Living with ALS

Island Life

By/Mike Rayl

 

In September of 1978 my mom and I went to Catalina Island, it was my first time to the one square mile city of Avalon, in the summer of 1971 I spent a week at camp Fox north of the city ... Mom and I took a tour of the interior of the 72 square mile island and I fell in love with it!!! I was ready to move there... So I decided to ask our driver if he knew of any place that needed a cook??? He pointed out Gullens, a local hangout and said " they just fired a cook"!!! So I said thanks I will check it out..... The tram. Driver was called out of retirement that day, lucky us, he was amazing. He had lots of amazing stories about the Wrigley family, who owned the island!!!


After the tour I went to see the owner/chef of Gullens David Cribbs... The job sounded fun, it was a show cook job, cooking with customers behind you sitting at a counter!!! David hired me on the spot. Next I had to find a place to live, David helped me with that also. He said he would ask mister Humphrey, owner of the Glenmore hotel, in which Gullens was located, if he had any room available suitable for me to live!!! He had one room that was on the first floor within my budget, that use to be the ladies room that was perfect!!!


I felt so blessed for the opportunity to be able to live and work on Catalina!!! It is a wonderful place with lots of charm and history... I met the caretaker of the Casino a famous landmark building which never has had gambling. He would allow me access to the huge white grand piano in the ballroom, to play it and work on my music!!!  The accustics in the grand ballroom were amazing, the sound reverberated throughout the whole casino ... Playing that white grand piano there in the grand ballroom was a mystical magical experience for me!!!


David Cribbs my new boss was an interesting character, whos claim to fame was, being one of the last people to see the late Marilyn Monroe, in fact he claimed he enbalmed her, signed her death certificate, while workiing for the Los Angelus Coroners office!!! He was an excellent chef and butcher... He taught me a lot especially about cooking seafood!!! We served abalone burgers when in season...


Gullens was a fun place to work, because it was a local hotspot, being the off season, I became friends with most of the local residents!!! They still remember me there, whenever friends or family visit and ask about me... It was one of the happiest, carefree times of my life!!!


I became friends with Sal Saldana who's familly is the largest on the island. His father was gardener to the Wrigley's on the island, who died doing what he loved, working in their garden!!! He lived with his widowed invalid mother and took care of her...  They lived in a big house on a hill with an awesome garden, over looking Avalon with fantastic view!!! Sal was one of the few people with a vehicle that was more than a golf cart. He had a Toyota truck, that could go anywhere on the island!!! He invited me to go for a ride to show me his island. We went to the back side of the island, not even any other people did we encounter the whole trip, it was our island that day!!! We got to sharks cove and it felt so fresh and amazing, i had to run up and down beach of pudding stones, it was a once in a lifetime awesome day!!! Then we went to the airport in the sky for lunch, for Buffalo burgers, yes buffalo ran free on the island ever since Cecil B Demile the famous movie director brought some there for a movie in the 1920's...


The airport in the sky was created by croping off the top of a mountain in the center of the Island, because there was no suitable place long enough, for planes to take off or land!!! It's one of the trickiest airport to fly in and out of... It is said if a pilot can land and take off from here, they can from any airport it's that difficult!!! I always wanted to be a pilot ever since I was five, when we visited Merlin my dads cousin in Oklahoma ... He took us up in his plane and I was copilot!!! It was a little four seated Ceesena... So when I read in the islander, the local Catalina newspaper that they were offering ground school, needed to become a pilot, at the local highschool for college credit I jumped at the chance to attend!!! I never finished ground school because I had a chance to move to Maui and as usual I jumped at the chance!!!


Sal was my best friend on the island!!! He was one of the local regulars that came in every day. It was a daily ritual with Sal, every day at 3pm he would check his mail in his post office box, then come into Gullens and have coffee, sitting at the counter !!! He helped me get a couch to my room that I bought at the church rummage sale, it had a fold out bed, cost $15 and was puck green but I didn't care I was happy to have it!!! 


Sal was a good friend!!! He knew everyone on Catalina, and knew their stories ... I only lived a short time on the island, September 1979-May 1980... I didn't intend to but missed the busiest time which is summer!!! I had one girlfriend Crystal part of the time I was there , she had sad story... She got pregnant at 15 and had a 3 year old son! Later she joined the Army then got a brain tumor...that's the last I heard... She was sweet and innocent dispite her history !!! 


The cooks from the local breakfast place Lani's pancake cottage would come in for coffee after their shift... I overheard them one day talking about the Lani's pancake on Maui in Hawaii and how the owner would pay a good cooks way there, also setting up a place to live!!! I asked them about it , told them I would like to apply ...They said they would recommend me to Dick Morris Lani's husband, who handled the hiring of cooks!!! I met with Dick a couple of days later. He offered me a chance to train at the store in Catalina island first to see if I fit in and i liked it!!! I worked there training for about a week, i was hired to go to Maui!!! I had never even been to Hawaii, I moved there site unseen!!! I was off soon to another adventure!!!


Dick Morris was an interesting guy, retired Whittier policeman, in my hometown... His claim to fame was, he was Frank Sinatra's drummer, when he was with Tommy Dorsey !!! His wife at the time offered him an ultimatum either get a regular job or I'm divorcing you, he became a policeman and the rest is history!!! 


I grew up in Whittier and was a Junior Police for a short time but never met Dick. Dick was now married to Lani a Hawaiian a direct descendant of the Hawaiian King Kahmahama, they were big, thee king was over seven feet tall!!! 


Dave my boss was very nice to me when I told him I was leaving. I really loved the time I spent on Catalina !!! But I was happy to be off soon to a new adventure!!! I could of easily stayed there forever... An old ship Capitan told me Catalina was the perfect place to live and he had been all over the world, but I needed to find out for myself...


I didn't know what to expect, I had never been to Hawaii, but my grandmother Naomi had right before she died in 1972 and she loved it, said I would too!!! I wouldn't have access to a car so I bought a new bicycle and a pair of skates and brought them on the plane with me, the bike in its unopened box...  One interesting note it cost more to ship my things from Catalina to LA then it did all the way to Maui !! It was bitter sweet leaving my new friends on Catalina island!!!


I was so blessed, my new employers paid my plane fare to Maui , a direct flight from LAX and Dick and Lani let me stay in their condo in Wailaha till I got my own place, they were very generous and good to me!!! I think I started work the first day there...

Maui is a magical mystical place!!! I fell in love with the island from the moment I saw it from the airplane...


Lani's pancake cottage is in the wharf which was a nice new shopping plaza at the time 1980, right across from the famous Banyon Tree!!! The Pioneer inn where they filmed a movie with Frank Sinatra in the 60's was across the street too, on Front street...



Lahaina was the one time capital of the Hawaiian kingdom, then a whalers village!!! Then the missionarys came, soon sugar cane and pineapple fields blanketed the island and workers from all over the world!!! Not to many workers from any one group to keep them from organizing against the plantanion owners... If you can believe this, the missionarys even planted sticker bushes all along the coast to prevent people from going shoeless, which I find absurd!!!! 


Lani's pancake had a nice kitchen I liked working there!!! Mo the manager and the rest of the staff were all nice... Front Street was Lahaina's main drag, the heart of all the action!!! Lani's had this Hugh omelette that served a minimum of four people, called a Mess, had a little of everything... Lani's was a fun place to work, time went by fast!!! Got off at 2 or 3 pm, had the rest of the day to play, go to the beach or whatever !!! I loved it...


I loved to go Kahanapali beach by the Sheraton hotel and go diving off the 20 ft cliff , swim and body surf after work !!! You could find me there most days, loved it so much... The skates and the bike came in handy , the beach was a couple miles outside of town!!! With the help of Dick and Dave, another cook, they got me a room in the Nakamura Arms, right in the heart of Lahaina, that had a 3 yr waiting list!!! I was blessed to get a room there!!! It was rustic to say the least, toilet down the hall and up stairs, shower down the hall... Originally it was dressing rooms for an old theater, it had a tin roof , and was open with just screens on windows, no glass!!! The only reason it still existed it was under a grandfather clause, as long as it was owned by the same owner, Nakamura... It was built before there were building codes!!! I loved it, I had a big mango tree and a pappya trees in my front yard, I was in heaven!!!


Everything went well until they hired another cook from Catalina island. That would of been fine, but this guy wanted to take over, causing all kinds of problems for me!!!  Instead of continuing to fight with him, I decided to look for another job...


I was on the beach when I decided this, in shorts and carrying my boom box I went to the Hyatt!!! The regular head chef was off that day so I was interviewed By Harry Gable his assistant ... I was hired on the spot as a cook IV, which I soon learned was the entry level, lowest position as a cook!!! At that time I was qualified to be at least a cook II, if not a cook I, possibly even a Sous Chef...


At first they had me peeling vegetables, and when I found and out that one of the guys working beside me peeling vegetables was a cook I, I was outraged, and I went to head chef, who didn't know me or hire me, and told him what I thought of this perceived injustice. I will never forget what he said to me, " there's a nice breeze blowing from the mountains, anytime you want you can get f### out!!! I didn't appreciate his German sense of humor at the time, I was pissed, but I went back to peeling veggies!!! Boy talk about get off on wrong foot, I was in my mid twenties with possibly a chip on my shoulder, with little or no people skills..., what did i know!!! From peeling veggies i went to banquets, then broiler of steaks at the outdoor Hawaiian show, next Spats, Italian restaurant, then preping brunch at Swan Court, finally settling down as line breakfast cook at Swan Court, the premire restaurant.


Swan Court is the nicest restaurant I've ever had the pleasure to work in. It is open to a lake with beautiful swans swimming in it !!! 30 foot ceiling, and a beautiful Yamaha Grand Piano that I used to play and write music on my break, till the head chef told me to stop, even thou I had the permission of the food and beverage manager  also the manager of Swan Court, all of whom loved my playing , and my song Swan Court !!! Its an instrumental written for the piano... That grand piano was just amazing, cost $25k in 1981!!! I since heard from a friend who has been to Swan Court recently that the piano is no longer there, which to me is a shame!!!


I worked with some very interesting characters at Swan Court, one was a mountain of pure Hawaiian blood, who was serving time in jail rumored for murder, who was on special work release program, to work along side of me cooking brunch!!! Almost all of the Hawaiians working at the Hyatt were related, there were so few of them!!! Most people working there were Philipino... 


I loved working at the Hyatt Regency Maui, it was a great place to work!!! Where Chris Hymetter the owner of the hotel brought in all kinds of expensive art work from all around the world mainly the Orient to put on display around the hotel, worth more than the hotel itself, I'm guessing!!! Two huge Ming vases alone were worth at the time, in 1980, were worth over $8,000,000... They were moved constantly to elude potential thevies !!!


After six months or so of abuse by the Executive Chef, I moved on, to what I thought was better, was I wrong !!! The new chef would catch rats alive in cages, only to torture them scalding hot water, this is how he got his kicks!!! Let's just say my time there was short...


Somewhere between my day jobs I got hired by the newly formed Maui Repertory Theater Company, to play Liverlips Louie a combined character in the musical , Guys and Dolls !!! It was the most fun I had on Maui!!! One night the main character got sick and I did my best to fill in!!! I adlibed and somehow got through it, I always found musical stage so exciting... Billy Martin, Robert Redford's double in so many movies, was set to play the police detective, but bowed out, like so many of the cast, over a pay dispute at the last minute !!! But those of us that stayed had a ball !!!


There is nothing like live theater to get all the juices going!!! Movies are magical , but nothing is like live... But you will have to wait for the movies i was in chapter, for the rest of that story !!!


Well somewhere in between all the latter fun and excitement, i managed to become Head chef at the exclusive Lahaina Yahatt Club, where the richest person could be dressed in shorts and T shirt!!! Very casual to say the least... I loved it there and they loved me, could of had a job for life, but I fell in love, so I thought, with the wrong person, it was more like lust, lol !!! Got a bad case of rock or island fever !!! Felt like I had to leave the island stat !!! As soon as I had a layover in Honolulu I knew I had made a mistake, what i needed was just a little R and R in the city!!! Maui is great in fact it may be to purfect and laid back... But it was to late i had already shipped my  stuff back to California... My life was about to get even better, little did I know at the time !!! I got to have my 8th and final season in Mammoth mountain, then fall in love for real, resulting in being father to 3 wonderful kids... Steven, Shellee and Kenny my stepson !!!