Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Christmas Eve Giveaway

It would never have occurred to me, but my old TV-news-writing associate, Frank Feldinger came up with the concept. You see, he was among the folks I invited to come to a food feast at Frank's Restaurant in Burbank earlier this month. Everyone knew it was my attempt to bring some business to the restaurant our family friend, Jose Lopez bought three years ago when Genio's Restaurant closed down. As you may know, my mom worked there for some 35 years. Jose was the head chef --- and a great friend to her and to me.

Wouldn't you know it, not long after Jose got his life-dream restaurant up and running, the economy collapsed, the rent went up and people started eating at home a lot more --- hence my attempt to lure people to Frank's so they could discover on their own the shockingly good food this food artist creates.

My friend Frank Feldinger couldn't make it to the gathering, so he suggested that maybe he could pay for a meal for someone else. Bingo. The idea was born. Before long, generous and caring people sent a combined $150 to me so that I could buy gift certificates and distribute them to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to go out for a great meal.

We decided to divide the donations into 15 gift certificates with a face value of $10. Today, I was the lucky guy who got to distribute them. As luck would have it, when I drove out of his driveway at 916 W. Olive Ave. in Burbank, I spotted a regular visitor to the nearby George Izay Park. The locals refer to her as the Cat Lady. She's a well-educated woman who somehow found herself down and out and, for whatever reason, couldn't muscle her way back up. She usually beds down in temporary shelters in helpful people's backyards, but spends her days at the park caring for a handful of feral cats that live there. I caught up with her a ways up the street and told her about my generous friends. She said that she didn't like to eat alone, but asked if they'd give her food to go in exchange for the gift certificate. She was pleased to find that they would. She said that some of her friends had purchased her two nights of lodging at a hotel for Christmas. The take-out meal would make it a true Christmas for her.

I drove for a while and encountered a friend named Alvin who was returning on his bicycle with food he'd bought at the 99 Cents Only store for his 94-year-old mother. I flagged him down and asked if he could recommend someone worthy of the food script. He pointed me in the direction of an auto-repair garage that was allowing a down-and-out man to sleep at night. I returned to the park where I hooked up with a handful of homeless friends. One of them was willing to take some of the certificates to Frank's and buy food for everyone in the group. They ended up feasting on hamburgers, fries and soft drinks.

Next, I drove to that garage and met the man Alvin had mentioned. Alvin rode up on his bike and I gave them each a certificate. Next, I looked up a hard-working friend who I had heard had recently landed a minimum wage job that would allow him to lodge there as well. It was good to see that he had finally found a roof under which he could sleep. He was caring for a couple that are both confined to wheelchairs. He was helping them wrap Christmas gifts when I arrived.

Finally, I drove to the Salvation Army Family Store and strolled around until I found a likely family. The young woman was clearly building a tricycle motor (slang for "expecting a baby") and the man I thought was her husband was trying on shoes. It turns out he's her brother, but they were pleased to be able to use the remaining four gift certificates to take their struggling parents out for a meal.

I stopped back at Frank's in the late afternoon and was pleased to see that Alvin and his struggling friend were feasting on barbecued pork ribs and a patty melt. I felt particularly good when I returned to my office to start making gifts for my wife and son. Don't tell them, but I printed some great family photos on canvas and made them into three-dimensional, box-like photographs. I wish I could give more, but this just isn't the year for it.

Oh, by the way, thanks to Frank Feldinger and the other anonymous folks who decided to help a restaurant by helping some needy customers. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my friends and family!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Amazing Case of "Skinny Dude", the Hyperventilating Prisoner

Nearly 40 years ago, I worked for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement branch of the Postal Service. I went from being a Postal Police Officer to working in the Mail Fraud section in the Los Angeles Division and eventually ended up in charge of screwing up the expense account reimbursements for the Postal Inspectors there. I also messed up business card orders and pretty much proved that I my heart was not in procurement or administration. It was somewhere else. Hence, I became a journalist and haven't regretted it since. I  have fond memories, however, of some of the colorful characters who were chasing down the crooks who committed Postal Service-related crimes.

My fondest memories are of Inspector Boyd Manes, a "good old boy" from Texas who had (and still has) a knack for telling stories about his adventures and misadventures. Today he sent me an e-mail with a story of two long days on the job. He gave me permission to share it with my friends. I took the liberty of removing any names, except for his, that is.  The ending belongs in a film comedy. Enjoy:

Shortly after my female partner was assigned to work with me at Orange County, CA, we encountered a somewhat bizarre case that was in a nutshell HYPERVENTILATION!  It all started with a phone call, as a lot of cases did.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Misguided loyalties: An open letter I hope will produce a great cop!

To the young, hopeful police cadet at the public counter:

Young man,

I applaud your desire to be a uniformed police officer. I’m certain – 100% certain – that you are motivated by goodness and for all of the right reasons. I hope that you accept this message with the knowledge that I, and the rest of the community, hope that you become a model public servant at a time we really need model public servants.

First of all, I hope you will believe that you were, in many ways, a victim today.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Fair Lady; Presenting Mary Cotter

Here's the best reason I could give for you to visit the Los Angeles County Fair this year: Her name is Mary Cotter. She's only 98 years old. I say "only" because she has more life in her than most anybody I've met. The people at the Department of Motor Vehicles know what I mean. When they renewed her driver's license recently they said to her, "Mary, you don't need to return here until you turn 103." I literally caught up with her on her way to ceremonies honoring her for the thousands of hours she's volunteered taking care of "those youngsters" at the Montclair Senior Center.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I sure wish I could write this good:

 I'm a real fan of this guy's writing. When he sent it time me, I couldn't stop reading it until I was wiping tears away at the end. OK, I'm envious and I wish I could write this well. I love the way he re-creates his childhood. It's as if I'm witnessing the whole thing. I hope you enjoy this.

can't quite remember when I turned against the idea of war, but I'm sure it had something to do with the fact that I didn't want to die. From pretty much the sixth grade on, I was firmly, solidly, against dying.
But up until then, I spent many years dying with verve in our neighborhood. The favorite game to play on our street was War. It beat Bloody Murder by a mile because it had weapons. Bloody Murder was really just a game of hide-and-seek (when you found the person hiding, you would yell "Bloody murder!" and everyone would try to make it back to touch the home pole before those who were hiding could tag you).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Don Ray Exclusive! A crime scene nightmare in Glendale.

By Don Ray
Staff Writer

GLENDALE — It was a dark and windy night in 2002. Glendale Police officers responded to a silent alarm coming from an upscale house in an upscale hillside neighborhood. By the time they arrived, the wind had blown away all of the electricity in the neighborhood.
The front door was wide open. Nobody responded to their knocks or calls of  "Anybody here?" So, with flashlights in hand, they entered the living room and quickly discovered a gruesome scene.

 The bullet hole in the center of the man's forehead made two things obvious:
Whoever it was was dead, and there had to be foul play involved — murder. Before they could secure the crime scene, they had to search the place, just in case the killer was still there. Where they had to, police officers broke down doors and anything else that kept them from getting to any place a killer could hide.
While they awaited the Los Angeles County Coroner's investigators, they were careful to not destroy any evidence. Of course, they left the body as they had found it.

A while later, the house's owner, Jerry Quist, returned home to flashing red and blue lights, police cars and the coroner's van. But moments before he arrived, the police or the coroner investigator had solved the mystery.

There was no need for a crime scene. There was no crime. There were no suspects. And there was no dead body.

Today Jerry Quist laughs about the incident. In one sense, the incident was a tribute to his professional skills. Without meaning to, he had fooled the police.

"If the power hadn't gone out, they may have had enough light to see that it was a movie prop," Quist says.
"I had made it for a film called Gigli with Ben Affleck.That's Jerry Quist sitting next to his gruesome creation below.

He says that, following the shooting of the film that was released in 2003, he had kept the body in his Glendale house.

"You never know when they might need to re-shoot a scene or something," Quist said.

When they released the movie, he says it was now OK for him to disassemble the mock murder victim.

The veteran make-up artist and make-up department head has worked in a slew of films including "Red," "Fast and Furious," "Tropic Thunder" and "The Sixth Sense." But he never envisioned that one of his creations would star in the unfolding of a real-life drama.

"It was my fault for not closing the front door when I went out that night," he says. It seems that the wind had blown open the door, which triggered the alarm, and eventually blew out the power before the police would arrive.

Following the debacle, Quist says the police and coroner investigator quickly packed up their things and left him there to repair all of the damage that officer had done looking for a killer.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A near-death experience with a remarkable update.

Meet Fred Gallegos.

I first encountered him some 42 years ago. This is what he looks like today.
 Here’s the story of our previous encounter:

The headlights from the cars going the other direction on the Ventura Freeway were filtered by the chain link fence that divided the freeways back on June 5, 1969 --- all except one set of headlights that were distinctly brighter.

I was in the fast lane heading east. The car with the way-too-bright lights was heading west in our direction. I couldn’t say for sure, but there was a chance he was on our side of the freeway --- in the same lane.

I was home on leave following my time in Vietnam. My friend John Stiles and I had been checking out the Bob’s Big Boy restaurants in Toluca Lake and then Van Nuys. We were looking for another guy we used to run with. It was past midnight and we were heading back to Bob’s T.L. just in case he might be there now.

But now, all I could think of was to get the hell off the freeway – just in case it was a wrong-way driver --- and let him have all of the lanes to himself. John didn’t know what was going on when I darted to the right from lane #1 to lane #4 and then onto the shoulder of the freeway just past the Cahuenga Blvd. on-ramp.

As John was asking me what the heck I was doing, the wrong-war driver failed to come out of the gentle curve and was barreling directly toward us. There was nowhere to go and nothing else we could do.

We both braced for the crash. But less than a second before the unavoidable impact, a little Mercedes Benz drove past us in the slow lane to our left and smashed head-on into the wrong-way driver.

Only about eight feet from the front of our car, the two vehicles rose up in the air and crashed down in front of us.

Then there was silence --- the most eerie silence I’ve ever not heard in my life. If there were other cars, I didn’t hear them. We both got out and, through the steam and dust, we ran up to the driver of the Mercedes. He was crushed up against the steering wheel, unconscious.

But he was still breathing. John immediately pried open the hood of the car and somehow ripped the battery cables from their terminals. At the same time, the driver of the other car, a huge Chrysler convertible with the top down, staggered out and started wandering around the scene.

Quite drunk.

The next thing I remember was seeing a guy walking quickly in our direction from a car about an eighth of a mile in front of the scene. He was lighting highway flares and laying them down. I ran toward him to give him a hand. When I got close to him, I realized that this was the friend we had been looking for all evening.

I had to leave a day or two later for my next duty station in Michigan, so I never got a chance to find out what happened after that --- until today, that is.

I had an appointment with my favorite dental hygienist in the morning at the V.A. clinic in Downtown L.A. Afterwards, I walked to the main L.A. Library to look up a bunch of stuff in the L.A. Times Index they have online there. I used the search terms “head-on,” “wrong-way” and “Ventura” for the months of May and June of 1969.

Back at my office, I dug into the public records indices to find a Fred Callegos (the middle initial was blotched out, as you can see) who was born in 1941 or 1942. The only match was Fred P. Gallegos who has a business in the Agoura Hills area.

So I called the number on the website. Even though it was after hours, a woman answered. I said I was looking for the Fred Gallegos who was in an accident on the Ventura Freeway in 1969. She knew all about it and put him on the phone.

To say that it was a strange conversation for both of us would be an understatement. Probably more for him than for me. I always seem to be doing these kinds of things. To make a long story shorter, he was eager to hear about the accident. All he remembered was waking up in traction in the hospital --- and the year it took him to recuperate.

He was a construction worker at the time, which is probably why he’s alive today.

“The doctors told me that anybody else would have died from that accident,” he said. “I was in great shape --- almost at the peak age of 28.”

But he was still a mess. Broken femurs, broken jaw, teeth crushed and rearranged. But for all of the damage, there were some amazing things that seemed have happened through fate or karma or something.

He used to hang out in a bar in Glendale,he told me. One of his drinking pals was an insurance agent who had pestered him to sign up for a $300 disability insurance package. Finally, Fred had given in, he says.

“Then, a little while later, the guy tells me I should increase it to $500,” Fred said, “so I did.” It was only a short later that he got hit on the freeway. And, it turns out, the drunk in the other car had no insurance whatsoever. If it hadn’t been for that disability policy, Fred says, he’d have been screwed.

And also, right before the accident occurred, Fred’s dentist had taken impressions of his mouth for some dental work. When the dentist heard about the accident, he made up a cast of Fred’s mouth and took it to the hospital.

“He came in an moved all of my teeth back to where they had been!”

Over the years, Fred has had more than 40 surgical procedures for everything from throat cancer to fused vertebrae to a heart attack to gall bladder surgery and four knee surgeries. Then there was his right eye that got hit with something and another six surgeries because of that. But he never once complained to me or murmured a bit of regret. Instead, he wanted to talk about his wife, Paula, and how well the kids have done. 

We talked for more than an hour, and I got to know a man whose life is filled with spirit --- positive spirit --- and a man who has never stopped living each day with gusto.

We’re going to get together in the next week or two.

It’s strange how we hook up with people, isn’t it?

Sunday, July 03, 2011

I finally learned the name of my early -- unlikely -- hero -- 49 years later.

If only I could have found a more productive outlet for my creative juices.

Today, I finally learned the name of a man who was my inspiration. For a while, I wondered if maybe I hadn't really seen him --- that maybe it was something I had conjured up in a dream. But thanks to YouTube, today I was the 94th person to view the proof that he existed.

I wasn't dreaming.

I saw him on the evening of February 12, 1962, live on the television program, "I've Got a Secret!" I had just turned 13 the month before. It's a well-know fact among members of my family that I didn't take good notes in school -- and not at all while watching television. So I didn't remember his name. Today, I learned it: Stan Berman.

Why would I be inspired by a Brooklyn cab driver? It was because of his secret: --- he was a gatecrasher. I'd never heard the term before, but by the end of that TV program, I was already dreaming of the day I could be one.

I didn't remember the long, gatecrashing resume he had displayed in photographs that evening, except for one. I'll never forget seeing him sit with the Kennedy Family at the Inaugural Ball for President John F. Kennedy the year before on my 12th birthday, 1961.

That's Stan Berman seated three seats to JFK's right (your left). I don't know who the woman is seated to the right of the applauding Stan Berman, but to his left is the President's father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr. The President's mother is between him and his father.

No, I didn't make a career out of being a gatecrasher, but I never stopped thinking about pulling such a clever, albeit harmless prank. I will confess that, as a journalist, there were times when I used some of Stan Berman's inspiration to help me get closer to people I needed to interview, but I only did it recreationally one time.

And I consider it one of my greatest accomplishments.

It was at Burbank High School on a Saturday evening, when I was an 11th grader. As usual, I showed up early to an event -- this time earlier than anyone else, it turns out. It was in the auditorium. and it was slated to be a collection of musical performances by some popular music personalities. Most were probably on the downward side of their careers, but they were at least once-popular. The person I was bent on seeing live was a young folksinger who was very popular in Southern California, Tim Morgan.

I don't remember exactly when I decided to attempt the crashing of the gate, but I know when the action started. I was the only person standing in line at the ticket window. Nobody was even inside the booth yet. The custodian walked up with a set of keys and asked me if I was the ticket seller. I responded with a single word -- a word that would launch my own inauguration to gatecrashing.


A moment later, I was alone in the ticket booth and was able to "sell" myself a front-row, center seat. A moment after I placed the ticket in my shirt pocket, a pretty girl (who was pretty concerned) was knocking on the door to the booth. I opened it and she said, "What are you doing here?" Someone had once told me two rules to follow when caught red-handed: 1). Don't flinch. 2) Always answer a question with another question.

"What are YOU doing here?"

She said she was supposed to be selling the tickets. I said the same thing back to her, but I quickly suggested we split up the task. I allowed her to take the first shift. I'd come back later to relieve her, I lied. I knew I would never come back. Instead, I walked to one of the three or four entry doors to the auditorium. I almost handed off my ticket, but I started thinking that it had been too easy. I didn't want it to end that quickly.

I noticed that there was a second attendant at the door. He was handing out the program booklets.

"Excuse me," I told him. "We've run out of programs at the side door. Could I please take some of yours?" I took my half-stack to the side door and told the person there that he was to go cover one of the other doors. I was supposed to work this door now. Then I handed out the programs until I was down to just one. I carried it inside and took my seat.

Still too easy! I was front-row, center, but there were people with a better view: they were backstage. I watched one official walk through a door that led backstage, so I waited a couple of minutes, got up and walked backstage. I hadn't thought about what I would say if someone asked. They didn't, however.

Then I saw Tim Morgan sitting on a stool, warming up with his beautiful guitar. I had to talk to him. I walked up to him and said, "Hi, I'm with the school paper. May I interview you please?" He was happy to oblige me. Afterwards, I asked him if I could play his guitar. After all, the first four chords I had learned on my $7, used Sears Silvertone guitar were the chords to his cult-favorite song, "The Cat Came Back" (E-minor, D, C, B7 -- a most difficult chord to play). He handed me his guitar and I nailed the B7! He was impressed.

Then I wandered over near the light and curtain cage -- just off stage left. Nearby, the designated student "introducers" were reviewing the 5x7" cards someone had handed them --- cards with the introduction information for each artist.

At that moment, there was a crisis at the light and curtain cage. It seems that the custodian who had opened the ticket booth door for me was working the lights, but he was apparently drunk. I think he had just walked away, so there was nobody there to work the lights.

I volunteered and took over. It was a stupid thing to do because I didn't know the first thing about the lights or the curtains. The drama teacher, a former Marine named Miss Wolfson had been barking orders from the projection booth behind the balcony. I'd listen to the intercom and then look for something with a label that matched what she was saying.

Apparently I failed, because a few moments later, she was there at the cage and was chewing me out for screwing up the lights. "You were on the stage crew! You should know how to do this," she said. I didn't think it was a good time to volunteer the information that I had only been a volunteer for one production, "My Fair Lady," the prior year --- and, no, I never learned the lights. Anyway, she kicked me out of the cage.

That left me without a job, so I went up to the person handing out the "introduction" cards and asked for mine. Whoever it was giving them out didn't question my credentials, so I took my card and waited my turn.

Two performances later, I walked out onto the stage and did a pretty darned good job introducing singer Bobby Day singing his hit song, "Rockin' Robbin."

Then I retired as a gatecrasher. It's always good to undefeated -- sort of.

A postscript: After posting this, I found out that Stan Berman died at age 41. How sad.

Died. Stanley Berman, 41, Brooklyn cab driver and self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Gate-Crasher"; of a blood infection; in Brooklyn. No occasion was too exclusive, no dignitary too aloof for Berman, who posed as a waiter to demand Queen Elizabeth II's autograph during her 1957 visit, crashed J.F.K.'s Inaugural Ball in 1961, and had his finest moment in 1962 when he charged onstage to hand Bob Hope an Oscar in front of 100 million TV watchers.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Once Upon a Brick --- A Simons Brick

I like to explore old maps of Los Angeles and its environs. And when I discover something I'd never heard of before, I'll often get in my time machine (OK, my car) and drive into the future of that map. Such it was when I saw an old map of the area that's now Montebello and the City of Commerce and I noticed a train stop and what looked like a town called Simons. If you ever drive through the area on I-5, it's north of the freeway and north of Telegraph Road, just a bit east of Garfield. There's a Home Depot close by that's pretty close to what was once called Simons.

It was a huge brick manufacturing company, but even more interesting was what I learned about how the owners created a self-contained little city for the employees --- almost all of whom had come north from Mexico to work there, live there, dine there, attend church there, go to school there and even watch movies in the theater there.

When I drove to the area, there was practically nothing left. The school that you'll hear about in the video below is still there, but not the original buildings. What was once a self-contained community is now one of those typical industrial zones with look-alike buildings. I found a few houses that may have been there to house employees. I'll have to do some public records searches to learn more.

Now, whenever I see building or sidewalks made of brick, I look for the distinctive "Simons" bricks. I first found one as part of the steps in front of Shakey's in Burbank. Then I discovered that my neighbors, Jan and Henry, had a couple of Simons bricks on their walkway. Most recently, I found Simons bricks adorning the front walkway in front of my friend Pat Hall's house in Hacienda Heights. OK, I'm hooked on the story of the Simons Brick Factory, better known as Simons Brick Company No. 3.

Today, I was pleased to find a wonderful video made by people who really know how to do the perfect oral history interviews. And they're pretty good at production, as well. I invite you to enjoy it.

And in case you didn't read the full description that goes along with it, I'm including it here:

An interview with Rosa Lemus Carlos who grew up at Simons Brick Company No.3 in Montebello, California.

Her father was a decades-long employee there. Simons Brick Company, established in the Los Angeles area before the turn of the last century, grew to become the biggest brick producer in the world, and to make the millions of bricks that were used to build much of Los Angeles, San Francisco and cities throughout the nation.

Simons imported thousands of Mexican workers and their families to Los Angeles in order to work and live at their 300 acre facility. Simons was almost literally a Mexican town, where generations of Spanish-speaking workers and their families were housed, worked, went to school, worshiped and shopped - and where they died. The work of making bricks was back-breaking and pay was low. But as Rosa Carlos's interview shows, their lives there (and that of their families) were centered around far more than just grueling work: Simons families' cultural and social life was multi-layered, multi-faceted and enriching in its own way.

The Simons Brick Company went bankrupt in the 1950s and closed after more than sixty years of existence, due to changing construction methods causing brick sales to decline drastically. The shanty homes of the workers and their families were condemned and demolished, along with the entire brick yard. Hundreds of Mexican residents saw their homes torn down and the debris set afire, but their memories of their lives at Simons lived on.

Rosa's interview excerpt, from the epic documentary film "Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles" is very moving and enlightening.

See more at

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The man who probably saved my life a dozen times

It was 50 years ago today that I learned of his untimely death.

I first saw him parked there on his motorcycle at the corner on Seventh Street and Verdugo Avenue. He was facing north. I was going south. I guess I didn't think the stop sign at Verdugo applied to me, so I ran it. The police officer pointed his gloved finger at me and gestured to where he wanted me to stop.

Then he wrote the ticket.

My first ticket.

Driver: Donald Ray

Age: 10

Vehicle make: Murray Bicycle.

Place of employment: Joaquin Miller School.

Occupation: Grammer School (That's right, he misspelled grammar, but I must confess that I wasn't the one who caught the gaffe).

Anyway, the punishment was mandatory attendance in the basement of the Burbank Police Building on a Saturday morning. It was traffic school for kids. And that same motorcycle cop was in charge.

Officer Joe Wilson.

Truth be told, all of us kids there were frightened when he first stood up in his motorcycle boots and stared us down.

I'll say this: we paid attention to what he had to say. And what he taught was the traffic code -- the rules of the road. It was Officer Joe Wilson who made it clear to us that we had to obey all of the same laws that drivers of automobiles on city streets had to obey. I mean, he made it perfectly clear, or else.

OK, so I was a slow learner. I think I learned them one violation at a time.

It seems that whenever I would find it more convenient to ride on the sidewalk or to give my buddy a ride on the back of my bike, Officer Wilson was watching me.

And he'd ticket me again. Another Saturday. Another lecture. It happened several times over the next couple of years. It got to where I could sing along with Jiminy Cricket in the bicycle safety cartoon Officer Wilson would show us at the end. Jiminy sang it again and again.

"I'm no fool. Nosiree. I'm gonna live to be 23. I play safe for you and me cause I'm no fool."

Of course, the next time he sang it it was 33, then 43 and so on until at least 93.

I believe that Officer Wilson singlehandedly taught an entire generation of young boys (and a few girls) how to drive safely -- for life. It was a time when the Burbank Police Department was willing to invest in a full-time traffic officer to teach young people the rules of the road -- and cite them when they broke those rules.
I wish they would do that today. I believe it would save lives.

There's no way to measure how many lives Officer Wilson saved over the last 50 years. I still think of him as a hero. And I have to believe that his lessons have kept me alive for five decades.

You see, when I watch impatient people drive through stop signs in their cars, or ride their bikes on the sidewalk or speed through intersections, I think about Officer Joseph R. Wilson.

And I think about the drunk driver who, on June 17, 1961, ran a red light and plowed into the police motorcycle that Officer Wilson was driving.

I cried the next morning when I saw it in the Burbank Review.

For many years, his lone photograph was on display in the lobby of the Burbank Police Department. The last time I looked, it was still on display, but there were photos of at least two other Burbank Police Officers who died in the line of duty.

A few years ago, I asked for the cooperation of the media relations officer at BPD -- I wanted to track down the wife and children of Officer Joe Wilson so that I could thank them for what their husband and father did for me. But the Public Information Officer turned me down. Privacy restrictions.

Then I went through the old news clippings at the Burbank Leader (formerly the Burbank Review) and was able to get the details I needed. I pulled Officer Wilson's death certificate at the County Recorder's office to learn more details -- details that might help me find his children. I cited the California Public Records Act in a records request I filed with the Burbank City Attorney's office. They ignored my request to be put in touch with the Officer Wilson's wife or children. I'm usually pretty good at finding people, but I wasn't that lucky this time around.

Maybe it wasn't meant to be.

Officer Joseph R.Wilson died a day or two before Father's Day.

This Father's Day, I honor Officer Joseph R. Wilson, 50 years later.

I believe that he cared about me the way a father would. And he cared about scores of other young Burbank kids the same way.

If somehow this message reaches the children of Officer Wilson -- they'd be in their 50s now -- please know that your father has surely saved countless lives, including mine.

I'm certain.

Friday, May 27, 2011

An Adventure I'll Never Forget

Today, Friday, May 27th, the interview I did with Dick Gordon of "The Story" airs on radio stations across the U.S. But you can listen to the interview here: Don Ray's Vietnam Veterinary Experience

It's the story of being a combat dog handler in Soc Trang, below Vietnam's Mekong Delta, in 1968. It's about being designated a veterinarian technician with no training, no experience and no supervision. It's about taking care of the medical needs of 12 Army dogs as well as dozens of G.I.s' pet animals on the remote airstrip.

And it's about having to deal with a mysterious disease that was killing American dogs in the war zone. If you can't connect with the link above, Go to and search for Don Ray. By the way, the story about the Vietnam dogs is about 2/3 of the way into the podcast.

The experience made me convinced that would, one day, become a veterinarian. When I left the Army, I enrolled at Los Angeles Pierce College with the goal of taking the school's pre-veterinarian courses and then transferring to U.C. Davis's School of Veterinary Medicine. Unfortunately, there were so man young men taking classes at Pierce that, in my four years there, I never had enough credits to get into one of the pre-vet classes. The guys were there, I believe, so that they could avoid the draft by being in college. So in the end, I would take journalism classes and, well, you know the rest.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Remembering Dr. Leo Buscaglia

If you were in Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco in the 1980s, you probably didn't know Dr. Leo Buscaglia --- even though he was a professor at USC, a best-selling author and a lecturer who was famous across the United States and in much of the world.

My friend, Carol Tashiro (that was her name back then) had moved to Phoenix from California. She sent me an audiotape of some guy named Buscaglia and suggested that I would be inspired by what this guy said. Being a typically skeptical Angeleno, I avoided putting the cassette in the player. In my mind, the last thing I wanted to hear was someone trying to brainwash me. Not me.

Eventually, Carol asked me to return the tape, which I did.

Fast forward a year or two and now I'm working in Phoenix as an investigative reporter/producer. Our station was airing one of the very popular Leo Buscaglia lectures and I was helping out in the editing room as the technicians prepped the recorded video for broadcast.

My body language, I'm sure, was a crossed-arm expression of cynicism as I listed, again and again, to this man trying to spread the word about living a loving life. Balderdash!

At some point, I realized that he was asking nothing of the viewers. He wasn't really selling anything, and he seemed to have no personal stake in how people responded. I think think the fact that most of the audience wanted to hug him afterwards was what made me suspicious. I guess it scared me a bit. Was he manipulating people?

When I learned that he would be coming to the Phoenix area for a couple of "performances" --- and that we would be taping it and producing the TV special, I asked my boss if I could arrange a one-on-one interview with him. After all, I had not seen anyone ask him direct questions.

"Absolutely not!" my boss exclaimed. The last thing he wanted was an investigative reporter with a reputation for doing tough interviews asking the beloved Dr. Buscaglia anything at all.

I've never been good at rejections from insecure bosses, so I wrote a personal letter to Dr. Buscaglia and gave him an honest assessment of my reason for wanting to interview him. He responded with the most warm letters I've ever received and agreed to allow me to do an in-depth, one-on-one interview with him the morning after the first of his two performances.

I wasn't terribly tough on him, but I did ask the questions that reflected both the suspicions I first had about him, and my own, personal questions about living my life. Shortly after this interview, Dr. Buscaglia entered the hospital for multiple heart-bypass surgery. He died of a heart attack in early 1992.

Recently, I sent a facebook message in which I shared my victory over my own anger. My friend Jeanne (Barron) Aikman asked me to share the secret of my transformation. I haven't yet explained it all, but this may have been the beginning. The interview runs about 28 minutes, so maybe you can't watch it now. But I promise you that, if you're feeling even the slightest bit unhappy, watching this will help:

If you get a chance to watch this, forgive me for my youth and inexperience. Also, it would be great if you could rate it or leave a comment. Thanks.

Monday, March 07, 2011

A Eulogy for the News Media

It's not easy for me to stand up here today before all of you, my fellow friends of the First Amendment, the American flag, hot dogs, apple pie and picnics in the park on the Fourth of July. It's not because I don't want to share my thoughts --- it's more about being in denial that we've lost our friend, the News Media.
After all, when I turn on the TV, I still see the deceptive remnants of NBC, CBS, ABC, as well as the skeletal remains of programs such as "60 Minutes," "20/20" and "Dateline NBC." It's when I tune in and watch hour-long remakes of real, live murder mysteries that I remember that the days of hard-hitting investigative reports are gone.
And to think that, for so many years, my dream was to work, full time, as a segment producer for one of these programs. And why not? They were doing what our founding fathers intended them to do --- they were wearing the uniforms of watchdogs. They were doing their part to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." They were there to function as the Fourth Estate --- to provide the proper balance when the balance of powers tip too far in any direction.
Our founding fathers knew very well about the dangers of despots, about religious zealots whose enthusiasm sometimes bleeds over into the desire to inflict their beliefs on the unwilling, about power-hungry representatives who fall prey to bribes and influence-peddlers.
Our founding fathers, however, had not an inkling of a dream about the power that businessmen and their corporations would, one day, wield. They could never have dreamed that the greatest threat to the democratic republic they created would be the very commerce they encouraged.
And despite their concerns over the rights of people to gather peacefully and to say and believe what they desire, they never anticipated that the greedy businessmen would, one day, execute a 30-year plan to muzzle the watchdog.
But as you, who have gathered here today, very well know, the watchdog is dead. With nobody there to check their forward motion, the corporations have come very close to wrestling the government away from We the People.
So we're here today to remember our friend, the News Media, as it existed before its demise. We're here to remember its determination to report the events and situations that all citizens needed so that they could make intelligent decisions about how we should run our government. We're here to remember their goal of reporting --- in a fair and balanced manner --- the points of view of ALL of the parties involved in disputes. And we're here to remember their goal of building a strong wall between the news gatherers of their organizations and the advertisers, the folks who sell the papers and the owners, who were once able to express their opinions in one place --- the editorial page.
Our founding fathers never anticipated that the greedy business people could buy up and control the once-free press and begin to feed their unwitting customers exactly what they wanted --- not exactly what they needed.
Oh, I was an unwitting part of the deception and now I regret it. When I broke the story of the police investigation into singer Michael Jackson, I contributed to the rush to make entertainment stories more important than stories about how our representatives are running our country.
And for those of you who feel guilty here today --- guilty for not educating yourselves in spite of the ever-growing incompetence of the failing News Media --- it's not your fault. You were seduced.
Admit it. You were seduced.
The greedy business people who stole your First Amendment-empowered News Media from you replaced the important stuff with things that touched you on more emotional and prurient levels. They diverted your attention by filling your TV screens with swim suits, high-speed chases and, worst of all, stories about people who, in no way, deserve your attention --- people such as Paris Hilton and Charlie Sheen. They filled your soul with fear --- fear that your kids will be kidnapped if they simply walk to school, fear that someone who prays to a different version of God than you worship are really trying to take over the world, and fear that anyone who cares about the rights and needs of the poor or the elderly or the workers must somehow be part of a communist takeover.
No, please don't blame yourselves. You were seduced.
While you weren't paying attention, the messages put out by the ailing News Media have sent you down a self-destructive road. And you won't realize it until you step back and look at the map with a critical eye and a wide-angle view. Unless you check it out yourself, you won't realize that many of us have been supporting points of view that, in the long run, keep us from advancing toward the so-called American Dream.
You have to give them credit. The clever folks who finally succeeded in stealing from you the vibrant News Media of the past worked for more than 30 years to, little by little, take control.
I know that some of your are still unwilling to believe that you have been deceived. I was there once. It was in 1984 that I had my awakening. It was just in time to watch what was happening and to begin to feel the frustrating, helpless anger.
I posted a photograph of myself here today from when I was about eight years old. It was about that time that I witnessed something --- and even participated in something --- that was as remarkable now as it was then. You make think that this is silly. OK.
I was on the playground of Joaquin Miller Elementary School in Burbank, California, and I noticed one of my classmates walking around the inside perimeter of two connected playgrounds. It was when he passed by me the third time, that I walked up to him and said, "What are you doing?"
"I'm walking around the playgrounds," he said. "Do you want to join me?"
I did.
I walked behind him. After about two more times around the playgrounds, another kid got in line behind me. Then another and another and another. Nobody ever explained to anyone why were all walking in a long line around the playground's inside perimeter --- we just did it.
When the ringing bell ordered us all back to our respective classrooms, every student was in this line.
Every single student.
I was reminded of this phenomenon when I learned what was really happening in Madison, Wisconsin. I came to realize that, even more than before, my friend , the News Media, was dead. If it were alive, it would have reported the truth. It didn't lie --- it just didn't tell the whole story.
And, to me, that's when my friend breathed its last breath.
Whether or not it comes back to life --- or if something else emerges to rival its glorious past --- well, as they say "remains to be seen."
For now, we must all look, on our own, for the truth, the balance and the complete stories on our own. We can no longer count on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox or even CNN to feed us these things. They've all been corrupted. They're all serving up the Koolaid.
There are some uncorrupted, unafraid voices out there. If you're interested, I'll share them with you.
In the meantime, I was thinking about starting to walk around the inside perimeter of our society. Maybe if I walk long enough and far enough, others will join me. Maybe if thousands of us are peacefully walking and gathering more walkers, more people will notice and we can put a stop to the decay of our democratic republic.
It requires nobody's permission. It's legal. There's still enough of the First Amendment in place to empower us all.
Do you think I'm crazy to want to start walking? Please let me know.