I grew up just north of Hailey, Idaho, located in the Wood River Valley. A small valley with an equally small population. The outdoor activities were in abundance and during high season the locals would have no problem finding work in any of the resorts and restaurants surrounding Sun Valley.
After graduating high school I tried college out for a year in Southern California, but was quickly drawn back to my native land, in the mountains of Idaho. More than college, I was ready to begin my journey of becoming a ski bum. In my eyes this journey could only be possible with the immediate employment at a restaurant or two.
I set my sights on Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant (WRR), which was once located in Ketchum, Idaho. It’s now since closed, but in its prime, it was a popular spot for both tourists and locals. It was where I took one of my prom dates in high school and it was also the location of one of my first restaurant jobs, as a bus boy.
I started at the bottom and worked my way up. Even though I felt capable of handling the responsibilities of a server, there just wasn’t enough room for any more wait staff, especially for a rookie like me. The youngest server was several years older than me soI accepted my role and decided that I would be the best damn bus boy the Ranch had ever seen. In no time at all, I was.
One of the main functions of the bus boy was tending to the scones. Both the maintenance and the delivery of the scone. Warm Springs was known for these pre-meal treats. I have to say that these fried scones, yes fried, were delicious especially when covered with our famous honey butter cream. If fried dough with honey butter cream sounds familiar, it should. It’s really a glazed donut. Essentially, every customer who came to eat at WRR would stuff two to three doughnuts into their faces before receiving their first, second and third course.
I was a kid so I never worried about how much crap I shoveled into my body, so eating the scones with reckless abandon was part and parcel to my job but I did often wonder how it treated our average guest who had a median age of about 65.
Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant was indeed all about comfort. Comfort food, comfortable setting, right next to a golf course, a relaxed sport (mostly). Warm Springs was also only a few minutes away from great skiing and in the summer, it was the perfect spot to have a few cocktails. And in the winter it was a great place to rest after a long day of skiing.
After I had been working at Warm Springs for about a year, I had achieved my main goal of attaining complete ski bum status and along the way developing another hobby. Playing guitar and songwriting.
One day, I arrived at work around 3:45pm. I checked the night’s reservation list. Everything looked pretty normal, except for a big birthday party of 40 people in the back room. This was no normal birthday party, it was a little party for then Governor of Idaho, Dirk Kempthorne!
The evening dinner service went along as usual, except for the anticipation of Governor Kempthorne. It wasn’t evey day we had a political big shot come in to the restaurant. One of my coworkers, Debbie, who was serving the party in the back room, decided that I should sing one of my songs for the governor. My response was a firm “Hell NO!”
Eventually, the governor arrived and the party was well under way, scones and all. After about ninety minutes Debbie sauntered into the kitchen, where I was lording over the scones, and announced “Alright Joel, the governor and his party are expecting you. You’re on in five!”
At first I thought I was going to drop the tray of scones and while turning every shade of red imaginable protesting why I couldn’t perform, I wasn’t prepared, I didn’t have a guitar, I was sick to my stomach. Debbie heard none of it as she slowly pushed me out of the kitchen towards the governors party.
I had never performed anything in public, let alone in front of a governor! I took a deep breath and walked into the party. Everyone started cheering. “Dear God,” I thought, “I’m doing my first public performance…in front of the governor, A Capella.”
I took one more deep breath, jumped right in and began singing:
I looked to my left, I looked to my right
I saw you standing there, straight ahead of me it’s fair
to say that you were really fine, you were on my mind
So I took a little trip, avoiding all the dips
in the road that led to you, it was time to make my move
so I sat down next to you, pretending to tie my skateboard shoe
You said the first word about a pretty bird
flying high up in the sky, I sat back with a sigh
I told her how I felt, I told her how she melted
my heart it happened quickly, she got back up and left me.
I didn’t take one breath until I finished my song. When I finished, the governor and his party cheered.
Governor Kempthorne, ever the politician, came up to me and told me that I had a bright future ahead of me and that he would keep an eye on the papers for any future tour dates. I laughed and thanked him and was just glad I held it together.
Looking back, it’s funny the way little things are the ones that make life grand. For me, this is just one of many experiences that took place behind the doors of Warm Springs Restaurant that made my time there all the more special.