The following is an excerpt from personal memoirs I’m currently working on. It relates a few of my more memorable experiences.
By Robert A. Vella
In July 2007, the Hawken wildfire erupted in my west Reno community of Caughlin Ranch from a construction site mishap. My condo was engulfed with caustic black smoke saturated with heavy ash which forced me to close all my windows tight and not use the air conditioner. But, those measures didn’t help much and the indoor air quality was barely tolerable. I still remember the acrid smell which lingered for weeks afterwards, and which had no similarity whatsoever to the pleasant aromas of a typical campfire. Even worse, I could see ugly burnt-orange flames leaping high into the air to the southwest from my bedroom window, and expected a mandatory evacuation order from authorities which fortunately was never issued. Less than a year later, on April 26th 2008, the 4.7 magnitude Mogul earthquake struck just west of Reno which – because of its shallow depth and close proximity – felt to me like a powerful 6.5 trembler. At first, there was a loud bang and rattle (from the faster P wave – i.e. pressure wave) followed quickly by motions that bent and twisted the walls of my condo (from the slower S waves – i.e. shear waves). It was by far the strongest quake I ever experienced (it was also part of a larger swarm sequence which lasted for several months) and, quite frankly, it unnerved me. This double whammy fire/earthquake probably hastened my planned relocation to Washington state which I did do only four months later.
I would be remiss not to relate the single most impactful event in my life. It was sometime before our noon lunch break at Hayward Park elementary school in San Mateo on November 22nd 1963. I was 8 years old and in 3rd grade. The principal stepped into the classroom and had a brief somber conversation with our teacher. He departed, and she struggled to maintain her composure in an announcement to the class which I’ll paraphrase thusly:
Something terrible has happened. President Kennedy has been shot and killed in Dallas. We are cancelling class for the rest of the day, and your parents are coming to pick you up.
Then, she started crying uncontrollably as did the entire class. I remember looking at the pictures of the President, Vice President, and other political leaders which were hanging on a wall. The great hope that Americans were feeling at that time, which has never come close to returning (even during the 2008 presidential candidacy of Barack Obama), was shattered in an instant as the assassination of JFK was intended to do. Yes, that’s right folks, I’m circumstantially convinced that it was a conspiracy between warmongering fascists within U.S. defense and intelligence agencies (who were outraged by Kennedy’s purges and reluctant support of the 1962 Bay of Pigs fiasco), white supremacists in the southern states (who were insanely opposed to proposed civil rights advances), and the Mafia (who wanted retribution for Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s prosecution/persecution of its top organized crime figures). I should also note that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and presidential candidate RFK were both assassinated 4 ½ years later in the spring of 1968. No, these were all not perpetrated by “lone gunmen” as promoted by America’s establishment institutions. Only a concerted effort by powerful and influential people across public and private organizations could achieve such an intricate and sustained coup d’état especially inside the world’s most prominent nation… and then, be so successful in covering it up. Remember that President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, upon conclusion of the Civil War, by a legally-proven conspiracy motivated by some of the same reasons… and, he was only one man not at least three. Today, it should surprise no one that fanatical right-wing extremists are threatening our nation again. The historical parallels are not just coincidental, they are evidential.
In a lighter moment, I might have been the only Stanford football fan in the Cal end zone seats on November 20th 1982 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley (with my friend Wayne, a Cal student) during the 85th “Big Game” between the rival Cardinal and Golden Bears when a famous – or infamous – spectacle unfolded. Stanford, led by star senior quarterback John Elway who would go on to a Hall of Fame NFL career, had just taken a 20-19 lead with only 4 seconds left in the game. All the Cardinal needed to do to win was not allow the Bears to run back the kickoff for a touchdown – a very difficult and rare feat to accomplish at any level of football. Stanford squib-kicked off from the opposing end of the field towards us. A Cal player picked up the ball and tried to run up- field but was hemmed in by Cardinal defenders. He threw a lateral to a teammate which then led to four more laterals – two of which appeared to be illegal, and one to a player whose knee was down from my view which should have ended the game right there – and the most bizarre and improbably finish I’ve ever witnessed. During all those laterals, the 144-member Stanford band – along with cheerleaders and others – charged onto the field thinking that the game was over. But, the officials had not signaled so. “The Play,” as it came to be known, was moving away from me and all I then saw was a confused mass of players and musicians bumping into each other. However, I did catch a glimpse of the last lateral received by Kevin Moen – who had also received the kickoff – who then ran it into the Stanford end zone for a game winning touchdown while bowling over trombone player Gary Tyrrell. Madness erupted in the stadium. No one knew what had happened and the officials seemed as bewildered as everyone else. When the official touchdown signal was announced, the madness turned to bedlam! It was actually quite frightening. The ensuing noise was earsplitting, and the vibrations of 75,000+ people jumping and running around crazily felt like an earthquake. I wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there for a while! Anyway, we lingered in our seats for about 30 minutes and then walked across campus towards Wayne’s apartment. Before we got through the huge jubilant crowd, we saw Cal head coach Joe Kapp – a former NFL quarterback – gesturing in triumph atop a second floor balcony. He was waving his arms wildly with a cartoonish grin on his face. It was unforgettable, for sure; but, I really felt sorry for Elway because that was his last chance to play in a college bowl game.
On October 17th 1989, I was in the air en route to Memphis, Tennessee for a business trip when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck the San Francisco bay area. Passengers aboard our plane were not notified. When my coworker and I checked into a hotel, the clerk noticed that we were from S. F. and said, “You just got out in time!” We had no idea what she was talking about. Upon entering my room, I turned on the TV set to watch game 3 of the World Series (between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants) and saw the Marina District on fire, a portion of the Bay Bridge collapsed, and the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland smoldering in a long pile of rubble with people trapped underneath. My jaw fell open in shock. I immediately tried to phone home, but all the lines were down or overloaded. The business trip was a disaster. We couldn’t focus on our jobs and were preoccupied with contacting friends and relatives. Fortunately, no one I knew suffered too badly from the quake although my brother – who was a chef – witnessed a Volkswagen Beetle get crushed from falling masonry as he ran out of the restaurant he was working at on Market Street. When I returned to my Montclair Village home in the Oakland hills, I was surprised to find little damage. Some glasses and dishes fell from the cupboards and my television was teetering off its stand, but that was about all.
Sometime in 1995-1998 (I have since lost my copy of the newspaper edition), I was part of a Sacramento Bee feature on the burgeoning computer tech industry in the area which highlighted a local software services company that I worked for. One of the owners, myself and a coworker were depicted in a staged photograph which accompanied the article. It was both misleading and a little insulting. The co-owner, a very nice man by the way, had no technical expertise at all. His forte was business administration and marketing, and it was his partner – my friend [name redacted] – who was the technical expert. Despite this, the journalist who wrote the article – or someone else from the Bee – arranged the photo shoot to show the co-owner supposedly explaining computer printouts of encoded software programs (which he could not read) to the two of us programmer/analyst coworkers who actually wrote the damn things! Even [name redacted], who was technically proficient to a high degree, only rarely got involved with programming issues. The design, coding, and testing of software is done by technicians, not by management. This is an example of journalists – or anyone else for that matter – who tell stories based on insufficient understanding, or on flawed preconceived notions, or with deliberate intent to promote particular agendas.