UPDATE: Randall Dale Adams, 61, died of a brain tumor in obscurity in Ohio last October, but his death was reported only last week. "Before people had ever heard of Anthony Graves, Clarence Brandley or Kerry Max Cook, there was Randall Dale Adams," Pamela Colloff told the San Antonio Express-News after news of his death broke.
Odds are you're settling in to read this article in a stuffy, artificially lit room with sealed windows that banish every wisp of outside air along with the faintest hint of fresh flowers, rain-heavy clouds, or moist earth. Ignoring Nature's glories, you embrace instead the man-made wonders of regulated temperature, controlled humidity, and engineered breezes. It's contrived and costly and downright unnatural. It's air conditioning. Ain't it great?
I came to the weird world of chili cookoffs rather late in life—last year on the first Saturday of November, to be exact. I’d been invited to judge the twenty-fifth annual Terlingua International Chili Championship, and having heard many a wanton tale about this annual debauch, which is the granddaddy of all chili cookoffs, I immediately accepted.
I AM NOT MUCH OF a cook. I oversalt and overpepper, my pie crusts resemble raggedy bloomers, and my kids always refer to my breakfast potatoes as "hashblacks." But there is one meal I can reliably produce without the food—or me—burning or boiling over, and that is beans and cornbread. I'd like to attribute my success to a deep connection with my pioneer roots, but the truth is, any fool can cook beans and cornbread.
THE CRISIS HIT, NOT IN THE southern part of Texas in the town of San Antone but on U.S. 83 somewhere between Abilene and Childress.
PERHAPS MY GREATEST CHILDHOOD regret is that I never talked one of my parents into ponying up a quarter for the Magic Fingers bed massage machine at the Spotted Horse Motel in Hamilton. Still, just staying in a motel was pretty exotic, compared with sleeping on a pallet on an aunt's living-room floor, so I took the disappointment in stride. After all, there were numerous other pleasures to be had for free: an endless supply of ice in cool little cubelets, postcards and stationery, and unrestricted splashing in a lifeguardless pool.
It's fitting that the typical visitor to the State Fair of Texas looks happier than a pig in mud. After all, the site of the fair, which debuted in 1886, was dubbed a "hog wallow" by its organizers because its eighty acres turned into gumbo with the merest sprinkle of rain. The State Fair is only two miles from Dallas' concrete canyons, but it represents the fun, unguarded side of Texas' most sophisticated, self-assured city.
WE WENT A BIT WILD last month, when we discussed the delights and drawbacks of adopting scaly, fangy, and otherwise feral pets directly from the arms of Mother Nature. Now let's rein in our beastly impulses and address a tamer subject: domesticated breeds and the pet peeves, pet names, and other petty matters relating thereto.
HIS NAME WAS COWBOY, AND he was big and hairy, with mean, dark eyes. He wasn't likable; he made people nervous, and they kept their distance. But something about him kept their attention too: his inhuman stillness, maybe, coupled with an unnerving sense of watchfulness. His only endearing quality was that he was decidedly bowlegged, which is how he got his name, as he wasn't really a cowboy at all. He was our pet tarantula.
THE NEWS THAT IMPERIAL SUGAR closed its Texas refinery in December would have turned my sweetheart of a grandmother into a real sourpuss. When I was growing up, Mimi gave me many bits of useful advice: "Bait your own hook," for example, and "Never roast marshmallows on oleander sticks—they're poisonous." But no nugget of her wisdom have I heeded more faithfully than her admonition to always use Imperial Pure Cane Sugar.