It was lunchtime on a sunny summer Friday and I prowled the Dallas suburbs looking for the Next Big Deal. It sounds sexy to be out shopping for a thirty million dollar asset, but the reality is that it’s not much different than shopping for a used raincoat on Craigslist: What color? What size? How old? How much? Any leaks?
The blistering heat was enough to make ramen out of the half bottle of simmering Aquafina in the driver-side cupholder. The midday traffic was thick, but merry. Foreign-made sedans whisked sunburned men toward the clubhouses for Friday afternoon rounds. The Starbucks drivethru was packed with SUVs. Roving packs of project teams skipped across the scalding asphalt of the cantina parking lots, seeking restoration in margaritas and guacamole. Everyone in Dallas was indulging in a Friday afternoon break.
But not me. I was headed toward a meeting across town.
Back home, in country vernacular, “across town” means left on Main Street, past the post office, down the hill, then back up, right past the bridge, third driveway on the left past Crazy Eddie’s place, big John Deere mailbox, can’t miss it. But in Dallas “across town” meant at least forty-five minutes of blood boiling gridlock, twenty-six stoplights, a 40% chance of getting honked at, and at least an 8% chance of getting flipped the bird.
I did have one minor comfort. My maroon Taurus loaner was equipped with Sirius Radio Channel 56, Willie’s Roadhouse. It’s a classic country channel, which means it’s a highly-depressing country channel. After a day of those songs sloshing around in my head I often need to give Alison a call just to check on things. You get to thinking you’ve lost your truck, farm, wife, and kids, and that your dog just died. But the David-Allen-Coe-level problems do put the hideous traffic in perspective.
As Charley Pride gave way to Patsy Cline I caught a sight so oddly familiar, so strangely comforting, that I nearly caused a ten car pileup as I jammed the brakes, squealed the tires, and hustled a corner twenty miles an hour too fast for the Taurus.
I parked in the lot of an office complex. Seven stories, half in beige stucco, the other half in glass. A quarter million square feet, no more than ten years old. What they call “Class A” space. For $25 per square foot rents you get the whole shebang: structured parking, food service, daycare, exercise facility, and concierge service. A self-contained oasis in a vast desert of hot metallic congestion.
A trio of smokers on break huddled in the still sweltering shade of a crape myrtle. To their right a monument sign with several blank placards listed the roster of tenants. Standard American Suburban Lineup: a mortgage broker, a title company, and a healthcare IT firm, which, at least based on all the forms I keep filling out at the doctor’s office, must be some sort of oxymoron.
To any casual observer I could have been from any one of those outfits as I rose from the car. Dark woolen slacks, Cole Haan loafers, freshly-pressed Brooks Brothers shirt, and navy blue sportcoat. But, thank goodness, I wasn’t there for any meeting.
I was there for something entirely different. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And what was likely an eyesore for an overanxious developer was a little slice of manna for the Vice President of Farming.
For, right smack dab in the middle of an office park, lay the world’s most implausible hayfield.
I walked out to get a closer look at the bales.
My loafers waded through low, green-brown grass and patches of mostly unidentifiable weeds. While I could make out bermudagrass and milkweed, I saw none of the familiar northern species of grasses; no brome, fescue, or timothy. This was definitely hay, but exactly what kind was largely a mystery. It reminded me of the time Alison and I went dining in Prague. On the menu we could make out Coca Cola, rib-eye, and portobello. But the bulk of the dishes were things like tradiční kulajda, křupavá kachnička, and vepřový bůček. It was definitely food, but exactly what kind was largely a mystery.
As I approached the first bale I dropped quickly and gracefully to my knees, like Johnny Bench blocking a wild pitch. I buried my face in the hay and took a big whiff.
They were big rounds, wrapped in pink poly twine. Exceptionally course and yellowed and aged in the punishing heat and driving rains of the endless Texas summer. The odor was mildly sweet with a twingy acidic aftersmell of rot and fermentation. This was not great hay, or even good hay. If it had been of any discernible quality it would have likely been scooped up by now and carted off to a distant cattle ranch. Instead roughly fifty bales just sat in the field, some listing noticeably, like some decaying monument to a past civilization. I guessed the hay had been out at least three months, maybe more. It might have been first cutting. Though it is a longer hay season down in Texas, I don’t imagine yield is necessarily maximized in the office parks.
I stood to take a better look around, and dreamed about how I might cut the ten-acre rectangular field with my own equipment. First a few laps counterclockwise, then once I had it opened up, back around clockwise. I’d be wearing the trusty blue Patagonia shorts and, with any luck, a size-7 7/8 cowboy hat. My senses were heightened, and it was only through clever squinting that I was able to edit out the rows of distant office buildings, chain hotels, and highway overpasses. It was only through sheer determination that I was able to block out the steady hiss of the midday traffic and the relentless stress of my corporate gig.
For some it’s a quick smoke or a three margarita lunch. For others it’s a trip to Starbucks or eighteen holes.
But, as I walked back through the field to the car, rolling a thick stem of a yet-unidentified species of hay through my fingers and my head swelling with an intense, natural high, I realized something.
That, now that I’ve become a farmer, my drug of choice is definitely grass.