What keeps us going.......
The last month has been among the hardest I can remember. I keep saying "month" but as I finally sit down at my desk to confront the huge pile of bills to send and bills to pay.....I realize that the "month" started back on June 21st with the fires.
A long "month". This is our soundtrack.
The fires......Sheriff Kanalakis gutting our summer with his silly bullshit......two film shoots......five NATO beach parties......losing our number one guy to The Dark Night of the Soul. Our relief chef flown in from Kaui crashing and burning on heroin spectacularly in the middle of a Monday Night......Hundred twelve degree heat and crazy dust......two broken swamp coolers........losing the walk-in in the middle of another Monday Night.
The hundred-plus hour week became a life-style, not just an occasional hurdle.
The past week was the hardest......but as the load increased arithmetically......other things multiplied geometrically.
The things that make it all worthwhile.....and more than worthwhile.
The Tiny Mitzvahs......
Thursday at the Farmer's Market.....trying to do the impossible: hit all my vendors, buy all the stuff for the weekend, pay for everything and remember to pick up all the stuff I paid for......and do it all in 40 minutes. We had a wake to do at 4pm.....
As I got my three kinds of basil at the Coke's......purple for panzanella, regular for basil oil, lemon basil for hot dishes and depression, some tarragon for the gazpacho......I cut in line as usual and Laurie Coke tallied up my bill. I wrote out the check and went to grab my stuff and run......
Mrs. Coke held on to my bundle and tugged back when I went to leave. She fixed me with a look....and with that beatific gaze of hers said: "Michael, I love you. It has been so many years.....and we love being part of your life."
Jesus. That is like being blessed by the Pope. Better. More like the Dalai Lama. Laurie Coke is Ceres.....the goddess of soil and herbs and food. I have seen her lettuce stop a grumpy fireman in his tracks and change his entire demeanor. Lettuce. And Laurie Coke loves me?
Thank you, Laurie. I don't deserve it, but thanks.
A few days later we were rallying to prepare for the culmination of the "month"......the annual Swig Mille Miglia party. We have been doing this party for thirty years.....and this year we were stuck with a venue where my physical presence is banned......as in restraining order.
Our oldest, most loyal and wealthiest client. The presidents of ABC, NBC, Ford, GM, Ferrari.......Sr. Mazerati, Phil Hill, Jackie Stewart......and I cannot set foot on the property.
Plus, we have faded on Sunday Brunch for the entire "month".....and have to open, regardless. So prep for the Swig party is mixed up with taking care of the early morning locals.
In midmorning arrive two of our loyal Christian Republican friends......among the very few. They are only here every other year because of weird family politics with the family property. They go to the Cachagua Community Church. These are real Christians, and my friend Sally listened to the sermon from the pastor and decided she needed to participate more in the community and be of more service to her fellow man.
The pastor told her that the best thing she could do was to help the "people at The Store. So, she showed up for brunch......and knocked out the 100 rollups that Liz had forgotten to do the day before.....and saved our morning.
Thank you, Pastor. Thank you, Sally. Again, we don't deserve it, but thanks just the same.
On Sunday night my young staff (average age well below 23) rallied and performed beyond their means and coddled and comforted the creme de la creme of the automotive world......while I stood helplessly at the end of the driveway pretending to be a car parker.
Thank you Nike and Brendan, and Alex, Micah, Juan, James, Gilda, Ryan, and Lee......
By the way.....if you ever want to rob a bank and want to change your appearance, SuperCuts in Monterey is the first stop. At 5:55pm on Sunday night I walked in for a haircut.
The stylist asked: "What can I do for you?"
"I need to be unrecognizable on a security camera."
Fifteen bucks. And it worked.....for a while.
On Monday morning, as we drove to work at dawn.....after finishing at midnight on Sunday.......we came around the last turns to the Store and saw a series of beautifully painted signs:
"Happy Birthday to you....
Happy Birthday to you.....
Happy Birthday, dear Amanda.....
Happy Birthday to you!"
These signs were big.....and nailed way up in the trees.
Amanda had been dodging her birthday......had even given it up as a dead loss early in the month. Too much work for sentimental stuff......
She cried for an hour.
She was not alone.
Thank you, Vicki......
Monday Night the same overworked young staff rallied again. They not only did their jobs on one of the busiest nights in months......but it is clear that they are all dear friends and love each other and love their jobs. They were absolutely giddy with the realization that the harder you work and the better you do, the bigger the buzz. I tried to hide this from them. Oh, well.
We finished at 2:30 am, and they were still charging....
Thank you Nike, Micah, Juan, Alex, Rachelle, Liz, Chris C, and Ryan.
Towards the end of Monday Night a guest crashed the kitchen to talk to the chef. This usually causes us to look for weapons and hot fat to throw at the intruder. No one comes into the kitchen without Nomex and Kevlar.
This gentleman wanted to thank us. He had driven two hours for his meal......and said that it had been months since he had a "well-seasoned meal in Monterey County" and it was worth every minute of the two hour drive.
Turns out it was Todd from Big Sur......chef at Post Ranch for 13 years, former Rio Grill guy, now the Nepenthe chef. Surfer Todd.......royalty in the constellation of Monterey chefs, for sure. In my constellation, anyway. Maybe not the Dalai Lama like Laurie Coke.....but I am glad I didn't know he was in the dining room or I might have fucked up that camaraderie of my young staff with a lot of paranoid screaming and yelling.
Todd is principally responsible for my cartoon being on the wall of the Rio Grill....but that is another story.
Thank you, Todd.
Today I spent the day plowing through paper and fending off overdrafts. By 5pm I was exhausted.
Xabi the grandpuppy would have none of it. He brought me his collar. He brought me my boots, and then barked and barked until I gave up and went up the mountain with him.
Our side of the mountain goes into shade early. It was unseasonably cool and therefore nice for the climb. After a few hundred meters I turned and looked back towards the north and the sunny side of the Valley.
It was.....as always.....stunning. The California Gold landscape was bathed in the California Gold light. Rancho Chupinos lay crumpled against the hills running up to Mount Toro like a Georgia O'Keefe serape.....and Georgia O'Keefe on a good day. The early evening shadows competed with the oak stands in the arroyos for the dark counterpoints to the gold of the hillsides. Cattle were scattered around the hills of the last family owned rancho left in our world.
Just to the east, Rancho Sin Frenos sat like an emerald amongst the gold.....gorgeous grapevines nestled in the side of the hills.....and all the more gorgeous for knowing that the work that created them was Duncan and Brendan and Alex and Mark......he same Brendan and Alex who appeared just above in this post.
Thank you, Xabi.....for getting me off my ass and back out.
I walked back down to the house and whipped up a snack.....no cooking on Tuesdays. Garafolo buffalo mozzarella from Italy and Costco, organic wheat bread toast, Johnny Kinder's James Creek Farms heirloom tomatoes, Laurie Coke basil, Murray River pink salt. A glass of Storybook Mountain zinfandel.
Thank you Johnny and Rogelio; thank you Costco and Saltworks.us; and thank you Mrs. Coke and Dr. Jerry at Storybook. It was glorious.
Thank you, World.
I can do another 400 hours this month....now.
Thanks for the mitzvahs.
A month ago I posted the lyrics to "Night Rider's Lament". The words have been in my head all day. I mistakenly gave the credit to the wrong guy last month. The real author is Michael Burton, a quiet rancher from Arizona.
Night Rider’s Lament
Lyrics and Music by Michael Burton
Last night as I was out a ridin’
graveyard shift, midnight ‘till dawn
the moon was as bright as a readin’ light
for a letter from an old friend back home......
He asked me why do you ride for your money
Why do you rope for short pay
You ain’t getting’ nowhere
And you’re losin’ your share
Boy, you must have gone crazy out there
But he’s never seen the Northern Lights
Never seen a hawk on the wing
He’s never seen Spring hit the Great Divide
And never heard Ol’ Camp Cookie sing......
He tells me last night I run onto Jenny
she’s married and has a good life
Ah, you sure missed the track
when you never come back
she’s a perfect professional’s wife......
She asked him why does he ride for his money
Why does he rope for short pay
He ain’t getting’ nowhere and he’s losin’ his share
He must have gone crazy out there
But she’s never seen the Northern Lights
Never seen a hawk on the wing
Never seen Spring hit the Great Divide
And never heard Ol’ Camp Cookie sing.....
Well I read up the last of that letter
and tore off the stamp for Black Jim
When Billy rode up to relieve me
he just looked at the letter and grinned.....
He sang . . .Now. . .
Why do they ride for their money
Why do they rope for short pay
They ain’t getting nowhere
And they’re losing their share
Son, they all must be crazy out there.....