How We Met — Old Roads and Fresh Starts

Many of you asked how I met each person I have interviewed for Another Door Opens, so this How We Met series is an answer to how I met the first 10 generous Another Door Opens people. Thank you for reading. Here is today’s short story.

OLD ROADS AND FRESH STARTS

At the time, I didn’t think anything of parking my car in the lot at the drive-thru coffee window.

I realize now, that might have seemed odd.

I was just curious to know who was working in such a tiny box. It was delightfully inviting from the road, so I thought I’d try my luck at finding my door for the day.

About as bizarre as a pedestrian going through a McDonald’s drive-thru, I walked up to the window, said good morning, and ordered an iced coffee.

Kate Broeren, who was working there, didn’t blink an eye and was pleasant and easy-going. I told her why I was walking up rather than driving up, briefly mentioning the Another Door Opens project.  I told her I believe everybody has a story. And would she be willing to talk with me as part of the project?

A car drove up, so I stepped aside to let Kate work and to let them order.

Across the road, I glimpsed BNSF trains rumbling by behind a thin wall of pine.

I went back to the window, and Kate kindly agreed to talk with me. And so we began. Between thoughts and questions, cars would come up, we’d break, and I’d step aside.

Route 66 was getting busier.

After each car left, we resumed.

The last thing Kate said to me, about some of the discomfort she was feeling in her life at that time, was ‘this too shall pass.’ And she’s right.

Thank you, Kate.

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How We Met — Hey Hey Paula

Many of you asked how I met each person I have interviewed for Another Door Opens, so this How We Met series is an answer to how I met the first 10 generous Another Door Opens people. Thank you for reading. Here is today’s short story.

HEY HEY PAULA

The decision was made early that morning. I would approach the day with a sense of curiosity and fearlessness.

Some days that comes more naturally than others. Perhaps on this morning, I felt the need to bolster my confidence some. I had to muster the guts to find another door.

The door part is easy. It’s the people part that can be challenging. As a gesture to this commitment, I made sure my camera and recorder batteries were charged and that my notebook and pen were easily accessible. If an opportunity arose, I wanted to be ready.

As I approached Cottonwood, Arizona, it was around lunchtime and I planned to look for a restaurant there.

Just before I reached the historic old town section of Cottonwood, a thrift shop on the left caught my eye. Immediately, I felt compelled to stop. That was the next door.

But I kept driving, maybe out of fear of approaching unknown people at random for a project that had been in existence for all of about two weeks. No sooner had I talked myself out of stopping, and forgotten about eating, I was quickly back onto a desert road.

“Turn around. Just go back there,” I said to myself.

And so I did.

I did a U-turn and drove back to Paula’s Attic, parked the car and went inside with my camera, recorder, notebook, pen, all of it. That was kind of presumptuous.

I walked in the door and Paula came out from the back. We said hello and she told me a little about the store and asked where I was from. When she asked what I was doing, I told her about Another Door Opens. Then, was there any chance she’d like to talk with me as part of the project, I asked.

She thought about it, then said “why not.” We sat in two high chairs near the glass counter in front, and began the interview.

Feeling mutually blessed to have met, we hugged goodbye and wished each other well. Thank you, Paula.

How We Met — Modern Management/Old Soul

Many of you asked how I met each person I have interviewed for Another Door Opens, so this How We Met series is an answer to how I met the first 10 generous Another Door Opens people. Thank you for reading. Here is today’s short story.

MODERN MANAGEMENT/OLD SOUL

It wasn’t that I’d driven very far so much as I was ready for a rest. That morning, I left Flagstaff, Arizona, and headed south toward Sedona, and on the sage advice of my friend Michael, I took the scenic Highway 89A. As I drove that winding stretch of road, my mind shifted back and forth between scenery-induced wonder and cliff-induced awareness.

I continued through other-worldly Sedona, over to Cottonwood then through the old copper mining town of Jerome when I decided to stop for the day in Prescott, “Everybody’s Hometown.” I picked the Hassayampa Inn, a 1920’s-era hotel near the Courthouse Square.

While checking in at the front desk, the manager, Michael Kouvelas, introduced himself and wanted to make sure I’d parked my vehicle in a spot that would not be ticketed. He walked back out with me to direct me to a better spot, helped me with my bags and told me a little about the hotel. I remember he used the word “portecochere” which I had never heard before. Due to context, I knew what he was talking about as he pointed out the narrow drive where the old Model Ts once arrived. Still, I made a mental note to look it up and figure out how it was spelled.

When he asked about my travels, I told him about the storytelling project I was working on — Another Door Opens. He lit up and said there were some wonderful doors in the hotel, including the stained-glass entrance to the Arizona Ballroom. I asked if I could interview him. He said yes.

Later that afternoon, I returned to the main lobby as planned, where we did the interview and took a few photos. Respect is the number one offering at the Hassayampa Inn, and they aim to make every guest feel like family.  Thank you, Michael.

Modern Management and an Old Soul

Step into the Hassayampa Inn and you step back in time.
 
Elegant music transports you, the original building structure enchants you and the comfortable sophistication of the decor charms you.
 
These features are grand, but the one that stands out most is a human feature: Respect.
 
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It is very much by design, but in a most authentic way.
 
“There are a couple rules that are cemented in day one of orientation,” says Michael Kouvelas, who has been the General Manager here for a little more than one year.
 
“You will greet every single person that walks in the door. And you will say ‘absolutely’ and ‘my pleasure.’
 
“To me, responding with ‘absolutely, it would be my pleasure’ is the highest respect and most dignified answer that you can give somebody.”
 
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Built in 1927 in Prescott, Arizona, the building was once flanked by diagonal rows of Ford Model T’s. It has been host to many celebrities of old Western movies. And it even has its own ghostly lore.
 
“Faith” is the resident ghost, and room 426 is her favorite haunt. There have been reports of clocks changing, plates flying and footsteps walking down empty hallways. As the story goes, in 1929, Faith was a newlywed, and she and her groom came to the Inn. One night, her husband ventured out to get a pack of cigarettes, and he never returned. Faith was so distraught, she killed herself on the property. To this day, ghost hunters and people who enjoy an extra chill on Halloween will seek out the Hassayampa Inn in hopes of meeting Faith.
 
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“It was nice to get back to a historical hotel,” says Kouvelas who has a long background in resorts. “The building speaks for itself in one way. And you allow the staff to bring in their personality.
 
“What I tell the new hires is ‘we hire you because of your smile, because of your attitude, because of your personality. Your experience is great and we appreciate that. But if you’re not smiling and you’re not having fun at what you do, I don’t want to work with you.’
 
“It has to be genuine. That’s the type of people we have here. We have genuine, caring people. I want to meet everyone to make sure that they have that smile. Are they smiling? Are they bubbly? It’s a cheesy term to say bubbly, but it’s the only word that fits.
 
“I came to my management style by doing it. I’m not saying it’s right, wrong or indifferent. What I’m saying is it works for me, and it works for the team that I assemble as far as being the best at delivering hospitality. I want your personality.
 
“Most places want you to leave your personality at the door and come in and follow the handbook that we give you. And we give you an employee handbook like every other place. But I want you to bring your personality. I want you to be yourself. And one of the reasons we hired you is because we want YOU.
 
“I care that you’re willing to enjoy what you do. And that’s the key, because if you do that, the guests notice that, the other staff notice that, they have more fun at work. They enjoy what they do, they want to succeed, and that’s what it’s all about.
 
“I’m a freedom buff, and I came up through the ranks where you spend eight hours in training on day one. You were grilled, and I hated it because I felt nervous. You don’t remember anything on your first day because you’re petrified. I don’t care who you are. I’m 6’7”, 250 pounds and I’m still petrified.  I don’t care who you are — first day of a job, you’re that way.
 
“So your first day, you come here, you take as many breaks as you want. And you can leave whenever you want. Go home whenever you want. You do what you want for the first day because you’re not comfortable here yet. You don’t even know anyone’s name. You’re scared.
 
“Day 2, you’ll pick it up.”
 
And it’s that human approach that Kouvelas believes lends itself to the family feel of the Inn.
 
“That’s the best thing about boutique hotels. You welcome people into your home. They’re not a guest. They’re part of your family.”
 
Hassayampa is an Apache word meaning “river that loses itself” or “the upside down river”.  The management style at the Inn is a refreshing upside down river of its own — a place where a name from the past whispered a nod to the future — where there is no harm in mixing business with pleasure.

Hey Hey Paula

Life is all the richer because everyone dreams a different dream.

As a sous chef in Grand Junction, Colorado, Paula Pinero loved the high energy of the restaurant world, took pride in her clean kitchen and knew the business at all levels of service.

“I didn’t go to college or anything. So, first I was a waitress, then I started dishwashing, then I moved up to prep, then I moved up to cooking. Basically, it’s all I knew.”

But away from the kitchen, Paula had another passion: thrift stores.

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“It goes back to me and my mom. We were thrift store junkies. Yard sale junkies. And I mean buy and buy and buy and buy! I said, ‘one of these days we’re going to have to open up a store’ because we had so much stuff,” she remembers, eyes shining. “I guess nobody knew about hoarding back then. They’d probably call us hoarders now.”

In fact, she tried making a go of it in Grand Junction. She opened a thrift store of her own. Separately, so did her mom. For some reason, they didn’t do it together.

Paula’s little store went under. Her mom’s store did a bit better.

But somewhere along the way, the two had a falling out, and they didn’t talk for a long time.

Other changes were happening, too.

“I just couldn’t do the pressure of the line cooking anymore.”

So she took her skills and started cooking in hospitals and then nursing homes. The thrift store dream still tugged at her heart. In an ideal world, she and her husband Paul would have a thrift store, with an apartment attached, all under one roof. But that was just a dream.

As the distance between Paula and her mom grew, the residents at the nursing home filled a void. She was more than a cook. She was a friend, a confidant, a constant presence. She remembers the birthday party of a woman who turned a joyful and sprite 103 years old. She remembers World War II vets. She remembers the guilt she felt as she snuck a cigarette out back and was gleefully joined by a 90 year-old smoker who’d been looking for Paula’s nicotine place of escape. The residents, their stories and the relationships gave Paula a sense of connection where there was one gaping hole in her life.

Then one day things started to turn around. Her mom was in a better place.

“We started talking again, and we started shopping! She started perking up. You know, there was a REASON to get up in the morning. A REASON…

“And then, I don’t know why it happened. I guess God took her for a reason…”

Paula’s strong exterior gave way to tears.

“We were talking about opening a store and doing, you know, business together. A thrift store — then she just died.

“Everything for me went down hill from there.  So I said, ‘screw Colorado’,  let’s just get the heck out and just go.”

Paul’s brother-in-law had always talked about Arizona.

“We just packed the car up and came out here to Cottonwood. We were looking for places to live, and it was like God took us right here.”

Reluctantly, they called on a charming little corner property. Located right on the scenic highway stretching through the picturesque town, surely it was out of their price range. Surely it was not really available.

It was in their price range. And it was available. And oh, it has a little apartment attached in back.  No longer just the cute fixer-upper. Now it proudly bears the sign “Paula’s Attic”.

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“It’s a thrift store-slash-treasure chest! And it’s mine!”

Her husband Paul is a contractor and has been helping shape the store into their collective dream place.

“Sometimes a song will come on that we love,” says Paula, “and we just run out here and grab each other and dance.

“We have our little store! We have our little store!

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“If someone comes in, we look at each other and say ‘can you believe this has happened?’

“I’m not a millionaire. But it isn’t about the money. It’s about the dream and the journey.”

Of course the only piece missing is Paula’s mom.

“Sometimes I dream about her for days and days and days. And we’re always in a thrift store.

“Maybe she left for a reason. To push me here. Because if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have left. I think she’s here in the thrift store. I think she’d be smiling down on me right now.”

Old Roads and Fresh Starts

Hum the song and you’ll instantly remember that Route 66 cuts through Flagstaff, Arizona. On the historic stretch of road that runs parallel to the train tracks, don’t let the morning sun get in your eyes or you’ll miss the bean-sized Wicked AZ. It’s a free-standing drive-up coffee window where you can find 23 year-old barista Kate Broeren.

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Like most 20-somethings, Kate seems happy and upbeat, but she has a lot on her mind. Last year, she graduated from college at Northern Arizona University, majored in Public Health and has been accepted into nursing school in Phoenix. She is one year into her three year wait period before she can begin.

“I swear I wanted to be a nurse since I was three years old. I have other interests, but I really enjoy medicine and taking care of people.”

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Maybe that love of medicine inspired the daily trivia question in the coffee shop window:
 
What ails you if you have a bilateral periorbital hematoma? 
 
The correct answer will save you 25 cents.
 
Another BNSF train rumbles past.
 
Kate is thinking about moving to Phoenix even sooner. “I really just kind of want to start fresh with my life.”
 
Change has a way of doing that — making people crave a fresh start. Among the things that have changed for Kate: One week ago, her parents divorced.
 
“They say it’s hard on kids when they’re young, but it’s just as hard when you’re an adult.”
 
The upside though is Kate is mature enough at this age to look for lessons within the hardship.
 
“I was sort of raised not to talk about my feelings,” she says. “But I’ve learned that if I want to be happy in life, communication is the most important thing you can do with somebody.”
 
Her motto — until more healing takes place: “This too shall pass.”
 
Another customer pulls off Route 66 and Kate greets them with a smile.