Sunday, September 07, 2008

Fly High...Part I

I had Freebirds for dinner last night for the first time in a long while. The experience was disappointingly blase, and in ruminating on the visit and my time with Freebirds, I felt compelled to compose something of an ode to the 'Bird that was. This memory is dedicated to Tom Thweatt, who was with me at Freebirds during the zenith of the development of the culture. My apologies to Pierre, Alan, Charles, Burt, Chris...and any of the old guard who might take offense.

My Freebirds Story

Like most of the good things that have happened to me, my "career" at Freebirds was an accident. Conrad and I, on a rare, coincident day off from Discount Tire stopped into a very deserted Freebirds one July morning. Being the young, recent high school graduates that we were, we both ordered Super Monsters. I think that was the only Super Monster I ever finished at a single sitting. Before we left the store that morning, Barry had hired both of us, and we had both quit Discount Tire by the end of the week.

There are a number of great memories from that first semester working at the Bird. The Freebirds on Northgate was, at that time, the only Freebirds anywhere except for the Santa Barbara store. I learned most of my management style from Charles: work harder than anyone else, and never expect anyone to do something that they've not seen you do. I don't recall all the names of my trainers. Besides Charles, there were Louie and Teri...and one other that I completely failed to recognize when she showed up after a shift dressed to go out (Robin?). I tracked more for the front of the house, concentrating on becoming a "grill god," while Conrad picked up the special power of steak cutting. In those days we cut the steak from big briskets right in the store. I worked a catering event for a Halloween party at 3rd Floor Cantina not long after I started. That was a blast!

Before too long both Conrad and I were shift managers, and Lee had joined us at the apartment and at Freebirds by then and he was managing shifts as well before it was all said and done. I'd have to look at HR records to be clear on exactly when it all happened. I remember Nema being the GM of the store, but Barry was still around then too. The whole store was a great community both in and out of work. Many of us lived in small frame houses rented from Culpepper Realty (courtesy of Jim Elmquist) just north of campus. Pierre would sometimes drop in after closing and make tacos for his group of friends. I remember that when I was promoted to shift manager, Barry told me that I was the youngest and quickest to make it there and it happened because I "worked like I got paid more than I did."

One task I secretly relished was cleaning the fatigue mats. I'd load them up in the back of Barry's ancient white van (that had been purchased as surplus from the university), take two rolls of quarters, and take the mats to the car wash just northwest of the intersection of Villa Maria and Finfeather. I'd spray down the mats, scrub them with the soapy brush, and rinse them before loading them back in the van. It was a nasty, smelly job, but Barry told me that any leftover quarters were mine to keep, and that was how I paid for laundry. One glorious summer I got to be a personal assistant for Pierre, which meant that when I wasn't running errands, I got to bounce ideas around with him. The only other person that I've found as much creative synergy with in conversation is Blake Godkin.

There were great times and good friends at Freebirds then: Brandon, Christos, Allison, Conrad, Lee, Charles, many. The first time I left Freebirds was just after the Texas Avenue store opened. I had helped collect bricks from the rubble of what had been Deware Field House and been part of cleaning them off in the field next to what was then Brazos Brewing Company (now Blue Baker). Pierre treated everyone that wanted one a brew. I wish I had taken him up on the offer. In November of 1997 the corporate office for Freebirds had started to take shape, and a Human Resource manager had been hired. Disappointed that I hadn't even been asked to interview, I asked Barry for some background. I had heard rumors that the position was being created and had indicated interest early the summer before. Barry told me that the hire had needed to take place quickly (it had happened while I was at Ft. Leonard Wood for BCT & AIT). Further, he said, I could expect not to see any further promotion so long as I had my military obligations. After telling Barry that he had violated Federal Law, I made arrangements to leave.

No comments: