WEDNESDAY, OCT. 22 – The red neon “Open” sign at the REO Town Pub at 8 a.m. this morning wasn’t the first indication something was up.
It was the black Cadillac hearse with “LASTRIDELIMOS.COM” on the back.
“Nobody!” said a bubbly Monty Nye, next to some buddies at the back of the purple-lined limousine. “I retired!”
Nye, 53, a captain in the Meridian Township Fire Department, was celebrating the end of his 30-year career with “firefighters and family, which is the same thing.”
Twenty-four of those years were in Meridian Township.
The party started at 7 a.m. and is expected to wrap up around 4 p.m. At 8 a.m. there were at least two dozen people already celebrating.
His last 24-hour shift ended Tuesday at noon.
His schedule as a firefighter and emergency medical responder was “a day on, a day off, a day on and three days off.”
The celebration honored the schedule of shift workers, many got off work that morning.
Getting together for a beer after work wasn’t an everyday thing, Nye said.
“It’s not like on TV,” he said, smiling and taking a moment to hug someone or receive a gift of Glenlivet. “We usually head straight home to recuperate.”
But today was special, so his friend and co-worker Brian Pennell, picked him up in Lilian, his 1972 Cadillac Fleetwood hearse-ambulance combo. Lilian (named after Lily Munster) arrived at Nye’s Grand Ledge home, stocked with top shelf gin and tonic, to escort him to his party, with Pennell at the driver’s seat.
“He’s closing a chapter in his life,” said Pennell, who owns LASTRIDELIMOS.COM. “I said why not go out in style?”
It’s been a long career of service that can be brutal on the body, unforgiving on sleep and scary for loved ones.
The most memorable day on the job was recent.
It was during the ice storm last winter that knocked out power for many across the region.
“I was up for 52 hours straight – the longest of my career,” he said.
Adrenaline and coffee were all that sustained him the first 24 hours.
His department answered calls for downed line, downed trees, elderly with oxygen machines and ventilators that weren’t working. They cut so many trees “we ran out of sharp saw blades.”
“Trees are falling and your crew has to take cover,” he said. “We had to cut our way through trees to get down a street.”
There is a constant stream of firefighters in and out of the bar - from surrounding departments and some as far away as Portage and Trenton. Nye is active in the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union. He says he always will be.
The brotherhood is thick, the banter unrelenting.
“You should stay until 2:30 when the Amigo folks are coming,” says one pal, referring to the mobile scooters used by some elderly and disabled.
Nye sips his vanilla java porter and laughs.
“I caught him Googling ‘Bora Bora’ the other day,” said Susan, his wife of 30 years.
He was looking up a trip.
“I told him I’m not going anywhere with Ebola going on.”
Nye is looking forward to another hot passion of his, blowing glass at Fire Works Glass Studio in Williamston.
“It helps clear your head,” he said. “It’s just you and the glass and hopefully something cool comes out of it.”
Susan Nye said all of that can come after her “honey-do” list.
The gathering was complete with a Bloody Mary buffet, flatbread pizzas from Vintage Cafe next door and a photo slideshow of Nye over the years.
Nye gets a little misty when a photo of him and his former captain, Bob McElvy pops up. He died in 2006 but it was recently determined the cause was ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
The photo was of the two of them at a Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraiser.
“I will always support MDA,” Nye said, letting the tear well up without wiping it away.
He said is proud to have served in a career he always wanted to do.
He started in the National Guard which let him know he wanted a career to help people.
“It’s always been about helping people,” he said.