Saturday, January 30, 2010


She was a very skinny woman. One might even say frail. But that person would be wrong because she was anything but as she was tough. If I was in a fight, I would want her on my side.

I don't recall when she first started at the diner. I believe she was hired while I was away on vacation. But she fit in well not only with the crew but with the customers. I remember she was real close with another girl named Kathy who later moved on to the Eugene area.

She had many medical issues that constantly caused her problems. Both her heart and lungs were a constant issue but on she scrapped, not allowing any of them to get in her way of living. I believe that I worried more about the medical issues than she did or at least that she let on.

She was one of the crew who jumped on board when Judy and I took the diner over. Who not only stood beside us but also encouraged us. She actively looked to help me out with the financial backing that I thought that I needed. I had many of conversation with her and her husband, Charlie who I very much admired.

Now, our relationship was not always great. I will admit that. She was one of the crew who decided that it would be OK to drink while making the move to our new location. I had so many friends who volunteered their time and trucks to make the move and I had fully intended to hire crew members that transition week to get things ready to go but when I arrived at the new location to find that her and another waitress had gone to the store and loaded up on beer and found them out back drinking it on my dime, I was livid. I sent the lot of them home and did not bring them back until the diner was up and running.

As time went on, Diann's smile remained but her health began to crumble. I knew that she had a variety of types of pain pills and her slight body got even slighter. She began to miss work but always seemed to have an explanation as I knew she did not want me to know the real one.

I finally confronted her and she agreed to step aside for a while to get her health back. That was a couple of years ago and, unfortunately, the last time that I saw her. Her mom was in a couple of times and told us that Diann would never be able to work again.

We were all crushed to be told that she had passed on last week. Since my crew does not turn over much, she is still well known by most of them and many of them are planning on attending her funeral set to be in Prineville later on today.

Goodbye Diann. Your smile will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


A customer stopped me last night as I set up for poker. He said that he liked me and so he needed to tell me something. He went on to state that because of his job, he sees allot of people and the word on the street is that people are frustrated over my recent change to charge for soup or salad on my dinners. I said, "But, I have lowered my price, dramatically. The price for my dinners on the menu have not been seen in over 10 years". He looked at me confused. "They have?", he asked. "Yes, and in some cases such as the senior dinners even more than that.". I restated that my idea was to make dinners more affordable in today's recession climate. But, as I tried to explain it to him, even he seemed to not understand my intentions.

As I played poker, I hashed that conversation around in my head along with a couple of emails that I had received from another friend (Thanks Karin, BTW) and the whole thing puts me in a quite a quandary. Kind of a darned if you do darned if you don't kind of thing. I have two options as I see them. 1. To go back to the old way or 2. to drive my point better with better marketing.

So, after I got knocked out, I went back to my office and wrote up a large note on my computer and printed it out to put in all of the menus. The note has huge letters in the title stating "Reduced Priced Dinners". In the copy, I went on to state that on January 1, we reduced the price of all of our dinners to well over 10 year ago prices. I admitted how I was able to succeed in this reduction and added a sort of tag line of a 2010 meal at 1999 prices.

After we closed, I brought the crew out to the counter after they had finished with their clean up to assist me in putting one of these notes in every menu cover. As I was doing this, I noticed an 18 wheeler driving up and parking. The man got out and walked up to our locked door. I dropped what I was doing and ran out front to talk with him. He was on his way out of town and was hungry. I told him that he could do one of two things. I was sure that Chevron station had some sandwiches in their store or I could make him up a cold one as the kitchen was now closed down. He said, "You would do that for me?". "Of course", I stated, "I don't forget my roots and I know how hard it is for you guys.". We agreed on a couple of sandwiches for him and he beamed at the special price that I gave him for them. I had the cook prepare them as he walked up to the Chevron station to the ATM there. The sandwiches were waiting for him upon his arrival and I walked him out front again with him. "Thank you so much", he stated as he walked away and then he stopped, turned around, and said, "And may God bless you!". "He does every day", I returned. With a smile and a bounce in his step, I watched as the man got back in his truck and started back down the road. Sometimes I look at situations such as that as challenges. A sort of test of what and who you are. And, as I have stated in prior posts, I must be true to myself first.

So, I will continue on with this experiment. I feel that I have to. If I return to the old type of pricing, it will mean a dramatic raise in the price of my dinners of which can only be seen as detrimental. I must continue to pound my point, my true meaning out to the customers. All I want and all that I ever wanted to do was to make my dinners more affordable.

It has NEVER been about profit. But I am certainly learning a hard lesson about the word Perception.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A trip to Portland for an important procedure

My day started off with a 5AM wake up and we were on the road by 5:30. A straight shot, non stop drive to the VA hospital in Portland for my first appointment at 9 of which because of rush hour traffic, I arrived just in time.
My dermatologist, Margo brought in two skin specialists. One to discuss my various moles that are so susceptible to the cancers that I have been getting and another to look at the bulge on the back of my neck. It was decided that a continued regiment of biopsies on suspected moles every 3 months and a procedure on my neck called a Fine Needle Aspiration were needed. We went over the afternoons surgery and decided to biopsy three more moles at the same time.
I then left and awaited the call for the FNA procedure. I met up with Judy and Trin who were sitting up on the 9th looking at the beautiful view there of the city and river. We decided to go over and grab something to eat. They had already been to OHMC cafeteria and had not been impressed with their meal there but it is so much better than the food at the VA hospital and the two hospitals are joined by a long glass bridge so we walked back on over. I purchased a small pizza and was eating it when I got the call for the next appointment. Judy and Trin decided to go to the zoo since it was obvious that I was going to be occupied till after 2.
I checked in for my FNA and was greeted by a nurse called Christie. She reminded me of a cross between Lisa Kudro and someone who has had far to much coffee. Try and walk as fast as I could, I could not keep up with her long legs. She took me up the 8th to new rooms that had built there. We went into the new room which had very good views of it’s own. I sat on what seemed to be a long wooden love seat sort of chair. The nurse commented on the chair. “I asked for a chair that would hold fat people and this is what they give me”, she remarked. It did look way out of place in this small medical type room.
As the nurse began setting up the computer with my needed information pages, she commented on my name. “Lyle…..I like Lyle. It is a a one syllable name, you know. But a very interesting one. Not tright like Bob, John, or Paul but very interesting. Lyle…yes, I like Lyle.” One sentence seemed to join another as she entertained me while waiting for the doctor. She explained the new room, the procedure, and the fact that she was far to old to live in a town as cold as Bend. She said, “Yes, an old woman like me just cant live in that cold. I am 57 and not getting any younger.” I laughed out loud at that remark and she looked at me as if to say ‘what are you laughing at’. “I am 57”, I stated. “But you are used to it”, she returned. “We get a lot more sun there”, I countered. “What good is the sun when it is cold?”, she demanded. I knew I would lose that argument and just let her get on to her next informational statement amazed and amused at how she could change them mid sentence without any effort.
The doctor arrived and was introduced and he began to explain the procedure. His heavy accent was a bit hard to follow but I did catch some of his remarks and one was the he would be taking the extractions to his La Bor A’ Tory. I think I watch far to many movies as I had visions of some castle and a mad doctor in a room with bubbling test tubes.
Margo told me that the aspirations would be small pin pricks. I was happy that I recently learned what is called triangle breathing for relaxation as his inserts came with needle probes to get as much tissue as he could. As the needle brushed the side of the cyst the pain was a burning one. The breathing was actually very helpful. I had bent over to give him better access to my neck and after each extraction, my nurse worked on my posture. “you can sit up straight there…..but only if you want to”. She said each time. I could tell that the hunch bothered her a bit so I dutifully straightened up for her.
The doctor took his chair in front of the microscope to make his initial assessments. The microscope was a dual one with two able to look. The nurse took her place on the opposite side of the table. She planted her feet about 4 feet across, squatted down and as she looked into her viewers, had her tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth much like Michael Jordon when he would go up for a slam dunk. The view was very entertaining as the whole procedure had become to me. I know the two knew their jobs extremely well but the whole scene seemed to me to be great material for a comedian like Seinfeld to have a field day with.
The doctors initial assessment was that the cyst was benign and not cancerous which was a great relief. I left the room with a thank you and a promise from the doctor to give me the results of his La Bor A’ Tory work. With an hour or so to go before surgery, I decided to walk over to the new tram that has been built to bring people up to the hospitals from down by the river. As I walked on to the upper platform, the tram was about to leave so I just jumped on.
The ride down was quite fun and the view was astounding. I heard one of the other riders comment that it was like some sort of Disney ride. The trip took us down the hill, right over the top of busy I-5, and too another landing at the bottom. I rode at the front of the large bullet like structure on the way down to appreciate the view the best. As others moved out, I moved to the opposite end to attain that view on the way up. A man stopped me and asked me for my ticket. I was honest and told him that I didn’t know that I needed one. He asked what hospital that I was going to and I said VA. He asked me for my ID card and I showed it to him. “Vets ride for free”, she smiled. So for all you vets, if you are in Portland, here is a very fun experience that won’t cost you a cent.
I arrived at surgery a few minutes early and was greeted by a fellow Bendite that I had grown up with and we struck up a conversation with a couple of others who were all sitting around talking of the greater satisfaction of being a grandparent rather than a parent. As my name was called they all wished me luck and I was escorted into the dermatology department surgery room that I had spent time in just a few months back.
I layed on the table and was prepped for the surgery by Margo and her nurse friend. I could hear music coming from a side room and was comforted by both of the women humming along with some of the songs. Music is such a relaxing thing to me and I knew that their work would go well….that is unless they started to dance to those same tunes. The whole atmosphere was very calming for a procedure that does bring it’s own stresses. She had to cut a huge hole in my belly and then sew that same hole up. As she deadened the area, I was reminded of all of the vital organs just below her Novocaine needle.
While Margo did the initial procedure, I kept very quiet for two reasons. One was that previous thought of all of those vitals and the other was that I wanted her concentration on her operation and nothing else. When she began to sew it all up, I relaxed and the three of us began to talk like old friends. They laughed as I related my previous FNA experience. “I think she had far too much coffee this morning” she smiled as she related that even she noticed the hyperness of the nurse.
Upon finishing and taking the other three biopsies which is a procedure where they use a punch to cut out the mole and then send it to the lab, she bid me goodbye with a promise to see me when she takes out the stitches or at the diner when she stops by for a meal. The nurse then patched me up and I was sent on my way.
As I came off of the elevator, Trin called out my name. They were at the coffee kiosk getting a latte. I was very dizzy and not sure if it was from the Novocaine or a need for food. We decided to get going, however so that we could beat traffic and we could eat at the Subway at the truck stop where we would gas up the car. I drove the car most of the way home but opted over to Trin as we came out of the treeline on to the flats before Warm Springs when the Novocaine began to wear off and the fatigue of the day and the lack of sleep from the night before began to affect me. I slept in the back seat till nearly Redmond and awoke much more refreshed and actually not feeling much pain from the relaxing sleep.
And so, I am back. Unable to do some of the more physical work such as busing tables and sorting out food for a couple of days but happy that I am once again cancer free….for the time being.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Elvis and change

I always look for new things...different things that might heighten the experience for our diners and for my employees, for that matter. A few years back, I found an animated deer that hung up in our entry way. The idea for all of that came from a friend down the road, Kent, who owns the Shell station down on the corner. Kent also ran the store in Sisters for a while and I got a kick out of his creative animated things in it that I knew he put in there for the same reason. When Kent noticed Buck, he turned to his wife and said, "Look, Honey, it is like being home.".

Buck was abused by non caring customers and is now quite dead. I learned a lesson of accessibility there. It must be supervised. Anyway, I was online looking for another Buck who is no longer made. I ran a search for animatronics and ran across Elvis. It is a life size bust of Elvis that talks and sings. I bought him and he arrived last Monday. I was told that Friday was Elvis's birthday so I decided to introduce him on that day.

We went all out for this introduction including movies, music, trivia, and a special menu. I just wanted to have fun with it all. For the most part, I think it went over well. The animated Elvis is cute and as long as there is a customer stream past him, he stays awake. If not, he states it himself, saying, "Elvis has left the building" and shuts down till you reboot him.

I am actually thinking of running the fun menu that Judy put together through the weekend or at least part of it. It will depend on how hard it affects the kitchen on the busy weekend. If it causes them to slow then I probably won't just to insure that the service does not slow because of it.

I am constantly looking for ways to better the experience. Whether that is the food, the service, or the fun. Although I know that I must always price things in a certain way to insure profitability, that word is NEVER in the forefront of my decisions. Some customers get that while others do not. I cannot let any of that bother me but be true to myself as one friend told me.

So, I will push on with my new Alacarte dinners because I feel that it is the right thing to do. The same 'Jake's' portion but with a cheaper price. I can only believe that the customers will see the value in that. What I have seen so far is that most of them seem to be happy with just the meal and not the frills while others desire to have the soup or salad and are willing to pay what would have been the old price for it.

The trick there is perception. And the key to perception is not always reality. I plan to run an additional ad on the radio to help that perception along but can only hope that it comes across the way that it is intended.

So, I will keep that in the forefront. I will attempt to remain outside the box, give the customer what they want, give back to the community who keeps me alive, and give the people who work for me a good hopefully fun place to work knowing that their lively hood is based upon it also. If I do all of that and keep the numbers right, I will remain. That is all a part of this vocation that I have chose.......or did it choose me?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Years Resolutions

I went into a store the other day. As I was about to check out, I spied an old ex fellow employee of mine at the old truck stop. I wasn't a friend but I always admired her and her husband. I got in her line just to say Hi. She was pleasant with all of her customers but when I arrived all of that seemed to change. Her delivery was pretty dead pan and she definitely was not impressed with me being there nor did she wish to be friendly. As I left, I told her that it was good to see her again and in that same monotone, she said, "Yea, you too". It was like a knife to my heart. As I walked out the door to my car, it brought back memories, like when I first took over the diner and I could not get people to realize that we were still open. I had purchased some rope lights that I was hanging around the facing of the building to direct peoples attention to it. I also bought a lighted blow up bear that I placed on the roof in the corner. I recall as I hung the lights a car driving down the highway and a voice yelling from it saying, "Give it up! You are going down!". I could not understand the hatred. Then much later in Craigs list a woman's vile rant against me. All these bad memories along with her reaction made my shoulders drop somewhat as I walked to my car.

I drove to Walmart and as I walked in, the morning coffee club was meeting over in McDonalds. They all smiled and waved and so I walked over and chatted with them. I was asked how I was doing and told how much I was missed. Another man told of being in the diner a couple of days back and how busy it was and how happy he was that we were doing OK. My spirits were immediately uplifted. It was exactly what I needed after my previous encounter.

My buddy, Frank tells me that one of my problems is that I want everyone to like me and that is just not going to happen. No matter what you do, no matter how you act, no matter what you say, someone will either take it wrong or see things differently. You just cannot please everyone.

So, I guess my New Years resolution is to try and not let those things bother me so much. To be kind to all and not to be bothered if that kindness is not reciprocated.

In that same light, I pulled into the bank yesterday. As I walked to the door, I watched a young woman helping her grandmother out of the car. I approached the door and waited for them, opening the doors for them as they came in. It was just an act of respect for women in general and for this elderly one in particular who seemed to have a vision problem. As I waited in line, I overheard the lady commenting on my act of kindness and how nice it was. As she left, she stopped and said, "I have been talking about you. You are a nice man.". "I am not that nice a man.", I returned. She looked me at me and said, "Well, that was a nice thing you did......Thank you.". With a smile, I returned, "You are welcome.". That woman had no idea how much her words warmed my heart. How beautiful this world could be if we all took those steps to help one another and encourage one another. I truly believe that they key there is to look away from self and notice the others around us. OK, end of preaching. My kids used to tell me that I preach to much.

On a lighter note, Friday is Elvis's birthday and we are going all out for Elvis. Elvis will be in the building talking and singing his old songs. There will be a special Elvis menu and, of course, the return of the Elvis Cinnamon Roll. We will have Elvis trivia on the tables and I hope to find some old Elvis Movies to play up on the TV. We hope to have fun and enjoy the day. So, if you are an Elvis fan, stop by on Friday and enjoy a "Hunka Hunka Burnin Love" sandwich or a "In the Ghetto" dinner. I am not heavily promoting this as I have no idea how it will be taken and how well the day will go but I can tell you one thing. We will have fun and that is half of this. To give our customers something different and our employees something to have fun with. I am hopeful that both will be accomplished.