Cool Jobs: Underground Hip Hop Legend Reef the Lost Cauze

Reef the Lost Cause has been a staple on the Philadelphia rap scene for 15 years, getting his start in the late 1990s. In that time, he has established himself as a battle rapper nonpareil and he’s garnered quite a bit of critical acclaim for both his studio work and live performances. On a personal level, he is also one of the nicest guys I’ve met in Philly. If you want to root for a local performer, you can hardly do better than getting behind Reef. Here he talks about what inspires him to write, why rappers don’t tend to like each other much, and what huge hip-hop legend gave him props after seeing him perform live.

JGT: Ok, so how did you first get into hip-hop? What was the first song or album that really caught your ear?

REEF: Well I’m a child of the 80s so I don’t recall a time it wasn’t apart of my life. My uncle rapped, my cousins were breaking and rocking all the latest fashion. I think I started writing raps at like 7 years old. My first loves in this where Big Daddy KANE and LL. Kane is the GOAT to me.

JGT: At what point were you like, “You know what, I want to do this for a living?”

REEF: Well I honestly wanted to do it for a living since maybe 16. It was just something I loved and it always came naturally for me. But I was young and just thought I would somehow get a record deal and riches and fame. It wasn’t until I was way older and had worked and worked and built my foundation that I was able to leave my day job and actually survive off music. And it’s still a struggle to this day.

JGT: What would the “experienced you” tell the “16-year old you” about the hip-hop business?

photo courtesy of

REEF: I think I would tell him to study more of the business side first. I spent so much time just being an artist and making dope music that I didn’t learn a lot about that side of things until later and some of those things I learned the hard way. The way things are now you can’t just be an artist, you’ve got to be a businessman, No way around it. I always hated that side of it, but I’m now learning it doesn’t matter how much you hate it you have to do it, so I’m playing catch up in a lot of ways.

JGT: In the early 2000s you started to create a name for yourself locally and in NYC. Was there a time when you thought, “OK, here comes the fortune and the fame, right around the corner?” Or did you know that your style (intelligent, thought provoking) doesn’t translate typically to mainstream success in hip-hop these days, and that your future was going to be as an underground artist?

REEF: I mean there were moments I felt like maybe I was about to breakthrough but in all honesty looking back I can see that the music I was making and continue to make is not the type of stuff that the bigwigs want to fuck with. But I have still always felt my music can reach the highest amount of people possible if the right people got behind it. That has yet to happen but I can’t look back or wait around for anyone. Gotta keep moving and work with the hand I was dealt. It’s by no means a royal flush but it ain’t a bad hand at all.

JGT: Do most underground American rappers today make the majority of their money by touring overseas?

REEF: I mean that’s really the last place most in our profession can really make good money. There are a select few that can tour the states and get paid properly but its a very small group.

JGT: Why is it that underground hip-hop seems to be so much more appreciated overseas?

REEF: I think it just has to do with the love affair that those kids have with the idea of what hiphop should be. They still show the utmost (respect) to all the elements: breaking, graf, MCing, turntablism, hell even beatboxing. They still have that type of respect for it because like all things, when you’re a vistor to something or somewhere you tend to show love to things that people that have it all the time take for granted. Like when’s the last time you visted the Liberty Bell??

JGT: Ha! That’s an interesting way of looking at it. It’s funny, in a recent interview I did, with local musician Kenn Kweder, he said that the big problem he had when he came along in the 1970s was the Star Wars mindset…people weren’t looking for just a good artist who could sell a few albums anymore, they were looking for someone who could be a HUGE success by doing the simplest songs for the largest potential crowd possible. And to do so meant keeping things extremely simple. Do you see that in hip-hop, and if so is that frustrating for you as an artist?

REEF: Word, I dig that. He’s right. I mean that’s with everything though. No-one wants to just be getting by we all want to be the most successful we can be and the music business is the watermark for that. People are created in labs now ya know? LOL. But hey there’s that Micheal Bay movie that makes a billion dollars every summer that everyone hates a year later, and then there’s the beautiful Indie film that becomes a classic and is studied for years. That’s the career I have. Of course the money would be nice! But people hitting me up saying they are just hearing and loving something I did 12 years ago, that lets me know the music is gonna outlast anything I could do while I’m here.

Photo courtesy of

JGT: That’s awesome. Ok, so what’s the best part of the job?

REEF: What I just described man. The people. The people. The people. Knowing that what I’m doing is loved and respected by all walks of life in places I’ve never even heard of. That gives me chills. Hope. Some peace. The music has given me a purpose and an idenity in this life. A lot of folks spend forever trying to figure out what they want to do, who they want to be. I found my path early and have been able to walk it and see results. And it’s only my first act. I just am hitting my 30s and I feel more creative and free then I ever have. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

JGT: What’s the toughest part of the job?

REEF: The ends not justfying the means sometimes. I have friends that make a ton of money doing this, and I have friends that make little to none. I’m somewhere in between. And when it was just me, I could handle that. But I have a family now and sometimes it feels like they suffer because of how shaky this business is. Some months it’s steak and shrimp, some months it’s turkey sandwhiches. And that’s heartbreaking. That’s something that hurts more then anything, knowing that what you do for a living might not be enough and wondering what to do about it. That keeps me up at night.

JGT: Who are some of the bigger names in hip-hop you’ve performed with? Any guys, where you were like “Holy shit! This guy was my idol and now I’m performing on the same show as him!”?

REEF: Well today my brothers the Snowgoons just dropped an album with PMD from EPMD and I’m on the album and had to chance to build with him in Canada and it was surreal. He was so honest and candid. OC was one of the first people I toured with overseas he showed mad love. DMC came up to me at a show and told me he was blown away by my performance.

JGT: DMC told you he was blown away? Holy shit. That’s where I would think about dropping the mic, saying “I did it. F*** all y’all!” and getting an office job. Alright, so what’s a typical day like for you, work-wise?

REEF: Well I’m a stay at home dad, so I’m with my son until about 6:30 pm, just me and him. Its definitely been a change of pace, but it’s been beautiful. Once his mom gets home I usually answer emails, or start writing for whatever I’m working on. Some nights I’m in the studio, if not there I’m performing somewhere or hitting an event one of my friends is throwing.

JGT: What is something that most people don’t know about the rap game?

REEF: I don’t think there’s much anymore they don’t know. Between social media and 20-million hiphop blogs and websites, there are no secrets now. Everyone’s business is out in the open. I think everyone knows it’s all smoke and mirrors, everyone knows most rappers aren’t friends. One thing they may not know is that it’s work. It seems like rappers are always partying and living it up but the ones that have the most consistant careers are workaholics. Only way to remain relevant now, is to outwork everyone else.

JGT: Why are most rappers not friends? Is it just too cut throat of a business to trust anyone?

REEF: I mean I don’t think most actors are or ball players or hell even like bartenders. LOL. Everyone’s just tryin’ to win man.

JGT: What is your process? Do you sit down and say, “Ok, I’m gonna write for the next two hours?” Or do you all of a sudden get a great idea and go run and get it down and then call someone and say meet me at the studio in half an hour?

REEF: For me it’s like homework assignment. I rarely ever just write for fun, if I have an idea or concept I might jot it down or if a line pops up in my head I will write down to not forget but most of my songs now start with a beat.  I have nonstop beats coming to me all the time so I will go through them until I find that one that makes me feel something or inspires me to write. Once I find that one, I sit with it until the words come or the concept comes, if there is one at all.

Usually I like to write the hook first because that sets the tone for what the song will be about. Then I will write a rough draft, then subtract and add where needed. Once that’s done I will go over it to make sure its right and that I have it down pat cuz when I go to record I don’t want to waste time. When it comes to recording I usually go to one of 3 home studios I use, where I feel most comfortable and will record it in a few takes. To be honest, I hate the studio, so I won’t do 50 takes or hang out and “vibe”. I wanna get in and get out. So I will come with 3 songs ready, record them and be on my way home in an hour. Ask anyone that’s ever worked with me, I get in and get the fuck out. Its called preparation ya know?

I come from the 2pac school of recording. He always said no more then two or three takes should be needed. If you ain’t got it right after that, it’s probably not gonna be right.

JGT: Alright, last one: what does the future hold for Reef the Lost Cause?

REEF: Since November I’ve just been writing like a madman. I put out the REEFTHELOSTCAUZEISDEAD mixtape, I have an EP with my man Dumhi who did “Philly Cousins” on production that’s dropping May 14th,  and another EP with my brother Emynd on production dropping July 9th. After that I’m gonna be working on this joint album with Blacastan from Army of the Pharaohs, there’s the new AOTP and then I got another solo coming. Might drop a mixtape in bewteen all that too. And finally my newest venutre is my podcast. Just dropped the first one last week. I’m more excited about this then anything right now check it out


Cool Job: Humpback Whale Rescue Coordinator

Ok, so that’s not quite what it says on Justin’s business card. And in fact, that is only part of what he does. He also educates people all over the Hawaiian Islands about the dangers posed to humpback whales, which are often found off the coast of Hawaii during the wintertime (they are migratory animals, and migrate to Hawaii to give birth), monk seals, dolphins, and most other marine mammals. But disentangling humpback whales is certainly the most exciting part of the job, and that’s primarily what I spoke to him about. I highly recommend, before reading the interview, you check out the video above which will give you a better understanding of what Justin’s job entails.

The infamous 223 night. Notice what Justin is drinking out of.

My friendship with Justin goes back 15 years, when we worked together at a dolphin facility called Dolphin Quest. He was one of the few other guys on staff who was a sports junkie like myself, so we hit it off really well. Justin was not only a good friend but a mentor, who taught me a ton about dolphins and dolphin behavior. (He also once bowled a 223 while drinking beer straight out of a pitcher, a record I have been trying to top for 15 years now to no avail. The closest I’ve come is 196.)

Justin has since moved out of the training world and moved onto larger marine mammals (while I have moved on to land mammals who like to drink Lager and answer trivia). Here he tells us how a kid growing up in the Rockies got into marine mammals, what it’s like rescuing humpback whales, and what the hardest part of the job is. Enjoy.

JGT: First of all, just give us a basic synopsis of what it is you do for a living.

Justin: Ok here we go. I am the Hawaii Island programs coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. In this position I have a variety of roles from the marine mammal response side of things to the community engagement and natural resource protection side where I work with schools, communities and volunteers to help educate people on the issues the marine environment is facing on a local and global scale.

JGT: Alright, now how did you as a kid growing up in the Rockies know that you wanted to work with marine mammals when you grew up? And what was the “A-ha!” moment when you knew you wanted to do that for a living?

Justin with one of his two beautiful daughters.

Justin: As long as I can remember I wanted to work with whales. I can remember as far back as 3rd grade in Berthoud, Colorado making a report on how I was going to work with whales and train dolphins. When I was working at Dolphin Quest and had just started my mom sent me a pillow with the pictures that I had drawn in 3rd grade of me holding a hoop and a dolphin jumping through. So honestly I can’t remember EVER wanting to do anything else.

Why whales? I have no idea what drew me to them. I grew up on a horse farm with large mammals but really wanted to be around the ocean even as a kid. It was always interesting for me growing up hearing what others wanted to do and how it changed over time but for me it was always working with whales. I have friends that still tell me they can’t believe I’m actually doing what I said I would do over 20 years ago.

JGT: I’m 38 and still have no idea what I want to do. It fascinates me when I meet people who knew exactly what it was they wanted to do when they were kids. That’s so wild. Ok, what did you study in college? Marine biology?

Justin: Marine biology and environmental ecology.

JGT: You get done with school, and it’s onto the real world. What career choices does a 22-year old with a marine biology degree have?

Justin: I actually went to Florida Tech and walked on the soccer team as I had played soccer all through high school and wanted to play in college. My first year we won the Division II National Championship and I decided that even though I was being offered a scholarship the next year I quit. Kinda wish that I had played more but in 1991 pro soccer in the U.S was still a pipe dream and I figured that I could do other stuff around Florida like surf.

So after quitting I met a good friend Ron who happened to work at the Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach, FL. He got me a summer job where I was doing dive shows and cleaning the tanks at the end of the day. I would spend hours just swimming and playing with the dolphins after everyone else would leave the park so I got a lot of time with the critters and eventually got moved up to doing shows that first summer. This turned out to be an intership where I got school credit and got paid. Then when I graduated in Dec. 1995 I had a job dolphin training in Ft. Walton Beach, FL. Can’t tell you how many times I heard to change my career and that I was never gonna find a good job with a marine biology degree so it was pretty cool how it all worked out.

JGT: Did you think that you were going to make a career out of being a dolphin trainer, or did you see that as a step in your career progression?

Justin: Originally I thought I might make a career out of it but soon learned that there were bigger and more exciting things going on just over the wall out in the ocean, so it changed to a stepping stone after about 8 years.

JGT: You are one of the few people in the United States who can lead a humpback rescue. Tell us a bit about what goes into something like that. What happens when you get that call that there is a humpback caught in a net?

That's Justin at the bow of the boat.

Justin: The first thing that we do is get out on the water to verify the entanglement and determine if it is life-threatening. Sometimes we just have some loose rope on them and if it’s not life threatening then we don’t do anything. If it’s determined to be life threatening then we first attach a telemetry buoy to the gear that is trailing behind the animal. Once we have the telemetry buoy on then we can begin to document the entanglement and evaluate how we can get it off. This documentation is probably the most important part of the response as we are really trying to determine how these animals get wrapped so hopefully we can prevent it in the future. We know that while we may save a whale or two we would really like to find preventative measures to help keep the whales from getting entangled in the first place.

Once we’ve documented the gear then we work on getting it off which can happen a couple of different ways. The main thing is that we never get out of our inflatable as it is way too dangerous so we approch and utilize special knives that we have designed to cut away the gear. Sometimes we do this with a knife that is fixed on a pole (here is a link to a rescue we did 3 weeks ago off Maui in which we used a fix knife cut). Sometimes we will actually use a flying knife that we can place on the rope we want to cut then back off and let the whale dragging the boat on that line help the knife to cut through the rope.

JGT: What’s the best part of the job?

Justin: Large whale entanglement response! This is absolutely my favorite part of the job as I get to be out on the water working with amazing humpback whales. This part of the job can be dangerous and I am one of a few people around the country that are permitted to lead response efforts on large entangled whales. Another great part of the job is being able to see that I am actually making a difference for some of the endangered animals (humpback whales/Hawaiian monk seals) that I work hands on with.

JGT: And the worst?

Justin: Seeing the effects of humans on the environment and some species of animals. For example this year we have had a young Humpback Whale that is entangled and the line is actually cutting through the whale as it grows….there are times when we just can’t re-find a reported animal or they are too evasive and we lose them and its tough to see and know that there is really nothing we can do if we can’t find them and stay on them. Also lost a young critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal a few months ago that swallowed a fishing hook and it ended up causing the little guy to die after a few months. So tough to see the animals suffering and/or dying but it is a real part of the job.

JGT: How dangerous is the job? I mean, you’re riding in a little raft right alongside an animal almost the size of Moby Dick! That’s kind of insane.

Justin: Every time we go out on a response for an entangled whale there is danger involved and it is for that reason that we are federally permitted and train like we do to prepare for the worst case scenarios. In addition to trainings and constant evaluation of techniques and safety procedures we go through a series of risk evaluation exercises to determine if each response is not only feasible but safe.

JGT: Are you scared when you perform this part of the job?

Justin: The first few times I was definitely a bit scared as we are right on top of a 40 foot whale that weighs around 80,000lbs. But over time you learn to use the fear to help you stay safe and focus on the job at hand. Absolutely exhilarating experience to be so close to these enormous animals no matter how many times you do it.

JGT: What does the future hold for you in this field?

Justin: I think that the future holds more opportunities to help protect the marine environment not only on the local and individual animal level but on a more global scale. I like the idea of working with communities, industry and government agencies to find solutions that will help to better protect their coastal marine resources while providing for families and livelihood.

P.S. I love my job!

PREVIOUSLY: An interview with Philly rock legend Kenn Kweder.

Cool Job: Philly Rock Legend Kenn Kweder

If you live in Philly and you’ve never seen Kenn Kweder perform, you need to put it on your Philly bucket list. A local legend, he’s been on the Philly rock scene for over 40 years, and has played with some of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll. Furthermore, he’s crafted some absolutely incredible songs, ranging from the hilarious (Crackhead) to the epic (Diablo). And of course his cult classic Heroin, which is simply a mindblowingly great rock ‘n’ roll tune. He’s also an incredibly cool guy. In our interview, he talks about his infamous meeting with Clive Davis in 1977 (Davis wanted to sign him, but only if he’d make his music more accessible), where his favorite places to play on South Street were back in its heyday, and how legendary producer Ben Vaughn changed his outlook and his life. It was an IM interview, so capitalizations for emphasis are Kenn’s. Enjoy.

JGT: How’d you first got into music?

Kenn: As a kid, whenever I heard music that I really liked on TV or the radio it gave me the chills, a certain type of happiness. An unbelievable feeling.  Then one day I thought, “Why not try to do the same thing and become a musician to send out the sounds to make others happy and to feel good?” So I bought my first guitar with saved up coupons at age 16 and started to play.

JGT: And where were you playing when you first got started? South Street?

Kenn: Started off in coffeehouses and churches in Southwest Philly, and West Philly. Then migrated to open air gigs in Rittenhouse Square. All folkies used to play in the Square back in 1970, 71.  By 1974 I was on south street and played a zillion gigs at clubs on South Street for the next couple decades.

JGT: Where were your favorite places to play on south street in the 70s?

Kenn: It was a dream come true to perform at GRENDEL’s LAIR (ed. note-When South Street went corporate, it became the Gap at 5th and South). Grendel’s was legendary!    Also a place called Positively 4th Street (4th and Gaskill) and of course JC Dobbs.

JGT: What was Grendel’s Lair like? What was so special about it?

Kenn: All the cats that I looked up to had played there, cats I would hear on the UNDERGROUND radio stations:   Dave Van Ronk, Mose Allison, Phil Ochs, etc.

JGT: What kind of music were you playing at the time?

Kenn: Pure folk stuff–Dylan, John Prine, Kristofferson, Phil Ochs, Arlo Guthrie, Woody Guthrie, Roger Miller, etc

JGT: But you sort of moved into rock ‘n’ roll by the late 70s, right?

Kenn: 1975/76 was when I started the band.  Although I LOVED folk music I would eventually be banned from every folk club in Philly for what they deemed OUTRAGEOUS behavior on stage, so I had no choice.  I would have PREFERRED to have made my way via FOLK anyway over the Rock route but I had no choice at that point.  I ended up taking all that so called “outrageous behavior” to the Rock rooms and it ended up benefitting me and my music ambitions to perform. I used to bring sword canes, whips and firecrackers on stage at the folk venues, so I guess I see their point now.

JGT: Hahahaha! Well, there was an infamous TV interview (ed. note: this is an absolute must watch, for a number of reasons. For one, the club where Keder was playing is now the Ten Stone) where you were described as playing punk rock. You never did anything close to punk rock, did you?

Kenn: Everyone was confused back then with the labels to describe what was actually happening. I think perhaps the “theatre” of a Kweder performance was a bit “punky”(guns, whips, truck tires, traffic lights, etc. on stage) but the music was solid with serious musicians and great melodies. To me PUNK was not about the latter.  So I distanced myself from that label and immediately went from punk rock messiah to a leper in the punk community.

Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Weekly

JGT:So that interview damaged your reputation locally, because you said punk was out of tune and unintelligible?

Kenn: Oh GOD, yes!  The repercussions were something you would never want to experience, and it went on for many many many years. The anger, hatred directed at me because of that inarticulate interview was OFF THE HOOK. To this day I will occassionally see someone from the punk community back then that still has it in for me. Of course by now they no longer play music.

JGT: I find it funny that punk, which is supposed to be all about not giving a shit, gave such a shit.

Kenn: Soooo very true. Total contradiction. Which drove me even more frustrated in their weird negative behavior towards me.

JGT: Anyways, around this time, you had a meeting with Clive Davis, correct?

Kenn: The Clive thing was in 1977.

JGT: Oh, ok. So you had a meeting with Clive, and he told you he wanted you to sign, but drop your band?

Kenn: And to write simpler more “accessible” tunes so no one in Iowa would be offended or be confused or have to “think”.  That suggestion was anathema to me!

JGT: Would you say that meeting was the “crossroads” of your career?

Kenn: One of the “crossroads” for sure. In 1979 I had a similar, yet less notorious meeting with the prez of Infinity records.  Same exact nonsense went down.  Basically a request for Kenn to agree to be defanged and artistically castrated. I said no thanks!

JGT: Why was it that people wanted things so dumbed down? I mean, there were some popular groups at the time, The Who, Led Zeppelin, etc. who weren’t at all dumbed down and who sold millions.

Kenn: Things really changed everywhere after the STAR WARS mentality set in—by that mean STAR WARS was such a huge success, a MEGA MEGA BLOCKBUSTER that everyone in the entertainment field wanted a BLOCKBUSTER success. This mindset continues to this day. The Who and Zeppelin were already Gods from pre-blockbuster mentality and could do as they wished. Me, I was an unknown drifting into the record business that was hell bent on another SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER blockbuster ambition.  So it was only logical for them to ask me to “tone done the lyrics to something simpler” for the so called “everyone, everywhere” to enjoy without exerting much brain power. But certainly some very intelligent artists penetrated that filter force field of the industry  like DEVO, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, etc and sold lots of records. For whatever reason I did not succeed with that.

JGT: At what point did you say, “You know what, I’m never gonna perform in stadiums, but I’m still determined to record and perform  kickass music for appreciative crowds?”

Kenn: 1985 when I met Ben Vaughn. He’s the guy!!

JGT: What did Ben Vaughn tell you?

Kenn: He simply said to me “Hey man, why you getting so fucked up all the time?  Step back a second. Think. Think about this Kenn.  When you wake up everyday YOU know what you want to do, right? You wanna play music. Am I right, Kenn? Then realize this…..that 90% percent of the people ain’t as lucky as you are, they either do NOT know what they WANT to do, or they ain’t doing what they WANT to do. Get it! So stop fucking yourself up!”  That little pep talk pretty much turned my world around to the point I can do a gig in a closet full of brooms to people in a hoagie shop ordering sandwiches and actually get a kick out of it!

JGT: Haha! OK, let’s talk a little bit about the job itself. What is a typical day for you like, or does such a thing exist?

Kenn: I’m sure our days are similar. Emails correspondence galore, texting, phone calls—-pretty much non stop administrative stuff to keep the gigs coming in.  Stopping by bars, clubs to drop off Kweder CDs, press kits.  Practicing guitar–Working on small projects, bigger projects, etc  always in motion. Non stop. Basically announcing my existence to new club owners or constantly, proactively reminding club owners at places I may have just performed at that I actually still exist(ahhh the ephemerality of Showbiz!!) and to rehire me.

JGT: Let’s talk a bit about the music. You said at the beginning that your inspiration was to make people feel good when they hear your music. Do you feel that, by making fun, funny, and up-tempo songs, you are fulfilling your goal as a kid to make people feel good? Because I’ve been to a few Kweder shows and the operative word is definitely “fun”.

Kenn: You’re darn right. It is work to get work but THAT is what we do as we BELIEVE in what we do! And the payoff in many ways can be so great. Better than a medicine sometimes.   And yes I think I’ve been able to deliver some type of happiness to folks. Maybe a “happiness that has a bit of irony within it”.  And that makes me feel pretty good.

JGT: What are three of your favorite places you’ve ever performed?

Kenn: These would all tie for First place:  Bijou Cafe, Tin Angel and JC Dobbs–Philadelphia Ethical Society would be close Second place (honorable mention). By the way, I am the only performer in the history of the Ethical Society where the Police were called to quell a “disturbance”. TWICE!!

JGT: What about travelling? Have you played anywhere cool on the road?

Kenn: The Ad Lib in London was always great to me as was the Carnarvan Castle Pub in London—CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City, Tramps in NYC were always a favorite of mine.

JGT: One last question: when you write songs, do you sit down, carve yourself out a few hours, and plow through, or is at all inspiration that you suddenly “feel it” and run to a notebook and write it down?

Kenn: Most of the time it is crazy head popping inspiration to create the anchor of the song. Then take a little time to mold the anchor into the shape needed to do its job to anchor itself inside people’s brains.

PREVIOUS JGT INTERVIEWS: JGT interviews boxing champ Bernard Hopkins about his life in prison.

Interview with pro poker player Vaughn.

Interview with 105-year old restaurant owner Mama Teshima.

Interview with restaurant GM Andy.

Interview with street performers Anthony RIley and Infitain.

Interview with Shibe Park historian Bruce Kuklick.

Interview with 91-year old statistician Harvey Pollack, who was the scorekeeper for Wilt’s 100 point game.

Interview with comedians Chip Chantry, Mary Radzinski, and Doogie Horner about handling hecklers.

Cool Job: Pro Poker Player

Many of you on the quizzo circuit know Vaughn, aka the Sandman. Not only has he been an off and on player for numerous years, he has also hosted the quiz for me on numerous occasions, and done a bang up job from all reports. Anyways, Vaughn just recently stopped being a pro poker player, and is looking to go into writing.  

He enjoyed poker, he made money at it, but to be a pro player these days you need to move to the soulless pit that is Vegas, and that town and Vaughn, who has as much soul as any white boy I know,  just weren’t a good fit. Regardless, here is his story of what it’s like to be a poker player and how he got into it.

JGT: Tell me how you first got into poker.

Vaughn: Well I was always a bit of a gambler. I used to sneak into the Taj to play blackjack  when I was 16-20 years old. Not often, once or twice a year.

JGT: Were you pretty good at it, right off the bat?

Vaughn: Yeah. I was a chess prodigy as a kid. Top 5 in the country age 9 and under, with two therapists for parents. I was kind of born and bred to play poker

JGT: I didn’t know that you were a chess prodigy.

Vaughn: I peaked at age 8. But that movie Searching for Bobby Fisher? I used to play with that kid a lot.

JGT: Ok, so when did you make the jump to cards?

Vaughn: Age 25, working as an assistant in Hollywood. Flew home to Philly for a one week vacation, had a changeover in Las Vegas.

JGT: An assistant what?

Vaughn: I was the assistant to the head writer/executive producer of an ill-fated CBS sitcom.

JGT: Called what?

Vaughn: Ladies Man. Helluva cast but the show never got off the ground. Alfred Molina, Betty White. But it was working 90hrs a week on the Titanic. Anyway, my flight was late out of LA and missed the Vegas to PHL flight. It was 11pm and next flight was 7am. Being a bit of a latent degenerate, I put my bag in a locker and took a cab to the Bellagio. I had 6 hours to kill and knew I couldn’t spend it playing blackjack.

Rounders had recently come out. I wandered over to the poker room, played $1-$5 spread limit stud all night. Finished up $12 and thought it was the coolest f***ing thing. On the way to my flight I went into the gift shop and bought the first book I saw on poker strategy. The book mentioned poker was legal at several card rooms in L.A., including the Hollywood Park Racetrack which was maybe 15 minutes from the Culver City lot where we shot the show. I didn’t go during weeks when we were shooting, but the non-shooting weeks I went a couple times a week and I was a better than breakeven player almost right away.

JGT: Had you found a passion or just a hobby?

Vaughn: Both. Clearly some part of me that been been long dormant just got engaged right away. I mean, is there any way of keeping score more authentic than stacking piles of money? At the time, however, I had pretty much slaved away 3 years of my life to get myself into the position where I might get  a job writing for a sitcom, and I was finally next in line.

Continue reading “Cool Job: Pro Poker Player”

An Interview With 105-Year Old Restaurant Owner Mama Teshima

When I first moved to Hawaii in 1998, I was staying with a friend of mine (Bo) at his grandmother’s garage apartment. She was friends with the owner of a nearby Japanese restaurant, Shizuko “Mama” Teshima (The restaurant’s name, appropriately enough, was Teshima‘s). So whenever we would go eat there, a 91-year old lady would come to our table and greet us and “talk story” with Tutu, my friend’s grandmom.

Now, as some of you know, I worked in a dolphin facility at the time. So did my friend, Bo. One day, he arranged for his grandmom and Mama Teshima to get into the water with the dolphins. Remarkably, despite living in Hawaii her entire life, it was the first time the 91-year old Teshima had ever put on a bathing suit or gotten into the water. What a remarkable woman, having the courage to go into the water for the first time at age 91, and to then interact with a 500-pound animal while in the water! Just incredible.

When I decided to return to visit Hawaii this past August, I discovered that she was still alive at age 105, and still running the restaurant, though not on a daily basis. She lived in a small apartment right behind the restaurant with several members of her family. When I told her that I had been one of the guys who had helped bring her into the water with the dolphins many years before, she excitedly got her son to go find the photograph of her kissing the dolphin, then said to me, “You still look young but you grew.”

Mama Teshima held my arm during much of the interview. She is simply one of the sweetest, kindest people I have ever met, and I hope a few more people learn about this remarkable woman from this short interview I did. She is 105 years old, and she did not have the energy for a long winded piece nor does she like to talk about herself, so I kept it fairly short. I then went into the restaurant and interviewed her daughter, Irene, who told me more about the restaurant. While I was interviewing Irene, Mama called down from her house and demanded that my wife and I have lunch there, on the house. The food was, as always, delicious.

JGT: I want to start by asking you about the restaurant. When did you first open?

MAMA: I got married, 1927. I stayed with my in-laws until 1930, and there was a store.

JGT: And where was that located.

MAMA: Right here.

IRENE: It was a bar, a grocery store, and a barber shop, when they first opened. It was hard when they opened the grocery store, because people didn’t have money. She ran things on credit, and people wouldn’t be able to pay her until the coffee harvest came in, and then they would come in and pay.

JGT: Have you always lived in this building (right behind the restaurant)?

MAMA: This came in 1947.

JGT: So you started with a store in 1929?

MAMA: Yes, a store. Rations. General merchandise. Small, but we carried fishing tools, groceries. Old fashioned. And then when the war came, I took care of the soldiers (American soldiers were stationed next door). I fed them. They would come to the bar, and they were hungry, I used to treat them. When I was 30-something. I was young. I didn’t worry about money. Nobody had money. (laughs)

JGT: Was there any difficulty for you, when the war started, since your family is Japanese?

MAMA: There were three local people who came to check on us, and make sure everything is alright. Policemen and…FBI. There were blackouts, and we had to cover the windows, but we didn’t feel like there was war. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, they took my husband to the mainland. To the concentration camp. But it didn’t take long, and he came back. Oshima, the man with the store (His family still runs the general store called Oshima’s a couple of miles down the road from Teshima’s), wanted to come back, he had little children. He was climbing up the barbed wire. They shot him, so he died. (ed. note- I did a little research on this. Kisaburo Oshima was shot and killed at an internment camp in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.)

IRENE: I don’t think my mom had any problem with the soldiers next door. In fact, they all came to her and she would write to their parents and tell them that the boys were OK. She always felt that, what if it was her children being far away, (the parent) not knowing what’s going on?

JGT: So did the restaurant stay open during the war?

MAMA: I had the bar. The soldiers came. I said, “The soldiers are not going to live long. They are going to die.” So I gave them a lot of liquor. Other bars gave little liquor or mixture. But I felt they’re not coming back. Why not give them what they want?

IRENE: During the war, you know the church next door, the Buddhist church, was used for soldiers. And a lot of them wanted to go out to eat and drink, so my mother would cook for them. So she decided to open a little saimin and sandwich place. She started small. And then she got rid of the grocery store, and just did the restaurant and the bar.

JGT: So when did you open as a restaurant?

MAMA: I forgot the date. (Laughs) I cannot figure. (ed. note: According to several other sources, it was sometime in the 1940s).

JGT: So you’ve been in charge of the restaurant ever since it opened?

MAMA: Yes.

JGT: When you opened the restaurant, did you used to cook the food?

MAMA: Yeah. And my friend, but she’s all gone. I’m 105, so she was one year younger. She and I. She did the waitress, helped me cook, and I cooked, washed the dishes.

JGT: Where was your husband?

MAMA: Working at Captain Cook.

IRENE: He worked at the Captain Cook Coffee Company. He was a mechanic over there.

JGT: When you first opened, was it named Teshima’s?

MAMA: Yes, Teshima. The same.

JGT: What advice would you give to a person who wants to own a restaurant?

MAMA: No greed. Always try to help.

JGT (To Irene): Do you think your mother is proud of what she’s accomplished?

IRENE: Oh I’m sure. She’s not the kind of person to take credit for things. But she’s done a lot, and because of her, we’re still here. She never had an education, but through hard work, she accomplished a lot. She should be really proud of herself, even if she won’t brag about it.

True to her mantra of always trying to help, on her 105th birthday, this past June, Mama Teshima asked people to not bring her gifts…instead she asked them to donate to a scholarship fund set up for local high school seniors so that they could attend college.

Cool Job: City Tap House GM Andy Farrell

One of the coolest people I’ve had the fortune of getting to know the past few years has been Andy Farrell (above, left). Fun-loving Farrell is a GM/Partner at City Tap House, and an advocate, endorser, and fan of craft beers, particularly local ones. I’ve always known that Andy is the guy who handed me my check at City Tap after quizzo, but I wasn’t sure exactly what his background was, why he got into the beer business, or what he digs about his line of work. I figured I would find out.

JGT: How did you get into the beer business?

ANDY: I was a working chef for 10 years. Smith & Wollensky, Fleming’s Prime, a couple of small spots in South Jersey in AC and Somers Point.

JGT: So straight out of college did you go into the kitchen?

ANDY: Yeah, straight out of college. Every job I’ve ever had was in a restaurant, beach grill, bar.

JGT: After a while did you think to yourself, “The beer side of this is appealing more to me than the food side”?

ANDY: When I took over Bridgid’s in 2009 (as GM/Chef), I was going to be operating a business that had a 20 year history of great craft beer. In order to do the best for the business, I immersed myself in everything craft beer: American regional stuff, European brands. I learned all I could, from the process to the history of it, to the players local and nationally. I sponged it up as much as I could, first for the business, then it became a real passion. I kinda fell in love with the idea that this very artisanal product, literally “craft” product, was a hell of a lot more worthwhile and enjoyable than…what everyone else was offering.

At Bridgid’s, I did the menu and prepped much of the food, but I helped order the beers, set up events, ran the front of house. When I decided to leave there I wasn’t feeling it as a long term fit anymore. I was up in the air. I thought about trying to open something on my own, apply for brewery jobs. Wasn’t sure. But I knew I was done for the time being in the kitchen.  I wanted to be more involved with beer and the emerging Philly scene.  City Tap was something the Public House guys were just starting to work on and thru casual conversations I got involved.

I was only going to set up training, and it turned out to be something I wanted to be more heavily involved in: helping shape a new kind of bar in Philly. Most bars in Philly with good craft are small intimate neighborhood style. CTH was a chance to make craft more accessible, especially in UCity. Young audience. The people who are buying beer for the next 40 years are here.

JGT: What is your job description?

ANDY: Job description- operate the business profitably is the bottom line. Oversee the staff- hiring and training. Oversee the kitchen along with chef- quality/consistency. Oversee beer program- keep it dynamic, local, American regional, European benchmarks. But keep it accessible to folks who aren’t craft savvy, but might like to be. Drive business with good events, a strong weekly calendar, and most importantly, develop good relationships with our guests.

JGT: What’s the best part about working in the beer and hospitality business? (Click “More” below to keep reading)

Continue reading “Cool Job: City Tap House GM Andy Farrell”