Category: Nostalgia

Branded

The First

Parked in front of the bank with a telltale sign in the window, the little truck caught my eye.  I spun my mountain bike around to have a look. Put off by the color scheme I was not sure if this truck was a fit for me. Still, I went right home and called the number on the sign. I had to go home to make the call, or find a phone booth, because in 1989 nobody had heard of a cellphone.

Before long I met with Ron, the owner and an ex-ski patroller of certain reputation in town. I was a current ski patroller at the time and we had many mutual friends. After a brief test drive I bought it without haggling over the price. Ron griped about pricing it too low; I was the first caller. Many years later I rented an apartment downstairs from Ron. He snored so loud I had his number on speed dial and would call in the middle of the night when he began snoring to wake him and then hang up.

I fell in love with the 1981 Toyota SR5 Pickup. It had a 22R 4-cylinder engine, a real hi/low 4×4 transmission, a long bed with an aluminum shell and ate up dirt roads and deep snow. I explored the Eastern Sierra in-depth, stretching the adventures into the deserts of Death Valley, Nevada, Arizona and Utah, with road trips north to Oregon and Washington.



Reconnecting


“Mirepoix, mirepoix, roux, roux, roux
Slice ‘em up, dice ‘em up
Put ‘em in the stew”
An old CIA cheer

when in doubt, feed them trout
Facebook is an amazing thing.  It can be a waste of time too.  In recent days I have enjoyed sharing dinner with two old friends, both of them retired chefs, both of them New Englanders who transplanted themselves to California at various times in their lives.
The first was a friend we called Anton when he was in the kitchen, but was and is Tony the rest of his life.  When I first moved to Mammoth Lakes I spent a week on Tony’s couch.  He took me skiing and showed me what Mammoth Mountain really had to offer.  After a six week break from working I took a job under Chef Anton at the Mammoth Mountain Inn’s Altitude 9000 Restaurant.
It had been over a decade since we had seen each other, then Facebook put us back in touch.  Tony had been living in New Mexico for a stretch, then Steamboat Springs and finally landed in Bozeman, Montana.  Not only was he a great cook, the guy could ski and ride a bicycle like nobody else I’ve known. 
tony making look easy – august 1982
We first met in Yosemite Valley, at the Ahwahnee Hotel.  He knew I was coming from Taos and hit me up about skiing right away.  We shared a few back country adventures and when Badger Pass Ski Area opened he toured me around – essentially straight lining every run on the mountain.  I was headed back to Taos and only spent a few days playing at badger flats as it was know to the locals. 
By the time I returned to Yosemite Tony had moved to the Eastside, working at Bishop Creek Lodge.  There he met Dave McCoy, founder of Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort and was asked to join the team at the Altitude 9000.  So it was that I had a couch to crash on in Mammoth for a couple weekend trips before moving there in exactly twenty nine years ago this week.
Earlier this year I got a message from Tony letting me know he was headed to Mammoth in March to officiate a race.  Turns out Tony quit the restaurant business, following his heart in ski racing instead.  He was in Mammoth Lakes as a Technical Delegate with the International Ski Federation – Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS).  He is one of a select group of race officials and Mammoth was hosting a big race that week.
a facebook photo of tony
We got together after work one evening at the fishing store and headed of to eat.  We landed at a place called Thai’d Up on Tony’s suggestion.  I’ve been eating there since they opened and always get a good meal; they are one of the most consistent restaurants I know.  It’s tiny, has a good view and one of my favorites in town. 
We had a great time catching up and rehashing some old stories, feeling somber and sad when parting.  Turns out Tony is addicted to the fly fishing game and invited me to go fly fishing up in Bozeman in his drift boat, “you throw, I’ll row” he said.  It sounds real inviting, I better learn how to fly fish first!
the ahwahnee dining room
While Tony was here he made a few Facebook posts, one of them questioning why he ever left the area.  One of his friends commented on the post and I instantly recognized the name, Jon was the Head Chef at the Ahwahnee Hotel when Tony and I had worked there.  I friended him and we started a conversation online – and I heard an amazing story in the process.
Jon had moved out of Yosemite Valley a few weeks before I gave notice.  After he and the Executive Chef departed I was left working under the previous chef, Bertram.  In a matter of hours I knew he and I would not get along so I left in pursuit of life on the Eastside.  My arrival in Yosemite had been two years earlier, exactly thirty one years ago this week.
When I took the job in Yosemite I had never seen the place, never spoken with the chef or general manager who hired me.  My roommate in Taos was good friends with the GM and got me the job sight unseen.  Looking back on it it’s no wonder Jon had some reservations when I showed up for work.
yosemite
Now it should be known that the restaurant in Taos was a small joint, fifty or so dinners a night during most of the winter.  The Ahwahnee, on the other hand, sat several hundred diners at once.  My first night was Mother’s Day, traditionally one of the biggest days in the restaurant world.  We served well over seven hundred, one of the busiest nights I saw there. 
I was assigned to the vegetable station, and when the sous chef told me my prep duties involved breaking down 27 cases of broccoli to be steamed in small batches during the course of service I couldn’t help but laugh.  I got blisters on my fingers from so much knife work.  It was a crazy, frantic night – how did I ever do it?  Working in a kitchen, especially a big one like the Ahwahnee, was a serious undertaking. 
Aside from the physical stamina it takes, the atmosphere is one of content motion.   It’s loud, hot, slippery and stressful.  Cooks are a different animal, can be full of ego and pride, bitter and aggressive.  It is a harsh environment.  The chef plays a major role in the atmosphere.
in the range of light
My new chef was known as “Chef.”  In French terms, the kitchen staff is called the Brigade.  It’s a formal hierarchy of workers.  It functions to create order out of chaos.  One’s rank in the brigade is akin to a military rank.  Yes Chef! is not a phrase made for TV, it’s real.  Jon took this role to heart and handled it well.  We had a meeting my first day that set the tone of our initial relationship.
Since we had never interviewed or spoken before I showed up for work Jon let me know that he had not had the best experience with CIA graduates and I was not looked upon with favor.  I tried to stay humble and respect his opinion but he was insulting my alma matter.  I kept cool and told him to give me a change and let me know what he thought of my abilities after I got a chance to learn my way around the kitchen.

 

cathedral peak
That summer was an absolute blast; I was living in an amazing place and explored it with a fanatic approach.  Work was a big challenge but I didn’t take it too seriously.  I was there for the experience of being there and took full advantage of that fact.  My shift began at 2:00 so I got to play in the morning and it ended near midnight so I had my nights to party.  How I kept at it I still don’t know.
In but a few weeks I had learned all the stations of the kitchen.  It was a hot summer and I soaked up the training I got cranking out covers (meals) at a well known establishment and felt a sense of pride.  While challenging the work was well within my reach.  I did the best job I could, worked hard and grew.  As the season ended talk about staying through the winter tempted me but Taos was calling me back.  Off I went for another winter.
Before leaving, on one of my last night’s at work Jon and I sat on the loading dock and drank a beer to celebrate my time there.  I reminded him of our conversation at the beginning of my job and he gave me one of the finest compliments ever.  He told me that I was one of the best cooks he had ever known and was sad to see me go.  We both knew I would be back.
thanksgiving 1983 menu
My return the following spring put me in a new position; I was offered the job of Sous Chef, the Head Chef’s first mate if you will.  At twenty one years old I took a management job in a huge kitchen and they put me in charge of the dinner shift.  Some of my staff had worked in the same kitchen longer than I had been alive.  It was daunting.

 

During the next year I got to know Jon much better as we shared a strange place at the hotel.  Yosemite Park and Curry Company employees were in a Union.  Jon and I were working for “The Company” and everyone else was in the Union.  In a sense it was us against them, and along with the other Sous Chef Chris, we were often pitted against the union. 

When I reconnected with Jon I learned that he had continued in the restaurant business after Yosemite running the kitchen of a new restaurant in Sacramento for a time.  Upon coming to the realization that this work was, as the saying goes, the same shit, different day, he quit and escaped to the beach in Mexico for many weeks to figure out what would come next in life.
jon’s facebook profile photo
Jon decided to go back to school and get a degree, or several degrees as it turned out.  Now here’s the twist to the story; after studying in Santa Cruz and later in Michigan, Jon took a job teaching at Cerro Coso College in Ridgecrest in 1996.  Cerro Coso has campuses in Bishop and Mammoth Lakes as well as Ridgecrest.  A few years back Jon bought a condo in Mammoth Lakes and visits the area regularly.  As a matter of fact, he had stopped by the fishing store (another addict) just a couple weeks before to pick up a magazine that ran an article he had written.  I was in the back and never knew he was there.
Jon came up last weekend to fish and we got together for dinner at his condo one night.  We hadn’t seen each other in twenty nine years but it was amazing how easy and enjoyable it was to see him again.  I feel sorry for his friend Mike because we yacked about old times in Yosemite for a few hours straight.
Connected to and by the Sierra Nevada, reconnecting again after many years, three retired chefs had lots to say and share.  I look forward to hanging out with Jon some more, and yes, I really need to learn how to fly fish.  Who knows, maybe Jon and I will join Tony in his drift boat in Bozeman one day…
tony & his boat in bozeman, from facebook


Spring Fourwords


“When you fall on your face
you are moving forward.”
Mario Batali
Positivity
plum crazy
Things got pretty rough there for a while, sickness, winter blues, a job that I couldn’t pull off physically, cold, dark, emptied piggy banks and no prospects for improvement.  Somehow I stayed positive about the situation while laying low and keeping busy.  One day in early January I got a voicemail from a friend who I had worked for in the past.  When I called him back the next day things started to fall in place.
Serendipity
A job had been offered me working at the mid chalet on Mammoth Mountain at nearly 10,000’ in elevation so I went to see what it was all about.  In order to get there I first rode my motorcycle four miles to the bus stop in Bishop at about 7:15am.  Then an hour long ride up the hill to Mammoth Lakes, a short walk to the Red Line bus stop and another 20 minute ride up to the Main Lodge where finally a 10 minute gondola ride took me to the mid chalet. 
The short walk between bus rides went past the fishing story my old boss owns.  Stopping in to say hi to Kent, he came out of the back office to greet me, we talked for a few minutes and then he excused himself to get back to work.  I continued along on my journey and soon arrived at the mid chalet.  I agreed to give the job a go, I needed to earn money and was willing to try just about anything.
As it turned out the logistics, cold and duration of the day were daunting.  The commute started with riding the motorcycle two miles to meet the employee bus at 5:30am.  It was during the coldest, darkest days of winter, 5°F one morning at the house.  The employee bus never really warmed up and temperatures at the resort were well below zero.  The full commute took 2 hour and I was cold the entire time.
solstice wind
What I hadn’t expected was the altitude messing with me.  I was dizzy, winded and groggy the entire time at work.  On the third day, after waiting 15 minutes in the wind for the gondola to open, my shift began with cleaning and organizing the walk-in refrigerators and freezers.  In just a few hours my body told me to get out, get down and go home.  I had to evacuate and drop to lower elevation fast. 
I never went back, sorry Ty.
Synchronicity
After the holidays ended Kent called.  When we spoke he asked me how my new job at the mountain was going and I let him know I quit.  That’s when he offered me work helping to run his internet sales business.  It was a no brainer beyond belief, and in a few days I began commuting on the 7:30am bus to Mammoth Lakes. 
Last year I took a job at a sporting goods store working on their website and internet sales. Before that I took a class on social media for marketing, suddenly a new kind of work is opening up for me.  While there has been a steep learning curve I am picking up lots of knowledge quickly.  And the fly-fishing world is a nicer place to be than the snowboarding world was. 
Just a few days after starting work I got sick again – nine days on my back!  Eventually I had the strength to get out again and the motorcycle rolled to Rovana.  I stopped by to visit with my old neighbors and they told me my old house was just about ready to be rented again.  The tenants who lived there after me trashed the place.  It took five months to get it back in shape.  I walked over and looked in the living room window, just like I had done ten years earlier.  It was all there; my furniture, photos and plants filled the living room of my mind and projected out into the empty house.
homesick
I felt homesick like never before.  It pulled at me hard; I called the rental office, knowing it was closed, only to leave a message telling them I was moving home.  The next day at work I asked Kent what he thought about my position – was it full time, permanent or just a seasonal gig?  Then I heard the words that set the next month in motion; “You can work for me full time time for the rest of your life if you want.”
I took the early bus back to Bishop, went to the rental office and worked out an agreement with them to get me back home.  It took another month for me to get it together but there came a time when I once again spent the night in the house that had been home for over seven years, the longest I have ever lived in one place except the house I grew up in.  What an incredible feeling it has been, nostalgic and hallucinatory, somber and jubilant my emotions boiling over at times leaving me with an incredible sense of peace.
Karma
After a Grand Jury meeting in Independence, back in Bishop around 11am, I called my friend Pete who has been camped out at Pleasant Valley and Millpond for about a week while doing some work in the area.  He said he needed to come into town with the RV and I offered to buy him lunch.  It was the first time I have been able to do that for anyone in many, many months. 
I called from the parking lot of the sporting goods store where I had worked last year.  A new restaurant opened a few doors down the strip mall from the store, one I have wanted to try ever since it began.  I asked Pete if he would like to try it, he said yes and was just about ready to go.  It was only a few minutes until he got there. 
There are three restaurants side by side in this mall, all three owned by the same man.  I had met Manny last year when he opened the latest one called Karma.  He and several other members of the family talked about their plans.  After running a Subway sandwich shop, then a pizza joint they decided it was time to bring Indian food back to Bishop.  This type of food is not well known to me; few restaurants serving Indian cuisine have ever operated around here.  When I was young a friend’s mother was from India and it was always a treat to get invited for dinner, she cooked exotic dishes and opened my eyes to new worlds. 
They put out a great buffet at Karma, some things were familiar but many new tastes could be found.  Everything was flavorful, well cooked and enjoyable.  It was so quiet; we had the place to ourselves to begin the meal.  While not cheap, it was delicious and well worth the price of admission. 
Sure felt really good to give something back to Pete, he’s one of my longest friends and surprised me recently with fourth row tickets to see my favorite band in Salt Lake City this summer.  Can’t wait!
Lunch with Pete