Monday, November 28, 2011

Small Business Saturday

I watched the ads last week promoting this event. American Express was the who started it all and it certainly, in theory is a great idea. I believe that they even promised a credit on your account if you used your card at participating businesses.

Maybe that was my problem since I don't take American Express cards. I stopped taking those years back when I got tired of their high charges and the fact that they sat on the money for a day or so longer. Those are both detriments to small business and I found that the few people who made comments regarding my dropping the card said they used the card only because they received greater discounts from it at restaurants adding fuel to my assertion that American Express was in deed not very small business oriented.

So, I guess it would surprise no one to know that Small Business Saturday was my quietest Saturday of the year.

Now, there were other variables involved also such as a rather nice day and a football game (Oregon/Oregon State). As a matter of fact, after the game started, business just died.

My day actually started at two chain stores. My buddy, Frank and I drove out to World Market to get our free TinTin ornaments and ended up getting a coffee at Starbucks right next door while we waited (Frank had earned some free coffee there online). We sat in our car drinking the coffee and a large van pulled in next to us. A man decked out in camo gear jumped out with a ragged TinTin tshirt showing out from underneath his jacket. He was the first in line.

Now, usually you see women as the primary shoppers but when it comes to freebees, I think it is the man who is the primary there. We walked up to the line shortly before the store opened up. A couple of women were talking and I thought they were together until one of them told us that she was just talking to the other since they were just about the only women in line. A quick scan of the line validated her claim and my conclusion.

Arriving back at the diner with my prizes (an ornament and a free movie ticket), I went about helping the servers buss tables while Frank stopped and chatted with some of the locals at the counter.

Two young men asked for me at the register and I went up to meet two of the Mountain View Cougar Football team members who thanked me for supporting the team. I congratulated them on their win the night before and told them that my grandson and I had followed the game online since it was not broadcast on TV. They showed me their picture in the paper and I cut it out, had them sign it, and placed it up by the register. Next Saturday night, this always great local team will be playing Sherwood for the state title.

After working most of the morning, I headed home to join Frank, Jason Blodgett, Carrie, and Jayden for the Civil War game. Football and Pizza took over our afternoon.

After everyone left, I headed back to a still quiet diner to check on the evening meal. We bake off Prime Rib every Saturday for the evening special and I kicked myself for not cancelling for the week, knowing that this Saturday would probably be a little shy compared to others.

With a supper of Prime Rib tacos in me, I called it an early night wondering what small business in Bend might have benefited from the day. Maybe one of the better local pizza joints or the local sports bars for the game.

Please don't get me wrong. The concept of the day is great. I believe that the back bone of our country is small business. My problem with the day lies in the promoter not the promo tee especially since as a small business, I rely on my local traffic for my survival and appreciate every person who walks through our door.

Happy Small Business Saturday, folks!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanks Giving

I awoke, laying in my bed thinking of the last minute things that needed to happen for the day. We were stepping into new territory, an evolution of the event that we started six years back now was moving on to a new venue....The Bend Senior Center.

I showered and readied myself still checking things off in my head. The last thing that I wanted to do was to find myself driving back and forth getting things that I had forgotten about that were needed to pull this event off.

I arrived at the diner to find it buzzing with action. The guys were loading Jerry Bugge's trailer with all of the food that was soon to be consumed by hopefully happy Seniors. I am very grateful that Jerry loaned us his trailer. We had taken over the equipment yesterday and the food this morning. Two trips was all that was needed and all because of his huge trailer.

Kevin was on the line cooking off last minute stuff and he prepared me some breakfast as I put together the register and credit card system that we would need. I took a look at the reservation list and realized that I needed to prepare a list for the ones that we needed to pick up and for all of the deliveries.

I sat down at the counter with Gary and John (two of our regulars who had come in through the kitchen to have their morning coffee. Before I had finished, I was informed that everyone was ready to go and the trailer had been buttoned up. I walked out the back with Gary and John whose coffee was on the house as we had no register system. They smiled and waved as I jumped up into Jerry's large truck and fired it up. I was the only one with 'trailer' experience so became the driver for the load.

I arrived at the center and slid up close to the kitchen door. The crew was waiting for me and had the doors to the trailer opened and were offloading before I had even crawled out of the cab. I grabbed the register area gear and made my way to the lobby to set it up. The center had strung a phone line over to a desk in the entry way that we were to use as our cashier station. After a few shifts and moves and an extra power bar, I stood back and stared looking to insure that it was set for the most efficient use.

I then stepped into the dining room area which was set with the tables and chairs for our guests who were to arrive in a few hours. The tables seemed to be a almost perfect amount. We had 20 tables set out that would set for 160 seats. Since we had reservations for 80 per hour, that would lead us with extra seats in case some seniors wanted to linger a bit. This later turned out to be just the case as some of our 12 o'clock guests stayed until after 2.

I walked through with Richard Smith and showed him the various areas that we were soon to use to make the seniors at home. A table was set up by the main entrance with coffee, cakes, and baskets of apples. The TV was on with the pregame show for the upcoming game. The pool tables were uncovered and ready for play. It all felt good and warm and ready.

The trailer now empty, I drove it to the back of the lot and Richard drove me back to the diner. While he drove the large pots of coffee back to the event, I prepared lists on my computer to make the deliveries easier, printing out maps when needed.

I noticed the time and began to get a bit nervous as it was now 10:30 and I was set to talk to the volunteers at 11......and my mind raced with last minute thoughts.....last minute 'what ifs'. Jayden called to ask to be picked up and I made a quick call to Trinity for her to get him as I just didn't have the time. Richard arrived back to inform me that we would need more croutons as the bread company had only given us half of what we needed. A side trip to Safeway made us end up at the center just minutes before I was to address the help.

I took one last look through all of the stations, looking for anything that seemed out of order. With my paperwork still tucked under my arm and my anxiety level at it's peak, I grabbed a group of my friends who had showed up and we circled for a bit of mind relief in the form of a prayer. I had wanted to say a prayer with all of the volunteers but opted to this group not wanting to dilute the day with any negatives that might come from any volunteer who did not believe as we did. The day was a day of thanksgiving and needed to have this as it's foundation. It all felt so right as we stood in that circle with our heads bowed and I could feel my anxiety wash away.

I brought all of the group together and thanked them for coming, reinforcing our goals of the day. I tried to look them all in the eye so that they might better understand the passion for the event. Thanksgiving is a day for family. And all of these seniors who were soon to arrive were just that today.....our family. I made one last statement before we broke up into our respective groups. If you find yourself not knowing what to do at anytime during the day, look for a senior who is not smiling and do something to make them smile. Make the day, their special day.

The COCOA volunteers broke off to their stations and I brought around the Jake's volunteers to go over last minute things with them. I was not sure who I was going to use to guide the seniors as they came in the room and to insure our larger groups could sit together. I smiled as I looked over at three of our volunteers from years past and realized that one of them was just perfect for the part. The daughter of the group was the one who had juggled olives a couple of years back while her boyfriend and Frank had caught them in his mouth. I asked her if she would take control of the flow and her dad smiled and stated that I had picked the perfect person. "I know", I smiled back.

Going over the cashier station with Nita, Frank's girlfriend who had agreed to cashier for the day, I realized a couple of things that I had missed. I sent Trinity back to the diner for the items and then headed down the hall to go over the deliveries with Pam from COCOA who had Meals on Wheels volunteers who were ready to make them.

Pam took control of the sheets and insured me that they would be handled at the prescribed times. I was so thankful that she was so willing to take that pressure of and I could turn my attention to the guests who were now arriving.

As Judy and I looked across the room, the first thing we realized was that it seemed so quiet and didn't have that 'homey' atmosphere of the diner. I felt that mainly it was because the space was so large and the tables so spread out. Judy mentioned that it needed something and I felt that something might come into play once the band began to play. And it did.

Soon after Paul and his band began, even the server line began to sway with the music. A couple got up and danced in front of the band. Yet another senior got out of his chair and did a little tap dance. I looked across the room at smiling happy faces and it just felt right.

Trinity came and retrieved me as someone from the Bulletin had arrived and I sat and talked with her for a few minutes about how all of this had gotten started. She asked if she could interview a couple of seniors and I said that I was sure that would be OK. I told her to make herself at home with us all and did notice her from time to time during that first hour.

Making my way from station to station, everything seemed to be running so smooth. There were complaints that the band was too loud which was handled easily with a small downturn of the main control on their amp. Then the breakers in the back of the kitchen kept tripping and that was resolved when we moved our heat tables to separate circuits. Those were actually the only two problems that I recall that I needed to help resolve all day. More than one volunteer stated that they could tell that we had put some thought into our preparation.

I walked out onto the main floor to look around and realized something that made me smile even more. Frank was out on the floor making faces smile but there was yet another Frank there also. Frank Spernek who plays poker with us on Mondays and who I have come to realize that is just like us in the 'fun' mode. The next hours musician was walking the floor and both Franks were singing along with his music while they poured coffee. I stepped up as Frank S was harmonizing to one song and joined in on the next one....Sloop John B. As we bellowed out our harmony, seniors around us smiled and clapped. I noticed the Singing Sosas were getting ready to take over for the third hour and had turned to listen. Jeannie Sosa later told me that she did not realize that I could sing. Rousing applause came as we finished our song, bowed to our audience and then went on our way.

I could feel my blood sugar begin to drop so I grabbed a roll from the table and snuck behind the line to the turkey server. "Could you place a couple of pieces on this?", I asked. She turned around startled that someone would be coming behind her for service and seemed almost ready to say, "No" when she realized it was me and smiled, laying out the white meat on my prepared roll with pickles. That is my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. A roll with freshly baked turkey and pickles. It is so delicious and brings back memories of past days.

The day rolled by not as quickly as past years but with all of the smiles and thank yous along with the hugs and kisses from thankful seniors. One lady stopped me as I walked by her table. "If you had not done this, we would be eating frozen dinners in front of the TV. Thank you!", she said.

All day long, only one face did not smile as I walked around but I soon noticed that Frank was with him....and he was smiling.

As the last hour wound down, I drove the truck back over into place and we began to break down. Helpers broke down tables and chairs as last minute eaters were still eating. I stopped at the table of one of them and reassured the woman that we were not trying to hurry her. "Please take your time and enjoy", I stated. She cupped my face in her hands, kissed me on the forehead, and gave me a hug. With that jesture, she melted my heart.

I stopped to see an old friend and his father who were enjoying their meal. I pointed across the room to Judy and told them that she was my wife. He looked at me in shock. "I am so sorry.", he said, "She is the one that I tried to pick up on when I came into the room.". "No problem.", I returned, "I can see you have good taste in women.".

Judy and I loaded up the cash register area and the remaining ice cream into her car and returned it to the diner. By the time we returned the truck was nearly loaded, the floor now clear, and the kitchen almost clean thanks to the help of some of the Band of Brothers who had showed up to help.

I drove back to the diner where the remaining crew helped bring out the perishables and items needed for the next day. Jimmy showed up right behind me after stopping at the police station with some of the left overs. That too has become part of the ritual of the event. Our leftovers are taken to the Bend PD who have to work on this holiday so that they can partake also.

With the items put away, the restaurant buttoned up, and security set, Jay and I headed home around 6:30. "It feels like almost midnight.", Jay said. I had to agree, it had been a long day.

My mind wondered to all that I had seen and experienced in the day. I recalled walking by a table where a man there stopped me. "Did the TV stop by for this event?", he said. "No", I answered. "They should have.", he said, "This is great.". "Yes, that would have been nice", I countered, "But that is not what this is all about.". He looked up at me and asked, "What is it about?". I smiled back and said, "You.". I saw a tear in his eye as he grabbed my hand and thanked me. If nothing else had happened that day, that one event, in that one moment, my day had been completed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

T minus 2.....and counting

The T stands for Thanksgiving.....or Turkey. Which ever way you call it, it is by far our largest outreach event of the year.

It all started with a conversation with Jimmy, our kitchen manager. He had done a similar type of event in his restaurant in California. He saw a need and wanted to help fill it. The need was seniors who no longer had their family around them and were now alone on this special family holiday.

He did an 'at cost' meal and ran his restaurant for the day with just his family. His family members would also deliver to ones who could not get out. I loved one of his stories of delivering to a man and then watching a bit of football with him as the man enjoyed his meal.

I decided that we would attempt to do the same thing up here the first year that we were open in our new building. That was 2005 and the event was pretty successful with around 300 or so attending.

Every year, the event seem to grow more as more seniors found out about it. Last year, we served over 450. The problem was that was just too many. We had traffic jams in between hours when seniors waited for open chairs while other seniors did not want to give them up because they were having too much fun.

The day, while productive, was exhausting. As usual, I sat at my desk the next day and wrote out things to try and make the next year less stressful and yet still handle the need. I had just wrote down the words, 'reduce the numbers', when I looked up at my computer screen and saw an email from the Central Oregon Council on Aging (COCOA). The director was asking if I would be interested in working together with her on an event in the future.

A light went off in my head as I typed my response. I told her, "Sure, what about next Thanksgiving.". With only a few back and forth messages, we had laid the foundation for this years event. She was fairly sure that she could get the Bend Senior Center for the day as it was usually closed that day and she had volunteered her delivery unit (Meals on Wheels) to make our deliveries better (Last year, I had three different delivery tandems going out with their personal vehicles and delivering out of the back of pick up trucks.).

Through the year, we conversed back and forth a few times and in September, we helped them out with a Veteran event set at 9-11 and held at the Elks lodge. From there, we began to focus on this up and coming event. We had already received an OK from Bend Senior Center but now they had also agreed to jump on board with the event and be Co-Partners with us.

We had already been receiving phone calls back in September from excited seniors who wanted to get their names on the reservation list. So, early in October, we started putting together the final polishes on our evolved event. We decided to attempt to turn the center into a sort of 'mini' resort for the day. The main floor would house the meal with sittings for 160 and reservations for 80 per hour. That way, if seniors wanted to linger a little, we could still easily set others coming in.

We also decided to change the serving to a buffet style. The hors d'oeuvre table had already been that way but now, we would do the main line in the same way. I began calling the entertainers from years past and asking them if they were interested in coming back. Jimmy looked over the kitchen and began his preparations. Everything just seemed to fall into place.

COCOA and us combined our volunteers and began to put them into their prospective places and last minute preparations were made. Jerry Bugge, the husband of Mary (one of our waitresses) loaned us his enclosed trailer so Jimmy could began loading it with stuff days before the event that we would be needed for the service. One extra entertainer, (Steve Neff, a singer songwriter whose family had lived in Gilchrist when I was growing up) made one more than we needed for the main floor but agreed to come into the entry way and entertain there.

So, it will look something like this: The entry way will be filled with couches and chairs with coffee and cakes for seniors to sit around and be 'family' for one another during the day. They are free to stay as long as they wish. A cashier will be present there and collect the money for the meal stamping the hands that will go into the main floor at there prescribed times. A TV will be in the pool room that has two pool tables. I call that the 'man' room where seniors can either watch the football games or take turns playing pool. Coffee and snacks will be available there also.

The main floor will have an entertainment stage where some bands will play while other entertainers will opt to just walk amongst the crowd. A table for salads and hors d'oeurves will be on one side while a buffet line serving turkey, ham, and all the trimmings will be on the other side. Yet another station will have drinks while a forth will house desert featuring our buddy, Richard Smith who each year cuts and serves the pie and ice cream.

And, I am happy to say that Frank will be there. Frank Patka has become an 'asked for' part of the event. I have had seniors who called in for reservations ask me, "Will Frank be there?". He has become well known for forming conga lines through the main floor or catching olives that were juggled from another volunteer (a feat captured by the television station a couple years back). Frank thought he might be out of town but his business has kept him close by and has agreed to join us.

Sysco foods, Food Services of America, Eberhard Dairy, Franz Bakery, Farmers Coffee, and Childers Meats have all agreed to help us out allowing us to lower the price from previous years to an easier $7.50 per person and others have donated money to pay for seniors who can not afford that. All tips and left over donations will be given to COCOA and thus rounding out the event to make it an event for seniors that will end up benefiting them in other ways also.

I know there will be glitches....there always are but this years event just feels so right. As if it were meant to be. Maybe it is.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Lots of things have happened recently and right now, we are getting ready for next weeks Thanksgiving meal. Moving over to the senior center will have it's challenges but I really feel this will turn into one of those red letter type of events.

Last Friday was the Veteran's day parade. I am so honored to be able to call Bob Maxwell my friend. Bob and Bea rode with Judy in the rumble seat of her car. My father and grandson rode up front with Judy.

I also consider it an honor to be close with Dottie Dolan who Trinity got to drive through the parade with. Dottie is the wife of Mike Dolan who was the man who got the local veteran day parade started again by walking down Wall street with a flag. Mike was a great man who passed on a couple of years back.

Then there was John Spence. I first met John through the Band of Brothers. John was the first American frogman. John is a quiet man with a certain humbleness about him. I was able to get one of our local guys and businessman, Harry Fagen, to cart John through the parade in his really cool Weezel. That is kind of like a jeep with tracks on it.

The parade went off well and we were blessed with a sunny day so what more could you ask for.

Yesterday, as Zin and I talked in the entrance of the diner getting ready for the days Band of Brothers meeting, a familiar voice struck out behind me. "Good Morning, Lyle" came the greeting as I looked up at the face of the man that I have always considered to be my favorite sports figure, Dan Fouts.

Dan, when he comes into the meeting often just sits over with his great Uncle Stu and we mostly just leave him alone wanting him to feel at ease in our meetings and not having to be up front like he has to be so many times.

But, today, Dan has volunteered to field questions from the group and who could turn that down. I knew that today's meeting was going to be one to remember.

After a couple of announcements, Zin gave Dan the microphone and Dan opened up the meeting for questions. A few were fired at him regarding some of the guys favorites including the Niners who Dan said that after working one of their games had come to realize that they were the real deal.

I looked for an opening and then snapped out, "So, what is wrong with this years Chargers?". With a smile, Dan returned, "Next question......Lyle, you didn't raise your hand.". Later, when someone stated something about the raiders, he said once more, "Next question.". Both non answers drew laughter from the group.

He did go on to talk about the division race that the Chargers and Raiders (his nemesis) are in and how crazy that division race is right now.

He answered questions on Tim Tebow stating that if he ever learned how to throw the ball, he will be one hell of a quarterback. He did go on to say that in the trenches, Tim was the type of guy you would want with you. He plays with allot of heart and strength and leaves it all out on the field.

He also explained how he does not see the Ducks playing in the championship this year simply because of the group of teams in the mix and the games that they have left. For instance, if Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State, then they probably jump Oregon in the standings and something similar could be said if Arkansas happens to be able to take out LSU. He said that the Rose Bowl is still quite an accomplishment of which all agreed.

As the meeting wound down, Dan and Stu ducked out the door to miss the rush. I thanked Dan and he returned with "My pleasure, Lyle. I will see you again when I am in town.".

I walked back into the meeting with a grin on my face. Just how many guys get to meet their sports idols. And then reduce that number to how many guys are on a first name basis with the same.

Bob Maxwell, Dottie Dolan, John Spence, and Dan Fouts. Such an honor to know them but even a greater honor to call them 'Friend'. I am truly blessed.