Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.

I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Son Of A Gun

Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we'll have good fun on the bayou
---"Jambalaya (On The Bayou)", by Hank Williams...

Joie de Vivre: (n) a delight in being alive; carefree enjoyment of living.

Marching orders for the day: Put yourself in a rental car and drive MANY hours. Upland. To a place you have never been. In broiling hot weather. If it is not storming. Sit in a conference room for ten hours a day. For four days. Awash in a mentally stultifying topic of conversation. You'll find yourself in Bayou Country. A Yankee boy wandering among Cajuns, left to his own devices.

Such was how I found myself resident for several days in Lafayette, Louisiana. I always wanted to explore Acadiana, but this area of the South is so far out of the way from places I usually go that I had no previous opportunity. Now, opportunity was abundant to say the least.

Driving in to Lafayette from the Interstate, it becomes immediately apparent that the area has seen better days. I pondered when those days may have been. The first few miles are even a little daunting for the solo traveller. All anxiety was dispelled upon my arrival at the Lafayette Hilton which is situated on the shores of Bayou Teche. Down stream from the Hilton a few miles is the site of the Bayou Teche Black Bear and Birding Festival. Which I am making a point to attend next year. In any event, the facade of the Lafayette Hilton is a welcoming one...

As is the lobby...
Off to the right, out of view in this picture of the lobby, is a set of wooden doors which conceal the hotel lounge. More of this in a moment. The first thing you notice when you enter the hotel is significant. Everyone who works there is genuinely happy to see you. Enthusiastic, even. About their hotel and about their town. They seem very happy to be able to share this enthusiasm with you. I found to my delight that this excitement permeates the Lafayette area.

But first, food. I did not come to Cajun Country to eat at the chain steak joint down the street. I came for outstanding Cajun [NOT, as is often explained, "New Orleans Creole"] food. I found it in abundance. Everywhere...

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo
'Cause tonight I'm gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou...

In diners. In white table cloth restaurants. In the hotel. In hot plate counters at gas stations. People in Cajun Country LOVE to eat. And they love to share their local cuisine with you. It is not at all unusual to ignite a friendly (although heated) debate between fellow gas station patrons about where the best crawfish etoufee could be consumed. And not at all unusual for the debate to conclude with invitations for the Yankee traveller to go along on an expedition to find out for himself. One day of the business meeting opened with the hostess bringing in huge trays of jambalaya, boudin (white, blood sausage) and some form of deeply vanilla and spice flavored doughnuts. Add a big mug of black chicory coffee from the Community company and you have a nice light breakfast to start any sort of morning. The wonderful lady providing this feast would not even let us pay our share. Another indication of the warmth of the people of the area.

To paraphrase the band Grand Funk Railroad..."This fine lady, she had a plan. She was out to feed the boys in the band...". To this end, she gave me directions to her favorite Cajun restaurant. In her home town of Henderson, Louisiana. A mere twenty minutes farther into the country. And, ultimately, worth every moment of the drive. The sign on the wall says "Robin's" but you call it "Ro-Ban's"...

They don't have a web site. I don't think they even advertise. But take my word. Get in a car right now and drive to Henderson, Louisiana for Chef Robin's food. You will find yourself trying to come up with schemes and stratagems to stay right there. In the dining room. For a LONG time.

I thought the place was closed when I pulled into the parking lot. The door was open. Lights were on. A very nice lady with a fantastic accent welcomed my intrepid companion and me, showed us a table with a crisp white butcher paper top, generally adopted us, and gave us a menu with so many fine sounding choices that it made us weak. Well, weaker. We were somewhat starving from the drive over from Lafayette at the end of the business day. The hostess/waitress/adoptive mother was the first clue this was an AUTHENTIC and fine establishment. The menu was the second. The third was the iced pilsner glass that came with my Budweiser. Imagine this covered in frozen crystals and full of beer...

Simple perfection. And the precursor to an outstanding meal. (Note to the reader: The following rendition of menu items is a composite of what was eaten by me and by my Intrepid Dining Companion. Should any of my medical team be reading this post, they need not worry.) Salad with either crawfish, shrimp or Andouille sausage on top. Or all three. Crawfish boulettes (sort of like hushpuppies with crawfish meat inside). Crawfish file gumbo. The meal was a series of one unbelievable dish after another, but the highlight was crawfish pie smothered with etoufee. Well, almost. The highlight of the meal was home-made Tabasco/vanilla ice cream. Even after the glories of everything we had tried up to that point, I eyed the menu entry of "Home made Tabasco ice cream" with suspicion as an obvious sop to wide eyed tourists. The one bite I had was enough to prove me wrong. It was ice cream of the highest caliber, deeply creamy and vanilla with the flavor of Tabasco laced into it in some mystical, up-Bayou manner that teased your senses until it BIT you just a little. Unbelievable. Amazing. I have no idea how many tries it took Chef Robin to perfect this recipe but he should be applauded for the effort. I have never tasted anything quite like it. The most amazing thing was that during our meal only two other people came in to eat. Of course it was a Tuesday. On Wednesday there were a few more dinner patrons. On Thursday, a few more. On Friday for lunch, only a few.

Even though I would have gladly eaten every meal at Robin's during this trip, I felt obliged (and convinced by one of the gas station dining advocates) to try another local legend for my last night's dinner. Prejean's. Prejean's has a web site. And a gift shop. And signs outside advertising dog kennels available for the convenience of diners presumably just in from hunting. Or who travel with kennelish dogs. Do not be put off by the gift shop or anything else. Prejean's was also a wonderful dining experience...

They have a great atmosphere. Very welcoming staff. Live Cajun music every night. Great prices. Prejean's is also a fabulous place. And they have a full bar from which you can see and hear the bands play. If you love Cajun food and music as I do, then you will love Prejean's. I decided on the only entree that made any sense under the circumstances. Stuffed alligator tail. I am not a tremendously bold diner. (Tripe? No thank you. I brought my own stomach lining, thanks. I don't need another one.) I was made brave, however, by my surroundings, by the wonderful music being produced by the combo on stage, and by just a wee dram of Jack Daniels'. The dish was delicious. The alligator tail was firm, yet tender, white meat and the simple, fresh corn served along with it was outstanding as well. Plus, I have to admit that eating something that would eat ME if it had the chance was sort of a rush. Or, that may have been Mr. Daniels' idea. I'll have to ask him. Anyhow, my dining experiences in Lafayette were singularly outstanding and left me looking forward to a return trip.

But, as return readers will attest, my travel experiences are not limited to the table, fork and knife. The glass also plays its important role. Thursday evening at the Lafayette Hilton lounge looks like this when the bar opens at about four in the afternoon...

Pretty average stuff. Nothing, other than the very friendly staff, to write home about. Until about 10:00 in the evening. When dance night begins.

Thibodeaux, Fontainbleau, the place is buzzin'

Kinfolk come to see Yvonne by the dozen

Dress in style, go hog wild, me oh my oh

Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou.

The Intrepid Dining Companion and I were relaxing having a nightcap and chatting with the waitress when she asked..."So...are y'all going to stay for dance night? It is REALLY something to see..."

How could we leave at that point? A few minutes later, the place filled with couples of every age. All dressed in nice clothes of different styles. Obviously out for a night on the town. Circa Lafayette Hilton. The disc jockey (who has a REAL name...Stan... not one like "Mixmeister S") began playing all sorts of (non-disco) dance music from swing to bayou Cajun. EVERYONE could dance. And dance well. Not the usual shuffling about you typically see. I asked if they were all in some sort of dancing club and the waitress (by then elevated to the title of "Exalted Bearer of Amber Beverages") assured us that they were just ordinary citizens out for a good time. It was a delight to watch. Couples in their teens. Couples in their eighties. Everything in between. Mixing. Mingling. Laughing. Drinking a bit. Dancing a LOT. The dance floor was full for every song. I was very thankful to be there. I did not think such a scene still existed, on this continent anyhow. I watched until the last couple left the floor. I would have paid for a ticket for the next Thursday night. It was that much fun. The E.B.O.A.B told me that people around there "just like to go out and dance and have fun". Indeed.

In his wonderful book "Time Was Soft There", Jeremy Mercer posits that certain towns tend to be populated with people who possess a diminished thirst for living while those whose passions and dreams run deeper rapidly depart for glamorous places like New York or Paris where they can find fulfillment. I immediately embraced this notion based upon places I had lived. And live. But in Lafayette, I learned that Mercer's theory is wrong, at least if universally applied. Here, in an out of the way place, seemingly economically depressed, with jobs lost or in peril for years, people speak of life as a festival, a fais do do (Cajun dance party), a feast, a concert. A celebration. And they live that way too. Here, in Lafayette, people drink deeply from the cup of life every day and they will share that cup at the drop of a hat. Even with a wandering Yankee. There is great food. A bit, or more, to drink. Friendly smiles. And, every Thursday night, the folks of Lafayette put their troubles on the shelf and they come out to dance.

Go to this place. Or find a place like it. Refill your cup. Soon.

Hank Williams. A man who knew how to dress. How to write a song. And how to point the way to very good times.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tequila Day

Many people have a Bad Liquor Experience. Of that subcategory of humanity, a surprising number have a story that centers on tequila. A very nice lady of my acquaintance had such a horrid experience with tequila that she will not mention either the experience OR the word "tequila". Ever.

Fortunately, I have no BLE. Well. One. After one longish weekend in New Orleans some years ago which featured a VERY long evening at Pat O'Briens, I will never have another Hurricane again. I will never even have red Hawaiian Punch again. Not ever. If there is ever the need to torture me to get important information, you can put away the needles, water boards and dental tools. Just waft a paper cup of red H.P. under my nose and I WILL TELL ALL I KNOW. You get the idea. But I digress. I am thankful that I have no such experience or story involving tequila.

I love tequila. This love may be due in large part to the fact that I began drinking it late in life, thus avoiding the seemingly common trap of consuming a gallon or so of "tequila" with a name like "Pit Bull Agave" purchased at a waterfront drive-through liquor window. I love Jose Cuervo. I love 1800. I love Cabo Wabo. I have not had any others and I really see no need to try them. But I would. Tequila makes you a little more dusty and tough than you were before. Like a character in Robert Rodriguez' Once Upon A Time in Mexico...

You have to drink tequila in the proper sort of place. For example, there is an old painted-cement-block joint called Tony's in Panama City, Florida that has great steaks and classic Mexican food. Served in a suitably dim series of little rooms connected to a great bar. If suitably provoked by some tedious business detail or monstrous courtroom defeat, one can sit in the semi-darkness at Tony's and restore yourself with outstanding carne asada. Accompanied by Cuervo doubles. At ten in the morning. Or so I hear. Nothing like it to redirect the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and turn them to an outbound course. If you need a jump start in the right direction, consider the classic anthem by The Ventures...

Today is National Tequila Day. What a day! Dedicated solely to tequila! Just the day to sit in a dark corner at Tony's with a small rocks glass in your hand containing amber liquid distilled from a cactus. Liquid that becomes a mystical elixir. After two or three. Then, as the shadows lengthen, a one-handed man who drove into town from Nevada in a 1976 white Cadillac Eldorado convertible will walk in. With a mysterious message just for you.

Such is the power and majesty of tequila. And of National Tequila Day. It is highly stimulative of the imagination and transforms every man and woman into a person of intrigue...as long as you do NOT let it provide you a Bad Liquor Experience. For that, I take no responsibility.

Addendum: I just learned that tomorrow is National SCOTCH day!! Will I recover from tequila day in time???

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


From the Epic Cookbook:
A Perfect M.Lane Vacation

Do not plan to do it until the day before you start it.
No travel.
Son out of school.

Sunny days.
Sultry nights.

Declare a blackberry free zone.
Stay up late.
Sleep late.


Wear linen.
Have chicken salad sandwiches and melon with a bottle of Tavel Rose. Outdoors.

No home projects. [Ok, minimal home projects.]

Visit a tourist attraction in your town you have never been to before.
Go to a coffee joint and just sit around.

Talk with your spouse about everything except family business.

Go to matinee movies.
Rent cool looking foreign films on DVD and actually watch them instead of leaving them lying about until the rental goons call demanding them back.

Wear that madras sportcoat with wrinkled khakis.
Drink dark rum and soda with lime.
Watch someone play jazz.


Mix. Repeat. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Open This

At home for a month. A travelling man gets out of sync. In a pleasant way. I adore life at home. But in recent years, being home a month is a rarity. And a delight. The problem is, sooner or later, you are going to have to go again. Some crisis someplace. Or a business meeting. Whatever. You go.

So, off I went last Thursday on my first road trip in thirty days. As much as I like to travel, and as much as I believe in finding fun in the moment, I can tell you I was feeling the pain. Leaving my wife and the Future Rock Star after settling into them again was like amputating my arm. Or both arms. Luckily, I was busy exploring new places and meeting great friends, old and new. But, still. That hint of an ache somewhere around the left upper chest.

I make a point to leave notes for my son and wife every time I go. You could call it mushy. Or melodramatic. I do not care. I do not think that you can say some things often enough. So the notes continue. Not as a troll for reciprocation. Yet...

Tonight I was in a very nice place. Having a very nice meal. A martini or two. My usual while on the road. I returned to my hotel room and settled myself on a balcony overlooking the Inter-coastal Waterway. One of my favorite places "away". I wanted to make a note about dinner for a future Epic entry. Clicked my Blackberry memo pad. Scrolled about.

"Open This" was the title of a singular memo. Not written by me, of that I was certain. Curious, I "opened" the memo...

Hi dad I hope you have a great trip I love you from [The Future Rock Star].

Well. Sometimes, one lovely gesture completely overwhelms you. Erases the loneliness. Fuels you to carry on. So start right now. Leave someone a little note. Maybe just your signature and a little heart. Or a funny stick drawing. Or a kiss mark in palest pink. Or a memo to your Dad. It doesn't matter. You will make the recipient feel as if they had just won the biggest lottery there ever was.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Coffee Nouveau

All males love gadgets. I do not know why. Perhaps as a continuing quest from primeval days (or at least from boyhood--if that's different) to find the newest sort of armaments. Even men that are not particularly gadget friendly such as your Epic love them. Gadgets that is, not armaments. Well, come to think of it, there ARE a FEW armaments... Anyhow, despite my adoration of our new Percolator, I recently came across a fantastic one cup coffee maker in a hotel room at the VERY swank Hilton Ft. Lauderdale Marina Hotel:

You operate this unit, a Keurig, by:

1. Pouring in a cup of water.

2. Putting a little sealed cup of coffee into the (suspiciously like a mini torpedo tube) receptacle at the top.

3. Closing down the lid ("tube 1 loaded and ready for firing, Captain").

4. Launching the brew by pushing one button that lights up to tell you it is the one to push.

5. Watching as the coffee is delivered into the mug you hopefully have remembered to put under the nozzle.

This machine is sort of silly but it is just a blast to use. And they sell all sorts of great coffee in the little sealed cups. My favorite in the hotel room was "Jet Fuel". Accurately described.

Although the Keurig will not supplant my new percolator for home use, it might be just the thing for my office. I can fire it off to punctuate some point or another during meetings!! Anyway, it should do until I find some better forms of armaments...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Coffee Classic

One of my very early memories is of my Mom making coffee in the morning in the kitchen. She always had this morning radio program on and they always played a song they called "the percolator song" which I think was a coffee company ad jingle. The instrumental part of the song was meant to imitate the bubbling sound that a coffee pot made. The song combined with my Mom's own percolator to create an auditory memory that is very strong. And very happy.

That percolator sound was lying dormant in my mind until the wonderful day last week that my wife brought home a percolator! I did not even know you could buy one new any more, but our friends at GE make the genuine item, shown above.

There are many benefits to making coffee with a percolator rather than my Germano-Techno coffee maker. The coffee tastes better. It doesn't come out scalding hot. Rather, the percolator coffee is a gentile temperature that allows immediate (and pain free) sipping. It is fun to prepare and brew coffee in the stainless steel basket. It looks cool. The best thing however is the sound. That percolater bubbling noise brings back some of my earliest good memories. And even though my Mom lives fifteen hours away now, we have coffee together every morning. Just like the old days.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mr. July

I moved to a subtropical environment when I was fifteen. During the month of July. In a trailer. Our first base camp was somewhere outside of Deland, Florida. I had never seen so much SAND passing for the ground. At least they had an alligator pond where we could watch the feeding every evening, which was pretty exciting. It cost more for a space abutting the pond. God only knows why. They should have paid us.

I would not, could not, leave the trailer during daylight. Mom was out West attending family business. "Dad for Pete's sake....we'll die down here.....lets go home to Wisconsin...". Prompting the somewhat scornful reply "Son, you have to get out IN it to get USED to it. Don't whine." I felt like I running a fever of 103. Because I was running a fever of 103. My little brother's measles from a month or so earlier coming home to roost. To his credit, my Dad did apologize for criticizing my manhood when I was near death.

Years pass. I start my first real job in 1983. After three years of glorious mountain air, I found myself back in the subtropics. A friend of mine is the fellow who is in charge of the physical plant at the office building where I work. One day some years ago, in June, I greeted him at the door...

ML: "Good morning! Man, do you think it could get any hotter"?
RV: "Yes, it is plenty hot. But it can always get hotter...and Mr. July, he ain't even in TOWN yet."

In the years since, I have come to love the Southern summer. But it took a long time. I should have known I had Epic tendencies if I, a Wisconsin boy, could find things to love in this sort of oppressive heat. The following is a list of some of the things that make this time of year so special to me:

1. Lawn sprinklers in action. At dawn or just at dusk.
2. The scent of newly cut summer grass.
3. The scent of salt water.
4. The early morning, when the impending scorch is only a whisper on the sunrise.
5. Evening, when the days are long and gloriously indolent.
6. Bourbon on ice, held while sitting in a wicker rocking chair in the shade.
7. Grill-outs with the other residents of my cul-de-sac.
8. Sun Dresses.
9. Driving out of town and buying corn, peaches, and Vidalia onions on the road side.
10. Returning home and eating corn, Vidalia onions and peaches bought on the road side.
11. Swim suits.
12. Coconut scented suntan lotion.
13. Bird calls as I step outside early in the morning with a cup of strong New Orleans coffee.
14. Having my son the Future Rock Star home from school and left to his nature boy devices while I have the privilege of watching from afar.
15. The particular, diffuse glow emitted from golf course driving range lights late at night.
16. Little paper cups of Pistachio ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.
17. Small town parades on the 4th of July.
18. Grocery stores that grill ribs and chicken and brisket out front that you can take home or eat right there off paper plates with plastic forks.
19. Miller Hi-Life in long neck bottles.
20. Rain storms that break out just when you are considering getting out of bed.
21. Sailboats on the water.
22. Seersucker suits.
23. Linen suits.
24. Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses.
25. Crickets singing at night as the Earth cools.

Last month, it was close to 100 degrees for two weeks in a row here. In June. And Mr. July, he wasn't even in town yet. Now he has taken up residence. With gusto. Trust me, it took a lot for me to acclimate to this sort of weather. But the discovery of so many gifts taught me that even in apparently inhospitable situations there is so very much to enjoy. Every sultry, sweating, unbearable, humid, Epic summer day.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Pamplona 2009

The Fiesta de San Fermin. The Running of the Bulls. 1 day, 18 hours, 42 minutes, 48 seconds away. Still time to fly there and don the sacred red and white. Or, you can lay in a bottle or two of Fundador Brandy...

like Papa and his friends and watch The Running every day on line. You won't see me in the broadcasts. This year.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My Kind Of Town

I have a long and wonderful love affair with Chicago. My first trip to a big city. My first airplane ride. My first great meal. My first major league baseball game. My first....well, you get the idea. I have never had a bad time there. My most recent trip was no exception.

I am a habitue of the Drake and the Knickerbocker hotels. And I like them both, a lot. I've enjoyed the Conrad Hilton and the Palmer House. Even the House of Blues Hotel. But the one thing missing from my Chicago experience has been a hotel that I can really call home. One that I look forward to seeing again on my next trip. I solved that puzzle this time. By returning to a place I had never been. That I had only read about. The fabled Ambassador East Hotel...

Home of movie stars. Jazz folk. Frank. This hotel has everything I love. A lovely, tree lined street just right for leisurely strolling in this most walkable city. Just a couple of short blocks from the original Mortons, Gibsons, Rosebud, the Chicago location of P.J. Clarke's and a very cute little French place, Bistrot Zinc. A more ambitious but worthwhile walk to my favorite Italian place in town, Volare and to one of my favorite hangouts Harry Caray's. Just a perfect location. The Ambassador has very courteous staff who welcome you as an old friend. Even on your first visit. A lobby that makes you feel like a railroad baron. Nice, comfortable rooms. And, of course, a bar. Not just any bar. One of the great bars of all time. The Pump Room...

The photo says it all. Just look at the place. There have been more deals signed, rendezvous accomplished, lyrics revised, looks exchanged, room keys pressed into palms in this room than you can imagine. The vibe is perfect. As are the ghosts. These two were captured on film in the Pump Room...

I had to take her photo when she looked at me that way. I am just thankful he was distracted and didn't notice.

Did I mention that the Pump Room is also a very good restaurant? Right now it is only open for breakfast and lunch but the food is superb. Take a glance around the dining portion of the room which is lower than the level of the bar...

Fresh flowers. Check. Heavy silver. Check. Chandeliers. Check. Comfortable chairs and starched table cloths. Check and check. And banquettes. I am of the firm opinion that no great restaurant can exist without banquettes. At least not a restaurant I will call great. How would you like to snuggle into one of those cafe au lait banquettes and plan the rest of your weekend getaway over a bottle of champagne and a little dessert? The group below was no doubt having an Epic time at the Pump Room some years ago, but I am not sure if I would order whatever it is the waiter has just poured in the host's lap...

The last night of my trip, I was at the Pump Room bar just before midnight. Sipping a very good martini. The place had been hopping an hour or so before, but now was in that lovely eventide that settles into a good bar just before the Wee Small Hours are soon to begin. A duo of distinguished looking men walked in and sat down across the bar. Very nice suits and ties. Tie bars. Shirts with double cuffs and links, of course. Well turned out men. The bartender put certain drinks in front of these gents without even a word from them. To dress like that AND to be a regular at a place like the Pump Room...now there is a goal to which one can aspire. I was lost in a reverie but glanced up to notice that one of the men was Tony Bennett. Or a man that looked just like him. I mean a dead RINGER. If it was not him. In any event, it didn't matter. A core Epic principle is to seek out the magic that presents itself to us every day. Whether or not the fellow was Mr. Bennett became irrelevant. The fact that he was there, whoever he was, made the evening perfect.

Chicago was, is, always will be, my kind of town. I could not have been more pleased with my stay at the Ambassador East and I look forward very much to my return. Any time you want to go, let me know. You know where to reach me. Here with Mr. Bennett at the corner of the bar...

Chicago, Chicago Ill show you around , I love it
Bet your bottom dollar you'll lose the blues in Chicago
The town that Billy Sunday could not shut down...