A Day to be Remembered

A tsunami of love took place for nearly 700 East Bay children on December 15. The epicenter was in Oakland at the Cathedral of Christ the Light where children from schools in Contra Costa and Alameda counties were treated to a day-long celebration and fiesta. The event was based on universal human values emerging from the story of the 16th century apparition in Mexico of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The day was offered free by Francis in the Schools, a nonprofit group located in Walnut Creek. The program seeks to lift the hearts of children from families of modest means and send them home with lasting memories that will be a source of happiness and inspiration.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Featured

The Oakland program was built around the feast day celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, considered by many of Hispanic heritage to be “The Mother of the Americas.” Her shrine in Mexico City is the most visited pilgrimage site in the Western hemisphere. For indigenous people and the poor, she has been a symbol of hope, love, and compassion for nearly five centuries. Because she appeared in Mexico to a poor farmer, Juan Diego, her story was particularly meaningful to the children at the Oakland event, eighty percent of whom were Latino.

The children were greeted by dancers wearing elaborate feather headdresses and dressed in gold and white in the manner of Mexico’s indigenous people. As the children entered the cathedral, musicians wearing native costumes played guitar. Then each child was handed a single red rose by children from the Youth Chorale of the Meher Schools in Walnut Creek, after which each child could place their rose on a large cloth representing Our Lady of Guadalupe’s garment. In the story of her apparition, red roses play a major role.

Musical Drama and Fiesta Provided

The day began with an original musical play in which giant puppets ten-feet tall joined actors, dancers, and a narrator to tell the story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The “take away” messages in the play were to have courage, do your best, not worry, and feel that all people are important and part of one human family.

Following the play, the children went by chartered bus to the Scottish Rite Temple. There they enjoyed a homemade lunch and delighted in playing games, dancing, and creating flower baskets of roses, dahlias, daisies, and tulips to take home to their families. And they were thrilled to have their faces painted as wolves, fairies, butterflies, and with emblems of the Golden State Warriors.

 For many of these children, this was their first experience of attending a live musical play, their first field trip, and their first experience of arranging fresh flowers.

Because many of the participating schools lacked the resources to take children on field trips, arrangements were made for charter buses to take them to and from the Oakland venues.

Universal Values Communicated

Although the event was staged at a Catholic cathedral and the story was grounded in Catholic lore, the messages of love, kindness, and compassion are universal and transcend any one religion. Francis in the Schools is a non-sectarian program in which people of all beliefs collaborate to touch the hearts of children through a cultural vehicle that is meaningful to them.

Francis in the Schools is staffed 100 percent by volunteers who believe that it is a privilege to be of service to these children. All programs are funded solely by donations, largely from the volunteers themselves. The program is aided by the generous help of local flower growers who donate thousands of fresh blooms for the children’s flower baskets. Local retailers donate ingredients for the delicious cookies and cupcakes that are baked and individually decorated and wrapped for each child to take home as a special “gift treat” remembrance.

Francis in the Schools was founded by Dr. Carol Weyland Conner of Walnut Creek who also founded the award-winning White Pony Express Food Rescue program and the Free General Store serving Contra Costa County. This was the twenty-first program presented by Francis in the Schools since it started in 2011, bringing the number of children hosted to nearly 11,000 at programs held in San Francisco, Oakland, New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.

More volunteers are sought and welcomed in the Francis in the Schools program. Donations are tax deductible and are used 100 percent on behalf of the children. 

To learn how to volunteer or donate, please visit the website:  FrancisInTheSchools.org. For more information, contact Barbara Shaw Cohen at 212-531-2303, or by email at shawcohen@gmail.com

2017Acura MDX

Utility meets High-Tech!

Sales of cars have been steadily been replaced by SUV’s as people want and need more space. Is that because our population is becoming more overweight? I don’t know. Maybe we just want as the late great George Carlin use to say, “when we go somewhere we take part of our stuff.” Maybe we are taking too much of our stuff and simply need a way to carry it, or maybe we are super-sizing too many things. These days SUV’s come in all sizes and levels of luxury and performance. One of Acura’s offering in the luxury packaging is the 2017 Acura MDX.

In 2014 Acura launched the third generation MDX and for 2017 it received a major refresh. Upgrades and improvements for 2017 include refreshed exterior styling and a bold new diamond pentagon grille. New features for 2017 begin with the high-tech AcuraWatch™ suite of safety and river-assistive technologies, electric parking break with automatic brake hold, auto high beam headlamps, Sirius XM Radio™ , USB charging ports and more. Plus, Advanced Compatibility Engineering™ body structure and a comprehensive list of active and passive safety features to deliver intelligent safety and confident driving performance.

The 2017 Acura MDX comes in Front Wheel Drive and All Wheel Drive with a base model and Technology package, Technology and Entertainment packages, Advance packages, and Advance and Entertainment packages. Prices start at $44,890.

The 2017 Acura MDX leads its class with its combination of power and fuel efficiency. Power comes from an advanced 3.5-liter direct-injected i-VTEC™ V-6 engine rated at 290 peak horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. peak torque (both SAE net). It incorporates a range of advanced friction-reducing technologies that help boost fuel efficiency and power output, and features a crossflow magnesium intake manifold, special “tumble” type intake ports, special piston-crown shapes, and an 11.5:1 compression ratio.

The restyled 2017 MDX’s distinctive diamond pentagon grille represents the new face of Acura. Integrated with a more sculpted hood, front fascia, front fenders and revised Jewel Eye headlights, the result is a more “executive athletic” appearance for the Acura’s class-leading luxury SUV. Additional styling updates include new chrome rocker panel trim, a revised rear bumper and skid garnish, and new dual exhausts with bright finishers.

The 2017 MDX offers a high level of luxury, convenience and technology in a spacious cabin graced with high-end appointments including standard leather seating surfaces and available new genuine Olive Ash Burl or Black Limba wood accent trim (Advance Package). The MDX comes with standard three-row, seven-passenger seating.  Advance grades accommodate six passengers with new second-row captain’s chairs and a center console. Smart interior packaging provides usable and versatile passenger and cargo space, including an Extended Slide feature for the second-row seats and convenient One-Touch Walk-In access to the third row. While up front, a large storage area in the center console can accommodate a purse and even tablet computers. New seat styling with contrasting piping and stitching and perforated Milano premium leather seating surfaces elevate the luxury look and feel of the Advance Package.

Cool Features:

  • The MDX with Advance Package also features a new Surround-View Camera System with six selectable viewing angles.
  • Millimeter wave radar and a monocular camera to detect other vehicles as well as lane markings
  • AcuraLink™ includes media channels available through Pandora™ and Aha™ mobile, delivered via the owner’s internet-linked smartphone and data plan

From the safety side, for 2017, every MDX model and trim level includes the AcuraWatch suite of advanced safety and driver-assistive technology, including Collision Mitigation Braking System™ (CMBS), Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low-Speed Follow (LSF) and Road Departure Mitigation (RDM).

In Summary –The 2017 Acura MDX is loaded with useful and powerful high-tech features throughout. These technology benefits create a driving experience that inspires one to avoid the shortcuts and chose the open road. Acura’s modifications for 2017 keep the MDX looking fresh, confident and Silicon Valley competent.


2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance


Base price:                  $56,400 as driven: $57,340 (including destination & optional

Engine:                       3.5-liter direct-injected i-VTEC™ V-6 engine

Horsepower:               290 @ 6,200 RPM

Torque:                       267 @ 4,700 RPM

Transmission:              9-Speedautomatic

Drive:                          AWD Drive

Seating:                       7-passenger

Turning circle:           38.7 feet

Cargo space:              15 – 68.4 cubic feet

Curb weight:              4001 pounds

Fuel capacity:            19.5 gallons      

EPA mileage:             City 19/Hwy 26

Wheel Base:                111 inches

Warranty:                   4 years/50,000-miles powertrain limited

Also consider:            Buick Enclave, Ford Explorer, Infiniti QX60, Lexus RX, and

                                      Lincoln  MKX


The Trip of a Lifetime

In February I celebrate my eighty-sixth birthday, and at eighty-six we celebrate every one of them as though it could be the last one. Shirley, “the Boss,” and I will be going through the Panama Canal from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  We did the trip from East to West several years ago.

Although the Boss and I have traveled extensively once the kids were on their own, we were confined mainly to the U. S. and Canada prior to that. I have visited 49 of the 50 states, some during my bachelor and Army days, while Shirley is just a few short of that number. We have been to at least 16 European countries, all of North America, most of Central America (we are not sure about El Salvador), and three nations in South America, as well as Israel, the Palestinian Territory, Turkey, and Morocco. Not as much travel as some, to be sure, but more than many others. All our trips were, in various degrees, exciting, adventurous, educational, and, most important, enjoyable.

One trip that I was fortunate enough to be part of occurred way back in my bachelor days, a few years before the Boss and I even met. In terms of personal growth and expanded learning in my chosen field, as the old saying goes, “It was a TRIP!”

I had taught drama, speech, and English for two years in high school in Southern California when, in 1959, I decided the time was ripe for me to become rich and famous as an actor. After teaching two years, I moved to a residential section of Hollywood and started making the rounds of agents, producers, and auditions. Although I had some success, I saw quite early on that I did not want to continue the lifestyle that I was then living. I also missed the classroom and interaction with students. I, therefore, enrolled in the graduate school of theater at UCLA in late 1960, and began classes toward my master’s degree in January of 1961.

Although I felt the program was a bit too regimented for my taste, the classes were excellent. I was cast, however, in the musical “Finian’s Rainbow” based on my reading four lines from the ancient Greek play “Antigone” by Sophocles, a casting I did not then and do not now understand. My sheer dumb luck, however,  came through with flying colors. A student had to be in residence in the Winter Semester to be eligible to audition that Spring for a show sponsored jointly by the University, the U. S. O., and the Department of Defense.  The show was scheduled to tour a variety of service bases in Asia, and, indeed, we did exactly that.

As a student, I had been strictly a commuter, living with my parents and later in my own tiny apartment. For the four to six weeks of rehearsals and early performances I rented a room in a fraternity house, learning to live with the odor of perspiration and beer constantly in the air. Our company fortunately received permission to perform George M. Cohan’s “Forty-five Minutes from Broadway,” using the script written for a performance honoring Cohan’s 100th birthday and shown on the great television show “Omnibus.” Some of us who became cast members also performed songs about U.S. cities and states between scenes and to open and close the show. I became the villain in the play, spoke directly to the audience at the beginning as MC, and then ended the show singing and scatting “Route Sixty-six,” with the entire cast joining in the finale.

During the rehearsal period an undergraduate student at UCLA who was of Japanese descent taught us a few expressions in that language including “Where is the bathroom?”  “Please,” “Thank you,” “Where is a restaurant?” and “Can you tell me where I can find a teaspoonful of toilet paper for my horse?”  (I never got to use the latter one, but the others helped.) Incidentally, the undergraduate student’s name was George Takai, better known today as Mr. Sulu of the original “Star Trek.”

The director, the cast of twelve (including the director’s wife), and the pianist were allotted a total of ten steamer trunks in which to pack our sets, costumes, and lights plus one suitcase each for personal belongings. It was tight.  We had rented our costumes from Western Costume in Hollywood, and I wore a suit worn by a minor star in a long forgotten movie. That was as close as I came to becoming “rich and famous.”

After a few trial performances at UCLA, we played a few more at service bases around Southern California, then boarded a gigantic, slow, propeller cargo plane for the interminable trip across the Pacific Ocean. In the next six weeks we traveled some 45,000 miles, did 46 shows, and visited Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Guam, Wake Island, and Hawaii, performing in the hot, humid summer both indoors and outdoors.

Every place we played had different sized stages. We did one show on a stage no more than fifteen feet wide with yet another on the stage of the Toshi Center Hotel in Tokyo, which at that time was considered the most modern theater in the world, with a stage some 50-60 feet across. The dancers, of course, had to practice on every stage because some stages demanded giant steps and movement while others required little baby steps.

On a personal note, even the act of eating a meal meant new horizons for me.  Although my father was the better cook, my mother did most of the cooking, as did most women in those days when Dad worked from early morning to mid-evening.  My tastes remained stagnant with my mother’s style of cooking: vegetables boiled until they were almost a paste; meat well done until it bordered on leather.  (All right, so I exaggerate a little bit.)  Knowing that I would not be returning soon to this part of the world, I asked the waiters to bring me something good, but not to tell me what the ingredients were until after I ate. It worked; I tricked myself and expanded my culinary horizons greatly. At the service bases where we often ate, indigenous laborers served the food in cafeteria lines.  I quickly learned to ask for rice, not potatoes, because the natives then included me as one of their own, and gave me extra portions of meat also.

Our audience sizes varied greatly from about twenty to a few thousand.  The base which had the fewest audience members was located 100 yards from the Communist lines near the 38th parallel. The men were not permitted to discuss what kind of electronic work they did, but any serviceman, regardless of how long or short his time there had been, could simply say he needed  to transfer and it would be arranged immediately. Anyone who ever served in the military knows how unusual that is. The men there also served our troupe a delicious chicken dinner with all the trimmings. The following day, when we were at our next venue, we were informed that those men had gone without dinner so they could feed us.

Our show was a completely clean, wholesome performance, which was not always the case with USO shows. Some had young, and not so young, women in skimpy costumes showing a lot of skin and telling off-color jokes with strong sexual content. We were amazed and delighted at the number of servicemen who thanked us, saying that our clean show was the way they preferred to remember their wives, mothers, girl friends, and sisters.

Occasionally though, we did have problems. In one scene the male lead danced around each of the four chorus girls and kissed each one on the cheek.  On Okinawa we were informed that there had been race riots between black and white service men. Because one of our chorus girls was black, we were obliged to cut the kiss in that particular scene. The racial tensions prompted the Army to station men with clubs backstage to protect us. Once, just before I went on stage to speak to the audience as MC, our “protector” said to me, “If there is trouble, you can have my club, because I’m getting my butt out of here.” Not too heartwarming when one is just getting ready to go out to face an unknown audience. Thankfully, we never experienced any of those problems.

Although we had racial problems on Okinawa, we had two incidents that qualified as unusual and frightening theatrical situations. One of our chorus girls, Jan, sang “The Boston Beguine” between two of the scenes. The comic song basically deals with a man and a woman who do not know what to do with their new found love because all of the books they should have read were banned in Boston.  The song, written in 1952, ends, “Land of the free, home of the Braves, home of the Red Sox, and home of the Boston Beguine.” The Boston Braves baseball team had moved to Milwaukee, and John Kennedy was President, so Jan changed the ending to “Land of the free, ex-home of the Braves, home of the Red Sox, home of Jack Kennedy, and home of the Boston Beguine.” 

The baseball references usually received a chuckle and the Kennedy reference mild applause. One night in August, however, “Home of Jack Kennedy,” got all the servicemen and women on their feet, booing, and shaking their fists.  Jan, naturally was shocked and shaken.  Between performing, traveling, and sightseeing none of us followed world news, and on that fateful day, the Russians raised the Berlin Wall and President Kennedy had extended duty for all service personnel an extra six months.  Needless to say, Jan cut out the Kennedy reference for the remainder of the tour.

Because of an administrative foul up (Yes, those things happen in the service), a large group of servicemen were told we would perform at noon, but we were not scheduled until two o’clock.  The men, all of whom had records as petty criminals, fighting and minor thefts, had been sitting in the hot, humid tropical sun for two hours when yours truly came on stage alone to start the festivities. I learned a great deal in a great hurry about handling a hostile audience, but I survived and the men enjoyed the show once we started.

After several shows in Okinawa, we flew to both Guam and tiny Wake Island, the scene of intense fighting during World War II. Our efforts on those outposts drew enthusiastic applause and appreciation from those stationed there.   Then it was back to the “good ole’ US of A.”

Although we had the chance to relax a bit in Hawaii, we also did three shows there before returning to the reality of our normal lives. (“Reality?” “Normal? Los Angeles? A contradictions of terms.) Exhausted and worn out from our travels and constant performing, we returned to our separate lives with new insights about theater and performing;  new understandings and appreciation for other cultures; and, at least in my personal case but I suspect for all of us; expanded horizons  as performers and, more important, as ourselves.




Mika’s Houseboat Ark

As I keyboard away on my monthly piece for Alive, I might be overstating the obvious when I report that it’s been raining a lot lately. For days and days, there has been an abundance of precipitation in our ecosystem. It makes one wonder if it will ever stop. In fact, it reminds me of that story about a man that, at the request of God, built a really big boat and stocked it with a bunch of animals before hitting the high seas for a joyous family cruise. You know the one I’m referring to, Mika’s Ark. Please allow me to tell the tale.

Their once lived a ruggedly handsome/athletically built, yet humble man who we’ll call Mika (the Hebrew name for Michael or one who is like God—really). By day, Mika was a moderately successful commercial real estate agent, but at night he spread the good word. By good word I mean he wrote a monthly magazine column consisting of sophomoric humor and occasionally funny observations of life. This story is full of undeniable coincidences. One day, while completely sober because it was still early, he heard a voice. The voice provided Mika with a long-term weather report and instructions on building an ark. The voice, presumed to be God and not Al Roker, didn’t take into account that Mika wasn’t very skilled when it came to hammering nails or sawing wood stuff. Consequently, Mika chose to honor this divine intervention by visiting a houseboat showroom and placing an order for the biggest baddest boat in the company’s inventory.  

For the houseboat aficionados in the audience, both of you, the majestic Titan is one of the grandest models in the entire houseboat fleet. This triple deck, 65-foot vessel offers the finest in comfort and entertainment. A widescreen TV, home theater system with surround sound, tracking satellite for TV, fireplace and full wet bar with a temperature-controlled wine cabinet integrated in the main salon. Relax in the sunken hot tub or take an exhilarating ride down the enclosed spiral tube waterslide, both located on the spectacular sky deck.

The Titan boasts eight HD, flat screen TVs and four refrigerators! Sixteen people, and/or some animals, can be served at the spacious dinette, and the couches convert into two full sized beds. The main deck also has four private staterooms and two full baths.

A sliding glass door on the starboard side of the vessel provides convenient access to and from your small boat or dock. The second story, created to offer privacy and space, provides one private stateroom and one master suite with its own entertainment system, coffee maker, fridge, microwave and private deck area. The bunkroom can accommodate six people in two double and two single bunks. For convenience, an additional full bath is on the second deck.

The aft observation counter is an ideal spot for dining, relaxing and taking in the view. Located on the Titan’s third deck is a designer wet bar with a fridge, propane barbecue, TV, crows nest dining area and another aft observation counter. Obviously, some modifications will be made for the animals.

According to Genesis, the Book of not the awesome 80’s rock band featuring Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, God gave Mika a blueprint for building the ark. It is presumed that God also gave Mike a Home Depot gift card because ark building ain’t cheap. Given that Mika strategically choose to purchase the Titan ark instead of building one, he used the gift card for a top-of-the-line BBQ, a really cool riding mower, an assortment of Ralph Lauren paints and a lot of doggie doors.

Seven days before the deluge, God told Mika to enter the ark with his household (family) and pairs of animals. With that, Mika and his daughters started rounding up neighborhood pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and roaming bands of Mt. Diablo wild turkeys. Pets were easy enough to come by, but the tigers, gorillas and anacondas were a little tougher to find in the suburbs. Ultimately he found a three-legged coyote, a blind skunk and couple of squirrels and called it a day. Fortunately he was able to pack, excuse me, load, a few extra cows and chickens, just in case the kids got tired of fish, veggies and gummy bears.

As most people know, the rains lasted 40 days and 40 nights and the ark was afloat for a total of 150 days before coming to rest on the top of Mt. Diablo upon the eventual receding of the waters. Once everyone did eventually disembark, Mika grabbed a latte at Peet’s Coffee and Tea and life resumed—just somewhat soggier. 

It is written that God caused the flood because he saw great wickedness in the people of Danville and Alamo. No big surprise there, however rumor has it that Mika did ask a few of his friends and neighbors to join he and his family on the houseboat ark, but most people thought he was a 72-hour hold candidate at the Contra Costa County Psych Ward or a 5150 – police code for “CRAZY”.

When it comes to movies about Noah’s Ark (Noah being Mika’s 2nd cousin once removed by a divorce), there’s Noah starring Russell Crowe, which was released in 2014 and Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carell released in 2007. Both have an interesting take on the whole Ark controversy and Mika appreciated each film for it’s artistic beauty. At the risk of being a “buzzkill,” technically, there is no scientific evidence for a global flood, and despite many expeditions, no evidence of the ark has been found. The challenges associated with housing all living animal types would likely have made building the ark a practical impossibility.

It won’t be until the spring that we know how much rain we got this year, but given how the year has started we may be looking to the heavens to account for this deluge. In the meantime, you might want to consider building a little dingy or looking into a used Master Craft.