That’s when a sport was a sport.
Some years ago Irene and I lived in Waco, Texas. I remember then, after the Branch Davidian cult incident, Waco got the nickname Wacko. This was before the rest of the country went bonkers themselves. Waco was a sleepy central Texas town, and it was awesome. There was NO SUCH THING as traffic, and you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing multiple people that you knew. It seemed as if everyone knew everyone. People were friendly, they wanted to talk. Trust in others was a given and being from Southern California, this kind of community was pretty incredible.
I would always take offense when anyone said “Oh, you live in Wacko”, because the Branch Davidian incident occurred 17 miles outside of Waco. So Waco had nothing to do with any of it. Besides, like nothing ever happens in other towns/cities within the U.S. We were simply the closest town to where the event occurred so news media would say something like ‘Happening now in Waco, Texas…’ I never lost my fondness for Waco, and still love it today. We have so many wonderful memories from that town and of Texas, the kind of memories that can never go away with time.
We moved to Waco for a new job believe it or not. Who knew that a company in Waco, Texas had a mega-contract for the richest man in the world! I couldn’t say that to anyone however. All I could say is that ‘we design the insides of big planes for rich people’, when in fact it was one rich person. Directly off the line at Boeing, the brand new 747 would be flown to the landing strip at our company. From that point, engineers and linesmen would completely gut the plane, literally down to is skeleton. Walking into those planes one could see everything! Pipes, cables, struts, nuts, bolts, you name it Everything was exposed. Even the floor was removed and we would have to carefully walk on planks of carbon fiber and wood as temporary flooring just to get around.
The Industrial Designers, I was one of them, would work alongside with the Engineers to create, develop, and fabricate a completely custom-designed interior. Money was not an object and there was no detail left unchecked. The finished product was something that few people see in their lifetime. It was spectacular, complete with pure silk low cut-pile carpeting. No shoes were allowed on that carpet of course, we all had to wear disposable booties over socks. We were not even allowed to leave our shoes on.
We met many people while in Waco. Central Texas was a safe place. People trusted one another. For most of the time we spent in Texas, we only had one vehicle. That situation worked however because Irene would take me to work before going to school at Baylor while she was completing her Bachelors degree. It was pretty cool because we had even more time to chat about everything. I remember shortly after I started at my job, one of the Mechanical Engineers who knew I had no vehicle at work said to me that if I ever needed to go somewhere during our lunch time, he would lend me his truck. No worries whatsoever. That to me was totally out of the ordinary from my upbringing but it was standard fair in Waco. At work, people would leave their car windows down and often keep the car doors unlocked. Everyone knew everyone and so they all looked out for one another. For me, this reality was quite an anomaly.
Shortly after I started my job at this company, I saw a tiny newspaper ad for a bartender. What really caught my attention was that they were seeking working professionals. Waco was a college town of sorts because Baylor University was located there. ‘Working professionals who wanted to earn extra money on select evenings’. This sounded like it could be a fun experience so I applied. The interview was on site, and conducted by two or three of a group of young buddies who wanted to open up a brand new bar. During the interview they asked me if I had ever bartended. My answer, ‘no’. The next question was ‘can you pour a beer?’ My answer, ‘yes’. They hired me on the spot. I was their first hired employee and would be a bartender.
Since they were just starting up, and still under construction, it would be a short while before Buzzard Billy’s actually opened. For starters, they only had a beer license, so I would have time to learn how to make mixed drinks before they got their liquor license.
These guys, 7 total, pooled their money together and purchased a lease in an old redbrick building right next to the Brazos River. The back scenery was awesome and the Brazos was a beautiful river. There was not much else around as far as restaurant or bars in the area, but there was hopeful potential. Tracy, the brawny construction guy was in the process of gutting the interior, building a long beautifully lacquered bar, and anything else that required construction. He could do anything it seemed. The other guys all helped Tracy take the bar to completion, and they all worked very well together.
Buzzard Billy’s was going to be more than a bar. It would also be a restaurant that specialized in Cajun food. So they hired a young cajun chef from Louisiana to head the kitchen, and man could he cook some awesome food! Up to this point, I had never had cajun cooking but quickly grew to love the combinations, the spices, the flavor. The food was absolutely savory.
Time took Buzzard Billy’s to great success. It was the staple restaurant/bar of Waco. We would pack the house every night that I worked there, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. There was live music that began at 10p and up until then, there was a jukebox that was wired to speakers throughout the house.
Every night when I was scheduled, I would begin at 6p but I would come early to enjoy the company of the many patrons who I came to know. There was the group of regulars that would come for an ‘early dinner’, and then there was a later group who would really start the evenings energetic excitement. The place had a ‘buzz’ about it that I had never experienced. Everyone pretty much knew everyone else, because we all lived in Waco, and the mixture of patrons we welcomed was a ‘perfect storm’ for laughter and fun.
There was nothing fancy about Buzzard Billy’s. It was an eclectic combination of scattered memorabilia and energy. It was one of those ‘friendly’ places where everyone felt at home.
Upon entering the bar on my shift, I would always head to the jukebox to play one specific song, Cherry Bomb by John Mellencamp. It is still one of my favorites to this day! The song became such a staple to my time the bar. Everyone knew when they heard that song play, and loudly, that Rudy was here. Rudy is what my family calls me. These people were my family. Cherry Bomb became such an anthem to my time in Texas, and all the people I came to know from Buzzard Billy’s. The song itself is reflective and about one man’s time when he was younger and then ultimately older. It is wonderfully written so that in just a few minutes, the listener experiences many of this man’s memories. Somehow I knew that song was forecasting my time there, and my future.
That’s when a sport was a sport
And groovin’ was groovin’
And dancin’ meant everything
We were young, and we were improvin’
Laughin’, laughin’ with our friends
Holdin’ hands meant somethin’, baby
Outside the club Cherry Bomb…
‘The Buzzard’, as it was referred to by all the regular customers was my Cherry Bomb. It was where Irene and I became friends to many wonderful people. That was a time when we were all ‘young and improvin’.
Buzzard Billy’s introduced me to quite a cast of characters. There were the young owners, Dan, Andy, Matt, Mayo, John, and Tracy. Tracy was not as young as the others, but he was ‘brawny’ and he could construct, fix, and build anything. These guys were cool, all ‘loose’ with rules at the bar, and I enjoyed them all.
George was our calm, cool, and collected ‘security guy’. He was always mellow in nature, seemed quite wise, and always had something of positive value to say when he spoke.
Some of the memorable staff were Marsha and Porsche. These two were peas in a pod. Marsha was kind and humorous, and Porsche had a great sober-like, dry sense of humor. Both Baylor students, they always made me laugh.
Deb. Watch out! She was one tough Texan woman. Large in stature, many tats, spoke like a ‘drunken sailor’ with her constant foul language, and strong! She would walk through the restaurant and serve 5 large mugs of beer in each hand. That is a lot of volume and weight. Deb loved to arm wrestle with guys that thought they could beat her because more often than not, she would win. I think the only one who ever beat Deb at arm wrestling was Tracy. She hesitated none to stand up to anyone who crossed her and would fight them if necessary. I believe she had already spent some time in jail but she was very sweet. In Texas, one could carry a gun without issue. It was normal to see guns on gun racks of many pickup trucks. Deb carried hers in her purse. it was a small pistol and always loaded. That was typical of Texas so it really was no big deal. I remember Deb was once stiffed by a customer of paying his dinner bill. She chased and tackled the guy in the parking lot (true) for money that she and the restaurant well deserved. She got her money alright and I don’t think that guy ever returned. Despite her look, her foul mouth, and her no-flight attitude, Deb was a very generous and kind individual who would protect anyone she felt needed protection. She was a wonderful person and worked hard for her money. I really liked Deb.
Vito, was Deb’s boyfriend. Deb would always pronounce his name ‘Vee-toe’ and the two of them had one tumultuous relationship. Their arguments would be loud and vocal, and often turn into bar fights. Sometimes the fights would be just between the two of them, and other times multiple people would be involved. I don’t specifically remember if any of these arguments ever occurred at the Buzzard, but I believe I was working during one of the verbal bouts and experienced it ‘live’. Vito owned a small local gym in Waco. It was a no-frills gym but it was all anyone would need in order to get a good workout. He had all the necessary machines, dumbbells, and barbells one would need. Vito had a kind heart and was very generous to me, and he let me work out there free of charge. Not surprising though, Vito had jail time during the time I knew him but I was happy to see him again once released.
Carla. She came into the scene shortly after Buzzard Billy’s opened. She was another one who used salty language as if it were part of baby’s first foundational words. From what I remember, ‘M-F-er’ was used most often, even during general chit-chat. Looking at her, one would not expect such a foul mouth, but she was yet another no-holds-barred Texas girl who told it like it was. I think Carla was the first girl I ever met with a belly ring. She showed it too with her cropped shirts. I remember one night she even let a few of our ‘regular-regulars’ drink a tequila shot from her belly button. There was nothing else involved, as she was still on the clock, but there was a lot of laughter and typical Buzzard craziness.
Walter, an awesome Texas dude. Ten years younger than me, but his age difference never made a difference to either one of us. He was another bartender and a lot of fun to work with. He was honest, hard working, and a loyal friend. I quickly began calling him Wally, as I felt like our friendship allowed me to go somewhere that probably only his family went with names. Irene and I would sometimes poke fun at Wally and he would always go along with it. If he were ever offended, I never knew because it never showed. Wally and I remain in contact with one another and after Irene and I moved out of Texas, he invited us to his wedding to Robin in Waco some years later. How could we not go? It was great to be back in Texas for the event. “Hey Wally!, Jay Buhner told me to pass on this message to you…”
Jonathan and Rodney. These two were always together. Two divorced buddies who would hang out at the bars every weekend. Once they found Buzzard Billy’s, they were at the Buzzard pretty much every weekend without fail. They would just sit at the our bar and chat with the bartenders and everyone else they knew, which was pretty much every body. There was nothing out of the ordinary about their personality, but they were peculiarly funny in their own individual way. They would often drink too much but were never obnoxious. Rodney would sometimes say to me, “Where’s Irene?”, knowing full well that Irene was at home doing homework late into the night with her Baylor and then later Texas A&M studies. I would reply “She’s at home doing her homework!” Rodney’s reply…”Call her up!” My reply…”No!” Rodney’s reply…”Call her up!” Of course I would give in to his half-drunken request and I would call Irene. As soon as it would start to ring, I would just hand the phone to Rodney. His short conversations were usually filled with a lot of quiet talk, Rodney-smiles, and giggles. Then he’d hang up and say, “She’s coming” with his big typical Rodney grin. We’d just laugh together over the entire exchange and it was awesome.
Kelly. I first met Kell through Jonathan when she was a sometimes weekend ‘regular’ at the Buzzard. When Kelly walked into the restaurant/bar, her presence was known. She was very tall, had long beautiful curly blond/brown hair, and she really looked like a model. There was a striking look about Kell and she had a huge happy looking smile. I believe Kell played was a basketball player in school and she was working towards her Bachelors degree at Baylor at the same time Irene was attending. She wasn’t stout in any sense, but she was definitely ‘super-sized’. It took awhile before I actually liked Kell because every time she would come into the bar, she would get quite inebriated. She had a very loud, deep voice that probably carried for miles. I remember once when she began working at the Buzzard, Kell took a customer phone call, answered the callers question, then hanging up looking all dejected. I asked her if anything was wrong, her response “After answering that guy’s question, he said, “Thank you Sir”. That’s how deep Kells voice was. The more inebriated Kell got, the louder she got, and I found her loud endless energy very obnoxious. After we were open for a few months, Mayo told me after I had arrived for my shift that I was going to work with a new bartender that evening, and that her shift started one hour before mine. When I peered out the office door, I saw her behind the bar serving it up nicely for everyone. My response to Mayo…”Oh man, it’s that drunk bitch!” It wasn’t minutes into my shift that I could see what Kell was all about. She was loud, fun, knew how to make all the mixed drinks, and she brought incredible energy to the bar. I loved working with Kell! She and Wally were my favorites to work with. She already knew everybody since she was a previous bartender another bar. Kell and I would sometimes late into the evening get up ON the bar, dance, and shoot whip cream into each others mouths. Our patrons would egg-us on and just roar with laughter! Mind you, we were on the clock at the time, and a couple of the owners were sitting/drinking at the bar chatting with everyone. I remember the look on Tracy’s face when Kell and I did that. Everyone would see a Tracy-grin while he shook his head slowly and lower his head in shame. He thought we were crazy but we were an awesome working team. Everything at the Buzzard was fun and games.
Doug. This man was a typical quiet Texas cowboy who lived on a farm and drove a truck. You never saw Doug not wearing his Wranglers, cowboy hat, giant smile, and squinty ‘moon eyes’. Doug was a Building Inspector, and everyone knew him because he inspected Buzzard Billy’s for its opening. There was nothing outstanding about his personality other than typical Texas hospitality, but he was one very nice down-to-earth Texas Aggie. Nothing loud about him, just good conversation at the bar. Years later when Irene and I were in Waco for Wally’s wedding, we saw Doug while we were at another bar. It was like no time at all had passed, as if we all just saw one another the other day. We ended up chatting and catching up with him for hours. He was the same ol’ Doug, and it was awesome.
Then there were my favorite regular attendees that we would see every weekend at the Buzzard, Jerry and Alice. They were my favorite for the best reason. Even though Irene and I found Texans to be very friendly and generous, Jerry and Alice were exactly that multiplied by infinity. The smiles on their faces, Jerry’s calm demeanor, moon eyes and ‘sneaky-sounding’ laugh. Alice with her awesome southern drawl and loud hearty laugh. Jerry and Alice were always welcoming to us, just like we were family. Alice used to call me her ‘favorite bartender’, maybe because I made her margaritas the way she liked them…tasty and powerful! 🙂 Just the way I like ’em too! At the Buzzard, I was always lively, and loud. One had to be loud, the place was buzzing with energy every weekend from all our patrons and live music.
Larry, their son was their oldest, then Tracy, and Scottie. I knew Larry, or Larry Bob as I liked to call him, the best since he too worked at the Buzzard. A very cool Texas, ‘mean looking dude’, but always with a very kind heart. He was a United States Marine and I always held that as being very impressive. Irene and I would often see Scottie and Tracy at bar/restaurants where we met-up with Jerry and Alice. I remember once it was even at a bar in Austin. We knew the entire immediate family and their friendship always felt like family to us both.
Jerry and Alice were always more than kind, even outside the Buzzard. We were frequently invited to their house for real barbecue, and other events too. They even asked me to bartend at their house for their daughter’s evening wedding reception. There were a couple other events where I bartended at their house as well but none like that night. I never wanted or asked for payment for any of those events, I wouldn’t even think to do so. For I was paid with loving hospitality, and that was everything. Jerry and Alice were Texas-Dad and Texas-Mom to Irene and I, and they knew our term of endearment for them. I will forever remember how Jerry would, when in conversation, refer to another man as ‘ol’ Charles’, or ‘ol’ Bob’. Whatever the man’s name was, when in conversation, when he would talk or ask about someone, it was always “ol’ (name)”. I loved that about Jerry.
I remember when Jerry got his Harley dream bike, he beamed like a little kid. Alice would ride its back behind Jerry, and they would sometimes ride it to the Buzzard. I also remember when Alice got her first tat. She was so proud to hike up her shorts to display it on her upper thigh. Awesome adventurous lady.
After Irene and I moved out of Texas for my next job in Massachusetts, we stayed in touch with Jerry and Alice. We even flew to the opening of a new Buzzard Billy’s to meet them both in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. The new experience was just like old times, comfortable and wonderful. Irene and I even visited Waco a couple times after we left, and both times Jerry and Alice would open their house to us to stay with them during our visit. I remember the first time we went to visit, again, it was just like old times. Perched on the mantle of their fireplace were children’s wooden letter blocks that read ‘Welcome Rudy and Irene’. Who does that?! Our Texas-Mom does. Anything we needed, we were made to feel as if their house was also ours. Love all around, it was built into them. That’s just who they are.
Years later, and Jerry has since passed away. When Irene and I learned of his passing years ago, we were of course devastated. Somehow during the span of nearly 30 years we were away from Texas, we had lost touch with them both and I no longer had current contact information. It took me years, literally, to locate our Texas-Mom again. Needless to say, Irene and I were super excited when we did! That will not happen again.
During those wonder days of living in Waco, Texas and working at The Buzzard, we were all at the ‘lets party’ age. Sometimes reckless in our behavior, but at The Buzzard, it was all in fun and there was a lot of it!
All those memories, and many, many more, are imbedded in our hearts forever.
Outside the club Cherry Bomb
Our hearts were really thumpin’
Say yeah, yeah, yeah
Say yeah, yeah, yeah