The Fresno City Council on Thursday approved a wish-list for transportation projects. The feds will decide which projects get the OK. Nothing is guaranteed.
One of the wishes caught my attention: Traffic lights on Tulare Street at N Street.
This intersection has the backside of Fresno Unified School District headquarters on the northwest corner, the backside of the county library’s main branch on the northeast corner, offices on the southeast corner and the Maubridge Building (once home to the Redevelopment Agency) on the southwest corner.
I walk by this corner all the time on my trips to and from City Hall.
Let’s say you live in west Fresno and you want to drive on Tulare Street to the donut shop near Divisadero. And let’s say the Tulare/N intersection gets stop lights.
Your journey could look like this:
1.) Red light at Tulare/E Street. Wait.
2.) Red light at Tulare/F Street. Wait.
3.) Red light at Tulare/G Street. Wait.
4.) 125-car freight train passes on Union Pacific tracks. Wait.
5.) Red light at Tulare/H Street. Wait.
6.) Crowd crosses at Fulton Mall. Wait.
7.) Red light at Tulare/Van Ness Avenue. Wait.
8.) No lights at Tulare/L Street. Barrel through.
9.) Red light at Tulare/M Street. Wait.
10.) Red light at Tulare/N Street. Wait.
11.) Red light at Tulare/O Street. Wait.
12.) Red light at Tulare/P Street. Wait.
13.) 125-car freight train passes on Burlington Northern-Santa Fe tracks. Wait.
14.) Red light at Tulare/R Street. Wait.
You’ve gone about a mile. You’ve stopped 13 times. You’ve lost your appetite.
A motorist faces the same dilemma heading the other direction.
I chatted with Public Works Assistant Director Scott Mozier after the council vote. He said the Tulare/N intersection gets heavy foot traffic. Stop lights are a good idea, he said.
Mozier said the city has already sought funding for stop lights at Tulare/L, but without success. He said the city still wants stop lights there.
Tulare/N and Tulare/L would make it 14 out of 14.
Mozier said traffic-signal synchronization will keep cars moving along nicely.
I’d like to have a dime for every time I’ve seen westbound cars on Tulare, trying to turn north on Van Ness on a green light, get stacked up six or eight-deep because pedestrians crossing Van Ness just shuffle along at about one-mile-an-hour.
It doesn’t happen quite as often, but westbound cars on Tulare also get stacked up at M as slow-poke cars try to get into that funky parking lot on the south side of the county Hall of Records.
People wonder why I prefer to walk in downtown Fresno. Tulare Street between E and R streets is why.
Gary Lanfranco, left, and his son Joe in front of the Cosmopolitan in 2006.
The Cosmopolitan Tavern & Italian Grill, one of downtown’s most popular restaurants, may be moving — to the Selland Arena parking lot, of all places.
Third-generation owner Gary Lanfranco on Tuesday said he and top City Hall officials have had productive talks on finding a new home for the Cosmopolitan. But, he added, nothing is signed.
The high-speed rail alignment will force the restaurant to move from its current location on the southwest corner of Fresno and G streets in Chinatown.
“I won’t leave downtown,” Lanfranco said. “This is my core.”
Lanfranco gave no details about his talks with Mayor Ashley Swearengin and City Manager Bruce Rudd. He said the mayor and Rudd have been very helpful.
I wasn’t able to get a comment from anyone at City Hall.
A historic photo of the Cosmopolitan from 1970 is displayed on the wall of the tavern.
Lanfranco said his family has done business at Fresno and G since the early 20th century. He said business is good and he wants to keep the place open.
“But I’m in a predicament,” Lanfranco said.
That predicament is the bullet train, which, should the system get built, would displace a lot of Fresno businesses. Lanfranco needs a new spot with good visibility and plenty of on-site parking.
The marriage of the Selland Arena parking lot and The Cosmo (as it’s often called) raises all sorts of intriguing questions and thoughts.
How much of the parking lot is needed? Would the Cosmo pay rent? Is City Hall thinking about incentives?
The Convention Center could certainly use some new action. So, too, could Swearengin’s downtown revitalization plans. The opening of Fulton Mall to cars might generate more business for The Cosmo.
Investors in the Fresno Falcons semi-pro ice hockey team and the Fresno Grizzlies Triple A baseball team once hoped to build something called The Legacy Downtown on the Selland Arena parking. The project was to have loft apartments, commercial space and an indoor ice rink.
That was 2007. Nothing got built.
Let’s hope for The Cosmo’s sake that Selland’s parking lot isn’t jinxed.
Former Fresno City Council Member Larry Westerlund may be in line for the “Adam Smith Chair” at City Hall.
In other words, the largely thankless job of bringing capitalism to a city where for decades the only reliable road to the middle class is a taxpayer-funded job.
The chatter at City Hall is that Mayor Ashley Swearengin wants to hire Westerlund to lead her economic development team. The position has been vacant since Craig Scharton resigned at the end of August to open Peeve’s, his Fulton Mall restaurant.
Anyone who’s been around City Hall recently knows Swearengin is gearing up to push private-sector job-creation during her final three years in office.
I asked Swearengin about the rumors Thursday afternoon. She had just finished telling the City Council about her business-friendly plans.
Swearengin adroitly dodged the question. She said the city is understaffed when it comes to economic development expertise. She said such expertise is pivotal if business is to look kindly on Fresno. She said maybe something will break at year’s end or in January.
I called Westerlund today. He was termed out in January and now works for a local law firm. He sent me an email.
“I understand the mayor has plans to add an additional staff member to be dedicated to economic development,” Westerlund said. “I don’t know whether I will fill that role or not. I do believe it’s the right thing for a city the size of Fresno to have a person dedicated to supporting job creation.”
I have no idea the title of the position in play. Scharton was called the “business development director.” Scott Johnson, the former Fresno State athletic director who came to City Hall during Alan Autry’s second term, was the “economic development director.” Fred Burkhardt, who came on board in Autry’s first term, was the “economic development manager.”
Each of them made more than $100,000 a year.
By any name, the job is a tough one.
Jeff Reid, city manager under former Mayor Jim Patterson, said of the job in 2005: “This role is so multifaceted that no one background can well prepare anyone for the challenges.”
Some additional quotes and thoughts from Tom Seaver’s Oct. 25 appearance at Fresno High School:
* The phrase heard most often was “one more.” As in, “one more picture, Tom” or “one more autograph, Tom.” Seaver never said no.
* Fresno Unified School District Trustee Carol Mills (who represents the Fresno High neighborhood) wore an orange coat — one of the New York Mets’ team colors. Mills also knew how many home runs Seaver hit in his 20-year Big League career — 12.
* Well-wishers surrounded Seaver as soon as he arrived. “Thank you for having me, for crying out loud,” Seaver said.
* Referring to Fresno High, Seaver said, “In the journey to Cooperstown, this is one of my favorite spots.” Cooperstown, of course, refers to the Hall of Fame.
* Seaver on some of his contemporaries: Dick Ellsworth “was a cerebral pitcher.” Jim Maloney “had a great fastball.” Wade Blasingame: “The ol’ Blazer. I don’t know if pitched against him. When I was here as a junior, I played JV baseball. I wasn’t even good enough to play varsity.” (Blasingame, a lefty and one of the greatest prep pitchers in Valley history, was a senior at Roosevelt High when Seaver was a junior at FHS.)
* Seaver on Ellsworth, Tom Sommers and the late Pete Mehas, who pushed hard for the “Tom Seaver Lane” designation: “They should be patted on the back. They’ve done one hell of a good job to help this city.”
* Seaver on following in the footsteps at Fresno High of future Major-Leaguers Ellsworth, Maloney and catcher Pat Corrales: “I knew all about them. It gave you something to shoot for.”
* Fresno City Council President Blong Xiong and his staff played a key role in getting a quarter-mile-long piece of Echo Avenue renamed (on an honorary basis) “Tom Seaver Lane.”
Here’s a review from Kyle Loreto (Xiong’s chief of staff) of how the renaming process unfolded, including a tip of the hat to the man who designed the beautiful street signs:
“We were initially contacted by Dick Ellsworth. His group that included Pete Mehas had already spoken with Carol Mills and Fresno High School about a name change. At that meeting, Blong gave them his full support. We provided Dick with the information needed for an official name change and then put him in touch with the City Manager’s office. Along the way, the decision was made to make it an Honorary Naming. My thought is that the process and finances involved may have been too much. Changing the address on forms, documents, websites, business cards, etc. for the high school and businesses on Echo street could add up to quite a bit of money.
“Linda Cunha in the City Manager’s office worked closely with Dick to prepare the resolution…. Our City street sign staff worked with Mark at Signmax on the sign. He designed and printed the large ones installed on the street as well as the replicas. The replica signs can still be purchased from Signmax. Mark can be contacted at 299-7446. Linda and I got the resolution put on the agenda for Council to vote on. Once it was approved, Dick arranged a date for Tom to be in town and I set up the press conference with FUSD and Fresno High’s assistance.”
* “Mark” is Signmax designer Mark Niehoff here in Fresno. Niehoff said he got brief instructions from city officials. The sign had to say “Tom Seaver Lane.” Blue and orange (team colors of the New York Mets, Seaver’s first Big League team) had to be in there somewhere.
“I just ran with that,” Niehoff said.
The sign shows Seaver in full windup. He’s wearing his No. 41 Mets home uniform. The sign adds that Tom Terrific is a member of the baseball Hall of Fame and a 1962 graduate of Fresno High.
The signs going up at Fresno High are two different sizes — 36” by 30” and 48” by 18”. Niehoff said souvenir signs — 18” by 15” — are for sale to the general public. Cost: $27.50 each.
You can order one by calling Signmax or writing Niehoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Niehoff said Council Member Clint Olivier bought two. The council member, signs in hand, rushed past me as I left the Oct. 25 ceremony. He was headed toward Seaver. I think I saw an autograph pen in the legislator’s hand.
* Seaver mentioned his father, Charles Seaver, just once.
Charles Seaver died in 2004 at age 93. He was a world-class amateur golfer. He lost a U.S. Amateur semifinal match to Gene Homans 1-up in 1930. Homans lost the next day to Bobby Jones as Jones completed his historic Grand Slam.
A good case can be made that Bobby Jones was the best golfer ever. Charles Seaver played Jones three times.
Tom Seaver has often said that he got his will to win from his father.
Tom Seaver at the Oct. 25 ceremony got to talking about his grades at Fresno High.
“I was a decent student — B-minus, C-plus,” Seaver said. “But (academics) never pushed my buttons. Then I got in the Marine Corps. Sgt. Yoder taught me in one day what took my dad a year-and-a-half and failed to do.”
What did Sgt. Yoder do for Seaver? “I grew up.”
* Seaver made his major-league debut on April 13, 1967, the Met’s second game of the season. He started at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates’ starting lineup: Matty Alou (CF), Maury Wills (3B) , Roberto Clemente (RF), Willie Stargell (LF), Donn Clendenon (1B), Bill Mazeroski (2B), Gene Alley (SS), Jesse Gonder (C), Woodie Fryman (P).
Alou won the 1966 National League batting title with a .342 average. Wills (then with the Dodgers) was the 1962 National League most valuable player. Clemente, Stargell and Mazeroski would be elected to the Hall of Fame.
The Mets’ starting lineup: Don Bosch (CF), Cleon Jones (RF), Ken Boyer (3B), Ron Swoboda (1B), Tommie Reynolds (LF), Jerry Buchek (2B), Jerry Grote (C), Bud Harrelson (SS), Seaver (P).
Boyer, the 1964 NL most valuable player, was at the end of his career; he would hit a total of seven home runs in 1967 playing for the Mets and Chicago White Sox. The Mets’ best hitter in 1967 was Tommy Davis, the NL batting champion in 1962 and 1963 with the Dodgers, but he didn’t play in this game.
The Mets beat the Pirates 3-2 on April 13, 1967, but Seaver didn’t get the decision. He went 5-and-a-third innings, gave up six hits and two earned runs, walked four and struck-out eight. Alou twice got hit with a pitch by Seaver.
In his first Major League at-bat, Seaver walked. (The Bee didn’t make a big deal out of Seaver’s debut in the next day’s paper. The big sports news in the Valley on April 13, 1967 was the perfect game thrown by Selma High School’s Lloyd Allen. Allen struck out the first 19 Tulare Western batters in the seven-inning game.)
The Mets would finish 61-101 in 1967. They were 10th in a 10-team league. Seaver, the NL rookie of the year, went 16-13 with a 2.76 earned run average. He had 18 complete games in 34 starts.
No pitcher in the Mets’ previous five-year history had ever won more than 13 games in a season.
* Among Seaver’s friends to attend Friday’s event was George Sappenfield, Fresno High Class of 1963.
Seaver and Sappenfield in their teens were neighbors. Big baseball fans, too. Sappenfield told the crowd about an article (New York Times or Sports Illustrated, he couldn’t remember which) from about 1960 that infuriated the two friends.
The author had gone on a rant about how Major League baseball was going to the dogs, never to return to its former glory. I thought to myself as Sappenfield spoke — “This was the era of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Ernie Banks, Don Drysdale, Roberto Clemente, Jim Bunning. What did this writer want?”
Seaver and Sappenfield felt the same way. Sappenfield showed the crowd a copy of the letter the two of them wrote to the wayward scribe, then read a few lines. The letter’s theme: Baseball will always thrive, and no ink-stained wretch can shake its foundations.
* Sappenfield also read a few lines from a letter that Seaver wrote to him in 1966. Sappenfield gave me a copy of the letter.
The postmark is April 25, 1966. Seaver was playing for Jacksonville in the Mets’ farm system. The team was staying at the Roosevelt Motor Hotel in Jacksonville, Fla. (Roosevelt High and Fresno High are historic rivals, as Sappenfield noted with relish to the Oct. 25 crowd.)
The envelope is addressed to “Mr. George Sappenfield, 1575 Vagedes, Fresno, California.” The return address reads “Tom Seaver, (Ace).” The name is underlined.
Here’s the letter (on Roosevelt Hotel stationary) in its entirety:
“Hi Big George
“This letter may be a little messy & at times things might not mean too much but you’ll have to put up with it because tonight I make my first professional appearance, as a Jacksonville Sun. Our record is 4-0 & we play Rochester who is 3-0. I was so nervous I almost threw up at breakfast. I guess you have to come to the brilliant deduction that I made the AAA team — boy are you sharp!
“Are you married yet?
“How’s the golf game? Do I ever miss that!
“Anyway — back to Jacksonville. We are here for about 8 more days & then we go north for about 17 days — to Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester where the weather is so cold they can’t play golf. That’s pretty damn cold. I think we charter a 2 engine DC-8 to fly our road trips. The only place you can find DC-8’s now are in dime stores in the flying model section, listed under ancient relics. I think I’ll drive. That reminds me — I’m going down to buy a Porsche today. Can’t wait. I’ll give you & your wife a ride when I get home. Study hard for those finals & keep a good thought (what the hell does that mean?) Give your folks my best & drop me a line if you find time between nines — c/o Jacksonville Suns, Jacksonvills, Fla.
“My best — Tom”
Seaver was 21 at the time. He pitched a six-hitter that night, striking out nine as Jacksonville beat the Rochester Red Wings 4-2. The Red Wings’ manager was Earl Weaver, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career as the Baltimore Orioles manager.
Weaver managed the Orioles in 1969 when Seaver and Mets beat them in five games in the World Series.
* Seaver at the Oct. 25 ceremony mentioned his first appearance in a Major League All-Star Game. It was his rookie season. The game was played on July 11, 1967 at Anaheim Stadium.
The National League won 2-1 in 15 innings.
The Cincinnati Reds’ Tony Perez hit a solo home run in the top of the 15th to give the National League its 2-1 lead. NL Manager Walter Alston brought in Seaver to pitch the bottom of the 15th.
Seaver on Oct. 25 told the crowd that he was “absolutely scared to death” as he made his way from the bullpen to the mound. Seaver said he passed the NL shortstop on the journey. Seaver on Oct. 25 said he couldn’t recall the shortstop’s name. It was the Pirates’ Gene Alley, who played all 15 innings.
Seaver said the shortstop whispered, “You look a little nervous, kid.”
If so, the nerves didn’t last long.
Seaver got Tony Conigliaro on a fly to left field, walked Carl Yastrzemski (who had three of the American League’s eight hits and would win the Triple Crown that year), got Bill Freehan on a fly to center field and struck out Ken Berry to save the game for the National Leaguers.
“I got to the mound and I said, ‘I can do this,’” Seaver said. “Part of that comes from Fresno High School. Part of that comes from the Marine Corps. Part of it comes from the love of baseball.
“I put them into play in 1967 and it never left.”
A few notes from Saturday’s opening of the M Street Arts Complex in downtown Fresno:
* The ribbon-cutting ceremony was at 3 p.m. There were plenty of speakers. By my rough count, more than 200 people showed up. The crowd included my newsroom colleague Donald Munro. His A-1 piece in today’s Bee did a great job explaining the Complex’s genesis, purpose and potential.
The key details: Long-vacant 12,000-square-foot building on northwest corner of Tuolumne and M streets turned into art studios/galleries; $2 million invested by Granville Homes; the Assemi family adds another gem to Uptown.
* Julia Woli Scott, a Fresno artist and driving force behind the Complex, on downtown’s accelerating revitalization: “How incredible this town can be.”
* Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro: “Every great city — like Fresno — deserves a vibrant arts community …. Fresno State will be a partner here.”
* Fresno County Board of Supervisors Chairman Henry R. Perea: “What a great day for Fresno and Fresno County …. You build great cities around your culture and your arts …. We’re making a lot of history here.”
Perea praised Marlene Murphey, who headed the City of Fresno’s now-defunct Redevelopment Agency for many years. The RDA provided the cash subsidies and low-interest loans for many of Granville’s residential and commercial projects in and around downtown.
* Jackie Ryle, president of the Fresno Cultural Arts Rotary Club: “That’s where the future is — young people with talent.”
* Granville Homes President Darius Assemi: “This is what happens when you have a collaborative effort …. We want downtown to become the art mecca for central California …. It’s a very proud day for us.”
Echoing a theme from Perea’s remarks, Assemi said plans and ideas are important but the key is action. For anyone sincere about downtown revitalization, Assemi said, there’s only one thing to do with an empty building: “Get it filled up.”
* City Council President Blong Xiong was there, but didn’t speak. No one remotely connected to City Hall spoke.
* The crowd was respectful and appreciative.
* I was almost late to the ceremony. I live near Bullard High School in northwest Fresno. I decided to walk. I realized about a mile south of Manchester Center that I wouldn’t make it in time. I grabbed a ride on FAX Bus No. 30.
The bus was packed. People were standing shoulder-to-shoulder the full length of the aisle. I stood next to a woman in a wheelchair, a few feet from the driver.
An elderly woman got on at the next stop. She had a small, two-wheel shopping cart.
“You’ll have to collapse that,” the driver said. “We’re almost full.”
The elderly woman ripped into the driver.
“I’ve been riding these buses for many years,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve ever been rejected.”
“You’re not being rejected,” the driver said in a soft, calm voice. “We’re almost full. You’ll have to collapse that.”
A young woman with a small child and a large shopping bag was sitting behind the driver. The woman put her child on her lap and scooted over as far as she could to make room for the elderly woman.
The elderly woman took the empty seat. She collapsed her shopping cart with the speed and ease of someone who’s done it a million times.
The elderly woman didn’t say thank you to the young woman. The elderly woman continued her rant for a few seconds.
“I’ve never been rejected before!”
Then the elderly woman shut up. A bus full of Fresnans headed toward downtown rolled on in blessed silence.
I got off the bus a bit south of Belmont and made it in plenty of time to celebrate the latest addition to an arts community charged with recording the essence of life in Fresno.
Good luck to all.
I spent an hour on Monday going through two sources of local history: The 1957 “Owl,” Fresno High School’s yearbook, and the 1956 Fresno Bee archives.
I wanted to get a taste of the senior year of Pete Mehas, the teacher and football player who died on Sept. 27.
Edwin C. Kratt was Fresno Unified’s superintendent when Mehas entered his last year at FHS in September 1956. Arthur L. Selland was president of the school board. The FHS principal was Jack Mulkey.
Fresno High in 2013 has a beautiful entrance, but it can’t compare to what FHS students saw in 1956 as they walked onto campus.
Clubs were a big deal. There was the Cafeteria Committee (Mehas was the spring cafe chairman); the Grounds Committee (nothing but big, strong boys, and lots of them); the Social Affairs Committee; the Card Tricks Committee (halftime entertainment at football games); the Purple and Gold club (“maintain the trophy case, Lions Club Toy Drive, Christmas decorations, assist parents on Back to School Night, arrange weekly schedules”); Silver Spoons (school service); Usherettes (school service); Portia (debate club, co-sponsored the Mr. Touchdown Dance); Quid Nunc (helped support Mario, the Italian war orphan and sponsored the Roman Banquet); and the Radio Club.
Academics were a big deal, too. The “Owl” had six pages devoted to photos of teachers. The “Owl” staff, to give readers a sense of what these teachers taught, ran a six-page line of subjects and topics: “History; 4 + 4 = 8; English; saw; amoeba; moderato; softball; a x b = ab; amigo; H2O; verbs; dictation, family living; nein; history; protoplasm; on stage; pronouns, a + a = 2a; gerunds; protozoa; Beowulf; crustacea; appositive; arthropoda; plane; basketball; civics; food; conjunctions; a-s-d-f; puella; push-ups; Webster…”
Other seniors in the FHS Class of 1957: Jim McKelvey, Dennis Metzler, Mike Noakes, Roger Nuttall, Carol Seaver (Tom’s sister) and Dick Val Galder.
Part of the FHS alma mater goes: ‘When in future years we’re turning leaves of memory/Then we’ll find our hearts returning Fresno High, to thee.”
Mehas was a center on the varsity football team. The team went 2-6 in the fall of 1956. The Warriors beat Kerman 38-7 and Madera 9-0. They were blanked in their final three games, losing to Mt. Whitney, Edison and Roosevelt by a combined score of 76-0.
Perhaps the Warriors never recovered from a tough mid-season 21-14 loss to the powerful Bakersfield Drillers in Bakersfield’s Memorial Stadium. The Drillers went 10-1 that season (losing only to Madera) and won the Valley Championship with Bob Schmidt (who went on to play at Notre Dame and USC) at quarterback.
Mehas’ jersey number was 45. Ollie Bidwell was the Warriors’ head coach. The quarterbacks were Van Galder and Jim Maloney (a junior).
The 1956 local high school football season opened, as it always did in those years, with the Football Carnival. There were only three public high schools in town — Fresno, Edison and Roosevelt.
The three schools played each other in a round-robin format. Each game was two quarters in length, 12 minutes per quarter. There was standard scoring, but each first down was worth a point.
Edison won the 11th annual Football Carnival in 1956. The Tigers beat FHS 17-5 and Roosevelt 9-0. FHS beat Roosevelt 12-3.
Vestee Jackson and Henry Stennis were Edison’s key players.
Fresno High had a solid rushing attack.
“Jerry Schillings, Richard Gunner and Jim Albracht did the running in short ground gainers,” The Bee reported in its Sept. 21, 1956 issue.
The carnival was held at Fresno Recreation Park on Kearney Boulevard. Many high school football games were held at this park.
Edison beat FHS 33-0 on Thursday, Nov. 8 in front of 5,000 fans at Recreation Park. One of The Bee’s headlines was: “Edison Tigers Pulverize Inept Fresno Warriors.”
The Little Big Game — Fresno High vs. Roosevelt High — was on Nov. 15, 1956 at Recreation Park. The two teams totaled just 313 yards in total offense (111 by FHS). There was a total of 165 yards in penalties. A 25-yard penalty, moving the ball to the FHS 1-yard line, led to one of Roosevelt’s touchdowns.
Final score: Roosevelt 12, FHS 0.
“Roosevelt never alternated from a slow but sure ground game which proved proper winning procedure but something less than interesting to watch,” The Bee reported.
The crowd — estimated at 5,500 — was deemed the smallest for a Little Big Game in many years.
The Roosevelt coach was Walt Byrd Sr.
Mehas was born Oct. 1, 1939, a month after the start of World War II in Europe, and came of age in a Fresno on the cusp of a golden age of sport.
He entered Fresno High School in the mid-1950s and rubbed shoulders in the hallways with future Major League baseball players Maloney, Dick Ellsworth and Pat Corrales. Fresno High vs. Roosevelt High in any sport was the city’s biggest rivalry.
Mehas was a standout center on the Fresno City College football team. He played at San Jose State, then came home to play for Fresno State.
Mehas never had a year quite like 1961. The Bulldogs went 10-0, the school’s second (and, so far, last) undefeated, untied season. He was a lineman on a team that included outstanding lineman such as Sonny Bishop, Doug Brown and Monte Day.
On Nov. 23, 1961, the Bulldogs crushed favored Bowling Green 36-6 in front of more than 33,000 fans in the Los Angeles Coliseum in what was called the Mercy Bowl. Proceeds from the game went to survivors of the deadly 1960 crash in Toledo, Ohio of an airplane carrying the Cal Poly football team.
Shortly before the Mercy Bowl, Fresno was ranked third in the Associated Press Small School football poll. The teams in front of Fresno State: Pittsburg (Kansas) and Baldwin-Wallace.
Fresno State athletics would soon soar far beyond such environs. Mehas watched and encouraged such ambition.
He became a teacher in 1963, getting his started at Roosevelt. Athletic Director Walt Byrd Sr. got Mehas to coach football, too.
Mehas soon left for Edison High, which was predominantly African-American.
“I want to learn more about teaching at a black high school,” Mehas told The Bee in 1987.
Charle Young, who would go on to a great football career at University of Southern California and in the National Football League, was among the players coached by Mehas at Edison.
Mehas was president of the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame from 1990 to 2013. He is a member of the HOF, both individually and as part of the 1961 Mercy Bowl team.
Mehas on the day before he died made what was probably his last public appearance. He and several other community leaders went to a Fresno City Council meeting to ask elected officials to designate the portion of Echo Avenue in front of Fresno High as Tom Seaver Lane.
The council did so.
But before the vote, Council Member Sal Quintero briefly addressed Mehas.
Quintero is a sports buff who played a tough game of basketball at San Joaquin Memorial High in the mid-1960s. As a council member, he represents southeast Fresno and the Roosevelt High neighborhood. Quintero knows well the delicious intensity of the Fresno-Roosevelt rivalry, especially among those of Mehas’ generation.
“Hey, Coach,” Quintero said with a smile to Mehas. “Next time, I want you to wear a shirt that’s half purple and half green.”
Purple is one of Fresno High’s colors. Green belongs to Roosevelt.
Mehas smiled and raised an arm, the athlete’s traditional signal of triumph.
Ever the diplomat, Mehas didn’t say for which school.
My theory is this: Fresno is such a good news town that local reporters should continue to keep tabs on former City Hall officials even after they’ve moved to a new job 200 miles away. I’d summarize this story but I don’t fully understand it. The fault is mine, Alene, not yours.
Burbank City Council OKs contract change
By Alene Tchekmedyian
Burbank Leader, Glendale, Calif.
Sept. 27—The City Council on Tuesday signed off on changes to City Manager Mark Scott’s contract after discovering — contrary to what officials thought when he was hired — that he doesn’t fall under the new employee pension system, and thus would cost the city more money than originally anticipated.
Scott gave up a number of benefits in his contract after realizing he qualifies for the old California Public Employees’ Retirement System plan, which allows him to earn a larger pension upon retirement.
Under the new system, Scott’s annual pension would have capped at $155,000, meaning that his, along with the city’s, annual pension contribution would have cost roughly $10,500.
Before accepting the position, he was advised that he likely would have fallen under the new system since his former employer, the city of Fresno, has its own pension system.
But after taking the Burbank job, he discovered he qualified for the old plan, which meant the city would have had to pay an additional roughly $12,000 annually into his pension, paying the full employer pension contribution on his $290,000 salary, instead of on the $155,000 cap, he said.
“I went a back to the City Council, I said, ’OK, look, we’ve got to change my contract,’”
Scott said. “’I need to take enough out of my contract to pay for that.’”
That meant cutting the relocation assistance clause through which he would have received $1,800 a month for up to 18 months, and the $8,000 raise that would have kicked in after the relocation assistance expired.
Additionally, the city will match voluntary contributions that Scott makes to his deferred compensation plan for up to $250 per month, instead of $1,250, and contribute $750 a month to his retiree medical account, according to the contract amendment.
“I just wanted to be fair,” Scott said.
The council approved the changes Tuesday in a 4-0 vote. Councilman Bob Frutos was absent.
(c)2013 the Burbank Leader (Glendale, Calif.)
Here are three more examples of Big Data’s growing presence in the Valley:
1.) The Fresno City Council on April 25 approved a deal between City Hall and the state Franchise Tax Board that should give pause to local business-owners who don’t like paying taxes.
It’s one of those you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours agreements between branches of your friendly Big Brother.
Just about all businesses in Fresno must a business license fee. In essence, it’s a tax. For most businesses, there’s a single fee based on gross annual income. Professionals such as lawyers pay a flat fee for a professional license, while the lawyer’s firm pays a fee based on gross receipts.
City Hall loves this money because it goes straight to the general fund. The city collected $15.56 million in business license fees in Fiscal Year 2012. This jumped nearly 6% to $16.49 million in FY 2013. The city hopes to collect $16.82 million this year — and wouldn’t be a bit disappointed if the tax-collectors far exceeded that goal.
Gov. Jerry Brown likes business-owners’ money, too.
City Hall and Brown have one big fear. They suspect some businesses are paying their City of Fresno business license fees, but not their full share of sales and income taxes to the Franchise Tax Board. And they suspect that other businesses are paying their full share of sales and income taxes to the Franchise Tax Board, but not their City of Fresno business license fees.
You can see where this was headed on April 25.
The council agreed to send City Hall data on local businesses to Sacramento in exchange for Sacramento’s data on local businesses.
If Joe’s Widget Shop is on one list and not the other, well, Joe had better haul out his checkbook or get a good lawyer.
Karen Bradley, Fresno’s assistant controller, and Kim Jackson, the city’s business tax manager, explained the deal to me.
They said City Hall sent its data to the Franchise Tax Board in June. The state crunches it. The Franchise Tax Board in December will send its data to City Hall.
Neither side will have direct access to the other’s data. City Hall will send only the names and addresses of local businesses. No figures on gross sales will be sent to Sacramento.
City Hall must “scrub” the data it gets from Sacramento, Bradley and Jackson said. This means, among other things, making sure discrepancies between the two lists aren’t due to typos. For example, Joe’s Widget Shop on one list may be Jo’s Widget Shoppe on another. Are they the same business or two separate businesses?
But make no mistake, Bradley and Jackson said. If Joe of widget shop fame is paying state business taxes but not his City of Fresno business license fees, he can expect a letter of tactful finger-wagging from City Hall next spring.
The city and the state shared data in the past, but their computer systems didn’t mesh. The new world of relatively-inexpensive supercomputers has changed that.
Will the April 25 deal work as planned?
Said Assistant Controller Bradley: “We hope so.”
2.) Video surveillance is part of Big Data. The Fresno police department has 150 security cameras throughout the city. But that’s nothing compared to Fresno Unified School District — 750 security cameras keep an eye on approximately 100 high schools, middle schools and elementary schools.
Police Chief Jerry Dyer told me several weeks ago that his department and the district have an agreement that allows police direct access to the video feeds. That makes sense on two levels. First, a lot happens on FUSD campuses that merits police review. Second, Dyer is building a sophisticated Big Data command center in police headquarters that apparently will be able to handle the production of 750 school cameras running 24/7.
It all sounds very simple. But perhaps it’s not that simple. Politically-speaking, it’s one thing for police cameras to automatically send data back to police headquarters, and it’s something entirely different for a public-school district’s cameras to automatically send data back to police headquarters.
FUSD officials at first told me the deal is exactly as Dyer described it to me. The agreement is in place. Police can access the district’s video feeds as needed. Everyone wins because security is improved.
Then FUSD officials changed their tune with me. The district-PD deal is still in the negotiating stage. Police won’t get unilateral access to video feeds. Instead, police will have to get permission from a district official to review video.
If I understand correctly, if something bad is happening at a school at 3 a.m., police will have to get a district official out of bed and successfully make their case over the phone before getting a look at potentially important video.
And if I understand the district correctly, the video-policing policy that could eventually be worked out will not permit the police to have immediate access to video recorded during school hours.
Does that mean a cop assigned to a high school campus is permitted to witness something with her own two eyes but not permitted to take a second look at the incident on video?
I don’t know. Then again, it appears hardly anyone at FUSD knows what’s going on. FUSD Trustee Michelle Arax Asadoorian told me last week over the phone that no one in the district administration has told her about this district-police department video-deal-in-the-making.
“The reality is this is something that should come before the public in a public setting,” Asadoorian said.
3.) Fresno State football Coach Tim DeRuyter is a big consumer of Big Data/Big Computers.
“The average fan probably doesn’t realize how much we rely on those things,” DeRuyter said after a morning practice late last month. “We’ve got a great system made by XOs Technologies (I think that’s what he said) that tells all the data — downs, distance, personnel, what hash, how much time is left in the game, what the defense is, the formation, the play, the gain or the loss. We put all that information into a spread sheet. It ties that information to video clips. You can get what we call cut-ups so you can look immediately. Instead of an entire game in sequence, I just want to look at the third down in one to four plays. It’ll pull it up just like that. I’ll say: ‘I want to look at second down and 10 after an incomplete pass.’ Right away it’ll give us a cut-up of just that situation.”
I don’t fully understand what DeRuyter said there, but his main point is clear. Big-time college football is neck-deep into Big Data.
DeRuyter said his graduate assistants grab all the data from the previous week’s game and put it into digital form. Then DeRuyter and his staff analyze the data in ways that make them useful to players and coaches alike.
“It’s all part of our prep,” DeRuyter said. “You know as a playcaller on Saturday what the other team has done in the prior four games so you can anticipate what they may do against you.”
DeRuyter said recruiting databases are growing in quantity and content.
“In the last five to seven years, through the advent of recruiting video being put on computers, you can really expand your recruiting base and not have to go there unless you’ve got an actual prospect,” DeRuyter said.
He said Internet video helped Fresno State decide it was worth the effort to recruit running back Marteze Waller of Georgia.
The power of the Internet, DeRuyter said. “has changed the game.”
DeRuyter surprised me when he said there’s not a direct and continuous exchange of computerized data between the training room and the coaches’ offices. The stakes are so high in top-level college football, the number of variables that go into success so big, and the temptation of managers to manage so intense that I figured the coaches would want all the real-time Big Data they could get.
This isn’t to suggest that DeRuyter ignores training-room information.
“We track guys when they first come in here: height, weight speed, body fat,” DeRuyter said. “We’ve got a piece of equipment called the ‘bod pod’ that measures their lean mass and body fat. We take a picture of those guys when they first get here. Hopefully through training their body fat percent goes down but their lean muscle mass goes up — becoming better athletes. A lot of that information is tracked. It’s more of our database.”
I told DeRuyter that in a year or two his training staff will be sending continuous, real-time data to the coaching staff’s computer experts.
Said DeRuyter: “You’re probably right.”
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer every month hosts something called the “CrimeView” presentation. I’ll call it CrimeView for short.
Channel 30 reporter Stephanie Stone has attended a handful. I went to my first CrimeView on Wednesday, Aug. 14.
It was held in the media room of the old City Hall, Fresno Street at M Street (the building, now called the Annex, is part of police headquarters).
Being a rookie, I was hustling to make sense of what unfolded. But I can guarantee you three things: 1.) CrimeView is absolutely pivotal to any reporter who wants to keep abreast of the State of the City; 2.) Sheriff Margaret Mims should host something similar each month; 3.) I’ll be at the next CrimeView (unless the Chief bans the media — which might happen).
CrimeView’s lay of the land is this:
* There are a half-dozen rows of chairs in the back of the room. Police officers of various ranks and duties sit here. Stephanie and I were in the back row; she brought along a cameraman. A deputy district attorney sat in front of me. Aides to Council Members Paul Caprioglio and Clint Olivier were in the same row.
* Off to one side are some of PD’s computer experts. They’re kept busy throughout CrimeView.
* Three long tables are joined to form a “U.” Dyer and the four deputy chiefs — Pat Farmer, Keith Foster, Robert Nevarez, Sharon Shaffer — sit at one table. Several officers last Wednesday sat at the second table throughout the meeting, but I didn’t know their names. The third table (facing Dyer and the deputy chiefs) is the hot seat. Groups of officers come to this table, make oral reports with the aid of graphics, then depart for the next group.
* There are big screens at the front of the room. When Dyer or one of the presenters needs a graphic, the computer experts deliver it on one of the screens.
What unfolds is just what the title states — a fast-paced view of crime in Fresno. But it’s a lot more interesting than anything the City Council gets in the council chamber on a sleepy Thursday afternoon. At CrimeView you get to hear the Police Department’s front-line troops — the men and women actually out there on the streets trying to turn idealistic policy into crime-stopping results — deliver their assessments.
There were a lot of numbers, too many for me to grasp. Some of the numbers on the screens were too small for this old reporter’s eyes. The Chief was probably more generous with praise than when in a more private setting with his officers. And, to a large degree, everyone spoke with a caution that seems always present when police officers see a reporter nearby.
Despite all these qualifications, CrimeView struck me as meaty. And best of all, the presentation unfolded in a way that hinted at how the institution called the Fresno Police Department works in practice.
Needless to say, it’s a complex organization with a huge mission.
Dyer started by giving some year-to-date crime statistics. Violent crime was down nearly 8%, property crime down more than 12%, shootings down about 14%. The Chief praised his officers.
Then came a report from Lt. Mark Salazar, chief of the Street Violence Bureau. Again, we again got lots of statistics. We got shootings solved (99), robberies solved (58), search warrants (186), homes searched (246), guns recovered (116). I think this was for the previous 28-day period, but I’m not sure.
Salazar is real good at delivering this news. He’s forceful, blunt, detailed. You sense he gets the big picture as well as the nitty-gritty.
But what knocks your socks off are the photos that accompanied the reports by Salazar and several others.
Let me back up just for a second. Deputy Chief Foster on Dec. 20, 2012 wrote a report for the City Council. The report asked the council to accept a grant ($500,000 state, $500,000 local match) so the Police Department could, among other things, hire a full-time Gun/Gang analyst.
“The county of Fresno,” Foster wrote, “is home to 3.05% of the nation’s total gang members.”
One of every 330 people living in America is to be found in Fresno County. But we’re home to three of every 100 gang members in America.
That’s absolutely stunning. I wonder if Council Member Lee Brand’s Infill Development Subcommittee knows this. I’ll bet those developers eyeing the Rio Mesa area on the north side of the San Joaquin River do.
Back to Salazar and his colleagues.
The photos are of local gang members. They’re wanted by authorities. Or they’re identified as being especially dangerous and active.
The mug shots are displayed in considerable size — none of those tiny thumbnail pictures you get in the newspaper. Each photo includes the guy’s name and his gang.
It took me awhile before I realized Fresno has more identifiable gangs than all the teams in the National Football League and Major League Baseball combined. I started writing some names: Young Black Soldiers, Strother Boys, Dog Pound, Garret Street, Bond Street. Selma Bulldog.
Of course, there are the “regulars”: Crips, Fresno Bulldog, Nortenos, Surenos.
“They’re always active,” Salazar said of the Crips.
“He’s a heavy player,” he said of a gang member.
“He’ll be caring his weight here,” he said of a gang member who recently moved into town. Salarzar didn’t mean this guy would be a hard-working citizen.
There was a photo of a guy with a long, long neck. So long that it accommodated a large tatoo of the New York Yankees’ distinctive “NY” logo.
Salazar spoke of two brothers, both gang-bangers. They like guns. People who hate them also like guns. There was an entire week of alternating action. The brothers on one night drove around Fresno until they saw someone to shoot at. Then the brothers drove around the next night and were themselves the target of gunfire. Then the brothers on the third night drove around until they saw someone to shoot at. Back and forth, back and forth.
There apparently are neighborhoods in Fresno with a lifestyle totally alien to regular folks.
“These cases happen all the time — throughout the night,” Salazar said.
Just the city of Fresno has nearly enough full-time, validated gang-bangers — more than 10,000 in 94 gangs, according to Deputy Chief Foster’s Dec. 20 report — to fill a military division of infantry. There probably are at least that many affiliated gang members in the city, the Deputy Chief wrote.
In other words, the city of Fresno all by itself has enough gang-bangers (and affiliates) bent on mayhem and subversion to nearly fill a WWII Army corps. And we’re not even out in the county, yet.
The truth is this: Fresnans have simply gotten used to something that, in 1956, would have been intolerable to normal people. We’ve got quite a future ahead of us. Who would want to live here?
On top of all that, Chief Dyer in a recent email to me said the idea of using part of the grant to hire a full-time Gun/Gang analyst idea hit a wall. The Chief wrote:
“I just learned that we have not been able to hire the gun analyst. We conducted interviews but could not find anyone with the qualifications needed to take the position for the 18 month grant period. We recently modified the grant with the state and reallocated the funds to form a bridge between RMS (Records Management System) and the States Cal Gangs system. Previously we were using civilian employees and more recently modified duty officers to enter this data into Cal Gangs. This is our gang validation process. Now the RMS system automatically sends any gang arrest to a gang detective in MAGEC who reviews the info to ensure the person qualifies as a valid gang member and then simply hits a button to populate Cal Gangs system. This system is shared statewide. In essence we freed up a near full time position on data entry.
“We have recently recruited a skilled volunteer to map out our gun arrests. We have some preliminary maps developed. That system will eventually be automated. In terms of mapping shootings, we are still working on that, but I anticipate we will transition that duty to our crime analyst when they come on board. We also have a gun detective who currently analyzes every gun arrest to determine if follow up is needed to strengthen the case and whether the case should be prosecuted through the State or through the US Attorney.”
Back to last Wednesday’s CrimeView. Various division or police district heads took turns in the hot seat, along with their top assistants. The Chief fired questions. Among the comments and points, coming mostly from the hot seat (no names other than the Chief’s this time — I’ll do better next time):
* “Very quickly the word gets around that MAGEC is out.” In other words, the bad guys tend to disappear when the multi-agency gang enforcement consortium tackles a neighborhood.
* On the Surenos gang: “They’re loners. They’re very aggressive.”
* “We’re losing our leverage with probation, parole.” There was no interpretation of this comment. What leverage? Why the loss?
* The department appears to have a pretty good intelligence network. Officials spoke at some length about which high-profile gang members were in town, which were out of town, and who is on another gang’s hit list.
* The cell phones of bad guys are a rich source of intelligence.
* Chop shops — places where stolen cars are cut up for parts — used to have five or six cars on hand when they got busted. Now the chop shops are smaller — one car at a time.
* On the effort to stamp out gangs: “When we move the manpower, the fire pops up over here. We’ll probably never completely put it out.”
* Arson is turning into a major challenge in homeless camps.
* There have recently been a lot of vehicle burglaries in downtown.
* “A uniformed presence is one of the determining factors” in reducing crime, Dyer said. The department in the past four years has seen its roster of sworn officers drop from about 850 to about 730.
* “I believe there is a direct correlation between crime reduction and felony arrests,” Dyer said.
* Some neighborhoods in the past month have seen spikes in robberies and vehicle thefts. There were reductions in other neighborhoods. Aggravated assaults seem to be on the rise everywhere.
* Just one quick note on the department’s 150 video cameras. The chief flashed on the front screen the location of each camera. Most are in downtown and Southwest Fresno. First time I’d ever seen a public display of the cameras’ locations.
* The chief’s final comment before he left Stephanie and me at the end of the meeting: “It’s important we identify the crime trends quickly.”
I left CrimeView intrigued by what I’d seen. I also realized I saw just the tip of the iceberg that is law enforcement in Fresno. For example, how does the Investigations Division fit into things? Where (and how) do decisions on personnel deployments get made? Is the Police Department a place that pursues and encourages innovation?
Maybe all that will be debated in the next year or so.
If, that is, there is another CrimeView.
I chatted briefly with Chief Dyer and Deputy Chief Farmer in the late afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 15, at City Hall. The Aug. 14 CrimeView presentation was Topic A.
“My guys said, ‘Why did you let the media in?’” Dyer said to me. “They said, ‘We can’t speak freely with reporters there.’”
My advice to the Chief: Keep the reporters — tell everyone to open their hearts and minds.
That’s how an informed public will be best served.
I posted a blog titled “Thoughts on a wonderful cabinet-maker” on July 31. It was about a man named Mike, a friend dating back to our school days in Lindsay in the 1950s and 1960s.
Mike at his best had many virtues. But he spent too many of his adult years behind bars or homeless on the streets of Fresno.
I didn’t identify him beyond his first name. His name is Mike Knutson. He died nine days after the blog was posted.
Mike died a month shy of his 63rd birthday. From what I gather, he died in a bed in an apartment at 1474 Fresno Street, just two blocks west of Fulton Mall. He apparently went to a friend named Leland who was staying there. Mike said he wasn’t feeling well. Leland was kind enough to give him a place.
Several days later, Mike was gone. I walked by the place (a hotel in its younger days, I think) last Thursday. There was a sign out front with Mike’s name on it. I heard later that dozens of people gathered at the old hotel that night to speak of Mike. Several members of Mike’s family attended.
Mike’s family held a graveside service for him early Friday afternoon at the Lindsay-Strathmore Cemetery, southeast of Lindsay. About 100 people were there. The family after the 30-minute service hosted a luncheon at China’s Alley Mexican restaurant in downtown Lindsay. Many of us were there.
There are two parts to this blog. The second part contains a copy of my remarks at Mike’s funeral and a photo of Mike from his senior yearbook at Lindsay High School.
The first part of this blog is a quick heads up. The administration of Mayor Ashley Swearengin begins a historic sweep of downtown homeless camps in a week.
The razing of the sprawling camp on Santa Clara Street across from the Poverello House begins Aug. 26. Next up is the camp at Los Angeles and E in old Germantown on Sept. 3. The last is the camp on H Street south of Ventura on Sept. 9.
Preston Prince, chief executive at the Fresno Housing Authority, estimates there are 4,000 homeless people in Fresno. More than half, he says, are “unsheltered” — they live under bushes or on sidewalks or in makeshift structures. The others struggle from one friend’s couch to anther, sometimes landing under the bushes for a stretch.
There are many schools of thought about Fresno’s homelessness challenge. I give you the Web addresses for my earlier blog and four organizations that take a passionate interest in finding answers.
1.) “Thoughts on a wonderful cabinet-maker” — http://news.fresnobeehive.com/archives/3263?replytocom=143893
2.) Central California Legal Services (Chris Schneider, executive director) — http://www.centralcallegal.org/
3.) “Community Alliance” newspaper (Mike Rhodes — editor) — http://fresnoalliance.com/wordpress/?author=7
4.) Fresno First Steps Home (Tom Richards — board chairman) — http://www.fresnofirststepshome.org/
5.) Fresno Madera Continuum of Care (Jody Ketcheside, executive committee chair — http://www.fresnomaderahomeless.org/home0.aspx
I have no sure-fire solutions. I will suggest only this.
The many family members and friends (I exclude myself from this analysis) who attended Mike’s service on Friday are wonderful people. They are hard-working. They are responsible. Many served their country honorably in the military. They care for their families. They show compassion for the less fortunate. They know no one is perfect, including themselves. They are not mean or arrogant or insensitive. They are the best America has to offer.
And they all know that a just public order — a deep-rooted respect for the law and the rights of others — is pivotal to civilization.
My comments at Mike’s Friday service:
I called the Coroner’s Office a couple of days ago about Mike.
Dr. Gopal said Knut was 6 feet tall. He weighed 175 pounds. He died in one of those long-stay hotels in Fresno’s Chinatown.
Knut’s body showed the effects of paramedics trying to revive him. Otherwise, there were no marks.
Dr. Gopal said it was too early for the toxicology report. His best guess on cause of death – cardiac arrest.
Mike Knutson’s heart yielded to earthly events at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 9, 2013.
My aim here is not to tell stories. We all have our tales with Mike. The best are sure to be recalled as the day moves on.
My aim is the mystery. What, dear Lord, happened to Mike?
I don’t have answers except the obvious one of drink. But Mike and I did cross paths in Fresno over the past decade. And I’ll make a guess at what made Mike tick in his final years.
It has to do with geography. Mike and I seemed to always bump into each other in an area of downtown Fresno that makes a triangle.
There’s Santa Clara Street in the south. Then H Street going north to the Belmont underpass. Then Divisadero and C street back to Santa Clara.
I might come across Mike sleeping by the railroad tracks. Or waiting for a bus. Or needing a ride to the recycling center.
And I’d think: Why would Mike choose this small triangle of urban chaos? He could live in the same size area in Lindsay.
The triangle could start here. Go up Foothill to the high-school football stadium. Then cut across town to what used to be Coleman’s Drive-In. Then back to here.
As far as money goes, Mike could have led the same life. And here he would have had the comfort of familiar sights.
There would be the house on Laurel where he and Nancy started their married life and brought two daughters into the world. There would be the Junior High where he once put my bicycle on top of the basketball backboard. There would be that paper shack where he and brother Eric rolled Fresno Bees every Sunday morning.
But Mike chose not to live in Lindsay. Mike’s daughter shined a light on what I think is the reason.
Kim told me she and her sister Tesa and their Aunt Darlene insisted that Mike get a formal funeral.
“He deserves that respect,” Kim said.
Yes, Mike wanted respect. But more importantly, he wanted to be seen by others as worthy of their respect. He wanted respectability. Through all his troubles, I guarantee that gnawed at him. Most of all Mike wanted respectability in the eyes of the society he cherished – that of Lindsay and its people from long ago.
Granted, Mike didn’t always behave in a way that made him worthy. He knew it. Hence, he chose Fresno’s streets rather than Lindsay’s streets.
Mike never lost the capacity for shame. That’s why there was always hope — within him and for him.
Mike called me about a year ago. He said he was doing better. “Hey, Kipper, when’s the next class reunion?” He wanted the Class of ’68 to see he had regained the full measure of respectability he once possessed and, he felt certain, would again be his position in life.
It wasn’t to be.
Mike disappeared from us all too often. It’s not inappropriate for us today to say Mike was wrong. He hurt many. He had no reason and no right to do so.
And because he left us for so many years, we are forced today to look obliquely in our search for the complete man. We need clues.
I suggest the most telling clue is us. A cardinal rule of my business is you can see a lot by looking. We all know each other. Please — take a look at us.
I see Nancy. And Kim and Tesa. And Eric. And Darlene. There’s Art and Dave. And Vickie.
I see excellence. I have no doubt Mike in his heyday and in his memory while walking the streets of Fresno did as well.
We have come here on a warm Lindsay afternoon to pay our respect to a man we hadn’t seen for years, perhaps decades. We do so because, despite everything, we recognize Mike’s fundamental excellence. There was respectability in that man.
The whole idea of democracy is that wisdom is to be found in the people’s collective will. We are right about Knut.