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What’s a Design Nerd to Think, “When Nines Don’t Match”?

[Ed. This piece appeared 25 years ago in a magazine called TravelGolf Maine founded by a fellow named Park Morrison. It didn’t last long (1998-2001) and, sadly, Park passed away last year. I’m including the story here because surely it never made it online — and because it appeared, in print, under a favorite pen name of mine. Another serendipitous fact: When I traveled to Lovell, Maine to “research” the story, the course ranger, lounging in a cart parked by the first tee at Lake Kezar CC, was none other than Bill Bissett, retired athletic director at Hudson (Mass.) High, one of the schools covered by The Hudson Daily Sun, where I served sports editor from 1989-90.]

By Henry Choi

Opinions differ when it comes to appraising so-called schizo layouts, those courses where one nine barely resembles the other. In northern New England — where scads of nines were laid out in the 1920s and ‘30s, only to be expanded many decades later by different architects — the issue is more salient than perhaps anywhere in America. Because there are just so many of them, the question remains: Does one decry the stylistic divergence or applaud the diversity?

Two courses in the border regions of Maine and New Hampshire inform the debate. North Conway Country Club and Lake Kezar CC are separated by 20 miles. And yet, the nines on each course feel even further apart, light years in fact, when it comes to style, terrain and vintage. That both tracks remains such good fun tips our fledgling debate toward applause.

This part of New England is remote but hardly underdeveloped. The resort nature of North Conway, N.H., cannot be lost on first-time visitors to its eponymous, semi-private country club, where the 1st tee is set back just 50 yards from a bustling main drag replete with myriad factory outlets, hotels and restaurants. Indeed, the clubhouse at NCCC sits directly beside the Conway Scenic Railway Station, a massive, red-roofed, Victorian-era structure painted a vivid shade of yellow.

It’s quite a sight, but nothing like the vista next door. The 1st at NCCC (the image above) is one of the great opening holes in all of New England, a 418-yard par-4 with long views of Cathedral Rock in the distance and, of more pressing concern, O.B. all along the left side. It takes some real concentration to block it all out and belt one — right over the train tracks! — to a fairway 70 feet (!) below.

Don’t get the wrong idea, however. The remaining golf at North Conway CC isn’t about dramatic elevation changes. At all. After this inaugural plunge, the course plays entirely in the subtly contoured flood plain of the Saco River. It’s scenic — with the river running through it and White Mountains surrounding it — but it’s relatively flat and eminently walkable.

The opening nine here dates to 1928, when Ralph Barton, a protégé of Seth Raynor, reworked a older, rudimentary loop. The charm of these opening holes lies in the subtleties of their small, steeply pitched greens guarded closely by deep bunkers. The 4th is a wonderful short hole, a make-or-break 140-yard pitch to a putting surface that falls away steeply on all sides. Every so often the land here does move with surprising drama. The 354-yard 5th plays right along the river; the back tee calls for a drive across a bend in the Saco to a swaled landing area, which is then crossed by a stream at 240 yards. The green looks harmless enough, until you look over the back side and see the ground fall away steeply some 20 feet.

The second nine at North Conway arrived much later, in the mid-1960s, courtesy of New Hamster-based architect Phil Wogan, and no — the two loops do not go together stylistically. The front side putting surfaces are set mostly at grade, while the bulk of Wogan’s greens are raised up in mid-century mode made fashionable by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. Yet the backside putting surfaces are quite cool and challenging in their own right, especially the saddle job at the par-3 13th — and the epic volcano that sits at the business end of the sublime-but-potentially-cruel, 434-yard, par-4 14th.

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Thanksgiving in China: Two Stories Behind the Story

The Day After Thanksgiving, on the Norman Course at Mission Hills Resort, PRC.

It’s been a decade since this piece was published in the print edition of LINKS Magazine, under an original headline that, as I recall, played on the “China Syndrome” trope. I recently ran across it online. So I’ve shared it here, 10 years down the road.

Almost immediately upon publication of this feature, President Xi Jinping started calling out golf as a tool of corrupt bourgeoise elites. At the time, many observers viewed this rhetoric as merely opportunistic. After all, the mainland Chinese course- and player-development markets were booming. Golf had just been designated an Olympic sport — and the Chinese LOVE Olympic sports. Surely golf wasn’t in any real trouble there. Surely this was Xi scoring political points. Surely this anti-golf rhetoric would pass.

Well, that moment might well prove the historic high-water mark for both Chinese golf and the subject of my story, Mission Hills, then largest golf resort on earth. Because Xi wasn’t posing. The Central Government had banned new course development a decade prior, a fact that provincial apparatchiks and rich developers had chosen to ignore. See here a piece I wrote for GCM China a year after the LINKS story, in 2015, detailing the haze of politics and environmental concerns — some real, some manufactured — then swirling about the Chinese golf industry. Five years later, more than 100 courses had closed down. As many as 500 remain operational today, but their existence is maintained very quietly indeed. A robust golf media sector had once thrived in China; today that roster of magazines, websites and TV channels has disappeared almost entirely. Mainland Chinese still love their golf. For a while, later in the 2010s, they simply played the game on holiday in Vietnam, Thailand and Japan. Once COVID-19 emerged in February 2020, that brand of tourism (all tourism) ground to a halt.

A lot can happen in a decade.

A lot can happen in a single night, too, and that’s the other story behind this story. To report the LINKS piece, I had traveled to Shenzhen, home to Mission Hills and the beating heart of hyper-capitalist China. I had arrived in Hong Kong, via Manila, just before Thanksgiving 2013, when the idea of a mainland Chinese and pro-democracy protests seemed the stuff of dark fantasy. As per usual, I stayed with good friends, a married couple — she a native Hong Konger, he an American expat who has lived and worked there for decades. They treated me to a Thanksgiving supper at The American Club. That evening I treated them to dinner at The China Club, a famous old-world restaurant of the early British-protectorate variety.

My subsequent travel plan, endorsed and scheduled by my hosts, and Mission Hills itself, was simple: Get a cab after dinner to a special bus station located near the Chinese border. Hong Kong is, of course, an island. An archipelago actually. But its land mass also includes a famous hunk of mainland, Kowloon, which shares the border with Shenzhen. Because Mission Hills caters to so many Hong Kong-based members and resort guests, motor coaches run regularly from this station, over the border and back again, every day of the week.

So I poured myself into a cab, along with my big suitcase and golf clubs. It was 15 minutes to the bus station. Yet upon our arrival, it was clear the bus station was closed. I asked the guy where the border crossing might be. He nodded and dropped me 10 minutes up the road. After clearing customs, lugging my oversized bags up stairs and through tiny turnstiles, I emerged from the border facility to find the immediate environs completely devoid of taxis.

This had been my half-cocked alternate plan: Get over the border and hire a taxi to Dongguan, where Mission Hills and my on-site hotel were located. I possessed an early smartphone, but nothing like Google Maps or Translate existed at that primitive time. What’s more, I had not yet secured a People’s Republic of China SIM card — and there was no shop inside the border building — so my iPhone was essentially useless. Having visited China several times before, I knew it was always wise to have a Chinese friend or hotel concierge write out important addresses, in Mandarin, because very few cabbies in Beijing or Shanghai speak or understand a lick of English. These measures had not been undertaken as part of my half-baked, half-in-the-bag travel pivot.

Finally, I located not a cabbie but ‘a guy with a car.’ Sometimes, in China and Southeast Asia, that’s preferable. He and I spent quite a while trying to communicate exactly where it was I wanted to go. For all its celebrity and sheer size, “Mission Hills” meant nothing to this fellow. Neither did “Dongguan” or “golf”. I resorted to swinging imaginary clubs, then showing him my golf clubs. This seemed to result in a measure of recognition. So I got into his car.

Ten minutes later, he pulls over on a busy highway, where he gets out and starts chatting and gesticulating with half a dozen other guys by the side of the road. “This is where I get robbed, beaten up or both,” I said to my now-completely-sober self. Better to go down swinging, so I put my passport in my front pocket and joined them. Turns out my driver was basically selling my fare to the highest bidder! Soon I was transferring my stuff into a different unmarked car headed north.

Once again, I’d received no real indication that this driver had any idea where Mission Hills or Dongguan were, or whether he fully understood that these were my intended destinations. But lo and behold, 45 minutes later we pulled up in front of a hotel — my hotel! Filled with thanksgiving, I located an ATM and paid the man handsomely.

Hal Phillips: More good guys with guns? No thanks


[Ed. The column below ran in the Lewiston Sun Journal on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, three days after 18 were killed during a mass shooting. Online version linked here. Because it resides behind a paywall, the content is reproduced here.]

We’re fine.

That’s what I’ve been texting to dozens of friends and family, starting at about 8 p.m. Wednesday night. We live in Auburn, across the Androscoggin River, which separates our small city from our slightly larger sister city. As of Friday, there was still an active shooter at large, two days after he gunned down 18 innocent people, first in a Lewiston bowling alley, then at a roadhouse four miles across town.

As American citizens, you are surprised by none of this. Saddened and sickened maybe, but not surprised. By now you know the drill: shelter in place, wait on news of the man’s capture, and hope no more lives will be needlessly taken. Another day, another responsible gun-owning American instantly transformed into a mass-murdering criminal.

These good guys with guns who, at any moment, might mutate into the felons from whom only more guns will protect us? These guys (and they’re all guys) literally walk among us, 24/7/365.

I honestly don’t think this country turns out more than our proportional share of folks living on one side of this very fine line, or the other. Every industrialized nation deals with the real-world fallout from mental illness. Fortnite and other equally gruesome single-shooter video games are played by billions of under-adjusted humans the world over. Casually extreme violence, as depicted in film and television, is consumed in every country on Earth, in every conceivable language.

Yet only this country endures so many mass shootings, more than one a day. See the database at gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting. Forty-four events and counting in October alone. Not every “active shooter” event results in “mass” fatalities. So far, according to the Associated Press, the nation has witnessed 36 mass-killing events in 2023 — the second-highest number on record in a single year.

As I sit here, sheltering in place, the obvious question is, Why us?

The National Rifle Association, most of the Republican Party, and other gun rights advocates bridle at the mere question. They’ve lobbied for years against the collection of data on such matters. Waving away the data we do have, they declare the issue intractable. Can’t be helped, they tell us.

Since 1977, when extremists hijacked the NRA, they’ve been telling right-leaning voters that these deaths are the price of “freedom.” What we actually need, they say, are more good guys with guns — to stop all the bad guys with guns.

These automatic and semi-automatic weapons: They serve up ever-more killing capacity. But their superpower is turning law-abiding U.S. citizens into depraved criminals, in the blink of an eye. Former military. Firearms safety instructor. Army reservist since 2002. Do good guys come any better qualified that that?

I don’t own a gun. Never even fired one. When a mass-shooting takes place right across the river, however, one feels newly empowered to speak up.

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Denver Dynasty? Who knows. But Nuggets are the NBA’s top talent evaluators. And it’s not close.

In hailing the all-world talents of Nikola Jokic, now an NBA champion (and the most influential Serb since Gavrilo Princip), let’s also recognize that this cornerstone figure was taken #41 in the 2014 NBA Draft, behind Doug McDermott, whom the Nuggets took that year at #11. Don’t get me wrong: Dougy McBuckets has enjoyed a longer NBA career that most. He is, in fact, one of 20 Nugget draftees from the past decade who remain active in this league. That’s the extraordinary organizational lesson delivered by Monday’s clincher.

Observers journalistic and otherwise spent considerable time discussing teambuilding during these playoffs. First, it was the Heat’s predilection for making serviceable NBA squad players of undrafted castoffs. Then, when Denver started to look inevitable, the conversation moved to canny roster-development via the draft, wherein Joker remains Exhibit A.

Yet the larger takeaways for NBA clubs and fans alike are simpler and self-evident: Denver is the league’s best talent evaluator, full stop, thanks to Vice President of Scouting Jim Clibanoff (pictured above) and his crack staff. The Nuggets not only draft more effectively, they also better assess the potential value of Europeans and players discarded by competing NBA franchises. They’ve shown these traits for a decade or more, as I will detail below, and theirs is the best, most practical example of how to develop championship-ready rosters in 2023.

Free agency remains vitally important, of course. I read somewhere during these playoffs that Denver’s title is the first from a Western Conference team not located in California or Texas since the 1979 Seattle Supersonics! Big markets/money will always give “coastal elites” a leg up in luring/landing established stars. Yet Denver has shown league peers how to nullify these advantages in the 21st century. Once the new collective bargain agreement takes effect, and teams cannot afford three max stars going forward (thereby more evenly distributing plus-players around the league), the primacy of talent assessment is only enhanced.

By contrast, it’s time to get real on the most overhyped aspect of any NBA teambuilding discussion, the Draft Lottery. Based on the amount of media attention paid to these first half-dozen picks, one might reasonably assume this approach to be a proven strategy. It’s not. The Golden State dynasty was not built via reliance on lottery picks, nor maneuvers to enable them. LeBron James was a lottery pick 20 years ago; his fellow Laker, Anthony Davis, ran out on the team that picked him no. 1. Kawhi Leonard went 14th and somehow managed to be the best player on two NBA Champions, just north of two separate borders (San Antonio and Toronto).

What’s more, it seems clear to me the Lottery affects championship fortunes and overall roster strength less and less. Lottery picks are, of course, getting younger and younger. It’s no coincidence they are less and less able to produce at the NBA level, especially within the 3-year rookie contract window. Joel Embiid and Zion Williamson are great players, when healthy, but they’ve delivered nothing in terms of playoff success to the teams that contorted their long-term fortunes to acquire them. The demonstrable abilities of these younger and younger men, imbued with evermore AAU-enabled, one-and-done skill sets, makes them less and less NBA ready with every passing year. Why tank any season, much less two or three, to acquire them?

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Forty-Eight Years Late: Celts, Dubs Redeem an NBA Final That Never Was…

Coach Al Attles chats up Clifford Ray (center) and his back-up, the immortal George Johnson.

[Ed. It’s rare for the brain trust here at halphillips.net to yield the floor. It’s rare for anyone to request such a thing, frankly. But Stephen McDermott Myers isn’t just anyone. He is my former Wesleyan University soccer teammate and the man who, over the course of 15 months, helped edit “Generation Zero: Founding Fathers, Hidden Histories and the Making of Soccer in America,” available for purchase July 1. He’s also the Bay Area native who has maintained, since February 2022, that a Celts-Warriors NBA Final would provide us the NBA finale we should have enjoyed in June 1976. And here we are, poised to watch Game 5 and Garfield Heard is nowhere to be found. Esteban, the floor is yours.]

By STEPHEN MCDERMOTT MYERS
The Celtics’ meritorious, take-it-to-the-brink, close-out victory in Miami over the much-compromised Heat set the Summer’s stage and has gifted to the Hoops World and its attendant Faithful an NBA Finals “for the ages.” What’s more, the way-it-played-out timing of Hal’s triumph with Generation Zero, due for splash-like publication at the end of June, coming after the still-warm success and enjoyment of collaboration across the arc of that project’s second half~ the Senator had composed and constructed the sea-worthy hulk, bulk of his book, complete with rigging, sails, captain, crew, before my role evolved “on the natural” (as intuitively-inclined old-timers put it)~ allows me this-here one-of-a-kind invitation-dime-welcome onto his enduring web-site

Good Deal, Roundball Wheel

We played Springfield College every season at Wes, somehow a match that carried extra oomph, meaning, what with that Massachusetts town being the renowned birthplace of basketball, and home to its Hall of Fame. One year, in a cold, heavy rain on their fast and slick astroturf (only field of that kind we ever dealt with), I badly botched a sudden, real chance at an open-goal, and some righteous midfield glory. Even-Stephen could have, should have, opted for a smart, first-time, behind-the-heel flick, to set up an on-running teammate and striker… one Hal Phillips~ who played right behind me at centerback (aka “stopper”), and who might very well have finished from those momentarily-makeble forty meters. Alas, I failed in the keep calm, be creative, and quick-witted Depts., too, in that moment. The mathematics of those bald, once-in-my-footy-career errors bother me without cease to this damn day. But, “we were never as good as we thought we were.” (That’s for sure.)

Sho’ hope I don’t blow this one. (See, Anderson, Nick.) A one-off, rare-air, ripest opportunity to mix up a Berkeley home-brew batch, write poetic, talk-smack, crack-wise on thatfavorite of the very many, fecund, crazy-fun athletic corners of SportsWorld. The one faaan-fucking-tastic. (To rudely employ the league’s superb, propagandistic slogan that Bluto and I grew up with, that spot-on phrase more fulfilling than a Mars bar.) NBA Ballers are the greatest athletes in the World.

We talkin’ here, Friends, ’bout the hardwood, Time-has-come, take-home-the-Goods, make-ones’-Names intersection of Boston/New England & San Francisco-Oakland’s Bay Area/NorCal; unbridled Public Lore (of The Commons, say); and the National Basketball Association. It is on.  (Like the frickin’ Autobahn.) 

The dynastic Warriors, who badly fucking want it~ that’s killer Steph/Chef Curry, Game Six Klay, story of the league, all-time Alpha Dawg Dray-Dray;with a Poole party, Andrew Wiggins coming-out party, plus Looney tunes from one no-longer the team’s “unsung” hero; a handful of well-picked, contented reserves at-the-ready, a true team (see, two-time award-winning Exec, Myers); and Steve Kerr chaser (Coach cum conscience-of-the-Nation)…. in imperial San Francisco [that’s Gray Brechin’s masterpiece, with tell-all title, from the esteemed UC Press; the author a long-time friend + ally, hereabouts], The City at last fittingly, properly debuting its spankin’ brand-new, billion-dollar price-tag, privately-financed, water-side, sports-and-circuses palace (the pure power of mamon and the decisive post-modern realities of “real-estate”~ location location location~ having usurped Oakland’s half-century plus place and pride as home to the Dubs; “and a date next week in San Francisco”, the previous network’s facemen never tired of stating, obnoxiously, during the latter half of the Eastern Conference finals~ as everyone East Bay-relatedout here noticed) ….   

versus  

…. the absolutely badass, top-to-bottom, time-is-now excellent, shut-down Celtics, “team-of-destiny” writ all over ’em; with Udoka, Jason, and Jaylen nothing less than ascendant; plus award-winning point-guard Smart, heart + soul of the team; exemplary, record-breaking, peakHorford (riding a rare-air career-apex that may yield him the full Hall pass); an inspired, game-changing big-man, who boasts the best nickname heard in the league since Chocolate Thunder (bequeathed by Stevie Wonder, that, no less)~ [I am obliged to give a for-the-record nod to The Big Aristotle here~ but that wuz a Shaq-Daddy self-baptism, the Diesel’s auto-exceptionalism; at best, an asterisk]~ also, no small thing, he’s flying the playoff’s best hair style, Big Rob. (That ain’t the nickname. Hell, no. Hoops is better than horse-racing, and more than historic, bucolic baseball’s equal~ as befits “the city game.”) The Time Lord. Now that is a fuckin’ nickname. (Straight out of the Geeorge Lucas magic + special-effects shops, circa 1977 and their upcoming jumps-to-lightspeed shortly ahead, found to the north in Marin across the Golden Gate Bridge, embedded underground by the acre.) 

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Observations on visiting, pronouncing Bremen, Vienna, Rome, Madrid, Troy, Denmark, Calais, Peru, Palermo & Paris — while never leaving the 207

Prior to the smartphone era, when folks still read in analog fashion upon porcelain thrones, a great many Maine residents kept a Maine Atlas and Gazetteer in the privy. Published by Yarmouth-based mapmaker DeLorme, this oversized, soft-cover booklet neatly divided the Great State of Maine into 96 pages, or quadrants, each of which depicted a specific 16-by-11-inch detail at remarkable scale. Some of the best bathroom reading in captivity, and not completely idle diversion: We studied The Gazetteer so as to better familiarize ourselves with the state’s baroque topographies and place names, in addition to those potential routes that might traverse and connect them. The conditional nature of these journeys is critical to Maine’s particular mythos, of course. The unofficial state motto, offered to folks from away seeking directions, spells this out pretty clearly: You can’t get there from hee-yah.

GPS titan Garmin purchased DeLorme back in 2016, along with Eartha, the massive, slowly rotating globe that still occupies three full stories inside the former company headquarters. GPS-enabled mapping applications have certainly reduced the need for physical maps of all kinds. However, the need to better know and understand this place we call Maine remains undiminished.

I’ve live here since 1992, for example, but the myriad places and oddball municipal naming conventions continue to fascinate. I’m a Masshole born, bred and proud — the Oxford English Dictionary added “Masshole” in 2015 (How do you like them apples!?). Until 1820, Maine was part of Massachusetts, where homages to a multitude of British place names remains common. This makes sense: Winchester and Boston and Middlesex were the very towns, cities, counties and regions from whence a great many 17th and 18th century settlers hailed.

Maine has its share of similarly UK-derived place names among its 23 cities, 430 towns, and 30 plantations. But the naming conventions here are more varied and bizarre. Way more. It’s possible, for example, that the founders of Lebanon, Norway, Poland, Mexico, Sweden, Smyrna, Stockholm, Moscow, Carthage, Monticello, Bremen, Rome, Athens, Troy, Denmark, Peru, Palermo, Dresden, Paris, West Paris and South Paris all hailed from these original locations. But I doubt it.

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Taking the Food-Truck Ethos Indoors

Believe it or not, this gas station/convenience store in Lewiston is home to some of Maine’s finest Mexican cuisine.

Before we ever moved to Lewiston-Auburn — Sharon and I officially arrived here Sept. 1, 2021 — we’d heard tell of El Pocho’s Mexican Grill. Maine remains the most white-bread state in the Union, and so we have long endured an acute Mexican-food problem: not enough Mexicans. Or Central Americans, for that matter. The situation has improved somewhat over the last 10-15 years, but no one was prepared for the Covid-era appearance of El Pocho’s, a killer burrito shop that just happens to operate from one half of a gas station/convenience store, on outer Lisbon Street in Lewiston.

Intrigued, I sampled a carne asada model straightaway: superb, and they press-grill the final product to create a sort of South of the Border panini effect. Great enchiladas, too. The menu is small but they do everything on it very well. It’s not practical to just show up at El Pocho’s. It’s a tiny space. There’s a bar where 3-4 folks can sit and eat, but take-out is strongly encouraged, especially in Covid times. Last month, when I was out running errands, I not-so-cleverly resolved to stop in at 11:30 a.m., when the place opened. There were already a half-dozen guys standing around, waiting for their baby chimichangas. The woman behind the counter advised me — in no uncertain terms — to go outside, call in my order, and don’t come back for half an hour.

A mile away, at the foot of College Street, a similar operation has sprouted inside Dave’s Place, a pretty grimy gas station and convenience store where another pop-up kitchen, Tina’s Thai, has similarly colonized one corner of the indoor premises. The fare isn’t quite so revelatory here, though I can vouch for the tom kha gai (the cuisine’s signature chicken/lime/ginger/coconut-cream soup) and massaman curry. A more formal Thai restaurant sits right across the street. I’m willing to speculate that a kitchen employee named Tina got into a pissing match with the owner, stalked out, and set up competitive enterprise 30 yards away.

Lewiston-Auburn, Maine’s second-largest metropolitan area (combined population: 60,000), cannot compete with the celebrated food culture in Greater Portland, home to all manner of nationally recognized eateries, including, starting in 2010, some first-rate, upscale taco establishments. But I know of no gas stations down there serving up such high-quality enchiladas or satay. And let me be clear: The burritos at El Pocho’s are without peer in all of Vacationland. I was marveling at this bizarre, down-market L-A food trend, alongside the admirable edible diversity & ferment in our new place of residence, when Sharon pointed out that these are basically food truck operations: “It’s too cold in Maine to be outside on some street corner all year round,” she posited. “So they’ve gone inside.” I think she nailed it. El Pocho’s remains so informal, it doesn’t even maintain a proper website.

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One the bands I play in, Bald Hill, has enjoyed a sort of monthly residence this winter at the Side By Each Brewery, across the Androscoggin River from Lewiston, in Auburn. Opened in 2020, SBE serves outstanding beer, but the canny owners there have essentially ceded the food operation to a third party: a food truck specializing in poutine. This type of relationship isn’t so unique. We play at another brewery, Fore River in South Portland, where, every time we’ve been there, a different food truck has conducted business from the parking lot. At New Gloucester’s Nu Brewery, a superb if pricy food truck, Yolk, is permanently ensconced there.

Pinky D’s still operates a mobile business; in 2021, Downeast magazine listed it among Maine’s top 5 food trucks. However, at Side By Each, the owners invited Pinky D’s to integrate one of its boxy vehicles directly into one of the brewery’s interior walls! A spectacular visual conceit that further buttresses Sharon’s observation. Through the small order window, one can spy an entire kitchen operation whipping up inventive takes on this Quebecois standard. Try the Korean BBQ poutine, and consider pairing it with a pint of Kuriro, SBE’s lovely Japanese rice lager.

We last played Side By Each in late January. Between sets I ran into Everton, a Jamaican fellow I’d met before. His brother, Jefferyton, owns an honest-to-goodness Jamaican food truck. He parks it more or less permanently beside the Caribbean Life grocery he owns with his wife at 940 Lisbon Street. To my dismay, the food-truck operation has been closed since December. When I saw him at SBE, Everton explained his father had recently passed away; he and Jefferyton had only just returned from Jamaica, where they laid him to rest. I offered my condolences — along with my hopes that the truck would reopen sometime soon.

“Not till the spring, mate,” Everton informed me. “Jefferyton closes the food truck each winter. Can you imagine standing in there all day, with the window open — in January? Not practical, mon!” We did agree there are plenty of Lewiston-Auburn breweries that would likely be eager to serve curried mutton and bone-out jerk chicken plates to young hipsters and Gen X fogies alike. Everton smiled: “It’s being discussed.”

Sitting Down with False Shepherds, over Seven Courses

Three summer’s ago, my wife and I found ourselves at loose ends for the July 4 holiday. We’d been meaning to visit Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, but upon cursory investigation, Google Maps informed us that the most accessible, southern tip of this region — where the mighty St. Lawrence River meets the North Atlantic — sits fully 12 hours north of south/central Maine. Um, Quebec City is nice, I pivoted, and a plan was hatched. We left after work, sped north, saw a moose outside Jackman, Maine, and were sipping drinks in the Hotel Frontenac bar well before last call.

After two lovely days in the Old Town, we headed further north, up the St. Lawrence to the Charlevoix Region, where we lodged at another Fairmont Hotel property, the estimable Manoir Richelieu. We gambled in the casino, played golf, and ogled a massive south Asian wedding where the bride floated in on a swing more or less supported, in flight, by hundreds of helium balloons. Honestly. That happened. We got lost in the hotel that morning and stumbled upon the ballroom where all these white balloons were being filled for the occasion.

In any case, someone at the Manoir suggested dinner at Les Faux Bergers (False Shepherds), a fromagerie, working sheep farm and locavore restaurant that serves up expensive but exquisite seven-course meals. There is but one seating each night.

Our group first assembled for drinks and mise en bouche outside, on a beautiful patio overlooking a sheep pasture. The crowd numbered a couple dozen and judging from the entirely French welcomes and introductions, we were the only English speakers there. Halfway through the meal, our outlier status became clear to our hosts. Thereafter, the chef, Maurice Dufour, kindly visited our table to personally explain each course, in great detail, en Anglais, after doing so for the rest of those assembled, en Francais.

It proved an extraordinary, if surprisingly lengthy, thoroughly Quebecois experience.

First Course
Unless we missed one — which is entirely possible, considering our deteriorative mental, physical and immunological states following nearly four hours of fine dining — our drinks and apps there on the patio constituted the opening course. The cocktail was pretty memorable: a simple-but-bracing concoction of fresh basil, cucumber, brown sugar and vodka. The appetizers: a small cut of whitefish sprinkled with sunflower seeds and cassis powder, followed by lamb mousse paté with mustard and gherkin — served on a stone. Naturellement.

Second Course
After moving into the dining room and taking our places, Sharon and I were each presented a gorgeous salad of fresh cuke, tomato, crunchy puffed rice thingies and a purple flower we took to be nasturtium (which the French call pensee, we think; after a few days in France or Quebec, I’m good to comprehend about every fourth word). All of this was served on a bed of salty caviar that had been whipped into a mayonnaise-type consistency. Fabulous. Combined with the apps, two courses would have left us perfectly satisfied. We could have gone home right then.
Wine pairing: the first, an effectively dry Sancerre rosé

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Chasing the Double-Double, from HKG to LAX and Points North

When one hears the Mission Bell on California freeways, it’s likely to be the dinner bell.

Pandemic Journal, 2022

The trip had been months in the making but it began, for me — this Great Father-Son Sampling of West Coast golf, fast food and prospective institutions of higher learning — on the outdoor deck at Trafalgar, a British-themed pub perched high above the heart of Hong Kong’s Central district.

This was April 2013. In less than 8 hours’ time, I would board a plane bound for Los Angeles, where, after 12 more hours in the air, I would meet my son, Silas, and set out for the hinterlands of California. Accordingly, I had arranged to conclude the business portion of my journey among several colleagues at Trafalgar, all of us indulging in several of the Brit-derived pleasures for which modern Canton is famous. These centered on pints of Boddington’s, Scotch eggs and Premier League football — beamed to us live from London, Sunderland and Liverpool via satellite, then projected in turn onto the walls of neighboring buildings on Lockhart Street, in images 10 feet tall.

At approximately 23:00 local time, this night before my departure, a text came through from my wife, the fair Sharon, with whom I had been trading mildly anxious communications all evening. This was to be expected. She was poised to put her first-born on a plane, by himself, from one coast to the other where, God willing and stars aligned, I would meet up with the 16-year-old man/child and resume custodial responsibilities.

However, this particular text brought to the fore a new, altogether different level of anxiety. It read, “I’ve been reading our son’s phone…”

I put my pint glass down. Reflexively, I shared this introductory snippet with my mates at Trafalgar, one of whom, quite rightly, remarked that nothing particularly good is liable to follow that sort of opener.

•••

The essay here shares the details of a trip taken almost 10 years ago, and so it’s a modest exercise in nostalgia — for the teenage son who is today fully grown, and for the international travel we could once undertake without a second thought. Leaving Hong Kong on a plane, for example, used to be the most seamless, worry-free exercise on Planet Earth. The Central district of Hong Kong was once equipped with a train station that didn’t merely whisk travelers 30 minutes out of town to the city’s gleaming-new, island airport, one of the busiest in the world. Hong Konger transit authorities had also been so canny as to install airline check-in counters at the train station, in Central HK, so that travel to said airport might be conducted only with the luggage one carries on. The idea of this practical technology being deployed in an American city, even now, remains as far-fetched as Utah state senators forfeiting their right to carry concealed weapons on the floor of their legislature.

Today, the check-in apparatus at Central station sits dormant and, according to my HK friends, a bit ghostly. Beijing’s 2019 anti-democratic crackdown, then a pandemic, changed everything. Hong Kong’s famous bar district at Lan Kwai Fong has been shuttered, the entire Special Administrative Region utterly isolated. In 2019, HKG — one of the most efficient, elegant and busy airports in the world — witnessed 71.3 million arrivals. In 2021, the total was 1.3 million. On a single day in January 2022, an HK friend reported to me, 139 people arrived there.

Back in 2013, not even the legacy of so many smooth, creamy pints of Boddington’s got in the way of my orderly egress from Hong Kong. After passing through Central, leaving my bags to the fates there, and stopping for a bite in the United Club before boarding, I slept like a baby on the 12-hour flight to L.A. Because there is nothing that two Ambien and a glass of wine won’t cure, dull, and slip gently into a time-shrinking simulacrum of sleep.

I could see the boy sauntering in my direction from a great distance away, down the endless, straightaway sidewalk outside the International Terminal at LAX. We had traded texts upon our near-simultaneous landings, so I knew to expect him — and where. Even so, it’s disarming to view one’s full-grown son slowly walking one’s way, in such an out-of-context location, slowly magnifying in size with every step he takes, like a blond, gangly, clean-shaven, unseated Omar Sharif slowly traveling toward me from a far-off urban-desert horizon.

Could this be the fresh-faced kid my wife had outed the night before as a sex and drug fiend?

That’s not fair, not to him nor her. But the information she’d gleaned from his phone, rightly or wrongly, had included various and sundry information re. his high school girlfriend, their expressions of love/lust, and directions to iniquitous party hideaways in around our small southern Maine community. Was this boy still a virgin? If not, was he practicing safer sex than his dad had at the same tender age? Was he (to paraphrase my own betrothed) respecting this young woman?

“You need to have a long talk with your son about responsibility,” Sharon had texted me, in conclusion, that night on the deck at Trafalgar. With six days, four rounds of golf, five college visits and several hundred miles in the car together, she was right in declaring, “You should have plenty of opportunity.”

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