Thursday, July 5, 2007

Jake's Fourth of July BBQ

Wow, another big event has come and gone. I thought I would sleep better tonight now that it is over but the heat and my thoughts swim so I will try and put down what yesterday was like.

Jimmy was up before the sun, preparing his sauce, baked beans and baking off Chicken and Ribs to be later sauced and BBQed. I arrived with my wife about 8 and began what I knew would be a long day. I had had little sleep the past two nights with my head swimming of last minute details.

Jimmy would handle the back, Judy, my wife, would handle the front, and I would be the one bouncing around, solving problems, and making sure the event was as error free as possible. I think my biggest worry was the heat and how it would tax the air conditioning as extra amounts of people moved in and out of the building. I turned the air down in both rooms to insure optimise our chances of keeping everyone cool.

We had a very busy steady morning which kept everyone on their toes and occupied my racing mind. We had two fairly new cooks on the line and I watched to see how well they would keep up with the busy day. I was pleasantly surprised to see them keeping up fairly well. We were short a waitress so Judy handled the back room and deck while I spent my time between organizing plates to go out and insuring that people were seated quickly and that their experience was what they hoped for. One of our new cooks made a mistake and made a pancake a little bigger than normal and it ended up going out with two plates under it causing ohs and aws as it was walked across the room to his table. All got a good laugh out of his expression and Judy made sure that pictures were taken.

Around noon, I began to break out decorations and with Ricki, one of our waitresses help began to display them around the deck area. We drug the salad bar out of the way and began placing tables to later hold the line of dishes that the customers would be moving down and loading their plates up with BBQ Ribs, Chicken, Baked Beans, Cole Slaw, Watermelon, and French Bread.

Fielding Phone call after Phone call, I began to wonder if we would have enough. Seven cases of ribs and four cases of chicken were being prepared in anticipation of 200 customers. To insure that amount, we prepared for 250. I began to wonder if "all you can eat" was the smartest of labels but since we had been promoting it that way, it was too late to go back on it. One caller told us that a party of 30 would be in around 8PM. We let them know that we would probably be out of BBQ by that time but they said they would be here anyway. My biggest worry now changed to where every one was going to sit.

I brought out the cover for the band and quickly realized that I could set out a table close to them with another shade so Judy and I drove to GI Joe's to get another shade but also to get me away and keep my sanity in those late hours before the big event. I was tickled how many people offered their assistance as I buzzed around the compound that afternoon. Either they too were excited about the coming event or were worried about the toll it was taking on me (one time, I stopped by the bathroom and when I saw my beet red face in the mirror began wondering that myself). Splashing cold water to cool me down both mentally and physically, I pushed on.

Barb, our super efficient cashier, peppered me with last minute questions as I brought her the stack of tickets and last minute posters to be displayed around with prices. We decided to have an alternative for kids with hot dogs so Judy and I ran over to the store to get those preparations.

Five O'clock came faster than expected as Vets and their families who were there to help began showing up. I had already gone over the various jobs with my wife so I turned them over to her for assignments. As I cruised around with last minute preparations, I recognized an old friend in the crowd. "How ya doing?", I yelled across the room. "I am a soda guy!", He grinned back. A legless vet wheeled his chair in the front door and I knew just where Judy would place him and later stopped and thanked him as he greeted guests, took their tickets, and marked the back of their hands to insure that they could come back into the line for seconds.

People began asking to buy tickets as early as 4:30. Once the tickets came out at 5 or so, they began lining up at the door waiting for the dinner bell to ring. By 5:45, the line was out the door and down the side of the building. We pulled one of the cooks off of the line to assist Jimmy leaving the other cook worried that he would not be able to keep up. "Don't worry", I assured him, "You will do just fine." while registering in the back of my mind that I had best keep an eye on the amount of tickets he was cooking just in case.

The band began to arrive around 5 to set up. Richard would do vocals and lead while his son, Ted (also a Jake's employee) would handle the bass. Chuck (who some consider one of the best fiddlers in Oregon) would play guitar and fiddle. George, the drummer for Mason Williams (Classical Gas) would complete the foursome. As I chatted with them, George let me know that Mason will be playing at the Tower this next February. Confident that all was well on the stage area, I set my sights on other places and began my last minute worry session.

All things came together and at 5 minutes before the hour, my wife opened the gates to the salivating crowd of hungry eaters. I was overwhelmed at how quickly the volunteers took to their positions. Vets along with their wives and children were helping people find places, wiping down tables, pouring drinks, getting extra napkins (I went through quite a few of those), and letting us know when we needed to replenish the food on the line.

The line went out the front door and around the building. But the old cars, sound of the band, and anticipation of a good BBQ seemed to overcome the waiting in the heat and everyones mood stayed pretty happy.

My next two hours were a buzz, checking on customers, replenishing the buffet, and solving problems (one of which was a fuze that kept tripping, shutting down the cashier which was interesting).

In all, we served over 200 people in less than 2 hours. Some of my highlights were as follows:

A couple from Florida who had called me on the phone for directions called me over to their table. Because of lack of seating, they were sitting with two local couples sharing a table and getting to know one another. That sharing of tables with strangers seemed to happen quite a few times and reminded me of an attitude of older days of sharing and caring.

One lady from California who considered herself a BBQ expert, stated that it was the best BBQ that she had ever tasted.

As I walked through the lot checking on people, I heard over and over; "Great Job!" and "You did it again!" which definately felt good.

At the break, I chatted with the band and asked to hear the fiddle. In the beguinning of the next set, he broke it out and began an Irish jig. Irish music is Judy's favorite so I called inside and sent Judy out on the deck where she stood and listened for a few songs.

All in all, it was a very successful night with over 200 happy eaters served and somewhere between $700 and $800 raised for COVO. I spent the last couple of hours, picking things up, breaking things down, and setting up for the next work day.

Many thanks to all who helped promote, the Vets who helped serve, and especially to Jimmy who cooked over 90% of the meal by himself. If even only one homeless vet is helped off of the street and back into life, we have all done a good thing. God bless you all!

1 comment:

Keeneye said...

Man, I wish I was there for the 4th! What a fantastic event you put on -- and for a great cause.

Thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes with us. The photo of the pancake from outer space is just killing me!