FDNY Eye Witness of 9/11

Twin Towers Down in New York

When it was learned that New York City First Responders were not invited to the 10th Anniversary Memorial Ceremonies at the World Trade Center, many people were surprised. Their exclusion opened old wounds for those Ground Zero rescuers—the forgotten witnesses.

One such firefighter was Sean Francis Hickey, one of the first on the scene. Hickey, a retired FDNY Ladder 144 Firefighter, now lives in California. In a recent exclusive interview, Hickey recalled his personal experience with the event that would forever change our world.

“I awoke on my first day of vacation in Bayside, New York City and took an early morning stretch. I said, ‘What a beautiful day.’ My brother Bert called and told me we were attacked. Attacked! I turned on the TV and saw the smoldering building—the first one hit. I said, ‘goodbye,’ and ‘I love you.’ to my wife and children, but when I said goodbye to my firefighter brother, it was another thing altogether. I knew it could be the last day for both of us. My brother was trained in terrorism fire tactics. He knew the possibility of biological and chemical devices, and knew there could be much more than just fires. I rushed to my fire house in Queens, and was told to drive to Shea Stadium to be bused to the World Trade Center. I was in a bus with eight guys with a police escort to 11th Avenue, ten to twelve blocks to Westside Highway.”

Hickey then turned the inside of his left arm, showing how he identified himself in case of the worst. “I took some photos of the guys on the bus, and then with a marker pen, wrote my name ‘Hickey’ on my arm. When the lieutenant heard the guys laughing, he told them to do the same. We all knew we may die that day.”

When Hickey’s group arrived at the World Financial Center, they entered the WFC3 to get to the Command Center where Chief of Department Commissioner William Feehan had set up under the catwalk between the Twin Towers on Westside Highway. “By the time we started the search both buildings were down. Street sidewalks were makeshift morgues,” said Hickey. Their mission was to find Feehan. Sean Hickey knew the 71-year old Chief—he was a neighbor and had been with the department over forty years. When they entered the building, Chief Tori told Hickey to stay within shouting distance because they knew the city-issued handy-talkie radios did not work at close range.

The group of nine firefighters, on a mission to find Feehan, passed through steel doors and descended four stories down the stairs to the garage, feeling for each step in the pitch dark. Water from broken sprinkler systems and main pipes was flooding the basement. There was a real fear that the water could be electrically charged from exposed wires. The firemen had no respirators or radios, but were protected in knee-high rubber boots. In higher water they could be electrocuted. Hickey, thinking the water was only ankle-deep, stepped off the five-foot high loading dock into waist-high water. Fortunately, the water was not electrically charged. Others followed.

As they waded through the pitch-dark garage, Hickey discovered the bodies of fallen comrades—dead firefighters. “I stood there, just me and God,” Hickey remembered. The other firefighters followed Hickey’s flashlight and waded towards him. They climbed over piles of smoking twisted metal and debris, once a towering building. “Sean, we were the first ones out,” a firefighter friend, Mark Klinger, later told him.
Hickey knew so many others who perished that awful day. “Father Mychal Judge was among the first to die, one of the first brought out—the chaplain was my friend. Chiefs Bill Feehan and Peter Ganci had also died when the 110-story South Tower fell.”

Some historical accounts have been sanitized, stressing healing, hope and forgiveness. Journalists were given tips on “9-11 Healing and Remembrance Programs,” being told to mitigate eye-witness accounts; to not state the number of dead, thus whitewashing much of the truth by avoiding graphic images.

Sean Hickey showed me Ground Zero photos. They are not “media” images, but what was seen through the eyes of a firefighter who was there. “The other firefighters who had beaten us to the Twin Towers were already dead; our group in the garage miraculously survived. We got out of the building and climbed over the hot smoking rubble, thirty feet high, strewn with the dead, pieces of people. Nothing was recognizable. It was a field of grey dust, ash and smoldering debris—surreal, like being on the moon. I was overwhelmed. I got on my knees and prayed for all those who had died.”

For the rest of the day, seventeen straight hours, the only people Sean and his team found were dead firemen—many crushed under the rigs they drove when the towers came down. The rescue team found no one to rescue. They carried buckets roaming over the site, finding dismembered body parts. Hickey was close friends with twenty-seven firefighter brothers who died that day. They were friends from Queens and The Bronx—none of them were ever found.
He and his rescue team came upon Fire Department bunker gear under a crushed truck telling him it belonged to a Fire Captain. He decided not to read the name on the captain’s bunker coat when he saw the man’s condition. He did not want to know the name of the broken man that will haunt his memory. Hickey pulled the body from under the heavy steel beams and with the help of other rescuers, passed the captain’s body from one to another, as respectfully as they could under the circumstances, to carry the body out of the area. One rescuer became physically sick—the only normalcy of the day. Every firefighter brother carried from Ground Zero adds to the loss, pain and collective memory of endless, exhausting hours.

Even though the nerve jacket was torn from Hickey’s shoulder, he slammed the bone back into place and continued the rescue—spurred on by pure adrenalin. The firefighters breathed in the towers’ toxic fumes, dust and residue of airborne poisons. As they breathed in the noxious mixture, their throats and lungs burned and their dry mouths became filled with grey, flying ash.

When the firefighter rescuers finally got to drink water, all the poisons were swallowed. “It was impossible not to inhale the debris with every breath,” explained Hickey, “everything I saw was coated with layers of fine dust which was all that was left of the towers and everything in it; pulverized remains of buildings, furniture…people. The dust was so thick, we could not see very well and had to pick our way blindly through everything to search for survivors.”
Through the eeriness of a grey field of death, a surreal vision interrupted Hickey as he searched the rubble. “The only contact with a living civilian that day was a Middle Eastern shopkeeper, dressed in typical robe and head garb; he was crying and carrying water to survivors—there were none…”
I told Sean Hickey that he is a hero, to which he laughed and replied, “A hero is a sandwich,” as he broke the somberness of the moment with typical Irish humor.


Sean Hickey was forced into early retirement. Today, at only fifty, he is divorced and disabled. His right arm jerked from the shoulder socket at Ground Zero is atrophying; diagnosed as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and the spine casing is stripped. His lungs have multiple tumors; tissue samples show deposits of carcinogens—benzene, glass, fiberglass, lead, insulation, Freon, asbestos and human remains. Doctors have said many First Responders have “lungs like fish tanks,” lined with glass. Hickey said that a high percentage of the 9/11 responders are divorced. Large numbers have either committed or attempted suicide. Many, given legal drugs, are now hooked. Hickey recounted how life became so difficult, that at one point he tried to end his life. My heart broke that a vital young man would have to endure so much. And there are many more Sean Hickey backstories; hopefully they end as well.

When he received the “settlement,” being a stubborn, Bronx-born proud Irishman and not wanting to profit from 9/11, Hickey paid all his family’s bills, paid off his children’s college tuition and gave a brand-new Lexus to a young stranger who lost his legs in a roadside bomb blast in Iraq.

Sean Hickey has designed his own therapy program; he builds shadowboxes—each one a unique work of art using bits of steel and found objects from the North Tower, things significant from that long day in the pit. He welds firefighter figures, like old-fashioned toy soldiers, and places them in the framed diorama, as if telling a story on a small stage. “I put my emotions into my art. Art is my therapy. I never sell my shadowbox creations, I donate them. Four of my art pieces are exhibited at FDNY HQ at 9 Metrotech in Brooklyn. One contains the medal I received from New York City for being one of the first rescuers at the scene. Each art piece I create peels away another layer of grief—I have many more to make…”

Sean Hickey, badge number 2886, FDNY, does not sign his works of art, per se. He places a thumbprint of blood somewhere in the shadow-box; his signature to be inside forever. It is Hickey’s reminder that he collected the DNA of so many people at Ground Zero. It was all he could collect. There was nothing else left.

East Bay Reality – Network Reality Shows Seem to Like East Bay Residents

Amazing Race 2011 Participants

Over the last 10 years, several well known reality shows have featured local East Bay residents. Granted, our region has racial diversity, attractive demographics and is culturally enriched, but what is the real appeal for reality show casting directors? Is it our local area charm and charisma, our good looks and athleticism, or just the fact that we are competitive and fun loving? Regardless why, the greater East Bay market has had a nice run on some very high profile reality shows recently.

Sandy Draghi Jeremy ClineDanville residents Sandy Draghi, a technician at Blackhawk Plastic Surgery, and her boyfriend, Jeremy Cline, a Vice President with CB Richard Ellis in Walnut Creek, will be competing in the upcoming season of the Amazing Race on CBS. The show was taped over the summer and premiered on Sunday, September 25th. Sandy says she had been a fan of the show since its first season and it was a dream of hers to be a contestant. “First I got Jeremy to watch it with me and then I talked him into sending in an application to be on the show”, Sandy said. “I was convinced we could out smart everyone else and do everything better. This was while sitting on the couch,” Jeremy added. Given that the show’s plot is to have each team race/travel a great distance, was yet to be seen how Jeremy and Sandy would do, having never taken a long trip together during their courtship. Fortunately, the intense interview/audition process set the table for what was to come. “We were sequestered in a Los Angeles hotel room for about a week, going through countless on and off camera interviews, never knowing our status. Finally, when we were notified that we were selected to be on the show, we couldn’t tell anyone,” said Jeremy.

Living and working out in the East Bay certainly helped the couple prepare for the show experience. “The atmosphere around the East Bay is very competitive in everything we do from our careers to staying in shape,” Sandy added. To train, the couple purchased backpacks, loaded them up and hit the local trials around Mount Diablo, the Lafayette Reservoir and the Pleasanton Ridge. “We live in an incredibly diverse area where there are so many activities to do outdoors,” said Sandy.

Both Sandy and Jeremy say their reality show experience was life changing. Jeremy especially complimented the show’s host, Phil Keoghan, and the crew, but candidly admits that, at times, the challenges to their relationship was like stretching a rubber band to its max, right before it snaps. Ultimately however, it brought them back together and today they are stronger for it. “Not many people get to go through something like this,” Sandy told me over the phone, “It was an extremely positive experience.”

Mike Spiro, a commercial real estate agent with Cornish and Carey’s Hayward office, recently was part of the winning team during the inaugural season of NBC’s Love in the Wild. Heather Pond of Sonoma was also a contestant on the show.

Last November, Mike wandered into a restaurant in San Francisco to grab some dinner after work. He was approached at the bar by a woman who asked, “Are you single?” “She said do you like beautiful women, exotic places and competition? Before I got the wrong idea, she said she was there with NBC hosting an open casting call for a new reality show,” Mike said in a recent phone interview. Mike thought he had hit it off with the producers and after two more audition/interviews in front of a camera, he was asked to take a physical and psychological test. Shortly after his background check, he was on his way to Costa Rica with the rest of the cast. Given the athletic and romantic competitive nature of the show, it was suggested that he get some sun and amp up his workouts before taping began. “That advice that was well taken,” Mike said.

Mike said the reality show was out of his comfort zone, but at 29 years old, he saw the opportunity as a way to break into his 30s (an early September birthday). Mike said, “Never did I think I would make it into the finals, let alone fall in love.” But, that’s exactly what happened. Mike says he doesn’t get recognized too often around the bay area, but he and Samantha are stopped occasionally in Southern California where she lives. “It’s usually tween girls that say something,” Mike adds. He couldn’t be happier with his reality show experience, and says that it far exceeded his expectations. Mike and Samantha are still together and preparing for their one month winning trip around the world.

Another Danville son, Dillon Ingram who is a member of the band, PopLyfe, recently made it to the final four on NBC’s sixth season of America’s Got Talent. Sadly, PopLyfe didn’t win, but they did get a once in a lifetime opportunity when they performed with Stevie Wonder on the finale show September 14th. Dillon and the band will also be performing at the Coliseum at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas as part of the show’s winning tour.

Coincidently, Thia Megia, of Tracy, made it to the quarterfinal’s during the fourth season of American’s Got Talent, but it was last season’s American Idol that gained her the most attention. Thia finished in the Top 10 and recently completed performing on Idol’s nationwide live tour. Additionally, La Toya London of Oakland competed for American Idol in 2004 and made it into the final four of season three.

Other East Bay residents who have participated in reality shows include Ashley Rich, an Antioch native who lives in Emeryville. She was among the 14 remaining contestants on the popular Fox Broadcasting summer reality TV series, So You Think You Can Dance. Sonja Christopher of Walnut Creek, has the distinction of appearing in the first season of Survivor on CBS back in the year 2000. It is likely that “Sonja” is the answer to a trivia question, as the very first contestant ever voted off Survivor. Filmed in Borneo, Sonja lasted only three days before her flame was extinguished at the end of the first episode. Yau-Man Chan was the fourth place finisher of Survivor: Fiji. He is the Chief Technology Officer for Computing Services, Network Services, and Telecommunications at the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Chemistry. Yul Kwon , winner of Survivor: Cook Islands, was a Concord, California resident who attended Northgate High School, where he graduated valedictorian and played varsity water polo and track & field.

We applaud all of the East Bay residents that have represented our area proudly while competing for reality show fame and fortune. Hopefully Jeremy and Sandy can bring home an Amazing Race win to continue to “Up” the Reality status of the 510 and 925 area codes.

What am I going to be for Halloween? My Annual Halloween Conundrum

Halloween Pumpkin
Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, right up there with Christmas, Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day and Arbor Day (who doesn’t like planting trees?). What’s the biggest difference between Halloween and all other holidays of lesser fun? On Halloween you are required to wear a costume. Costumes are cool. If you can find just the right apparel and accessories a good costume can transform a person into anything or anyone that they might want to be for a night. That last sentence kind of sounds like I’m talking about cross dressing, not that there’s anything wrong with that. As much as I like and take pride in my annual costumes, every year it’s the same question: What am I going to be for Halloween? It doesn’t matter that I’m 49 and stopped Trick-or-Treating when I was a kid (23), there’s still a lot of pressure to find just the perfect costume.

“I’m going to be a cowgirl cause I already got all the stuff. Boots, hat, vest and a bandana. Wanna see?” Lauren B. Age 9, Danville.

When I was a youngster, my mother made most of my costume decisions. Cry as I might, she just wouldn’t buy into my ideas of serial killer, big time wrestler or adult film star. So, despite my protests, I wore all the traditional classics; pirate, cowboy, caveman, toilet paper mummy. During those adolescent years, when money was tight because dad was dressing up as a degenerate gambler every weekend during football season, I was convinced to wear dirty old clothes and tell people I was bum or a hobo. Sadly, a lot of neighbors just thought I was too lazy to dress up. Today, it’s not politically correct to pretend to be a homeless person, but isn’t hoboness really just a lifestyle choice? Isn’t a hobo just a businessman who got tired of the grind in a bad economy and took to traveling the country utilizing our elaborate train system (by way of an empty freight car)? Truthfully, I can’t tell you the last time I saw a hobo, but I’m sure they are still out there.

“I might be Captain America. Did you know his shield can cut through metal and protect you from bullets?” Carter L., Age 7, Danville.

High school had its ups and downs when it came to dressing up for All Hallows Eve Night. As a freshman, you certainly didn’t want to stand out or appear dorky showing up for a Pumpkin Walk that may never actually happen. You could find yourself standing all alone on one of the school’s tennis courts in a wicked cool matador costume while others mock you. Tears of pain don’t just bounce off a spandex bull-dodging suit like you might think—they stain. Damn those chess club pranksters! It was different when our sophomore glee club dressed up as the cast of Grease. Unfortunately, I drew Sandy as my character. Hells Angels was the theme our junior year and we were bad ass. That was until we ran into some actual Hells Angels at the mall and they made us strip down and walk home in our underwear—three miles—and it was raining. Finally, my senior year rocked! Me and my boys dressed as the members of the rock band KISS. It’s just tough to look very “swag” in 11 inch platform shoes and runny demon make-up. By the end of the night, I just looked like a teenage San Francisco drag queen.

“Guess what I’m going to be….. he’s from Star Wars, he’s on the dark side and he’s Darth Vader.” Jake A. Age 6 ½, Pleasanton.

College brought all kinds of new and exciting costume ideas even though every Halloween frat party I ever attended, during my four…five….okay, six years of collegiate bliss, had a “Pimp and Hooker” theme. Not that I’m complaining. Fortunately there are a lot of television pimps to draw inspiration from for costume ideas; there was Huggy Bear from the series Starsky and Hutch, Rooster was a main character on Baretta and let us not forget Prime Time Neon Dion Sanders of the Dallas Cowboys whenever he appeared on a pre-game show before Monday Night Football. Fortunately, I still had my 11 inch Kiss platform shoes and a slick burgundy crushed velvet smoking jacket to get me into character. My signature line was, “back off sucker before I cut you.” The co-ed ladies-of-the-night loved my protective dark side.

“I’m going to be a princess because I like them and want to be one. And that is the costume mommy bought me from Costco.” Madison O., Age 5, Danville

In my bar hopping early 20s, it was one super hero costume after another. Superman, Spiderman, Aquaman, Captain America, Captain Shots, Captain Drunk Guy and my favorite, Captain Hit On Every Girl In the Bar. That was the year I met my wife.

As a married man and now father, I find myself tending toward a more conservative costume. There’s the ever popular, Plastic Surgeon (a lot of women want a second opinion), the sexy youth soccer coach (Mustang provide us with the hunkiest Nike dry fit coaching shirts) and the fan favorite, parish priest (if you don’t mind listening to people confess their sins –and I don’t). Of course it really doesn’t matter what costume I wear, it is assured to embarrass my daughters (Ages 12 and 14). We’ve been invited to the same family friend’s party for years and each year they get older I become unexplainably more embarrassing. There’s nothing I can wear that won’t mortify them if their friends are within a three mile radius. Now my strategy is just to achieve maximum shock value. Male cheerleader, Studio 54 Roller Disco Superstar and Tooth Fairy are my “go to” costumes whenever they’ve been misbehaving or disrespectful.

“I think I’m going to be a cheerleader because I like cheerleaders and cheering is fun,” Nadia L., Age 7, Danville

But alas, I’m back to where I started. What am I going to be for Halloween this year? To dress as a local magazine writer would just drive the neighborhood women crazy and if I were to suit up as an anonymous member of the underground protest group Anonymous I might draw unwanted attention to myself. I could always be an Indian, construction worker, policeman or one of the other members of the Village People. I respect firemen way too much to pretend to be a fireman. No one would buy me as a professional athlete, unless I dressed up as a member of the Pro Bowlers Tour. Apparently it looks like life has finally come full circle and I’m destined to bring back the pirate, cowboy or caveman. My mother would be so happy. Although given the current economy and present state of commercial real estate, hobo might not be a stretch. Don’t be surprised if I ring your doorbell and ask for candy. I’m old school that way.

“I have no idea what I’m going to be! What are you going to be?” Michelle C., Age 9, San Ramon

Embracing Gratitude to Reduce Stress

Having an “attitude-of-gratitude” is a positive state of mind and a great stress-busting tool. In my private practice I often share this “mood-altering” tool from my book, Stress Reduction Journal. Feeling grateful for having shelter, food, clothes, money, and people that care about us is a healthy gift to our minds, bodies, and spirits.

On the other hand, it is common to over-focus on what’s not right in our lives. Can you relate? After all, we humans are equipped with complex brains…that are wired to solve problems. However, when we feel nothing is ever good enough, we may habitually yearn for what we don’t have and become stuck in a negative cycle. Meanwhile, if an active “inner critic” lives in our heads, then we may add to the stressful pattern by having recurring thoughts like, “I’m not young enough, smart enough, or attractive enough.” Occasional comparisons are one thing, but chronically feeling “less than” can be a sign of low self-esteem. When we’ve lost sight of our inner value and become overly focused on our outer value, we may find ourselves sleeping poorly and waking up in the middle of the night worrying.    

Believe me, I understand worry. Worry and I…go way back. Thankfully, when I catch myself on an unproductive “worry track” these days, I reach for some stress-reducing methods ASAP. Here are two popular tools from my book:

“What’s Buggin’ Me?”

Even though “positive thinking” is good for the mind, body, and spirit—denial—is not. That’s why I start my mood-shifting process by first exploring what is bothering me. Otherwise, if I go straight for the “Attitude-of-Gratitude” tool, I’ll be slapping white paint on the wall and ignoring the “mildew” growing underneath. So here’s a way to see if there’s wisdom…or an important message that the “mildew” is offering.

  1. I begin by asking myself, “What’s buggin’ me?” I often journal a few paragraphs to vent about what’s up with me. I pay attention to angry or resentful feelings and explore below the surface to uncover any vulnerable feelings like fear, sadness, or guilt. In this venting stage I write freely without concern for spelling, punctuation, or “being nice.” In other words—I let it flow (with a fully-functioning shredder nearby).
  2. After venting through journaling, I then think about whether there is some constructive action I can take.

If something comes to mind, I go for it. Or, if it’s 3 am, I make a list of some “action steps” I can begin taking the next morning. I also consider doing research, getting advice, support, or whatever will help me get over and beyond the challenge that is worrying me. Taking action usually gets me out of the helpless mode and onto…an empowered and productive track. After the “mildew” has been explored and any wisdom retrieved, I then reach for the following tool.


The good news is: fear, anger, and sadness have difficulty coexisting with positive feelings like gratitude. And, focusing on positive feelings moves us out of the victim role. So, to continue shifting out of my worry cycle, I often practice this simple three-step process by doing the following:

  1. Pulling out a pen and a piece of paper or writing directly in my journal.
  2. Taking a few abdominal breaths to get “out of my head” and deepen my connection with my body.
  3. Making a list of people, places, animals, and things for which I feel grateful.

Yep, this may sound too simple, but it can affect our mood and outlook. If my brain resists shifting gears and nothing comes to mind, then I start exactly where I’m sitting. I mindfully look down to see if I have clothes on my back and shoes on my feet. If so, then these are the first things I write down. Is there a roof over my head? Great, then that means…I’m both clothed and sheltered.

In addition, acknowledging the special personality traits—in our loved ones and ourselves—is a wonderful way to clarify what we’re grateful for. When doing this exercise, I look for qualities like compassion, tenacity, honesty, creativity, and playfulness.

The good news is, once we move out of the worry cycle, the positive juices usually start flowing. Embracing these two tools, “What’s Buggin’ Me?” and “Attitude-of-Gratitude,” are great stress-busters when we want to shift away from worry. And, using them can serve as an invitation for improved sleep. Finally, the goal is to move from our heads into our hearts, and these exercises offer a simple road map for going from north to south…without ever having to get into our cars.

To receive Trina’s FREE newsletter “Transformational Tips for Mindful Living,” sign-up on her website: www.TrinaSwerdlow.com 

Stamps in My Passport: France

FranceElectrical adapter plugs are an unfathomable dilemma to many travelers. They come in many sizes and many shapes. The outlet into which you plan on plugging your appliance may have anywhere from two to five hole, and is commonly referred to as the female end. The other end, called the male or connector end, can be equally confusing with either two, three, or four pegs, prongs, or slotted protuberances. To the best of my knowledge, the outlets and plugs of choice by each country are independent of any national anatomy.

We had just spent several days visiting the children of a friend of ours who were fortunate enough to be working in Brussels. The visit had been enjoyable. The couple had lived in Belgium for about two years and knew not only the common tourist attractions but also those pleasant and unique out-of-the-way spots as well. We dined like royalty in well-hidden kitchens, visited ancient and modern historical sites, and generally felt relaxed and content. But now it was time to head south in our little rented red Fiat.

A neighbor in California who had recently returned from France had found a delightful little hotel on a hill just east of Nice called Le Perousse. They had described the view as typically Mediterranean with yachts, azure water, and endless beaches – surpassed only by the fresh seafood dinners along the waterfront. Not to be outdone in the traveler’s game of “I’ve been there also,” we headed off toward Nice. 

In a typical Californian’s decision, we decided to use the piage rather than the slower, more scenic back roads. The piage is equivalent to our toll roads and offers less traffic, more speed, and fewer stops. We were a little behind in our schedule so tossing coins in the toll box would save us at least a day or two of driving and at least six or seven arguments about which way to turn while going through those little towns along the way.

The kilometers clicked by, and before long we were discussing in which city we should spend the night. In an unusually short dialog, we zeroed in on the city of Vienne, a historically well-known town just a bit south of Lyon. The compromise was chosen because it was large enough to have a comfortable old hotel, but small enough so that we would not get lost looking for the downtown. The advertised Roman ruins would give us a chance to stretch our travel-cramped legs. We were right on all counts.

The name of the little hotel of choice escapes me, but the date chiseled in the sandstone over the hotel door predated our own civil war. The establishment consisted of an original section containing three floors with about four rooms per floor, and a somewhat newer section of four floors with about the same number of rooms. We settled for a room on the third floor of the old section, a good choice, except for the omission of either an elevator or a bellboy. But having been sitting all day, the exercise was welcome.

We settled into our room and discussed our next move. Both of us needed to freshen up, and Barb wanted to do her hair before we ventured out on our next adventure. This gave me a chance to sit back and read up on this village.

Then came the challenge. I was sitting there patiently reading about Vienne when I became aware of Barb prowling around the room. I ignored her for a little while, but she continued. Finally I gave in.

“What’s going on?” 

“I can’t find a plug for my hair dryer. Oh, ah – here’s one that looks like it fits the adapter.” A relieved “Oh.”

The next second can only be described as chaotic. A flash of lightning filled the room accompanied by a loud, hollow clap. This was instantly followed by absolute silence and total, complete darkness. We stood there transfixed, assuring ourselves that neither of us was hurt. I did notice that some of Barb’s newly washed hair looked a trifle singed, but otherwise nothing.

Soon the silence gave way to a buzz that began to build in the hallway. Heads were popping out of rooms, and agitated French men and cool French women were demanding explanations. I attempted to look puzzled and began demanding an explanation in English myself, feeling that the best defense was a good offense. In a few short moments a bespectacled maintenance man in soiled coveralls and a beret on his head arrived on the scene. With wild gyrating arms and a steady flow of indiscernible French, he calmed the gathered tenants, smiled, and calmly walked over to a service door, halfway down the hall. He undid the lock and with a flourish threw open the door. Out came a huge cloud of black smoke almost filling the entire hallway.

“Mama MIA sucha smoke,” he yelled.

The inside panel was a total mess. Three of four spots that looked like they may have held fuses at one time were permanently welded together. The entire panel itself was glued into one gigantic smoking collection of relays, fuses, capacitors, wires, and connectors.

“I don’t think we should say anything” I advised Barb, as now the entire hotel staff stood there staring at the mess. “They may charge us for rewiring the whole hotel.”

Well, it didn’t end up too badly. They had to move all of the guests from this floor of the old building to the new wing, as fixing this panel was going to be a long proposition. Barbara’s conscience would not let her play innocent, so she bravely marched up to the manager and confessed, although she did not really quite understand what she was confessing to. I pretended I didn’t know her, which saved me some embarrassment, especially when we checked out the next morning. The entire staff came out from behind closed doors to look at her. There was a great deal of pointing and much dialog. Apparently they were awed by this American woman capable of totaling destroying one floor in just seconds. Me, I just pretended I wasn’t there and got us out of town as fast as possible.



2011 Land Rover LR4 – Rugged Luxury!

Land Rover
Have you ever wanted to take the road less traveled or traverse up a hill just to get to the other side? But wait; there is another side to your driving adventurist-self that involves trips to work, the store, and the opera. Perhaps it’s in the need to show that you appreciate how you get there versus just getting there. You possess the desire to blend go-anywhere skills with high-tech comfort attributes. If this describes you then the 2011 Land Rover LR4 is calling to you.

The Land Rover LR4 was redesigned in 2010 and grew up from the previous generation known as the LR3. For 2011 the exterior remains mostly unchanged. With an upgraded interior, a new engine, a fresher exterior, and enhancements to the Terrain Response system, the 2011 LR4 is ready to take on the toughest terrain with an almost auto-like ride.

The model lineup for the 2011 Land Rover LR4 is as follows: LR4 (47,650), LR4 HSE ($52,750) and the HSE LUX ($57,665). The two HSE versions come in a 7-passenger configuration. You can add the 7-Seat Comfort package to the base model for $1,150, which includes a third row of flat-folding seats, head curtain airbags, map lights, climate controls, and an accessory power outlet.

The LR4 is probably the most conservative in styling of the Land Rover models, but still pulls off a beautiful unique profile. It continues the tall boxy shape of the LR3, but with rounder lines and angles. The design is a big improvement over the LR3 granting a more powerful presence in part due to the large fender flares. The raised roof in my test model had three sunroofs and the rear side windows extended all the way to the top of the raised-rear roof line. The LR4 grille features two horizontal bars with stretched honey-comb like cavities. Large square blocks of glass with round inserted headlamps stand guard on both sides of the grille. Chrome side vents add a flare of sportiness.

The wheels are extended outward creating short front and rear overhangs to avoid damage during an off-road rugged terrain adventure. New for 2011 are enhancements to the Terrain Response system including the new Hill Start Assist and the Gradient Acceleration Control. There are several other new standard options and features to enjoy.

The interior of the LR4 has been upgraded tremendously replacing cheap plastic trim with a leather-trimmed dash with rich wood trim, softer touch materials and improved placement of controls and knobs. In other words, the LR4 receives high marks for comfort, luxury, and utility. The quality of the fit, finish and materials are outstanding. The leather seats are comfortable and the LR4 has an innovated 35/30/35 split for the second row seats with each section folding flat.

The door panels are a combination of wood and chrome trim with big bold handles to either close the door or hold on tight while venturing off-road. The keyless entry system with Perimetric Sensing Security system can remain in your pocket or purse as the LR4 has push button start. The optional surround camera system uses five cameras – two facing forward, one on either side of the truck facing down, and one at the rear to give an approximate 360-degree view.

The Land Rover LR4 is equipped with the new 5.0-liter DOHC V8 with direct fuel injection and variable camshaft timing that launched on the 2010 model. It produces a respectable 375 horsepower and 375 foot-pounds of torque. The engine is mated to a 6-speed ZF automatic transmission than can be placed in Normal, Sport and Manual modes and the electronic two-speed transfer case can be shifted on the fly. All-wheel drive is standard.

The suspension uses electronically controlled air springs and shock absorbers. The ride is smooth and the steering is responsive especially for a vehicle as tall as the LR4. The Terrain Response system has five settings: Highway, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand, and Rock Crawl.

Room for improvement:

  • Poor fuel economy at 12 City and 17 Highway

Cool Features:

  • The Terrain Response System
  • Nine Speaker Harman Kardon Sound System
  • Start Ignition Button

The Land Rover LR4 safety equipment includes six airbags (eight with third-row seats), Dynamic Stability Control, Collision-activated inertia switch, ABS with Electronic Brake force distribution, Emergency Brake Assist, and tire pressure monitor system.

In Summary – The 2011 Land Rover LR4 with a starting sticker price below the $50,000 mark truly feels like a premium luxury vehicle. It comes with a long list of standard features and high-tech components including Bluetooth connectivity and a navigation system with off-road features. If you are looking for an extremely capable off-road vehicle with a combination of elegance and sportiness then check out the new 2011 Land Rover LR4.

2011 Land Rover LR4

Base price: $47,650 as driven: $52,850 (including destination)
Engine: 5.0-liter V8-cylinder
Horsepower: 375 @ 6500
Torque: 375 foot pounds @ 3500
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic with Overdrive and CommandShift
Drive: Four Wheel-Drive
Seating: 7-passenger
Turning circle: 37.3 feet
Cargo space: 90.3 cubic feet
Curb weight: 5,833 pounds
Fuel capacity: 23.3 gallons
EPA mileage: City 12 / Highway 17
Wheel Base: 113.6 inches
Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper
Also consider: Acura MDX, BMW X5, Lexus RX 350, and Mercedes-Benz GLK

On the Case – The Personal Security System

Being the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I thought I would reflect on security issues facing Americans at home. I will dissect the pitfalls of relying on others for one’s safety and the dangerous false sense of security it creates.

It was right after 9/11 that I joined the Army, completed Ranger indoctrination and deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq. I conducted numerous combat missions— including hostage rescues, raids and direct action operations. I was decorated for actions under fire in Iraq. In addition to working as a private investigator, I am also currently a firearms instructor. My experiences and training made a lasting impression on me. I want to share some lessons.

Every year in this country we spend billions on “security” related expenditures such as car alarms, home security systems and the like, while leaving the planning and execution portion of personal safety in the hands of first responders, law enforcement officers and private security professionals.

Even though we are fortunate to have the best safety providers in the world, even these pros are not capable of keeping you and your family safe from random and catastrophic dangers. Police can’t be everywhere at once; if they could I wouldn’t be writing this article. Government aid is slow to arrive in disaster situations and often underwhelming. Relying solely on others sets one up for terminal failure when the systems fail due to serious calamity. A good example of this is Hurricane Katrina where the entire government and social infrastructure was decimated. When the system fails, so do those who rely on it.

This reliance on a false sense of protection is nothing more than hoping and dreaming that others will save you. If you are like me and don’t want to entrust someone you don’t know with your personal safety, there is a better way. In both security and investigations, you have the advantage when you take action first.

This is where the “personal security system” concept comes in, developing and planning one’s ability to survive in adverse conditions without the help of safety providers and/or systems can increase situational awareness and create a new found personal courage. This will be the key to surviving, escaping and dealing with an attack on one’s security.

How does one go about increasing their Personal Security System? The answer is simple and much more effective than relying on hopes and dreams: Research, plan and train. There are many threats and it requires a multitude of skills and strategies to guard against them.

Creating plans for each takes just a bit of time. However according to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than four hours of TV each day. Skipping a few TV shows a week to research and plan for your safety is a small price to pay for a real essence of safety.

In future columns I will write more specifically about certain threats and what plans you and your loved ones or business can take to be more secure.

Bummed Out by NBA Lockout? Sharks Can Fill Sports Void

Baseball season will end this month. Football is mainly limited to weekends. Local college basketball teams play only about twice a week. With the NBA lockout you, the dedicated sports fan and Off the Bench reader, will have plenty of spare time to fill this winter.

Why not follow the team that has won more NHL regular season and playoff games than any other team over the past five seasons? That team, the San Jose Sharks, is located down the road and has reloaded this offseason to take another run at its holy grail, The Stanley Cup.

While the players the Sharks have added; Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, Michal Handzus, James Sheppard, Jim Vandermeer, and Colin White are not household names outside of Canada and parts of Europe, suffice to say that among them are a couple of top tier defensemen, penalty killers, and reliable scorers that Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson believes could help the team attain its elusive championship.

“We have high expectations, but we have not yet achieved our goal,” said Wilson of the Stanley Cup title. “We are always seeking ways to get better. We think we have a three-year window with our best players…we try to live each year in the moment and add the pieces we need. Our primary focus is on today.”

Fans tend to have a win-now mentality, which is a good match for Wilson’s approach. So those who follow the Sharks can be assured that management is doing everything it can to win, meaning following the Sharks can be a very satisfying experience.

What has been less satisfying is the annual disappointment in the playoffs. Despite the team’s regular season success it has never played in the Stanley Cup Finals. Not surprisingly, Wilson is proud of what the team has accomplished and is optimistic for the coming season.

“We have been in the final four the last two seasons (though they went 1-8 in those two semi-final series) and in the process we beat one of the most dominant hockey teams, the Detroit Red Wings, twice.

“Last year we got off to a slow start and were 12th in the conference in mid January. We had to finish strong to make the playoffs (the Sharks went 24-4-4 down the stretch and earned the second seed in the Western Conference). That gave us very little margin for error. The rush we put on at the end of the season led to injuries. We will not accept a slow start this season.”

Wilson said that the greatest area of focus this coming season will be improving the penalty kill. The Sharks had been a top five team in that area for most of the past five seasons before dropping to 24th last season. “Handzus, White and Vandemeer are great penalty killers, which is part of why we acquired them. Penalty killing is execution of everyone on the ice. We are driven to get back into the top five.”

To improve in that area, and to acquire top defenseman Burns, the Sharks gave up two big scorers and popular players, Devon Setoguchi and Dany Heatley to the Minnesota Wild in separate deals. “We wish Heatley and Seto all the best,” said Wilson. “We think players like Joe Pavelski and Logan Coture are ready for an expanded role. We don’t think our scoring will fall off.”

The NHL has a hard salary cap, but unlike most good teams the Sharks have never had to dismantle their roster in a salary cap panic. “It starts with our ownership group and the discipline we need to make our players want to play here. We have a full building every night, we are committed to winning, and we try to treat our players fairly. That allows us to structure our contracts the way we do. Players want to win and they want to be in a winning environment.”

Essentially, the Sharks are able to offer players less money in exchange for a winning environment while selling them on the notion that if everyone sacrifices a little the team will keep its best players together and succeed. The franchise cornerstone players, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle, have bought into this and the supporting cast has universally followed.

Those who follow the Sharks this winter will get to watch a skilled, championship-starved team play an exciting brand of hockey in front of a passionate fan base. The Warriors haven’t offered that combination in more than 30 years, and this winter they probably won’t even play.

There’s room on the bandwagon for anyone who wants to climb aboard. Who knows, you may even get to bask in that championship glow come June.

The Golden Age of Radio

Every radio program began with a musical theme…

Remember radio? If you or perhaps your parents were growing up in the 40’s and 50’s then an important part of your life was spent listening to countless hours of exciting and original entertainment on the radio. Almost all of my boyhood heroes appeared on radio shows. These heroes had marvelous adventures in glamorous places and did exciting things. And most of our music of the day, and the past, was heard listening to the radio. 

As a young boy, growing up in what is referred to as “The Golden Age of Radio,” I could not wait to get home from school.  I would turn on the radio at 5:00 to hear what “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy,” would encounter in today’s episode. “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon” and his faithful dog, King, closely followed.

After dinner our family would go into the living room and dad would turn on the big console radio for the evening programs. Every night, families and their neighbors would come together and listen to radio broadcasts and radio drama. An astonishing 82% of Americans were radio listeners during this time, according to a research study by radiolovers.com

Radio Drama

Radio Drama is defined as an acoustic performance broadcast on radio with no visual component. It depends on dialog, music and sound effects to help the listener imagine the characters and story line. It is auditory in the physical dimension but equally powerful as a visual force in the psychological dimension.

By the late 1930’s radio drama was widely popular in the United States. Dozens of programs: mysteries, thrillers, soap operas, comedies, adventures, westerns, dramas and romance stories, were listened to and enjoyed by millions who tuned in every day. By 1940 radio drama was the leading international popular entertainment.

Radio allowed the listeners to create their own image of characters and settings—a luxury we no longer have in the medium of television. Old time radio shows were pure fun and entertainment. You used your imagination.

The very stuff of radio was imagination, the very antithesis of television, writes Jim Harmon, in his book, The Great Radio Heroes.  Radio drama required great imagination and those series that best provided it were rewarded with the greater success. Radio was willing to preserve the best of the past and constantly experiment for better, new shows. Clearly television is a different world from “Golden Age” radio, but they are a clearly different species, according to Harmon.

A most unusual and very chilling program in 1938 was Orson Well’s adaptation of H. G. Wells War of the Worlds.  It was so well done and realistic it literally panicked most of the entire nation as it described an impending invasion of Martians. This was undoubtedly one of the most talked about and famous radio shows ever produced—then or now.

Radio Music Themes

Every radio program began with a musical theme and a fixed dialogue guaranteed to capture the imagination and interest of the audience in the show. It was designed to create a mood and expectation for what was to come. The theme music was specific for that particular program. Some of the themes had lyrics, most did not however. Some of the themes were identified with a particular person. For example: Bob Hope; “Thanks for the Memories,” Liberace; “I’ll be Seeing You,” Bing Crosby; “Where the Blue of the Night,” and Roy Rogers; “Happy Trails to You,” among many others.

The Lone Ranger and his faithful companion, Tonto, tracked down and outsmarted even the cleverest of bandits and outlaws of the old West. The Lone Ranger’s musical themes were drawn from classical music including Rossini’s, “William Tell Overture,” Mendelssohn’s, “Fingals Cave Overture” and Liszt’s, “Les Prelude.”

Many listeners who were never exposed to music before heard great music, both classical and popular, on radio. “Your Hit Parade,” a musical show with orchestra and various singers, was broadcast every Saturday evening. The program offered the most popular and bestselling songs of the week. Many great singers sang on the show including the very young Frank Sinatra. The show was broadcast each Saturday from 1935 until 1955, then it was broadcast on television.

Some radio show themes, because of their longevity have become household fixtures. As more and more listeners heard the shows the themes became almost as well known as the programs themselves. Many radio themes were drawn from classical music, as mentioned, others from well known tunes from earlier eras. The organ was used as the instrument of choice in many of the soap operas.

After the introduction of television programming, radio drama never completely recovered its popularity in the United States. Most radio dramas were cancelled by 1960. The last shows from the “Golden Age” were; “Yours Truly Johnny Dollar,” and “Suspense.” Both were cancelled in 1962. A remaining vestige of radio drama on Public Radio today is Garrison Keillor’s, “A Prairie Home Companion.”

This writer, for one, misses the great programming of the “Golden Age.” I am so glad that a part of my youth was spent listening to memorable programs which so stretched my imagination and filled me with wonder and delight.

Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.net. Visit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.

Mrs. Doubtfire: ALIVE at the Movies

I went to a wedding the other day. It was a beautiful summer day and I was listening to the heartfelt vows of some dear friends who probably didn’t expect to find new love in their golden years. The garden location was perfect and as we went inside for the reception I was taken back to 1993, not because of something that happened to me, but as a reminder of a movie that was filmed in this very location, Mrs. Doubtfire. We were seated in Bridges Restaurant in Danville, California.

Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) is a kind, loving father. He is also a poor disciplinarian and a generally shaky role model for his three children. Miranda (Sally Field), his wife had definitely had to take on the role of “bad cop” in the family. After quitting or losing yet another job, Daniel picks up his kids at school and throws together an impromptu birthday party for his son. Miranda is called home by a neighbor to find a huge petting zoo parked on her quiet San Francisco street with ducks and geese, little horses and rabbits inside and outside her lovely home. The police have just arrived and her husband and children are dancing on the fancy dining table. This is the final straw, there is no room left in her life for the eccentric, fun loving actor who specializes in dubbing cartoon voice-overs.

Miranda goes to divorce court and gets custody of the children. Daniel has ninety days to redeem himself. Now 90 days isn’t a lot of time when you unemployed and homeless, but Daniel finds a small apartment and get a boring job. It really gets interesting when he hears that she is going to hire a Nanny-Housekeeper for his children and Daniel applies for the job; basically in drag…enter Mrs. Doubtfire.

Mrs. Doubtfire is an elderly woman created by Daniels brother, Frank a special effects make-up artist and she gets the job. Frank does such an amazing job that no one seems to recognize Daniel. Life is beautiful. Miranda has an amazing Nanny. The kids have someone they adore and Daniel finally figures out how to be a parent.

Oh, yes, there is the resident hunk, Stuart (Pierce Brosnan). He’s an old friend, new client and wannabe new mate for Miranda which really steams Daniel. Back to Bridges. There is an incredibly funny scene at our local restaurant where Daniel is doing what Robin Williams does best, mastering chaos.

All in all, Mrs. Doubtfire is a poignant romantic comedy where Robin Williams will keep you in stitches with his improvisational antics. Sally Field will totally endear you and the children have some of the best lines. As always, tell me what you think at chastings@rockcliff.com.