The epicenter of the 2014 LAFRA Reunion was the clubhouse at the Pechanga Resort & Casino. In addition to the formal gatherings held here, members could be found congregated around the folding tables from the crack of dawn until late into the night – coffee mugs or beer bottles in hand, retelling old stories and sharing new ones. The only complaints came from the clean-up crew – the B.S. was so deep they had to wear knee-high rubber boots and use scoop shovels! But – as you have read in these pages many, many times – a good time was had by all!
It turns out that the Pechanga venue is really the perfect spot for an LAFD event. There were as many folks who brought their homes on wheels as there were staying at the hotel. And with the location relatively close to all of SoCal, others were able to just stop by and visit for a day or night.
The activities commenced on Monday, May 19th with a get-together reception at the clubhouse. The next morning, representatives from LAFRA member services and your Medical Plan were on hand to answer questions and provide the personalized service you’ve come to expect. Reps from Firefighters First Credit Union (you know them – the rebranded LA Firemen’s C.U.) and our pension department were also in the house to assist members. A hosted pizza, beer and wine party topped off the day.
Wednesday was time for the “Wine Trolley Tour” of the surrounding Temecula Valley AVA. For wine aficionados, the mission padres first made wine in California at San Juan Capistrano. The tradition still exists today just a few miles east in Temecula, where mission vineyards were established in 1820.
So it was only fitting that the first stop of the tour was Old Town Temecula, which sprung up in 1882 as a whistle stop when the railroad finally found its way through the valley. After a hearty lunch, the tour continued with stops at three wineries. Known for its diversity, wineries in the Temecula Valley grow and produce more than 50 different varietals of wine; from Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot to Mourvedre.
Dinner that night was again at the clubhouse. The BBQ buffet was hosted by your Relief Association. Nobody went away hungry, with Duke’s Mesquite Broiler stepping up and whipping up a delicious meal of BBQ chicken and smoked tri-tip. The crowd was going through the food so fast, Steve Domanski ran back into town to get a second load of the delicious meats.
Rich and Joyce Howe just happened to be celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary the evening of the FREE BBQ buffet (with FREE beer and wine) and Rich wasn’t about to miss this opportunity. With the money he saved on a romantic dinner and cocktails, he said he was going to buy Joyce a new vacuum cleaner to celebrate the occasion. Congratulations to you both!
Thursday dawned slightly overcast but the balmy weather was perfect for a day on the links. Reservations had been made for our duffers on Pechanga’s Journey course. Journey is built on a portion of Pechanga’s ancestral land that has been their “home” for countless generations. This land is also home to “The Great Oak” – one of the largest natural-growing, indigenous coast, live oak trees in the United States and estimated to be anywhere from 850 to 1,500 years old.
The green grass, great oaks and mountain air were having their effect on Tim Larson as he plied the fairways. He was really feeling the Native American spirits. So when he saw that a Great White Heron had caught a fish in one of the small lakes, he wanted to do the same. Tim always carries a fishing rod in his golf bag (doesn’t everyone??) and he quickly set his bait. On his very first cast, before the lure had even hit the water, a 12 inch bass jumped up and snagged the hook.
Only problem was Tim had overlooked the need for a tribal fishing license. And on the reservation justice is swift – Tim was detained, booked and before the magistrate within an hour. He thought he would get off easy when he discovered that the judge was his old buddy Bob “Two Bears” Munoa. But Tim was on his knees, begging for mercy like a first-house rookie when he saw how much the fine was. Sorry I can’t tell you how this all turned out because of the gag order imposed by Judge Large Bear.
On Thursday evening, everyone met in the hotel for the Pechanga Buffet – “an all new dining adventure that awaits the hungry.” We were told that the buffet features an all new menu with 250 fresh items and action stations. There were a couple of old truckmen there that did at least sample all 250 items!
It was back to the clubhouse after dinner for some, but many wandered into the casino to try their luck. I saw a few small jackpots being collected at the machines, some lively action at the craps (no dice) table and learned one valuable lesson – “If you can’t win with 20, just walk away from the table.”
When all was said and done, the 2014 LAFRA Reunion was a rousing success. Many thanks to the hard work of Juan Albarran. Bob Steinbacher, Tim and Wendy Larson, and Steve and Chris Domanski. One thing I did hear over and over again was members saying, “We’re going to have to tell our friends so they can come next year.” So pass the word along and we’ll see you next year.
by Dave Wagner