago. "My dream is to make a business designing and selling smokers!" he finished with a big grin. Our conversation was soon cut short by the crowd counting down the year, and the flaming fleur-de-lis did not disappoint. Together we watched the sky painted with an assortment of colors, the explosions bringing joy to the assembled crowd.
Not everyone like us is welcoming this new year. Many people view the birth of 2019 with foreboding and concern. They see current events as a harbinger of even worse things to come. I get that. Back in 1941 the writer John Steinbeck took a similar view, writing, "So we go into this happy new year, knowing that our species has learned nothing, can, as a race, learn nothing -- that the experience of 10,000 years has made no impression." But he still had hope, concluding: "Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love."
This much I do understand. That night I came to know a charming man from a distant land -- and I would sure love some barbecue tonight.
Sey Young is a local businessman, father and longtime resident of Bentonville. Email him at [email protected].
NAN Our Town on 01/10/2019