Advice to a Son About to be a Father

My oldest son Tyler and his wife Shana are expecting their first child later this month.  He will also be our first grandchild.  I have been trying to think what advice I would give to my son, as a first time father.  Well, here it is.  May not be much but it comes from the heart:

Tyler,

I know you are waiting in happy anticipation on the birth of your firstborn son, Silas. I am proud of you for so many reasons and now for the fact that you, my firstborn, are about to be a father yourself. I have no doubt that you will make a wonderful Daddy. I remember before you were born, being so proud and excited I could hardly stand it. But, I was also a little nervous. I had never been a father before and I knew there were a lot of things I didn’t know. I suspect you are in the same place right now. The ironic thing about our culture is that you have to pass classes and get a license of permit to drive a car, practice medicine, give massages or do hair, but you don’t have to do any of that to be a parent. So, I figured I would share with you some fatherly wisdom about how your life is about to change.

When your Mom and I found out we were expecting you, once the initial giddiness and excitement wore off, I began to wonder “what have I gotten myself into”. One day I asked your PawPaw “what do I do now.” His answer was “you be a Daddy.. from now on.” Truer words were never spoken. Over time, I think I figured it out pretty well. You and your brothers seemed to turn out okay, for the most part, with no permanent damage.

The first thing about being a father is that, from now on, your job will be to make sure there is enough. Enough of what you might ask? EVERYTHING! Money, food, clothes, medicine, shoes, electricity, books, games and the like. And love. Most of all love. Remember, parenting is a partnership and your wife will do most of the heavy lifting. But part of being a father is providing a home and environment where a child can grow up knowing they are loved and where they learn how to love in return. That doesn’t always mean the best or most expensive of everything, but it does mean a home where love is the rule rather than the exception.

One of the ways to do that is to remember the second rule of being a father. What children need most is for their father to love their mother and show it everyday. You and Shana are a great couple and we love you both. But, and many people miss this, you will not become a family when a child is born. You became a family the day the two of you said “I do”. Children are added to that family circle and the circle gets bigger. But never forget that the primary relationship in your family dynamic is between the two of you. Respect that. Cultivate that. After parenthood comes along, it is easy to get busy with the day in, day out responsibilities. But don’t neglect to work on your marriage every day. Make time for yourselves. Still take her out on dates. Leave the kids with grandparents once in a while and spend a weekend out of town. I remember when I was a child growing up. No matter what happened, I always felt secure knowing that my Momma and Daddy would always be there. I knew they would because I saw everyday how loved and cherished each other. And that was worth more than all the tea in China. And never forget that his first lesson on how to respect women will be how he sees you treat him mother.

Another thing to remember is that once Silas is born, the clock is ticking. You will have about 18 good years before he’s out of the house and on his own. The amount of time you have to spend with him while he is growing up is finite. Once it is gone, you can’t get it back. Make time to spend with him. Have fun. Laugh out loud. Teach him. Mentor him. The greatest joy of my life was being around while you and your brothers were growing up, seeing each of you discover life and figure out who you were. You might remember that the year you graduated from high school, I was pretty anxious and downright depressed. That was because I had truly enjoyed being a father raising three boys and it hit me hard that those days were rapidly coming to an end. Spend your time wisely and savor each moment. It will be worth it in the long run.

Sometimes being a father is hard. Especially when you have to set and enforce rules. But discipline is part of the deal and mostly your responsibility. Having limits and rules is important, not just to shape behavior, but to make a child feel safe and secure. Children like having boundaries. And once in a while, they will push against those boundaries just to make sure they are still there and that everything is still good with their world. Remember that when it happens. Never discipline when you are angry, but do not neglect it when need be. There are times when you have to put your foot down and toe the line. It will probably break his heart and I guarantee it will break yours, but do your duty.

God gave a child two parents so they could learn something from each of them. As a father of sons, your task is to make sure he grows up knowing what it means to be a man. That may not be politically correct, but it’s true. From you, he needs to learn certain truths. Be courteous to strangers. Be loyal to your friends. Help those you can. Don’t give anyone a reason to not trust you. Don’t look for trouble, but when it finds you, don’t run away. Stand up for what you believe, even when it is not easy. Look our for the weak and those who can’t look out for themselves. Take care of those who are dependent on you. When it is time to work, work hard and when it is time to play, play hard. And don’t get the two confused. Think for yourself. Question everything. Dream big. And most importantly, be true to yourself. As my Daddy used to tell me, you can fool and avoid a lot of people, but you have to be able to look the guy in the mirror in the eye every morning.

Being the father (or mother for that matter) of boys is not for the faint of heart. No matter what you do, boys think that burps, fart sounds and peeing in the yard is great fun. There will be many penis incidents. Just go with it. They are afraid of nothing, at least the first time. Every stick or piece of wood over 6 inches long will immediately become a sword or spear. Sometimes they think they can fly. Make sure he spends some time outdoors where there are no personal electronics or electrical outlets. Let him play in the mud and eat dirt once in awhile. Teach him how to build a fire and cook meat. Make sure he eats his grains and vegetables, but every now and then, let him have cake for breakfast. Life is too short not to.

Make sure he knows who he is. He is a Harrison, a Cotton, an Underwood, a Mack, a Summers, a Herrington, a Tyler  and a San Nicholas. Make sure he knows he has roots in Louisiana and on the island of Guam. Most of all make sure he knows, no matter how old he is or where life may take him, wherever Mom and Dad are will always be home.

It is hard, but don’t be afraid to let him fail sometimes. That is part of learning. As your Nana says, “a lesson bought is worth more than a lesson taught”.Teach him that it is not how many times you get knocked down that is the measure of a man, but how many times you get back up. On the road of life, fight the temptation to prepare the path for the child. Instead, prepare the child for the path.

There are other things I could tell you, but you will figure most of them out by yourself. But remember the advice from Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The road can be hard, but it will be more than worth it. As it says in Psalms, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! Fatherhood is the most rewarding job you will ever have. I know, because you are the child of my youth and I know what that meant to me. I love you.

Dad

I am Deplorable, But Let Me Explain This

I am not the kind of guy who likes to say “I told you so”, but this morning I just have to say I told you so to a very large group of people. But first, I would like to recap an election that shocked the powers that be and gave hope to America.

A fringe candidate that nobody really gave a chance, and a lot of people considered a joke, announced that he was running for President of the United States. Not many people, especially the elite in his own party, thought he had much of a chance. As the campaign got going, people talked, oh did they talk, about all the things that were “wrong” with this guy and why it was “impossible” for him to be elected President. He was a joke, he had no national government experience, no foreign policy experience and did have “the right stuff” to serve as the chief executive. He had a reputation as a womanizer. He was divorced and remarried. He had children by more than one woman. In fact, it was pretty widely known that he had divorced his previous wife so he could marry his current wife. His claim to fame was he used to be big in the entertainment industry. He was dangerous and had strange ideas. He was divisive. He was going to drag us into war. He was a loose cannon who could not be trusted with the nuclear codes. He appealed to the far right wing nut jobs types. He was anti-gay and anti-woman. And he was not a “true believer” because he used to be a Democrat.

But as the campaign unfolded, they were stunned. For some reason, he appealed to voters in middle America, who felt ignored and disenfranchised. He spoke from the heart and said what he believed, even though that was not what they thought was the safe political position. And voters responded. Voters in the ‘fly over states’, voters in rural America. He connected with voters. Voters who were tired of the failed policies and actions of the current administration, led by the opposite party. Voters who had had enough. Voters who were tired of a government who thought people were made to serve the government, not government to serve the people. Voters who actually believed that America’s best days were not behind them. And on election night, the political movers and shakers, the media and the political pundits were shocked that this guy was actually elected President of the United States.

In case you are wondering, that guy was not Donald Trump in 2016. That guy was Ronald Reagan and the year was 1980. Kinda funny isn’t. Okay, I am not necessarily comparing Trump to Reagan, but there is a reason. But more on that in a minute.

Since the day that Donald Trump announced that he was running for President almost 2 years ago, the political powers that be and the political apparatus that has been insulated in the Beltway and thought they run this country, thought he was a joke. And that does not just include the Democrats, by the way. It also included the top ranks of the Republican Party and the Republican elite, who saw themselves as head and shoulders above The Donald. He was dangerous. He was unelectable. For God’s sake he used to be on television! They could not imagine an America where voters would be willing to vote for Trump. And then something strange happened. The more Trump talked, the more people responded. They did not understand it, and they asked “why”?

For one thing, when Trump spoke, he said what he thought. If you liked what he had to say, fine. If you don’t, feel free to vote for the other guy, but this is what I think. That was a big breath of fresh air to Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, who were being strangled by the evil devil that we call “political correctness”. Like him or not, Trump was a straight shooter and people responded to that. He did not care about political correctness. And, he was the one person that could not be bullied, vilified or intimidated into falling in line with the PC party line. And people responded to that. He was willing to talk about issues, like illegal immigration, that both parties treated either as a non-issue or the deadly third rail of American politics. And people responded to that. They might not agree with all of his ideas about what to do about, but the majority of Americans were smart enough to know that you can’t deal with the elephant in the room if you are not even willing to talk about it. They were also smart enough not trust the others, who were essentially telling them “nothing to see here people. Just move along, everything is fine.”

As the primaries played out, he won state after state after state. Voters responded to his message of “we can make America great again”, and soundly rejected the message of his opponents that “things are just fine. Vote for me.” Interestingly enough, at the first GOP debate, the question was asked of all the candidates if any of them would rule out a third party run if they did not get the nomination. In other words, which of you is not willing to do the Republican thing and support the ultimate nominee. Only Trump raised his hand and the rest of the Republican went apoplectic. How dare he say that! How dare he not agree to toe the party line and try to get those damned Democrats out of the White House? Shame! Interestingly enough, when it came down to it, almost all of those other Republicans on that stage reneged on the promise. They either openly opposed Trump, like Jeb Bush did, or they stood silent, like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasik. I, for one, will make sure people don’t forget about that if any of these guys try to run again.

Even after Trump clinched the nomination, the GOP machine and its long time heavy players made noises about replacing Trump as the party’s nominee. They would rather abandon the wishes of the majority of their own party members, than risk running someone they saw as an ‘outsider’. Shame!

And I don’t have to tell you what happened in the general election. Mayhem may not be a strong enough word. Everybody that was somebody lined up against Trump. Democrats, disgruntled GOP candidates, former Republican presidents, political analysts and pundits and the mainstream media. Even poor little old me was not safe from the venom spit out at people who even considered voting for Trump. I was accused of selling out. I was called a “deplorable”, a misogynist, a bigot and an uneducated redneck and someone who blindly clings to my guns and my religion because I don’t know any better. I was accused of being part of a “vast right wing conspiracy” and a supporter of the dangerous right wing anti-government hate groups, because I believe in the Constitution and that the Second Amendment means what it says. I was cast as a racist, simply because I believe in the radical idea that we must enforce our existing immigration laws and secure the border before we can address the illegal immigration issue. But enough about all that.

For what it is worth, I voted for Donald Trump, but I don’t particularly like him. Personally, he is not the kind of guy I’d like to hang out with and have a beer. And, quite frankly, if he said about one of my sisters or one of my nieces what he has said about some other women, I would have immediately slapped the hell out of him and invited him outside to finish the discussion. But I also don’t think it is the end of the world as we know it to elect a guy who offers some fresh ideas and strikes a cord with the majority of the American people about some issues that are particularly important to me. And, I would not have voted for Hillary Clinton, no matter who was running against her, so there is that. Which, brings me to my main point.

So, it seems that the people that I have been referring to so far as “they”, which includes Hillary, Obama, the Democratic Party machine, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John McCain, the Republican party elite, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the beltway crowd, I’d say this. You are waking up this morning shaking your head and wondering ‘what the hell happened’. You can’t process that the majority of Americans voted for The Donald. But here is what happened, and I know you probably won’t understand this, but please try. The reason Trump resonated with people across America, a majority of those willing to show up and vote is simply this. They perceive him as not being one of YOU! The professional political crowd, who believes you can not only tell us what you think, but can tell us what we should think. They voted for Trump because not necessarily because he is one of us, but because the believe he is not one of “them”.

Which brings us back to my Reagan analogy. Do I equate the Trump Train as being on the same level as the Reagan Revolution. No, at least not yet. We will have to wait and see what happens. But I think the same thing is at play here as it was 36 years ago. The American people are willing to embrace someone, warts and all, who believes in America and speaks to us from the heart and who tells us what they believe, not what they think we want to hear. They are tired of two major parties who are more interested in getting re-elected and staying in power than they are about actually doing things to help the majority of hard working Americans. To the Democrats, as well as the Republican elite, the message is clear. Just like Peter Finch’s character Howard Bealle in the movie “Network”, the majority of Americans just opened the window and screamed as loud as the could “ “I’m as mad as HELL and I’m not going to take this anymore!” And, to those Republicans that saw themselves and too good or above supporting The Donald, the message is also what my grandfather used to say, “That little white part on the top of chicken****, is still just chicken****.”

How to vote on those *&$#@ Amendment-2016

It is election time again and, once again, Louisiana voters are being asked to approve 5 more constitutional amendments. Even for me, as a practicing attorney, understanding these proposed amendments can be daunting. So, once again, I will try to make sense out of it and offer some guidance to those who are interested. I do this as a public service, so there is no charge. However, it’s sort of like church. No charge, but all donations gladly accepted. LOL

First, let me reiterate a few things. The current Louisiana Constitution, approved in 1974, is a good one. One of the reasons we had to redo it in the first place was the fact that the 1921 Constitution had been amended so many times it was a mess. We are on the verge of having the same problem. Every election cycle, there are always 5-10 proposed amendments. In my humble opinion, the proposed amendments have more to do with someone convincing their pet project needs to be enshrined in the constitution, and less to do with really needing to amend the original document. Having said that, and in the interest of full disclosure, my default position on these amendments is “No”, unless someone can convince me it is a good idea. With all that in mind, here goes.

AMENDMENT NO. 1: This amendment would establish new requirements for the local Registrar of Voters position in each parish. Under current law, the Registrar is appointed by the local governing body, either the parish council or police jury. The only requirements for appointment is that the potential registrar must be legal resident and registered voter in his/her respective parish. Many times, when a current registrar retires or dies, the parish governing body has 30 days to fill the vacancy, which becomes a permanent appointment. Many people feel that the current law gives and unfair advantage to current employees of the Registrar of Voters office and does not require any educational or professional experience.

The proposed amendment does two things. First, it would establish educational or professional experience requirements for a potential registrar candidate, including: (1) a bachelors degree from an accredited college AND two years of professional work experience; or an associates degree from an accredited college AND four years of professional work experience; or (3) seven years professional work experience; or (4) five years full time employment with a Louisiana Registrars office.

It would also require the parish governing body to properly advertise the office vacancy, interview all qualified candidates and follow all existing procedures for filling a vacancy.

A vote FOR would impose the educational/work requirement and would require the parish to advertise the vacancy and interview all qualified candidates before making the permanent appointment. A vote AGAINST would leave things like they are.

My take: FOR

AMENDMENT NO. 2: This amendment would provide that the governing boards of state colleges and universities can set tuition and fees without approval by the legislature. Currently, the boards which manage colleges and universities in Louisiana can vote to increase fees and tuition. However, those changes do not go into effect unless and until they are approved by the Legislature. Louisiana is one of only two states that require legislative approval of tuition increases recommended by its higher education board. Louisiana requires a 2/3 vote to increase tuition. In addition, the Legislature has cut funding for state supported colleges to the bone in recent years. This is due in part to the fact that higher education is one of only a few budget items that are not constitutionally dedicated.

On one hand, approving this amendment would allow the respective raise needed revenue and meet the respective needs of their students. They would also have to remain competitive in the market. It would allow the colleges to match revenue to respond to increasing costs. On the other hand, opponents argue that the legislature has approved numerous tuition increases since 2007 and likely would do so again if necessary. They argue that it is the ultimate responsibility of the legislature to ensure that all qualified Louisiana students have access to affordable higher education.

A vote FOR would give the respective higher education governing boards the ability to increase tuition and fees, without legislative approval. A vote AGAINST preserve the status quo and still require legislative approval for such increases.

My take: FOR

AMENDMENT NO. 3: This amendment would change the way Louisiana taxes a corporation’s income taxes. It would eliminate the federal income tax deduction for corporations on their state income tax returns and set a flat rate of 6.5% on corporate income. Currently, a corporation paying state income tax in Louisiana can deduct the amount of tax paid in its federal income tax return. Corporations also pay a tax rate between 4% and 8 %, based on the amount of taxable income.

This amendment would eliminate the federal income tax deduction for corporations. It WOULD NOT change the law that allows individuals to deduct such taxes from their personal returns. The amendment is proposed as a compromise for businesses and an attempt to stabilize
state tax revenues. Corporations would lose the federal income tax deduction, but their income would be subject to a flat 6.5% tax. Those in favor of the amendment argue that the reform will broaden the corporate tax revenue, by eliminating the deductions, while lowering actual tax rates. The amendment would also distance our state tax system from the federal system. The legislature has no control over the federal taxes paid by a corporation and changes made by Congress could adversely affect state tax revenues. Those opposed argue that no one really knows for sure how this amendment will effect corporate tax revenue. They further argue that if such a proposal is to be considered at all, it should be part of a comprehensive reform of the state income tax system, including personal income tax and sales tax.

My Take:       Against
AMENDMENT NO. 4: This amendment would give the surviving spouse of active duty military personnel, firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty a 100% property tax exemption on their home. Currently, homestead exemption provides an exemption for the first $75,000 of assessed value for property tax purposes. Current law also allows the surviving spouse of a service member who died while suffering a service connected disability to an exemption of $150,000.

Those in favor of the amendment argue that granting the exemption, which means the surviving spouse would pay no local property taxes, is a good gesture toward the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The exemption would help the surviving family financially, while the impact on local taxes would be very small. Those opposed to the amendment agree that the overall effect on tax revenue would be small, but point out that it is part of a larger and growing group of special tax exemption proposals, which taken together will have a negative effect on tax revenue. They also point out that rather than providing these types of exemptions on a piecemeal basis, we would be better served to look at a comprehensive reform of property tax law.

My take: My hear says FOR, but my head says AGAINST

AMENDMENT NO 5:This amendment would create a Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund,
which would receive a portion of corporate taxes and mineral taxes and dedicate the funds to infrastructure and paying state pension liabilities. The state already has a Budge Stabilization Trust Fund, often referred to as the ‘rainy day’ fund. The amendment would provide for an additional fund, using specific funds from corporate taxes and mineral revenues, to be available fund infrastructure projects and pension liabilities when tax revenues fall short of anticipated receipts.

Those in favor of the trust fund point out that part of Louisiana’s annual budget problem is the fact that the Legislature routinely spends every dollar of available revenue each year. This amendment would require the legislature to save some monies from corporate taxes and mineral revenue each year. Using such monies for infrastructure projects and paying down the state’s unfunded pension liability would also free up funds that would otherwise have to be paid from the state’s general fund. In other words, we could pay these liabilities out of savings, rather than recurring income, thereby having more money in the general fund for other purposes.

Those opposed to the trust fund argue that this proposal would further tie the hands of the Legislature to make financial decisions, by creating another stream of dedicated revenue. It removes the discretion of the Legislature over what are currently state general revenues. They also argue that the proposal goes too far. Increasing state savings could be accomplished by reworking the existing Budget Stabilization Trust Fund. They also argue that the proposed fund is not actually protected, since it can be raided in an ‘emergency’ by a 2/3 vote of the Legislature. Faced with the possibility of cutting popular programs, increasing taxes or raiding a dedicated trust fund, taking money out of the dedicated account provides the path of least resistance.

My Take: Against
You can read more about the amendments here:

https://natchitochesparishjournal.com/2016/10/19/par-guide-to-the-2016-constitutional-amendments-very-important-information/

A Kentucky Adventure

If you read my last blog, you know about my trip through the Mississippi Delta to Memphis and then on to the home of Country Music, Nashville, Tennessee. After checking out the honky tonk scene on Lower Broadway Wednesday night, I hit the road Thursday for Indianapolis, by way of Louisville, Kentucky.

As I said last week, due to circumstances I was traveling by myself, which presented me with the opportunity to take my time and engage in some ‘touristy’ type stuff. One of the things I have wanted to do for a long time is take the time to travel the Kentucy Bourbon Trail. Kentucky is known around the world for two things: thoroughbred horse racing and bourbon. Bourbon is known as “America’s native sprit”. The Scots have Scotch whiskey, the Iris have Irish Whiskey, the British have gin and the Russians have vodka. Bourbon is the only alcoholic beverage that is a distinct product of the U.S.A. And 95% of the world’s bourbon is fermented, distilled, aged and bottled in the State of Kentucky.

The Bourbon Trail is in the north central part of the state, between Bardstown, Lebanon and Lexington. It consists of seven major and seven craft distilleries. Each one offers tours of its facilities. When I stopped at the Kentucky Welcome Center, I picked up a map of The Trail and gave it a look. Since I was headed up I-65 toward Louisville, and my schedule was loose but was still, nonetheless, a schedule, it looked like by best shot was around Clermont. So, off I went.

There is both quiet a bit of science and art necessary to make bourbon. But what makes bourbon bourbon? Actually there is a legal definition for those that are interested. Bourbon is a type of whiskey distilled from grain mash. To be considered bourbon, the mash must be between 51%-80% corn. Most distillers use a mash bill around 70% corn. Once the whiskey has been distilled, nothing but water can be added, preventing the use of anything that can enhance flavor, add sweetness or alter color. Also to be considered bourbon, the distilled whiskey must be aged in new charred white oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Most premium bourbons are aged between 5-12 years. Bourbon is bottled between 80-125 proof. Only water can be added to ‘proof down’ the product, which is usually aged at 140-180 proof. Sounds simple huh?

I got off the interstate at Clermont, headed to Four Roses. Four Roses is a small distillery. It is about four miles off the interstate. On the way, I passed the big cat daddy of them all, Jim Beam. More on that later. I go to Four Roses to find that the tour I had chosen was of their warehouse and bottling facility. The actual distillery is located about 20 miles away in Lawrenceburg. I made it in time for the 2:00 o’clock tour, paid my 5 bucks and off we went. The first thing you notice there is a much of small, squat squarish building. Turns out those of the ‘rick’ houses where the bourbon is aged. At Four Roses, that aging takes at least 5 years.

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If you want some more background, you can find it here Four Roses

After quick drive around the property, the first stop was the barreling house. Four Roses receives two tanker truck loads of clear, distilled liquor from Lawrenceburg each day. It is offloaded into holding tanks in the barrel house, where it is quality tested, proofed down with water and then used to fill the new white oak charred barrels. The barrels, which hold 53 gallons each, are filled, marked and then moved to the loading dock for transport to one of the rick houses. On the other side of the barrel warehouse were old, dirty barrels that had just come back for bottling. When they are ready, those barrels come back from the rick house and are emptied into a reservoir and then pumped into holding tanks in the adjacent bottling plant. More on bottling in a minute.

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The Barreling Room

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Empty old barrels

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Full new barrels ready for the rick house

From there we went to tour one of the rick houses. The rick house is the place where the art and magic of making good bourbon really takes place. Aging is the process that takes raw, clear ethyl alcohol and turns it into bourbon. All whiskies are clear when they are tapped off the still. It is the aging process that defines their final color, sweetness and taste. Remember those new charred white oak barrels? Both the oak wood and the charring play an important part. As the bourbon is aged, the charring on the inside of the barrel acts like a charcoal filter, giving the finished product is smoothness. It also give it its distinct caramel color. As the product ages for years in the barrel, the alcohol seeps into the wood, causing the liquid to absorb the natural wood sugars present in the oak barrel staves.

It turns out that Four Roses is the only bourbon distillery that uses single story rich houses. They believe that this keeps the temperature more constant and does away with the necessity of rotating barrels from higher to lower floors during the aging process. Turns out the temperature difference between the floor and upper reaches of a multi-story rich house can be as much as 30 degrees in the summer time.

We were told all this information on the way to the rich house. But seeing it from the inside was an awe inspiring experience. As we approached the door of the rick house, the first thing that strikes you is the wonderful, dreamy smell. It smells strong and sweet at the same time, almost like walking into a confection shop while candy is cooking. Turns out that is part of the process of the outside of the barrels giving off the wood sugars during the aging process. I swear, if the could figure out how to bottle that smell, it would be commodity in its own right.

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Inside the rick house

Walking into the rick house was quite a treat. Barrels of whisky in racks. The racks are 18 barrels deep and six barrels high throughout the warehouse. Its all made of wood. Quite a bit of craftsmanship in its own right. And all of those barrels are moved, stacked and unstacked by hand.

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The bottling plant was next.  Four Roses sells three brands of bourbon.  Yellow Label, which is 80 proof, Small Batch which is 90 proof and Single Barrel, which is bottled at 100 proof.

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While I was there they were working on Small Batch .

As we headed back to the gift shop, I asked how many rick houses there were. Turns out they have 24 of them. And each one can hold up to 20,000 barrels. I did the math in my head. That works out to 480,000 barrels or the capacity to age 25,440,000 gallons of bourbon at one time. I wonder how many LSU home games it would take to use up all of that? At the gift shop, we were treated to a little tasting and got a free glass for our trouble. I bought a couple of other souvenirs and headed back toward I-65.

I didn’t have the time for another tour, but I couldn’t get this close and at least not take a look at the Jim Beam operation. I drove past the distillery. It looked enormous. Think medium sized chemical plant sized. It seems the Beam family has been making whiskey in Kentucky since 1795. Today they are the largest distiller of whiskey in the world.

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Today the brand is named after a fifth generation member, James B. Beam, who built the company back up after Prohibition. When I got there, I decided it was appropriate to take a selfie with the man himself.

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The biggest difference between Beam and Four Roses was scale. You figure that out when you see the distillery and then turn off the road and see the Jim Beam rick houses. They are enormous. I don’t know how many barrels each one holds, but it has to be a lot. The pictures don’t really do them justice. They are much bigger when you are standing next to them looking up.

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After looking around and taking a few photos I had to head out. On my way back to the highway, I encountered something totally unforseen. So unforseen that I had to circle back and get a picture to verify it. You don’t have to be down South very long to understand how Southern Baptists feel about intoxicants, the Devil’s potion, whiskey, being at the top of the list of things that are strictly “verboten”. But there it was, right there in front of me. The Clermont Baptist Church, on Jim Beam property, sitting between and dwarfed by two enormous warehouses filled with bourbon. Only in Kentucky I guess.

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A Nashville Wednesday Night

Last week I had the opportunity to hit the road, alone, to drive to Indiana to see my son Tyler and his wife, Shana. I was by myself because Jo Ann had flown out Monday morning. I had commitments and could not leave until Wednesday afternoon. Traveling alone isn’t fun most of the time. But this time I decided to make the best of it.

To be honest, Jo Ann and I have been married for 33 years. We travel a lot together and it usually goes exceedingly well. But, to be honest, we have different perspective on long driving trips, particularly when we are going to see family. In those cases, she is one of those people who want to get there. When we get the car on the road and pointed in the right direction, she wants to go! The sooner we get there the better. Forget about stopping to eat, taking the scenic route or a short side trip. I, on the other hand, am perfectly happy to focus on the journey. I like to get off the beaten path, have a leisurely meal and maybe stop to see that 5 legged cow or the world’s biggest ball of string. So since I had a couple of solitary days on the road, I decided to make the most of it.

On Wednesday, my business took me to St. Francisville. I was packed and ready to hit the road as soon as I took care of what I had to do. By noon, I was on headed north on U.S. 61, bound for Memphis. I could have struck out cross country and hit I-55, but I had gone that way many times. I was looking for adventure, so I decided to travel “America’s Blues Highway”. Plus, I had never really experienced the Mississippi Delta, so I figured “why not”?

For those of you who don’t know, the Mississippi Delta is an alluvial plain that sits between the Mississippi and Yahoo rivers. It starts in Vicksburg and goes all the way to Memphis. It is some of the most fertile farmland anywhere and has been described for years as “the most Southern place on earth.” Farm fields stretch as far as the eye can see on both sides of the road. It is pretty cool, for the first hundred miles or so. After that, not so much. I had always wanted to see the Delta and I am glad I did. But having done so, I don’t see much reason to go back. When you’ve seen one soybean thousand acre soybean field, you’ve seen them all.

After a long uneventful drive, I made it to Memphis by supper time. I stopped for a bite to eat, gassed up and hit I-40, headed to Nashville, which was my overnight stop. I am an old school country music fan, so I’ll admit that Music City has a certain allure for me. When I was 10 or 11, I listened to my Daddy’s Hank Williams records until I had memorized the songs  In high school, while all my friends were listening to Kansas, Journey or Fleetwood Mac, I was grooving to Hank , Jr., Willie and the Charlie Daniels Band.  As much as I lament about the current state of what passes for country music, there is still plenty of the old stuff around Nashville and I intended to find some. So after checking into my hotel and a change of clothes, I headed down to Broadway to see the sights.

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In the middle of downtown Nashville, four blocks of Broadway is the place to be. Lots of neon, food, live music and history. It is Nashville’s version of Beall Street in Memphis or Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The Ryman Auditorium is one block over. If you are an old time country music fan, you remember the Ryman as the Old Opry House. There is an alley that runs behind the Ryman, which backs up to 5 bars on the west side of Broadway. Those places hold a special place in the history of the Opry and country music. Each of them has a backdoor that opens into the Ryman Alley. Due to proximity, many an Opry performer would slip out the back door to the Ryman, step across the alley and through one of those back doors for a quick snort while waiting to go onstage. That includes such names as Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline, George Jones, Ray Price and Farrin Young, just to name a few.

The first place I went to was what anywhere else would be described as a dive. But Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge is the place to be down on Broadway. The place is painted bright lavender on the outside. It has been around forever it seems. In its heyday, big names and struggling artists alike used to hang out at Tootsie’s. Tootsie was famous for loaning money to and feeding artists trying to hit it big. A couple of her most famous struggling artists who later hit it big were a singer/songwriter from Texas named Willie Nelson and his friend, a former rocker named Waylon Jennings.

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Although it was late on a weeknight, Tootsie’s was packed and the band was loud. One of the cool things about Broadway is that all of the clubs have live music daily from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 a.m., each having several different bands from opening til closing time. Tootsie’s is typical of the places on Broadway. Not much to look at, no frills, walls covered with glossy photos from decades of country music acts, a dance floor and an atmosphere that is almost electric.

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On one side of Tootsie’s is a club called Legends Corner. Two doors down in the other direction is Robert’s Western World, a haven for  real old time country music, complete with fiddles and steel guitars on stage.

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I have to admit, I hit them all and had a great time. It was a wonderful way to spend a few hours. And when I was done, I realized that I had taken a step back to a simper time. In a day and age of dance clubs, cigar bars, cocktail bars and kareoke venues, I had experienced some certified, genuine, “sho’ nuff” honk tonks. And for what its worth, I found out what the Ryman Alley looks like at 2:00 a.m.

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Next time:  On to Kentucky!

 

Let Me Count The Ways

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is always a popular holiday, especially for people in a relationship, whether is it a new one or a long term relationship.  People’s thoughts turn to romance and romantic notions. Cards, candy and flowers seem to top the list.  And poetry.  Seems like when people are in love, they want to write poetry to each other.

“How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways. I love thee depth and breadth and height My soul can reach”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words are sweet, but honestly, I am not much of a poet. Poetry is not my strong suit.  But I know a lot about love and a little about romance. So in honor of Valentine’s Day, instead of poetry, I will offer a little prose about a love story.

This year marks the 36th Valentine’s Day that I have spent with a beautiful, loving and wonderful lady, my wife Jo Ann.  For the past 33 years, she has been my wife, my best friend, the mother of my children, my rock and my confidant. She has also been my partner in crime, my biggest supporter as well as the one person who can bring me down to earth when my head gets too big.  In short, she has been the love of my life.  And, I am thankful everyday for that.

Our story starts on day in December, 1979.  I was working for Mike Cotton at the old Live Oak Supermarket. One afternoon, in walked a beautiful girl with long brown hair and bright green eyes.  I could say something quaint, like being struck by Cupid’s arrow. Actually, it was more like Michael Corleone being struck by “the thunderbolt”. Or more accurately, like that scene in a cartoon when the male character spots a real dish.

She left her number with Mrs. Hazel the manager, since she was looking for work. I quickly wrote it down and the rest, as they say, is history. Three years later, I proposed, she said yes and that June we walked down the aisle. Little did I know how  a chance meeting in a grocery store was going to change the rest of my life.

We got married when I was still in college, planning on going to law school.  I have wondered many  times what her Daddy was thinking when he let me marry her when he did. We have laughed about that a lot over the past 32 years.  I think one of the things that has helped us grow together over the years is the fact that we got married when we literally had nothing.  We were young and in love and that’s all that seemed to matter. Jo Ann likes to  say that we helped raise each other, and I guess she is right about that.

We have had some good times and a few rough times over the years.  But the good has far, far outweighed the bad.  And, like gold, a going through the fire at times will purify a good relationship.  We’ve had a lot of fun.  We’ve raised three wonderful sons, all of whom seem to have turned out more or less normal. We like to travel together, have a lot of the same interests, but are both smart enough to know that there can be such a thing as too much togetherness. We are secure enough to give each other space, but always enjoy spending time together.

I also like the fact that she is not a girly girl. That is good since she is the mother of boys and the best Boy Scout I know.

We have learned a lot over the years.  Romantic love is fine and certainly has its place.  But being there for each other, through good times and bad is so much more important. Fights and disagreements are inevitable, but never go to sleep mad at each other. And making up can be a lot of fun!   Sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth shut, even when you think you are right. Each of you have to put the other one first, every time, all the time. Love is patient and kind. Love keeps no record of wrongs. It is not jealous and does not go looking for a fight. I found all that and more when I found Jo Ann.

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We have grown to love each other and each other’s families like they were our own blood.  There is a lot to be said for that. We used the Song of Ruth in our wedding.  I am not sure either one of us really understood what it meant then, but over the years it has become even more special. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”

Valentine’s Day is special to me. More so since I have had the gift of love all these years. I could go on an on about what our relationship has meant to me. But, I think it can best be summed up by  the great John Wayne in “McClintock”, when he is talking about marriage to his daughter Becky:

“because all the gold in the United States Treasury and all the harp music in heaven can’t equal what happens between a man and a woman with all that growin’ together. I can’t explain it any better than that.”

Neither can I Duke. Neither can I.

Happy Valentine’s Day Baby!

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Let’s Kill The Loop

It appears that Kip Holden’s pet project for the destruction of Livingston Parish is still alive and well. The Capital Area Expressway, generally known as “the Loop”, has arisen from the ashes once again.  Apparently, the first phase of the Environmental Impact Survey has been completed and it is time for another comment period.  I would urge all of you to make your opposition known.  The comment period ends on February 22.  Comments should be mailed to: Raul Regis, P.E., 10000 Perkins Rowe, Suite 640, Baton Rouge LA 70810.

I was also made privy this week to a letter from Congressman Garret Graves concerning this issue.  The tone of the letter seems to read like Rep. Graves thinks the Loop is the best thing since sliced bread. He needs to hear from you as well.  The following is the text of my letter to Graves. Feel free to use any or all of it in your comment to the Expressway Authority or to let Rep. Graves know how you feel.  Thanks for your support!

Hon. Garret Graves
United States House of Representatives
204 Cannon House Office Building
Washington DC 20515

Re: Baton Rouge Loop project

Dear Congressman Graves:

Your correspondence dated January 26, 2016 regarding the Baton Rouge Loop project and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act has come to my attention. I would like to take this opportunity to voice my opposition the proposed Baton Rouge Loop, which is not the solution to the Capital Area’s transportation problems.

The proposed Loop is the brainchild of Mayor Kip Holden of Baton Rouge and a group of consultants who have already made substantial amounts of money on this project and stand to make a windfall if the project is actually approved. Certainly the traffic and infrastructure problems in the Greater Baton Rouge area have to be addressed. However, the Baton Rouge Loop is not the solution.

I note that your letter describes the Capital Area Expressway Authority as being comprised of “two of the five area parish presidents.” That raises the question of what about the other three? The answer is simple. The parish presidents of the other three parishes have resigned from the Authority because the are opposed to the proposed Loop. In addition, the parish councils of those three parishes have voted numerous times not to support the Loop, including a resolution by the Livingston Parish Council just last week. You may ask why these public officials in the affected areas are so opposed to the loop? The answer is simple. It does not serve the needs of the people of the surrounding parishes and will destroy our communities.

The Loop, as proposed, will solve some of the City of Baton Rouge’s traffic problems at the expense of its neighboring parishes. I, and many other residents, have reviewed the proposed project at length. The primary problem with the proposed expressway is the fact that it will disrupt and carve up existing communities, particularly in the Watson area. One of the primary objections which I have to the project is that if the purpose was to take out as many private homes and public facilities as possible, the proposed corridor could not have been drawn any better than it is now. For example, there are 2 proposed corridors which that cross the Amite River from Central to Watson. One of those corridors crosses the river just north of the existing Magnolia Beach Road bridge. That corridor will require removal of the historic Amite Baptist Church cemetery, will cut off at least 3 subdivisions containing hundreds of homes. And that is only in the first mile from the river crossing.

The other corridor crosses the Amite River north of the Old Greenwell Springs hospital. That corridor will pass directly through the new Live Oak High School property and will also affect North Live Oak Elementary and the Live Oak Ball Park, which recent underwent a multi-million dollar expansion and renovation. That corridor would also pass directly through at least two of the largest residential developments in Livingston Parish. What are we supposed to do about our homes? What are we supposed to do with our dead? Where are we supposed to educate our children or provide recreational opportunities for them.

There are also other alternatives to solving the gridlock in Baton Rouge, without doing so at the expense of the surrounding parishes. For instance, the group Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions (CRISIS) is a business and industry group which has proposed several projects which would make the proposed Loop unnecessary . These include
a. widening I-10 from the Mississippi River bridge to the I-10/I-12 split;
b. creating a commuter route from Ascension Parish along I-10 or Airline Highway;
c. Building an additional bridge across the Mississippi River South of Baton Rouge and widening Nicholson Drive to Gonzales;
d. Upgrading Airline Highway to an expressway from the Old Bridge to Gonzales; and
e. Building a north bypass from Airline Highway to Livingston Parish.

I would also point out that the Hooper Road extension has been approved, which would improve traffic flow in the Central area and provide another bridge across the Amite River to Highway 16 in Watson.

These projects would primarily use existing corridors, which would negate the problem of buying up land and acquiring new right of ways. They would also divert more traffic to the existing U.S. 190 bridge, which even DOTD recognizes as being underutilized. Increasing use of the U.S. 190 bridge would offer a cheaper and more readily available way to move more traffic across the Mississippi River from West Baton Rouge Parish.

These are just some of the reasons why the Capital Area Expressway should be allowed to die a quiet death, once and for all. I am eager to hear from you regarding this subject. Thank you for your attention to this matter.