D2D Interview: Chuck Bradshaw
Famous directors, Pro Bowl quarterbacks, rock stars, Silicon Valley moguls: we've been covering some serious ground here with the Drinking to Drink Interview series. That being said, I've been staying safely within the confines of movies, music, and sports—three of my favorite things in life—and while I'm more than happy to continue in that direction, I'd like to move beyond my comfort zone every now and again just to keep things interesting. With interview number ten quickly approaching, I decided it might be a good time to move a bit outside of the box I was unintentionally pinning myself inside of. It was just a matter of finding the right person, and hoping the opportunity would present itself. Last week at our annual staff holiday party (we have ours in March because in December we're too busy helping you with yours), I had the good fortune of sitting next to a guy named Chuck Bradshaw—the other half of our beloved accounting staff member Michele Elkins. It was serendipity. After an hour's worth of drinks, food, and good conversation, I knew exactly who I wanted to feature for the tenth installment of D2D.
Let me tell you a bit about Chuck Bradshaw (as if his tough guy name didn't already spell it out): he races dirt-track drag cars, builds his own sniper rifles, lives off the land, and was once a heralded member of the Belmont Police Department. He's pulled unconscious men from burning vehicles and wrestled criminals to the ground. He's a decorated sharpshooter, an avid hunter, and a recipient of the Medal of Valor. He's a real-life superhero, the guy in the room who makes other men feel insecure, and an intimidating force of masculinity, yet—despite all of his accolades—he's as humble and reserved of a guy as I've ever met. He has humility, compassion, and respect for the old way of doing things, despite the fact that he can rip you limb from limb with his bare hands. I don't know anyone like him, which is why I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation we had together. He's like a modern cowboy, and everyone knows that cowboys enjoy a good drink from time to time.
In this Drinking to Drink interview we talk about what it takes to be an American sniper, sipping one's Bourbon in peace, and the importance of good company to the enjoyment of any alcoholic beverage. Previous editions of the D2D series can be found by clicking here, or by visiting the archive in the right hand margin of this page.
David: You are one of the most-manly men I’ve ever met, and I mean that in a good way. There’s a calm, cowboy-esque demeanor about you that is rare to see in society today. Where do you think that comes from?
Chuck: Well, I grew up in Santa Rosa County around Petaluma, and we had a little ranch type thing with all of our own animals. We raised all of our own food and I’ve hunted for my entire life. I don’t want to say from birth, but my mom tells stories about my dad hunting with me on his back when I was just a couple of years old. I wasn’t hunting, but I was with him! It kinda went from there. From the time I was allowed a hunting license, I’ve hunted—everything from waterfowl, to upland birds, to elk, deer, bear, antelope, pretty much everything.
David: Does one gain a certain respect for living things or a more mild temperament from growing up that way?
Chuck: That’s tough to say because I’ve never known anything different. I didn’t really know that you could buy beans or corn at the store until I was about ten years old. We raised it all and when we’d go to eat, all the food would be out on the back porch. I’d grab a glass jar of whatever and that’s what we’d have. We slaughtered all of our own animals, we had our own eggs with the chickens, so everything was there for us. For some people I know that killing a living thing is difficult, or odd. The stalking of the animal, and the hunt itself was the interesting part for me. The taking of the animal wasn’t the difficult part. It’s a challenge. People make it sound like you can just walk out and shoot something, but there’s a lot more to it and I think understanding that builds respect—if you do it correctly.
David: The thrill of the hunt, they say.
Chuck: Right, and that doesn’t mean the part where you actually kill the animal. It’s everything that leads up to it.
David: Your love of hunting and your skill at shooting lead you into sniping and sharp-shooting, right? Can you talk a bit about what you did in that realm?
Chuck: I did a lot of competitive shooting growing up, from the time I was young until I was about 22. I’ve done competitions for rifle, pistol, and shotgun shooting. I’ve won some national events, some state championships—just a bunch of different crap; excuse my language.
David: Don’t worry, I usually say things much worse than that.
Chuck: A long time ago I got into building my own rifles, and then I started a business and that’s what I did for quite a while. This is during the early-to-mid nineties until I became a police officer.
David: How old were you when you joined the force?
Chuck: I was thirty-four.
David: Were you the oldest person starting out at that time? It seems like cops usually start at a much younger age.
Chuck: Yeah, I was probably the third oldest in the academy at the time. I started pretty late, but I think that’s better than starting out young. You have more life experience. It’s hard for a young kid to be a police officer, in my opinion. How does some twenty-two year old walk into a domestic argument between two fifty-year olds and solve their problems? I don’t think people should really start being cops until they’re in their late 20s. The way I grew up, I had a lot of life experience prior to my becoming a cop. I had to do a lot of things on my own.
David: What’s the standard cop beverage? Is it beer? Is it shots at the bar? There must be a lot of comradery drinking, right?
Chuck: Cops usually drink a variety of everything. When you’re on a team in a department, you actually spend more time with those guys than your own family at home. I would only see my wife for a couple of hours at night after spending fourteen hours with the guys I worked with, and then you get up and do it again the next day. The things you go through with one another, knowing who you can go through a door with, who’s going to watch your back—you become very close. When something would happen, either good or bad, the team would go out after the shift and get a few drinks together. You decompress, maybe sit back in the corner, and talk about what happened. Good or bad, we still had to go to work the next day, so having a drink together was a good way to deal with the day’s events to help us start over again.
David: I can't imagine having to unwind from a day like that. I think my days are tough and I'm dying to have a drink when I get home.
Chuck: It’s the normal thing to do, even on our days off we would all meet up for cocktails and dinner, just because that comradery was so strong. I’ve never been a big beer drinker, but I’d have a few if we were all up in the mountains hunting. Then maybe I’d switch over to Bourbon. I like vodka, too.
David: I know you’re a big vodka drinker. What is it you enjoy about it so much?
Chuck: I just like the flavor. The stuff I drink isn’t the best out there, but I like it. I’ve never been too into fads. When vodka martinis became popular I quit drinking them (laughs). I switched over to on the rocks at that point. I’ve tried the Ketel Ones and the Grey Gooses, but I really seem to enjoy Absolut. I just like the flavor. It’s not the most expensive, but it’s not the cheapest. Everyone’s taste is different, but since I don’t mix it the full flavor is important to me.
David: So you’d usually grab a glass of vodka after a hard day?
Chuck: Yes, I enjoyed those times. I don’t know if it was the ritual of drinking, sitting there discussing everything, or…..
David: This is on the peninsula, right?
Chuck: Yes, I worked for Belmont.
David: Did you find it easy to transition from selling rifles and training people to actually doing enforcement?
Chuck: I’d been dealing with cops for the last ten to fifteen years to begin with, so it wasn’t too hard. I specialized in police and military sniper rifles, and I helped to train snipers, which helped me a great deal.
David: So you were working with the police already in a sense?
Chuck: Right, we would do a lot of mental training because the mental side of shooting is perhaps the most important part. If you don’t have the right mindset you’re not going to hit your target. Whether you’re target shooting or hunting, you have to put your mind at ease. You have to forget about what’s happening at home, the mental distractions, because you have to do one shot. If you can’t do that, you can’t pull the trigger correctly.
David: So obviously snipers are a hot topic right now with Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper being such a popular film this year. Did you read Chris Kyle’s book?
Chuck: Yes. He was one of the most recent snipers to write about his experiences. It was all from him, so it’s all based on what truly happened.
David: Did you think it was controversial at all?
Chuck: I would never judge him for what he did or didn’t do. It’s hard for me to believe that people who have never been put in those situations can be so judgmental.
David: I feel the same way. I saw the movie and I didn’t really find it all too polarizing. It just seemed like an honest war story, presenting what can happen in combat and what happened to one particular man. I was surprised by the reactions.
Chuck: It’s pretty simple really. There are people out there like Chris Kyle who do those things, so that people here can sleep in their beds at night. He went out there and pretty much sacrificed his personal life so that others could live. Whether it’s as a civilian, a cop, or in the military, I can tell you: being a sniper really screws you up—mentally and physically.
David: Do you think that’s partially because you can literally see the impact of the shot through the scope?
Chuck: Yeah, it’s personal that way. Your normal military guy shoots at a silhouette target down range. A sniper sees everything. Some people, either in the military or the police department, can’t take another human life. If you physically can’t do that, then you’re not going to be any good down the road.
David: You’ve actually saved a few lives yourself, which is pretty incredible. You were awarded the Medal of Valor for your actions as a police officer—the first time that honor had been bestowed around here in fifteen years. What did that entail?
Chuck: It’s done through the city and the state and you get a bunch of letters from the governor and the county. It’s a little embarrassing, really.
David: Come on!
Chuck: What I did wasn’t all that incredible.
David: Well, please enlighten me.
Chuck: An older gentleman had suffered a seizure and ran through the back of his carport, down between a couple of houses, and his foot was stuck on the accelerator. The front tires were still spinning, so it eventually started a fire on the fence that he ran over. By the time we got there—we were there before the fire department—the car had become engulfed in flames except for the rear of it. The driver’s side was up against a house and the passenger side was on fire. We could see that there was still a man inside though, so I jumped up on the back of the trunk and broke the window out. I could see him in there, so I stripped off my gun belt and climbed in. At this point the flames were really coming up over the car, and when I got inside I noticed there were flames on the inside as well. So I grabbed him and pulled him into the back seat with me. I could see the flames coming on to the front seat now, so I shoved him out the back window to where my guys were standing. They grabbed him, and I tried to get out the back after him. I rolled off the back off the car and I couldn’t breathe anymore at that point. The smoke from all the plastic burning inside the car had got to me. In any case, they got the guy into the ambulance, then treated me, and ended up taking me to the hospital for bad smoke inhalation. I spent a day there, then took a few days off to clear out my lungs. This was about seven or eight years ago.
David: I’m thirty five and I could never do that. You were like forty-three when that happened!
Chuck: I ended up doing a bunch of interviews about it, and the way I looked at it was: I only did it before one of the other guys I was with did it. They say no way—they wouldn’t have gone in, but I don’t believe that. If I hadn’t of done it, one of the other guys would have. This is what we get paid to do. I just happened to do it first.
David: That’s pretty modest.
Chuck: It was my job. Was I just supposed to let him burn in there? (laughs)
David: What did you drink after that to celebrate the award?
Chuck: Vodka (laughs).
David: I’m sure that helped to kill the pain. You must have been injured all the time with the hands-on way you approach things.
Chuck: I’ve blown my shoulder out. Torn hamstrings. Little stuff here and there. You get in fights and you get banged up. My shoulder is what retired me, however. It was from training, a fight, and carrying some girls who had passed out at a track meet. We had fifteen of them pass out from dehydration. There were six or seven ER units, ambulances, three or four rigs, and these girls were laying all over, getting IVs. I grabbed them carried them up to where they needed to get treatment and that just did me in.
David: You are by far the most chivalrous, man’s man I’ve ever met. What’s funny is that all that manly stuff you took for granted growing up is now super trendy again. It’s very metro. You grew up eating your own home-grown vegetables, hunted and slaughtered your own meat, and so on. These are all points of pride for restaurants these days, but for you it was just normal life.
Chuck: What’s funny is we did all that because we were poor (laughs). Honestly, that’s the way I used to think about it. What gets me the most is that the quality of the food at these places isn’t stressed as much as the concept is. The idea sounds really good, but the food sucks. People get carried away with the branding of an idea, but—I’m going to sound really bad here—it’s like what happens when famous celebs endorse a restaurant or a product. You’ve seen it I’m sure in the liquor business.
David: You mean when they endorse their own alcoholic beverage? That doesn’t make you want it?
Chuck: I don’t see the big deal about their endorsements, no. I like what I like, so what I do I care what they like?
David: But that’s because you’re a throwback kind of guy. Guys like you don’t exist anymore, at least not in the Bay Area. You actually say what you mean. You do what you enjoy. You drink what you like. You know how to survive with the basic necessities that life gives you—and how to enjoy them. You have all these people in the booze business getting caught up with the details, but forgetting about the basic tenements of happiness and self-satisfaction. That’s why I like talking to you so much.
Chuck: I guess. I’ve never thought of it that way. I do have a pretty simple approach.
David: That’s not to say it’s unsophisticated, it’s just to say there’s no BS.
Chuck: I’ve never looked down on anyone based on their preferences for certain things. I would never judge someone based on what they drink, or anything really. You can do some things I can’t do, and I can do some things you can’t do. In the end, we’re all pretty even. Just don’t piss me off.
David: You’re joking, I know, but you’re a pretty intimidating dude.
Chuck: I’m a giant teddy bear.
David: Were you this intimidating as a cop?
Chuck: I might have been known as a guy who took care of business. But Michele will tell you—I’ve never once raised my voice around her.
David: Where do you guys like to go drinking these days? What’s your current spot?
Chuck: You’re probably going to make fun of me, but lately it’s been The Van’s.
David: Are you kidding?! Why would I make fun of you?! That’s my favorite spot on the Peninsula, by far. It’s such a throwback. Kind of like you, actually.
Chuck: Last night, actually, we went to Red Robin. I can get Absolut and a burger, you know?
David: The last time I went to Red Robin my wife had to carry me out. I was in a complete food coma.
Chuck: I enjoy drinking anywhere as long as Michele is there. I don’t need it to be a $500 night or a fancy restaurant; if she’s with me I’m going to have a good time.
David: You see?! That’s such a romantic, old school guy thing to say. You’re the kind of guy that women say they wish more guys were like these days! It’s like what Paula Cole says in “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?”
Chuck: For her and I to go to Red Robin where we each had a couple of drinks, and a meal—it’s like our decompression night. I always look forward to Friday evenings because I’m going to go out with her, we’re gonna have a couple of drinks, and we’re going to talk about the day. I always tell the waitress, “We’re not in a hurry, so we’re going to start with a few drinks, then order our food, then sit and talk for awhile.” I think I enjoy doing that more than anything.
David: Your number one gal with a glass of Absolut on the rocks. With an olive?
Chuck: Yeah, I’ll do olives. I still drink a little Bourbon now and again, too. I’ve tried a whole bunch of different ones, but I always go back to the Bulleit 10 year. I’ve tried some real expensive bottles, but I think I get more pleasure from the inexpensive ones.
David: I’m the same way, although I have to say that I enjoy the experience regardless. Like you, however, I need good company around me.
Chuck: I like the act of drinking, so I have to like what I’m drinking. When I used to go out with the guys, they’d say “Hey, let’s do a shot!” But, you know what? I don’t do shots. I’m not one for peer pressure, so I say, “Give me a shot of Bulleit 10 year and I’ll sip it.” I’ll order a shot, I just won’t shoot it. I like the flavor too much to rush it. I like the aroma and everything that comes with it.
David: If you could have a drink with anyone in the world, besides Michele, who would it be?
Chuck: John Wayne would have been a good choice. Even Clint Eastwood.
David: Of course!
Chuck: It’s not their stardom or their movie roles necessarily, but rather their way of life. I think it’s the values that they have, or had in the case of John Wayne. I don’t look at them as movie stars, but rather at the people they are. I actually got to have a drink with a few people I never thought I’d be able to, and again they weren’t stars, they were just real people that I met here and there throughout life and I just enjoyed getting to know them over a cocktail.
David: That’s what I enjoy about talking with you. The values that you uphold—just like what you said you admired about John Wayne and Clint Eastwood—and your way of looking at the world are not philosophies I find too often in people I meet today; especially with the men from my generation. Masculinity and chivalry are often twisted into misogynistic detriments, rather than respected as gentlemanly behavior, because when you do see masculinity it usually comes with a giant chip on its shoulder. I feel like my generation has this burden, like there’s always something to prove. They’re unable to simply bestow a quiet confidence or enjoy an inherent self-satisfaction, and I feel like that inability has crossed over into drinking and eating now. Everyone’s looking around to see what other people are doing, afraid of doing the wrong thing. Then they want to tell you about how passionate they are, but really it’s all just bravado.
Chuck: I’ve never been all that outspoken. I’ve never been the loudest person in the room—maybe the one laughing loudest though. I’ve never had to prove anything with my voice or my words. I’m comfortable in my own skin, I guess.
David: That’s what we like about you.
Chuck: There’s an old saying I have, however: Don’t take my acts of kindness as weakness because, if I have to, I will bury you (laughs).