I hope you’ll allow me a moment to veer off course. I’m thankful that you choose to read my blog every day, and I’m happy to share travel knowledge freely with all of you. This post will be a brief break from my normal travel topics. They say one of the surest ways to chase your readers away is to change topics, not have a focus. I realize that, but occasionally there are other things to say. Don’t worry, I promise the next post will be about miles and points.
I promise this story has a happy ending. 23 years ago I was a young, wet-behind-the-ears kid in college. I was a second-year student at Johnson & Wales University. I had dreams of becoming a chef and opening my own restaurant, but I had bills to pay. I took a job in the storeroom, counting hundreds of boxes of produce, meat and frozen items to help pay tuition. I was given this job because one of my instructors picked me out as one of his brightest students. It was a job that had previously only gone to graduate students, and I was a lowly underclassmen. I think my hourly wage was $4.15. I was excited for the opportunity. Then, I met my boss.
My boss was a crabby old SOB named Reggie who literally wouldn’t speak to me for the first 3 weeks I worked for him. I had an impossibly small desk in his office where I couldn’t possibly keep my work organized. One of the first projects he begrudgingly gave me was to try to organize an electronic Rolodex he had been given as a gift (yes, it was the height of technology back then). As luck would have it, the device was defective, but I took the brunt of the blame for this. It would be weeks more before I would have a direct conversation with Reggie. Back then, I’m not entirely sure he ever knew my name.
I can recall the first day he left work early and trusted me to finish the produce orders before I went home. Well, I wasn’t experienced enough, and I screwed up calling them in to vendors. Royally screwed it up. Boy, did Reggie let me have it the next morning. But, a funny thing happened. That sort of broke the ice. Whether it was the metaphorical cuffing me on the ears/tussling my hair or he literally smacked me up the side of my head, he accepted me in some small way that day.
He told me a story about how his staff used to have a paper sign hanging over the back door that said “Order Milk!”. Why? Because Reggie used to forget to place the dairy order. He’d see the sign on his way to lunch, hustling back to his office to place the order he’d forgotten. The story did a lot to humanize him in my eyes.
It took only a month or two before I was more committed to my $4 an hour job than to my studies. I came to learn to cook, and I certainly learned all the skills necessary to be a chef. But, I wanted to work in a storeroom. I wanted to be in charge of purchasing. I wanted to be Reggie. Over the 2 years I worked for him he trusted me with more responsibility. He was a great guy to work for despite being a crabby bastard. His sarcasm was almost certainly an influence on mine now, and he took to calling people names like “honey bunny” and “sweetie”, something I’ve absolutely adopted. I didn’t realize until now that those are traits I’ve adopted from him.
Reggie was (and still is) gruff and didn’t do well expressing emotion. As my time wound down at J&W, I was prepared to move back to NY. My master plan was to flip pizzas until I had saved enough money to open my own restaurant. At the last-minute, Reggie tried to convince me to stay. He wanted to get me into the graduate program at J&W and have me continue to work for the university in exchange for more education.
I’m not even sure I would have been working for Reggie at that point, but it was clear to me that he cared about my future. He firmly believed I needed more education before venturing out into the world, and he may have been right. I couldn’t see that then. After all, I knew everything.
My last few days around campus were fun but emotional with my fellow team members. We had enjoyed our time together but there was a sense of melancholy as we all knew we would head our separate ways soon. I hadn’t heard much from Reggie about me leaving since I’d turned down his offer to stay. On my last day, he grabbed me as he was heading to the back door to leave.
For those of you who haven’t met me, I’m not a big guy. 5’9″, and back then in college I probably weighed all of 145 lbs. Reggie, on the other hand, is probably 6’4″ and something of a big dude. His massive hands weighed on my shoulders as he looked down at me. His parting comment? “Whatever you do when you meet your next boss, don’t always ask why”.
Hard to believe I had a problem with authority even back then, right?
My phone rang this morning. It was Reggie calling. He’s in Chicago at the National Restaurant Show, something that had become a bit of an annual tradition for us to spend time together. He hasn’t been the last few years due to recovery from some surgery and I haven’t gone in a couple of years due to, well, a million things in my professional life. Reggie was hoping he would find me in Chicago since this was his last time going to the show.
We spent a few minutes catching up on the phone, and I promised to head up to Maine to see him. And I will. I’m a bit sad that I won’t be walking around the show with him anymore, but I’m profoundly happy for the role Reggie played in my college years.
Since those days in college, we’ve gotten together for Yankees-Red Sox games, campus visits and the occasional dinner, all immensely enjoyable for me. And, at some point over the years, I transitioned to that guy who gives people advice on careers and life. I’ve reached the age Reggie was when I first encountered him and it occurs to me how lucky I’ve been to have him and others guide me to where I am today.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that I don’t think you actually know who those people are who are likely to influence your life until after they’ve had their impact on you. Life is about learning from others, both the good and bad. For me, it’s also about recognizing those who have impacted us.
If I know Reggie, he’ll laugh heartily if he reads that I called him an SOB. I’ll also hope he smiles if he reads this, understanding that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for the role he played.
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