I grew up in Southern California thinking everyone had access to a beach and knew what it was like to watch the sun set over the Pacific from their home, but not from an affluent point of view. My parents were working class folks who did the best they could to provide for my brother and I. My mom worked for Pacific Telephone for 30 years and my dad was a mechanic for Chrysler for as long as I can remember. My dad immigrated from Mexico in the late 1950’s, at first illegally, but eventually got his green card. My mom was a real Southern Belle with a temper and dyed red hair, who had ancestry from Scotland, Ireland and Spain. I remember growing up in a household that was always filled with friends, family, food and booze. When my dad’s family would visit us in San Clemente, we would have homemade Mole, BBQ pigs, hand made tamales that would take all day and of course there would be enough beer and tequila for a small nation. It is some of the fondest memories I have a kid, and yeah, I snuck my share of beer and tequila!
Airman First Class Russell Reyes – 1982
Right after high school I married my high school sweetheart, shortly after found out we were pregnant and found myself living in a cabin in Big Bear California with no money, a baby on the way and no plan… yeah, a typical teenager who knew it all, I thought, but reality always has a way of humbling us! Through some tough love from my new father-in-law, I was convinced to join the US Air Force and that is when my world expanded! For six years I met people who I had nothing in common with and everything in common with. I travelled the world and drank great wines for the first time in France and Germany, had Ouzo out of the bottle with Greek airmen in Northern Greece, pub crawled with both US and British airmen in England, and had my first taste of Belgium beer in Brussels. It was the middle 80’s and we were deep into the Cold War with the then USSR, hell, there was even TWO Germanies, East and West. Our attitude was “Fuck It” we could all go up in a mushroom cloud at any minute so live while you can! And I did for six years until I was honorably discharged in 1988.
Just Keep Moving
Russ with Ty Pennington on the set of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition – 2004
After the Air Force and a divorce, I found myself working at Eddie Bauer as a Store Manager. I had a knack for working with people I suppose, and had the ability to help under-performing stores improve. So I moved a lot! All over California, then to Virginia and then to New Hampshire. Along the way I remarried and found I had a real taste for Bourbon! Food and drink was the best part of seeing all these places! The comfort foods of Northern Virginia and lots of new whisky to try was amazing. Once in New England, the lobster, clams and wild meats were endless, and I was really into the local craft brew scene and homebrewing.
We moved back to California in the late 1990’s due to my dad being ill and wanted to be closer to family, so I landed back in Northern California, and a few more corporate retail postions before I decided I needed more out of a career around 2001. (Frankly, I always had an issue with authority especially with stupid managers!) I ended up starting my own custom closet company and it gave me the entrepreneur bug. It was during this time I bought my first kilt too, and my buddies and I started the kilt wearing Rogue Brotherhod. In 2004 I did an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition meeting Ty Pennington and helping a family of 8 kids with their new home makeover after both parents died. I still was not satisfied with my work, and eventually closed the company and went back to corporate jobs… which as you can probably imagine, just did not suit me! By 2007 I had been fired from a few jobs and realized I needed to find something that I loved and was good at… art had always been my passion and when I put myself out there, the call was answered!
Wine and Art Explosion to Rock Bottom
Jim Belushi and Russ in the Green Room after his concert. Red Hawk Casino-2009
In 2007 a big deal happened here in my county when Red Hawk Casino opened and I found myself as the graphic artist on the marketing team. I truly was living a dream, and over the next 5 years got to meet some really cool people, had a job where I was creating every day, and learned so much about marketing and advertising. At the same time, I began to write a wine column for a new local magazine and had the chance to constantly be out in wine country tasting and meeting the owners and winemakers in El Dorado and Amador County. My appreciation for wine expanded exponentially and so did my relationships with this region. I was truly loving life and providing for my family by doing something I loved.
I started an online wine magazine in 2011 called Drink Up Magazine and had a staff of writers and even a photographer! It was an amazing experience, but working full time and trying to run a magazine was ultimately too much and it had to end…but Drink Up showed me there was a need to bring more attention to this wine region and there was hardly anyone promoting the Sierra Foothills at that time, except Mike Dunne!
But… there is always a “but” isn’t there? “But” I was still missing something and damn if I didn’t have my own internal struggles with authority and leadership at my job. So I ended up leaving “dream job” for another marketing firm in 2013, and of course was fired yet again by 2014! Don’t worry, it wasn’t a good fit for me anyway, and I needed to be able to be more creative!
Luckily, I still had my creativity and started my own Digital Marketing firm, and did ok for a while, but creativity and work and my natural inclination to procrastinate had me and my family in a precarious situation by 2017… I was just not making enough to support my family…so I had to start looking for a “real” job. This is where my story gets REAL. If I had an addictive personality or a inclination towards alcoholism (both parents were alcoholics) this is where I would have found myself. The good thing that came out of this time period was I did start painting again, and produced a lot of new artwork.
The wolf inspires me to be a better me.
The hardest part about the whole job search was… realizing no one wanted me. I was in my 50’s looking for a job in a field flooded with 20 somethings eager to work. Graphic artists, social media managers, digital marketing managers… all of them so much younger and more affordable options compared to me, I never had a chance. I experienced what it was like to not get hired because of my age, and it sucked. At my lowest point I took a job selling cars…just to pay the bills because it was the only job that said yes. Don’t get me wrong, the people worked hard there and the company was good, but it wasn’t for me, I felt like I was suffocating. That was rock bottom…my life sucked, and I felt I could easily fall into depression. I could no longer try to fit the 9 to 5 “real job” mold, then…
I was reading a book by Gary V, called Crushing It. It is no exaggeration when I say that book changed my life. Now, there are a ton of books out there and we all read them to help us better ourselves and this was just another book I was reading hoping to find a spark to help me out of this pit. The timing was spot on, as I told my wife I will give this car gig three months…which ended at Christmas 2017. I was once again unemployed with NO income, but I had a lot of wine and most importantly, I had a plan.
My plan was to just be me… that’s it! Just be me and do the stuff I love to do, which consists of meeting people, talking to people, drinking wine and other adult beverages, wearing my kilt, travel, create shit, and constantly be exploring and marketing where I live. The catch was, I would do it all on social media, opening my life up to people I did not know, and embracing the emerging term for this…”Influencer.” I called my new project Kilt & Cork and never looked back. Now, I could not have done it alone! I had and still have the support of my friends, family and local wine and beer community, and I have a purpose – to share the amazing places and stories of this place I call home. The hardest part to this whole reinvention of who I am and what I do for work, was that first step.
Russ at the start of Kilt & Cork – 2018
My friends tease me that I don’t work, I am a middle aged man living a fantasy life, that I don’t have a real job…and all of that is true and I own it! I created a life where work is play and play is work, where I can do the most good for people in my community by just being me, and where the “rules” of what is work don’t apply. It started with that first step, where I literally woke up one morning and said out loud “Fuck It, I am going to do this!” Four weeks later I broadcast my first LIVE show..
I truly believe we all have passions that need to be followed. I could not have done this at any other time in my life because I was not ready, the situation had to be right, but more importantly, I had to recognize that the time was right and ACT on it. That ACT is what moves us from dreamers to doers, and I am grateful for every minue I get to share this with you. Thank you for following me and allowing me to do what I do.