The concept of retirement has been floating around the Axelson Household for a while. Six months ago after visiting our financial advisor, the Better Half and I started to get serious about making retirement a reality. Sharon, in addition to being an unpaid collaborator of the numerous restaurant reviews I have written over the past 11 years, is also the manager of the Geppetto’s Toy Store in Coronado. Shortly after you read this, there will be a 200 percent increase of unemployed Axelsons in Coronado.
Our original plan was to vacation in Europe, but that was scuttled for obvious reasons. Plan B was to travel to Ohio to visit Sharon’s Family and continue onto Washington, D.C., and work our way up the Eastern Seaboard to Montreal. That’s not practical at the moment either. Instead we’ll do the research for both trips and be ready to hit the road when a vaccine is widely available.
I have worked for the Eckenroth Family, Dean Sr., Dean Jr., and Nancy, in various capacities for 22 years. I had done some writing for other jobs before I started with the Coronado Eagle, as it was known at the time, accidentally. Our daughter Kristen Axelson Pandhi was the starting center as a freshman on the Girls Varsity Basketball Team coached by Bill Cass during the 1994-95 season, which went on to win the CIF Title. The Eagle didn’t have a sportswriter and I wrote a couple of anonymous articles about the team when it appeared they were going to be really good. Anonymity gave way to putting my name on the weekly coverage of the team, and when the season concluded Dean Eckenroth Jr., invited me to stay on and write a high school sports column, which I did for a total of 22 years.
Other stops with Eckenroth Publications included being Editor of the Imperial Beach Eagle & Times, where I covered IB City Council meetings, which started in the early evening and often ran long into the night. Once after an animated, late-night city council discussion over whether five-gallon or 10-gallon plants should be mandated for the front of a proposed new home, I wondered if I was observing an alternate reality. I was still writing my ‘Nado Natterings’ sports column and it was a busy yet enjoyable time.
During my tenure with the company, there have been financial recessions, or depressions if you prefer, first in 2008 and the current 2020 COVID-19 version. We never missed a payroll and believe me I was really appreciative of that in 2008 and still am. Also, the Eckenroths collectively edited my copy over 23 years and roughly six million words, only a handful of times. And almost exclusively for space considerations only. On a couple of occasions, legal advice on a possibly controversial column required a change in copy or an explanatory paragraph, but those in addition to being necessary and the correct thing to do, were few and far between.
Additional thanks to Copy Editors Alex Larratt who held the position toward the beginning of my full-time tenure and Susie Clifford who has been Copy Editor for the past six years. Both approached the position with good humor and were the glue that held the Editorial Department together, keeping us organized. By coincidence Susie and her husband Mark Clifford and I are all graduates of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Go Red Hawks.
Eleven years ago, after an opening presented itself at the Coronado Eagle & Journal for a columnist position, I accepted the post and since then I have been writing three columns weekly, averaging in total 6,000 words a week. Included in that general category was coverage of the Coronado City Council, the Governing Board meetings of the Coronado Unified School District, features relating to upcoming events in Coronado, and many features about the incredibly interesting and accomplished people who live in our City.
March 2019, the comedian Ricky Gervais was the writer, director, and star of the Netflix black comedy “After Life,” which I thought was brilliantly done. Gervais plays a columnist for a small town, weekly newspaper in England, so you might understand the connection. In the show he says at one point, “Everyone should have a chance to have their story in our newspaper.” I couldn’t agree more.
In 1982 the Gannett Company introduced the newspaper USA Today, nicknamed ‘McPaper,’ which changed print journalism. Front page columns in the paper rarely exceeded 500 words, inside or lesser stories were in the 250-word range, and a lengthy feature was in the neighborhood of 750 words. Newspaper layout and design ‘Experts’ hailed the new USA Today format, and many publications followed suit. The Eckenroths knowing the Coronado market and the education level of the citizenry, allowed the average length of my features to be in the 1,600 word range. Dean Sr. often returned from statewide meetings of the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) of which he became president, saying all the other newspaper publishers in the state were envious of the numerous, well-crafted ‘Letters to the Editor’ we run on a weekly basis.
I thought a quick summary of some of my favorite columns might be of interest.
October 2019 I wrote a feature about Michelle Phillips, of Mamas & Papas and ‘Knots Landing’ television fame, who was being honored by the Coronado International Film Festival. Phillips was a great interview, simultaneously candid and funny combined with a non-existent thought filter. During our phone interview she told me she and her then-husband John Phillips purchased the idea for the Monterey Pop Festival from their New York drug dealer for $5,000. After our phone interview, which ran an hour and 20 minutes, she called me three days later on Halloween Night to re-book the interview (follow along here) due to a date conflict. I called back to remind her and thank her for the interview we had already completed. As we were about to hang up she said, “Don’t sign any legal documents. Mercury is in retrograde.” I’ll never forget that advice or sequence of events.
In 2014 I interviewed Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, whose father Frederick Kohner wrote the seven-volume Gidget book series, based on his daughter. As a kid growing up in Chicago and Kansas City, Surf Culture was a strange and mysterious thing and I got a kick out of talking to one of the people who was in the middle of it all.
The highlight of the restaurant reviews Sharon and I collaborated on occurred at the now-closed Mistral Restaurant at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort. French Master Chef Patrick Ponsaty prepared a five-course dinner, with wine pairings, which displayed his culinary mastery and created a memorable evening. Ponsaty is now Executive Sous Chef at the Hotel del Coronado.
A couple of years back, Dr. Jim Zoll sat for an interview with his wife Sally and me, where he described his assignment during the Viet Nam War. He and his unit were inserted into the jungle to intercept communications between Viet Cong units. That plus a humanitarian effort he initiated at a leprosarium in Viet Nam and his subsequent career in education made for a great story.
There are several candidates in my ‘Nicest Guy in Coronado’ sweepstakes and prominent among them is Bill Gise (CHS ’61). After a career with the City of Coronado and while spending 27 years assisting with MotorCars on Main Street, Gise restored a 1964 AC Shelby Cobra that even to a non-car guy like me is one of the most beautiful cars I’ve ever seen. We collaborated on a couple of stories which I greatly enjoyed.
On my Mount Rushmore of ‘Favorite People in Coronado’ is Admiral Lou Smith, who not only served his country with distinction, but was also Coronado’s Port Commissioner and former member of the Coronado Unified School District’s Governing Board. When he was named Port Commissioner, we hadn’t met and I contacted him through the Port for an interview. He arrived with a public relations person in tow and we spent the next hour talking about NBA Basketball. Never did a public official need a PR handler less than Lou Smith. I wrote several articles about Lou over the years and enjoyed each and every one.
For each of the past 11 years, I have written features on the Coronado High School Jike Wong and Molly McGowan Award winners, emblematic of the Best Boy and Girl in the senior class. Those features restored my faith in our future leaders.
There were four or five columns written about fraud in the community, and one about medical malfeasance that impacted Coronado residents. Those were not easy to write, but still needed to be done to keep the citizenry apprised of what was happening in the community.
I wrote several book reviews over the years, never without having read the book cover-to-cover before my interview with the author. A personal favorite author of mine is Coronado’s George Galdorisi, who named a character in one of his books after me, a hard-charging helicopter pilot. Unfortunately, George killed me off in a blaze of glory six pages later. In 2015, I interviewed author Steve Martini, who has four million books in print, and often refers to Coronado in his psychological thrillers. Both men were great interviews with interesting points of view.
In 2011 I attended the first meeting of the Coronado Cultural Arts Commission, chaired by Heidi Wilson. The minutes of the first-ever meeting of the Commission were written in large part from my story notes because a recording secretary for the Commission had yet to be selected. Heidi Wilson was ahead of her time and the Commission has done great things for the Coronado Community.
Over the years I have had the privilege of writing both a definitive history of the Coronado Fire Department and the life story of Lt. Frank Greene, the only police officer to be killed in the line of duty in Coronado.
Coronado native son and former San Diego Union-Tribune Columnist Logan Jenkins was an interview subject upon his retirement. Aside from being taller, thinner and owner of a far superior tennis game than mine, we were kindred spirits and fellow ink-stained wretches.
And our final, special place of honor goes to another native and member of the Coronado High School graduating class of 1940, Staff Sergeant Tom Rice. Still going strong at the age of 98, as a member of the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles, Rice parachuted into France on D-Day and essentially fought his way across Europe. Truly a member of the Greatest Generation, Rice performed a tandem parachute jump into Normandy on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. A Coronado resident of the first order in my book, Rice has been the subject of three features, with the first commemorating him earning the National Order of The Legion of Honor Chevalier Rank from the Government of France. Here’s hoping Rice meets his next goal, jumping into Normandy on his 100th birthday.
One of the really strange phenomena associated with writing, is having something you wrote quoted back to you. It happens every so often and the first time that happened, it was simultaneously confusing and satisfying.
Sharon and I are literally a few days away from becoming grandparents for the second time. Our daughter Kristen and her husband Amit are expecting a boy, so we will be on the road to Pasadena to see them before long. We’re both in good health and plan to stay in Coronado for the foreseeable future. We had a date at Serea Restaurant in the Hotel del Coronado Monday evening to celebrate our 46th wedding anniversary.
Finally, thanks to the residents of Coronado, a community Sharon and I have been counted among for 30 years. In the newspaper business, the available space for editorial is in correlation to paid advertising. The advertising support from the Coronado Business community continues to be strong and we’re appreciative.
And most importantly, thanks to the readers of the Coronado Eagle & Journal over the years. I’ve been fortunate to have received many E-mails and thank you cards during my tenure at the paper and they were all greatly appreciated. Please believe the feeling is mutual.
We’ll see you around town.