I met Rick when I worked at Bobby McGees Restaurant in Burbank, California. I think it was around 1989. I started working for Bobby McGees in Brea (North Orange County) ... June of 1986, right after I failed miserably in the Miss California Pageant. I was pretty blue wondering what to do next, now that my pageant days were over. I was the ripe old age of 21. I did win Miss Congeniality though.. and still have the silver bowl to prove it. I keep it around to remind myself to stand up straight, hold my shoulders back and suck in my stomach. My dad knew that I needed something to do.. or was tired of footing the sequins bill... so shortly after I returned home with my winning bowl, he had left a "want ad" out on the kitchen table for me that said "Do You Sing, Act or Dance?" "Can you wait tables at the same time?" Or something to that effect. Bobby McGees was hiring. Perfect for a college student who had dreams of being some kind of performer. At Bobby McGees, you got to dress up in costumes, act a fool and make some money. It was a hot spot for family celebrations and it was always packed. The bar that was attached to the restaurant was a totally different vibe... a 1980's nightclub vibe, where the cocktail servers wore high heels and tiny tuxedos. People could order drinks that came in mini bathtubs, sinks and toilets. Good times.
I "auditioned" and got the job at Bobby McGees. I loved it. I loved everyone I worked with. I worked there for 3 years and made some life-long friends. Eventually I transferred to the Burbank store, because I wanted to live close to LA... where dreams supposedly came true.
Here I met some serious characters. In Brea, most of the servers were college students working at the restaurant until they received their degrees, then moving on to reasonable jobs with 401 k's and a retirement plan. There were a few of us performers ... and we quickly learned that if you were serious, you had to be close to the action. Close to LA... not Orange County, where the Brea store was. In Burbank, I met actors, dancers, comedians, singers, writers, photographers, musicians and even a few clowns. Real clowns. Not scary mini-bike parade clowns... These clowns were the real deal. It felt like I had found my tribe. Not a clown tribe, but a tribe of misfits. We were all trying to make sense of our gifts & passions and what to do with them. Most of us were in our 20's, unmarried & did not have children. It was a highly competitive town and Bobby McGees was a friendly oasis for those who landed there.
Rick Spector was in one of the training classes soon after I had begun working in Burbank. I was a seasoned McGees waiter by then... knowing all the ropes. He and I became fast friends. Me, a Catholic girl singer from Wisconsin & California....Rick a Jewish kid from the suburbs of Philly. He. Was. Funny. Like, naturally, brilliantly, funny. He was a big, funny comedian with the most tender heart. His comedy was pure. He took his studies & his comedy seriously...so seriously that when he lost 100 pounds, he thought he lost his funny. He put most of the weight back on slowly (and unintentionally)...and he felt that his funny came back. (so maybe not unintentionally)
It was a grand circus working at McGees. Rick told me that those were some of the best years of his life. They were life affirming, for sure. Food service and customers aside.. this was Soul School. It was a creatively rich time, wild time, supportive time, We all worked hard, laughed constantly and became the best of friends. Rick was featured on a couple of tv shows, was in a comedy troop and took all kinds of acting classes. I believe he was one more audition away from making a great living as a comedic actor. He had one thing we didn't though... a desire to return home. He was married to the most wonderful woman.. and they wanted children.
I remember how selfishly mad I was when Rick said he was moving home. I couldn't imagine someone with this tremendous gift was going to "just give up". He was so close. He was so close. "Close to what?" he would say. But he was also so tired and ready for something more meaningful. Ellen and Rick returned home to be near to family and friends.. It was the right choice, for sure. They made a beautiful life back in Pennsylvania.
We stayed in touch throughout the years, life changes and miles. Rick starred in local musicals and plays while he worked his day job. He and Ellen raised 2 awesome kids. He would remind me often to not let life pass me by... and to think about having kids. He said that his children and his wife were his deepest loves. He said that he was my biggest fan. He said that I was like his country Barbara Streisand. That was a high compliment. He loved Barbara. He would always ask me to sing "Darlin'" to him... a tune that I used to sing back in our Bobby McGees days. I would remember about 1/4 of it and he would tell me to study and call him back when I was ready.
When we talked, even if a month or three had gone by, it seemed like just a day. We would pick our conversation seamlessly where we left off. We talked about angels a lot. God. Souls. Our kids. Our partners. The song "Porchlight", that was on one of my CD's, was another one of his favorites. We talked about death and what we think happens after we leave. In the last couple of years, Rick talked about death a lot. I would brush it off and go onto some other subject like Michael Buble or Judy Garland to get him off the subject. He said that he wasn't feeling great these days. He was still funny. He had a long list of health issues, none that I really thought would take him down at 58. He tried to warn me... even when I saw him 2 years ago at a house concert, he said an ominous goodbye. I thought he was just being dramatic.
Rick's last message on my phone went something like this: "Hey T, I wanted to say that I love you and I am in Hospice. I don't have much longer, and would love to talk". His breathing was labored and he sounded weak. I called immediately. I said, "What the Hell, Rick? What kind of message was that?" He said, "I wanted to make sure you called me back". He made me laugh. Even at his worst, he made me laugh.
Rick passed away about a week after I spoke with him, surrounded by his beautiful family. I called and sang to him twice. My friend Ron & I were practicing for an upcoming gig so we called and played "I'll be Seeing You". The last time I sang to Rick, I sang "Darlin". Again, I could not remember the words. Which maybe this time was ok.
On my walks I talk to him. I tell him that I pray for his family. I tell him that I will keep singing. I tell him thank you, thank you, for encouraging me to not take the business so seriously and think about having a family.
I hope he is singing with Judy Garland, hanging out with his folks, rehearsing sketches with his friend Dave.
Say hi to Charlie for me, Rick. You'll make him laugh too.