Extraterrestrial Life and Busty Waitresses

Back when people began to ponder the heavens separately from their astrological baggage, H.G. Wells wrote about the possibility of life on other planets and what might happen if they were to visit us. What might they look like, be like, think like?

While his interpretation wasn't terribly flattering, his willingness to consider the possibility of their existence was a quantum leap forward. Not long before his time, this way of thinking would have been viewed as heretical and could even be life-threatening if it undermined the teachings of various churches. It takes an amazing mind to suggest the notion of life elsewhere when there has never been any evidence to suggest it and a certain boldness to promote such an idea.

Mr. Wells was the first person I thought of when I learned I had lost a dear friend, mentor, and boss, Edward “Bud” Sweitzer. Bud passed away having suffered from what most people secretly aspire to – old age and a robust, story-filled life to to go with it. He, too, was bold and forward-thinking, albeit in a much more terrestrial way.

We were an unlikely combination as boss and employee. I was a 22-year-old computer nerd and he was a retiree from the world of fire protection engineering in his early 60’s. Bud had more vision than technical ability and I had more technical savvy than girlfriends.

What Bud envisioned, and hired me to create, was a specialized variation of something we now all take for granted – the internet. He wanted (in simplified terms) a pool of information available “on-line” to hundreds(!) of people which they could read and review at any time. The technology of the day (20 years ago), wasn’t quite “there yet” as the “always-on” nature of the internet required an infrastructure that was years away.

It wasn't that vision of Bud that I will cherish the most; it will be his relationship with food.


Coffee

Coffee, combined with a cigarette, was Bud’s morning ritual and, essentially, breakfast. He wasn't snobby about his coffee either. He was happy with “Sanka” as much as he was later happy with “Two-buck Chuck” wine.

On my first day of work, Bud strolled into the office 20 minutes late. My job was to answer phones for the on-vacation and eternally-cranky receptionist. Since I had arrived on time, I sat awaiting his arrival and further instructions.

He entered the building solo but with the same dramatic flare normally reserved for 3 or 4 people; a singular entity wielding the presence of a full entourage. “Mornin’ Dan’l!”

I had never heard my name abbreviated longer than “Dan” and yet shorter than “Daniel”. It had an edge of formality missing from the single-syllable version but a more efficient feel than the formal. That was Bud; a hybrid of respectful formality and utter efficiency.

He swooped past my “eager-to-know-what-the-hell-I-should-be-doing”-look toward the back of the office. I adjusted my tie (which I would end up wearing only on this single occasion) as he made the unmistakable noises of coffee brewing. He may have been singing which he did on occasion. He emerged from the hallway wielding his ever-present (and now full) coffee-mug, plopped himself down on the reception-area love seat, pulled out a cigarette, crossed his legs, lit up, and took the first drag with a moment of focus. (Smoking laws were just beginning to take hold in California.)

“Dan’l, here’s the way I like to start the day. I arrive here about the crack of 9:20, get a cup of coffee, check whatever messages I have, and then I come out here, sit on this couch, and you and I shoot-the-shit for about an hour. Then we go to work. How’s that sound?” I sat in awe of this man. Not just for his keen perspective on how work should be approached or his brilliant vision of using computers to disseminate information, but life in general.

The highlight of his life was family and friends though he also clearly cherished his alone time, often early in the morning when he could just “be”. When necessary, he’d sit on his porch just as the sun was coming up with a cup of coffee and a loaded shotgun. Comfortably distant from his neighbors (though hardly out of earshot) he would obliterate the gophers that dug holes in his yard. The problem was that the holes could trip his horses and break those surprisingly-fragile legs. He solved the problem of “the little bastards” from the comfort of his chair.

Bud had presumably hunted or fished just about everything that could be considered “game” and his son, Matt, carries on that tradition. I had never considered it before, but Bud also taught me the direct relationship between an animal and food and, while he was respectful over the loss of life, he also wasn’t preachy about its “rightful place in society”. It just “was”.


The Cup and the Apple

Had I not actually been there to witness it, this could easily be mistaken for pure fiction or perhaps urban myth. It happened.

We were on our way to meet with a fire department in San Francisco driving along in Bud’s curiously-chosen “company vehicle” (a Ford Bronco) on highway 80 heading over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. The entire time, Bud was – as usual – brainstorming.

He had left the office with a cup of coffee and an apple, alternating between them during the brief moments when he wasn't thinking out loud. His mind was occupied on a low-level by the process of driving and on a high-level with grand ideas about improving fire department communication.

Bud had finished the apple just before the initial span of the Bay Bridge and placed the core in the cup holder between us though it was clear he wanted rid of it. On that initial span, still verbally brainstorming, he realized he could dispose of the apple core over the side of the bridge. He rolled down his window (while still talking) and jettisoned the apple core without breaking stride. While I heard what he was doing, I didn’t actually see him do it.

At the end of that particular brainstorm, he reached over for his cup of coffee, and held up an apple core...

The look on his face was priceless as his brain tried to grasp how the apple core he had just thrown over the side of the bridge had somehow teleported back into the car. He glanced from core, to now-closed window, back to the cup holder, and then to me. Indeed, he'd thrown the coffee cup, rather than the apple core, over the side of the bridge. The Oakland Bay Bridge is about 14 miles long and I laughed continuously for at least 12 of them.


Waitresses

Bud was a charming guy. Waitresses held a particular fascination perhaps due to the universal intrigue of a uniform and the caregiver role they are employed to create. It was the elder waitresses with whom he got along best. Like him, they were from a time when flirtatious banter was a far cry from sexual harassment.

One “old-school” restaurant we’d occasion was about 3 blocks from our office. The name escapes me and while it had been there for 40 years at that point, I can't imagine that it’s still there. The waitresses were either 24 or 68 – nothing in between. Likewise, the décor was closer in age to the elder waitresses and, if anything had been replaced in all that time, it was an exact replica of how it looked the day it opened.

During one visit, two waitresses approached our table, one from each of the two age categories. “Ruth”, the elder, had seen Bud many times and was training “Sarah” on the fine art of waitressing. Ruth asked if we were ready to order.

Bud looked up at Sarah’s new starched and unsoiled uniform and noticed a name tag above her (ample) left breast. “Sarah, huh? What do you call the other one?” Sarah’s face was blank for a moment and then went almost as red as the vinyl covering the seats. Ruth clarified, “That's just Bud honey, he's harmless.”

As they walked away, Bud leaned over and said “See, the thing is Dan’l, they think I’m a harmless old man. What they don’t know is, I mean every word of it. If they ever took me up on it, I’d be in trouble since I haven’t been able to ‘get it up’ in 15 years. It’s like a dog chasing a car; they chase them even though they’d have no idea what to do with it if they caught one.”

I will bend a massive rule and raise a glass of “Two-Buck Chuck” to Bud; you’ll be missed, my friend.

Comments

R-Co said…
Those are classic Bud stories. Of course, I'd heard the cup and apple story many times but it's still hilarious. And Bud was always the first one to laugh at it.

I remember the restaurant near the office, as I had gone to lunch with him there a few times. He was a regular, with a regular's routine. He would enter the restaurant, show himself to his usual table (which was apparently always available) and sit. The waitress would notice him sit down and order him a glass of white wine from the bar, without him having to order it himself. She'd greet him warmly, serve him the wine, and not bother to give him a menu. After awhile, he'd catch the waitress' eye and she'd come over to take his order (always one of only a couple of different dishes). It was a comfortable routine -- the only thing missing was everybody yelling "Bud" when he walked in the door.

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