After more than a year away from journalism, my writing is finally back in print. I won’t pretend it’s anything glamorous: three obituaries and a thriller about an upcoming Halloween parade.
“Oh, man, that’s morbid,” said my dear friend Tony.
Well, yes — they are morbid in the sense that death precipitates them — but these aren’t mere death announcements. They’re basically retrospective profiles of notable figures in the community.
The first one I wrote was about the founding general manager of the San Diego Trolley. Before the trolley system was built in 1981, most Americans thought of light rail as an old-fashioned technology. It was the zenith of American car culture. People wanted more freeways, not public transit. Few San Diegans were fond of the trolley concept. Some correctly pointed out that in other parts of the world, the word “trolley” means shopping cart — not exactly the kind of vehicle you would trust to get you to work on time. And yet under Langley Powell’s leadership, the San Diego Trolley was so successful that it sparked a renaissance of light rail development in American cities.
The second obituary I wrote was about one of San Diego’s founding fathers of surfing. Bobby Thomas started surfing in the 1950s, back when surfboards were made out of redwood. He got into the surfboard shaping business when manufacturers started using foam to make surfboards, and he was so good at it that his company, Challenger Surfboards, was the top manufacturer in the late 1960s. Later in life, Thomas played the role of elder statesman to the Pacific Beach Surf Club, sponsoring contests, mentoring young surfers and even competing on behalf of the club in surf tournaments well into his 60s.
I’ve found that I really enjoy writing these obituaries. They’re kind of an antidote to the cynicism that has crept into my life over the past couple years. It is inspiring to learn about what these people achieved and the positive impact they had on others. It’s an honor to be trusted to tell their stories, and it feels good to be thanked for something I wrote.