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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

He-Man Sushi

Every two years I make the trip into Riverside / Corona to requalify for my CCW (concealed carry). Firearms Training Associates in Corona, Ca. is the largest training facility on the west coast. While I could qualify here in the desert, I chose FTA because I always learn something there. Getting educated is a lifelong process and should never stop.

But that’s not my primary purpose for making the trip. I’m all in for the sushi at “Big Tuna”, less than 50 yards from the hotel I stay at for my 30 hour journey every two years.

This was a much rougher trip for me than in previous years. Health issues have have proven to be steep challenges for me to overcome; but knowing there was sushi at the end of the rainbow was enough motivation for me to make the trip.

Anyone who purports to love sushi can be undermined by a single question: “Do you eat Uni?” If they answer no you can be sure they are a sushi poser, a fraud, a fake, a farce.

Real men eat Uni, and they eat it with gusto. Me, I like mine with a raw Quail egg on top, when it is available. Munching on the reproductive organs of a sea urchin may not be everyone’s idea of a great meal, but it is mine.

The sea urchin harvested off the coast of Santa Barbara usually makes its way to Japan, with scant left for us gourmets here in SOCAL to enjoy. Like me, most of my sushi eating friends will phone ahead to a restaurant and inquire as to whether the delicacy is available before heading out for a terrible disappointment if none is to be found.

The odd thing about “Big Tuna” is that it’s run by two Korean gents. Since I spent a bunch of time in South Korea many moons ago (, we had a lot to talk about. The business has been there for 14 years, but I only discovered it four years ago. For the real sushi enthusiast, Uni is saved for last, as a sort of desert. When it’s fresh, it has a sublime sweet taste that must be consumed to be appreciated.

Once I got settled into my room at the Hampton Inn, I scurried over for dinner. The first thing I noticed was that all the patrons were locals – and on a first name basis with the chefs. This is about the best sign you can have about the quality of a restaurant.

The owner paid for half my dinner. We became such good friends he kept offering me new fish I had never eaten before, telling me they were on the house. I don’t ever recall being treated this well anywhere else while on the road.

The CCW qualifications were quite challenging. None of this had to do with my skill level. When you are on a live fire range with 20 strangers you can bet your bottom dollar that some of them are going to be safety hazards, and dodging bullets is not a skill I have acquired over the years. While the range master and his assistants took safety very seriously, it is virtually impossible to watch everyone at the same time when over a hundred rounds are flying downrange simultaneously.

I picked up on two safety violations in the loading area and kept my eye on those like a hawk. I spied two more on the range -- and made sure to distance myself from them as much as possible during qualifications. Fortunately, both range masters hovered around these guys, letting me relax a bit.

After the mandatory class time ended, I hit the road. I was exhausted and tense. My body was squawking at me. I should have taken Phyllis’ advice and spent another night in Riverside. After enduring the miserable traffic and highway expansion strips on Route 91 that made it feel like your car was being shaken apart, I made it into Moreno Valley. 20 years ago this was a pleasant little area. Then the gangs moved in. Now it looks like Kabul (Afghanistan) on a bad day.

I stopped for a few minutes to get some medication from the trunk. I scanned the environment continuously; and had developed a good case of the willies. I locked the doors and headed for the freeway. I made it to Banning before my body quit on me completely. I stopped for a quick bite of lunch and a little stretch of the legs.

Barely six miles down the freeway as I was passing through Cabazon, my body went on strike. Nine different areas (yeah, I did a count) were screaming louder than the worn wheel bearings in my almost as old as me (relative to mileage) 2009 Subaru. We both had 176,000 miles on the odometer; but no OEM parts are available for me any longer.

I slowed down a bit and moved over a lane. In the back of my mind I knew that this era was drawing to a close. I had won this time, but the costs were too high. I probably will not be back to Riverside, or Big Tuna; at least not if I’m driving.

Winston Churchill once said: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. I don’t consider this to be anything near a failure, but the realization that I won’t be doing it again is difficult to bear.

What I know is this: as long as I am cognizant of all of the good things that happened in the last 30 hours, as long as I have those joyous memories, I can endure anything.

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