Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Warrior

I was visiting with a friend just before the Band of Brothers meeting yesterday. She had recently gone through some medical struggles. I asked her how she was doing and she said, pretty good, thanks to my husband and my warrior.

I thought she was talking about her husband in both terms but she pointed over to the next table where Loren Myring sat. She then went on to tell me that he got up early every morning and prayed for her for two hours straight. "I know that had allot to do with how well I have come through.", she said.

So, in one of my middle of the night musings, I pondered on those words and on my good friend, Loren. Loren was Phil's best friend who we lost recently and was a big part of the founding of the brothers even though he will be quick to tell you that he was not at the original meeting.

Like Phil, Loren was at Iwo Jima. That brutal battle that was so much a part of the swing of the war. Loren was a wind talker protector there. But, it ended up the other way. His Indian friend saw the grenade that was thrown and jumped up to take the concussion of it, saving Loren's life in the balance.

Unlike Phil, Loren was not sent home after Iwo but sent to the mainland of Japan to help the Japanese after the war had ended helping to supervise the return of the devastation of Nagasaki where the second bomb was dropped. The radiation was still quite high there causing Loren to have his sternum bone dissolve. Later, after open heart surgery, Loren had to be wired back shut because of that.

After the war, Loren joined the police force and had a career on the force. He retired but remained active in other roles, especially as the chaplain for the Marine Corp League. The first time I met Loren, he was attempting to log in all new members of the newly formed Band of Brothers, taking their picture and logging in where they had served.

Loren is in a retirement home now but it still does not stop him from his chaplain duties. Recently, when Jess was sick, I asked him at the spur of the moment if he would be interested in leading the prayer at the beginning of the meeting. He agreed and did quite well.

As I lay in bed pondering of his life and how special a friend that he is, I drifted back to sleep and began to dream of a car that was coasting down a hill. The car came over a rise and started down a rather steep grade. Loren was in front of the car on his hands and knees guiding it down the hill.

I noticed that he was clearing out small rocks that were in the tread paths that the car was rolling down. As the grade was steeper, he became more fervent in his clearing. I asked him what he was doing and he said, "I can't talk now. I am to busy clearing this path. If her tires hit one of these stones, it can careen off of the path and crash on the rocks below.".

I quickly realized what he was doing and jumped down to help. As we worked he spoke, "Watch out for these smooth ones. They look innocent enough but when her tread hits them, they are slippery."

I awoke and lay there in deep thought of what I had just witnessed in my dream. Loren, the warrior.......Loren, the prayer warrior was doing his thing. He was on his knees, clearing a path so that she could be safe.

I am truly blessed to be able to call this man friend.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Double Jake Challenge

I have been thinking of this for quite some time. It actually came to me in the middle of the night. Take one Big Bad Jake, flip it upside down and place another on top. A sort of 'Big Mac' looking burger except on steroids.

I originally thought of having a representative from each of the schools football teams but was asked by Regal Six Cinemas if I would consider using wrestlers to coincide with a high school wrestling movie that they were promoting and thus the challenge was set.

Trinity set up the room with some of the girls from the theater and the contestants started arriving shortly before the 3:30 start. We had color coordinated balloons and a long table set up with plenty of room for each contestant. Buckets were placed on either side of every chair for the obvious reasons.

As we waited for the burgers, I went over the rules with the contestants. I gave them 45 minutes to eat the burger, fries, and one of our milkshakes of their choosing. The boys all looked eager to start. Regal Cinemas had come up with a prize package and the winning team was to receive the money from the silent auction that they had put on there.

We brought the burgers out on school color trays and the contestants sat staring at their tasks. I looked at Mt View and asked, "Are you ready?". A nod was the answer. The same came from Bend and Summit so I dropped my hand and said "Go!".

Trinity had started the timer and handed it to me as I walked behind the counter. My buddy, Frank, was there and joked with me. "Go, is that all you have? Go?", he chided. I realized two things. He was right. I was so focused on the event and everything around it that my mind was thinking in black and white terms. Also, I had one of the most creative minds around right there in front of me with Frank, who had been a youth pastor for many years. I decided right then and there to turn that part over to him as I handed him the timer.

Frank went into 'Frank' mode as he led the charge at the 15 and 30 minute mark and then began the five minute count downs, exciting the crowd with his enthusiasm. I was glad that he took over as I had two minor problems crop up that took me away from the craziness of the event.

All of the contestants seemed to take on differing strategies as they sought to conquer as much of the food on their trays as possible. Mt View tackled the meat first, Summit tried using the milkshake to sort of lubricate, and Bend just attacked. For most of the challenge, Summit seemed to be the one that had things well in hand. It looked as if they would pull away and win the challenge. Then, with 15 minutes left, the Summit wrestler seemed to hit a wall.

Bend saw this and chided the Summit wrestler by placing the bucket up on the table close to his tray. The slowing down of the Summit wrestler also seemed to bring a second wind on to Bend. He began to dig into is burger with a new fervor. It was evident that even though Mt View seemed to be having fun, he was not going to be up for this daunting task.

With five minutes remaining, I had my scales in hand to weigh the different trays to see who had eaten the most.

Frank egged on the crowd and pushed the contestants with his enthusiastic count down. And with no time on the clock, the wrestlers were allowed to finish only what was in their mouths. Bend's strategy was to put as much in his mouth as possible as the final seconds were sounded.

The plates were weighed with Mt View starting out at 8lbs. I wished that I had weighed them before they went out but that was too late. The dishes and milk shake glasses had certain heaviness that needed to be taken into account. I could tell Bend's tray was much lighter and sure enough, it came to around 5 3/4 lbs. I then weighed Summit and found the exact same weight.

I brought Frank over to look and also to confer on how we would handle a tie. We both agreed that their needed to be a winner when someone noticed a difference. Bend's tray still had the milkshake spoon while Summit's was missing. This brought their tray to just a hair below the 3/4 lb line and thus was their slim margin of victory.

I talked to each of the contestants afterwards, congratulating them and thanking them for their attempts. Mt View said that he had not been feeling well all day, Summit told me that he could not talk (He looked a bit green in the gills), and Bend grinned from ear to ear.

Judy took a picture of me with the newly crowned winner. As the kids left, they all said that we should make this a yearly event.

If I do, I know that I have learned a few lessons from the first. Weigh the trays before to see just how much was eaten. Hire Frank or some other quick thinking fun mind to MC the event. Give ourselves more time to build up the event in the schools and community (maybe even set up some other ways to generate funds for their programs). But, most of all, learn the names of the various contestants. I feel bad that I can only name them by their schools.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Family and Memories

I have a particular memory that is blazed in my mind for some reason. It has to do with my dad's cousin and his wife, Pat and Joan Day. The memory is of taking a (I believe) Friday night drives to their house in Bend.

Now, this must have happened more than once but it is imprinted in my mind as a very happy time. We would arrive at their house out on Newport. They had more than one house out there and although I remember them both, this one house out on the right just a few blocks before the road that heads up to the college is the main memory.

We would arrive and my brothers and I would immediately head out back with two of their sons, Mike and Richard and we would conquer the hill behind their house. Our conquests were only broken by the call in for supper of which we quickly consumed and then raced back out to our fun as the sun began to set.

We were then called back in one last time for a very special event for all of us, the 'Flintstones'. You see, Gilchrist was very limited in what you could pick up on your TV and NBC was not one of our options, so this special program was an extra special treat for all of us Hicks'. The two families sat huddled around the TV in their small living room and roared with laughter at the antics of Fred and Barney. I envied the fact that Mike and Richard got to see this duo every week and we were only able to when we made this trek to the big city.

For what ever reasons (I honestly don't know why), I don't have many memories in my teen years of hanging out with them and so, I guess they grew up and so did I. I know we must have seen one another a few times but.....there is this blank space in my head. So, in our teen years, we grew up not so far from one another but at a distance of sorts.

Then, I joined the Navy and moved away. I didn't return to Central Oregon until the early 80's. Pat was struggling and I recall him being in a wheel chair. A few short years after I started working at Jake's, he left us. Now, to me that memory is almost like yesterday and I honestly thought it happened in the 90's but was corrected at the service for Joan yesterday. It happened in 1985.

I slid into the back of the room next to my cousin, Tom Day and his wife Sherrie who I grew up with in Gilchrist. Tom Day senior sat with them, the only remaining Day child from the original Day family except for my dad, Ronald 'Day' Hicks. Tom was his uncle even though they were similar in age as dad was the son of one of the elder Day girls who left while giving birth to him and his twin brother. Dad was then brought up on the ranch by his grandparents.

I looked at the program and noticed that both Mike and Richard were pallbearers. Mike is living in an assisted living home in Redmond. I recall back in the 80's, a TV show where they took his group to Mt Bachelor. I was walking by the TV and I heard his very distinguishable voice that is a bit louder than most and knew who he was before even looking at the screen.

I had seen Richard once or twice at family reunions that I had been able to make it to but other than that, our paths just didn't seem to cross much. As I stood in the crowd watching him and Mike carry their mother out to the hearse, I noticed Richard looking my way a couple of times and I wondered just how much he remembered me also. I felt a gnawing in my stomach for the many years that we had grown apart from those early vivid happy childhood memories. Does he recall them as I do? Are they fond to him also? I was so busy bringing my own family up and directing the business that I now own, that I missed so many years in between.

I walked over to Mike and introduced myself and he seemed to remember me. I could tell that he was really struggling with the loss of his mother and so their was not allot of words to share with him other than condolences.

Richard was busy with others so I left him be for the time being. I walked down to the graveside with heavy thoughts in my mind. I recalled the last time I had seen Joan. She had come in to the diner just a few months back with one of her grandchildren. She lovingly held my hand as we sat and talked at her table. Although she was also in a wheel chair now, I could still see the same love in her eyes and her voice was still just as bright as the one who called us into to supper so many years back.

The service now over, I made my way around the outside of the group. As I approached Richard, he saw me coming and backed around a couple of people and met me with a smile. We talked for a while and I could tell that he remembered those times so precious to me also. He told me that he was now an electrician and who he worked for. I know that now I will look for his truck as it drives around Bend.

I wondered how many times he might have been in the diner over the years and I hoped that he hadn't felt that I had ignored those times. You see, I still saw the young Richard who I conquered rocks with and he grew up and looked so different now.

Now, I know that especially recently, my face is kind of distinguishable in the area but I guess I just kind of kick myself for not knowing his better. As we talked, I tried to emblazon it in my head so the next time we are close to one another, I won't slip up. I left him and walked back up the hill to my car and back to the diner to help out with a busy lunch.

As I worked, I kept going back in time in my mind and then forward to the big man who now is. I wrote on a sticky note in my head, "Check up on Richard from time to time.". I just hope I placed the note in a place that will remind me to not be so distant to someone who meant so much to me in the past.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Don't fear the reaper....er the inspector.

I have had many different health inspectors over the years. Friends with some, almost enemies with others, it is the one person that every restaurant owner/manager dreads. Why? Because he holds all power and you can never challenge him. I should correct myself there, you can challenge him but he can get you back later. It is best that you keep a mutual respect of one another and that keeps the relationship healthy.

My first inspector told me that as a 24 hour restaurant, I should never expect perfection. As a matter of fact, he said, I should never expect to have an exceeded rating. Back then, a rating over 90 was exceeded. I took up that gauntlet that he never really meant to drop and a year later, his one question answered by himself (How long have those pies been out cooling? Wait a minute, I eat the pies here, I know how long.), I got my one and only perfect score and my first of exceeded ratings that I held until they dropped it back in the 90's to pass or not pass (I could never figure that one out, they said it gave some of us advantages in our marketing that should not come from them or something like that.).

Shortly after the restaurant expanded and we became a diner, there was a very hard cased inspector that the word got out and was feared. The first time I met him, he boldly walked in the door and introduced himself. He said, "Hi, I am ______ and I am here to shut you down.". I had been having some consistency problems with the new cooks that were needed to man the larger diner and he knew right where to go but found that the problems were resolved. From then on, every time I found a solution to a problem in his realm, I called him up and invited him down to check it himself.

I recall him hitting me twice for reheating in a steam table. It was his understanding that no steam table would reheat in an hour and so any steam table was not good enough. He wanted all to be be reheated on the burners. I found a product in a magazine called "Heat and Serve". The coil in the bottom was actually in the water and their claim was that it could heat fast enough that you could legally reheat there. I purchased one and brought him in with his stop watch. I don't know how many people he sent my way to find out where this new invention could be bought. I was even told by one associate that he had told them that if you want to find a way to correct a problem, just see me. I was overwhelmed by that comment.

His predecessor and I butted heads over gravy. I loved to have my gravy always reheated. When you cool down the gravy after boiling, it infuses the flavors deep into the gravy. So, we would make up gallons of gravy every day and then cool them off. But the cool off was never fast enough for them. I tried ice paddles and all sorts of other devices but always got jobbed. My problem was that I didn't stop the way I made the gravy, I just kept trying different things.

So, on the third inspection, he informed me that he was going to have to shut us down. Now that got my attention. "You can't do that", I remarked. "Watch me.", he returned and flipped around and left. I raced after him and caught him as he was about to leave in his car. I apologised for my arrogance and reminded him that their was too much at stake here. "I have 5o people relying on me for their livelihood.", I remarked. "Give me a chance, I will resolve the problem.".

I tried ice paddles while cooling in the freezer and that sufficed for him. The problem was that the steam took my compressor out in less that six months. Defeated, I had to find a gravy that would have the best flavor without cooling and reheating. I called Sysco foods up in Portland and asked for their 'gravy guru'. They put their expert on and I asked him for the best recipe to make good cream gravy that had the best flavor immediately. He asked where I was from and I said Bend. He said, "That one is easy. Call the guys at Jake's, they have the best gravy in town.". I laughed and said, "I am Jake's.".

Through experimentation and ideas from a variety of people, we came up with the right mix that we use to this day. There were a few complaints at first but we are still, fortunately, known for our gravy.

Now, I said all this to lead up to something. Just before I got sick last week, I came in to the diner and found the inspector. I quickly looked at his report and talked to him before he left on one issue. He had hit us for holes in the walls in certain places where pipes had been put in the walls before we even opened up 6 years ago. I asked him why his concern. He said that varmits could come into the room from there. I said, "First they would have to get into the building but I have traps outside and inside that are inspected monthly and the whole building is checked for any signs of them.". He seemed surprised that I would go that extra mile but I had been doing that ever since I met the owner of the local pest control years ago and we became friends. It became kind of 'an ounce of prevention' thing. He said he still wanted the problem resolved however.

So, when I got back to work yesterday, I took a closer look at his inspection report. An 85. Two criticals. One for the pie case. He made us throw out the cream pies when he found the temp to be 44 degrees. At first I thought it was because they were at the top and the door was opened up quite a bit to retrieve slices. Then I realized the problem. The compressors had been icing up so Oregon Equipment had put a thaw mode on the compressor to daily deice it. We called and had them reset that timer until the middle of the night, not when we would have the doors open.

The second critical was for one of the crew who had brought her canned beets into share with others in the crew. She left a couple in one of the fridges for her workmate and they caught us for that. You cannot have home made items in the fridge, only items that you are selling.

Three one pointers came from my extra room off of the kitchen. There is a wall that was painted in spackle paint before I moved in that has always been hard to clean. We had just cleaned it on Sunday but it still looked dirty and we were deciding whether to recover the wall. One of the crew members laid his coat on a counter top instead of hanging it on the hook provided, and the hole problem.

That got me to the last 2 pointer. He said the dish washer was dirty and needed cleaning. Something hit me there. I had just got finished checking my emails and had discovered that the chemical man, Ben ( who I trust greatly and would almost be a story of his own) had been in and serviced the machine. I found that we had delimed it the day before the inspector and so I called Ben to find out whether he had truly gone through the machine. His report back to me showed me that he was there just hours before the inspector.

He was shocked when he heard my report. "Lyle, I service machines all over the town and yours is one of the cleanest!". "Could you call the inspector and tell him.",I quipped. I saw Ben later on and asked him what the inspector had said. He told me that the inspector said that he had to catch us on it from time to time to keep us on our toes....?

What is the moral to all of this? I am not really sure. I guess just do your best and realize that there will always be something that will be found. Just grin, bear it, fix it, and keep on rolling for another six months.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Today is a short one. Mainly because I need the sleep but also because things are on my mind that block same. Worry is something that every good manager does. There are so many things that are in front of you to look after and you are responsible for all of them. The buck stops here. You have the food. Is it presented well? Is it tasty and appealing? Is it kept safe? Is it served well? You have the equipment. Is it running well? Are your gas items safe? Are your electricals safe? Do your refrigeration items keep to the right temperature? Are all of your equipment kept safe and maintained? You have the building. Is the air flow right? Are your customers comfortable? Do your chairs have rips or are they sound in structure? Are your walls kept clean and painted? Are your windows kept clean? Are you in control of the rodent or bug issues? Is your grease trap kept clean and maintained? You have your crew. Are they happy? Do they function well as a team? How do you handle the disagreements and troubles between them that all large groups have? You have your lot. Is it maintained well? Are the lines for parking defined? Where should your crew park? You have your customers. Are they happy? Are they being served quickly and efficiently? Do they like their food? Are their drinks kept up? You have your laws. Is there any new ones sneaking in that will affect you? Are their any new taxes that are being assessed you? Are you on top of any new employment laws? Are you staying up with new health laws? I can go on and on. Insurance, utilities, food purchasing and pricing, inspections (that is a big one), payroll........as you can see, it can be very overwhelming if you let it. And I guess lately, I have just a bit too much. I need to step back and let the people that I have placed in those places do their jobs and then I need to be able to hold them accountable without taking things to internally. I hit a rough patch last week and I am now pulling back out of it. I am not getting any younger and I need to slow down my pace just a bit. Should that be my new years resolution? We all need to step back from time to time, count our blessings, and stop our worrying. I have a beautiful wife, three great kids, a thriving and strong business, a comfortable house and car to drive, some very great friends, and am loved and respected by many. And above all of that, I have a God who cares enough for me to get my attention every once in a while and remind me of all of that. And I am grateful.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Basketball and inner demons

When you are young, you are iron clad. You feel you can do just about anything. You are indestructible. Then, as you grow, your body begins to tell you different. You begin to meet and greet inner demons.....inner fears. Things that cause your life to be different. Roadblocks of sorts.

Friday, at lunch, I began to think of how Jayden would probably love to go to the championship game in Eugene between the Oregon Ducks and the Creighton Blue Jays. I first called Carrie to ask her how she felt and then checked the Internet to see if tickets were available. What I found was that they had actually discounted the tickets to $10 each. It seemed that many did not realize that the game was in Eugene. That sealed my thoughts and when I picked up Jay at school, I asked him if he would like to go.

Excited, we both got our things ready for the quick trip. By four, we were on our way to Eugene. I had secured a room at the Days Inn which was right across the street from the new Matthew Knight Arena. An excited Jay said, "Wow, Papa, I would have never guessed that I would be going to a championship game today.".

Jay's dad is a flake and it is impressed on me to be the fatherly influence in his life. I enjoy so much my time with Jay and am so proud of the young man that I see him becoming. He is careful of the feelings of others and is a pure joy to hang out with. So, a good quantity of time is an easy thing for me. And as an old friend of mine once told me, you need quantity time to find quality time. That time when you are able to influence him the most. When the things that you tell him will enter in as something that he feels makes sense.

So, I hoped that this trip would find some of those quality times. We laughed and joked as we drove along while listening to my music on the stereo. "Papa, I sure wish I would have brought my ipod. Your music is weird.". Jay always has good questions when we take these trips or do things that are different from the norm and today was no exception. Things like what is the difference between creeks and rivers or why do they name towns by these weird names amongst others.

We arrived at the motel just 20 minutes before the game. As we parked and walked into the lobby, some guy zipped up to the door, jumping out of his running car, and beat us to the desk. Then he needed rates and made his decision on what room he wanted to rent before paying for it. By the time we left and headed towards the arena, it was now 10 minutes before the game. We had figured on stopping at Subway but felt we might be better set buying a hot dog at the Matt and after going in the door, went straight to Uncle Phil's snack bar. We found the smallest line and were right up front when the credit card machine went down. The man in front of us was trying to pay by card so actually tied up both of the registers as they struggled with his payment. All of the other lines flowed as we waited patiently. Getting our dogs, we wolfed them down as we walked briskly to our seats. We could hear the national anthem being sang as we walked in the back.

We sat down just in time for the teams to be announced. I don't think there are any bad seats in the Matt and ours was no exception there. We could see the court very good and could make out the various players quite easily. Jay showed me where pro Kyle Korver's brother was on the Creighton team and you make out the resemblance.

The game started and the Ducks took off from the blocks like a man running a sprint. They barely missed a shot while Creighton could not buy one and were soon handily in the lead. As in any well played game, however, the opposition soon settled down and by half time, the Ducks lead was only 1 and we realized that they were in for a fight in the second half. Jay seemed bummed as he told me that he does not like going to games that the Ducks lose.

In the second half, the visitors found their wind and soon had taken over just as the Ducks had done early in the first half. Jay slumped in his seat as the Blue Jays took a 8 point lead.

It was then that I hit met my first nemesis. For years, since shortly after my tour in the Navy, I have struggled with anxiety. I never know just when it will hit me but it is always when I am somewhere outside of my normal day. Sometimes certain things become a sort of trigger and one of my worst was on a flight between Redmond and Seattle a few years ago. A certain lady's perfume had although not the cause had aggravated the already attack and I became very ill. On the other side of Jay sat a lady with heavy perfume. Sometime during the second half, the fragrance hit me and I was back in that plane.

I struggled with my thoughts and kept telling myself why I was there. I was there for that young man next to me. This was his night and nothing was going to ruin it. I excused myself and went up to the men's room to try and recover. I could hear that roar of the crowd which showed me that the Ducks were coming back. I decided then and there that nothing was going to stand in the way of Jay's game. I arrived back at my seat to find two things. The lady was gone and the Ducks had tied the game.

The rest of the game was somewhat surreal as I struggled with my dilemma. I watched the visiting players as they shot their free throws while the crowd jumped and attempted to distract them. I knew that I must also focus just as the player was focused and while the crowd around me screamed, I could hear my breathing as I drew in through my nose and out my mouth. I became less aware of the crowd and more aware of my attempting to calm down. I watched Jay as he was so excited that the team looked like they could win. He was yelling along with the others and raising his arms while wiggling his fingers to help the Duck players make their free throws. Sweat poured down the side of my face as the little boy inside of me fought with the man who knew that he needed to remain in control. I wondered how I would be able to spend the night away from home but knew that driving back that night was no option. This was Jay's adventure.

I began to calm down just as the game was coming to a close with the score tied. I remembered thinking, I hoped someone would score so that we would not go into overtime. It looked as if that someone was Creighton as they took a time out with 25 seconds remaining. But, when they passed the ball in, the player did not realize that he was close to the half court line and ended up stepping across it and turning the ball back to the Ducks. The Ducks scored with 2 seconds left and Creighton with no time outs leaving them to heave it from the back court.

The Ducks had won the game and the students poured out on the floor. I know that Jay would have loved to have gone out with them but I just could not do it. Fortunately, he never asked and we watched the mayhem from our perch. We stayed and watched the joyous Ducks as they received their new trophy and then headed back to our room.

The cold air outside seemed to bring me back totally to my senses and I was soon joking with Jay as we walked to our room. We got ready for bed and watched some funny videos on TV before calling it a night.

I slept well for four to five hours. Then met my second Nemesis. Sleeplessness. At least it did not come with anxiety as I knew what I was doing battle with. I had forgotten my book and my laptop, two of the items used to combat this from time to time. I just lay there for a half hour before turning on the TV with the mute button on. I searched the channels looking for something to watch that did not need sound. I finally ran across an MTV show that I think they call Jackass. I had seen parts before and I watched as men did stupid things to themselves that needed no sound to understand. Then the show got rank and I could not deal with it anymore. They were giving a guy a beer enema and that was enough. Disgusted, I turned off the set and went to the bathroom. I drew myself a shower, letting the hot water pour over my head. I stopped up the tub and when the water level rose, just sat and soaked for a while. This proved to be the thing that helped me get back to sleep.

Jay and I woke up at 6, jumped in the car, and drove back to Bend. As soon as I arrived, I was summoned to the diner where I ended up working until mid afternoon. The day was very busy but I was back in control. Back in my world.

Jay kept his tickets, his game program, and the next mornings sports page. Memoirs of a fun trip and adventure with is grandfather. One that I hope he will remember for a long time. I know I will.