Article from the 12/25/2015 Catalina Islander

 Since I became "Catalina's Official Greeter", March 10, 2014, when the Chamber Of Commerce assigned me to greet the cruise ships and cross channel boats, I have answered 41,145 questions.

There are some of the more interesting/unusual questions/comments that I have recently received:
"Do I ask you the question?" as I am standing  next to the sign that says, "Ask Me".
"If Catalina is part of California, then you must be right on the border of Mexico."
"What does M. O. L. E. stand for?"
"I don't see those fish swimming.  Did someone paint the garibaldis on the rocks and simply throw them in the water?"
"Do you have any alligators in the ocean?"

SMITH, PARTY OF FOUR

It was 20 years ago, 1995, that I started working for the Santa Catalina Island Company.  I will never forget my first day of orientation and especially when all of us "new" employees were escorted into the Board Room, to meet the "high mucky mucks".  Of course, my good friend, who I had known from his Toyon School days, Packy Offield, who was now CEO/President of the S.C.I., Co  was the "muckiest" of the group.  He sat at the end of the massive table with the other officers and we were placed at the other end.  When Packy saw me come in, he pointed and said, "Did we hire Chuck!?!"  He said it so dryly that few picked up on the humor.  The truth of the matter was, I put his name down for "reference" on my application form!  Thought it MIGHT carry some weight!

I was soon acknowledged as having more jobs with them than any other employee:  I drove tour busses, gave guided tours of the Casino, and worked at the Theatre in the evening.  On top of this, I was also doing "security" for "Catalina Confetti", now "Maggi's Blue Rose".  Soon after I began to fulfill my many duties with the Company, Packy called me into his office.  I was a bit apprehensive about this, as meetings with the "boss" are usually transmitted through the supervisors.  This message came "directly from on high"!  I walked into his office and there he was, with a BIG welcoming smile!  He wanted to know how I was doing and if things were what I expected them to be.  Besides his "greeting" to me on my first day, things were coming along pretty well.  I was sometimes so needed by the different entities that I actually carried all of my four uniforms in a bag so that I could change jobs at a moments notice.  It wasn't too rare that I was driven by Eric Cederwall, my supervisor, in a golf cart from one job to the other, without me remembering to change clothes.  I sometimes found myself conducting a tour of the Casino and then looking down and realizing that I was still wearing my bus tour uniform!

Packy had started a business entitled "Packy Offield Enterprises", which everyone later referred to as "P. O. E" or simply "POE".  He had personally picked up some of the slack that the Island Company wasn't able to handle.  He now ran the Golf Course, "Descanso Beach", and the "Country Club Restaurant".  It was because of this last charge that he had called me in.  He had just had the restaurant earth quake retrofitted and was now going to open it up after being closed for a number of years.  He realized that people had more or less forgotten about it, being closed all those years, and he also knew that just getting there, at the top of the hill, was a burden for many of those who chose to "dress up" for dinner, especially women in high heels!  He said that he had gotten permission with the City to provide a tram service going only directly from the "Tour Plaza" to the restaurant.  He wanted to share the significance of this restaurant with the patrons and how it fit into the glorious history of Catalina Island.  He told me that I was the ONLY one that he could think of who could provide the proper information that those who took the tram up would request so he asked me if I would be willing to drive the tram on weekends, Sunday brunch, special events, as well as holidays. He also wanted to make sure that I was familiar with the different dishes, so that I could make recommendations when requested.  (This meant that I was "forced" to eat any new concoctions that the Chef had prepared.  I remember on a couple of occasions that my opinion of what to do with a particular meat or fish was asked for.  On time I asked the Chef what the "special" was for the night and he told me that he hadn't come up with one yet, but he did have a shipment of fresh halibut. I suggested that he make up a Tai peanut sauce for the halibut, which he accepted very happily, and it turned out to be a very well received dish).  I remembered the old saying, "STRESS is when you brain says 'No Way!', but your mouth says "I Would Love To!'"  Well, I was now to add job five to my list and was truly honored that Packy would chose me for this important task. He added that he wanted me to "poll" the guests as they drove down after dinner to see what their "real feelings" were about the facility and especially the food.  He felt that they would be more comfortable and upfront with me as a driver than they would be with their server or kitchen staff.  On a few occasions I did get some "less than enthusiastic" reviews and so I would quickly pass this information on to the Chef who generally immediately ceased serving those particular dishes until he could find out what the problem was.  A BIT HEADY ON MY PART, I ADMIT, BUT JUST DOING MY JOB!!!

I did this for only a couple of years when I was informed that I had done such a GOOD JOB of getting people up there and once more getting the restaurant up and going that my tram service was "no longer needed".  I never quite understood the logic of all of this, but accepted it as if I had a choice.  I was now sans one of my jobs, which paid me often more than the others.  After talking to my superiors, I was offered the job of being "host" at the "Country Club Restaurant"!  My job mainly consisted on taking reservations, greeting guests, getting them seated wherever they wanted as quickly as possible, and making sure that the servers weren't getting overworked.  I enjoyed this job (not as much as driving the tram), but I was in a BEAUTIFUL environment and I was given free meals!  Once I was asked to sit down and have lunch with Ada Blanch Wrigley Schreiner, "Blanny", and her husband, Charles.  When I told her I couldn't, she was a bit hurt and asked why.  I explained that I would be fired for eating with the guests.  "I don't think you have to worry about being fired, once they know who you are eating with!"  You see, "Blanny" was Packy's cousin and also the matriarch of the Wrigley Family!  Needless to say, we had a great meal together and I was still able to provide my services.

On one particular night, when things weren't too busy, I received a call from the "Inn On Mt. Ada" from Marlene, one of the Inn's owners at that time.  She asked me to put down "Smith, party of four" at 8PM, and could I place them where they could be isolated from the rest of the guests.  I thought this a bit strange, but agreed to put them by the fish fountain in the patio.  Most of the guests were eating in the elegant dining room.  At around 8 I received another call from Marlene and she told me that the "Smith party of four", were running late.  This continued about every 10-15 minutes until about 5 minutes to 9.  Marlene knew that we normally closed down the kitchen at 9 so she said that the "Smiths" were definitely on their way, so would we keep the kitchen open for a few extra minutes.  Somehow the way that Marlene said the word "Smith", I got the feeling that their real names were NOT "Smith" and that they were someone special.  I had always held to the belief that you treat regular people as "special" and you treat special people as "regular".  NO PREFERENCE GIVEN!!!!  I asked Marlene to hang on while I went and spoke to the Chef.  I went in the kitchen and asked him if he would be willing to stay open another 10 minutes as a party of four were on their way.  He graciously agreed and so I went back and reported this to Marlene, who, of course sounded very relieved, as she had highly recommended the "Country Club" to the "Smith Party" and they were looking forward to the experience.

Right on the dot, at 9:10, up came a couple who informed me that they were the "Smith Party".  I didn't recognize them, as I assumed I would, and I asked them what happened to the other two.  I was told, "They are coming up the steps right behind us."  Just then, a very tall and handsome man appeared, who I recognized as James Brolin!  It didn't take a two by four across the side of my head to realize who the 4th "Smith" was going to be.  Up came Barbra Streisand!!!  She came over to me and asked if I was "Chuck", as Marlene had told her to find our host, Chuck!  I informed her that I was he and she apologized profusely for being so late and said that it was totally her fault!  (I was looking for the pod, as this couldn't be the real Barbra accepting blame for her actions.  I was VERY PLEASANTLY surprised and happy to see this side of her).  I quickly walked them past the entrance to the main dining room and ushered them to a private table next to the fish fountain outside on the patio. I gave them the menu and then had to decide who their server was going to be,

I had NEVER been a restaurant host before, so the head server took it upon himself to explain the procedure.  "You put all of our names on a list, starting with me, and then going down from most seniority to the least.  You will then continue to process down the list throughout the night!"  Now, I generally understood and agreed to this process, but I explained to him that I was concerned about the fact that some groups were larger than others so wouldn't it also be advisable to make sure that each server got as close as possible the same number of guests, and not necessarily simply the number of groups.  HE DID NOT LIKE THIS IDEA, but I snuck in my idea anyway and he never found out.  Now, who do I give the "Smith, Party Of Four" to.  Of course, the head server should get it, but based on his formula, Jane, the new server, was next in line.  I then decided that I should get back on track and respect her superior's edit, so I gave her the group.  As I went by the fountain on my way to the kitchen, Miss Streisand called me over to the table.  "I hate to be such a bother, but although all of the food on the menu looks GREAT, unfortunately, as it is so late, I was wondering if the Chef could make one of the chicken dishes a little 'lighter'."  I told her that I was going to get her server, but would see if the Chef would be willing to "lighten" one of his heavier chicken dishes.  I ran into Jane and I said, "Prepare yourself, Jane, as I am assigning you to that table by the fountain.  James Brolin and Barbara Steisand are there!"  "That's great, Chuck.  Barbra often stays at the Inn and I and my family are good friends of her and James!"  BOY, HOW DUMB COULD I BE!?!  Of course, here parents, Sue and Wayne Griffin ran the Inn and that is where Barbra and James were coming from!  PERFECT!  As she started over to the table, I went into the kitchen and informed the Chef that one of the "Smith Party Of Four" wanted to have her meal slightly "lightened" and would he be willing to come out and talk to her about it.  "OF COURSE", he said.  As he was taking off his apron, "I think you should know before you step out there that you will be talking to Miss Barbra Streisand!"  Suddenly, EVERYTHING got quiet in the kitchen and there was a look of awe on all of the faces.  The Chef, with a big smile, went out to face Barbra.

As I went back to my post, KNOWING that everything was under control, a couple came out of the main dining room and the women asked me, "How did you sneak Barbra Steisand past us?  Where is she?"  "Barbra Steisand, I don't now anyone here by that name.  We only had a 'Smith Party Of Four'."  With a big smile, she said, "I COMPLETELY understand!"  I left the restaurant before the group left, as I had no one else to "host", and I assume that all went well.

A few days later I came back on a Thursday as we had "Thursday Jazz Night" (THAT is something that should be brought back!).  I went into the kitchen to let the Chef know that I was there and went through the bar on the way.  On the mantle of the fireplace, in perfect view, were dirty dishes being exhibited with the sign "Eaten on by Barbra Streisand."  I went BALLISTIC!  I tracked down the two managers and told them to take down these plates IMMEDIATELY.  "What happens if Miss Streisand decides to come tonight for the jazz and sees these being displayed like this!?!  This is SO BELOW the level of the Country Club.  What happens if others see this and decide that their plates might end up there after the meal.  Take them down NOW!  I know that you are my bosses and can fire me on the spot, but I would think that Packy would back me on this decision!"  Needless to say, the plates were removed and we NEVER spoke of this again.

I REALLY miss the "Country Club" and am so glad to see lights inside her ever now and then for special events.  I hope her "class" was not diminished while I worked for her!