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Of soup, Big Sur, and starting over

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I had slogged my way through the paperwork and preliminaries, and suddenly we owned a large chunk of a Big Sur ranch on an isolated, ocean-front slice of the central California coast.

Now what? My partner, a brilliant and successful designer, said: "I'll design a house for you and another one for my wife and me. You'll leave the business world and write books" - my stated dream -"and I'll get out of designing furniture and learn to paint," which was his stated dream.

So much for stated dreams. You do have to be careful what you dream, should they come true. For all the wrong reasons, my dreams lay far afield from where I was at this hour of my life. I knew nothing of hotels or restaurants. "Bloom where you are planted," said a motto on a friend's bulletin board. So that's what I did. Of course, my partner went on to paint beautiful pictures that sold like hotcakes. I wrote one book. I now use the back pages of the manuscript for scratch paper.

On the highway where our ranch began was a small cafe, a gas station, and a campground. I quickly became a pumper of gas, a cook or a waiter when we were desperate, and absolutely useless in the campground, where a kid half my age ran it superbly.

But then a huge rainstorm sent a mudslide down our mountains and blocked the road. Our cook, Fern, could not get to work, so I was recruited to go into the kitchen that morning.

"Oh, I can do that," I thought. A bunch of orders of ham and eggs suddenly came in from the road-repair crew. I flipped one fried egg just the way I'd seen our cook do it when I was a little boy. It flew high into the air and then slipped behind the stove, onto the floor. I think it stayed there until we tore down the cafe years later to build our new hotel and restaurant.

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