Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Count your Blessings

November 21, 2012
I was working in the office on Monday when the power went out.  We had just finished lunch and I was working on payroll.  I came out into the diner to hear that one customer had heard a large explosion off towards the east.
Jay and I decided to check on things at the house and we soon discovered that a rather large tree had taken down the electrical line on Bear Creek Road.  We drove out to the house and Immediately discovered the drive in gate to our back yard was in distress. Using some items close by, we secured it and went on to work on securing the items on our back deck.  Our house lives in a rather windy area having very few wind breaks toward the west.  As I stepped out onto the deck that had all of it's chairs already blown off, I noticed the back fence was very close to going over.
Jay begin picking up the chair while I grabbed the drill and some long screws.  Taking some old fence posts that I found in an abandoned lot next door, I quickly braced the fence against the still buffeting winds.  Jay and I then took bunjy cords and secured the items on the deck.
I then returned to the diner to attempt to decide what measures we should take there.  The tree was so big that I knew the power could be off for quite some time, so I struggled with whether we should close down or not.
Customers kept streaming in and were quite happy with eating cold sandwiches with pie and washing it down with the remaining coffee.  I had said to close when I saw a man being wheeled in the front door.  "We have no power.", I exclaimed.  "And I have been looking forward to this all day.", the man in the wheel chair said. "I only have cold sandwiches.", I returned.  "Can I have one with a slice of that pie?", came the reply.  I smiled to myself, knowing the answer to what needed to happen right then.  We would remain open for as long as possible.  Today was not about profit.
We found battery operated lights to use in various parts of the kitchen and Judy joined in to help the crew that was still working on the preparations for Thursday's event.  Judy and Shelly cracked hard boiled eggs while Matt polished off an apple salad mix.  Jay and I drove down to Big Lots who had power and purchased some more lights and batteries.
As the sun begin to set, I had to make another decision.  So, I jumped in my car and drove around the neighborhood attempting to access just how long we might be down.  Jim called while I was out so I headed back to the diner so we could make the decision based upon what we had in front of us.  The power had come back on in parts of the kitchen but not in other.  We have two panels.  One was hot and the other was down.
As I drove into the parking lot, I was trying to get an update from the electric company and I sat in the car with the blue tooth on as a strange man approached me.  The side of his face was all scratched up and he waited as I finished the call. "I need a ride home.", he stated.   Now, I believe that sometimes things are placed in front of you to see how you will react.  I knew without hesitation what was needed and I told the man to jump in the car.  I called my daughter who was still in the building and she knows me also.  A teary eyed answer to the phone said it all.  She did not want me to take him.  Jim came walking over to the car and I made a snap call.  Since he really could not do anything, I asked him to jump in the back seat so we could access the situation on the way back and calm her fears of her father getting jumped by the stranger.
The man seemed very disoriented as we attempted to find where he lived.  "Down past Fred Meyers.", he claimed.  I asked him if he had fallen and if he needed medical assistance.  "No, I am fine.", he exclaimed, "I just need to get out of this weather."  We determined that his car had broken down but he didn't seem to know just where so we headed towards the south side of town and Fred Meyers.
Traffic was very heavy as people were going home early for the evening and so the going was a bit slow.  Both Jim and I attempted to find out just where he lived to no real avail.  "Jim asked him if he lived in an apartment and he said, "No, it is a house.".  "East or West of the highway?". I asked. "West", came the reply.  The further we drove, the more anxious that I got leaving my daughter and grandson with the remain crew in the diner as the sky got darker and darker.
Following the man's directions, we found ourselves in Romaine Village and he guided us into his house.  As he opened his door to get out, he turned and looked at me and said the first sentence that seemed to be complete and full in thought.  "Thank you so much!", he said, "You have no idea just how much what you have done means to me.".  I bid him farewell and watched with my lights on the house to help him get to his door.  He smiled and waved as we backed out.
As we drove away, I attempted to explain my thoughts to Jim regarding angels.  "I think sometimes God places them in our lives to see how we will handle a situation.", I explained. "You might have just met one.".
I called the diner and found that the had already secured the building.  I asked that one of the men stay until we arrive so that Trin and Jay would be secure while Jim and I took the opportunity to discuss last minute plans for Thanksgiving on our drive back.
Then the phone calls begin to come in regarding poker.  I told them all that I felt we should just cancel as I had no idea when the power might come back on.  One of the guys who does not normally get to play seemed disappointed.  "I won't be able to play again till the end of the year.", he stated. "If we play, it is by lantern", I returned.  "Great", he said, "I will bring mine also.".  So, I started calling the few back who had called earlier and they called others.
In the pitch dark, we set up by lantern light.  I got a couple of coat hangers and hung the lanterns over the two tables and we played with 17 people.  It made the game more special.  Kind of like camping out. One of the players stated that we should do this once a year, regardless if we have power or not.
The game actually gave me something to do as I waited for the power to come back on.  In between hands, I attempted to get updates from the electrical company and soon found the shortest way to filter through their electronic system.  I knew then that the night might be long.
As people dropped out, they left and we soon were down to the final table of which I was no longer a part of.  My daughter had knocked me out when she pulled a straight that took out my two pair.  By the left over light, I re-stacked chips as the final table dwindled.  Around 8:30, we had a winner and Jay and Trin left, leaving me alone in the building.
I walked around trying to better access the situation.  I knew that we had the walk in cooler back on line and I was very happy about that as that was where the turkeys were for the big day coming up.  I was concerned about the other refrigeration and freezers when I made a rather happy discovery.  Our main fridges along with the walk in freezer were also on line.  I moved the pies from up front into the walk in cooler and we seemed to be secure when it hit me.  We have tens of thousands of dollars worth of product and even though we have no power to half of the building those perishables remain protected. I quickly sent up a prayer of thanks as I attempted to secure the very dark building and go home for a bit.
There was no internet or cable at the house so I watched shows that I had taped on the dvr as I waited for the power to be restored at the diner so that I could shut her down and secure the building.  I took a break from the shows every hour or so to drive down to the diner and check.  I would sit in the parking lot and filter through the electrical companies phone system to let them know I was still without power and get updates.  At Midnight, they said 1:30, so I drove back down then.
The building was still dark and so was the area around it.  The power to one light in the parking lot had been on through out the evening as it was attached to the walk in power.  I noticed it out and figured it was the timer.  Driving around the building to switch the light back on, I discovered a pickup sitting out behind the building. I thought I noticed movement in the truck.  I got out and switched the light back on.  I know we had power at the time because the compressor was on next to the light switch.  But, when I drove back around, the light was off. As I drove around the building, the other circuit in the area had gone off.  This left us even darker as other street lights in the area had gone out.  I drove back around the building and as my lights came across the pickup truck, I noticed movement within it.  People were sitting in the dark at 1:30 in the morning a block off of the main road.
Now,this bothered me.  1:30 in the morning.  Pitch dark.  Off the main road.  I thought of calling 911 but waited until I arrived back home.  I called the non emergency line and reported the sighting.  "Next time just call 911", she said, "It does sound kind of strange for them to be just sitting there".
Five minutes later, an officer called to let me know that it was just a flag crew for the electrical company waiting to be assigned.  Evidentally, they had moved back there catching some sleep while they waited for assignment.
The electrical companies phone system now said the estimated time of 3AM for return of power so I watched yet another taped show and drove back down at 2:45 to find a lite up diner.
As I unlocked the door, it was as if the diner was open for business.  Lights were on and music wafted out of the kitchen.  I walked around, securing and accessing.  One coffee pot had been turned on just before the outage and the pot had been removed so a water mess needed attending.  Then, I closed out the till and credit card machine before setting the security.  By 3:30, I was on my way home.
As I laid my head down on the pillow, Judy and I talked for a few minutes of the eventful day.  She stated that it made her think of the people after the hurricane Sandy that had been affected.  Some of them went for days before getting power back on.
As I drifted off to sleep, I thought of how blessed we truly are and have been.  My fence was still standing.  Our food had remained secure.  And friends had gotten together in the cold dark blustery night to enjoy some time together and raise a bit more money so that one day, a family just might have a home of it's own.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A tough loss

November 18, 2012
I watched the Duck game last evening with my family and friends.  It was a tough one.  I could see it unraveling as the Cardinal drove for their tying touchdown in the fourth.  I disagreed with the overturn of the call there but they never should have been in that situation in the first place.  I grimaced as our field goal kicker missed another goal and yelled along with the others as we thought that we had recovered a fumble that would let us move on.  Our mighty invincible Ducks had been grounded.
I watched as young students openly wept on the sidelines and the small Standford contingent cried tears of joy.  My grandson stormed from the room.  I knew he was fighting back his own and did not want us to see.
I held my own disappointment and helped clean up the room as everyone left....dejected and not wanting to believe that it had actually happened.
I looked for Jay and found him by the front door waiting for Carrie to leave.  "It will be OK", I tried to assure him.  "No it will not!", came the cracked response.  So, I told him the following story as we waited together for his mom:
Back in the 70's, I was a young passionate Charger fan down in San Diego.  My friend, Dan Fouts will probably remember this game well also.  The Chargers were seconds away from going to the Super Bowl and leading their nemesis Oakland Raiders by a few points with just seconds left.  We had just knocked their quarterback out of the game and a young Stanford graduate named Jim Plunkett came in to take his place.  Jim threw a quick touchdown pass and our hopes were dashed.
I was so angry that I wanted to take it out on my TV.  I actually did kick it and ended up hitting the corner with my toe.  I chocked back tears not only emotional but physical from the kick.  I felt bad all evening and did not want to speak to anyone.  It took me days to get over the loss of a silly game.  I realized that the bad feeling that I got from being so emotionally involved in the game was just not worth it all.  And I vowed to never get that emotional again.  It just wasn't worth it.
I hope that this one will be Jay's wake up also in his life.  Life is just too short to let a game get in the way.  Life comes with ups and downs.  But, if we look real close, we should always be able to find a silver lining somewhere.

Friday, November 9, 2012


November 9, 2012
As a businessman, the recent election has given much to be concerned about.  The strength and sustainability of the business and the jobs that it creates weigh heavily on my shoulders.  I, like many other businessmen, are pretty concerned about the direction that the present administration is taking.  Business confidence (like consumer confidence) is important in the driving of this huge vehicle that we call the economy.  While their are some businesses out there who feel differently, I can assure you that most of us are uncertain and an uncertain businessman while be more wary of his decisions.  He will be more protective of his assets and less willing to take the chances of expansion which is needed to fire up the engine.
This post is not meant to be sour grapes.  It is merely a way of attempting to explain a mindset.  Unfortunately, the majority spoke the other day and they do not see things the same way that we do.  We are left to live with that and attempt to go on and lead our respective businesses in the best way possible.
We also see the economy as a fragile house of cards.  And our divided populace as a cracked foundation.  Unless we can come together as one and solve this fiscal cliff that looms in front of us, the house just gets shakier and shakier.  For many of us, that makes the decision even more confusing and concerning.  We have seen our country and our fellow Americans become more divided in the past 4 years. It is as if we are looking at the same painting and seeing two different visions.
The veteran community, for the most part, sees this in a similar light.  Many of them fought in foreign wars against oppressive governments that aimed to rule over their populace.  They see a growing government with wary suspicious eyes.  Many of my veteran buddies shared with me on Wednesday a similar thought.  And though the words were sometimes placed in different ways, the meaning was always pretty much the same: "This is more similar to what we fought against than what we fought for.".  This was quite evident when you looked at the backing of the two candidates.  A poll showed that the military backed Mr. Romney by over 2 to 1.  If you would take the veterans into consideration, that number was far greater.  I have a pretty good pulse of the local veteran community and I see the number to be maybe 10 to 1 or even greater.  Of the hundred or so vets that meet in the diner on Mondays, I only know of a small handful that feel differently.  Of higher level retired officers, only a handful backed the present administration while hundreds (Democrat and Republican alike) took out an ad in the days before the election stating their concern.  On Wednesday, I witnessed the concerned drooped shoulders of crusty old vets who as usual tried to keep their thoughts to themselves, pick themselves up by their boot straps, and continue on as they always have.
That scenario made what happened yesterday at a local high school even more powerful to a handful of veterans that I was a part of.
A couple of weeks back, we were contacted regarding a plaque that had been hanging at the old Bend High Building (and present day admin building) in downtown Bend.  This plaque was from the early 50's and was of the Bend High graduates that were lost in WW2.  They wanted to take the plaque and place it in the present day Bend High.
The first week we talked about this at the Band of Brothers, only a few hands went up when asked if their were interest in experiencing this event.  I felt (and I believe others did also) that the kids would not understand the significance of the plaque and that they would not probably give it it's due.
So, last Monday, we addressed the Band of Brothers again.  I first asked for hands of Bend High grads.  There were a few throughout the room.  I explained again the significance of the event and gave them my thoughts of the importance of showing these young people just how important something like this was to all of us.  After all, these were the fallen.  These were the heroes.  These were the ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedom that we have.  A show of hands showed that some 30 guys agreed and would show up.
We mustered in the back room of the diner and left in cars at around 10AM, driving the short distance to the school.  The school had cordoned off a small parking lot for us and we were met at the door by students and escorted down to the library.  The old vets were taken by the reception and many enjoyed talking with their escorts as we walked down the halls of the school.
The reception in the library was very nice with the culinary department making us sweets and coffee.  While many of us did not partake, it was not because we did not want to but that many of us can no longer handle much of the sugary confections especially before a meal.  I watched as the veterans settled into the space and enjoyed the attention that they were getting.  I even helped the young journalist who was interviewing some of them find the WW2 guys to talk since the plaque was even more their event.
We were told that the kids would be going down to the auditorium first and that we would be brought up the isles to the stage afterwords.  This made perfect sense but when we heard that all of the students would be attending, I think we all kind of wondered how awkward this might end up being.  We were marched down to the entrance and waited while the assembly began.
I was towards the front of my line just behind my two friends, Loren and Zin.  We could see the mass of kids in the room in front of us.  HD, the school principal and an old friend, was up on stage announcing the event.  He put up a video showing some of the original Band of Brothers from the movie.  He spoke of what the group had gone through and then let the video speak for itself as the various veterans explained how they felt.  The last sound bite was of the leader.  He spoke of something that his grand daughter had asked him.  She said, "Grandpa, were you a hero?".  He answered ,  "No, but I served with a band of heroes."
The room hushed as the video stopped and HD took up the microphone as we walked into the room and he introduced us.  The kids jumped to their feet with cheers as we walked down the isle.  My eyes tear up even now as I recall back.  30 crusty old vets, some with canes, some bent over with age, all taken back with surprise paraded down the isle to the resounding applause and cheers of 1600 kids.

I almost feel like ending this post right there....for that moment was so incredibly special.  Those kids have no idea what or how they affected that small group.  To the man, we choked back the tears as we walked through this incredible acknowledgment.  The kids saw a stage full of shell shocked veterans.
I cannot speak for the first two wars, but I can for the Vietnam.  Many of us still hold a bit of bitterness over how we felt after the war.  First off, the war was not a popular one.  And even though we actually did everything we attempted to do and claimed victory at the Paris Peace accords, our politicians failed to back or support the regime that we left in the south of Vietnam.  They had not been able to build up their commerce enough to support themselves and even though we left them with adequate equipment, we did not support them with the fuel and ammunition needed to use it.  Two years after the cease fire, the Communist North heavily backed by China and Russia, swept through the land with a vengeance.  I know this for a fact, for I was there and experienced it first hand.
When my ship returned to port that year, there was no fan fare.  No bands. Just a spattering of family members meeting some of the guys at the pier.  No one cared or seem to care.  No 'when johnny comes marching home'.  Most of us didn't wear our uniforms off base and only wore them when flying home because that was the only way to get the free flights.  We got out and joined the civilian life....leaving behind just memories.
Many of us became somewhat closet vets.  We either threw away our uniforms or just packed some of them away.  I remember having mine for a few years stowed away in my bag that later got thrown out in one of our moves.  I talked now and then with some of the other veterans including my previous employer who had been in some pretty bad battles and I think I felt myself somewhat unworthy of being called a Vietnam vet for even though I had seen some crazy things, my boots had never actually felt the ground and bullets never pierced the air around my head.
It took a small group of guys a few years back to pull me back to a bit of reality and to gain back the pride of being a part of a special group.  And through all of that, being able to feel something special that only people who have shared experiences feel.  It is hard to explain that feeling but pretty much every veteran has it.
It is hard also to explain how yesterday made us feel.   We talked about it in the car on the way back to the diner and one of the guys summed it up pretty good when he said what he was thinking as he stood up on the stage while the kids shouted, cheered, and applauded us.  He said, "What in the hell am I doing up here?  What did I do to deserve this?".
We came to Bend High to show a bunch of young people how important memorials are to us.  Our expectations were that these kids did not understand...could not understand.  We went to attempt to show something to them.  They ended up being the teachers.  And, suddenly, we saw something that we did not see on Wednesday.........Hope.
Thank you Bend High!