Tuesday, March 17, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XIII: 700-676

After a productive February and a promising start to March, I hit a lull last week. Having a busy home calendar, everyone fighting bugs of one sort or another, and some combination of fatigue/apathy, I wrote but a couple hundred words. Back at it this morning, though, and lucky you -- you get to read about a bunch of the hats I've worn in the last 25 years.



Feel free to skip it. I know I would.

Seven Hundred: Exchange City


            In fifth grade we took a field trip to this place where they make all of the kids act like adults for an afternoon. You lobby for jobs, elect officials, earn a paycheck, and balance a checkbook. It’s probably the most amazing dichotomy of all time: Show kids a model of adult life that will both prepare them for it and make them want to jump out of a window because of it. I’m only grateful for my Exchange City experience for two reasons: 1) I wanted to be the radio-station DJ and I got to be. Couldn’t believe it. I still -- 30 years later -- have that holy-shit-that-never-happens-to-me feeling about it; 2) While on air I got to dedicate a song, a la Casey Kasem’s countdown, to Rebecca Mutchnick. Other than those two things I found the day rushed and stressful, which made me think, Screw adulthood. Let’s Peter Pan this bitch.

Six Hundred Ninety-Nine: 91.9, KDUR-FM

            As though my job for a day at Exchange City held some destiny in it, I hosted a radio show for three years while in Durango. This did not make me unique; KDUR’s platform centers on college/community volunteers to broadcast all of its on-air hours. It did, however, make me happy. I loved that gig. My first show lasted for a summer and fell on Friday evening from six to nine. Out of sheer luck I got to fill in for Patrick Dubois while he sabbaticaled. His Roots Ragga Radio with Potshake Dubwise carried an epic following and I didn’t realize he’d be coming back and walking into that slot. When that happened I got upset, having enjoyed the shit out of that summer and gotten quite a few phone calls and direct commentary from listeners claiming to be fans of The Soul Smoke Shop with the Lawn Boy.

            I got moved to Sundays, though and Overweight Preserves with A. Salmon Cranium held the noon-to-three slot for a year or so before I wound up back in a six-to-nine gig, this time on Wednesdays, and this time manning The Burnt Weeny Sandwich with Nanook. Loved my on-air time. Loved KDUR and everything about it. Such a good program, an incredible community operation full of great people. I’ll always give thanks for that experience.

Six Hundred Ninety-Eight: Euston Hardware Store

            I might have been the worst screen- and storm-window repair guy in all of history. I didn’t like that title. I liked that Tom Euston felt obliged enough to honor my dad’s request for a favor and give me a job, but I didn’t want to do the job he gave me. Cutting glass intimidated me. Old pieces of screen would wedge themselves into my thumb, and I had zero desire to hang out alone down in the basement. So I didn’t. I did a few windows and I cleaned and organized, but for the most part I would hang out behind the counter and rearrange the shelving. I worked with a couple of cool folks, Art Valdivia being tops. So, thanks, Tom, for the job, and thanks, Dad, for asking him to give me one.

Six Hundred Ninety-Seven: TCBY

            I got the hardware-store gig a little while after trying to get on at TCBY. Matt, the manager, liked me but said he couldn’t hire me until I turned 16. I used to stop in there all the time and ask him two things: 1) How were things down at Guitars & Cadillacs (where he either a) also worked, b) performed, or c) both); and 2) Had he changed his mind about hiring me. A couple weeks before my 16th birthday, he finally did. I worked my way into a supervisor role there and went from Matt to Cara to Pam to Joanie. Matt left right after I started. Cara was there for the bulk of my employment. Pam just got the job while she was in between jobs, I think, and Joanie…well, Joanie and I did not exactly see eye to eye on a couple of things, but that’s a story for another day.

            While collecting paychecks from owners Randy and Cheryl Reinhardt, I had the pleasure of working with: Karlee Berst, my first hormonally charged crush who -- I’m still disappointed to admit -- never raped me in the back room or anywhere else; J.D., who was a) a nephew of Cheryl and Randy’s and b) always cornering me to see if I’d accepted Jesus Christ as my savior; Shawn Tillery, my high-school homeslice; Sarah Heath, my best friend’s girlfriend; Angela Schowengerdt, a sweetheart from Miege; and Melissa Spooner, who was, I think, my first love. She did not, to my dismay, love me back, but man would I have died trying to give her the world in 1991. For a short minute, my sister worked there, too, but we never seemed to be on the clock at the same time. And by “short minute” I mean my TCBY employment ended not long after hers began. Settle down, Roon’.

            It was a good gig, though. I learned a lot about responsibility and being dependable while working there. I learned how to be thorough in task and I got my first taste of customer service. I’m thankful that Guitars & Cadillacs Matt eventually changed his mind.

Six Hundred Ninety-Six: Hen House

            I could probably write 20 pages on Hen House. From Greg Frost to Lee Snavely to Frank Bardwell to Pam Whatshername to all of the checkers and employees of various departments. I could write about Marta from El Salvador, Dawn the Florist, Tiffany Tiffany, Lee Page, or any of the depressing meat-department guys. I could write about Reggie or Sean Marquess or Don Boresow or that Rockhurst tool Jim that used to be in charge of us, but more than anything, this job was about working with my buddies.

            I mean, if I had 10 super-tight friends in high school, I think seven of them worked there at one point or another and we had a blast. We did our jobs, more or less, but we also had a ready-available platoon of shift-swap options. We could cover for one another while taking unwarranted smoke breaks. We all -- well, most of us -- suffered the ol’ no-such-employee consequence while trying to clock in, which typically resulted after a missed shift. We had steady employment and we had a good time doing it, even if those hours dragged like a motherfucker. Ol’ Hen House. Sharing the break room with some of those lifers gave me my first sniff of what life could look like if you didn’t get out there and do something with it. For that, for the job itself, and for working with my pals, I’m grateful.

Six Hundred Ninety-Five: Leo’s Pizza

            George and his wife employed me for most of a summer until there was some party I wanted to go to one Friday night and I just didn’t go in to work. They worked crazy hard for many years, and I always felt bad for flaking on them like that, but I have much larger teenage-year sins to apologize for, so for now I just gotta say that I’m thankful for my short-lived gig at the pizza joint. It depressed me a little bit, too, but it took me to a food-service level that TCBY hadn’t quite provided.

Six Hundred Ninety-Four: Tippin’s

            Although my third food-service position, this one was where -- as they say -- it all began. I don’t have much to say about it, save that most parts of washing dishes in a high-volume operation can be pretty disgusting. You just have to adjust. I’m not sure how or why, but I felt like I fit in in the back of the house. I took interest in prep. I wanted to do what they did on the line, and I had a natural knack for flirting with the servers. Lucky for me I had plans to go to college and I stuck with them so I’m grateful for two things: 1) my job at Tippin’s, 2) that I don’t still have it.

Six Hundred Ninety-Three: Best Western

            Housekeeping at the YMCA of the Rockies made me eligible for other jobs keeping house. Lucky me. For a short spell I did this for Best Western. I worked with some cool cats, namely Molly Carpenter, who would later date Rowan Gress and be roommates of mine in Durango. I lived in my truck while I had this gig and a couple of others, so I’m glad I didn’t have it too long.

Six Hundred Ninety-Two: Awesome Shirtworks of Estes Park

            For a short time I folded t-shirts and pressed images onto blank shirts. Mostly I folded, though. I didn’t hate that job, but there wasn’t much about it to love, either. I’m grateful for both its brevity and for the experience it gave me in retail, since…

Six Hundred Ninety-One: Blake’s Trading Company

            …the owners and managers of both locations of this company ruled. I met my boy Keith here, and I think Karl and Tagg worked these stores, too. Totally laid back. You could trade your earnings for merch’, peace out and follow Phish, and do just about anything you wanted as long as you were helping customers when they came into the store. That was a gig I could have held forever.

Six Hundred Ninety: Wildwood Outdoor Education Center

            Many of us USD 512ers learned last month that our school district will cease overnight stays at Wildwood at the conclusion of the school year (or whenever the article I didn’t read said). I think it has to do with liability, a shameful element in American society today. The gist of Wildwood: Spend a week of school away from school and home. You have bunk-bed sleeping quarters in a cabin. You hike, you canoe, you climb, you study nature, you make tie-dye t-shirts. In essence, it’s a license for every sixth grader to feel like a badass for a week and they’re getting rid of it because either somebody sued or they’re afraid somebody eventually will. Weak sauce, America. Weak sauce. I’m thankful I grew up in a different era, one in which you sent your kid to Wildwood. Amazing experience.

Six Hundred Eighty-Nine: The Estes Park Brewery

            I think my boss’ name was Ed Grueff. He owned Ed’s Cantina and later opened the brewery. I worked as a line cook there in the summer of 1995, which, to me, was before the whole microbrew scene exploded. Estes Park had one of the earlier operations and -- for my lone summer there -- hosted the Best of the West Brewfest, which ruled. I earned Ed’s respect as a cook and an employee in about two shifts, which he passed on to his son, Tyler, who managed the bar. This, in turn, meant I earned free-drinking privileges any night I worked, which meant I closed down the brewery a lot and wound up blazing in the parking lot with Tyler and his crew before driving to Mary’s Lake to pass out in my truck, which made cleaning Best Western rooms in the morning a little less pleasant than it already was. Glad I had that brewery gig, though. It made me feel a little bit like a grownup. A homeless grownup with poor decision-making skills, but a grownup, nonetheless.

Six Hundred Eighty-Eight: Penelope’s

            Unnamed friend number 20 flipped burgers for Gerry Swank and told me I should, too. I waited too long, though and by the time I got down there they didn’t need anyone. I kept trying, though, and like Guitars & Cadillacs Matt, Gerry’s manager changed his mind. I feel like I worked at Penelope’s for over a year, but in reality my employment there probably spanned eight or nine months. Aside from the creepy gay manager that ran Gerry’s store for him, Tagg and John and I (a couple of Lawrence dudes) ran that place. Between the degrading timers, the hefty hauling of product to and from the remote walk-in, and the major amount of grease, Penelope’s did not leave its employees feeling all that classy. I’m grateful for the experience, though. I met some cool people and laughed my ass off when dining-room dingus from The Dark Horse Inn wound up flipping burgers there with me. We almost fought one day, but whatever.

Six Hundred Eighty-Seven: Michael Ricker’s Pewter Casting Studio

            I’ve written about this job before and the only thing I need to mention about it has to do with the weighted depression that rained down upon the M.R.P.C.S. lifers Monday-Friday for every week of the year. The thickness of it resembled the Hen House meat department 100-fold, and I’m grateful that I held the position during my year off from college. No greater motivator for wanting to do something with your life beyond spending it in misery exists.

Six Hundred Eighty-Six: Chelsea London Pub & Grill

            My line-cook position at Chelsea’s generated my first bit of income as a Durango resident and would do so for two years. I met a ton of awesome people working there and since my restaurant gums had already been cut, I grew adult teeth in that kitchen. Within its walls I grew my multi-tasking abilities, learned how to be a token back-of-the-house crab, and discovered the beauty of the service-industry last call. That place had more grease in it then a shortening factory and I worked long hours for a chintzy wage, but I grew as a person, and I’m grateful for that, along with all of the gained knowledge and relationships.

Six Hundred Eighty-Five: Riverbend Center for Youth

            I got a part-time gig as a Relief Counselor at this social-services-regulated Residential Treatment Center. I met a bunch of amazing kids, learned from some impressive co-workers, and discovered that social work means emotional toil and little pay. After graduating I accepted a full-time position as a Residential Counselor. It felt like the right thing to do as it pertained to my degree and seemed an out of the restaurant industry. I never could get out, though. Staying on at Steamworks part-time appealed to me so I kept both jobs until leaving Durango. This position had everything to do with relationships, though, and I’m grateful for the experience.

Six Hundred Eighty-Four: McCoy’s Public House & Brew Kitchen

            I thought for a moment about breaking up the job-entry monotony, but fuck it; I’m on a roll.

            I don’t think they use that full name anymore, but when I started there in April 2000, the title included the ampersand and the implication that house recipes might include some of the craft beer produced on site. Executive Chef Jeremy Lane hired me. After his termination Terry Barkley took over for a short stint and Steve Woods succeeded him before he left to open Kona Grill. After his departure Josh Linn and I ran the kitchen before ownership made me an offer. I declined in favor of finding a mentor and gained that in Lon Froneberger. By the time my tenure ended I’d logged 4,628 weeks of full-circle employment; I started as a cook/expo, became Sous Chef, and returned to expo/cook for my final two years.

            I worked for general managers Terry Trombetti, Kevin Kimm, and Jay Fry, and probably 20 other front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house managers. While working there I moved three times, learned that I had to quit smoking weed, developed a noteworthy drinking problem, declined an ownership role in my father’s company, had a parent die, met a girl, got into graduate school, got engaged, earned a Master’s degree, got married, honeymooned, and got offered my old Sous Chef position.

            Instead I left to take an Executive Chef position.

I looked back often.

After spending as much time as I did at McCoy’s a haze hovers in my mind when I try to suss how much of my growth there was personal and how much had to do with the provided environment. Though a tough choice, leaving proved the right one. As James Westphal once said, “Restaurant managers should only spend about three years in one location. Then it’s time to move on.” My span had a bit more length on it, but this remains a common trend there. Like my own situation, I think a lot of the good that has come out of 4057 Pennsylvania includes what ownership provided and the systems they put in place, but they’ve had a bit of good luck and fortune in there, too.

I’ll never forget McCoy’s. That is, I may get Alzheimer’s or dementia, but I logged some serious hours in that building. To date I love the operation and consider my experience in it invaluable.

Six Hundred Eighty-Three: The 75th Street Brewery

I’m grateful I left McCoy’s for this gig as it showed me the opposite: Bad people in ownership result in bad people in upper management which results in bad places to work. I’ve already said my piece on the corporation that oversees this outfit, so the only thing left to say is this: Getting humbled builds character and when your humility teaches you what bad people look, smell, and sound like, you leave the situation a better person.

Six Hundred Eighty-Two: The Foundry

            In a sense I went back home when I accepted this temporary position. Again I learned a ton and again I met a ton of great people. It gives me great pride to walk into The Foundry, and I’m grateful for that feeling. I’m also pleased that I can identify the very service-industry address at which I worked when it first occurred to me that I’d gotten too old to party with the youngsters. Pretty key.

Six Hundred Eighty-One: PACES of Wyandot Center

            With this job I “got out” again. I returned to working with kids and found myself with both an improved quality of life and a depleted bank account. While plentiful the rewards with this position, the greatest of all had to do with paid time off and the Family and Medical Leave Act. In essence: We had our daughter, I got to be around for a lot of her early life, and this position made that possible. Not a lot out there that can touch that.

Six Hundred Eighty: J. Bean’s

            After three years at PACES, my old assistant general manager from The 75th Street Brewery contacted me. His simple message: I bought a restaurant and need a chef.

            And just like that the service industry had me back in it again.

            I stayed at this gig for a year and grew as a professional. I had no ownership corps, no chefs above or below me, and until the very end I didn’t even have any Mexicans. Claiming 100 percent of the responsibility for the J. Bean’s back of the house would reek of inaccuracy, but it sure felt like that. I learned that delegation -- a once useful tool -- can come with great risks; the old want-something-done-right adage blinded me with brightness.

            I learned how to take ownership of my kitchen and when I left I had an elevated confidence that left me knowing I could take on new endeavors.

Six Hundred Seventy-Nine: Lew’s Grill & Bar

            I liked my time at Lew’s. I needed the job and they needed someone to improve their operation. The brief-but-happy marriage served both sides well. It also served as the case closer on the docket of being a chef and a happy, involved husband and dad. What might work for many just doesn’t for me.

Six Hundred Seventy-Eight: not having to imagine anymore how bored you are reading about my jobs

Six Hundred Seventy-Seven: Ann Wilke

            My buddy’s late mom cannot be quantified in a single gratitude entry, but I can mention that she had a tremendous amount of love in her. She treated me with acceptance and warmth from the day I met her until the last time I saw her. She had one of the best senses of humors I’ve ever known. She loved her husband, her sons, and everything that mattered to them. She lived for Kansas basketball and always kept her home full of delicious snacks. She also had a gift with words. I sit here today a better person having known her.

Six Hundred Seventy-Six: The Beatles


            What can be said that hasn’t? Dudes were good.