The stocky gent dressed in tweed worried not of his interruption into the over flowing dining room of The Fish Ranch on that Saturday in ´97. Every dining seat in Carmel was either booked or occupied as the Pebble Beach Classic was playing that weekend. Golf professionals, enthusiasts and groupies around the world flocked seaside and used the town as the 19th hole. When Edmonton Entrepreneur, Peter Pocklington, requested a table for him and his lovely wife, I am sure Kranston could have traded for a season ticket to his Oilers hockey team, but his needs were fulfilled without barter.
The Fish Ranch was on its last legs. We had been beaten after a soaring journey to Carmel. The location, which could have been in the middle of Livonia Michigan, with the exception of the Cole Weston views, was one of the worst business decisions I have ever made. Keeping it open until that late January weekend called for the use of every trick and hustle outlined in the Restaurateur´s Guidebook to Breath without Business. We had decided to close the award winning space that cost a fortune to build and a bundle to operate as soon as the AT&T banners were dropped on Ocean Ave.
Pocklington kept the flame burning. After dinner, he asked if I could host a party- his annual President Gerald R. Ford Golf Classic Awards Dinner. It was scheduled in early March. Tony Tollner of Rio Grill fame was scheduled to host it but a conflict had arisen and the hockey baron wanted something different. I dared not tell him I had wounds as deep as a gash from a Wayne Gretzky slap shot. I didn´t confess that I may not be able to keep the game moving until March, but, I took the booking anyway. Pocklington said the restaurant needed to be closed to the public for the night. I was sure I could accommodate that need without upsetting any customers.
When the Secret Service showed up days before President Ford´s dinner for a security inspection, they joked about the massive stairs in front of the restaurant. Ford had problems with stairs. So did many others, in Carmel, hence the financial situation I had stepped in.
The guest list looked like a Western White House dinner. It was as though Ford had the boys over for a round of golf. Cargill MacMillan, Alan Shepard, Pocklington, his hockey team and The President arrived in small groups. As they filled the 100 seats in the main dining room the jokes, wine, and martinis flowed in the glow of the stone fireplace.
It was the restaurant´s high point. The President posed for pictures with Kranston, the bartenders and a few of the waiters.
When I was a youngster in Michigan, after moving from Boston, Ford was just another politician. I was a Kennedy guy. When Ford became Vice President, I was editing a newspaper in Plymouth, Michigan and the news, although monumental, was merely news.
As President, he filled shoes that needed to be filled. He did a respectable job of leading a wounded Democracy to healing.
But, that night, at The Fish Ranch, as a couple struggled to keep their heads high, and above water, to fight off failure and the bruises that go along with it, to find direction to begin a new course, to sustain losses and still win, and to exit with grace, President Ford served as the night´s mentor.
Ford´s eyes sincere, his grasp solid, his smile filled with enjoyment sent a message- it´s the small things in life that matter. Those are truly, what makes man happy and fulfilled. It´s the table on a busy Saturday night, it´s the party with friends, it´s the special guest you never expected to serve. It´s keeping the puck moving until that opportunity arises to take one last shot.
It´s going out, in style, peacefully with grace.