Why we fight......Part V
It is beginning to feel a bit.......
I have spent the last ten days opening envelopes......mostly bills. Paying bills. Trying to send some bills for all the expensive parties we have done this year.....and hoping the people still have some money to pay the caterer.
When Denny Levett's chauffeur and car detail guy called me for work......because two of Denny's hotels had NO GUESTS whatsoever in Carmel last week......I got busy.
Opening nine months of bills is really depressing.....which is why I wait until winter to do it, and it is the first time we have any time. Stock up on the Wellbutrin and fish oil and go for it. We won't talk about the Vicodin and champagne.......
In the midst of all this there were some envelopes from my friend Doug the wine sales guy. Our wines get dropped off at Rancho Cellars, and the invoices always get lost and I never know what I am supposed to pay. Doug mails me copies. Yeah, Doug.....I got those two invoices, I don't need to open them right now (he mailed the last batch in late October).
I have known Doug for a million billion years. He was one of the orginal wine geeks back in the day when we were all fired up and full of passion. He is still a wine sales guy because he is the consummate professional.....and he is still fired up and full of passion. He knows his stuff, knows his line-up, he knows his customers.....and he doesn't bullshit anyone into buying anything just for the sake of making a sale. Well, most of the time....he is a pro, after all.
Being a wine sales person is right up there with the worst jobs in the world. There are thousands of them out there. Most of them are straight out of school or divorce or the failed restaurant......and don't know shit.
Owning a restaurant is also right up there with the worst jobs in the world as well. Most restaurant people don't know anything about wine, but often think they do. They tend to treat the legions of wine sales people like dog shit.....as if driving all over hell and back and waiting for hours, often in a line, to push product to folks stupid enough to have opened a restaurant to begin with. They beat the sales folk up for tastes and free samples, lunches and dinners and tastings.....and then order wine that doesn't get paid for when the place goes belly up.
Unfortunately, Doug and I have the same problem: we love what we do. Doug loves wine. He loves the vineyards, the grapes, the smell of the soil, the wineries, the barrels, the tanks, the hoses.......He loves opening bottles, pouring wine, the sound of the glass filling; he loves the glassware and all the sizes and shapes and how it affects everything; he loves infinite variety of colors, aromas, sensations......and most of all he loves the politics involved in all of the above.
He is hooked, poor bastard.
I know the feeling.
And there ain't no money in it.....really. Mostly there is just love of the craft.
You do your best stuff because that is what you do.... and just hope that the client leaves at least carfare on the dresser in the morning.
Especially now.....when the shit has hit the fan, and the same folks who have been knocking themselves out to show their all their friends their food and wine erudition for the last few years of The New Golden Age....... are falling back on Costco and Two Buck Chuck.
The lamp posts of Carmel will soon be strung with the dangling bodies of suicidal restaurateurs. Luckily it is winter, so they don't stink so much.
The wine salespeople, on the other hand, tend to just suffocate themselves quietly in their cars......Suicide is painless. If you go with carbon monoxide, that is.
Well, anyway.....Tuesday I opened Doug's envelopes...... finally.
The first two had invoices that I had actually paid.....eventually. Whatever.
The third was a personal note.....and a check. It was dated just before the election.
"Times are tough, but obviously tougher for some than others.
"Enclosed is $100. Choose five people in need from your blog and hand them a twenty. Not much, but I hope it helps."
Oh.......NOW I remember why we do this thing that we do. Real restaurant guys.....and this includes the wine guys.....are running at the most basic level of existence: sustenance. We may be bitter, but we are generous. I think our game is played very close to that big beating heart we can all hear in the background.....
Last month, my new landlord.....a retired Christian minister.....gave me the news that Dave's trailer has to go. Dave is a quintessential Cachagua person....without any form of visible income for decades. Amanda loves Dave because Dave loved Store Kitty.....so The Store takes care of Dave.
We finally....after five years of carrying the lad......got Dave on Social Security. He now has a life.....he can hold his head up, and even pay for food and Coors and Camels.
Dave has a trailer on the property that I bought from a burglar. He is attached to The Store by extension cord....and uses our laundry, baths, etc. We have battled Officer Phil, we have battled Monterey County Environmental health to at least turn a blind eye to Dave....as a quasi legal guy......with nowhere else to turn. Dave is a grey area.
Anyway, the Nouveau Regime will not abide grey areas. The Great State of California now inspects us......and Dave does not fit in any categories. Dave must go, saith the new landlord.
"Well......If I pull Dave's trailer away he will be homeless. He has nowhere else to go."
"Michael, there are homeless people everywhere. There are hungry people everywhere.....but you don't feed them for free in your restaurant, do you?"
Well......actually, we do.
Constantly....and with dignity. We have codes we have worked out. Nothing needs be said. No thanks necessary. We understand what the end of the month means. Especially 31 day months.
My restaurant godmother was Momie Hilde. She was a restaurateur in Berlin before and during World War II. She was actually the first woman chef in Germany....but that is another story.
During the endgame and the massive bombing of Berlin by us...she kept her apartment building going. It was near the Tiergarten......which is German for zoo. That is all I will say about that.
After the Allies arrived, she instantly had a good job at the VierJahresZiet......The Four Seasons.....
Evenings.....a young couple she had known earlier would come to the back door of the hotel, starving. Momie would commandeer soup and bread for them.....no one would stand in her way.
Years later, Momie wound up in Carmel......Highlands Inn, the Marquis, Sans Souci, Petite Marmite, Fernand's in The Village where Corkscrew is. The young couple she saved were here also......he was Peter Steuber, who became manager of the Mark Thomas Inn (now the Hyatt), and later Latitude 36 (46?) and divorced his German wife to marry a bimbo....who of course worked for us eventually. Peter never acknowledged Momie or the help she had given him in Berlin. He would snub her in public.
Momie didn't care. "Bah......Micha, it doesn't matter. You still have to feed the people. We don't chose. This is what we do, mensch."
My friend Doug is Old School. Getting Doug's note and check rings a big bell.
Beats the hell out of Wellbutrin, as anti-depressants go......
So, here is Doug's twenties.......
A good new toy for Cachagua Fire to distribute from the engine on Christmas Eve.
A village worth of dinner for Bill Sullivan and the Bulisa Project to distribute in Uganda in January.
A twelve pack, two quarts of milk and some dog food for Nike's dad.....fighting a lonely battle to save his house......and family.
A tickle for Rich from Heller's assistant winemaker......fucked to the wall with no health insurance and kidney stones after fifteen years hard service on the mountain.
And twenty bucks for Tor House.......no tourists means no money......$54 in two weeks....to support our original Carmel literary and spiritual landmark. Last Tuesday the sweet docents gave my apprentices (a gang guy from the Eastside and a Spain kid) a tour at sunset.....and changed their lives.....
Old School guy with just the right touch at the right time......
Like all Old School guys.....
I can do this.