Funny Shirt Gets Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Note: This is a story of wildly improbable events. A series of many unlikely and good things happening one after the other. I don’t mean for it to come across like boasting. My attitude is more like astonishment. It’s the only time I can recall ever being this “lucky.”

And there is a point to it, which is simply this: the value of friendship.


Every once in awhile you get lucky. If you’re really lucky, you get on a roll. Good things start snowballing. It’s like the stars are aligned, your karmic ship comes in. God says, “You deserve a break today. And I don’t mean McDonalds.”

This is the story of my most memorable Thanksgiving. Or at least the most memorable one I can remember.

In 1980 United Airlines had a contest. They passed out little scratch-off game cards to their airborne passengers. If you got 3 airplanes in a row – up or down – you won a free trip. Any class, anywhere they flew. That simple.

I didn’t fly much in those days – couldn’t afford it -  but the law says “no purchase required.” You could mail in a request for a game card, one per day. Optimist that I am, I decided to mail in a request every day for 30 days, which was the limit. Forgetful as I am, I only remembered to do this for two days.

Incredibly, one of the two turned out to be a winner. A free trip! I decided Hawaii was about as far as I wanted to go – and of course first class was a no-brainer. Late November seemed about right. Probably because it would be getting cold in Kansas City, and Hawaii could smack some sun on my Fluorescent Celtic Skin.

Meanwhile, shortly after winning my trip, I met a gal who was a United flight attendant.*

* Another lucky break. In 1980 the Kansas City Royals went to their first World Series. (That’s not the lucky part. They were good.) A friend of mine had two tickets for the first game, and was planning to take his wife, a flight attendant on United. But at the last minute she got a surprise visit from a colleague, and decided that good manners dictate she stay home and entertain her fellow flyer. So I got to take her place, getting great seats (free!) for the first-ever World Series game in Kansas City.

After the game, we went back to my friend’s house, where I met his wife’s friend. (We’ll call her VaVaVoom.) She and I hit it off. I told her about my free trip to Hawaii, and she let me know she was going there at the same time. Naturally, we decided to meet in Honolulu and travel together.

1980 was before airline deregulation, so airfares were higher and the airlines didn’t have to cram people in like sardines. This meant that the upstairs compartment of the 747 was used for what it was originally intended: a first class lounge. Meaning, I had a cushy first class seat on the main level, with all the usual perks, and I was also free to wander upstairs and stretch out on a sofa or play games with other passengers. Which I did. I played backgammon with some guy and won $20.

They also had a contest in first class. They gave you the air speed, the wind speed, the distance from LA to Honolulu, and some other numbers, and you had to calculate the exact minute we would be halfway. The winner got a bottle of champagne. I won it on both flights, coming and going.

When I got to Honolulu, VaVaVoom was there to meet me, along with another friendly female flight attendant. We’ll call her VaVaMama. Also very cute. The benefit of traveling with a flight attendant – at least back then – was they got great discounts on hotels. They had booked a deluxe room for the three of us in an oceanfront hotel on Waikiki for – get this – $20 a night. That’s total, not apiece.

We had a great time for a few days, then VaVaMama left to go back to work somewhere in the friendly skies. VaVaVoom and I decided we wanted to see the island of Kauai. Naturally she had another great deal there, a condo on the beach for what I believe is known as “a pittance.”

This is where it starts getting good.

On Kauai we wanted to hike the spectacular Waimea Canyon. There’s a state park up there with rental cabins, but they’re always booked up a year ahead of time. And since this was the day before Thanksgiving, the chances for getting a cabin were slim and none. But the way things were going, it was worth a phone call.

By now you know what’s coming. The guy who answered the phone said they had just had a cancellation for that night, and if we drove up there now we could have it. We got there in mid-afternoon, checked into our cozy cabin, hiked a bit a bit of the amazing canyon, saw a gorgeous sunset, and had dinner in the park lodge restaurant.

The next morning we went back to the lodge for breakfast. As it happened, I was wearing one of my favorite t-shirts. A green shirt with white lettering. It read:

If God had wanted
Texans to ski,
He would have
made bullshit white

As soon as I got inside the restaurant, a guy got up from his table, came over to me, and said, “I have to have that t-shirt. I’ll trade you my two best Hawaii t-shirts for it.”

Well, today I would trade that t-shirt in a second. I mean, I wouldn’t even wear it in the first place. But back then I thought it was pretty funny, and I told him no way. But we sat and ate with him and his wife, and had a great conversation.

It turned out they had a country band, the only one in Kauai. This was right after the Urban Cowboy craze, and country music was starting to go mainstream. So they had a lot of good gigs around the island. They were former hippies from San Francisco, having lived there during the Summer of Love, and had a bunch of crazy stories.

VaVaVoom and I left to hike for the day. We gawked at more beautiful rock formations than I’d seen in maybe ever. Then, after the hike, we bumped into our t-shirt friend again. He told us they were having Thanksgiving dinner in their cabin, with all their musician friends. There would be way more than enough food, and please come join them.

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), we were on that like monkeys on a mango.

Their friends were terrific folks, and after dinner we all sang songs for several hours. They knew all the songs I knew, and sang fabulous harmonies. Tons of fun.

Around midnight it was time to leave. We had the condo to go to, but our friends offered us their Hawaiian house down below the mountain, which was much closer. Before we left, they told us that that the bathroom at their house was outside in the back yard.

Thinking this meant an outhouse, I was delighted to discover a beautiful outdoor shower and bathtub in a secluded tropical garden. (More good luck: the toilet was actually inside the house.)

At about two in the morning, I took a warm shower. As the water washed over me, I stood in the salty breeze, looked up at the stars in the black sky, and thanked whichever one was bringing me so much good juju.

The rest of the week was filled with our new friends taking us boogie-boarding, hiking the Napali Coast, and other wonderful stuff. At night we’d go to wherever they were playing, and they’d let me sit in with them.

One night at a bar listening to my friends’ band, I met a record producer from LA. I think his name was Reggie Fisher. He told me he was producing a first album for a new artist named T-Bone Burnett. You may or may not be aware that T-Bone’s artist career has never really gone supernova, but he has become one of the most respected album producers and film music consultants out there.

Anyway, Reggie invited me to send him some of my songs, and later on I did. But he was about 10 years too early. None of my songs was any good then. Still, it was an amazing thing to have happen.

Finally VaVaVoom had to get back to work, so we flew back to Honolulu. She continued to the mainland, but somehow I suddenly remembered I had a family friend in Honolulu. I called and was invited to spend a week with her and her husband. They showed me all the cool, remote places on Oahu. They introduced me to a lot of local food, and gave me my first authentic taste of Hawaiian music.

It was all great fun except for the part where I almost drowned trying to body surf in big waves on the north coast. From the beach it looked a lot easier.

By far the best thing to come out of the whole lucky adventure was this renewed friendship with my old family friend Jane, and her husband Ev. How many couples do you know that are both cartographers? They were intelligent, full of fun, with an intimate, quirky knowledge of Hawaii that made it ever more fascinating. Their only house rule was that as a single guest, I had to cook dinner every third night. And they were good cooks. What I’m saying is I was forced to grow.

Over the years I’ve stayed with Jane and Ev every time I’ve performed in Hawaii. We’ve had a lot of great meals, conversations, explorations, many good laughs and funny memories. They’ve added so much to my life.


On Wednesday this week, my friend Jane passed away from liver disease. She was much, much too young. I’ll miss her a lot. Jane had a big, generous personality. I’ve never been to Hawaii without visiting her and Ev. I can’t imagine it.

But I’m so thankful she was in my life. I hope she felt the same way.

This week I suggest we take time to appreciate those who have enriched our lives immeasurably. Especially if they’re no longer with us.

© 2015 Greg Tamblyn

* I gave that t-shirt to my Kauai musician friend.

** No idea what happened to VaVaVoom. Didn’t keep in touch.

*** Feel free to leave a comment below. If you’ve never commented on my blog before, your comment will have to be approved before it’s posted, but it will be!

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17 Responses to Funny Shirt Gets Free Thanksgiving Dinner

  1. Katherine says:

    Wow. Now that’s a magic carpet ride. I know that flow place. I feel I’m in one of those currents right now. Yours is so over the top its a perfect time for me to read cause I get a little nervous when wonderful things just seem to fall into place like this last week. Whew. Thanks for this blog. And if you’re in Tampa maybe we can get together let me know.

  2. Kathleen Osta says:

    Thanks, Greg, for sharing your substantial lucky streak. May it resurface so you can visit your friend’s husband to offer him comfort – now or in the future.


  3. Tracey Bennett says:

    Now Jane can come to all your gigs. Can’t you hear her wonderful laugh even now?

    Congratulations on your Posi nomination. Jane and I are cheering for you. As usual.

    Warmest aloha,

  4. Pat Norris says:

    Well, dear Greg, that was a burgeoning streak of good fortune; I think your great optimism attracted much. You and your friend Jane both had the great good fortune of your friendship with each other, and this good fortune is on-going forever! I love and miss you, dear friend.

  5. Sandra says:

    Cool heart-warming story. You have a beautiful heart & spirit & hence perspective and therefore…contribution. Thanks for sharing. What would happen if everyone would read just one heart-warming love-filled story a day? A tingle up my spine. Thanks again.

  6. Marietta says:

    So great to follow your expanding career. Long time since AHMA where we first met and the Stargate Conclave here in Indiana where you were our musical host. So happy for you. look forward to seeing you next time you come this way. Blessings on YOUR DAY!

  7. Sarah Grace says:

    What a wonderful flow story, Greg! I love it when that happens. I am sorry for the loss of your friend, Jane and I believe that she will be following you wherever you are.
    I am remembering fun times with you right here in KC and sharing many delicious meals. I never eat a purple potato that I don’t think of Jana!

    With the deepest gratitude for knowing you!!
    Sarah Grace

  8. Rhea Goodman says:

    great story, greg! funny and touching and real, like you are.
    pays to take long shots and be so optimistic, it always seems to attract more juicy goodies! come visit santa fe again, greg! i can likely put you up here. blessings, rhea goodman

  9. Jean Marcley says:

    Great story. I don’t always realize when wonderful things are happening to me when they are actually happening – but when I look back I can see clearly how magnificently everything came together so I could have the experience. Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. Bonita says:

    Thank you for the wonderful story. I’m confused! I thought you were having a contest for a T-shirt design and you would give the winner a free dinner.
    Deepest sympathy for your loss.

    I read this quote in Reader’s Digest the other day, and thought of you:
    “Our ability to feel sad is what stirs compassion in others and empathy in ourselves. There is no growth without loss, and no art without longing.”
    A.O. Scott, film critic, in the New York Times.

  11. Linda says:

    Amazing story of your lucky streak and adventures in Hawaii! Condolences for the loss of your friend…be grateful for the time you have had together.

  12. “This is where it starts getting good….” Given the context, that was one of the best lines.

    I actually added the t-shirt quote to my collection of Wise, Witty, and Wonderful Quotes. (

    …It was “witty,” right?

    I also added the quote supplied by Bonita. (It really was “wonderful”!)

    Your narrative was witty and wonderful, as well!

    Sending hugs!

  13. Ev says:

    Greg, Thank you for the years of good memories and hope they will continue for many more.

    How well I remember that evening of your angst when you first took the chef’s position in Manoa.

    I still laugh outloud every time I think about the time when you said “I cannot believe I just sang that in a church” after you did the “Because I love you” song in Aikahi Park.

    And, and, and, and.

    love ev

  14. Hey Greg, I always enjoy your stories, and found this one particularly delightful. I smiled as I celebrated your windfall of good fortune. Expressing gratitude will only bring more!

  15. Amy C says:

    Hey There Greg,
    Wow, your lucky Hawaii story is even more amazing than mine… but mine has some funny twists too. It could take way too much room but watered down: I entered a major University’s centennial celebration scavenger hunt with some friends. I found one of ten tokens hidden across an huge university campus. Then, one of the 10 lucky tokens would turn out to be the one that won 2 tic to Hawaii! (Mine!). This was in the 80′s at the dawn of frequent fliers and I had signed up. I was also on airplane with the groovy upstairs for fist class… and since the plane wasn’t full and I was one of the few frequent flyers I got free upgrade to the upstairs! The silly ironic bit was the guy I traveled with had said when we booked the flights long ago “tell them your Jewish, you’ll get a nicer meal, maybe salmon.” (That was back when you had real meals, and first class had white fabric napkins and real silverware and glasses while the peons below had ordinary packaged hot meal and plastic knives and forks) So I said, okay let’s try that. So in the end, we got bumped up to this lovely first class where everyone else around me had this wonderful delicious smelling steak with sauce and fine table ware, and I and my travel partner got… The cold fish salad plate with the diminutive plastic fork so we could keep kosher. I almost said, wait, I convert! (80′s fisrt class lounge …Maybe we were on the same plane – did you see a skinny long-haired girl turning her nose up and laughing sheepishly at her food? !!

  16. Chris says:

    The rewards of life as only you can tell them Greg. I’ve never ” planned ” a rewarding life long relationship but am so thankful for them, yours included. The joys and knowledge of friends is always with us. Thanks for giving Greg. You and Ev are in my thoughts

  17. What a wonderful experience, Greg! Thank you for taking the time to share it so eloquently. I read every word in delight…frequently smiling…And I think Jane is smiling down along with you.
    Hawaii is truly magical, and you got to enjoy so many of the best parts all in a neat bit of time…and then years later, return as a performer. mmm
    I spent a month in summer of ’78…(Oahu and the Kona Coast) that I consider my best vacation ever…I felt like an islander, and also fell in love.
    Thank you Greg!
    Thanksgiving blessings and hugs,
    Donna V.

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