When Christy Hayes graduated from Morro Bay High in 2000, she received a bottle of perfume from her sister as a graduation gift. It contained the essence of her dreams.
Chanel No. 5? Giorgio? J’adore? Nope.
“WD-40 has always been my favorite scent,” said Hayes.
A lifelong engine buff, Hayes went straight from “California’s only high school with beachfront access” – she stated with pride – into the United States Air Force where she became a diesel mechanic working on heavy equipment and other monstrous vehicles.
As we enter Women’s History Month, consider Hayes a vehicle of kindness – and great aromas – benefiting at-risk veterans in her community. She transitioned from the military into civilian life and now owns a restaurant in Woodland, where she works with local American Legion Post 77, a food bank, and other local non-profits to distribute ready-to-heat-and-eat meals to dozens of veterans in that city each week. The program is called “Feed Our Woodland Vets.”
“We’re taking care of our most vulnerable population,” she said. “Many are on a fixed income. It’s extra help for our elderly veterans. We found there was a big need.”
Hayes does this at a time when her business, Mojo’s and Kitchen428 Restaurant, is down 70 percent from its pre-pandemic levels. It’s about service and sacrifice, and she knows plenty about both.
Hayes originally intended to become a Marine, but learned she wouldn’t get to work as a mechanic in that branch. Instead, she committed to the Air Force when she was 17 and still in high school, through a delayed enlistment program.
Upon graduating at 18, she went to basic training near Oxnard, only a few hours from home. That enabled her to bring the 1968 Mustang she’d rebuilt with her when she trained as a diesel mechanic – the best of both worlds – by her standards. Then came the first orders to deploy.
“I was supposed to go to Spangdahlem, Germany,” she said. “But I got scared and didn’t want to go over there. So I traded my orders and went to Dover, Delaware. I’d gotten married in tech school – don’t do that! – and divorced at Dover. I still kicking myself for not going to Germany.”
She worked on cargo loading equipment, arriving in April 2001 – just six months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks – at Dover, an Air Force Base that also serves as the morgue for military personnel killed in action.
“I was on duty that day when it happened,” she said. “Everyone that day has their own story.”
She soon transferred to Eielson AFB near Fairbanks, Alaska, where she worked on snow equipment and heavy machinery; it’s home to the 345th Fighter Wing.
In 2004, as the U.S. military underwent a drawdown in personnel, she converted her remaining time to the Air Force Reserve, which took her to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, and to Woodland.
“I had to live within 100 miles of Travis,” she said. “I literally closed my eyes, pointed my finger at the map and there was Woodland.
She moved there, finding a job as a bartender at a downtown restaurant. Her reserve duty gave her the opportunity to go to Europe, with assignments in Italy, England, South Korea, and – to correct her earlier career mistake – Germany.
“I finally got to see what I’d missed,” Hayes said.
As she left the reserves in 2009, Hayes decided to switch career gears from mechanical work to becoming a veterinarian, with UC Davis offering the state’s premier veterinary school – and nearby. She spent two quarters at the school.
“I figured out I didn’t want to be a vet(erinarian),” the Air Force veteran said. “I changed to public relations and event coordinating.”
She also crossed the Yolo Causeway, switching to Sacramento State to pursue her degree. And just as she finished, she received an offer to run and become a part owner of the restaurant where she’d bartended in Woodland. Those original investors backed out as the economy slumped, but the owner of the building liked the business plan and backed the idea. She opened the restaurant in 2012.
Hayes, ever the car lover, works with non-profits to stage car shows and other events that brought people and their business to the downtown, and will resume staging them as the pandemic restrictions ease. The discipline she developed in the Air Force certainly helps.
“The determination, the attention to detail, and the core values are really ingrained in me,” Hayes said. “Subconsciously, I bring it into everything I do in my business.”
Which includes the “Feed Our Woodland Vets” program.
“Making sure they have food, not having to go to the store … it’s a lifeline to someone on a fixed income,” Hayes said.
Indeed, a vehicle of kindness – and great aromas – benefiting at-risk veterans in her community.