We all have those people in our lives who leave a special mark. We may not see them every day, but our memories and the emotions attached to those memories come on strong each time we think of them. They bring a smile to our faces and warmth to our hearts.
I had a friend. He was a significant force in my life during our high school years. He was there for many of the 'firsts' in my life - those rites of passage that we never forget and that, in many ways, help form us into the person we've become today.
Vince Gallapaga and I were friends, never boyfriend and girlfriend, but always true friends. We went to our first Sadie Hawkins dance at Rio together. That's the event where the girl is supposed to ask the boy. We were sophomores, and I didn't go to school at Rio so technically I couldn't invite someone to the dance, but somehow we decided to go together. We dressed up in matching outfits: blue jeans, blue and white checked shirts, red suspenders and straw hats - I guess it was a western theme. We double dated with Kim West and Jimmy Cuttle. I don't remember the actual dance as much as the outfits and the friends, but I do remember it as a happy memory, and I have the picture to prove it.
Vince was part of the first, and only, time that two boys nearly came to blows over me. Well, technically, Vince wasn't fighting over me, but Kevin Anderson, my high school boyfriend, didn't always appreciate my friendship with Vince, and there was one night that he threatened to punch him. We were in my parents' driveway on Ashton Drive. Vince and I arrived home from a drive in his brother Keith's GTO. Vince didn't get a chance to drive the GTO very often, so when he got the chance, he jumped at it. When we got home, Kevin was in the driveway, quite upset. I think we were going out that night, and when he arrived, I wasn't there. We got out of the car, and Kevin threatened to punch Vince. Vince had just had surgery on his nose, and was still quite bruised. Needless to say, the last thing he needed was to get in any kind of fight. My mom and sister, Carrie, were both outside, as well, and I have a vivid memory of Carrie jumping in between the two boys, yelling at Kevin to stop. Ultimately, punches never flew, but there was a lot of teenage adrenaline in the air. To this day, my mom tells that story every time Vince's name comes up!
Vince was there the first time I drank a whole beer. I believe it was Miller High Life and we were both so proud of my accomplishment! That was the same night that The Vinces (Vince Gallapaga and Vince Meza) and I acquired the Vincent Avenue signs that hung in their bedrooms for years after that! I can still remember clearly, sitting in John Gallapaga's Buick Regal, being the lookout. I'm not sure what I would have done if anyone came along, but there we were, teenagers on a summer night, taking risks and building lifelong bonds.
Vince G and I also had our first 'real' jobs together at Happy Steak on Arden Way. He was the busser; I was the cashier. We worked with people from the other side of the tracks, and realized that they were no different than us, trying to make their way, just like we were. That was where we both figured out we were pretty good at taking care of people and making them feel comfortable. We both carried this knowledge and this skill into our adult lives and continued to nurture the people we met along the way.
Vince and I also experienced our first fender bender together - at the corner of American River Drive and Wilhaggin. We had just gotten off work, and we were looking for a party - there was always a party going on somewhere. We were debating whether to turn right on to Wilhaggin or continue straight toward Watt Ave. At the last moment, Vince decided to turn, not realizing that another car was coming up behind us in the right hand turn lane. We were hit from behind and the car spun, leaving us facing the wrong direction. No one was hurt, and there was minor damage, but I remember thinking we were in trouble! We had a six pack of beer in the trunk of the car, and thought for sure we'd be busted. We traded numbers with the other driver, another teenager who was probably looking for the same party, and then made our way home to tell Vince's parents. On the way there, we stashed the beer in the ivy in front of my parents' house. I'm not sure what ever happened to that beer. A few days later, I can recall sitting at the Gallapaga's kitchen table, with John at that helm, filling out insurance paperwork, and trying to remember the details of the collision. I remember thinking it was such a hassle to deal with all that paperwork, and I told myself it would be easier just to avoid such incidents in the future.
Vince and I had many memories along the way, and not all of them were 'firsts'. After high school we went on to college; me to Davis, and Vince to Sierra College, and later to Chico. We met up a few times during those years, and kept up with each other's lives from afar. In 1997, when I moved to Seattle, Vince and I reconnected. I learned that he was working at Anthony's in Ballard, and one Saturday night, I showed up at the bar, to find Vince doing what he always dis so well... nurturing his guests and setting a great example for his employees. He welcomed me with open arms, and with that our longtime friendship resumed. We created some new memories; walking the dog at Shilshole, meeting for dinner on Queen Anne, going to a holiday party at the top of the Columbia Tower.
Around the time that I met my husband, Alan, in 2001, I lost track of Vince. I think that's when he went on his journey to Australia. I became wrapped up in my new romance, and Alan and I married in 2002. One thing I truly regret is that I didn't take the time to find Vince and invite him to our wedding. He would have loved sharing that with us, and our other lifelong friends who were there.
About a year later, my mom ran into Vince's parents, and they told her about his new venture - establishing a neighborhood restaurant in Seattle that featured Australian meat pies and good beer. Mom didn't remember the name, so I googled Vince's name, and discovered the Pies & Pints website. When my parents came to visit a few weeks later, we, once again, showed up in Vince's world to find him thriving. The restaurant was new, but it was packed. He was so excited to see us, and to meet my new husband, and although he was running from table to bar to oven and back, he ended up sitting with us for nearly an hour. He told us all about the making of the restaurant, and his vision for what it would become. He introduced us to hsi staff, whom he clearly cherished. He was so proud to show off his creation. Since then, we've visited Pies & Pints several times and each time Vince was there, nurturing his world. The last time I saw Vince was a balmy summer night at the restaurant. We were the last ones there, and Vince had gone home for a shower and then returned with his beloved dog, Darby. Our friend Susie was visiting from California and there we were, doing exactly what Vince had envisioned - hanging out with friends in a comfortable neighborhood bar, talking about life and enjoying one another immensely.
Vince died on Sunday, June 3, 2007. He died in his sleep of a cardiac event at age 42. All indications show that he wasn't aware of what was happening to him.
Vince's death marks another rite of passage in my life. He is my first peer and longtime friend to pass on. I'm surprised by the depth of my mourning, and as Vince would advise anyone, I'm letting myself feel the pain. It hurts and it heals. Vince would appreciate the value of this experience and would tell me to embrace it - that it adds one more dimension to who I am.
I am so fortunate to have had Vince in my life and to have been able to celebrate his life with his family and his collection of friends. Sadly, I realize now, that I have experienced my last 'first' with Vince.
(posted on behalf of Jill Ridlehoover)