Either you’re on the bus or off the bus
In 1983 Mike McMenamin had just opened the Barley Mill Pub on Portland’s Hawthorne Boulevard when a recent California transplant, Thursday Jane, applied for a job waiting tables. She danced into the pub in her high tops, ready for her interview, but the manager was out, so when a stranger at the bar struck up a conversation, she had time to chat. He admired the Grateful Dead-stickered VW bus parked outside – it was hers – and they got to talking about their mutual love of the Dead. Eventually, the manager returned and, glancing at Thursday’s bar mate, said, “Well, since you’re a friend of the owner’s, I guess you’re hired. When can you start?” As Mike McMenamin puts it, laughing, “Three minutes of training was plenty.” So began the next three decades.
There is a road, no simple highway
From there it was a whirl, opening new bars and revisiting old ones. Thursday went out to Tigard to help open pub number two, the Greenway (yes, the fabled fish tank was there from the beginning), then to the Hillsdale. By 1986 Mike and brother Brian had merged their businesses and were opening Cornelius Pass Roadhouse out in the pastures of Hillsboro, and – by now an old pro – Thursday headed there. Together, Mike, Brian and Thursday scrambled through the melee of lunchtime, serving hundreds of people with a small staff running between the kitchen and the warren of rooms at the Roadhouse. It was while working at CPR that, one icy morning, she lost the legendary VW bus in a terrible wreck, and Thursday herself was hurt so badly she couldn’t work.
By the time she recovered and returned to McMenamins, the Fulton had opened, so off she went, followed by stints at Blue Moon, Broadway, Rams Head and others. That there is no actual record of Thursday’s early years at McMenamins epitomizes the times. As she so eloquently puts it, “The crux of the biscuit is that I worked at a lot of places and did a lot of things!” and she notes with a laugh that “clearly none of us was keeping track of where I was and when.”
Just keep truckin’ on
From counting pinball machine quarters (torture!) to cooking to grocery shopping, Thursday did it all. In the beginning, food wasn’t delivered to the pubs and one day while shopping at United Grocers, something snapped in her back. She couldn’t stand and she couldn’t sit, so a United employee helped her to the periphery of the store, where she lay down and asked someone to page Mike. Meanwhile, Mike was also busy shopping – in the same store – until he happened upon Thursday, reclining on the floor. Thursday, thinking Mike was incredibly quick in responding to her page, thanked him for coming to her rescue. Mike, with no knowledge of the page, wondered what the hell Thursday was doing napping in the middle of United Grocers. In the end, they loaded her into his van, and he drove her to the chiropractor.
That’s how it was in the early days, Thursday reports: everyone helped each other out – and they still do today, because, she says, “There’s always been a sense of being in it together.” McMenamins didn’t advertise for help; it was all word of mouth – Hey, ask your roommate/sister/friend if they know someone who is looking for work – because the attitude was that “if someone is a friend of yours, there was a good chance they’ll make a good employee.”
Sometimes we live no particular way but our own
Thursday was working at the Hillsdale Pub when Mike, Brian and other Oregon brewers lobbied the state to change laws so that a pub proprietor could sell the very beer that s/he brewed “at a time when making your own beer was unheard of.” Once the law changed, Thursday reports that at the Hillsdale “there were so many fun experiments” in brewing. “Experimentation is what the brothers believe in – with pubs, their business model, beer recipes…” And she suspects there is a correlation with their muse, the Grateful Dead, because they, too, were all about experimentation (it is said that the Dead never played a song the same way twice).
“Those were crazy days. The Hillsdale Brewery tried just about anything, like a Mars Bar beer and a fruit beer,” says Thursday with a twinkle. That fruit beer led, of course, to the legendary Ruby Ale, but first there was a blueberry beer. In a fit of inspiration, it was decided that the berries must be stomped – by no less than Thursday herself. And so, in her bare feet, she stomped, she crushed, she squished. And in the end? Nobody remembers the beer. But they do remember the good time.
Once in awhile you get shown the light, in the strangest places if you look at it right
For a long time, when she wasn’t in the kitchen, Thursday waited tables. About the time boredom would begin elbowing its way in, something exciting would happen, like the revitalization of the Bagdad Theater, and she would move on to something new. Then the first glimmers of Edgefield appeared on the McMenamins horizon, so, ever the adventurer, Thursday volunteered to be a part of the grand experiment, and she headed to Troutdale in 1992.
She worked at Edgefield in the days before the main manor opened, when the front desk was housed in the basement of the Administrator’s House, and Thursday carefully filled in the reservation book, penciling in and erasing as calls came. As the property unfolded around her, she jumped in wholeheartedly, working in the Gift Shop, the Winery Tasting Room and as a tour guide. Thursday recalls the evolution of the place happening right before her eyes; she loved “watching the shambles be brought back to life.” And she says being a tour guide was “the best” because she was delighted to learn the history of the place even as new history was being made. She watched the art take shape in real time – sometimes real fast time: as the grand opening loomed, artists worked around the clock to finish one-hundred-foot murals on the third floor of the manor.
After a few years, it was time to move on. With her knowledge of so many different pubs, Thursday was a natural fit for a position at Headquarters, and she worked there as an administrative assistant for the next 21 years. Mike remembers working with her to locate original Grateful Dead imagery – posters, albums, iconic images – to hang in the pubs. And, true to the whirling creativity of McMenamins, she did anything else that popped up, along with the quotidian tasks that came with manning the front desk.
Without love in the dream it will never come true
Even as the company grew, Thursday points out that the family feeling remained: “Though you can’t know everyone anymore, there’s still that sense of family within each pub or property. It’s a feeling that’s always been encouraged and fostered, and I think that’s why people stay around the way they do.”
Of Mike and Brian, she says, “They are just such fine people. There’s no way I would have stayed around all these years if I hadn’t respected them so much and loved so much what they were doing. They weren’t just opening up one place after another; it was about bringing something really cool to a neighborhood and including the neighborhood, making it a place where everyone felt welcome. You could bring your grandma, you could bring your kids. And I have always felt appreciated.”
And she certainly is. Mike says fondly, “It was love at first sight; she is part of the fabric of the company. It wouldn’t have been the same without her.” Brian notes that she’s seen generations of employees come through and refers to her affectionately as the “mother hen.” The trio’s friendship dates back to 1983, which says something. They’ve seen the company from different angles, been to Grateful Dead shows up and down the West Coast, and shared highs and lows. In 2000 Mike and Thursday shared a landmark moment when they left a show early for the first time ever, which goes to show just how dedicated they are to the music because they have seen a lot of shows.
What a long strange trip it’s been
If you had asked Thursday back at the Barley Mill in 1983, she never would have imagined herself still with the same company 36 years later. But as the Dead sang, “Love will see you through.” These days you’ll find her back at Edgefield, leading history tours five days a week with no plans to retire. She nods toward the elevator with an impish grin, “When I can’t walk, I’ll just get one of those rascals [electric scooters]. As long as I can still talk about the art and history of this place, I’ll still be giving tours. I can’t imagine what else I would be doing.”
Aside from work, she is still going to shows: She’s out at least a couple nights week in Portland to see bands like Thievery Corporation, James Low or Jimmy Russell. If she’s not at a show, she’s traveling back to California or hanging out with friends or her daughter and beloved grandson.
Remember when you encounter her friendly face in the halls of Edgefield, you’re looking at a true original: Thursday is employee #2 on the company roster, right between Mike and Brian McMenamin. And she’s still on the bus.
Section headings are quoted from Grateful Dead lyrics, with the exception of the first paragraph heading, a favorite of Thursday’s from from Ken Kesey. Grateful Dead lyrics are from the following songs, in the order they appear: “Ripple,” “Truckin’,” “Eyes of the World,” “Scarlet Begonias,” “Help on the Way,” and “Truckin’” again – because aren’t we all?
•Thursday leads history tours at Edgefield, Wednesday through Sunday
on the hour between 9 am & 3 pm•