Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Big Bad Ass (Mexican) Rancher

Rancher Sanchez on his tractor. A retired Lt. Col., Jerry is a fiercely proud Mexican American.
I drove down to Cheyenne, Wyoming last week to check in on the Big Mexican and see how things are going 2 years post-retirement from the Air Force.  I knew he had cut the flowing locks since the last time I saw him, but the pain of that disappointment was replaced by the joy of knowing he owns a tractor, chickens, mature bees, and a badass blue tick hound named Chief. In other words, he's a true Wyoming rancher.

He told me to meet him at T-Joes, a local bar and restaurant near his house.  When I walked inside I found him sitting at a full table, holding court with a group of Minnesotans.  That's Jerry, always with a group, always entertaining, always drinking tomato beer.  I remember the first time he ordered a beer and a side of tomato juice.  We were in Pueblo and I thought he was bullshitting when he said he was going to combine them. It turns out it's not so bad.  Hell, Budweiser sells cans of it now. I looked around the bar and realized this could be somewhere in Pueblo circa 1993. It had the same look, the same vibe, the same banter.  He's always been true to those Pueblo roots and true to himself, it's what made him a great leader and friend.

One of the guys at the table said, "We've got a white stitcher!" in a thick Minnesota accent.  Jerry laughed and pointed to my brand new boots.  "You don't have a mark on those things", he said.  I'd been identified as a true suburbanite, an urban cowboy.

When I visited last year the bees on his property had just arrived and weren't producing honey yet, but it looked like they were thriving now. I asked him how they were doing and he quickly donned the bee suit and extracted a  honey comb to harvest.  He was surprised to learn that I was a bee keeper as well, though in a less formal manner. I looked over at his apparatus and noted the multiple combs in my ceiling didn't look anything like that when they were extracted from the drywall.

"Why the hell did you have a colony in your ceiling?", he asked.

"My bee eradication techniques didn't work", I shot back.

"What did you use?"

"Hockey gear and the hose", I deadpanned.

"Ah, common mistake", he replied.

My extraction equipment was a little different from his.  When I asked where his plastic tent and dremmel tool were, he gave me a confused look.  I explained to him how the guy I hired set up a plastic barrier, saw cut the drywall, and vacuumed out the bees.  After much discussion, it learned that's the "dumbass" way to raise bees. I can definitely certify mine as "organic", I thought.  There's nothing more natural than a biblical swarm of bees taking up residence in your rafters.

When we tasted the jar of honey a few hours later,  I surmised his method of obtaining honey was superior to mine since my jar cost me $800 in extraction fees. After being shamed for my bee raising philosophy, I asked him how the chickens were doing.  He nodded over to the right and told me to go check them out.

He pulled out a comb and made a jar of honey while I was visiting.
Very rigid and precise

My comb was free form, more artistic

When I got up near the chicken coop he built himself, I thought, "Where the hell did this skill come from?  This is not the guy I knew 20 years ago."  Everything was precise, neat, and well done.  This is not what our capstone engineering project looked like.

"How did you learn to do this?" I asked with equal parts awe and dismay. 
"I don't know, YouTube, I guess."

I'm constantly amazed by people who can build things because it's so foreign to me.  My father made it clear that I was cursed when it came to mechanical things.  He broke the news gently when I was 5 and made sure to let me know it wasn't my fault, it was simply genetic. Our broken screen door was propped open by a rock for 15 years, our own family cross to bear for having been born without the mechanical allele in our double helix.

I walked in the pen and took a closer look.  There were at least a dozen chickens and several roosters.  Inside the henhouse there were several eggs ready, which the children grabbed periodically.  I noticed the chickens roamed freely around the house and among the dogs and wondered if he had any concerns for their well being.

"Do you worry about Chief hunting these chickens?", I asked.

"Not really.  I mean, not the hunting part. He just waits for them to walk up to him and takes them down.  He's a really efficient killer.  It's random, though. We don't know when it will happen", he said.

 "Can I have him?" I asked.

"It depends on how many more he kills, but you have dibs."

I had a laugh and then walked over to the porch for a beer.

Evenings on the ranch are magical.  There's lots of food and lots of beers, bourbon, bows, and  reminiscing.  Jerry broke out the bow, handed it to me and told me to launch a few at the deer target downrange.

"I'm pretty sure I could be an Olympic shooter if I practiced for 48 hours", I said as I steadied the bow.

"OK. Just make sure you don't curl your forearm when you release the arrow", he smirked.

I pulled it back, put the sights on target, released the arrow, and realized I may have been too quick to announce my superior bow shooting abilities. I was shocked at how quickly a grotesque welt can swell up on the forearm, a bruise I would carry around for another week after leaving.  I did not, however, leave before driving the tractor.

"Here's the throttle, here's forward and backward", he said as he pointed to the knobs and pedals.  "Oh, and that over there is your Bud Light holder".  

I started the engine and immediately began laughing like an 8 year old child.  It's playground equipment with an engine.  I rolled around the open acreage, first forward, then backward, lifting the bucket up and down willy nilly.  Surprisingly I didn't damage anything like I did on that Zamboni so many years ago.

As the sun dipped down below the horizon I parked the tractor and walked over to the porch to refresh my beer.  I handed Jerry the keys and told him to take a look at my boots.

"What?", he said.

"The stitches are brown and the toe is scuffed", I said.

"Cool. I'll see you in a year Urban Cowboy", he laughed as we settled in for a night of drinking.

Live Snack

Chief , big badass Bluetick Coonhound that occasionally snacks on the live chickens.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Big Bad Ass Mexican

"If you grow your hair out for a year, I'll fly in to Cheyenne to take some photos", I told Jerry when I couldn't make his retirement ceremony last year.

"You're on", he said.

In order to understand Jerry, you have to understand the city that forged him.  He was born and raised in Pueblo, Colorado, the "Pittsburg of the West", founded on railroads and steel mills.  It's a hard core, blue collar city built by fiercely tough men and women.  Jerry, born in 1971, grew up in a time that is described by the Pueblo.org website like this:

"The 1960s and 1970s saw good working conditions for the people at the mill but globalization began to stress American steel manufacturers. Latent racial tension also boiled over into a prominent La Raza movement among Hispanic residents in the 1960s and 1970s, creating tensions that have only recently subsided."

For Jerry, Pueblo was (and is) a stratified zone of neighborhoods where it's critically important to know which side everybody is from.  An East sider wandering into the West side, for instance, is likely to take a beating.  Every unknown male in Jerry's territory was scrutinized and challenged like a lone wolf wandering into the wrong area.  No perceived insult, in any circumstance, was left unaddressed. The offender (usually) had the option of submitting, but it had better happen quickly or the fight was on.  I've seen the wolf eyes myself and it's unsettling to watch.

We first met in 1990 when we were randomly assigned as roommates at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School.  I had just tried on my standard issue athletic shorts and found to my chagrin they fit like Daisy Duke shorts, barely containing my grapes.  I was just about to take a peek inside the bag labeled "Sanchez" to see if there was a better option when the Big Mexican blustered in and walked over to introduce himself.   He leaned in tight, uncomfortably close, looked me in the eye and said "Hey, I'm Jerry".  Our friendship may have been over before it started if he had walked in a few seconds earlier.

I witnessed Jerry give the wolf eyes several times in that first year, all of which went unchallenged by the offender.  One kid had the temerity to say he could kick Jerry's ass in the pool (water polo player), and he was quickly pinned to the wall by his throat with Jerry's nose an inch from his.  The kid received a stern lecture while in that position about how things work in Jerry's world.

Another time we were in a bar in Denver with Jerry's friend Danny and there was a standoff with some rather large dudes.  At some point in the conversation, Jerry informed them he was from Pueblo and the standoff  immediately ended based solely on Pueblo's tough reputation.

I suppose it was inevitable that I would be directly involved at some point, and it finally happened one night in Colorado Springs with a group of us.   We've had a lot of laughs over the years about Steve's "laceration" and Jerry demanding to speak with a non-existent Chuck Fucking Rodeo. I asked my long-time roommate, Steve Sanders, to describe that evening and here's how he remembered it:

"The scene:  Travis Pacheco, Jerry Sanchez, Chris Mills, Steve Sanders, and I can’t remember his name… some big guy named Mike (I think) went out for a nice evening in the 1982 Red CJ5 (cool ride thank you very much…and I still have it) and ended up at the rootin tootin, line dancing, Brooks n Dunn (over) playin, western jean too tightenin, bar “The Rodeo”. The sequence of events:

-        All is normal: Buckets of beer, shots of whiskey, a little dancing, and a lot of laughing

-        All becomes abnormal: Chris Mill pisses on Alan Jackson in the bathroom and is asked “nicely” to leave the fine establishment.  (Why is there a cardboard cutout of Alan Jackson in the men’s room anyway?  Seriously, why not Shania Twain)

-        Jerry Sanchez begins “negotiations” with the bouncer at the front door to get his friend back in the “fine” establishment.  Bouncer tells Jerry it’s not happening.  Jerry inquires if he can speak with the owner.  The bouncers (notice it’s plural now) tell Jerry the owner is not available.   NOTE: at this point a LARGE crowd is gathering at the entrance…including all 5 of us.  Jerry, who must have read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, insists on speaking with Chuck “fucking” Rodeo because his friend didn’t do shit and deserves to finish his beer in this “fine” establishment. 

-        At this point something happens.  I’m not sure…a little push, a crack at the door, a wink …whatever it was it was the Tipping Point and all hell broke loose for the next few minutes.  I got hit with a bottle, you got hit in the face, Jerry is beating the crap out of some dude, Chris is at it somewhere too, and so is mike.  It broke up in the parking lot…all five of us standing there looking at a bunch of cowboys.  A bottle flies from out of nowhere and hits Jerry in the forehead and breaks.  It’s like he didn’t even feel it…even though I see his head turning blue.  He just stares at the one Mexican cowboy and says “I thought you were Mexican…bro”

-        We leave…Jerry notices his finger is bleeding profusely.  I drive us to the Hospital downtown.  We walk through “Labor and Delivery” on the way to the ER.  Funny…they gave us a little verbal lashing b/c of that.  They bandage it up and send us to the AFA clinic.

The result:  I suffered a “half centimeter laceration to the scalp” and receive one staple.  Your glasses are scratched because they were knocked off your face.  Chris and Mike are free of any scars.  Jerry, the toughest dude we all know (National Champion Boxer, Big Bad Basic, etc) loses part of his index finger."

Jerry Chimed in with his version:

"I go to take a piss and Steve is getting hassled by the bouncer for pissing on a poster. I start arguing with the bouncer, who kicks us out. I continue to argue as we get escorted. Guys in line engage in the argument. I must have told them to F-off and they proceeded to follow us outside. We start to dance and all I recall is rushing one guy getting him in a head lock followed with a flurry of uppercuts while his buddies were teeing off on me. Next thing I remember is bouncers finally separating us and at this point all you guys come outside and through the mob and I recall someone hitting you as you pass. Mf-ers.

I look at my finger and about at the same time I get hit by a thrown beer bottle. We get in vehicles and you all drop me off at the emergency room.

One week before retiring from the Air Force the dentist added some tooth to my incisor that was kicked in that night, after all these years."

It wasn't uncommon for Jerry to return to base on Sunday night with blood on his pants, the result of a last second weekend brawl.  Amazingly, within the same year, he returned with a bandage on his nose and peeled it back to reveal a large, bloody flap of skin that was bitten off during another fight.  This one he kept under wraps until the skin fell off so he wouldn't be punished by his commanding officer.  Officially, Jerry had been "jumped" in the finger biting incident, but a second offense might prove to be too much. Subsequently, Jerry was a great officer in his career because he understood these types of things happen to good people and kicking them out actually hurts the mission.  He told me the story of a young, bright E.O.D. (bomb squad) studentof his who was busted for a D.U.I, a potential career killer.  Jerry went to bat for the guy and he went on to become a talented N.C.O. 

Once a shoulder injury derailed his football and wrestling career, Jerry went on to become a two-time Wing Open Champion and a national champion boxer.  Nobody was surprised, as we had all witnessed him become "Big Bad Basic" in boot camp with the pugil sticks.  I was thrilled when he revealed an anecdotal story to me after we had faced each other in the competitive round.

"I could see you had that look in your eyes and were ready to fight so I just wanted to end it quickly by jabbing rather than brawling", he said.  

My intent was to swing for the fences and see what happened.  I was happy to be acknowledged as a competitor.

Despite his tough background, Jerry also has a big heart and is fiercely loyal to those he considers friends or famliy, whether they are his closest, brutally tough Pueblo allies Ramon and Danny, or the outsiders and cast-offs because he's befriended because he finds them interesting.  He's extremely generous and nurturing, and always makes sure his guests are comfortable and their glass is always full.  He's the same way with his kids, demanding hugs and kisses and making sure their needs are taken care of, but demanding their compliance and respect.  It was always apparent to me that he would make a great officer in the Air Force, both as a Civil Engineering officer and E.O.D. officer.  He always had a natural ability to lead people.

Once we graduated, the Air Force took us our separate ways and we didn't see each other for 20 years, with only intermittent e-mails and updates about our lives along the way. In those 20 years he went to numerous places and did three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq with an E.O.D. unit and with RED HORSE, the baddest ass Air Force Civil Engineering unit, where he regularly took mortar fire while acting as Squadron Commander rebuilding the area (see bottom for full deployment history).  Sitting on his porch in Cheyenne, we reminisced and picked up right where we had left off in Colorado Springs 20 years ago.  At some point in the conversation I asked him why that tough Mexican kid from Pueblo befriended a white dude from Northglenn.  

"I think maybe it was because you had this "Fuck You" attitude, some spunk, and you were athletic", he said.  I told him I connected with him because I recognized his personality from my dad.  In a lot of ways, I had grown up with this person.  

We sat there for hours shooting, talking, and drinking.  It was comfortable and comforting to be with an old friend with shared experiences only a few can relate to.  After all the years that had passed, I found he was still the same.  Still tough, still loyal, still Jerry:  A Big Bad Ass Mexican.

Belize, SA / Civil Engineer / JTF (Humanitarian Mission)

Saudi Arabia / Readiness Officer / Operation Southern Watch

Oman / Civil Engineer / Operation Enduring Freedom

Iraq / EOD Officer / Operation Iraqi Freedom
Iraq / EOD Officer / Operation Iraqi Freedom
Iraq / Civil Engineer / Operation Iraqi Freedom (Joint Area Support Group – 1 yr Army tasking)
Afghanistan / Civil Engineer (RED HORSE – 809 ECES SQ CC) / Operation Enduring Freedom
Afghanistan / Civil Engineer ( RED HORSE – 809 ECES SQ CC) / Operation Enduring Freedom

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Noooo, Not My Beer!!

Connie lamenting the loss of Beer (and Richie).

Bobby was just as sad as Connie (and me) about the beer (and Ritchie).

"Not my beer!!!!", I screamed to the heavens like Richie's mother screaming for her lost child in La Bamba, "You can't be a pain in the ass like all the rest!!!!"  

I was pissed as I left the UPS facility, unsuccessful in my attempt to pick up the beer.  "This two hour pickup window is bullshit, I have things to do", I thought.

It all started so beautifully a few weeks earlier with a facebook message asking me if I wanted free beer.  Naturally I was skeptical because the question is ridiculous (and obvious) at face value.   Certainly there was a hook, a non-monetary price to be paid for something like this.

"Of course I want free beer, asshole." (That's the appropriate response to another guy when asked a stupid question).  "What do I have to do?"

"Nothing", the guy said.  "The beer will be sent to your house and all I need in return is a few lines of text saying how great this gift service is."

"I'm in", I said.

Reflecting on this random gift of kindness made me think of similar gift services, or clubs, I had been a part of in the past.  I could think of two off hand and started dreading my free beer shipment immediately:

1. Columbia House CD Club
2. Wine Club(s)

I joined Columbia House around 1990 and have only stopped receiving threatening letters in the last couple years, I assume because they went bankrupt in 2015.  If you're around my age you probably remember this scam, but here's a little refresher on how it worked:

For the price of ONE PENNY, you received 12 CD's, with the stipulation that you would buy a certain number of CD's moving forward (15?).   The first shipment was glorious and it was hard to comprehend how they could give away that much music.  This was before the digital age and a CD might cost $20, which means I had $240 worth of music sent to me for free!

The second month wasn't as great as you only received 5 CD's and had to return any you didn't want to keep.  That was easy enough the first time.  I sent them all back, which meant I was still obligated to buy 15 moving forward.  The next month the same thing happened, and I noticed I was being sent artists I had no interest in.  As I recall I checked one "genre" box on initial signup, like R&B.  It turns out that meant they would send you every piece of crap ever made in the R&B genre, not anything you actually liked. Instead of Bobby Brown I got "Hi-Five" or "Jagged Edge". It wasn't long before sending the CD's back became tiresome and overwhelming,  at which point I did nothing and collected a large music library for the price of one penny.  I may have purchased one or two additional CD's, but I think I may still be a fugitive of the law.  Lest you shake a finger at me, take a second to reflect on your similar experience with Columbia House.

The wine club experiences (I've had several) are an adult version of the Columbia House scam except you get alcohol instead of music and the genre becomes "red" or "white".  You get monthly shipments of wine you thought you wanted when you tasted the good stuff at the winery, but it's often not what you thought. It makes sense I suppose, they have to sell the junk just like a chef has to get rid of two day old fish and pawn it off as seafood medley. As a bonus there's usually a "members only" bottle as part of the package.  When Coppola made the first shipment I was thrilled to receive the "Director's Cut" until I went to the grocery store for some lunch meat and saw the EXACT  same bottles being sold in bulk at the front of the store right next to Bud Light display.   I promptly bought a case, I'm no fool.  Our friends knew we received the "exclusive" director's cut and now I could pawn it off as a special gift at our next dinner.

The first sign the beer had arrived was a UPS tag stuck to my door.   Even from a 40 foot distance, we all know what that tag means.  I walked up to the the door and saw exactly what I expected: The box indicating "we will try to deliver again tomorrow" was checked.  "(Filthy curse words)", I exclaimed, "I won't be home between 12:30 and 4:00 tomorrow".  I figured I could login to UPS.com and change the shipment date and time so I ran upstairs.

"Incorrect Password".  "(The worst curse words known to mankind)", I screamed repetitively.  After several tries I managed to figure it out and planned to pick up the box the next day.  Upon arrival I ran to the door to get my free beer and pulled on the handle, which didn't budge.  I looked up to see that there's only a two hour window for pickup, and those two hours didn't coincide with the current time of handle pulling. (It's hard to describe the words I used at this point).

By the time I got my free beer home, I already hated it, and I hadn't even seen it yet.  When I opened the package I wasn't surprised to see generic looking bottles arranged into a "beer medley" of shit.  The bottles were generic and lacking imagination, one a plain blue label with the words "Dry Hopped Pale Ale".  They (whoever "they" are) didn't make the slightest effort to fool me with a "Director's Cut" misdirection or a "Limited Edition" ego stroke.  Just bland, boring, pain in the ass beer coming from a club equally as bad as the others.   I drove 20 round miles round trip (twice) to pick up a bad beer medley when Bevmo is 4 miles away with the exact selection I want and zero PITA factor.

My first instinct was correct, there was a non-monetary price to be paid for this free beer.  I'll never get those minutes back I spent traveling to the UPS facility, and god only knows how many additional minutes were taken off my life when the pickup window was closed and my veins bulged to 146% of their normal size.  As I move forward I'll do my best to keep myself away from clubs of all kinds and only buy exactly what I want from my favorite genre.  I'll try to choke down the rest of the beer, but don't be surprised if you receive a special, no label, holiday edition,  "Pacheco Brew" this coming winter season.

Me lamenting beer being a pain in the ass