Breakfast special included big serving of tradition
Of the roughly 32,000 breakfasts that Brooks Park enjoyed in his long and prosperous life, I had the opportunity to share one.
The date was a Sunday in mid-November last year, about six weeks before he suffered the heart attack which eventually claimed him on Jan. 27.
For years, I had heard the rumors that every deal made in Douglas County took shape at Sharkey’s on Sunday morning as the movers and shakers met to break bread and bust chops. Some of the people who originally sat at that table are gone – Fred Dressler, Matt Benson, Louis Bergevin – but a core of regulars still meets every week.
I asked Lawrence Jacobsen, who has served in the Nevada Legislature longer than anyone in the history of the state, if I could tag along. He cleared it with the group and we set the date for Nov. 14.
“We’re kinda casual,” he said as I climbed into his putty-colored truck.
When we arrived at Sharkey’s, Brooks Park and his grandson David were there. Brooks had been with the group since its inception years ago when the Minden Inn was dishing up biscuits and gravy instead of county budgets and master plan amendments.
“I never had a meal here I didn’t like,” said Park, who could have dined anywhere in the world, but felt the most comfortable at places like the Carson Valley Country Club or Sharkey’s where the “Good Morning Breakfast Special” and tip gets you out the door for about $5 or $6.
My tablemates that day included the Parks, Jacobsen, Larry Pedrett, Ken Hellwinkel, Don Bently and Bob Kawcak.
By 7:30 or so, coffee cups had been refilled and orders taken. One of the ground rules appeared to be not to order anything that was too expensive because eventually, you’ll get stuck with the tab.
Everybody settled down to their bacon and eggs, pancakes and sausage, and the conversations continued. Anybody who had been mentioned in any newspaper was fair game. With this group, it was likely that somebody hit print at least once between Sundays.
They worked their way through the weather and grousing about the federal government. I was pretty quiet, trying to take in two or three conversations at a time, hoping not to miss any hidden agendas or deals going down.
“We never have any set agenda,” Jacobsen told me, seeming to read my mind.
Don Bently took two cell phone calls, one of the few signs that this conversation was occurring at the eve of 2000 instead of 1900. Time can stand still in a place like Sharkey’s.
Everybody tried to include me.
“I just got back from Abu Dhabi,” Bently volunteered, generating a short conversation about Saudi Arabia that somehow ended up with an update on the progress of the Mud Lake dam project.
They talked about how the Valley is changing, the newcomers, the successes of their children and grandchildren.
“Once, we had a big discussion on whether breast feeding in public was indecent exposure,” Jacobsen said. “It got pretty loud, but nobody ever leaves this table mad.”
Around 8:30 a.m., seven well-worn wallets came out of back pockets, and everybody left a tip. Breakfast was over and Senator Jacobsen drove me home.
From my notes, I concluded that I had been eavesdropping on a group of grandpas, so I turned to the person I sometimes go to when I can’t figure things out – Sharkey Begovich.
Sharkey has hosted this group for 30 years at his casino, but declines to join them because he still considers himself “a Johnny come lately.” It was Sharkey who put their names on the table where they sit every Sunday and hung the painting of Fred Dressler within earshot of his old companions.
“You should call your story ‘honor and respect,'” he said of the group which at one time filled three tables.
“When Fred Dressler was alive, everybody showed up. Brooks Park was a stalwart. That table was about two words: respect and honor. That bunch showed up every Sunday – rain or shine. If somebody wasn’t there, why not? You had to be in the hospital or have some other awful excuse,” Sharkey said.
“It was like you were with a history book when you were with them. I still get a kick out of the people who come here on Sunday just to stare at the strength of that table. You have some of the most powerful men in Northern Nevada and pretty far down into Southern Nevada, too. I’ve been invited to join them, but it’s not my place.”
Brooks Park talked a lot that day about how the group had changed. With his passing, the circle becomes a little tighter, the chairs a bit closer. But there is a story about Brooks for every breakfast he shared at that table and those stories will be told over and over again for many Sundays to come.
– Sheila Gardner is editor of The Record-Courier.