The Quiet Dust

They scraped and planted and prayed and saved. . .then the black blizzards would come and take it all away. . .and the banks moved in like vultures.”

— Coyle Case
Child of the Dustbowl, Oklahoma

The Quiet Dust


The “black blizzards” were, of course, dust storms; and they ravaged the Great Plains with unimaginable ferocity in the early 30’s after the stock market crashed and the farmers had no one to sell their crops to.   Acre upon acre of American farmland turned to dust.  Many children of the dust bowl rode the rails, going west to pick fruit, or South to pick cotton; many stayed hobos. . .the restless ones who took to the peripatetic life.

My friend Paul Kahan, the James Beard Award-winning chef at Chicago’s amazing Blackbird restaurant, spent some time riding the rails between here and the Pacific Northwest, only to get grabbed by some railroad dicks at the end of his ride.   He has promised to share some of these stories with me in the coming weeks.  Kahan is a fascinating chef; his food reflects a hobo-like curiosity.  Paul kind of reinvented the idea of bacon as a dish and he finds transcendent tastes in simple fresh foods.  I’ve gotten fat on his food over the years.  What Kahan can do with a pig is nothing short of a miracle–he even makes the ears taste good.  It doesn’t surprise me that Paul rode the rails.  His food reflects a curiosity about other people and places; how they eat, how they work , how they live.  People who are good at anything seem to share these curiosities.  Paul and his partners, Donnie Madia and Eduard Setein, have become dear friends of mine.  I don’t cook, so I often eat at one of their joints (the wonderful Avec or Publican) where they let me eat with my fingers.

I am lucky.  I have never been hungry in my life.  Broke. . .yeah, lots of times; but never hungry.

Something about the way I see the world has changed over the last couple of years, since New Orleans.  The sight of hungry people in our country infuriates me.  I think of food as a human right, or at least it should be.  I also think medical care should be considered a human right. . .and education.

This is the Hobo sign for “Keep Quiet.”


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