Published on: August 3, 2012
At my age, life-changing experiences don't come around all that often. When they do, they often involve a blonde, a motorcycle, a tattoo, body piercings, alcohol, sex, drugs and divorce.
Or, as my friend Jim Roxbury suggests, the prostate.
I got lucky. I had a life-changing experience, and none of that was involved. It just had to do with an apartment in a terrific city, (Portland) a chance to explore what I believe is the most beautiful part of this country (the Pacific Northwest), and a classroom full of young people who were eager to learn and, as it happened, willing to share what they knew and felt.
That is them in the top picture at right.
This was my first extended period of time in the classroom, thanks to the kind and generous Prof. Tom Gillpatrick of Portland State University, and I have to tell you that it was a blast, mostly because the students were so extraordinarily thoughtful.
The first thing I asked each of the students to do was to write a short essay on the subject of their most memorable meal. I have a bias, long on display here on MNB, that too many people in the food business think only in terms of category management, sales lift and profit margins, and don't think enough about food. So I wanted the students, to use a familiar phrase, to think different.
I have to tell you, I was blown away by the essays. They ranged from meals eaten in a four-star restaurant in Beirut to quieter, more intimate dinners shared at home with family and friends. In each case, the passion was clear.
None of the students will be insulted, I think, if I tell you about one of my favorites, written by a man who said that his most memorable meal consisted in part of rice and A-1 steak sauce consumed on Christmas Day; he was serving in Afghanistan, had just returned from patrol, and, he said, it was memorable because he was with his brothers, all of whom he would have died for, and each of whom would have died for him. Puts things in perspective, doesn't it?
(Full disclosure: I stole the idea for this essay from the novelist and journalist Bob Morris, who uses the same idea with his creative writing classes at Rollins College in Florida. My class was full of business majors, but it had the same impact - it got people to write with passion about a subject easy to feel strongly about. So thanks to Bob for that.)
Another short essay I asked them to write was themed to our book, "The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies." (No, I didn't require them to buy the book. I donated a couple of cases to the class.)
I asked them each to write a short "chapter" for a sequel, with the only caveat being that it had to be about a movie not covered by Michael and me in the original.
Once again, I was blown away by their creativity. The chapters were just great, with movies chosen that I never would have considered, but that made absolute sense once I read the essays.
Again, just one example: Weekend At Bernie's
, which the student said she chose because it illustrates the importance of have a great brand - one so strong that it survives even in death. Outstanding! (And again, apologies to the rest of the students, each of whom contributed great stuff.)
I'm done teaching for the summer, but I hope I'm not done for the rest of my life. I found college life to be energizing, and particularly the urban campus that helps to define Portland State University. There is just something gritty and real and stimulating about the place...
I won't go into too much detail about the rest of my trip; I did that a couple of weeks ago in this space, and if you're interested you can read it here
There are some pictures at right...of Crater Lake, of Mrs. Content Guy and me on a hike, of the spectacular Oregon coastline, and of Multnomah Falls.
It wasn't all pleasure, by the way. There also was some business mixed in. One of the advantages of going to a place like Oregon for an extended period of time is having the chance to visit stores that one ordinarily might not have a chance to see.
I had a chance to go to retailers like Zupan's, which focuses on specialty foods and has a new Lake Oswego store that would just blow you away.
And New Seasons Markets, which has a street-savvy vitality about healthy and local products that I found to be compelling and very, very smart.
At the other end of the spectrum, I saw a Grocery Outlet discount-driven format that I thought was really strong; like WinCo, which I also think is terrific, it manages to be about low prices without being a lowest common denominator retailer. All were impressive, and I would shop any and all of them if I lived there.
Finally, let me tell you about the bottom picture. It was taken at the vineyard of Carlton Cellars, which is owned by Dave Grooters and Robin Russell.
I briefly rhapsodized about their 2007 Roads End Pinot Noir in an "OffBeat" column a couple of years ago
. I had been given the wine by a friend, didn't know Dave and Robin, but apparently they became MNB readers. When they found out I was spending time in Oregon, they invited me to their winery and vineyard, and it proved to be a memorable way to end my visit.
(I started my stay with a trip to the fabulous Willlamette Valley Vineyards
...it was a good month.)
First of all, their Carlton Cellars
wines are just wonderful - each one is unique and delicious. I don't have a sophisticated enough palate to be able to give it to you in "wine-speak," but I can tell you that you can almost taste the hand-crafting that goes into each one. My favorites, other than the always exquisite Roads End Pinot Noir, would be the 2011Proposal Rock Yamhill-Carlton Sauvignon Blanc, and the 2011 Cannon Beach Willamette Valley Pinot Gris.
Dave and Robin don't have a ton of national distribution, so if you can't get one from your local wine merchant (or can't get them to sell in your store), check out their website
, and thank me later.
But here is the real story about the bottom picture. ..
That's me, obviously, on the deck overlooking the vineyard. We'd just eaten lunch, which consisted of their wines and the best BLT I've ever eaten. When I commented on the sandwich, and especially how good the bacon was, Dave said that it came from hogs being raised just down the road.
That's when I realized that it is true - food really does taste better when you are in touch with its source. I don't have an agricultural bone in my body - I have no desire to raise grapes or pigs or anything else - but there is something nourishing about being connected to where food and wine come from. It nourishes the body, the spirit and the soul.
I think you can see it in my face in the bottom picture. I'm happy, and well-nourished.
I'm in Oregon.
And so, thanks to all of you who made this a life-changing summer. I always swore that I would never live in the suburbs and I would never live where there is snow, and I have spent my entire adult life in a New England suburb.
If I may mix my cultural references for a moment, my Oregon summer taught me that I have found me a home. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon....
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.