This simple sentence summarized the first half of my twenties. I originally read it in an interview with Keith Richards in some archived publication found again online.
Today is my birthday and I’m turning 30. Those closest to me or anyone with a Facebook account has known this and given the required “Happy Birthday” text or post on my wall. In person conversations always trend towards, “How does it feel…”. To be 100% honest, it’s quiet a relief.
Around the time I turned 18, I looked my mother in the eye and blatantly told her that I had pretty much always played on the right side of the tracks…and now I was going to see what the other side was like. True to my word, I did just that. I engrossed myself in punk rock, sex, drugs, and massive amounts of alcohol. It took less than two years for me to drop out of college. I was focused on my band and working in the restaurant to pay for my habits.
The restaurant I worked at was located in Minster, Ohio and called the Wooden Shoe Inn. It specialized in fried chicken and fresh cut french fries typically sold with a 22 ounce ceramic mug of beer. I had started there at 16 and despite the curmudgeon owners, I loved it. We had a steady rotation of “kitchen boys”, catering adventures, and far too many after hours sitting behind the bar arguing politics with that special intensity that comes after the fourth beer.
During my time at “the Shoe”, I met a slew of interesting people from multiple backgrounds and social classes. Young families and aging couples. Baby showers and mercy meals. There were poor farmers and rich farmers. We had whiskey sippers and wine spritzer drinkers. Those that ordered by the glass and those who ordered by the case.
Two of my favorites were Larry and Janice. Larry was the county sheriff and Janice worked at the jail doing booking. Larry always smoked a pipe, drank three mugs of beer, and ordered “the chicken basket”. Larry’s son, Aaron, was the county health inspector and we knew that anytime he came in, the family would not be sitting at Booth Number 5. Booth Number 5 was Larry and Janice’s table on Sunday afternoons, but it also gave an open view of the kitchen and while Aaron loved what the kitchen produced, the idea that it came out of there was too much to wrap his head around. In nearly eight years of working there, I remember only once that Aaron didn’t have a violation to report.
Also, there were “the coffee drinkers” 70+ year old men who came in everyday to solve the worlds problems one cup at a time. They were as reliable as Big Ben, always perfectly on time. Paul or Willy didn’t care for Tom and so it came to pass that they came in in two shifts. First the group at 1:30 and then the group at 2:30. All because of some argument that had likely happened decades earlier and no one could much remember any more.
There is also a substantial amount of wealth in that area. Several of the companies in Minster and New Bremen are quite successful. Crown Equipment Corporation grew from humble beginning three generations ago into an international player in the electric forklift and warehouse management sector. It was always fascinated me when Crown would have their sales training. Men in suits or khakis and oxfords would come in to try the chicken basket. They would drink a lot and typically ask for a blank receipt, which if you gave them a couple meant I got a bigger tip. It would be years later before I understood the per diem system of travel reimbursement.
One of my favorite customers came in rather infrequently, his grandfather had a lake house on Lake Laramie and had left it to him after he had passed. Steve would pull up in his Mercedes Benz which was always recently cleaned, though he would make a special point to mention how dirty it was. He always has been somewhat eccentric. He wears beautiful pieces of clothing from Saks Fifth Avenue and jewelry from his favorite jeweler in Dayton who knows just how Steve loves his Bloody Mary.
When I was younger Steve loved to flirt with me and I would go along with it, because he tipped well and I thought it was funny. The kitchen boys would make fun of me and call me names. If knowing someone who was gay was a foreign concept to them, the thought of playing along was borderline mind melting.
The summer I turned 19 I went from waiter to occasional bartender, whenever Fred the owner felt like he could sneak away to the library in the afternoon, without Margaret his wife finding out that he left me in charge. Over time Margaret would give up that battle to find another to yell at Fred about. As I moved from waiting tables to the bar, so followed Steve and his entourage of friends to the bar. As time passed we became good friends who both appreciated good wine and great food. It was an odd relationship. I was a 19 year old punk rocker with no less than 17 holes in my ears to change our piercings as I desired and Steve in his designer shirts. He promised that after I turned 21 that he would take me and my roommate to the fanciest restaurant in Dayton if we came down.
Keeping him to his promise my roommate and I stopped in at Franco’s where Steve’s roommate worked as a bartender. The roommate called Steve to come down and then we sped off in his black Mercedes. We went to L’Auberge, a french restaurant, just outside of Oakwood, a suburb of Dayton. Before we walked in, Steve pointed out that the three, yes…one, two, three… chains going from my belt to my wallet really didn’t match my suit and he suggested that I leave that in the car. At that point in time, L’Auberge was the pinnacle of my food adventures. I commented that I had never been anywhere that offered a 5 course meal or paired with a wine, and so that is what the three of us ordered.
As dinner came to a close, Steve made a comment that I didn’t really take to heart at the moment, but to paraphrase it was basically that if I really wanted it…I could have that lifestyle. I could drive nice cars, wear nice clothes, and eat at restaurants like L’Auberge, but I had to cut out the drugs, cut back on the drinking, and finish college. It would take another 3 years for me to realize that he was right and that that was what I wanted. After the band broke up, I moved back in with my parents for the summer and tried to assimilate myself back into a normal life. I took summer classes at Wright State’s lake campus in Celina, before moving to Dayton in the fall to enroll full time as a student.
In school, I worked my ass off. Without graphic design classes at the main campus, I traveled two hours a day for 2 semesters back to the lake campus to learn. I took every internship I could get my hands on. I would go out networking as often as possible; at one point I was involved in over 20 groups in the Dayton area, I do not recommend this to anyone. I didn’t really date or go out to “pick up chicks”. There was one motivation in my mind: I want to be the smartest marketer in Dayton, Ohio.
That goal is still the same today, which is why I continue to educate myself at a rigorous schedule, but that’s not the point of all of this. My point is that someone believed in me. Steve saw that I was a good person who put himself in a bad way. I just remembered one of my favorite things my father said after he picked me up from jail once, “Richard, you’re just not very good at being bad.”
When I look back on it, I don’t regret anything from those years, they have made me who I am today. But if you ask me if I’m ready to be done with my twenties, hell yes. I spent half a decade destroying my mind and the second half trying to fix the damage.
So when I think about thirty, I take a look around and see that I have some of the most supportive friends that I have ever had in my life, some of my favorite people in the world have helped launch this business and everyday I get to work with my best friend. I’m so excited about my future and so incredibly thankful to Steve for believing in me enough to make me believe in myself again.
And since I can’t end this on a big mushy note….here’s the other reason I’m pretty excited about turning 30: I’ve noticed that as I get older…I’m getting WAY better looking 😉
Thank you everyone who blasted my Facebook wall with messages (especially the sarcastic/funny ones) and lastly, my one birthday wish is that if you’re in a good point in your life please to thank someone who helped you get there.