Our good friend Ron passed away the very first day of this year, and I suppose it’s taken me a month or so to wrap my mind around it. For one, Ron has been a fixture in my life for as long as I care to remember things. Second, Ron was always “old” but he was also always vibrant. And so to think that Ron is gone is like watching any number of natural things. I know why they’re happening, but I still can’t wrap my mind around it. I guess I’d never considered the fact that he might actually be gone permanently.
Last week, I found myself in a deliciously divey diner in Newport Beach, CA prior to a jam packed day driving up and down the coast, and petting dogs, and riding trains, and seeing old friends, and also doing a bit of work. Actually, the kind of day that I think Ron would have appreciated. One where I said things like, “7% of IT budgets are allocated to security in 2019”, but also one where I had a beer brewed onsite at a bar near the beach, and ate some really good monkfish for dinner.
Back to the diner. So there I was, engrossed in whatever Kindle pushes in the Unlimited Library these days, sopping up egg yolks with pancakes, when I heard this guy talking. And he sounded just like Ron. Same timbre, same cadence, same everything. And damned if he wasn’t talking about boats. I closed my eyes for a minute and just eavesdropped. Finally, I looked up and he had a pretty bald head and a nice white beard, and he was wearing a sort of ratty sweatshirt. Very on brand for Ron.
My wife calls these sorts of moments a “God wink” – it’s just a little something to let you know, “Hey, look at this little thing.” It’s never something big, just a little nudge to remind you that the big man is still watching.
So I sent Ron’s lovely wife, and basically my second mom, Chris, a little note to tell her about that God wink and to tell her that I missed Ron. And she said, “Maybe he’s a long lost cousin of some sort” but I think given his fairly short, squat stature, and Ron’s lean and lanky nature, this was not the case. Or maybe he was very, very, very distant.
In case I missed the first wink, I certainly got the second one when I read Ron’s obituary today. Ron led sportfishing charters out of Newport Beach – wonders never cease do they?
And gosh, that obituary. No surprise that it brought me to tears as Chris is a very good writer and also Ron was a very cool guy. She nailed it by the way. Ron was the very first person to show me what work/life balance looked like. I told Chris a week or so ago that Ron is who I want to model my life as a man by. He took care of his people. But he also had some beers, cooked some meals, took naps, and spent a decade or so blowing off the real world and heading to the beach for a couple months every winter. So in no particular order, he are some memories of Ron that really stick.
Ron – Chef – Ron was a master of “rustic” food before Instagram and Netflix and everybody figured out that, yeah, taking your time with whole ingredients usually makes for really great food. I ate a decent amount of pork tenderloin rolled in kosher salt and coarse ground pepper and also a lot of grilled salmon at their house. I’m still terrified to put fish on the grill, but Ron just did it. And gosh, the risotto. His obituary mentions it, but there’s not justice to be done by words alone. Such an important dish to me that when I chose the menu for the first meal I’d cook for my now in laws, I chose risotto. I remember his teaching me the art and the craft. To cook the rice in olive oil and butter first and to wait for it to become fragrant and nutty. To put my face in the pan and inhale deeply. He’d bring me over to the pan and say, “Smell that? It’s ready.” Then he’d start ladling hot chicken stock in the pan and stirring, “Always keep it moving, and wait until you can move a spoon through it and it holds its shape.” Good risotto takes the better part of half an hour. You have to drink wine, and talk, and listen to music. I was too young to understand it at the time, but now I’m grown a bit, and I know that good risotto can be a hug for friends, or it can be foreplay for a romantic evening. Ron taught me that food can be love.
Ron would sing like the Swedish Chef too. I didn’t watch the Muppets as a child, so I didn’t know about the Swede. Years later, cooking in my kitchen with my wife, I sang some “debeesh dabork” while stirring a pot because I thought that’s what you did. I still think it helps the meal come together.
Ron – OG Iron Man – Neither of my parents “work out” per se. We had a stationary bike and a rowing machine growing up, but neither saw much use. Ron would sometimes pick me up from school and we’d go to the (now gone) “Family Sports Center” and he’d swim laps and play racquetball and I’d sit there in amazement. He was just effortless in the water or on the court. At the beach, he’d just dive in and go swim a few hundred yards off shore – back and forth for what seemed like hours. He was always tan and tall, and even though he was old as long as I ever knew him, he seemed HARD, like how I think a man should probably look.
Ron – Husband – Years ago, I had a heart to heart with my own father about interpersonal relationships, especially those of the romantic variety. We were talking about the qualities of a good husband and what a good marriage looks like. My dad said, “You see how Ron and Chris really build each other up?” And of course, I had, so I said, “Yeah” and he said, “That’s what you should aim for in your marriage.” And he was right. Ron was just a fucking great husband. He made Chris laugh, and he kept their life exciting, but he also made sure their bills were paid, and sometimes he got rowdy and fell out of hot tubs. The guy was just nails at being married. And sometimes, when I’m being a turd as a husband, I have to stop and think about what Ron would do, and that’s always the best option.
Ron – Ocean Dweller – Somewhere in my parent’s vast photo album collection is a picture of Ron and me standing in shallow water at Bird Island. He’s probably calf deep while I’m up to my thighs or better on account of him being very tall and me being maybe 8 or 9 at the time. I think my mom took the picture on a disposable camera. It’s a bit fuzzy and probably not composed perfectly, but it is a testament to my mother’s eye behind the camera because she captured the bond between a boy and a man perfectly. That trip, I rode on the front of his board and felt my body move across the water in a way unlike any other. Later, we went back without my parents and Ron made a valiant effort at teaching me how to windsurf when the wind was up and how to surf when the wind was dead. I wasn’t particularly adept at either. Evidenced by the fact that I drank a lot of seawater, and I kept saving “jive” instead of “jibe” which got a laugh or two out of Ron. But to see that guy in the water – he was at home. To this day, I still don’t know what kept him hundreds of miles from the ocean. He 100% had salt in his veins.
Ron – Storyteller – I don’t remember the exact year they started it, but call it sometime in the late 90’s or early 2000’s Ron and Chris started going to Baja every year in their motorhome, spending months down there during the winter. And you have to also understand that I was raised in a small business owning family and in the early 2000’s each parent of mine was running their own business, and working crazy hours, and dealing with employees who were late, or got arrested, or stole things, or you name it. And so to have these two really very influential and important people in my life just leave for vacation for months was INSANE to my teenage brain. I was floored. People could do that? I thought you just worked forever and then maybe you retired when you were 80. Maybe. But here were these people who STILL HAD A BUSINESS and they were just leaving it in the hands of a manager and heading south for the winter. Floored I tell you.
When they finally returned, we went over for dinner, resuming our twice(ish) weekly ritual of dinner at their house or dinner at our house. So we’re there and we’ve gotta hear the stories man! Because Ron was the most amazing storyteller of all time. He did the voices, he built suspense, he brought closure. He was a master of the craft. In fact, sidebar here – he told a ghost story during that windsurfing trip that still has me scared. He was a giant among men, especially during story time.
Ron and Chris are bouncing back and forth telling us about these characters down in Baja. You got your snowbirds. You got your young professionals. You got your burnouts. Ron and Chris are in the midst of it. And they’re telling us about the first annual Baja Bongathon. Now keep in mind, this is the early 2000’s. Colorado wasn’t the recreational weed capital of the world. I watched both my parents physically contort at the notion, the notion! of the Bongathon. For the uninitiated, the rules are simple. Do consecutive bong rips until you can’t anymore. A guy named Mushroom Steve was crowned the champ. Probably still holds the title. I don’t think Ron participated, but the play by play of the action was incredible.
Ron – Overall Cool Guy – Ron was old as long as I could remember, but he also said things like “dude” and “chicks” in a completely non ironic sort of way. He wasn’t trying to be cool. He just was cool. Ron had a cool car, a Mercedes 300D, which is now a hipster collectible. At the time though, it was a car that was comfortable shuttling clients to a showing, but also looked at home with a couple boards on the roof rack. That car was shamefully slow. But did anybody care? It got him places on time, and looked so cool doing it.
Sometimes, Ron would pick me up from school, and we’d hit up the local convenience store on the way home. He’d buy me a drink from the cooler, and he’d get an ice cold Michelob. This is pre 2001 when Texas still trusted adults to have a beer on the way home. We’d take the windy road back home and the windows would be down, and he’d be wearing slacks and a collared shirt. For some reason in my mind, the slacks are always gray, and the shirt is maybe purple or maybe mauve. Sometimes, a tie. And he’d put that beer between his legs, and the windows would be down, and that old diesel Merc would be working just as hard as it needed to, and we’d cruise home. And he would finish that beer as we pulled into their crushed limestone driveway. I remember thinking even as a child that if I could be a guy with a Mercedes who drank a beer on my drive home in some cool slacks, I’d be a very lucky, very cool guy, who had very much made it.
Ron – Gone – Life without Ron here feels dull. Truth be told, Ron’s decline was hard to watch, and I watched it from a distance. I can’t imagine what the last few years have been like for Chris. Ron was, without a doubt, the most vibrant man I ever met. He lived, truly lived, but was also so laid back about the whole affair that you might not realize how great he was living until he got sick and was finally an old man in practice. His first indicator that he wasn’t doing so well was that he didn’t feel comfortable mountain biking in Baja anymore. Ponder that. Watching a man that I’d seen swim miles in the open ocean casually have difficulty getting out of a chair was hard. Watching a guy who used to command the room with his stories sit quietly through dinner was soul crushing. Ron’s loss will hurt for the rest of my life.
Live Like Ron – Ron was wise as hell. I think he had it all figured out a few decades ahead of everyone else. But he wasn’t the least bit preachy about the thing. Ron just lived. He was a great husband not because he had grand plans to be a great husband. He was a great husband because he lived in the moment and listened and paid attention and loved. He was a great friend for all the same reasons. He made the moment, whatever it was, really truly spectacular. And for that reason, I’ve got a treasure trove of really wonderful memories of a truly great man. Live in the moment. Make a great future. Take it Easy.