People: Riley

Riley was angry. Not visibly. But it wasn’t hard to ‘see’.

He had been fighting the fires as they encroached on his house with his father. He could see the fire down the street, but right then he felt it was all manageable. He was about to cut down the fences while keeping the house wet with the water hoses.

That’s when the Fire Department arrived.

“We’ve got it”. They said. “But you and the family need get out to safe ground.”

Riley looked around, the fire was a quarter of a mile away, the Fire Department had arrived, there was a water hydrant right there in the road.

“We’ve got it.” They reiterated – you need to leave.

Riley and the family left. They only took what they needed.

They returned the next morning, their house was gone. All the houses from where the fire was through to his were gone. The house next door was still standing.

Apparently The fire had ‘jumped’, quickly with speed – there weren’t sufficient resources, once a fire took hold the strategy was to not to ‘protect’, but to ‘contain’.

It would have taken them maybe 10 minutes more to load up their cars with the boxes of pictures, the memorabilia, the family history … packed for an entirely different reason, but left behind because they ‘trusted’ the authorities, the professionals, the people who ‘knew what they were doing’. All that was now gone, along with their house.

Yes – Riley was angry. ‘If only’ – he had stayed, it would have been different. ‘If only’ – they had loaded the cars, mom would not be crying every day … 6 months later. ‘If only’ – the fire service had done their job. He had a lot of ‘if only’ in him…

But he knew in his heart that they had done their job. He was really just angry at himself. He seemed to feel that he had failed.

What he didn’t know was if he had stayed whether the outcome would be different. And if it was different, would the outcome be better or worse.

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal held in your hand, with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You are the only one that gets burned.


People: Enrique

“I was born in Tijuana. I grew up In San Diego. I moved to San Jose and then San Francisco. Now I’m in Oregon. I guess I’ll get to Canada eventually.”

“Always a barman?” I asked.

“Always a barman.”

“Never thought about doing more? Management? Your own place?”

“Nah.” He said. “Increase my hours, increase my responsibilities, increase my workload, reduce my interaction with my customers and slash my earnings? I might be a barman, but I’m not stupid!”

People: Cynthia

Cynthia was brought up about 50 miles away, moved here in her teens, and ‘worked the tables’ for longer than she meant to. On ‘the way through’ she fell into a job that she had for 38 years and had just retired from, not because she had to but really because the market had fallen through the floor.

Cynthia traveled the world working for a single company for every one of those 38 years. She loved it.

Before she got into it, she didn’t even know it was a job to be done. Have to say – 38 years later, neither did I.

Ever wondered what happened to those gold fillings when grandma passed? Cynthia knows. In Cynthia’s words; “Whoever saw grandma last, just before she was ‘planted’ …. that’s who knows where the gold went. And it wasn’t buried with her.”

Bottom line, Cynthia worked for a gold refinery business – ‘recycling’ division. It was ‘big business’ and kept Cynthia in a really good job for most of her working life.

In case you don’t think that there was money to be made, Cynthia assured me that just one old dentist carpet that was going to be thrown away delivered thousands of dollars in gold.

“Gold,” I said. “I thought that market was very much alive and well?”

“It is,” she said, “but not at the dentists. People haven’t been doing gold fillings for years now – and if they aren’t filling their mouths with gold, we have nothing to buy and recycle.”

People: Graham

The conversation started simply enough. He lived just up the road, had a little farm … “just as a hobby you know”.

Yes, he’s been in farming the whole of his life, always in ‘these parts’.

His son runs the ‘family farms’. We’ve mainly got grain, orchards and nuts.

“Oh. All over” … the answer to where the farms are located.… “and we have patents.’

Which raised my eyebrows … how many farmers do you know that have patents? No, me neither.

Turns out the patents are in water – wastewater specifically.

Turns out that there are many customers from all over the world already using his technology. Paying customers. A global business that emerged from the farming. And you would never know without talking to him. Exploring the conversation. Doing the journey with him.

Without all of that, he was just ‘another’ elderly gentleman, keeping himself to himself, watching ‘the game’, having a glass of wine at the end of the day – like he does every day BTW.

People: James

“I’m descended from a Scotsman who married a Dakotan Indian. That’s how I came to be in the Crystal business.”

James never explained how that particular logic worked. I think that is part of his charm … and, of course was proud of his lineage.

“But I am Gay – who KNOWS where that came from,” he then proclaimed … in that wonderfully affirmative, standing proud way that some people have.

James. Lovely. Outgoing. Humorous. Positive. Self-Effacing.

Is it because I’m English that I value that trait?

Then again, a six foot, loud, witty, dyed blonde, gay guy selling crystals in a town of less than 30,000 – can you be self-effacing?

People: Midori

“My dad is half Japanese and half Latvian, my mom is French, they met, married and I was born in Alabama.”

That’s a story right there … it emerged as I complimented her on her tattoos.

“This one,” pointing to her upper left arm, “is by an artist that specialized in Victorian Cats but as she got older the cat illustrations morphed into psychedelic art. The explanation of the morphing emerged when doctors diagnosed her as schizophrenic. My brother is a cat lover who is schizophrenic, this is to honor him.”

As I looked at the tattoo, it flipped between cat and owl, not quite as a Rubin Vase … better, more detail, with color … it was almost alive.

The tattoo just below the dedication to her brother was of a tear vial. The art was beautiful. The story that accompanied it just as.

A young woman literally (?) wearing her heart on her sleeve.

People: James and Jean

“I was born in Palm Springs” he said.

He had my attention. I know a few people who have lived in Palm Springs … but James was my first acquaintance born there.

“Then I moved to Wisconsin.”

An unusual move (at least in terms of direction), from my perspective.

“.. and now I’m here. I do guided walks through the wine country.”

“That must be wonderful,” I said.

“Not really,” he replied, “I’m actually a pastor, but sometimes you need to make it work.”

Jean used to be a Dean at one of California’s Universities.

“… and now I work in a tasting room, learning as much as I can about wine. It’s the dream of my life.”

Different horses on similar courses … from different stables, with different riders heading to different finish lines.

You have to know which race you are in – and you will rarely know that of another.