My Tiki Love Story
By Jeff Ballard
Can't tell you how many times I have been asked, "So Jeff, why tiki" Sometimes it's been asked to others with respect to me. "Where'd THAT come from?" I guess the question makes sense, though. One doesn't necessarily associate Tiki with a middle-aged technology marketing guy from South Bend, IN. So, where *did* this come from?
Well, it started so innocently, and all because of a girl (as most good stories do!). In 2010 I had moved in with my then girlfriend / now wife, Vicki. And in those early days of cohabitation there was no doubt that it was Vicki's house. People would openly wonder (including me!) "where did Jeff live?" After much discussion, it was determined that I could decorate the garage any way I wanted. Now, mind you, this is a nice finished out, attached, carpeted, AC/heat equipped "garage". And, since the main TV was out there it was more like a family room - and *never* housed a car at all. Although it did seem to accumulate stuff for storage!
So, I brainstormed a few ideas and ran them by her. They each were met with a resounding "No". But wait, I thought this was *my* room to decorate MY way? "Oh. But you want something we BOTH will like, right?" Was the eye-batting response I got. Hmmm... OK. Damn womanly wiles! More thought is needed.
Not too long after that it was Valentine's. As her gift, I had a whole Hollywood weekend planned. We'd hit the Kodak theater where they held the Oscars back then, the Walk of Fame, Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills, dinner at a restaurant in Charlie Chaplin's old office building, and a Hollywood Death tour. (OK, yes, on the surface a "Death Tour" Might seem odd, but you'd have to know Vicki. She always talked about going on one, so ...) And to top off the experience, we stayed at the Beverly Hilton (which has a whole other story to it, but I won't go on about that here). On the first night, we wandered down to the bar after dinner to get drinks and, up until a week or so ago actually, it was the famous Trader Vic's of Hollywood.
So, after soaking up the cool bamboo decor, a pool side movie screen silently playing some old surf movie, and the overall hip atmosphere (as well as no waitress?!) I went to get us a couple beverages at the bar. Apparently, there was a major after-party gathering of all the Hollywood movie types who had just been to the awards ceremony for all the "previously awarded categories" we hear about on Oscar night. (This explained all the tuxes and formal gowns we saw that night!) I saw a group at the bar drinking out of a common bowl with long ass straws, so I had to ask. "It's a Scorpion Bowl! Here try
some!" I was told. And with that I was handed a straw. Much like the drug addict getting their first hit, I was hooked! I loved the exotic flavors! So, I scrapped Vicki's wine order and whatever drink I was going to get and got us a Scorpion Bowl! Not having the cool bar-side experience with the movie industry elites like I had, Vicki was taken aback when I showed back up with a big-as-my-head bowl and a couple big ass straws. But after one taste and she, too, loved it.
As we sat there drinking in this new tiki world, it hit me. We could do the garage in a tiki-like theme! Ah, but I have been rejected so many times before. How to sell it? I am a marketer. How do I market this Trader Vic ambiance to Vicki? If only I could get Vicki to like the Trader Vic style... Wait ... Vic ... Vicki ... Oh yea! Got it. "Hey, honey. What if we did the garage tiki style? That'd be way cool. We could have parties. We could have movies playing silently in the background like they do here. We could make cool punches like they do here. And since we live in So Cal we could find cool things to add to it during our travels. And... (Here was the kicker!) ... we could call it 'Trader Vicki's'!" BAM! The ego play! And with that, history was made! No, not Jeff and tiki, Vicki actually agreed to let Jeff decorate something in the house! Wow!
So, we embarked upon our new journey of creating this 'tiki' thing as our party room. Realizing that I know handymen, and frankly, I am no handyman, I was going to be
facing some pressure to do quality work. What to do? In the meantime, we started picking up things here and there, including a bunch of plastic beach scene wall clings from the 99 Cent store. That sparked the second great idea. With the cheesy, plastic, cheap beach scene clings and other cheap tiki/tropical/beachy bits we seemed to find, we could call it the "Taki Tiki"! That would simultaneously allow me to keep getting the cheap decor and slapping it up! No pressure and low cost!! Looked crappy? "Well, hey, it *is* the TAKI Tiki, after all. What do you expect!"
We had a grand opening of the Taki Tiki and it was a hit! So much so, one of our good friends suggested that we - I - go to this thing that happens every year in San Diego, called Tiki Oasis. Well, once I was finally able to get to one, that was the final piece to the puzzle. Jeff was now firmly a tiki-phile! When you discover a whole new world of fun, frivolity, exotic drinks, killer decor - and a couple thousand people that are into it as well, the seed is planted. And it just starts to take on a life of its own. And for the “Taki Tiki”, yes, that’s still the name, but we have considerably upgraded the decor - to the point I am regularly being told it is no longer ‘Taki”. With upgraded decor and drinks, as well as the exotica playlists, it seems we have gone whole tiki now!
I know, if you ask her, Vicki will tell you she NEVER would have thought saying 'yes' to that crazy decorating idea that night all those years ago would turn out like it has! But here we are, and that is why - and how - I am here on the Tiki Trail. And it all started with my so very smart wife, my tiki love! So, you see, tiki for me - for us - is a love story! Something we enjoy and have a lot of fun exploring as a couple.
How about you? What's your tiki love story? Are you in it with someone special or is it a solo love affair? Email your tiki love story to TikiTrail@gmail.com. Tell us, in 300 words or less, what started the craze for you? Was it a certain bar? A specific drink? A memory that stuck with you? And how involved is your someone special? We’ll publish the best stories, paying tribute to the love of tiki!
You two are adorable and I love seeing you at each event. Keep the trail alive!