July 26: I’ve been waiting a long time for this day. And it finally arrived! Today was Sungho’s second first day of the Fire Academy. Second first day? I have to start this story at the beginning.
When I met Sung, his dreams revolved around the restaurant industry. I remember late night phone calls when we were apart:
What do you think your future will be like?
I want to be the best chef in the country.
Wow, so ambitious. I can’t say I want to be the best at anything…is that alright?
(Not knowing someone very well while being completely in love with them is a strange feeling. When I saw the word Ambition tattooed on his shoulder, I worried I wasn’t impressive enough for him because I don’t have big aspirations. But he did not see that as a flaw!)
Sung still has big goals but in the past year and a half they changed course. It started when we were laid off from our restaurant due to the pandemic. We packed up my box truck with all our stuff and drove a few hours north to my grandparents who live in Glen Ellen. We lived in their garage for the summer.
A few summers before we arrived, a wildfire had raged across their county. Every time we drove on the highway we saw charcoal trees scarring the hillside. My grandfather “Grampy” used to be a carpenter. As we drove along the winding roads, he would gesture toward bare slab foundations and say “oh I remember building that house, and that one, and that one…”
Even more than pointing out what had been lost in the fires, Grampy liked to reminisce on what had been saved. When the fire burned near my grandparents’ street they thought they would lose their home for sure. But with the luck of the wind changing and the dedication of the firefighters, their neighborhood was spared.
Grampy is also photographer and he somehow managed to be at the scene, right next to the firefighters. The footage he captured that day is scary but I could tell Sung was mesmerized.
I knew Sung was doing some soul-searching because he wasn’t excited to apply to cooking jobs. He also spent a lot of time on Reddit, but I didn’t know what he was researching. Then late one night as we sat at the kitchen table, he told me “I want to be a firefighter.”
This career makes perfect sense for him. He loves the adrenaline and camaraderie of the kitchen. And he always says that he wants to serve others and give back to the community. His favorite part of being a chef was cooking meals for people. That’s one frustrating thing about the restaurant industry: service is at the core of the job, but in fine dining sometimes you end up serving entitled customers and it all starts to feel very shallow.