The Record Parlour

“We buy stuff off the street. Used records. That’s where all these things come from. You get a bunch of people. And sometimes it’s a great interaction, and sometimes it’s not, you know?”

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Standing against the exposed brick of his vinyl record store, 41-year old Chadwick Hemus knows music has always been his true north. Co-owner of The Record Parlour in Hollywood, California, Chadwick remembers how records had an immediate allure for him, and working in worlds where records spin marked an early beginning to an enduring rhythm of life.

On his hand, there is a small tattoo of a faded cat sitting on a crescent moon.

“It’s off of a Ventures record cover. I don’t know. It just struck me.”

Music is like that for him, too.

His first record was a ’70’s Mickey Mouse Club record. “With Lisa Whelchel from Facts of Life, an ensemble cast,” he smiles.

Since that first vinyl, Chadwick can talk to you about Chick Corea while flipping an Otis Redding record.  The store is self-described as ‘a mecca of pre-digital entertainment and home to over 15,000 records, rare jukeboxes, restored vintage audio gear, music memorabilia and much more.’ Chandeliers and naked light bulbs glimmer in the sepia space rich with vinyl and other nostalgic things. Chadwick and his business partner Chris Honetschlaeger have been in business here for three years now.

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“This is the first time I’ve had my own store. But that’s all I’ve ever done since high school,” says Chadwick. “That’s how I’ve made a living.

“I grew up in San Diego, and I happened to be in a neighborhood where, at the time, there were  four or five music stores of varying size. There was a Tower and Warehouse. And then some very important independent stores in the area too. One of which ended up being the first place I worked.

“I just fell into that and had a knack for … kind of the way my brain works… you know, I’m pretty good at memorizing things. It lent itself to pricing,” he says. “It wasn’t something I thought consciously, ‘oh this is something I’m going to do with myself.’ I loved records.

“In the ’90’s, there was very much a trend for this snobbishness in music stores. That’s faded quite a bit. I think that overall the sort of humbling of maybe the music industry and the fact that the money’s not like it used to be …  there’s not really a lot of room for that.”

As much as his work in the record store is a labor of love, he admits there is definitely labor involved.

“It’s a lot of hours and there’s always a lot of other things to deal with besides just the good parts,” he says. “There’s a lot of street interactions. And when you run a business like this … you have a lot of other aspects to deal with that are not always pleasant.

“Sometimes you’re just a therapist. Just a bartender type helping somebody kind of move on. Sometimes you’re dealing with somebody who is very very desperate and very upset that we’re not able to help them.

“It’s not always just the stuff off the street that can be crazy. I mean, the sourcing… the places you have to go to get stuff can be really pretty creepy.

“There’s a lot of hoarders that have a lot of records. Records kind of lend themselves to that.  And a lot of times, by the time their collections are available, the person has either passed or may be in a really bad part of their life. And you’re dealing with a lot of what comes with hoarders: the dirt and filth and bugs. So there’s a lot of that when you’re sourcing this kind of stuff.”

The Flip Side

“One of the mysteries of music… is the sort of power of it and the longevity of it.

“And one of the reasons I think we have been very successful in a short amount of time is there’s a lot of interaction with people. I want to find out what they want and what they want to be turned on to, and it really doesn’t matter if that’s what you’re into or not.  It’s more about getting someone streamlined into what they want. All of those interactions are what make a good day.

“Small businesses like this are always about relationships.  That’s why people come in. When people are selling records, especially when it’s their own records, they really want acknowledgement over them. That the stuff is good stuff. That they took care of it. Or maybe they didn’t because they loved them. But there’s definitely that exchange. It’s so often not about how much money. It’s so much about acknowledging the importance they’ve given these objects, and they really want you to give that.

“I’m sure this is part of what my over-arching dream would be for an existence. I don’t know what that is.  Right now, I’m more about survival and realigning. It’s a very strange time period. So the idea of sort of a dream or a bigger picture — ugh — it’s not where I’m at.

“My favorite mantra has always been ‘don’t look down.’

“That’s the key to hanging in there. ‘Cuz it’s pretty scary.”

Maybe music helps us look up. And make sense of things. Especially in tough times. In the moment. And well beyond. In the words of musician and artist David Byrne from his book How Music Works:

“A slew of musical associations bounce around in our heads, linking to recurring memories and feelings, which, after a while, facilitate the creation and reinforcement of specific neural pathways. These pathways help us make sense of those experiences. They make us who we are.

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The Power of Choice

How does one choice impact the trajectory of our lives?

The compound effect of our choices often takes time to be revealed, the influences so seemingly small.

And then some choices are more pivotal, singular, instantly decisive.

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Nineteen year-old Loc Le paced the dark beach late that night, eyes straining to see anything in the watery abyss. The plan was going wrong.

He walked up and down the shoreline, quietly convincing himself he was there at the right time, on the right day. This was his second attempt to catch the boat, and to avoid detection he had to go alone.

He found the house where the escape was coordinated. But when he spotted police hiding nearby, he knew not to approach.  “They waited to catch people who contact the person in the house.”

A small boat was supposed to pick him up and take him to a bigger boat. But where was it?

He waited. And waited.

“I cannot go to that house, so I don’t know where to go. I just think, ‘What can I do now? No one I can contact with.’”

Somewhere in the night, he hoped his father, step-mother and half brother had reached the big boat, and that they would be re-united soon.

They were all running. Away from Vietnam and communism. Into the unknown. Toward freedom.

It was 1979, and a few years had passed since the North defeated the South. When he turned 18, Loc was awakened in the middle of the night and forced to join the army. He wrapped up a few clothes and was put in a police car to report for military duty. He could feel his freedom slipping away.

Not long after, he escaped from the army for the first time. When he was caught, he was put in solitary confinement for one month. Months later, he was assigned to guard duty at the Vietnam-Cambodia border. His family didn’t know where he’d been sent. But his father searched through jungles, asking after his son, and eventually found him.

“I don’t know how he found me,” said Loc. “Only love can do that.”

Loc and his father told his superiors a story that Loc’s mother was ill, and he needed to go home.

Was that true, I asked?

“No! It’s not true at all. To survive under the communists, you cannot tell the truth.”

And his family fought to survive. His father had been a captain in the army for the South. Loc’s older brother, also a soldier, had been killed by soldiers from the North when Loc was just 12 years old. Loc’s paternal grandfather had also been killed, simply because he was working for French people and learning to speak French.

“You’re looking for the boat, right?” The voice came from a fisherman on the shore.

Loc said yes.

The fisherman said he would point him in the direction of the boat, but only for money. Loc had no money. None.

So he unclasped his necklace and gave it to the fisherman.  “I said, ‘Tell me, where is the boat?’”

The fisherman pointed to a faint light in the distance, a boat floating in the darkness on the South China Sea.

“That’s the boat that’s going to leave tonight,” he told Loc.

But how would he get there?

He walked back and forth until 2:00am, searching for a solution, searching for the small boat.

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“Then I heard the dogs start barking.” It was the police patrol, and they were moving toward the shore.

“At that time, I have to make decision.  If they catch me, they going to put me in jail because I escaped from the army. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.

“Now, the season is life or death. So I say, if I still have some life, I have to take it!

“So I start to swim.”

His emotions surface and the gravity of the situation is written on Loc’s face as he recounts the story.

“And I am not a good swimmer. But I swim. I swim. I swim. I swim I don’t know how long. And I reached the big boat. They pulled me up, and I passed out.”

The Big Boat

The big boat was just 12 feet long and three feet wide. When Loc finally regained consciousness, he was told he could go above deck to get some fresh air.  It was then he discovered he was one of 38 people aboard that small wooden boat.

“And I see my father there! Oh, what joyful! I see my step-mom. I see my half brother.  Oh, I am so happy.”

No sooner, news came that the boat had no food supply. The supply boat never came. “But they had to leave. So we have no food. We just have three gallons of water containers. For 38 people.”

A plan was quickly set to ration the water, using the small caps of the containers as serving sizes.

“We have three water caps. So, one at 10 o’clock, one at 12 o’clock, and one at 3 o’clock. Each people have three caps of water per day. No food.”

They went three days like that, in an overcrowded boat on the open sea, with only three caps of water per person per day.

Add to that, there were no experienced seamen on board. “No compass. No map. The captain, well, we call captain, of that boat: only thing he knows is that the sun rise and sun set.”

On the third day, they found a small damaged boat floating on the sea, and when Loc and other men climbed aboard, they discovered another container of water. Rusty water. “But who cares! I know I can survive a few more days with that much water in my body. So I drink and give to them and they drink it!”

The Philippines was the nearest destination, said Loc, but still they saw no land.

Day 4.

Day 5.

Day 6.

“We’re all exhausted, so we say ok, now we need to pray,” he said. “We need to pray something miracle happen.

“The next morning, around 8 o’clock, we see the cloud coming toward our boat. Maybe some rain!

“We get the tarp. Maybe some rain! Maybe some rain!

“And raindrops! The miracle thing. The raindrop! Oh, raindrops. We tried to lick the water on our hands. We tried to hold it in the tarp. Only for one minute, and that’s it. Then it stopped.”

And he stopped. He grew quiet and wiped his eyes. Finally he spoke.

“We survived on that rain.”

On the eighth day, they met a cargo ship from Holland, and while the crew couldn’t take them on, they gave everyone food and water. They also said they were close to the Philippines.

At around 6pm, they saw land. “Thank God that we see the land! Then the Philippine people, they get out, and they carry us to the land!”

He was free.

“As long as I feel free, that’s all I need. I didn’t feel fear of unknown. I can adapt. As long as I have freedom, it’s up to me!”

 Living Free, One Day at a Time

I asked Loc if that was the hardest thing he’s encountered in his life.

Through quiet tears, he answered, “Yes. Everything after that easier, yes.”

To describe his journey from the Philippines to America and to making a life here as easy would be a gross misstatement. It was hard too. But his family, freedom, faith and self-reliance were strength enough for the journey.

“Until you lose it, you don’t know how precious your freedom is. Nothing better than freedom. Nothing.

“If you have freedom, and if you have your will, then you will make it.”

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And he has made it.  Now 54 years old, if you were to visit his southern California business for dry cleaning, or alterations, or shoe repairs, the treatment you’d receive would feel less commercial and more familial. For 24 years, Loc “Peter” Le has had Knott’s Cleaners. He greets people warmly, asking about their families, their lives.

Peter’s own family consists of his wife Sunny and their teenage daughter Angelle. His father, Vien Le, is now 87 years old.

More than 30 years since their escape from Vietnam, his father still talks about that journey. “He just reminded me,” said Peter, of the day their prayers for rain were answered. “Last Monday, I took him to see the doctor. He just remind me again, that a miracle happened to us.”

Peter continues to live his life with an intense appreciation for freedom and the opportunities it allows.

“The man dignity does not matter what kind of work you do, but how you do the work. Do it with pride.”

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Easy Come, Easy Go

It’s Jeff Lynch’s third day behind the bar at the Green Door Tavern.

“We’re definitely an old school joint!”

He glides back and forth from tap to register, at once jovial and relaxed.

His usual title is general manager, but today he’s pinch hitting as bartender.

A Reds fan and Cincinnati kid born and raised, Jeff studied accounting and moved to Chicago in 1999 after landing a job in real estate.  Later, the company Jeff worked for bought the Green Door Tavern.

“With the downturn, I was losing productivity,” says Jeff about real estate. “So I went to the managers and said, ‘Hey, we’re paying this company to manage the Green Door for us. I can do it. I’m good with people. I’m good with numbers. I’m good with everything. Just pay me a little bit of an increase. I’ll do this real estate stuff, and I’ll do bar stuff.’

“My dad owned convenience stores in Cincinnati. And I think my entrepreneurial background with my dad kind of helped me know that I like to shoot the shit… bleep that out!” he smiles…”rather than dealing with real estate and buildings.”

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Once you’ve passed through the crooked original green door bearing the number 678, you’ve already time-traveled. The vibe is relaxed, yet lively, and the decor is sort of clean country cabin meets antique controlled chaos. Signs, billboards, pictures, mirrors, lamps, wooden bar, pool table. It’s very cool as a stand alone, but it’s the basement below that tells the full story of the green door.

“Back in the days of Prohibition, if your door was painted green, that meant you had bootlegged liquor inside.”

Go down the back stairs and you’ll find giant antique circus canvases and artwork in faded hues that will transport you to an era long past. Leather saddles drape the small wooden stage railing and dramatic lighting makes you feel you’re in an establishment once forbidden.

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For a time, that was true.

Prohibition gave birth to a liquor-producing underworld and the advent of the speakeasy. Some say there is truth to the legend that mobster, bootlegger and florist Dean O’Banion’s North Side Gang hung out in the space beneath the Green Door Tavern. That may have ended when bad blood between O’Banion and the Chicago Outfit run by Johnny Torrio and Al Capone led to O’Banion’s murder … as the story goes …  shot dead as he cut chrysanthemums in his flower shop near the Holy Name Cathedral.

“It is one of the best private party rooms in the city. Has to be. You’ve got the atmosphere and the decor and the history.

“My wedding was actually here!” Jeff is quickly back to his 2012 wedding to wife, Sue, who he met at the Green Door.

“We entered off the street through the speakeasy. People dropped their gifts. We had a champagne line here,” he says, pointing to the bar. “They grabbed their champagne, went up the stairs and the whole place was set up!”

Like a stream-of-consciousness sparkling memory, the words flow:

“It was the best day of my life… it was awesome… it was so much fun… linen table cloths … flowers… it looked like a million bucks in here!”

Jeff is nodding and smiling, proud yet humble.

“It was cool.”

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He pulls two draught beers for a couple of sun-baked Australian guys who belly up to the bar and make a day of it at the Green Door. So much for the other places on their pub crawl. They found everything they wanted in this old place.

The Prohibition-era mobsters make for a rich historical fabric, but there’s more.

“It was built after the fire …” says Jeff, referencing the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

You may recall, that deadly blaze started one October night in the barn of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. By the time it was over, according to the Chicago Historical Society, the heart of the city was devastated, at least 300 people had died, 100,000 people were made homeless and $200 million worth of property was destroyed.

“After the fire …” he continues, “… and before the ordinance that said you can’t have free-standing commercial wood structures in downtown Chicago.

“So we are in fact the last…

“In the middle of high rises and million dollar condos, night clubs and fancy bars, we’re just a regular old place. And that is the key to us.

“We’re not a hoity-toity place where if we have four-top tables and a group of six comes in and moves the tables together, we’re not going to …

“Just go ahead! Sit down. Drink and chill out.”

Some say it’s Chicago’s oldest establishment — but that is up for debate, and for many people, it’s just semantics.

“We’re the oldest tavern, for sure,” says Jeff. Some say the Berghoff carries that distinction. “I think they’re older, but they are not considered a tavern.

“We’re definitely one of a kind. We’re definitely historic. And we’re a Chicago institution.”

Country music filters through the room this Tuesday afternoon, mingling with iconic posters of Marilyn Monroe, neon signs, college team banners and stuffed hunting prizes.  As my eyes scan the room, the walls seem to rise and fall a little with each new discovery, like a living breathing document, one that holds secrets from the past while registering new information daily.

“Some people call us a dive bar. Some people call us a neighborhood tavern. Some people call us a saloon. We’re just here.

“We’re just here serving you drinks and food, and it’s a nice place to relax. You don’t need to dress up. You don’t need to be crazy.

“For the most part, I wouldn’t change anything.”

As I make my way toward the green door leading back onto Orleans street, a favorite and fitting country tune walks me out…..

Goodbye. Farewell. So long. Vaya con Dios. Good luck. Wish you well. Take it slow. Easy come, girl, easy go.

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.

Disco Taco

My morning eyes were diverted from the tar of I-70 by a flash of vibrant color painted across a building set back from the road.

“That’s where I’m going for lunch!” I declared to no one.

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The sun was high in the New Mexico sky by the time I returned. As I stepped inside Disco Taco, it took a second for my eyes to adjust, and no sooner, David Medina was standing in front of me with a smile as warm as the southern sun. A few wisps of gray hair brightened his face even more, just below his temples and brushed through his mustache. The little restaurant with the 1970’s-era name exudes warmth — from the friendly welcome to the Mexican food to all eight tables topped with a yellow check cloth and a flower.

Based on the attentive and easy treatment I was given, I would have thought Medina had been taking care of restaurant customers forever. I would have thought he was more than comfortable in his role. I would have thought hospitality had been his line of work for a long time. In addition to his professional manner of speaking, he stood tall, and his tucked-in shirt and shined shoes told me he took pride in his work. On that last point, I would have thought right. But on the assumptions before that, no no no. I would have thought wrong.

David Medina is the manager of this little spot, and has been since 2011. This job is a blessing in his view, and the offer to come work here arrived at just the right time.

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For 31 years, Medina was an engineer in Juarez, Mexico, working at Delphi and making electrical harnesses for automobiles. He had stability. He had status.

Then he was laid off.

That was only part of the cascade of changes to come. At the same time, the small grocery store Medina and his wife had operated for 10 years in the border city was under threat. Juarez was rapidly destabilizing under the stress and violence of Mexican drug cartel activity, and it was not long before intimidating characters showed up at their grocery store. “Bad guys” began demanding money from Medina, and in exchange they would “allow” him to continue to do business. Some people call it protection money. The rest of us call it extortion.

Doors were closing for Medina, and as he and his family faced this new reality, something happened: another door opened, in response to action he’d taken about 14 years prior. Back in the 1990’s, Medina had applied to become a legal U.S. resident. And then at this critical juncture in his life, the paperwork finally came through.

His new life in the U.S. didn’t take off instantly.  He and his wife struggled to find work and a place to live in El Paso, and even though the city was just across the border from Juarez, the new place and the new process felt foreign. Eventually Medina received the offer to come to the little town of Ruidoso Downs, where he had been a customer at Disco Taco on previous visits.

He is 55 years old now and is rebuilding his personal and professional life “from zero.”

“I don’t have any experience with this kind of business. I have experience buying and selling groceries.”

He pauses. “It’s really hard to start again.” While he’s happy that he and his wife have found a new opportunity in the U.S., until his grown children can join them from Mexico, he won’t feel whole.

But his optimism doesn’t fade. He said he feels he is being protected and implies that good things happen to him.

“In Mexico, we have a saying,” he says. “The best school is life.”