My story. Where to begin “my story” is a question I’ve often found myself pondering as life has moved from childhood through to becoming an adult. Life can be challenging, while some of these challenges were out of my control, others I can admit, were a direct result of youth and poor decision making.
Being the oldest of 3 children and living in central Jersey came with its own responsibilities exasperated with lack of a father or father figure present. Regardless, my mother raised 2 boys and a girl on her own for 20 plus years. She tried very hard to provide for us. At times my mother was able to splurge on us, which often came in surprising and unexpected ways; as Jehovah’s witnesses we never celebrated holidays or birthdays. She liked to drive until we were good and lost (this coming before the generation of GPS). For instance, like the time myself, mother and younger brother found ourselves at the top of Thunder Mountain, PA. After locating a Skeet Shooting range somewhere between our ascent. She would rent us one Mossberg, single barrel, pump action shot gun, some goggles, 60 targets worth of ammo each and a pair of ear plugs, a pair of the both of us. Mind you, at 14 years old, this was the coolest thing I was ever about to do. Being a gaming and computer nerd, it was easy work sweeping my brothers score under the carpet and racking up target after target. “PULL!!!”, I’d shout and out flung a target. BOOM, and a CRACK as the target disappeared in a puff of bright orange dust with each successful shoot. Our mother was always very wise despite her own imperfections. Whenever we had a problem, question about life, or decided we would be rebels, even if she didn’t have a way to fix it or a solution, she always worried truly about her children, stuck closer to us than, at the time we wanted and took a genuine interest in what we were doing. I’ve always hoped and strive to imitate that with my own 3 children.
Chapter 12: Transition; the turning point
Where does this story begin? A chapter I’d call, “Transition; the turning point”. I had just completed my 6th year as an Emergency Medical Technician/Firefighter, a job I didn’t realize I was cut-out for until my first ride along. That first Emergency call set off every pager in the station around 10 pm on a cold frosty night just as I was preparing to leave the fire house for the evening. Down the stairs, run to the gear. Boots and Pants went on first, then the heavy reflective fire jacket. For some reason an overwhelming calm feeling; cool and collected, almost exactly like I knew what needed to be done. One door after another entering the station flew open as other firefighters and EMTs arrived to respond. The sound of four diesel engines starting, coming to life as garage doors ping and pop open rising high above each engine bay. The first truck packed with the elite, sounds its loud heavy siren as it departs from bay one. Blue, Red, and Orange lights bouncing and popping off every reflective surface within the station. The rest of the units firing up one after the other as I climbed aboard the 3rd due unit responding.
I remember watching closely as two other experienced firefighters and one veteran EMT, dressed in all blue with a shiny gold badge, geared up in the truck instead of outside of it like I had, as the truck screams, honks and wails towards the scene. They strap themselves into their gear, don the air tanks and throw on their masks as we are rushed to the scene of a basement fire with victims trapped. This moment changed my entire outlook on the importance of respecting human life and what it meant to do something good, that others couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Lights and dual sirens blazing as a line of three or four firetrucks and a single ladder truck rushed to the scene.
We arrived with flames roiling out of the top of the structure. The flames were so hot, 30 feet from the house as we prepared the hose to enter, the neighbor to the left of the engulfed home, had the windshield on a brand-new Mercedes C class melting into the front seats and to the right, the bushes, burning as if they had been thrown directly into the fire. In front of us a home, someone’s home, that someone screaming and shouting for help from what appeared to be the living room window. It didn’t become real to me until the Fire chief noticed me taking everything in. “You think you’re ready to put the wet stuff on the red stuff and save some lives?” he said. It was then that I realized the first due engine full of the elite firefighters was waiting down the street instead of at the hydrant closest to the dwelling where we had now ended up. This now made us first due engine to arrive on scene to provide rescue intervention. The Elite, they were there to rescue “US” had things began to go wrong. Truck one and two had been given RIT (Rescue Intervention Team) assignments in route as I later came to find out. But there was no need for a rescue or back up that day. After putting on an air pack and receiving help with my mask and other protective equipment I was placed just behind entry guy number one. Hose in hand, breathing focused and mind on the mission the door to the burning building was kicked open. We ducked as flames danced on our masks. The sound of the water redistributing the heat was like a jet liner starting up, the steam column rolling up the back of our necks could be felt plain as day, like no protective gear was present and then suddenly it was dark, cooler than it had been and two figures emerged from the smoke.
I had discovered my passion, my forever career. It, along with film making, became the loves of my life. The department allowed me to shoot and record scenes for some of the fires I was not required to work after surpassing and achieving full member status. For 6, almost 7 years, it was important to me to take every class the firehouse offered and eventually I became a licensed and Nationally registered EMT, just like that Veteran I had watched prepare for “battle” 3 years prior. I had passed my National Registry testing (work anywhere in the 50 states, Mexico, or Canada) top of my class out of 22 others and was on the fast track to becoming a licensed helicopter pilot so that I could become a Flight Paramedic or SWAT Medic. The choice was mine, but life, as previously mentioned, has its challenges. At the “highlight” of my career a previous medical condition since birth began to show itself more and more. This eventually resulted in needing to have an extensive surgery on my right and left foot.
At the time, I put it off because I was also fighting the courts to obtain custody of my first born and only son, going through a divorce I didn’t understand, and processing how to balance my career goals as well as adhere to my religious beliefs and standards. My health rapidly deteriorated. The harder I fought it the more the unbeatable my condition became and continued to get worse. I continued to work as an EMT throughout this period because I felt like I’d already lost so much, I couldn’t and wouldn’t let this go, plus I’m a glutton for pain. But as any real story goes, the ending wasn’t that simple or happy. As the seriousness of the situation started impacting my life while off duty, depression sunk in, the pain increased from a four or five to a constant TEN. The alcohol consumption also rose to combat the pain physically but also mentally; from the loss of court battles over my son, and a fresh divorce. The health problems associated with drinking in access coupled with the previous injury began taking hold of everything in an attempt to ignore the kismet of things to come.
Chapter 13: “The big one”
In September of 2012 , I got remarried to my wife Jacqueline whom now works for High 5 Hospitality at Limestone BBQ and Bourbon as well. I started what I expected and anticipated to be normal life again, less worries, depression gone and clean from abusing alcohol. Though I was still in a great deal of pain, I had a promising advancement opportunity from EMT to Flight Paramedic/County Medic and was scheduled to begin the academy in October of 2013.
On August 19, 2013 a call comes in towards the end of our fairly quiet shift. “Unit A74, sick person, (address redacted) A74 street way, bravo response” (lights and sirens). As my partner and I were nearing the conclusion of our three days on shift, which would mean four and a half days off before my next three-day shift, also known as “recovery time”, this would likely be our last dispatched call for the day before shift change. “Sick person” being the only description. For me it always felt like the most intriguing call. You never know what to prepare for or what you’ll have to do as intervention until you have “eyes on” your patient. But to mentally prepare is all the same. Someone needs your help, push everything else to the side was always my mode no matter the call. Upon arrival of our patient, it turned out that we were not dealing with a sick person as much as we were sent to assist a patient to an appointment. Easier said than done as it turned out this patient happen to be “the big one” as he referred to himself.
Every truck has a driver and a EMT or two EMT’s that alternate emergency calls. But every once in a while an EMT might get stuck with a newbie or probationary member. Ambulances had just begun using a fancy automatic loading and unloading system that allowed delivery to a facility safer for the EMT or driver unloading the patient, as well as, keeping the patient safer during the transfer from ambulance to facility before wheeling the patient in. Our unit being older, had not yet been equipped with this ground-breaking piece of machinery which meant all patients were loaded and unloaded into the ambulance manually. As we worked the call and got to the point of transfer, it became apparent that we would require assistance to load and unload the patient comfortably and without incident. The patient would go on to agree with this decision, as he had frequently ridden in ambulances, and had experienced and expected this new technology first hand. Fortunately, loading our patient we had assistance from other local agencies. Unloading, however, was a different story. Working with a newbie whom had not yet unloaded a patient, arriving at the facility and requesting backup, we waited patiently and so did the patient. The time had passed, Unit 74 was now being paged for another emergency call, however, with the patient still on board, it would be impossible to respond until the patient was unloaded from our unit. “Dispatch, what’s that ETA on our lift support”, I radioed in expecting to hear something other than, “no lift support available at this time, requesting unload and return to in-service”, dispatch replied.
Chapter 14: “The crash”
October 15, 2013, Wilmington hospital: The surgeons inform me in the next hour they’ll begin the operation. As I lay back in a hospital gown, IV in both arms, surrounded by a team of doctors, nurses and surgeons, the feeling of hope began to stir with in me yet again. Hopeful that once this was over with, in as little as 5 months, I’d be flying in a Bell 412 now a bell 429, in full tactical gear, pain and health problem free as well as a certified Delaware State Trooper/Flight Paramedic . While I was uneasy at the thought of commencing with the surgery, the future looked bright and in line with my goals. Besides it was too late to turn back now. The doctors begin there work, pushing an IV in for the fluids I’d need to fall asleep. The sounds of low conversations between the doctor, fuzziness, surgeons and medical team conversing, I start fading. “Blood pressure looks good, I think we’re just about ready” he says to me unbeknownst to me which roll he played in this ordeal. “Are you ready?”, He asks. “You’re going to be fine, just count back from 10 for me, okay? ” I start counting, as they place an oxygen mask on my face “10, 9. Eight, se…. “. I feel myself fading as I envision my wife, my new career to come, flashes of previous traumatic calls pop in and out of my head as well as I doze off to sleep…
As I start to come to, I think about that day my partner and I had requested lift support, and how it never came. I recall the feeling of my knees collapsing and the intense pain in my right foot. It was at that moment that the nerve endings from the surgery 13 hours prior began firing off like a chain reaction of explosives at a propane factory. After spending weeks in the hospital due to infection and an excessive surgery, I was told that walking again was an impossibility and to prepare for getting use to the use of a wheelchair. I refused. All my life, I had been working or active in one capacity or another since ten years of age, plus how could I shoot film or pictures if I couldn’t walk let alone fly a helicopter? There was no chance id allow that to happen on top of everything else. That decision came with consequences as well though. Two years addicted to so called pain pills, getting clean from those and the immense and rather intense pain of learning to walk again, all took its toll.
Every dime I had saved up over the years had been depleted even after gaining control over the addiction. The cost of physical therapy, my age and, and the inability to work began to take its toll, as well as the denial over and over again from disability because of still being considered young, meant that we were now completely broke. So broke and in the negative that eventually my wife and I would have to move to Felton DE with my in-laws in order to survive. While we eventually did get food stamps, money was still non-existent. Eventually my wife did get a job working for a law firm in Wilmington, DE, almost an hour and a half from where we were now living. We saved enough to move out eventually but by the time we had, the damage had been done. Between the divorce of my first wife, child support, court fees, and medical fees, not to mention delinquent credit card payments and bank fess we were now living below the poverty line, all while my first born daughter made her debut. I had lost my EMT card, driver’s license and forgotten about my spiritual and marital obligations to my new wife. It was the deepest and darkest hole I have ever experienced in life that wouldn’t end until I had lost my family, became homeless, almost separated and living in the back seat of a 2004 Passat during the coldest weather on record in 2017
Chapter 15: “Just have faith”
Eventually I got myself together and stopped worrying about what was coming next. I began to take my spiritual obligations seriously and in time was reunited with my girls and wife on Aug 13th, 2018. Somehow my wife’s tax return had amounted to just over $1200 dollars, while we had nowhere to go, one day we found a place for rent that we could at least put a down payment on or so we thought. While we did not yet have the full amount, the landlord, my now two daughters, wife and myself were asked to move into our new home. I had taught myself to walk again and had worked odd job after odd job scourging Craigslist because companies rarely tend to hire folks with a large gaps in the work history area. Eventually though, I found a job as a telemarketer under the agreement that I’d be hired as a content creator and Event Coordinator. As it turned out I’d be a telemarketer earning beans essentially because they were hurting for employees.
We couldn’t afford to pay our 1st or 2nd month’s rent or complete deposit in a new place and our current place had increased the rent without notice to an amount we could not pay monthly. This forced us to separate as a family. Then one day as we frantically searched Craigslist I came across an ad that read “open interviews for smoker position”. To be honest, at first I chuckled as I had attempted working with and in a few BBQ places in the area. Despite my doubt however, it was set in my mind that at 9 am on Maryland Ave the day of the open interviews, I was getting dressed in my Sunday best and heading to the Buffalo Wild Wings to complete an interview. I had applied to over 4 dozen jobs and had several interviews by this point but nothing came of them, even the promising ones.
However, this day was different. This day, just like the night of my first ride along, changed my family’s life and my life for the better. From the months of January 30th, 2018 until July 1st, 2018 I spent on my own. I was homeless, broke, beyond broke, so broke I found myself sneaking into local hotels for complimentary breakfast, just so I could eat and survive another few days. My wife and children safe and sound in Harrington, DE with my in-laws looking, hoping and having faith that we would be reunited again at some point. My wife and children made the journey up to New Castle early that morning to come get me for the interview. After arriving much earlier than the ad had mentioned I found myself sitting in the foyer of the new Buffalo Wild Wings; walking past me was this Bearded ish man with chef pants on and a look of confidence I hadn’t seen in years or in any other job I had worked. This man looked like he had so much to teach and appeared to be one of the most professional people that I had seen since the fire department. “You’re really early” he said “just wait here and someone will be with you soon”.
And so, I waited, I prayed, and I had faith that this would be it. I needed to work at Buffalo Wild Wings or where and whatever I was applying for because I needed my girls back, my wife and two daughters. Thirty seconds later he would reappear and ask “What are you hear to interview for?” My answer? “I saw something online about BBQ and kitchen help?” I had no idea what the actual posting on Craigslist was for, all I saw was open interview and BBQ and that was enough for me. “Well come with me, if you are looking to work in the kitchen, I am the guy you are interviewing with”, the confident man said. As I walked behind him he told me a little about the Buffalo Wild Wings, I took in everything. TV’s from wall to wall, the decor and a bar in the middle of all the action, the staff member that seemed, at the time way to happy to be at work so early and Mark, dishing out an epic high five as I walked past. Something was very different about these people. After much judgement from other places I had interviewed, this place felt like home and I hadn’t even sat down with the Chef yet.
As we sit in the booth on the other side of the restaurant he asks me three questions that sealed the deal for me right there, “Where you headed, what do you want out of life and how do you plan to accomplish it?” he asked. “This man is a dreamer”, I thought as I began answering his questions. Towards the end of the interview I worried as he felt I was “still green” and that I could use more training or something to that effect. Honestly, I broke focus after he had said that I was still new to the kitchen staff team. He ended the interview by telling me his story, where he started, where he had been and what he did to accomplish his goals. It was inspiring, up building and gave me the confidence to know that if he did hire me, High 5 Hospitality would in fact change my life. “I like what you’re about and what you’re fighting for. You’ll get an email soon letting you know when to start.”.
As I walked back to the car where my family eagerly awaited the news as to whether I had gotten the job or not, I pondered; would we really be back together again? After reaching the car and sitting in my seat, I buckled my seat belt and couldn’t help but to break down, head in the palms of my hands, tears soaking my tie as they puddled up and fell from between the spaces of my fingers. My family stayed silent, my wife rubbing my back in anticipated disappointment, and my 2 year old would say from her car seat “It’s OK daddy cause you did your best”. So much pain from the months spent away from them, so much joy realizing that it may finally be over and then the realization that after five almost six years healing, learning to re-walk, and dead end job after dead end job since losing the Emergency Medical Technician and firefighter position, that I had finally found a new career. Not just a job but something that I could do for years to come again.
My family stayed silent other than what my daughter had said until I gathered myself just enough to force the words out a faint whisper, “he hired me”. They had seen me once like this before and didn’t associate it with good news. But this time was different, this time I was able to tell my family that we would be back together under one roof again. My family let out a yelp of elation, my wife began to sob and my daughters began to dance. The youngest one had no idea what was happening but honed in on the excitement and let out a joyous squeal. This was it, this is where having real faith came into play, because personally, I had nothing left. No more tricks, no more random ideas and no more leads, nowhere else to look, nothing but the deep dark hole that had grown expediently inside me.
Chapter 16: “The final countdown”
We had taken the small amount of money my wife had gotten back on her tax return and used it as a down payment on our new place in the Newport/Wilmington area. Despite not having the full amount or safety deposit, the landlord not only allowed us to move in, but fixed a few things around the house and granted us access to his private pool whenever we pleased, as long as, I kept up with the grass cutting and yard work. Moving in to our new home was amazing. But then a week past, then two. I hadn’t yet heard anything about the position, and rent was beyond due. After a few more days had past and worries began to increase as the landlord would ask for his money, I got an email that same night telling me the orientation would begin the week following. After a little negotiation, our landlord was willing to wait for us to finish paying the deposit, 1st and 2nd months rent. I shot videos and created content as much as I could while we waited, just so we could give him something until we could pay the remainder. I had learned to be savvy while homeless and make money in ways id never thought of when a steady paycheck was coming in. Glass bottles, recyclable newspapers and other random scrap being brought to the dump in my 1971 Minnie Winnie (Winnebago) that I had traded for my home at the time; a 2004 Volkswagen Passat with a turbo kit and manual transmission.
While I loved the car, the cold became so intense that I was legitimately worried that I may not wake up in the morning. As it turns out the Minnie Winnie was 10 times worse and much colder at night during the winter than I think I’ve ever been. It was truly miserable and I couldn’t go back to that lonely and dark place let alone lose my family again because of money. I couldn’t bare living in a home again that could raise rent as they pleased, not worrying about the people living in the structure. Fortunately, High 5 Hospitality, supported the Chef and Pit-boss of the restaurant, the Chef saw something in me from day one and next thing I know after some hard work and dedication, I’m being promoted to pit-boss in training and loving every single second I spend at Limestone BBQ and Bourbon.
While the entirety of this portion of my story has many details that have been excluded for sake of time. The only part of my story that really matters is what Chef Robbie, Mark, Nick, Bobby, Matt and the whole team of beautiful people I have the pleasure of working side by side with on a daily basis. This is the biggest most fulfilling part of my life. I come to work excited every day, knowing I’m working for people whom understand me and it embrace my eagerness to learn and grow. Unfortunately, the other side of my body has plans to take me out of a kitchen position in less than a year according to my doctors. But High 5 Hospitality is a company above and beyond anything, anywhere I have found in the small state of Delaware, and while I may not be able to continue as a Pit-boss down the road, just know, if you are considering working for this company, for these people and the concepts they create, putting Delaware on the map mind you, know for a fact that they will take care of you if you are willing to put in the time and effort. No more being looked over and forgotten or being afraid to throw out ideas, worrying you’ll step on someone’s toes. If your creative, passionate, and focused, High 5 Hospitality is the career choice for you.
Never quit, never give up, and never run from what challenges lie ahead. Embrace them, become them and then overcome them. We all have a story to tell, some good, some bad, and some our own doing. But there does exist something out there designed for you. The key is, what you put into overcoming a challenge, is what you’ll get out of it once it’s over or subsiding. Thank you, thank you, thank you a million times over for helping me and my family, for seeing my potential and for working with me to make me better every day. Limestone BBQ and Bourbon is hands down without a doubt the best company I have ever had the honor and privileged of working for. I plan on being here until the building falls apart or a new chapter in my life begins. But I’m hopeful as before, that if a new chapter does start in my life due to the same medical problems I faced seven- eight years ago, that High 5 will have a spot for me somewhere else.
Welp, that’s my story, much longer than anticipated and I know its random that I started at chapter 12, but I’m a film maker at heart, so telling a story, specially a true one never starts at chapter one because chapter one would be birth. LOL. At least that’s what I think. HIGH 5 HOSPITALITY ROCKS MY WORLD!!!!
What’s your Story?