How We Met — Saddle Up and Ride

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.

SADDLE UP AND RIDE

With the states of New Mexico and Arizona behind me, I continued west. Lulled by the mirage on the hot ribbon of road, I thrilled at sights I’d never seen — the proud saguaro cactus and jagged mountains cutting a sharp edge on a distant horizon.

I was feeling under the weather when I arrived for a two day visit with my childhood friend Darla in southern California. But I was made to feel welcome and comfortable, as her family is like family.

The next morning, I asked her Mom, Judy, if she had any suggestions on where I should go for the day. The answer was quick and certain. “Norco!” she said. “Also known as Horsetown, USA.”

She knew about Another Door Opens and encouraged me to keep going.

“Go to Norco. And you find yourself a door, and you find yourself a cowboy!” she laughed.

I drove the strip of Sixth Street through Norco, noticing several people riding horses and waiting at stoplights where cross signals are horseback-high.

Still feeling under, I stopped at Circle K for some Vitamin C. I sat in the parking lot with my window open trying to open a bottle of orange juice when a dog came running up to my front wheel well, followed casually by a guy (Brian), then another guy (Michael Dean). They were laughing a little, and I heard Brian say, “See! When he runs away, he always runs to Circle K!”

By this time they’d followed the dog to my vehicle and open window.

Then Brian looked at me. “He always runs away to Circle K.”

And so it began, by chasing Henry.

We talked about what they were doing, what they do, who they are a little bit. They clearly had a long brotherly bond, and with all their joking, I didn’t know when to believe them and when they were pulling my leg.

Then they asked me what I was doing and what I do. Since I’d just left my job months prior, I still had trouble knowing how to answer that question. So I told them about Another Door Opens.

Immediately, Brian pointed to Michael Dean and said, “You have to do a story about him. He’s had a kidney transplant, a pancreas transplant, triple bypass heart surgery and he’s blind in one eye.”

I didn’t believe him. That’s a fast turn in a conversation, and the guy standing in front of me looked strong. Turns out he’s even stronger than he looks.

They sensed my skepticism and got serious. “No, really,” said Brian.

Silence.

“That’s all true,” said Michael Dean.

The conversation went on for hours that day and topics changed and circled back throughout the morning and into the afternoon.

Finally, we all agreed to meet the next day to do an interview and photos, where I met their families and was welcomed into their homes.

Thank you, Michael Dean. Thank you, Brian.

Back to Darla’s house, and Judy opened the door.

“Well, did you find a door?” she asked.

“I did.”

“And a cowboy?” she asked.

“I found two.”

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How We Met — Designing a New Future

Hello Readers, I’m taking a walk back and sharing with you how I met the first 10 people of the Another Door Opens project. I began with the most recent and am working my way back to the first. 

DESIGNING A NEW FUTURE

I had just come back to Chicago after about nine months of traveling and living out of a suitcase, and I was looking forward to boxing and kickboxing again with my friend Aaron.

Whenever I need to feel grounded in a new city — an experience I became accustomed to after moving around for more than 13 years for work — I find a place where I can do martial arts, boxing, kickboxing.

I’d only recently started down the path of opening new doors in the form of this Another Door Opens project, and I was eager to find the next person behind their door…. To hear their story… To ask them about their life… To share more deeply in the human experience.

Aaron knew of my project and was enthusiastic and encouraging. Then he mentioned his friend and colleague, Justin — telling me little, but emphatic that I should talk to him. I met Justin not long after and we agreed to meet again for an interview. He was 25 and making big changes in his life.

We sat on the floor at the gym, surrounded by heavy bags, and he told me his story with honesty, ownership, humility and pride. Thank you, Justin!

How We Met — Easy Come, Easy Go

Hello Readers, I’m taking a walk back and sharing with you how I met the first 10 people of the Another Door Opens project. I began with the most recent and am working my way back to the first. 

Easy Come, Easy Go

It had been a great brainstorming session one day with a radio producer friend of mine named Kristin. We discussed some ideas about Another Door Opens. Stories. People. Doors. Experiences. Places.

Afterward, Kristin sent me an email with an afterthought. I think those are often the best emails to receive — the ones that follow a spirited, inspiring conversation, and begin, “I was thinking… and…”

She told me about the Green Door Tavern and thought it might have potential for an Another Door Opens story. I am embarrassed to say I hadn’t heard of it, especially after learning of its colorful history. Once I knew a little, I liked the idea a lot. Doors are kind of fascinating to me —  some more than others.

I opened the crooked tavern door and a smile spread across my face. Even though it was coming on noon, after passing through the door, daylight dimmed and time faded away.

As I received my grilled chicken salad, I asked the waitress if I could tell her about my project. She listened kindly and with interest. She asked me to call Jeff Lynch.

Two days later, we met at 10:30am and Jeff shared his passion for the Green Door Tavern, for the people he’s met and for the memories he’s made there. Thank you, Jeff!

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.

Soul of a Cowboy

Greg Hathcock can swear like a sailor and quote the Bible like a preacher.

One moment he was a stranger in a New Mexico Starbucks, the next, he was standing near my table with a smile and earnestness in his eyes. “I needed to come over here and tell you to have a good day.” 

I heard a hint of the South. I sensed kindness. I saw a touch of cowboy.

But there is always more, isn’t there? We all have pieces. We are all a patchwork quilt. We are all a coat of many colors.

For example, there are people who know Greg the quarter horse trainer, but they don’t know Greg the Tennessee farm boy who chopped cotton and pulled corn. They know Greg the Grazing Bull restaurant owner, but they don’t know Greg the 1963 state track champion in the 100 and 220 dash. They know Greg the father of three who has been married for 31 years, but they don’t know Greg who enjoys a mocha alone at the cafe most mornings. They know Greg the jocular sweetheart who will turn 69 in July, but they don’t know Greg the bull rider. They know Greg the high school running back, but they don’t know Greg who broke a mustang. They know Greg who has a soft spot for people, but they don’t know Greg who wants to make a feature film. They know Greg the boy who didn’t like school very much, but they don’t know Greg the boy who suffered regular beatings from his parents at home.

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But there is no self-pity. Just self-reflection. There is no regret. Just determination. There is no speaking of what is not, only of what can be. When you talk with him, you get his passion for horses and for life, and what he has to share may blow you away.

The Track and the Truth

Greg’s fast feet on the track as a kid have been replaced by fast quarter horses as an adult. A trainer for more than 20 years now, he knows the dark side of the race world and it lights a fire in his belly.

“I’ve seen horses drop dead at the finish line. There’s no reason for the horse to drop dead at the finish line…”

Mistreatment of these animals is something he can’t tolerate, and he doesn’t mince words.

“…unless they got shit in him that they ain’t supposed to have in him. That will kill him. I’ve had them come back after they finish the race, and they drop dead right there when they unsaddle them.

“That-should-not-happen! That’s cruel and inhumane and downright un-Christian-like, if you want to know the truth — do an animal that way.” He leans in and locks his eyes on mine. “If you train your animal, and you feed that animal, and you take good care of that animal, they’re gonna wanna run.”

He wants me to understand that no amount of drugs will change a horse’s potential, and he uses racing lingo to make his point: “You can hang every drug in the world in me, and I can’t play basketball like Michael Jordan. You understand? You only got so much speed in that horse.”

You Gotta Have Heart

We sat down over a pot of coffee at his Grazing Bull restaurant in Capitan, New Mexico, and I asked him if he had a philosophy he lives his life by. I could not have hoped for a better response. You might want to sit down.

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“I love setting goals every day to accomplish something. If I’m 80 years old, I’ll still be getting up and going to accomplish something, because you never get too old or too tired to do something.

“No matter what disappointments you have in life, no matter how many failures you have in life, you never quit. Because sooner or later, you’re going to do something that fits. And you will be successful at it.

“But if you are going to say ‘I can’t’, ‘I’m sick’, ‘I don’t feel good’, you’re not gonna accomplish nothing. You gotta get up.

“You gotta have a lot of HEART in this world. Even if you’re going to an eight-to-five job every day, you gotta have heart. That’s all there is to it. So, if you’re gonna have heart, plan a big thing. You show me a dreamer, and I’ll show you a guy that landed on the moon!

“You gotta set goals and you gotta have BIG goals. ‘Cause God will help you accomplish being President of the United States of America as he would the Mayor of Capitan. You set the stage in your mind right there. But you cannot be a quitter. You have got to keep going no matter how many times you fall down. ‘Cause that’s the only way to make it. I’m telling you, you fall down, get up, dust your pants off, and say ‘I’m gonna do it.’

“And I had to do that a lot. I still do it a lot. And a lot of people wonder why I’m doing it at my age, but I don’t ever want to quit. I like LIVING, I like LIFE.

“Be a CAN-do person, not a CAN’T-do person.  No matter what your goal is, the same energy is flowing through you to do a big goal as it is to do a little goal. So set your sights high.

“Get up and say you feel good, ‘I am healthy, I am well, I’m beautiful, I’m talented, I’m empowered.’ You say that every day, and it will work.

“You know, your words are so creat–ive.” He breaks the word, lending it new meaning.

“Life and death are in the tongue. I think it’s Proverbs 18:21. ‘Life and death are in the tongue. And you will reap the fruits thereof.’ LIFE and DEATH. POSITIVE and NEGATIVE. And what your words are are creat–ive.  It’s no question about it.

“If you speak words long enough, I GUARANTEE that’s what’s going to happen. If you want to look at the way your life’s going to be five years from now, see how you’re speaking right now and it’ll be exactly that way.

“You’ve got to fill your brain with the positive. Somewhere in the Bible, ‘think of things that are NOT as if they WERE.’ It’s in there. It’s in the Bible. Job said ‘the thing that I feared has come upon me.’ So if you’re sitting around thinking about negative, fearful things, that’s what you’re creating and breeding in your mind, and it’s going to manifest in your life. I done see it happen too many times!

“It takes EFFORT to be positive. It takes effort to ACCOMPLISH. It takes effort. It takes effort every morning to get up and to FEEL good. But you gotta TELL yourself. Hey, when I feel bad, ‘I feel good.’ The Bible says ‘let the weak say they’re strong.’ Same thing!”

Greg fills our coffee cups again and as he does, he continues.

“If I don’t have somebody around that I can help do something, I feel like I’m lost a lot of times,” he says.

“I like young people. I like youth, and I wish I could just open their brains sometimes and pour into them what I already know.”

Greg’s words draw his 23-year-old waitress and friend Kalyn over to join us at the table. Greg thinks of her like another daughter.

“I’m gonna tell you something else,” he said to me. “And I’ve never told Kalyn this.

“Kalyn’s an inspiration to me. I see such high qualities in her. And if I can do something to motivate her to be more than maybe she’s thinking sometimes, I’ll feel like I hung the moon.”