Be A Light

The poignant words; “be a light, be a light, be a light,” handwritten on the first page of Joshua Corral’s bible tells volumes about the 19 year-old U.S Marine, known to everyone as Chachi, who lived steadfastly by his humble mantra, as reported by his commanding officer, Captain David Russell, at the young soldier’s recent memorial in Danville.

It was while Chachi Corral was being a light to his fellow Marines that he volunteered to be the “sweeper”—the one who walks ahead of his unit, the one who sweeps the area for landmines and IEDs with a metal detector to protect his comrades following behind. Chachi had volunteered for the most dangerous of all jobs while walking across the arid terrain; to be the “point of the spear.”

His brother, Zack Corral, 22, told me how it all went down; how Chachi volunteered to lead the way, following his own personal quest by being the light; a beacon forging a safe and clear path for his soldiering friends when the buried bomb exploded on November 18, 2011. The 3rd Battalion, 7TH Marines from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Centre were in the deadly region of Sangin, northwest of Kandahar, Afghanistan, when the killer IED went off.

By coincidence, one of his closest friends in the Marines was Zachary Rieff, also known as Zach, his brother’s name. Zach was supposed to fall back but he followed close to Chachi; he had Chachi’s back, and had said that if he were to die he would want to die with his buddy. The two friends were ahead of their unit, forging a safe path, when the IED went off. Chachi died of mortal wounds; Zach died shortly after.

Zack Corral shared at the memorial that his brother felt God gnawing at his heart, and when he joined the Marines he already knew that he would be deployed to Afghanistan. Lance Corporal Joshua Chachi Corral could not know that so soon after his unit’s arrival, a fatal hidden bomb would go off beneath his feet.

After graduating San Ramon Valley High School in the class of 2010, Joshua Chachi Corral volunteered for the Marine Corps and did basic training in San Diego with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment. Several members of the same graduating class joined the Marine Corps; two were present at his recent memorial dedication—and some who served in Chachi’s battalion in Afghanistan, and who witnessed the explosion, were in the honor guard at the sculptural memorial’s unveiling.

The Town of Danville had recently celebrated the Grand Opening of the $8 million renovated historic Veterans Memorial Building of San Ramon Valley on Hartz at Prospect. Rear Admiral Mary P. O’Donnell, USCG Retired, in her inaugural remarks, drove home the heartfelt points that our nation’s warriors do not fear death, do not fear going MIA, do not fear being wounded; but the casualty of being forgotten is what they fear the most.

So, in the spirit of revering the memory of our military men and women for their selfless service, the trustees worked with the Semper Fi Foundation funding partners who sealed their commitment with a bronze iconic sculpture known as the “Battlefield Cross.” The sculpture dedicated to honor Lance Corporal Joshua Chachi Corral and all Fallen Heroes, now stands permanently outside the Veterans Building depicting the helmet on rifle and boots forming an ad hoc cross that warriors traditionally set on battlefields to honor their fallen comrades.

The Danville Fallen Hero Memorial was unveiled on a new summer’s day, 23rd June, when many veterans groups and hundreds of citizens honored the memory of those who gave their lives in service to their country, and Chachi Corral, our town’s own fallen hero; still in his teens when he gave his young life for our freedom—all gave some—some gave all.

Soon after Chachi was killed in action, his parents Denise and Arnie Corral, knew the importance of recognizing those who had sacrificed their lives in service to their country, and to honor their son’s wishes and memory were instrumental in supporting the needs of his fellow Marines. One month after his death in 2011, the Semper Fi Foundation was formed by a citizen’s group, spearheaded by Len Hack, with a defined mission to rally support for all United States Marines, fallen heroes and their families. The camaraderie between the Marine Corps and the Semper Fi Foundation was poignantly evidenced at the recent memorial celebration.

Captain David Russell, USMC 3/7, Chachi’s Commanding Officer, spoke at the memorial, about how today’s military is the most educated and highly trained, and go to battle with the most advanced weaponry in military history. He made the point that even with the most rigorous training and the best defense capabilities, there is no protection against the enemy’s seemingly innocuous improvised explosive devices buried in the sand, or on the roads, that have killed or maimed so many of our military.

Those who attended the Celebration of Life Memorial for Danville’s young fallen hero were imbued with a renewed sense of pride and respect for those who have fallen, and those patriotic citizens who honor their memories— especially the Corral family. The Town of Danville, known for its unique style of patriotism and commitment to honor our military, went beyond the anticipated by sponsoring a glorious day on the Community Centre green.

At the finale of the bitter-sweet memorial service, a mariachi band played and the celebrants followed the music to have lunch at an array of food kiosks in the park. At the conclusion of L.Cpl. Joshua Chachi Corral’s celebration of life there were embraces, smiles and tears, but above all, a sense of remembrance for those who gave their all for their beloved United States of America.

The sentiment was best said by Spike “Go Navy Baby” Schau, coordinator of the patriotic motorbike Warriors’ Watch Riders, who has racked up over 700 military escorts on his Harley Electra Classic. “That’s what we do.” Spike smiled with resolve; his vest heavy with medals, buttons and pins. The local Warrior Watch Riders is a group of about 30 bikers who welcome home unsuspecting soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. “We never forget our fallen warriors; about 60 bikers joined our military escort to Travis AFB last November to welcome Chachi home and with American flags waving, we rode along in the funeral parade to his family in Danville on his last ride home.”
Semper Fi, Chachi. Be a light, be a light, be a light…

Why Does Everything Cost So Much?

The cost of living goes up every year. I get it. What I question is when did the cost of living start spiraling out of control? Or better yet, when is going to stop? When the average person tries to define the “cost of living” they instinctively think of the cost of items we need to live off during the normal course of a day in the week, in the middle of a month, of a year I don’t recall (that italic part is a line from a song by my new favorite band, the Gym Class Heroes). In addition to the staples which we require to survive, which would include; food, water, shelter, transportation, entertainment and Starbucks, there’s the necessities of life which we can’t seem to live without, including but not limited to; toilet paper, house hold appliances, cars, computers, cable television, Starbucks again, iPhone/Pad/Pod/Touch and everything Bieber. It’s not what we need that I have trouble with but how much it costs that keeps me up at night.

At the risk of sounding like my dad, back when I was a kid…., but back when I was an elementary school kid in the late 1970s, we could watch a double feature at the downtown one screen movie theater for $1.50. I recently took my family to the 24 screen mega-plex in Dublin and I was floored the cost of an adult ticket to see the new Spiderman movie was $12.50. That’s twelve American dollars and two quarters. Now I love me my superhero movies, but I almost needed the superhero power of credit card manufacturing in order to pay for my family evening out bill once I budget in dinner, an $8.00 bucket of popcorn and gas.

Speaking of gas, regular unleaded seems to fluctuate somewhere between $3.75 and $4.25 per gallon depending on whether the price for crude oil is above or below $100 per barrel. When I got my license in 1978, I paid $.64 per gallon. Additionally, a friendly attendant checked my oil level and washed my windshield while my gas was pumping. An attendant, not a homeless person, was someone employed by the service station to provide friendly full service attention to the customers. Most of the guys working there were paying their way through college.

Speaking of college, it now costs approximately $100,000 to graduate from a notable university, more in some cases. In the early 1980s, my parents paid somewhere right around $30.00 per unit each semester at California State University Northridge (or Cal State Nowhere as we called it). For my friends who chose to attend the local community college, their fees were even lower. Using rough math, I believe my education cost right around $3,600. That kind of saving left a lot of money for beer.

Speaking of beer, my fraternity brothers and I often resorted to purchasing Meister Brau beer from Walgreens for $1.99 a six pack. Their advertising catch phrase was, Just like BUD only cheaper. In reality, it wasn’t just like BUD. It was a watered down version of Olympia. At the start of this major league baseball season, I paid $9.50 for a sixteen ounce cup of beer at a major league ballpark located on the west side of the Bay Bridge. At $9.00 a pop that’s $95.00 for ten beers. Not that I typically have ten beers at a major league ball game, nine at most, but for $95.00 I could purchase 47.738 six-packs of Meister Brau to share with my friends.

Speaking of friends, one of the joyful activities my friends and I loved to do was to attend concerts. Bill Graham was the master of concert promotion and his Day on the Green series was the best value in town. In 1979, we paid $12.00 (plus a $2.00 Bass Tickets fee) to see Aerosmith, Foreigner, Pat Travers, Van Halen and a new band called AC/DC play at the Oakland Coliseum.  Seeing such a strong assemblage of classic rock bands for under $15.00 was a positive and uplifting experience despite the heavy scent of an herb I was unfamiliar with being smoked by the masses in attendance. During Coldplay’s recent sold out show at San Jose’s HP Pavilion, tickets were $125.00 even in the upper deck of HP Pavilion. I’m not even sure there was an opening act. Who in their right mind would pay $125.00, plus $30.00 for parking, to listen to a band playing slow melodic depressing songs for two hours? Tickets should come with the above referenced herb and a magazine.

Speaking of magazines, in 1978 a Playboy magazine, with Farrah Fawcett on the cover, cost $2.50. Don’t ask me how I got it, but believe me when I say I still have it. This week while checking out at the grocery store, I saw a People Magazine – When They Were Young special edition listed for $11.99. Who are they kidding, that’s $12.00! My 24 year-old Playboy is still a better value (those articles are timeless). Who wants to read about celebrities when they were snot-nosed, obnoxious kids? I have those at my house.

Speaking of kids, the cost of babysitting has become outrageous. I can recall my parents having a conniption fit when the cost of babysitting rose to $1.00 per hour right around 1970. My teenage daughter’s charge between $10.00 and $12.00 per hour to watch children for a few hours while I-680 suburban mommies and daddies take time out for a date night. That adds considerable expense to nice dinner or movie excursion (see movie ticket prices above). I bet I shelled out over $12,500 to babysitters until my kids could watch themselves. However, the money my girls make does allow them to contribute toward the uber expensive designer jeans they choose to wear.

Speaking of jeans, has anyone priced jeans lately? It’s crazy how expensive denim apparel has become. I’m undoubtedly dating myself when I say we paid an astronomical $30.00 for a pair of Jordache, Calvin Klein or Z Cavaricci jeans during the designer jean craze of 1980-84. Granted, our jeans looked so totally cool with an IZOD or Polo shirt and Speery topsiders that is was worth every penny. Today, girls pay upwards of $150 for brands such as True Religion or Miss Me jeans. You need to rack up a lot of babysitting hours to afford to dress “hot.”

At the risk of overstating the obvious, I wish things weren’t so expensive. It seems that a lot of what we use every day that is reasonably priced is not made to last. It’s replaceable instead of repairable. I can remember staring at the walls of our house for hours on end whenever our one and only 19” TV was removed for periodic maintenance. The torture could last up to a week until the “idiot box”, as my dad called it, was ultimately returned. Today, if any of our six flat screens displays so much as a horizontal hold blip, we take it to the e recycle center and scan the internet for a sale. I don’t even think they make a horizontal hold knob anymore.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, documented in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality, is a slightly different definition of needs. While money certainly does play into Maslow’s rungs which include; self-actualization, self esteem, love/belonging, safety and the physiological element, the last I checked all that touchy feely stuff isn’t adjusted annually by the Consumer Price Index. Work hard, save and spend wisely is what a former teacher of mine once said. Sound advice from a guy whose chosen profession is grossly underpaid. If only everything wasn’t so expensive.

Belly Laughs—A Great Stress-Busting Tool!

Can you believe how fast the days, weeks, and years are flying by? I am brutally aware of being a “baby boomer” when I see my friends’ and neighbors’ “little kids” morphing into young adults in what feels like a blink of an eye. Another “boomer” reminder is how young most of my healthcare professionals appear. Sometimes, I catch myself glancing at the framed credentials on their office walls to make sure they really are doctors! Oi vey…

For this reason, maintaining a healthy sense of humor is a must for aging gracefully and gratefully. And, the good news is: humor invites us to look for the lightness in situations and as a result, experience lots of belly laughs. Now remember, belly laughs are the opposite of tense, upper chest breathing—so humor can be a great stress-busting tool.

In my private practice, doctors often refer me their patients who are struggling with high stress levels. When I offer stress management tools, I encourage clients to find healthy ways to “lighten up.” For example, one of my clients, Elizabeth, felt stuck in a job that she’d had for twenty years. Elizabeth’s doctor referred her to me when her excess weight was beginning to erode her health. When I met Elizabeth during our initial intake session, I noticed a look of sadness in her eyes. I sensed a quiet desperation that became more apparent as she began describing her life to me. In a monotone voice, she shared that her social life was scarce, her work was tedious, and she felt bored with her life.

Elizabeth originally came from a family of accountants/CPAs who often saw things in terms of black and white. Playfulness and humor were not frequent visitors in the serious household where Elizabeth grew up. Now, in adulthood (as a skilled accountant herself), Elizabeth was great at utilizing her logical, linear skills. However, she was unable to access her creativity or her sense of humor until she began breaking out of her one-dimensional identity. A fascinating piece of Elizabeth’s personal growth puzzle became clear during one of our early hypnotherapy sessions.

The focus of this particular session offered Elizabeth an opportunity to access a colorful part of herself—a part that didn’t feel trapped in her “boring” life. After she became deeply relaxed in a beautiful tropical beach setting, I invited Elizabeth to imagine that a colorful, creative energy was joining her. Elizabeth reported, with an amused smile, that a Gypsy woman appeared. The woman she described was wearing brightly colored clothing and had a wide smile that beamed enthusiasm and joy.

Elizabeth began conversing with the Gypsy woman. After a few minutes had passed, I asked if the Gypsy might have a supportive message for Elizabeth. After a moment of silence, Elizabeth told me that the Gypsy handed her a silver pendant with the word “DANCE” etched on the front. When the hypnotherapy was complete, Elizabeth shared that when she was a kid, she dressed up as a Gypsy numerous times on different Halloween nights. As she spoke, I saw in her eyes a flicker of hope begin to ignite.

For the next three sessions, Elizabeth deepened her connection with the colorful Gypsy woman who represented creativity, playfulness, and passion. As a result, Elizabeth began adding healthy portions of fun into her life. She frequented a Zumba® exercise class and signed up for Salsa lessons at a local dance club. Elizabeth’s focus shifted from self-soothing by overeating—to adding colorful and vitality-building activities into her life.

Due to her courageous personal growth work, Elizabeth “lightened up” on two levels: mind and body. Finally, I’m happy to report that belly laughs are currently one of Elizabeth’s favorite abdominal workouts!

Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author and illustrator of Stress Reduction Journal: Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health. She currently has a private practice in downtown Danville. Trina soulfully shares her creative approach to personal growth and passionately supports her clients in reaching their goals. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or

Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.

Let’s Feed A City!

Victoria Williams, age 87 of North Richmond, is known in her community as “Mother Williams.” Last year, Community Presbyterian Church, Danville (CPC) launched a food drive, Summer of Hope, to provide non-perishable groceries to help her feed the hungry. It was then that CPC came to know why “Mother” is the perfect name for her.

Mother Williams feeds about 150 people every Friday, noon, in North Richmond at McGlothen Temple Church of God. She has been bringing hope and providing hot meals to the hungry for 27 years. Each Wednesday Mother Williams collects groceries from the food bank and continues her work on Thursday and Friday for preparation—storing, washing, cutting and cooking. On Friday mornings Mother Williams arrives, full of energy and ready to work at 6:00 AM, to prepare the perfect meal. “It’s a lot of work and you have to be mission minded.” Volunteers are eager to help after finding her passion to help others contagious. Mother Williams also provides clothes and motherly advice, offering wise guidance to manage through life’s struggles. “If I can help in any way, I am there for them.”

North Richmond has its challenges; from gang violence, murders, drug use and it is home to families where most fall below the poverty line. Operation Richmond began two years ago to inspire collaboration with the City of Richmond and local church pastors representing the African American, Latino and Caucasian communities. All are key players in the effort to defeat the drug-inspired violence that plagues Richmond. Providing a complete and healthy meal and lots of love is Mother William’s way to partner with Operation Richmond. She offers hope in the midst of the hard life many experience in this part of the Bay Area. And, she plans to continue to be “Mother” to these families. “I don’t think I’m going to retire. I’m in it until the end. I want to work until the day is done.”

Summer is typically a time when charitable giving can fall short. Yet, the needs of those who fall below the poverty line remains. The contagious compassion of Mother Williams and those like her caring for people in need, is a blessing to many families.

CPC Welcomes ALL to Participate in Summer of Hope!
Last year through Summer of Hope, the CPC congregation and Danville community donated 3,000 bags of groceries. This year CPC is looking forward to Summer of Hope’s 2nd annual food drive, with a “double” challenge to collect 6,000 bags! CPC welcomes all who would like to participate and make a difference this summer. Groceries donated will be distributed to support Mother Williams at the McGlothen Temple Church of God, kitchen. Christian Home Baptist Church and Garden of Peace, Ministries are two other churches who will be distributing donations through Summer of Hope. See below for details on how you can help Feed a City.

Please support Summer of Hope and Victoria Williams so she can continue her important work in North Richmond, caring for and being “Mother” to everyone she meets.

Scan the QR code to view a video of Mother Williams or view the video at

Please donate non-perishable groceries or canned goods (no alcoholic beverages) delivered in a paper, plastic or cloth bag, to: Community Presbyterian Church, 222 W. El Pintado Dr., Danville California 94526, on Saturday, August 25th 5:00 to 6:30 pm and Sunday, August 26th, 9:00 am to noon. For more information, call (925) 837-5525, or e-mail

Crow Canyon is Dueling for the Discovery Counseling Center

The Crow Canyon Country Club Athletic Committee is hosting their second annual fundraiser benefitting Discovery Counseling Center (DCC), a non-profit organization based in San Ramon Valley. The community is invited to enjoy an evening of comedy and music on Friday, August 24th at the club. Some may recall the huge success of last year’s Crow Canyon Rocks concert featuring Scarlett Machine (formerly MdK). This year’s event is geared more toward adults capitalizing on the current popularity of dueling piano acts. This year’s headliner will be 2 Grand Entertainment, featuring Michael Mastromatteo and David Alan on dueling pianos.  Opening the show will be award-winning local comedian, David Vanavermaete.

“This is the second year in a row that the Crow Canyon Athletic Committee has chosen the Discovery Counseling Center as our charity to raise funds for,” said Dan Cottam, Club Aquatics Director. “Because we are in so much contact with all the youth in the community with our summer, fall and year round swim programs, tennis and golf programs we felt this organization provides an incredibly valuable service to the kids and families of the community.” Cottam adds, “we expect to sell out the event on August 24th and raise as much money as we can for the Discovery Counseling Center.”

If laughter and music are the best medicine, then the beneficiary of the event brings hope of a better outcome for troubled teens. Discovery Counseling Center offers affordable and high-quality mental health services for the entire family, but the most compelling aspect is their work with the local schools. Since 1988, DCC has been providing counseling and intervention services at all 34 elementary, middle, and high schools in the San Ramon Unified School District. The program helps children by offering counseling sessions at no cost by intern counselors supervised by DCC staff therapists.

“Having the opportunity to work with teens who are suffering from the challenges of life as an adolescent is very rewarding,” said Kathy Kane, DCC’s Clinical Director, “Teens quickly humble you by reminding us of that tumultuous time, not so long ago, when there were so many roads to choose from. The counseling relationship can provide a bridge for them between their world and the adult world.”

The wonderful results experienced by all involved in the School-Counseling Intervention Program (SCIP) bring added value to the Discovery Counseling Center. “The teens, their families, and the community are very positive about their involvement with SCIP,” said Kathy Chiverton, DCC’s Executive Director, “Teens recognize that the counseling helps them cope with the many pressures they experience between peer relationships, academics and family issues. They often report feeling stronger, less depressed or anxious, and “back on track” with their life following a course of counseling. Parents report relief that their children are less distressed and, frequently, feel reconnected to them. Parents and schools also see that counseling helps the teens become more aware of how their behavior expresses their emotional turmoil and that they begin to make healthier life choices and decisions.”

Those who attend the fundraiser event will be benefiting the local community and supporting the honorable mission of Discovery Counseling Center. “If the mission of DCC were achieved, everyone who is struggling with mental health issues would seek help early and often,” said Chiverton, “There would be no barriers to their getting the support that they need to cope with life’s challenges. Counseling would be recognized as an essential component in achieving a happy and healthy life.”

The fun-filled evening will include food, libations, raffle and an auction. Tickets are $35.00 per person which includes dinner and a no host bar. Child care will be available (call ahead of time). Full tables and sponsorship opportunities are available by contacting Kathy Chiverton of Discovery Counseling Center at (925) 837-0505.

About Discovery Counseling Center
Discovery Counseling Center is a community based non-profit organization in business for over 40 years in the greater San Ramon Valley. DCC is committed to providing affordable and high-quality mental health services for families. Visit:

If Interest Rates Rise, What Happens to Bonds?

With so many investors piling into bonds and bond funds I thought it would be a good idea to comment on the risks this might entail going forward. Investors in longer-term Treasuries could be in for a rocky road ahead. We have seen an epic “flight to safety” the last few months. In April alone, $20.6 billion moved into bond funds, according to Lipper. In the same month, $12.7 billion left stock funds (which marked the 12th consecutive month of net withdrawals).1

The price of debt has really gone up, particularly U.S. and German sovereign debt. On June 1, the 10-year Treasury yield settled at 1.47% after touching an all-time low of 1.44%. It has consistently been below 2% since April 26. Germany’s 10-year notes were yielding around 1.2% during early June.1,2,3  What do these historically low rates mean for bond returns going forward? In the short term, few expect the current bond market climate to change. The question is what happens when it does and rates start to go back up?

Are bond investors going to pay for it? At some point, interest rates will rise again and when rates go up bond prices go down. When that happens, how many bond owners are going to hang on to their 10-year or 30-year Treasuries until maturity? Who will want a 1.5% or 2.5% return for a decade? If you have to sell a bond before its maturity you get the market value. Bond funds are priced everyday so they will reflect the lower value of the bonds in the funds’ share price right away. If the federal funds rate rises 3%, a longer-term Treasury might lose as much as a third of its market value as a consequence! It wasn’t that long ago – June 12, 2007, to be exact – when the yield on the 10-year note settled up at 5.26%.2

What if you want or need to stay in bonds? In my opinion, avoid U.S. Treasures. There is still good value and much higher yields in municipal, high yield corporate, floating rate and certain international and emerging market bonds.  Moving into shorter duration bonds can also help protect bond values if rates go up. Be sure to explore how exposed your international bond funds are to EU nations in trouble. According to Morningstar data from early June, global bond funds have an average exposure of 2.1% to Spanish, Greek, Italian and Irish bonds. There are exceptions: in early June, some bond funds had anywhere from 7-11% exposure, believing that the high yields of these bonds are still worth the risk.1

Appetite for risk may displace anxiety faster than we think. Why would people put their money into an investment offering a 1.5% return for 10 years? In a word, fear. The fear of volatility and a global downturn is so prevalent that many investors are playing “not to lose” and are piling into “safe” bonds. However, should interest rates rise sooner than the conventional wisdom suggests, owners of long-term bonds might find that these “low risk” bonds have more risk than they imagined.


  1., 6-4-12
  2., 6-6-12

Damien helps individuals invest and manage risk. He is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and a principal of Walnut Creek Wealth Management. These are the views of Damien Couture, CFP®. Investing in mutual funds is subject to risk and loss of principal. There is no assurance or certainty that any investment strategy will be successful in meeting its objectives.  Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks and charges and expenses of the fund carefully before investing. The prospectus contains this and other information about the funds. Contact Damien Couture at or (925)280-1800 x 101 to obtain a prospectus which should be read carefully before investing or sending money. Your comments are welcome.

The PI: A Job of the Future

Maybe first it was Adam and Eve, then a few generations later it was Eve’s descendants hooking up with a lawyer and a primitive private investigator to get the goods on Adam’s scion. Maybe ancient P.I. on surveillance skulked behind cacti and scratched infidelity sketches in the dirt. His retainer? A goat.

Private investigators have been around a long time and will continue well into the future. I hope in these last eleven columns I have given you a look at what the work is like. I have tried to show an honest picture of what I really do and to dispel myths.

We will always need professional fact finders and gatherers. Multiple information sources bombard us on the internet and in the media. More than ever we need trained professionals to ferret out the truth or bring all the facts into the open.

As someone who has been in the field for more than 15 years these are the positive developments for the industry and for consumers, locally and nationally.

  •  Increased professionalism. The State of California has long had strict licensing requirements in that 6000 hours or three years full-time experience are required before an applicant may sit for the exam to try to obtain a license. Other states are following by increasing licensing requirements.
  • Scandal du jour. Whether it was the Hewlett Packard debacle where information brokers hacked reporters cell phones, or England where unscrupulous PI’s hacked cell phones, or locally where private investigator Chris Butler and law enforcement cohorts set up marks in “dirty duis,” the public and law makers now know how low the profession can sink. Awareness and skepticism are good for reform.
  • Increased competition. When I broke into the business each major city perhaps had three to five major players in the investigations business. The number has grown significantly. San Francisco now has about 20 major players, Oakland and Contra Costa with at least 10 firms each.
  • The rise of internet reviews and social media. Scummy investigators who don’t treat clients well will be outed in the form of negative reviews. The postings are not always fair but serve as warnings to treat people right, or else.
  • Diversity of backgrounds. The work used to be the exclusive domain of former law enforcement. The profession, at least in California, is being pursued by highly educated men and, more than ever, women. Some are even former reporters with graduate degrees from Berkeley (yours truly…).

The work of a private investigator has its exciting moments but we are small business people and share the same challenges as small law firms, CPAs or insurance brokers. We have to run a business. It’s not just enough to be good at the work but we have to wear all the hats, from business development to daily administrative tasks.

Our value to customers is that we are professional and detached. We charge hourly and cannot guarantee results. Advocacy is best left to lawyers. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday said.

Most of my work through the years has been for attorneys. But I would offer the same advice to other clients: Start your investigation early and beat your opponent to the punch. Get them in an informational submission hold.

The Real Story

Few people recognize Peter Finch, the KGO radio personality, when he enters the room. He’s tall, wears glasses and smiles easily. But as soon as he walks to the front and speaks into the microphone, his voice is recognizable. It’s the post-Christmas ‘Real Stories Bay Area’ show in Walnut Creek and the theme of the evening is ‘Gifts’.

“I walk by homeless people every day in San Francisco. It’s tough because I’d like to do more, but sometimes it’s overwhelming so I do nothing. On this one day there was this guy—he was relentless—not in an annoying way, but in an upbeat, very charismatic way. I gave him a few bucks and then—he offered me his coat! ‘Try it on. It’s practically brand-new. You can have it.’ It fit me perfectly. So then I offered him my coat. There we were on Van Ness and Sutter,- exchanging jackets.” Everyone laughs. “Only later did I realize my key to the radio station – was left in my jacket pocket.” More laughter.

Diane begins her story for the night’s theme of ‘Family Matters’ witha brief history. “For the first forty-three years of my life I was a man, and my name was Daniel. I was married and worked in construction until a beam fell and almost killed me. It was during those months in the hospital when I realized how much I wanted to live, really live – no more pretending. That was five years ago.” Diane smiles warmly to the people sitting in the front and with a hand holding each side of her skirt continues, “And tonight, when I told my ex-wife I was coming here to tell a story, she rushed over and helped me pick out this outfit.”   

Though now into its third year, ‘Real Stories Bay Area’ had humble beginnings downtown Walnut Creek on the second floor of ‘1515 Restaurant & Bar’. Once a month, on a Thursday night, storytellers gathered to talk and people came to listen. As it grew, it moved to larger venues and also to a weekend night. Produced on a shoestring budget and with minimal advertising, most people have learned about it through word of mouth. There’s a dedicated following, and shows sell out.

Past evening themes include: T.M.I., Animal Kingdom, Looking for Love in all the Weird Places, Odd Jobs, Got Balls? Stories of Courage from Nuts to Guts. Storytellers have been equally unique from ex-cons, chefs, comics, authors, to accountants to food tasters.

Storytellers follow a few simple rules: all stories must be true, personal, told in ten minutes or less, without notes, and relate, however uniquely, to the theme. The idea is not original, ripped straight from San Francisco’s premier storytelling event ‘Porchlight’.  Anyone with a great story related to an upcoming theme, is invited to send a brief summary through Facebook or the website.

Live storytelling is experiencing a revival. “We spend so much time with technology, it’s refreshing to connect on a personal level,” says Debbie Johnson, who came with friends. “It’s like an podcast, but you get to see the real person behind the story. I always talk about it at work the next day,” comments Katie Pearstaff.

“Some people come with a great story, but are nervous about telling it. It’s not a performance or speech. If some part is forgotten, just say: ‘I forgot this part’ and move on. But I do ask them to prepare and practice. We usually run through it together. I work with lots of people to help flush out their story. A good storyteller understands the balance of action and details and can make a walk in the park fascinating,” says the producer of RSBA, Kay DeMartini.

Storytelling is moving past entertainment and into business. Steven Jobs has been declared an Iconic Storyteller; he used story to both brand a product and hook the listener. Creating a visual through words makes a message memorable, adding emotion into the mix and that story becomes dynamic and powerful.

“I still think about Peter Finch wearing that jacket from the homeless guy,” smiles Kay, “that story reminds me to just lighten up and tune into the fun of life.”

* * *

Saturday, Sept 8, 8pm, Lesher Knight Theater, $20. Advance online tickets recommended! (925) 943-7469 Real Stories Bay Area: ‘I’m Out!’ Stories of quitting, bailing, walking away and not looking back. *Includes special guest from NYC: Mollena Williams, ‘Ms. Leather’. Audience encouraged to wear leather /or pleather.  More Info:


Kay DeMartini is a Comic, Creative Producer of Real Stories Bay Area, Walnut Creek, co-produces UnFiltered Stories, Oakland with travel writer Jeff Greenwald, and teaches corporate executives and business leaders presentation skills in her program, ‘Stand Up Straight & Speak Good’.

I’ll Have What He’s Having

I eat out, and not always because I am hungry. After years of calling the restaurant industry home as a manager, sometimes I just need to feel the buzz of the experience. These visits go far beyond the order, eat, pay cycle of the everyday diner. I enjoy seeing the kitchen layout, the POS (point of sale) operating system, the ingredients on the menu, and the moods of the service staff. I always form an educated opinion on whether a particular establishment will survive or not, and quite frankly I have been right more than I have been wrong.

Now that I have properly huffed the wind into my own sails, let me share with you a pleasant Danville surprise.

Rewind briefly to the 4th of July. My wife and one year-old niece settled into the first place that offered unpopulated shade to watch the Kiwanis Parade and it just so happened that this non-descript oasis offered traditional, soft serve ice cream cones as a refreshing ode to Americana nostalgia. We entered Iron Horse Deli and BBQ, eager to indulge as I immediately went into analysis mode.

The décor was an understated train motif paying homage to the origin of the Iron Horse Trail and met with the smokey smells of brisket coming from the back. Very 4th of July appropriate. We came for ice cream but left with a buy-one-get-one coupon for breakfast.

Fast forward to Sunday. It was time to use the coupon. By nature I am not a huge breakfast eater and therefore harder to please in such instances but I was intrigued by the unique variations of “Eggs Benedict.” and settled on the Texas Benedict.

I was completely unprepared for the bright-light, angelic experience I was about to have.

Two light and buttery buttermilk biscuits topped with an Angus (hamburger) patty and smothered in bacon chunky country gravy. Oh my stars! After the first bite I was very aware that this simple combination of flavors and textures was in the top five of all time, but as I mopped up the last bits of gravy with my finger….MY FINGER, I knew it was “top two.” I remember when I was 16 in Tahoe when I was served a fresh salmon, caper, onion and cilantro bagel plate. This will always be my first breakfast crush, but here I was, many years later, being struck by crush number two.

I immediately began looking for other things I could try that were unique to this place, and found the BBQ sauce caddies by the serve yourself soda fountain. Three different sauces, mild, sweet and hot all made in-house. I retrieved them all and brought them back to our table for some connoiseuring.

Our “far too busy” to chat server Kathleen stopped what she was doing to come over and not only describe each sauce in elaborate detail, but offer her opinion on each. I knew she had to be the owner so I asked. “No, I’m not the owner,” she said, “I just really love the food here.”

Okay, in case you’re keeping score, this representative is exactly the kind of employee that restaurants need in order to survive.

I explained how blown away I was by my meal and she offered that “that’s good to hear, because we might stop serving breakfast. It’s just not catching on.” Don’t let this happen.

Looking out our window at Hartz avenue, being surrounded by train items, watching the American Flag flap in the breeze out front and being served an extraordinary meal by Kathleen, made me appreciate all over again how fortunate we are to call this area “home.” Moreover it made me hungry to return for the BBQ specialty. I recommend that you do the same.

Everyday Style…Beyond the Fitting Room

ALIVE August 2012 | Everyday Style
You’ve got the perfect outfit — complete with hot shoes, rockin’ jewelry and a killer handbag. The only problem is, there is ONE thing out of place. Can anyone else see the snafu? Maybe it’s only noticeable to you, and sometimes, that feeling is worse. Either way, nothing is more frustrating than that proverbial “hair out of place” when you want to look and feel your best. Not to worry; there are products to take care of just about every potential fashion disaster, and if you have them handy, you’ll be ready for any emergency. Here are my five favorites:

  1. Wearing a racer-back top can be a challenge when you don’t own a racer-back bra. VBS (Visible Bra Straps) can be distracting, and but more than that, they mess with the sexy look of a bare shoulder, and give off a tacky vibe. To solve this dilemma, the bra converter from Inti-Mate ( hooks on to your regular bra straps and makes them disappear. (photo 1)
  • Just when I think a new pair of shoes is comfy enough to wear all day, a nasty blister pops up on my baby toe, and I have forgotten to pack a band-aid! So now I use Body Glide ( before I hit the mall on a marathon shopping excursion. I rub it over my toes and at my heels, and it provides a thin barrier that prevents blisters from busting out, and ruining my day. (photo 2)
  • Have you ever put your top or dress on over your head before your underarm deodorant has dried? It’s beyond frustrating. The solution is the Rescue Sponge from Miss Oops (, and it’s a lifesaver! Simply rub it on the smudge, and it will disappear like magic … crisis averted.      (photo 3)
  • Sometimes the outfit you’re loving cannot be worn with a bra—not even a strapless one. What’s a girl to do? Silicone gel petals ( provide the coverage that could otherwise be overly revealing, and perhaps a bit embarrassing. (photo 4)
  • The booty wrap ( is my favorite active wear item…ever! Tying a sweatshirt around your waist serves a couple of purposes … a cover-up for your bottom, and pockets for keys and cell phone. The booty wrap does the same thing, without the bulkiness. It’s a perfect warm weather accessory, when you’re not actually going to wear the sweatshirt. (photo 5)

There are more “save the day” products…from Spanx to fashion tape, and each of them can provide the confidence that every girl needs to pull of their perfect look. What are your favorites? I would love to know, and share them with other readers. Go to:, and post your comment today!

Carolyn Rovner is a certified image consultant and owner of C2 Style, a style consulting and personal shopping service. For additional style tips and trends, go to Carolyn’s blog at, and subscribe by clicking the “subscribe” button on the right side of the page.