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Posted by on May 17, 2013 in Blog, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 3 comments

Dinner With Old Bear at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse




Sometimes, someone else’s needs are greater than my own.

                                                                  — Mark “Old Bear” Hughes


You probably don’t know Mark Hughes and that’s a shame.  Trust me.  This is a man you want to know.

Mark Hughes, a.k.a. “Old Bear” is one of the rarest of people.  I don’t agree with a thing he says or believes in for the most part, politically or spiritually speaking.  But I enjoy his company immensely and look forward to seeing him each time beyond compare.

A few nights ago, we dined together at world famous Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Before I tell you more about that experience, allow me to let you in on how I came to know “Old Bear.”

Like me, Mark is a member of the BARGE poker community.  BARGE is an eclectic group of a few hundred individuals from all over the country who gather annually in Las Vegas (and elsewhere) in order to play some poker together.  But the real mission is really to drink, dine, socialize, and reconnect with old friends — and make some new ones.  CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BARGE

There’s a BARGE discussion list and as you might imagine, I post things from time to time.  My radical politics are well known.  As it turns out, Mark takes the opposite side on just about every issue.  A few things about his background — Mark works as an engineer for NASA.  He also owns a Gold Wing motorcycle which he rides 2,000 miles every summer to Las Vegas and back.

A few years ago, Mark learned I was visiting Mississippi, his home state.  He invited me to get together.  I accepted the invitation not knowing what to expect.  I’m glad I did.

Mark drove many miles out of his way to pick me up and then spent an entire day giving me a personal guided tour of a NASA test site, the Stennis Space Center.  This is the base where all the big rockets get tested.  I’m not much of a science person, but the tour was fascinating.  I got to see things no civilian usually witnesses, at a federal test site.  Pretty cool.  Last year, when I visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first time, I was the only person in our group who could actually say he’d seen where they make and test all the rockets.

Thanks, Mark!

And so, when Mark learned once again that I was in his part of the country, he made the extraordinary gesture to come and meet me.  This time, we agreed on a dinner in the French Quarter.

We picked out Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse as our destination.  But I think we could have gone just about anywhere and I would have enjoyed the experience.  For me, the bonus of having a great dinner is even better company.  Dining provides the rare opportunity to exchange ideas, hear new perspectives, and perhaps even come away with a different way of looking at things.  To me that’s what makes dinners like this so special.  Okay, and the food too.

Just as he had done before with the visit to Stennis, once again Mark gave me a new perspective about things.  Please allow me to share just a bit of this with you.

Mark’s been married for many years to a lovely woman.  He has two children and several grandchildren.  But he’s also come to believe that his community family is much larger.  Mark probably doesn’t give an enormous amount of money to to charity.  But he contributes so much more in a very different — some might say more important — way.

Mark could certainly cut his own grass or do his own chores.  But he believes in giving young people opportunities.  He also believes in creating a strong work ethic, which is so important.  And so, Mark’s charity is not so much monetary but human.  It’s more personal than just money.

There’s a Black teenager who hangs out in the neighborhood.  Mark has already seen some of this teen’s relatives get into trouble and do some bad things.  He decided to take the initiative and try and become a part-time father figure, or at least a mentor to this very impressionable young man who can use a helping hand during a time of growth and development.  And so, over the last few years, Mark has gone out of his way to let the youngster perform certain tasks around the house.  He’s even allowed the young man to use his lawn mower to earn money cutting the grass for other people.

Mark could easily do this all by himself.  He doesn’t have to pay the teen as much as he does.  But this relationship is positive on so many levels.  Teenagers, and especially underprivileged Black teens who statistics show do not have as many strong family influences, need people like Mark.  Indeed, we need a hundred – if not a thousand – if not ten thousands “Marks.”  Question — how many middle-class White people take the time to befriend and work with a Black teen at a critical stage of his development?

Answer — not enough.

“I don’t need to hire anyone to do my work,” Mark told me.  “I don’t have to pay someone to do the things I could do myself.  But sometimes, someone else’s needs are greater than my own.

I love that line.

How profound.

Mark wasn’t telling me this story either to impress me or gain personality points.  It was just a normal part of our conversation about the direction of society and prospective ways to make it better.  I often speak in macro-levels.  The unintended lesson for me on this special evening was realizing that really making a difference is often a micro-step.

Please.  Stop.  Let that sink in for just a second.  Change doesn’t happen a country at a time, or a year at a time.  It happens one person at a time.  And Mark’s actions not only help a young man, his sharing of this story helps me and give me hope, and the inspiration to do more.  Alas, perhaps Mark’s noble effort will create a domino effect we collectively shall never see nor know, but which is immensely rewarding to those we reach out to.

Food and wine and desert and ideas and friends don’t mix any better than this.  Mind and matter can sometimes combine for a culinary colossus.  Food tastes better and wine is more infinitely more enjoyable when we’re in good company.

Thank you, “Old Bear” — for a terrific evening of great steak, fine wine, and even richer conversation not to mention a valuable lesson.




  1. Another excellent piece. Thank you Nolan.

    As you know, I am also acquainted with Mark. Knowing Mark as I do, I am not surprised by this story. What he is doing will never make the front pages, yet it should. We are in need of societal changes, but in order for those to be LASTING, MEANINGFUL changes, they need to come in small steps. We live in an “I want it NOW” society, in constant need of instant gratification. At every red light, we seek to obtain the pole-position. The problem is that an instant doesn’t last very long.

    Anyone can go food shopping, but how many have the wisdom and patience to plant seeds? Certainly Mark does.

  2. Mark has to be one of the most genuine “nice people” in the world. I suspect he might be just a little embarrassed if he knew in what high regard so many people hold him. I certainly hope and I believe that he appreciates it. He just “is” the nice guy! A wonderful girlfriend to his family and friends … even the ones he has not met yet.

  3. how did you get such a lovely wife?

    did you use to be good looking?

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