Monti’s Steak-O-Gram On the Capricious Vicissitudes of Weather & Business in the Sonoran Desert / Newsletter Archive
Monti’s Steak-O-Gram On the Capricious Vicissitudes of Weather & Business in the Sonoran Desert
‘Twas a dark and stormy night on Mill Avenue–man, I have been waiting for years to start out writing a newsletter with that phrase!–and a monsoon was ripping through Tempe: water poured from above in sheets, tree limbs were being ripped from trunks, and Basques were plummeting from the sky. Wait, what?
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August and September are about our least favorite months at Monti’s. The heat of summer persists in that special sadistic way that is unique to the Valley of the Sun, and business always enters a trough as families grapple with the expense and sheer legwork of returning the kids to school while that stack of bills from the vacation back in June glares at them quietly from across the room (at least, that’s how I feel around this time). And then there are the monsoons and their co-conspirators the haboobs. In the Sonoran desert, you see, it’s either feast or famine. Just when you are about to give up silently begging for a cool breeze and some moisture, you get them in spades. For us, the proprietors of a sprawling, flat-roofed building, though, this can be a mixed blessing. For example, just a couple of years ago, our venerable billboard was crumpled up like a gum wrapper in one of these summer tempests.
And so it came to pass that on the evening of August 21st, after Eddie and had I wrapped up some back-office paperwork, I popped out a side exit of Monti’s and discovered that it was raining (the bunker-like architecture of our building muffles most sensory input from the exterior world). Now, we have a few areas up on the roof with poor drainage, and there is one spot in particular where we employ a pump to siphon off the excess water during major cloudbursts. We recently discussed replacing the pump, so I asked Eddie if the new pump was in fact a go and functioning. “Yes, but I will have to plug it in,” he answered when I told him of the rain. At this point, he sprung into action, quickly fashioning a poncho from a garbage bag(!–nothing but the best for our CEO) and darting to the workshop for the ladder. I felt a little guilty about watching him go alone, so I decided to join him up on the roof.
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What Happens When Art Meets Business on Mill Avenue, Starting October 8th:
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$3 Pilsner Special and Warsteiner in the bar at Monti’s
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As we scrambled up onto the parapet, the wind was picking up and the black clouds were beginning to blot out the remaining sun of early evening. Although I had not cleverly donned a Hefty poncho of my own, I was kind of enjoying the feel of the fat raindrops spattering on me. We now strode off towards the southern half of the roof, which required stepping over an assortment of pipes and conduits as well as negotiating a few changes in grade. We carefully checked all of the roof drains along the way to be sure they were not getting clogged with leaves or debris. Next, to reach the particular problem area, we had to scale another parapet wall that is about six feet high, using a built-in wooden ladder that has been in place since about, well, 1980. On the other side, Eddie gingerly plugged in the new pump and it churned to life. Mission accomplished, we prepared to retrace our steps.
What happened next is a bit unclear. I was standing on the area above the ‘El Portel’ room–where a few inches of water had pooled–and Eddie was over near the ladder. He called my attention to something across from me, so I pivoted on the heel of my boot. Big mistake: said boot heel now plunged through the surface of the roof. I was briefly trapped, and when I reflexively jerked my foot out of the void I was quickly treated to the sight of a mini-vortex forming where all of the accumulated water on that area of the roof was pouring down into the darkness below. After a lengthy and agitated recitation of all of the major expletives, I shouted to Eddie over the rising din of the wind and told him what had happened. Showing the Eagle Scout initiative that remains with him to this day, he disappeared down the parapet ladder and quickly reappeared in silhouette against the stormy sky with a large scrap of sheet metal that he had found nearby. The metal was clearly intended as a makeshift roof patch. I trotted over to take it from him so he could climb down, and had just set it aside when I heard a loud splintering sound. I looked back up to see Eddie plummet backwards from the now-broken ladder onto his back. Luckily, he missed being impaled on a nearby roof vent, and he was winded, but not knocked out. I helped him to his feet. Sodden and crestfallen, we trudged back down to the safety of ground level. Fortunately, other than nursing a sore hip for a few days, Eddie seems to be no worse for the wear. (That Basque reference above in the opening paragraph, by the way, is a reference to Eddie’s paternal heritage. These too-stubborn-to-conquer people of the Pyrenees Mountains straddling France and Spain were left to their own devices by the Romans. Their legacy to Arizona has been their skill as shepherds, which brought many of them here in the late 1800s. Be sure and check out the large photo of Eddie’s grandfather, with his magnificent mustache, tending bar in Cottonwood. It’s mounted on the shutter that divides the Fountain Room from our bar. If you are interested in the annual sheep migration from higher elevations to the Valley, it is wrapping up as you read this. They crossed the Salt River this morning, and the sheep will be moving down Signal Butte Road in Mesa on Saturday morning.) And, I’m glad to say that I caused no damage to the interior of the restaurant–only to my dignity.
Of course, it isn’t as though this summer had been boring by any stretch of the imagination. Far from it. We accommodated requests from students shoot scenes for two different indie films here, and coincidentally also were used as a venue by two major network TV crews (I’ve been sworn to secrecy and that is all I am allowed to say about them). Then, late on the evening of July 21st just after Monti’s closed, one of the the four 16-foot-high rubber bladders that contained (note past tense) the waters of the Tempe Town Lake ruptured explosively, causing the Lake to drain away not unlike to pool of rainwater liberated by my boot heel in the foregoing story. Dan Klein, the manager who had just closed the restaurant, heard the emergency warning sirens and of course, being from Minnesota, assumed a Tornado was nearby. Erika, a server, equally perplexed but not from the Midwest, said that the first thought that popped into her head was “Zombies!” I am sure that the City staff would have preferred an attack by the undead to having an entire lake disappear just a few months before a major international triathlon, the IronMan. As an aside, as much as I pride myself in being ‘in the know’ so to speak, my 12 year-old stepson scooped me by calling me from Queen Creek that evening to alert me to the fact that the Town Lake had exploded, as he put it. But, because of him, I got to be the first to share the hot gossip with Eddie. And, we managed to snag some great free Gold Canyon Candles the next day when they seized the marketing opportunity to ‘freshen’ the area by giving out candles to passers-by around the used-to-be lake. So perhaps next year it would not be so bad to have have a slow, hot boring summer after all.
Well, there are more stories to tell in my repertoire, but I will save a few as this missive is at risk of becoming long-winded even by my standards. As always, thanks for reading and for your patronage of Arizona’s unique, authentic, historic steakhouse.
Next week: Like a scene from ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’–Fall Frenzy Rock Concert Yields Abandoned Backpacks–EVERYBODY PANIC!
All the best,
Michael L. Monti & Staff
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Monti’s La Casa Vieja Restaurant & Catering
100 South Mill Avenue
Tempe AZ 85281