WHAT WE ATE
The Diner at Sugar Hill
Chicken Piccata $13.55
Chicken Florentine $13.95
Diet Coke $2.25
Editor's note: "Out To Lunch" is a periodic feature that allows readers a chance to learn about the people behind the titles in Gwinnett County through a lunchtime (or in this case dinnertime) conversation with a member of the GDP staff. The subject picks the place, we pick up the tab and then share the conversations that occur during the meal.
BUFORD -- As we walked into The Diner at Sugar Hill, Lt. Colin Rhoden said the smell is what stands out to him about the restaurant.
A popular place for his family, Rhoden is familiar with -- and endorses -- the bruschetta, the chicken florentine and chicken piccata.
For two people who normally discuss fires, chemical spills, and at times, arson arrests, the dinner menu was a welcome change.
Rhoden is approaching the one-year anniversary of being the primary Public Information Officer with the Gwinnett County Fire Department. His job is to inform the public through the media of fires and other incidents at all hours of the day or night.
For a former radio disc jockey and morning show producer who also worked in television, Rhoden said the marrying of his two career passions is a welcome sight.
"I can't take any credit," said the barrel-chested Rhoden in his baritone voice. "I've been put in certain places at the right time."
While Rhoden certainly has the size for one to believe he played football in his younger days, he only played in high school, and wasn't as interested in the sport to continue in college during the performance-enhancing period of the 1980s.
Twenty years ago, Rhoden moved to Georgia from the Bronx, N.Y. to work for a major radio station, which he did for seven years. The move came after Rhoden was within passing the physical test of being a New York City firefighter.
Not knowing anything about Georgia, and since the radio station was in Buckhead, Rhoden said his new city seemed more progressive than New York.
One amusing part of the move came when his mother included a can of "Off!" bug spray seemingly because, in his mind, he was moving to the country and would soon drive on dirt roads.
Since he first showed an interest in working in radio in junior high, and later when he earned an associate's degree in mass communication and media arts, Rhoden understood the phrase, "starving for the art."
Yet when he took a CPR and first aid class, and learned Gwinnett was looking for firefighters, the opportunity appealed to him in part because he already lived in Gwinnett.
Rhoden admitted his interest in becoming a firefighter as a youngster came when he watched firefighters drive by his house.
"It was just a thought I had, in a way," he said.
With a media background, Rhoden has a unique skill set to handle the around-the-clock deadline nature of media relations and breaking news with a sort of gumption that not every spokesman carries.
"I want to do this particular job," he said.
Given the nature of the job that has on-call times that could roll for 168 straight hours plus another eight-hour workday, Rhoden freely admits he needs de-stress time as much as the next guy.
That's one reason why Rhoden owns two motorcycles, a Honda Magna and a BMW K1200 RS, and an 18-and-a-half-foot boat. When he's not on-call, he's no doubt a popular man during the summer months.
"It's almost like I'm a stereotypical firefighter," Rhoden said with another hearty laugh. "I think most people see firefighters as a guy with a handlebar mustache riding a Harley."
When he's not riding one of the motorcycles up U.S. Highway 441 to Cherokee, N.C., he could be asking his family what to do together on an off day, rhetorically reminding his wife and son, a junior at Peachtree Ridge High, "Don't you guys know my schedule?"
As we boxed up our too-large-to-finish meals, Rhoden turned humble again, thanking his fellow PIO Tommy Rutledge, a 25-year Gwinnett firefighter who has been a PIO for eight years. After all, it was Rutledge who was Rhoden's training officer when he was in recruit school.
"He takes a lot of pride in the department," said Rhoden, an 11-year veteran of the department. "Capt. Rutledge takes a lot of pride in the PIO position. We have the same philosophy: to promote our people, and promote our department."
Thinking back over our conservation, and the jobs and career aspirations in his life that have seemingly rolled into one, Rhoden is grateful.
"Most things I've wanted to do," he said. "I've done."
He also appreciates a job that he can be himself, and doesn't have to be a different person when the camera is off, or the notebook closed.
"I'm not afraid to be myself," he said. "It's a great place to be. What you see, is what you get."