Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Own Little Tribute for Jackie

In September 1988, one month fresh out of college, I came out here to the desert to interview for a job.  Actually, I had three interviews lined up.  My aunt was living out here and with her connections, helped set up these interviews.  Here I was, a new college graduate, going for my first official job interview.  I had a fresh new haircut (my hairdresser back in Texas told me I needed a "mature" cut, you know, now that I was a college graduate and all...).  And I had my interview outfit picked out.  Looking back, I can't quite remember if I wore the same outfit to all three interviews, but I think I did.  It was drilled into my head back then, what you were supposed to dress like for job interviews.  So, I had this cute black and white check skirt, with a white chiffon-like top, with matching little jacket.  Black pumps.  Sort of suit-like.  Professional, ya know?

So, I had one interview at Mission Hills Country Club, for a job in the tennis shop.  Another interview at the La Quinta Hotel Gift Shop.  And my third and final interview was at the La Quinta Hotel Tennis Club, for the position of "tennis hostess."  My degree was in Clothing and Textiles, so my goal was to do the merchandising for the shop, but for now, this was the job that was open.

As I am walking through the tennis club area, over the saltillo pavers, in my pumps and in my very professional attire, carrying a leather pad that held my resume, and in awe of the beauty of this place, I think to myself, "This is dumb...why am I wearing this?  But what else do I wear for my first interviews out of college?  I'm supposed to look this way, right??"  I was very, very uncomfortable.

Anyway, I walk into the tennis pro shop and ask for the gentleman with whom I have my interview with...the Director of Tennis, Jackie Cooper. 

Jackie comes out of the office, we shake hands, make our introductions and he takes me over the restaurant so we can chat.  Me, in my suit.  And he in his white, short Fila shorts--complete tennis attire.  We walk in silence over to the restaurant.  I'm thinking he thinks I look like an idiot.

So, we chat for a bit.  I give him my resume.  I can't even remember what we talk about.  I'm nervous.  He's 40-ish, I think.  Tan.  Blue eyes.  Good looking.  Jackie is as nice as he could be to me.  By the time I leave town, I am offered all three jobs, but I accept the one at the tennis club at La Quinta.  A month later, I made the move to California.

I never put that suit on again.  For the next ten years, I sported the cutest tennis gear around.  I didn't really play, but at least I looked like I could. 

Working at La Quinta Hotel Tennis Club was one of the best experiences of my life.  Everyone I worked with was great.  There was Jackie.  Karen, who ran the shop and was Jackie's right arm.  Francine, who did the buying for the shop.  Jim and Julian, and Fred and Mike--teaching pros.  Me, who arranged matches. And Sonia and Mona...our retail girls who worked on weekends.  Good people.  We were a great team and had fun.  There was never a dull moment around that tennis shop.

Jackie was great to work for.  He was a great tennis player.  So fun to watch play.  He had a great sense of humor.  He was funny.  He was easy going.  Laid back.  He enjoyed life.  He never took anything too seriously.  He was charming.  And always made sure everyone who came to play at this club was happy.  He had a knack for making everything work out for everyone.  If someone came in and wanted to play and no court was available, he figured out a way to get them on.  If someone wanted a match and no one was around, he helped make it happen.  He took care of people.  Everyone loved Jackie.

He gave great advice. 

One day, I must have been complaining about something to him.  He looked at me and said, "Lori, you need to stop being a troubleshooter."  Oh.  My.  Gosh.  I can still see him to this day...sitting in the back office, in his chair, back against the wall, feet up on the desk, saying that to me. (If you know Jackie, you know and remember this vision).  And everytime I start to find a problem with something, I can still hear those words. 

Another day, I was driving him from the golf club back to the tennis club.  There were people walking in the middle of the street....and me, being annoyed, said, "Geez, why are they walking in the middle of the street?" Jackie tells me (reminds me)..."Hey...they're on vacation...they're at La Quinta..they should be able to walk in the middle of the street."  Thank you Jackie for that reminder.  To just relax.  I loved your outlook on life.

Back in the day, La Quinta Hotel was the premiere place to come for tennis (golf, too, for that matter).  I know it still is, but back then, it was owned and operated by Landmark Land.  Ah, the good 'ole Landmark days.  It was run much differently back then than it is now.  Over the years, many things have changed.  It was and still remains as my very favorite place, ever.  It's beautiful and peaceful.  Nestled in the Santa Rosa mountains.  Palm trees.  Blue skies.  Beautiful flowers everywhere.  We had 30 tennis courts, 6 of which were grass and 3 clay. There were several weeks a year where all 30 courts would be booked solid for hours at a time. 

A good portion of the hotel guests and members at La Quinta were very influential people.  Many successful, wealthy businessmen (and women), TV personalities, actors, professional athletes, coaches, movie producers, etc.  And Jackie knew most all of these people.  Many he was friends with.  But, even being surrounded by all of this, Jackie was one of the most grounded, down to earth people.  Not arrogant in any way.  He was dating and shortly married Shelley.  Blonde, beautiful, sweet, healthy Shelley.  She was a physical therapist.  She, too, was so very down to earth.  And Jackie had three daughters:  Carrie, Laura and Jamie.  All three sweet, down to earth, naturally beautiful, good girls.

After almost four years, I left La Quinta for another job.  I saw Jackie a few times maybe here and there around town, after I left there.  The resort was sold and he ultimately left La Quinta, as well, as did the rest of our staff.    We became facebook friends a year or two ago...he's commented on a few items of mine, which always makes me smile.

It's been a very, very long time since I  have seen Jackie. 

Several days ago, I heard the news that he has stage 4 cancer.  I was so shocked and saddened to hear this news.  I know nothing really about any of it, other than this, and that next Sunday a tribute and celebration of his life will be held at La Quinta. 

So, Jackie, if you are reading this, I want you to know how much I have been thinking of you.  To just let you know that I thank you for hiring me and giving me the amazing experience and opportunity that will go unmatched in the years that I worked for you at La Quinta.  These thoughts I write here are just a fraction of the memories I have of you and La Quinta.  I am sure you have no idea how many little things made an impact on me.  It is evident you have touched so many people and how many people love you.  You are a one-of-a-kind, special man.

Sending you much love, healing thoughts and look forward to seeing you and your family next Sunday. 

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