Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Grand Adventure

Friday was Trinity's birthday. I had asked her a few weeks back what she wanted to do for her birthday and she said she wanted to go to Vegas. So, we began the preparations for the trip.
I first moved to get a good room. After a few searches online, I found a very sweet deal at Monte Carlo. Their strip view rooms for a little more than $40 per night. Having secured that, I began looking at various things that we could do while there.
Initially, I thought we would rent a car but the more I looked the harder this one seemed. I found this site that talked of $7 per day car rentals in Vegas but when getting on there, the best I could find was over $30 and if you add in the tax, would take it over $50 or more for the car than the room. I decided that whatever we did we would be walking or cabbing it.
At first, Judy did not want to come with us but at the last minute, she relented and decided that it might just be fun. So, on Sunday evening, we jumped on a plane to Portland and began our trip. We met up with Trin in Portland and spent the night at the friends of ours that she stays with when she is there, Randy and Anisha Slocum. The Slocum's have adopted three boys and the youngest of them, Marcus was having his fourth birthday party.

We arrived after the party and before the boys were to go to bed for the evening. I was greeted with hugs from the three boys who call me Papa Kyle. Marcus asked me to read him a book and before I knew it, all three boys were on my lap listening to a book on Clifford, the big red dog. Their dog, Sadie was sitting close to us and seemed to be listening to the reading also. It was a very good start to our trip.

The next morning, we got up early and headed out to the airport. The closer we got to the airport, the more the anxiety level raised. For those of you who don't know, I deal with a hereditary anxiety issue and a few years back while visiting Vegas with Judy, I had a very huge anxiety attack which was weighing heavy on my mind. We waited at the gate and the sweat started to roll . As I tried to get on the plane, the pressure was so intense, I stopped and told the girls to go on without me. Trin handed me a pass for a later flight and her car keys just in case and I kissed the girls and sent them on.

I struggled with it all as I watched their plane taxi and head away. I talked with a friend on the phone while I walked back down to the second planes gate and feeling better, bought myself some breakfast at Starbucks. I sat in the corner close to the gate and flipped open my computer wondering if I could put in words what was in my head but could not find the words.

RL Garrigus from KSJJ called me to ask me how the food and clothing drive was doing. RL has been a friend for many years and I knew he would understand so I opted out on an interview and he wished me luck on getting on the next plane. As the time grew short, a couple of Trin's friends showed up. I told them what was going on and they encouraged me to get on. Others around me heard my story and many of them got up as the last call was being given saying "Go on, you can do it!" With a deep breath, I stood up and headed to the gates amidst the yells and pats on the back. Horizon air only lets you take one bag on the plane while the other stays on what they call the AlaCart. I looked out as my bag was loaded on the plane and I realized that I had no identification on it, so if I didn't go, I might very well lose it. So, that knowledge spurred me on while the plane finished up it's preflight and I ended up taking off.

I arrived in Vegas around 2 and Trin's friends took me to our hotel in their rented car. Trin and Judy had already checked into our 29th floor room. The view down on the massive MGM Grand was beautiful. We spent the first evening getting ourselves situated and visiting some of the close by resorts to the Monte Carlo. Vegas has grown so massive on it's strip that it is now almost solid resorts from the Mandalay Bay all the way to the Stratosphere. We stopped at the MGM and the Rain forest Cafe for some supper on our first night. After some more walking, Judy retired to the room and Trin and I walked down to see the new 'City Center'. We walked around the new resort and then on to the Belagio to watch a couple of water shows there. We ended up taking the tram back to the Monte and retired for the night.

Tuesday morning, we began looking into what I knew would be the highlight of the trip, a flight into the Grand Canyon. After some calls and some brochure and coupons, I ended up booking us on the afternoon flight with a company called Pappillon who had a flight down into the canyon with a Champagne lunch down in the canyon before flying back out.

Excited about our adventure to come, we waited for the bus to pick us up for our hotel. Our bus arrived and carted us and a couple from England to the airport in Boulder City. As we sat there in the lobby of the airport listening to a safety video and waiting for our pilot to call us, I noticed different accents around me and realized that it was quite an international group that was about to make this trek with us. The Brits were on the first chopper and we waited for the eventual call for us. We were placed with two other couples, a mother daughter from Canada and a couple from Ecuador. The copter had seven seats and we were placed in seats as per groups and then weight distribution. The copter had seven passenger seats. Four in the back and three up front. It became apparent that we would be up front, merely from our numbers. The seats up front were not even across, the middle stuck forward just a bit. I soon found out that was to be my seat. I sat in the seat looking at the bubble all around me and realized that I could almost look straight down.

Our pilot informed us that he was also a trainer and had two other 'first timers' coming with us so we waited while the others got into the air and our 'trainer' followed them to insure they had no problems. We had our headsets on and the pilot turned on the music that started with the theme to Bonanza and it seemed to be a fitting song for the trip.

Our flight started with a flight over the Hoover Dam and the new bridge that it being built there. We then started over the Lake Mead which seemed to go on for miles and miles probably did.

As we flew out of the lake, I wondered how long it would be before we arrived at the canyon. I was soon to find out just how fast, as we crossed over a small ridge and found ourselves in the canyon. Songs from the movie, 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" wafted through our headphones. I found out later that the area we were flying over was where most of the movie was filmed.

We flew further and deeper into the canyon and the pilot had us look up to see the glass bottom walkway that has been built up on the canyon for tourists to walk out on. It was then that the true realization that we were actually flying in the Grand Canyon hit me. The walls take on such a different look from even level than from the top looking down.

We followed the river up the canyon and soon spied our landing zone in front of us. A spattering of choppers were all over the ridge that had picnic tables in the middle. Our pilot guided us down and onto a small ridge off to the side that was only feet away from the edge and the cliff down to the Colorado. Most of the choppers were on very safe spots but ours was the trainer and so he took the harder spot.

We exited the machine and wondered at the beauty of the afternoon sun on the sides of the rock walls and the meandering green river that ran below us. The rocky ground was spattered with a variety of cactus plants and we took pictures while our pilot laid out our lunches. We all toasted a glass of Champagne before devouring our meals in this gorgeous setting. Trin laughed as they all realized that I was the only one who did not take off my life preserver. Not to be bothered, I just left it on while we finished off our meals.

Soon, we were back in our seats and flying back out. This time, we were taken up. As we crowned over the edge of the canyon top, I was reminded of movies where jets flew through canyons and popped out as we were. We flew back to Boulder City as the sun set over the desert area around Vegas.

Landing, we were bussed back to our Hotel, our adventure lasting a very short but very packed four hours. A highlight of our trip and an adventure that we will all remember the rest of our lives. A truly Grand Adventure.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Brothers and Change

With the KTVZ TV station running a story on the Band of Brothers last week, I knew that I was going to get busy this week and began to prepare ourselves for this new change. I decided to shift the Brothers to the main floor and move the regular diners to the back room area.

Most of the night on Sunday, I stewed over this new change. What ifs flew through my head as I imagined all of the bad things that could happen. In today's economy, one can ill afford offending anyone.

Now, I realize change is inevitable and the business who is willing to change is the one who will survive. But, the trick is to make the right decisions in those changes. I am one who goes by his gut feeling on them and this decision felt right to me so I just made it.

I came in a couple of hours early to re look at all of the possibilities and began working on making the transition as easy as possible. Jimmy was working on the buffet so I knew that side of things would go smoothly.

Right at 10AM, a woman with her 5 kids walked through the door and I sat her at one of the tables. From then on, we began moving the customers to our back room. I had not taken into effect that the day would be a holiday and the back room began to fill fast. I stressed over whether we would be able to handle all of the customers and we decided that the big table would become the counter for the three hours of transition. After the tables filled up, we began to set people around the big table. I pushed the girls to get the orders as quickly as possible hoping that the quicker service would help turn the room quicker and not lose any customers.

The brothers began to fill into the main floor and we set up the PA system at the door along with a table for Loren to put his new members tools on.

11AM came fast and I went over the buffet with all before Zin lead the room in a pledge of allegiance and the Chaplain led us all in a prayer. Shortly before, I had stopped to see the woman and her children and told her not to let us push her out. I wanted her to be comfortable. I noticed that she had her children stand and do the pledge with the guys along with the prayer. It all fit so well. As she left a short time later, I commented on how well mannered her children were. I know some of the guys felt the same as they stopped by her table and talked to her and her kids. She smiled brightly when I complimented her.

I spent most of the next hour between the two rooms, pouring coffee, setting up orders, bussing tables, and talking with customers I met a couple in the back room who were from the valley. He told me how he was so disappointed when he heard that the old diner was gone. He ran a search on the Internet and discovered to his surprise that we were still open. It took him a while to find us but he promised to send others our way. I thanked him and shared once again the story of 6 years ago.

Judy ran into a couple that was sitting at the packed large table. It was their first time in at Jake's and they told her that they loved it. Apparently, the experience of sitting at the table with others that they did not know was a very pleasant experience for them.

A friend called me and let me know that her father had passed away the week before and asked me if there was anything that I could help her with to memorialize her father. I asked her if she could come in and address our group and she said that she would send her brother in her stead. He arrived and was not prepared for what was to happen. I asked him if he would speak and he nervously agreed. He spoke of how his dad never considered himself a hero in any shape of form and just did his job. What I don't feel he realized was that he was talking to the choir, a whole room filled with humble ex soldiers. One of the most humble, that I know of is Bob Maxwell. Bob is the only living medal of honor winner in the state. Bob bounced up and talked to the man as the rest of the brothers voted to agree to give his father a brick at the memorial on Newport.

As I walked the man out to his car, I told him who the man who had come up and talked to him was. I could see his surprise and appreciation on his face as he thanked me.

The day worked out and I don't believe that we lost any customers who had to switch to the new room and we had more than 70 brothers show up for their first day in (as they stated) their new digs.

The hard work of the crew and a few of the brothers allowed for a smooth transition in this new Monday change.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I have always prided myself in keeping my cool. But every now and then, someone gets to me.

I was working on my taxes in my office when Chris, the cashier called me. "Could you come out here?", he asked. I could hear some stress in his voice and asked "What's up". "A customer has a complaint on her food.", he said. So, I told him I would be right out.

On the way, I stopped in the wait station to see if I could get the story before getting there. The customer was one of Casey's. He said that she didn't like her sausage in her pigs in a blanket. He had brought her bacon and she did not like that either. She then complained about her gravy on her biscuits saying it was old and bland. Since we make out gravy daily, I knew it was not old. I quickly checked and found it to be fresh and tasty, so I headed out to see what was the problem.

I stepped into the cashiers station where the woman was yelling at Chris. I stepped in front of Chris and asked to see the ticket. While I looked at the ticket, the woman began to tell me how horrible our food was. Our pancakes sucked. Our sausage and bacon were old and stale. Our biscuits were hard and stale and our gravy was horrible. I could see that nothing was going to make her happy short of giving her all of her money back and even that was not going to bring her back. I stated to her that Casey had already comped one of her meals. "I shouldn't have to pay for any of that crap.", she said, "Just give me my change and I will leave. I am never coming back to this crappy restaurant".

I had had enough. I handed her the change and said, "Good, because I don't want you back here.". In saying that, I had just lit a match to the stick of dynamite in front of me. She screamed at me as she walked out the door. I turned to Chris, patted him on the back, and asked him if he was OK.

Two customers were close behind and heard everything. One spoke up and said, "You don't need her. We love you guys!". The other told me of how she cried when she heard that Jake's was closing and how happy she was when she found that we were still alive.

I can count on one hand the number of people that I have asked not to come back. To me, it is just not good business sense. The person might just be having a bad day of her own. There have been so many customers over the years who just that has happened and I have been able to defuse the situation and save a customer, often times ending with one who becomes a valued one.

But, this time, I drew my gun and shot. And she will tell a friend, who will tell another....and so on. Keeping my frustration in check is imperative in this game.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


A couple of years ago, my son called me as they were closing the diner down one evening. He said that there was a man there looking for me. I was in my car not far away so I drove to the diner and met a man sitting at the counter.

He said his name was Victor and he needed a place to stay. There was something going on in town that weekend and I knew that most motels were booked up so I told him that I was not sure what I could do for him. I asked him why he showed up at the diner. He looked me in the eye and said, "God sent me". He said he was walking down the street. He looked back towards our diner and God told him that the owner would find him a place to stay. I asked my standard questions about how he happened to be here and found that Victor traveled allot. He stated that he went where he felt God wanted him to go and he worked with the homeless and addicts.

I told him that there were no rooms that I knew of in town. He said, "Have you tried the Rainbow motel?". I had not even heard of them but looked them up in the book. I called and was told that they had one last room. I reserved it and took Victor there.

The next morning, Victor was back at the diner. I fed him breakfast and helped him catch a bus out of town. I thought I would never see him again.

Last year, I received an email from him. He was down in New Orleans. He had gone through Texas and ended up there.

I was in the diner last evening for some supper before heading off to basketball practice. I was called up to the entry and a man sitting there waiting for me. He asked if I remembered him and I was Victor. I invited him in for supper and sat with him at the counter as he talked of his time in New Orleans helping a woman out there.

He said that he needed a place to stay. I called Shepard's house but they had no room. So, I dialed up the Bethlehem Inn. I was told that if he could pass a drug test, he could stay. Victor now had his own transportation and I directed him to the inn.

He showed up again this morning. This time only wanting to use the telephone to call some churches up looking for gas money to get to Portland. I was busy but let him use our back up phone.

I arrived back at the diner after going to a meeting this morning to find a simple note written to me.

He thanked me for supper and said that the Bethlehem was the most unique place that he has ever stayed at. I would be interested to have him explain that one even more. He went on to say that in the future he hopes to visit for friendship instead of just need.

I have talked to allot of people about Victor. And the general consensus is that he is either a great con man, a true man on a mission, or an angel. Now, a con man would want more than just assistance. This man asked for no more than that.

In Biblical times, missionaries did exactly as he is doing. Going from place to place and only asking for what they needed to survive. If he does even a part of what he says, he seems to me to truly be a saint. I know that I could never do what he does. All I know is that when I see him, I just cannot