OH OH BAM-BI-NO’S

There came that one day when I just, no longer wanted to be an auto mechanic. My hands were constantly stained with grease and grime, I worked in an environment full of VOC’s and I have no doubt that smelling gasoline and solvents, all day, every day, did nothing to help my personality. Even though I had a union job, making good money, I quit. Wait for it. To become a bartender.  Little did I know, that one decision who forever change the course of my life and provide me opportunities to see the parts of the globe I honestly did not know existed.

I chose not to go to college straight out of high school. Being bullied in grade school, I opted for the rebellious teenage mantel during high school. I proudly graduated with a C average. Straight A’s in auto shop, D’s in every other course. (These were the years when one would not be failed out of high school.) Back then it was as acceptable to enter the Trades as it was to attend college. You could also pay for college, live, eat and have a few beers on minimum wage job back then too. (I’ll save the social commentary for the next election.)

I was fortunate enough that my father offered to pay for my tuition at a 9 month trade school in Phoenix Arizona, called Universal Technical Institute. Deciding to wait until September to start classes, missing the heat of summer turned out to be a wise idea, I packed up my belongings in an old steamer trunk and took the family car, now mine, through the desert into the Great State of Arizona.

“Living on the road my friends, was meant to keep me free and clean.”

All was well and good. I got a job, sharpening saw blades. Having always been handy, this seemed an appropriate manner in which to earn my living. I rented my first apartment and experienced my first roommate. Oddly enough, he and I shared the exact same birthdate. Same date, same year. Cheers to you Keith. Now to set the stage a tiny bit more. I had recently spent the last few seasons working at the Renaissance Faire. For those of you born later than I was, consider it the Burning Man of my time. Hippies, marijuana and communal showers. Everything a teenage boy needed to . . . well . . . be a teenage boy.

I made dear friends at the Ren Faire, many I still have today. All were my senior. So imagine coming from a smoke enhanced, communal hippie setting only to find yourself into an anxious group of turgid (Yes I know what turgid means and I mean it here.) 18 year old men. I felt, and was, most certainly out of place. What I needed was to find, my safe place. Enter Gina and the Statler Lounge. At that time in Arizona the drinking age was 19 and I was 18. While this was mildly problematic I thank Gina for never carding me. The Statler Lounge was the first place where I learned that you could lose money playing pool. That there were many kinds of mixed drinks, other than the Highballs and Gimlets that my parents enjoyed, and that some people could be very nice.

Gina was the bartender. She was old, 40 I think. Back in those days you could run a tab.  The very first night I drank more than I could afford. I was embarrassed and asked to pay it the following week. Which I did. I was shy at the bar but kept coming back every week on Friday night needing a safe place of my own. I never ran my tab that high again and only ever ordered 2 drinks even though I wanted more. Gina taught me about tipping and I started to feel like I fit in. Gina, it turns out, was from San Francisco. She recognized the Bay in me and took me under her wing. About 4 or 5 Fridays into our relationship Gina made me a deal. She promised to rip up my tab if I would do just one thing for her. Near the end of the night she needed help carrying out the beer from the back room to the bar to restock the refrigerators. The cart was too heavy for her to manage easily. My job on Friday nights became this: Drink for free; bring the beer from the back.  I had my safe place. When I finished my technical tenure, I was proud of what I had learned and was ready to return to the City by the Bay. Even before I left I missed Gina. I miss her and the Statler Lounge today where I had become a regular. And yes, I miss the free drinks. Yukon Jack and grapefruit juice, if you must know.

Last week I popped into our newest Italian restaurant in town: Bambino’s at 301 Georgia At. Does it remind me of the Statler Lounge? Not really. It more reminds me of a little bar and Italian restaurant that I worked for in Rodeo. That was my first job as a bartender after a few years working as an auto mechanic. That place had the Statler Lounge feel and great Italian food to boot in a family friendly environment. It was that job that sent me to my next where I ended up managing restaurants, then to culinary school, then abroad cooking on motion pictures.

Bambino’s is that kind of family friendly restaurant. The evening I went, I saw a few of my Vallejo friends enjoying dinner in there as well. The food was well prepared, their cooks obviously skilled at their craft.  I chose the Chicken Marsala. The chicken was tender covered in a light mushroom sauce. The dish was served with an expertly blanched bit of broccoli that served as the perfect foil to the rich chicken sauce. That and glass of Chianti had me saying ‘Per Piacere’ for more.

I am happy that we have another place in town.

May each meal bring you joy and every companion, happiness.

Tommy Judt

WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE APPLEBEE’S

What a holiday season we had in downtown Vallejo. The parties that I went to and the people I saw. The Mad Hatter Parade, even though it was delayed, was amazing. The tree lighting always beautiful. The women on Marin Street held a holiday market where I found all my gifts for the season. Spruce with their ever changing selection is always a fun place to browse and shop. The Joint, next door, offers lovely pieces and fun classes. Whitney Smith Pottery had an open house to share her celebrated wares. Across the street, Vallejo’s new darling, Alibi Bookshop, opened up, giving Amazon the middle finger. It was tremendous. Vallejo is an amazing small town with an amazing small town feel.

Recently Bambino’s, an Italian restaurant, set up shop on Georgia Street and it will be nice to have another place to eat downtown. Not sure when they plan to open yet. Newsflash! For those that did not know Julie sold the China Wok and the new owners took possession just before Christmas. Mark Reed sold the Town House to his friend and bartender Jeff. It will be fun to see what Jeff and Andy make of the place. What else? Anything else? It seems like I am forgetting somebody. Am I forgetting somebody?

All this is less than 2 years. I remember when the downtown was dead quiet, when there was not much to do or get to eat. Of course we had our parades, and the Townhouse had, and still has, Don Bassey, Erin Bakke, and the Town House Ramblers. The Empress had a few gigs but their restaurant had long since shut down. Night time was quiet and the street corners had their usual residents. I mean, think about it. In just 2 short years it even feels like the Farmer’s Market is more exciting.  The Art Walk got a new infusion of support from the city and even opened up a gallery in the Cal Maritime building.  Still seems like I am forgetting someone.

And remember Salsa in the Street?! That was the best free party that I have ever been to in town. In Vallejo, we pride ourselves on being such a diverse city but rarely do we get the opportunity to just be together. I had so many people thank us for hosting the Salsa Nights. People from all over Vallejo AND from as far away as Sebastopol.  That means people are driving countless miles to our town and find a bright shiny downtown instead of the closed up storefronts that seem to litter Georgia Street. Shucks, I really feel like I have forgotten someone.

Well the weekend is here and being a shop local supporter my plan is to go out to dinner tonight. I could go downtown but I will probably just go to Applebee’s. I mean, we’ll always have Applebee’s. Right?

Until Next Time,

Tommy Judt

p.s. I’ll buy you a glass of wine if you can find me tonight.

IF – A NEW YEAR’S THOUGHT

AUDIO VERSION – Click and read along.

I learned a new word this week: Precept. By definition it means: a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought.  Example: The legal precept of being innocent until proven guilty. We all have precepts that guide our lives, many we learned while teething. Look both ways before you cross. (Good) Don’t talk to strangers. (Bor-ing)  Early to bed and early to rise. (Boring too, but I still do this one.) Others we learn as we grow older. Like, always wear your seatbelt. (Safe) Think before you speak. (Wise) And never chug Bacardi 151 straight from the bottle. (Well, let’s save that’s a story for another time.)

This past year I came upon a poem by Rudyard Kipling that hit me smack dab in the back of the head, just like my grade school gym teacher used to do. No, it was not Jungle Book, although the original story is exciting. No, it is the poem IF. I happened across it, one day, in my You Tube feed. Now I cannot tell you how the You Tube algorithm works, or why it picked the Michael Caine reading of this poem to queue up in, well, my queue. All I know is it just did.

Anyways, the poem IF has made an impression me, and not only because I enjoy hearing the sound of Michael Caine’s voice. No, I like it because it is smack dab full of precepts. Ones that I look to aspire to on a daily basis. Ones that are easily understood and attainable and, unfortunately, easily forgotten if not repeated regularly. Each New Year it is the conceit of all around us to make resolutions. To better ourselves. To commit to precepts that will alter our behavior in the coming months. My annual resolution, the one I have subscribed to for many decades now is this: I promise to not drink any more this year. . . This doesn’t mean that I will drink any less, I just won’t drink any more.  Haha, get it? Not drink any more.

Here is a funny one for you. Try saying Michael Caine with a bad British accent and a stuffy nose at the same time. If done right you’ll sound like a drug user from the 80’s. “Where is My Co-caine”

This year for me it is different. I resolve to read this poem to myself, or others, every day this year. To remind myself how simple it is to try and be a better person. It goes as follows:

If— 

BY RUDYARD KIPLING

(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

May you and yours have a very, happy new year.

Tommy Judt

FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST-MAS

It is said that Casanova was the world’s greatest lover. That he knew the secret to seducing women. That he had mastered the Language of Love. I will share with you that as I plod my way through life I wish that I knew half of what he knew. Or then again, maybe not. Dear Mr. C. was well known for his conquests but not so much for staying power.  His language of love was effective if not fleeting. READ MORE

BISCUITS & GRAVY

I have a relationship with food and I hate how some people characterize these types of things as: Healthy or Un-healthy. I have a relationship. One that is rich, complicated and long in history. I am proud of the fact that we do not go very long without seeing each other. Sometimes it is just a brief hello, other times we engage in a multi-course conversation that can last for days. The very best thing about this relationship is that it is extremely sensitive to my mood, whatever it may be, AND I have found . . . READ MORE

A MAN & HIS HAT

The first thing you notice about Clifford Dawson is his smile . . . and his hat, of course. Clifford Dawson is, A Man & His Hat. We first met at a Black Chamber of Commerce meeting where he was presented an award for Business Man of the Year. We spoke for only a few minutes but I immediately found him to be a kind and generous man. The second time we met – READ MORE

LET THERE BE LIGHT

I remember flipping the channel one day and landed on channel 9, our local PS station, only to hear Joseph Campbell talk about Sir Galahad and the Holy Grail. Galahad was the bastard son of Lancelot and was renowned for his gallantry, his purity and the most perfect of all the knights. The Grail Legend, in my mind, is to constantly seek and strive to be better in life and to do so with Continue reading “LET THERE BE LIGHT”

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE

When I was younger than a teenager and my family took camping trips for vacation, I had my first experience with fire. Now, of course, I had experienced the burn-your-marshmallows kind of fire many times. We had gone camping for many years in a row. I even saw my father use a flat piece of metal supported by rocks over an open flame, cook us breakfast before. But my first scary experience with fire Continue reading “EARTH, WIND AND FIRE”

ARE WE THERE YET?

Throughout my life we, as a family, would drive up from the East Bay to Vallejo to visit my grandparents. Occasionally it was just for a visit, mostly it was for a holiday bbq or dinner.  The seven of us, mom, dad and 5 whining siblings, would load into the old brown Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon. The reason it was called a Vista Cruiser is that there were two windows, in the roof,  above the back passenger seat. I guess one could look at the stars if one were laying on one’s back, in the back seat. Any way. Continue reading “ARE WE THERE YET?”