So, How Was Your Day?
Black Coffee. Bowl of Raisin Bran.
Sausage Link. Pulled Pork. Texas Toast. Can of Pearl Light. Blue Jell-O Shot.
Salt & Pepper Shrimp. Peanut Chutney Chicken. Salad. Kombucha and Vinegar Cocktails. Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. Breakfast Tacos.
With alarm clock’s warning, I spring awake promptly at 5:30am and hit the showers. I pump some music through a tiny waterproof speaker. Currently, I’m engrossed in an obsessive study (verging on anthropological) of the music of mid-1970s Texas, and I’ve found a great many treasures in Mr. Guy Clark. Soap, my girlfriend will tell you, is incredibly important to me. Currently in rotation are a lavender bar soap from Dr. Bronner’s, the Milk bar from K. Hall Designs, made by a couple in my hometown of Saint Louis, and the aptly named Swedish Dream Sea Salt Soap (say that five times fast). Today is a travel day, and I’ve packed accordingly. This morning, my girlfriend beat me to the coffee machine, and as I’m shaving, she’s handed me a brimming cup of Big Bend Coffee Roasters’ Texas Wildfire. Coffeed, cerealed, I usually take thirty minutes to an hour each morning to write. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview the musician Josh Ritter, who explained that mornings are when everyone is the smartest. "You’re more willing to tackle the hard stuff. Nighttime is when the real good magical stuff happens," he told me. Today, I had a full hour with my writing, and I used it to write about donuts, not just any donuts, Somerville, Massachusetts’ Union Square Donuts, the sometimes harebrained, always heavenly creations of Ms. Heather Schmidt. Wrapping up a sentence on Heather’s chocolate chipotle long john, I grab my bags and head to the train. A short commute and a shorter flight later, I’m in Austin and on my way to making a cowboy hat at Texas Hatters, with the same kid whose grandfather made hats for presidents, kings, and cowboys.
Before heading to the hat shop, I pop into the pride of Lockhart, Texas, Smitty’s Market. Downing a link of sausage and pulled pork plate, I need something to cool me off. Striding through the swinging doors of Lilly’s Bar, I order up a can of Pearl Light and a blue Jell-O shot. A quick swig and slurp later, I’m standing amidst the finest ten gallon hats in all of Texas ––if not the world. It’s a hot day, and everyone in the Texas Hatters has shed their layers as sweat pours over the pelts and Panamas. My man Joel walks me through the process of shaping and fitting a custom cowboy hat, and after a few passes, I walk out of there with a pecan-colored cowboy hat, fit to be tied. And hungry again.
Working for a bourbon company has its perks. I meet up with Brian Dressel, manager of Midnight Cowboy, a not-so-secret speakeasy in Austin’s hip Sixth Street District. He suggests we meet for dinner at Sway, this cozy Thai place that’s newly opened. The place is abuzz with lively conversation and bright plates spinning with spicy food. We share a salt and pepper shrimp, a sweet and sour salad, and a peanut chutney chicken while drinking cocktails made with locally crafted kombucha and drinking vinegar. Afterwards, we settle in at his bar with a couple more conventional cocktails, and he explains the madness to his methods. Fortunate that my accommodations at the serene Heywood Hotel are within walking distance, I shut the bar down and head for a breakfast taco at one of Austin’s famous food trucks. It’s never too early. While traveling, before bed, I try to hang everything up in hopes that some of the wrinkles will come out, and I wash my face with a travel-sized bottle of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint liquid soap, hoping I can keep the wrinkles at bay myself. I quickly jot down notes on all that I did today, lasso as much of that magic of which Josh Ritter speaks, and hit the hay. Alone in a hotel room is the quietest place on earth. ESPN’s SportsCenter has taken top billing as my ambient noise. The sweet sounds of the play-by-play of Stan Verrett and Neil Everett coo me to sleep.
Three Last Things…
1. What’s up with the suit and tie? Is this how you typically travel?
While working as a traveling salesman, I had an experience that forever changed the way I fly. I was in Newark, all set to fly home after three weeks on the road. After I checked in for my flight, I learned it had been cancelled as Air Force One was landing at Newark within the hour. Bumped by the President. I was rebooked on a flight leaving 25 hours later, provided no overnight accommodations, and ten dollars in food vouchers. Owing to a number of extenuating circumstances, I literally did not have access to a single dollar. No cash. A maxed out credit card. And no money in my bank account. While I’m sure I could have stayed the night at the airport and stretched the food vouchers by munching on granola bars, I wished to avoid it if possible. I pleaded with the gate attendant, who directed me to a customer service desk in the terminal, which — you can imagine — was inundated with disgruntled passengers, as everyone’s flights were being re-booked. I did what most of us would do in this situation. I called my dad. His suggestion: leave the terminal. Go back to the ticket window and plead with them to get you on an earlier flight with another airline. “Oh, and Max,” he said, “look presentable.” Of course! I hadn’t been wearing a tie, and my sport coat was slung over my carry-on bag. Quickly, I went into the bathroom. Put on a tie that I’d shoved in my briefcase, buttoned my jacket, and left the terminal. As I approached the ticket window, the attendant asked with a smile, “May I help you, sir?” Again, I pleaded my case, but this time the response was much different. The airline attendant made a quick phone call to her friend at another airline, and I was set to leave within the hour. Ending each sentence with “sir,” she apologized and arranged for me to have a TSA employee escort me through security and to my gate. I beat Obama’s arrival into Newark by about an hour, and wrote a letter to the airline commending the ticketing agent, encouraging the airline to give her a raise. They did.
2. How did you manage to make trying on cowboy hats and then eating and drinking all day a career? Sounds like a pretty ball-tastic job.
That is definitely the first time anyone’s described my job as “ball-tastic.” I’ll take it. I’m not sure if it’s become my career yet. Get back to me in twenty years. This is a corny story, but it’s one that I often relay. A friend attended a talk given by Russell Simmons where he doled out the following advice: "Do the thing you love every day. Do it for free. Eventually, you will get paid to do it." It’s not the best story, partly because Russell was involved in many nefarious goings-on at the start of his career, but it does ring true at times. I’ve always had an interest in how a thing is made and, more importantly, in the kooky characters making it. Just as we’re all different, each maker goes about the manufacture of his or her product in a variety of ways. I enjoy sharing that which makes us the same in concert with that which makes us different. Luckily, Basil Hayden’s approached me to do that for them full-time. For the past year, I’ve made a job of my hobby, and I’m putting in the time now to ensure that I’ll be able to continue to do it for as long as people find my work entertaining and educational.
3. Ok, Mr. soap expert. You’ve been tapped to do a soap collaboration with any brand you choose. What’s the scent and who’s the brand?
3. Easy. I’d like to work with John Barley at Solemn Oath Brewery to make a sweet-smelling, bourbon-soaked soap for my shop Buckshot Sonny’s. I’d add peaches from Peter Klein at Seedling Farms, and a mixture of ground peach pits and Basil Hayden’s barrel staves for some grit. Call it The Catfish Bar. A catfish cocktail is basically just bourbon and peach schnapps.
Max is a writer living and working in Chicago, Illinois. In addition to his own website, All Plaidout, he heads up the blog for bourbon company Basil Hayden’s, co-hosts a forthcoming web series called Made Right Here, and runs an online store, Buckshot Sonny’s. photo credit: Carolina Mariana allplaidout.com basilhaydens.com maderighthere.tv buckshotsonnys.com
Thanks to Jess Murnane for this lengthy profile.