June 9, 2019

How did Palo Alto affect the writing of “The Guest From Johannesburg”?

At my book event in Marin County, there was an amazing question from my old friend from third grade, Dick Fregulia. Though it was a simple question: "We were raised in Palo Alto in the forties and fifties. How did this influence your writing of ‘The Guest From Johannesburg’?” I had often thought about the answer, but the question itself triggered the unexpected, obvious connection, and here it is. 

I was born in 1940. For our generation, the forties and fifties were certainly a simpler time. After WWII and Korea, we were pretty much free of wars for a few years. We believed in our leaders and our country, without question. We were raised by hard-working post-war parents, as trusting, naive, idealistic kids. This grew into Camelot, the Peace Corps and changing the world for the better. An oversimplification, maybe, but likely pretty accurate. We even obeyed unscientific school instructions to hide under our desks in case of nuclear attack. All of us, that is, except the much wiser and stronger-willed classmate, Joan Baez.

Then the greatest irony — or tragedy — of all happened: Vietnam. Our generation was called to be the earliest casualties of that terrible and unnecessary war. The hellish conditions and inhumane assignments created questions and cynicism, along with body-bags, fragging and drug use — and eventual disillusionment about our purposes in life. It initially created peaceful protest, that became violent protest — over the war, civil rights, pot, free love and even more cynical causes. 

From this confluence of horrors, including assassinations of heroes likeJFK, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, came body counts, government lies, rationalizations, and a succession of weak, corrupt leaders. Then came the logical consequences. Many people stopped believing their leaders, while others nodded their heads in acceptance of government assurances. Some shouted and fought and rejected our cops, and deans and soldiers, while others lined up behind them and accepted their empty statements. 

The widespread mistrust, anger, disrespect and cynicism  have become today's homeless encampments, and today's angry and polarized discourse. Although my book is not deep, brilliant or powerful enough to properly capture all of those emotions, the emotions and views are in there. They are embedded in Werner Bergen’s tough resilience and refusal to die at Omori death-camp in Yokohama; and Masao Tanaka’s strength of character and kindness, despite the terrible imprisonment at Amache internment camp in Colorado. They are contained in Malia’s struggles to find the secrets of life and to help others, despite losing her best friend in his own government protest. They are fully exposed in Teo’s angry, disillusioned resolve to quit the Marines and fight against the war. These emotions and views are what inform and transform Duff’s and Christy’s lives as they struggle through the explosive times during Japan's invasion of Shanghai and attacks on Pearl Harbor, and eventually against apartheid in South Africa.

It’s a long answer to a brief question. It is also a partial explanation of what being raised in a regular small town like Palo Alto in the forties and fifties helped to create.

Donald McPhail

Hawaii Railroad & Gordon Lightfoot

January 14, 2019

Peter Young is a prolific writer in Hawaii, whose daily blogs can be both daunting in their detail, and fascinating in the topics they present. This one is about the railroads on Oahu that were built in the 1890s. Visitors to Hawaii today will find little evidence of the islands’ past rail systems: http://imagesofoldhawaii.com/rails-impact/. Young is an extraordinary historian, and truly an advocate for Hawaii’s extraordinary cultures and lands.

He provides a description by the rail company, written in 1890. It all sounds pretty idyllic and exciting, from the point of view of the railroad’s PR guy who wrote the lengthy quote. No mention of the lands that were bought or confiscated to create the railroad. Ironic that there isn't much evidence today, that the trains and trolleys were ever there.

I’ve been impressed with Hawaii’s railroad past, now all but invisible. I include a reference to Hawaii’s trolleys in my first book, “Millionaires Cruise", with a rail car sideswiping my characters’ touring car in Waikiki; and in my current book “The Guest From Johannesburg", where Bergen takes Duff and Christy from downtown Honolulu by train, to see the grand hotel at Haleiwa. 

Peter Young’s astute comments remind me of the Gordon Lightfoot song about how the Canadian railroad disrupted its frontiers in the interests of commerce and what white men call progress.

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run, When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun,

Long before the white man and long before the wheel, When the green dark forest was too silent to be real,

But time has no beginnings and the history has no bounds, As to this verdant country they came from all around,

They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall, Built the mines, mills and the factories for the good of us all.

My new novel, “The Guest From Johannesburg” begins as Duff Malone retires from Pan Am in 1971, at a party in his honor at the Outrigger Canoe Club. When his retirement party finally takes place, he asserts that the airlines brought great change to the islands — much of it good, some of it not so much: “Christy and I arrived in Hawaii in 1934, not the way the missionaries did, thank goodness. And we didn’t come here to change Hawaii as they did, but to become part of this unique and loving community. But as we all know, the airlines did change these islands, just as air travel changed much of the world. Back then, visitors came via steamships, and numbered in the thousands. This year, over two million people visited Hawaii. We did change these islands quite substantially, and not always for the better.
“I hope you don’t mind that I’m speaking seriously tonight, but since we are family I will risk turning an evening of love and friendship into a moment for serious issues, such as those young military men and women we see each day around Waikiki, trying to enjoy their lives a little before returning to a devastating war. If you bear with me, I believe you will find that my serious thoughts are prompted by feelings of love and friendship.
“As airlines, Pan American, United, Hawaiian, Aloha and others in our industry have brought jobs and a certain amount of community pride to Hawaii, and a good life for many. For many more, however, our industry has dramatically raised the cost of living here, to the point where families have to work far too hard, both moms and dads, many with more than one job so they can pay for their children to go to good schools and live in decent homes. At the same time, we brought visitors here, who learned about our islands and fell in love with our cultures. Unfortunately, we also transported other kinds of visitors, who sometimes usurped our culture, abused our hospitality and damaged our local communities.
“Overall, I believe that travel and tourism are healthy things, for education and human relationships here, and around the world. The more we know about other places and cultures, the more likely we are to understand and engage with them. This is good. People who have not traveled can be easily frightened about ‘those others’ who don’t look or act like them. Our son Teo recently returned from a long and difficult tour of duty in Vietnam, a country that many of us don’t know at all. If we did, I believe we would be unlikely to carry out our current destructive, terrible war there. In his new job, Teo will work hard to eliminate violence and wars."

Thoughts About Mortality

December 17, 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, the subject of mortality seems to arise in unexpected places. I’m currently reading Steinbeck’s journal as he wrote “East Of Eden”, his extraordinary novel about life and death and love. His candid comments to Pat, his editor, fixate on his own mortality as Steinbeck describes the often painful lives of his characters. Obviously, writers’ lives and characters and their most important stories are directly connected.

Like most of us who approach eighty, my oldest friends and I occasionally struggle with our mortality, either face-on because of illness, or peripherally because we are enjoying all that we’re still doing. I recently found a note written to an old friend, that I will share. It describes a change that helped me deal with the dark fear that used to force me over to the side of the road from time to time, to calm myself from that thought of no longer existing. Maybe it can help you, too.

It isn't complicated or original: I realized that there is a life after death.

While I now attend Mass and am inspired by much that I experience there, I've never seen proof of this afterlife, though I did glimpse it once. I know there is no guarantee, but I don't need one. As cynical as I often am, I look at 2,000 years of people believing in life after death, and I believe that all these people are not stupid or easily misled.

I look at butterflies and flowers, and fishes along the reef, and I believe that it is not luck or coincidence that makes them colorful, symmetrical and beautiful. I read of Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Lono and pagan deities, and I believe in their meaning and significance and presence, whatever they may be called. I read of learned people who believe in a higher spirit and a life after death, and I'm not inclined to disbelieve.

Since I began accepting these stories and symbols, and what so many believe to be realities, I also believe. I no longer need to pull off the road or sit in terror, over the fact that one day I will no longer exist. Because I will exist. I hear Yeats and Rilke, that life is not chronological; we only interpret it that way. If love existed once, it always exists. If we existed, we always do. And I do believe there is another, better place where our soul continues on. I do not believe in avoiding the topic, or simply trying to think of something else. I believe in replacing the fear with a reason to believe that there is a higher purpose. It takes some serious thought, and some willingness to accept -- and a commitment to yourself. No harm in that.

The Sequel: “The Guest From Johannesburg”

December 17, 2018

“The Guest From Johannesburg” is my sequel to “The Millionaires Cruise: Sailing Toward Black Tuesday”, taking Duff and Christy to a new life in Hawaii. The story is told by Marcus de Villiers, a visiting writer from South Africa.

It’s 1934, and Duff has joined startup airline Pan American World Airways. Despite the ongoing depression, there are plenty of adventurers and barnstormers vying to be the first successful commercial airline in the world. As Juan Trippe and his eastern financiers play a risky game in Latin America and Cuba, Duff is establishing Pan Am bases across the Pacific, setting the stage for the Flying Clippers that will soon follow.

Duff’s story takes an abrupt turn when the suppressed warhawks and industrialists in Germany and Japan reach into Europe and China. New airlines take on military assignments, and urgent threats of war take center stage. Duff’s and Christy’s stories become a saga that reaches deep into Vietnam in the turbulent seventies, revealing a world of perpetual war and personal dramas — for Duff and Christy, their children Malia and Teo, and their close friends Werner Bergen, Gio Sorvini, Masao Tanaka and Cebo Msimangu.

This is an anti-war story where Marine Major Teo Malone, Annapolis class of 1965, makes life-changing decisions as he is sickened by the atrocities on all sides of the Vietnam War. Teo’s confrontations with death and reality combine with Malia’s dramatic young life; the passing of friends and family create unavoidable decisions for Duff and Christy, just as their lives were becoming simpler.

Through it all, “The Guest From Johannesburg” is a hopeful book, filled with stories of redemption and resilience of the human spirit, in the face of racism, political lies and failure of leadership. American heroes are remembered and cited, like Joan Baez and Martin Luther King, JFK and Robert Kennedy. It is a story of peace and freedom that needs to be told, and one that should resonate in today’s uncertain and chaotic climate.

"The Guest From Johannesburg" is due for publication in 2019. For information about "The Guest From Johannesburg", contact Donald McPhail at dmacinfo@comcast.net.

"Necessity": D.W. Buffa Is Back With A Fascinating Novel

April 30, 2018

Welcome back, Joseph Antonelli. "Necessity" is Buffa's first Antonelli book since "Trial By Fire" in 2005, and his enigmatic, highly literate trial attorney has not lost a step. Wise, observant and always willing to take on unwinnable cases, Antonelli is a fascinating and reluctant hero.

"Necessity" is an alarming book in many ways. First, it presents a controversial topic in this politically charged year, the defense of the admitted killer of our current President. Second, most of Buffa's characters disliked the President, and are not at all unhappy that he was killed. But justice needs to prevail, even for the murderer of an unpopular President.

As in his previous novels, Buffa's characters are unique and well drawn, his plots are carefully constructed and filled with interesting twists, and his courtroom scenes capture the procedures and nuances in a way that only a former attorney can describe.


February 24, 2018

Coming in 2018: Prisoners Of War

“You know what? I’m convinced that the common denominator is male dominance. In business, government, the military. Men making the decisions. Every one of these damned wars and prisons and atrocities was decided by men. Implemented by men. That’s the common denominator.” Those are the angry words of Major Theo Malone, known as Teo to his friends in Hawaii, a Marine pilot with a bright future, who resigned his commission and is determined to work for peace. His beef isn't with America or the military. He is disgusted with the lies and atrocities in Vietnam, and sickened by perpetual wars.

Teo isn't the only rebel in his family. His dad is Duff Malone, the independent South African who was the main character in "The Millionaires Cruise", and his mother is Christy Malone, whose bright eyes and boundless energies attracted Duff the moment they met. In the sequel, as a young girl in Hawaii their daughter Malia is drawn deeply into the local culture. Through her surfing skills and her mentor, Bully, she is accepted by a local surfing club, Hui Nalu. Her closest friend is Ke'ali'i, who becomes her tragic inspiration. Son Teo is drawn to team sports and becomes a highly recruited quarterback at  St. Louis high school, before entering the U.S. Naval Academy. 

Old friends Werner Bergen and Gio Sorvini share their own shocking war experiences, and new friend Masao Tanaka recounts his own difficult childhood at Amache internment camp in Colorado. The stories unfold through conversations and interviews with writer, Marcus de Villiers, a South African journalist who intends to publish Duff's story in Pan American's inflight magazine, followed by a book about Pan Am's history. "Prisoners Of War" explores surprising places and times, between 1934 and 1970, with explosive and heart-warming results.

February 20, 2018

Getting To Know Vic

    Most of us know that coaches are a special breed. Studying schemes and techniques, systems and variations, personalities and tendencies, Xs and Os. Living for the wins and dying with the losses. Like all true sciences or art forms, coaching is an infinite process, and it willingly accepts all of those thousands of hours that a coach is willing to give. 
    Every coach I ever met seemed to say, without really saying it aloud, "I could have done more." You have to be dedicated to be a good coach. You have to be driven to succeed. I have always felt that playing ball was best, but if you can't play any more, coaching is next-best. 
    I never got to meet Joe Verducci, but I played for Vic Rowen in 1964 and 65. We won one championship, and should have won another. To me, Vic Rowen was special in several ways. He knew the science -- and the art -- of football better than anyone I've seen. He also understood his players.         
    And in the years before his death, I believe he knew that a coach who is loved and respected by his players is also the dad that many of his players wished they had. We learn from them, if they take time to teach us. We respond to their praise, if they give it. Our feelings are hurt when we are corrected, but we try to do better. We're better people for having known them. And some of who we are today has come from them. All of this runs through my head as I think about what Vic Rowen has meant to me.
    I didn't know Vic when I was a player. He was busy coaching, and I was busy trying to figure out who I was. After four years in the navy, I walked-on without knowing anything about SF State or the football program. Like most players, I had a part-time job, went to class, and commuted to school on Muni. Thanks to my friend and teammate at Palo Alto High School, Russ Hubbard, I came to SF State where I followed Russ around and learned what I could. He was a good roomie, a good player, and a good teacher. 
    SF State and Vic's football program were the right thing for me, especially with exceptional coaches like Vic, Jim Sochor and a very young Allen Abraham! Competing alongside great players like Tom Piggee, Elmer Collett, Gil Haskell, Mike Meyer, Pete Liebengood, Tim Tierney and several others who could have been major-college starters. We worked hard, played tough, and earned our success. We were a Vic Rowen team. But I didn't know Vic then. 
    When I was in my forties, I got to know Bob Toledo when he was coaching at Oregon, and our conversations always turned toward Vic Rowen. It was clear that Bob thought the world of him, and that I had missed something important. Ten years later, I was back in San Francisco, and was lucky to finally get to know him. My longtime friend and colleague at Hawaiian Airlines, former Gator Ted Treu, invited me to lunch with him and Vic, and we talked about old times and about sports. This led to dozens of other visits and lots of conversations, and it turned into a friendship that treasured. I got to know the observant, smart, understanding man that Vic Rowen was. The man who loved his family, and loved the game of football. 
    Growing up without a dad, I always had unreasonably high expectations of my coaches. They had big shoes to fill. Along with Hugh McWilliams, my coach at Palo Alto and at Navy, Vic was one of the coaches who became the dad I was looking for. That makes me quite a lucky guy. 
    Thanks, coach, for being an honest and good man. Thanks for loving the sport, and for always remembering your players and coaches. Thanks for being here for so many of us, and for being our dad.

Don McPhail, SF State '64 & '65

May 28, 2017

Old Gators & Old Vikes!

      Old friends are best friends, at least that's how it feels when you hit your 77th birthday. I hit mine last April, and life couldn't be much better. Gretchen and I are busier and happier than ever. Our families are sharing their positive, productive lives with us. I just finished my fifth and final year (and 8th season) of coaching grandson Jack, a really good player in Palo Alto LIttle League. I'm also finishing my second novel. This one is a love story set against Pan American Airways' emergence as America's own "Flag Carrier". It begins in 1930, and expansion into Asia and the Pacific is paramount to Pan Am's worldwide ambitions. At the same time, Germany and Japan execute their own terrible expansion plan across Europe and Asia.

     Against a daily background of writing, I've been fortunate to work with old college and high school teammates on two very different tributes, shown in the photos above. First, I have joined former SF State footballers Allen Abraham (my old coach), Jim Schmitz, Joe Garrity and Ed Larios, to breathe new life into our SF State Gridiron Club. While SFSU killed its football program in the Nineties, the championship legacy that began in the 1930s is still alive and well in the memory banks of hundreds of old Gator athletes. NFL Pro Bowl players like Floyd Peters, Charlie Fuller, Bill Baird and Elmer Collett came from SF State football. So did NFL coaches Andy Reid, Dirk Koetter, Mike Holmgren, Gil Haskell, Tom Melvin and John Ramsdell. More impressively to me, there have been literally hundreds of former players who became educators, coaches and mentors in middle schools, high schools, community colleges and universities around the world.  During the past 18 months, with assists from star players and wonderful guys like Joe Koontz, Pete Liebengood and Gil Haskell, and with powerful help from SFSU administrator Ken Maeshiro, the Gator Gridiron Club is fully back in action. The photos above attest to the age, and the good nature of our group.

     Another labor of love, but a bittersweet moment indeed, was the grassroots memorial celebration for legendary Palo Alto H.S. coach Clem Wiser, who died earlier this year at the age of 93. His life was long and well-lived, full of friendships, accomplishments and unselfish moments. Clem Wiser brought championship basketball to Paly High. Among coach Wiser's better known players were Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who is a leading voice of wisdom and sanity among ineffectual and disappointing congress men and women. Another is Dave Feldman, award-winning ESPN and Bay Area sports announcer, who teamed with a young Jim Harbaugh to win a league championship. For coach's event, I was fortunate to work with former teammate Mike McClellan, and some younger and far more talented basketball players than Mac or me -- Kent Hinckley, Bob Strohecker and Craig Carpenter -- to create a setting on our old campus, to hold a very warm and personal tribute to our old friend and coach. 

     So recent weeks have been emotional and quite fulfilling, overflowing with great memories among old teammates. Team sports are special experiences, and if you are lucky, you get to remain in touch with those teammates. You remember events that happened sixty or more years ago, as if they were just the other day. But that's one of the tricks of getting older. Everything seems like just the other day. So enjoy your own old friends, and cherish those memories. Imua!

     Thanks, old pals. Go Vikes! Go Gators!

     Donald McPhail, Paly Class of '58, Menlo Class of '59, USNA Class of '65, SF State Class of '66, Hawaiian Airlines Class of 1980


October 18, 2016

Hanapepe's The Bookstore named "Official Hawai'i Distributor"

I'm proud to announce that The Bookstore in Hanapepe has agreed to become the exclusive Hawaii distributors for my novel "The Millionaires Cruise: Sailing Toward Black Tuesday." Through this agreement, award-winning owners of The Bookstore, Cynthia and Ed Justus, have agreed to sell my novel directly to readers via retail and electronic media, and to manage distribution through other Hawaii outlets.

Why this Hanapepe connection? In a way, it's like coming home. I first came to Kauai in 1966 when I worked for United Airlines, back when Grace Buscher Guslander presided at the Coco Palms, and Larry Rivera played music. I was with Hawaiian Airlines on the mainland in the 1970s, and brought groups of travel agents to Kauai and Kiahuna Plantation, so they could learn why Kauai is so special.

In the 1990s I had the pleasure of working at Kiahuna Plantation. I was there in 1992, two days after Hurrican Iniki devastated Kauai, bringing over ice and power generators for our employees and homeowners, and assisting employees to resettle or relocate until we could reopen. That took over two years. I was Assistant Manager for longtime GM Steve Townsend when we finally reopened in 1995. Shortly after that I moved back to the Bay Area, and have been there for twenty years. I'm retired from the hospitality business and from my nonprofit jobs, working on my novels and my coaching my grandson's Little League baseball. I came on this October visit to reconnect with Kiahuna, and old friends like Castle Resorts' Kiahuna manager Elaine Sugimura. And I came to Hanapepe to meet Cynthia and Ed at The Bookstore.

It's an incredible find. The Bookstore at Hanapepe is unique and highly successful, with an extraordinary understanding of the book business. It helps make Hanapepe a visitor destination. For me, an hour with Ed and Cynthia Justus is worth several days with a publisher. Their presence in Hawaii, and especially in the unique town of Hanapepe is pretty important to me. So, it's a pleasure to work with kindred spirits at The Bookstore, and to revisit a favorite and special place, at Kiahuna.

Aloha, indeed!

Donald McPhail

August 8, 2016

The Passing of Friends

          How fortunate we are to express our love for friends and family, as they pass from this life to the next. How nice to celebrate their presence and how they have made a difference in our lives. How sad to lose someone so close, without having said goodbye.
         Two of our dearest friends lost their son recently to cancer, at the age of 54. The expressions of love and compassion exchanged among friends are extraordinary, and make the loss even more difficult to accept. This, and my own advancing age make me think of this path we are on.
         Twenty-five years ago my brother Bill died at 56, from pancreatic cancer. So did my friend and writing mentor, Burton Sabol. Same cancer, younger age. I was able to sit with Bill and Burton as they died and hear them express their love for me and for their families, and to tell them I loved them, as well. I was fortunate.        
         Many of our parents and friends die without the opportunity for either of us to express such important emotions. Seventy-five years ago my father died, at 43. I was too young to know him as more than a hazy memory. Herb Salzer, my father-in-law, was one of the greatest men I knew, and when he was sixty-three he died one night in his sleep. A humble man, he specified no funeral or ceremony, though he was widely admired by family and colleagues throughout this country. We all missed the chance to pay respects. The two most important men in my young life, my baseball coach, Howard Bertelsen, and football coach, Hugh McWilliams, died and were buried without fanfare, and I wasn't able to say goodbye.
         During the past year or two, four friends from Hawaii died. One had relocated to Miami, two to Nevada, so they died far from their adopted Hawaii homes. Another died in familiar waters off of Kailua Beach on Oahu. Again, only solitary tributes.
         This isn't a sad story. Always, we have our own memories and loves and respects. But gathering together to show respect and affection, and to share the loss of a good friend is better.
         Here's a suggestion for all of us to remember our friends, to mark their passing. Don't let them go without gathering together, or kneeling alone in the dark, or raising a glass, or some other special gesture that your pal would recognize. Play some of their favorite John Stewart songs, and Paul Robson, Pete Seeger, Odetta and Joan Baez, as we did for my brother Bill. Tell them how the world is a better place for their presence in it. Tell them why. Then hug those around you and continue along the path.
God Bless,
Donald McPhail


July 21, 2016

Little League Reminiscence Resonates...and other coincidences

          My earlier Little League blog prompted some unexpected conversations about my novel. The first came from a Little League friend, Mark Bertelsen, whose dad is fondly featured in my recollection, as my first baseball coach in Palo Alto. As it happens, Mark's photo was already on the top right-hand corner of this page along with his dad's. Now there are two black-and-white team shots up in the top row. Mark is the team's 7-year-old bat-boy in front-row, center position in both photos. Mark and I had not seen each other since that season, 65 years ago. He's an attorney now in Palo Alto, and we remet today, for the first time since 1952. That's one new thread.

          A second unexpected contact came from one of Paly's great basketball players, Kent Hinckley, who went on to do great things at Stanford. He's a guy I've known about, but never met, but we have a lot in common. Competitive athletics played a life-sustaining part in his life, as it did in mine. He went into the military, as I did, and was sent to Vietnam, as I was not. He's now in his seventies, and released his first novel last year, and so did I. We plan to meet in August, and get together with some old Paly hoopsters at the home of our beloved old basketball coach, Clem Wiser.

          A note about Kent's book. It's a passionately kind and inventive story of friendship and creative survival between a US Army platoon and a North Vietnamese officer, with the help of local villagers in a key battle zone. They all put their lives on the line to make peace, not war. His book is called "Hearts, Minds and Coffee", and you can get it from Amazon or your local book store.

          Those who grew up in our idealistic generation recognize the lasting social and political toll the Vietnam War has taken, and many of us are not looking for more war stories. But this isn't a war-story so much as a peace-story. And it is made credible because it's written forcefully, by a guy who served in Army intelligence in Vietnam. I strongly encourage you to read his unique and compassionate novel.

          Finally, I believe it's important to strike up conversations with fellow travelers, whether walking in your neighborhood, commuting to work, or strapped-in en route to a Hawaiian vacation. And it's important to send messages to old friends, and respond to them. They can result in unexpected new conversations.

Talk to each other, and get together with old friends!

Donald McPhail



March 12, 2016

"Back In The Day": When Little League Started In Palo Alto
The First Two Years, 1951 & 52

1951: It Started At El Camino Park
It was a jolt last January, when my grandson Jack and I went for his official Little League tryout at El Camino Park, the big ballpark directly across from Stanford Shopping Center. Jack reminded me that it was exactly sixty-five years since my own tryout on the very same field, something I had described to him more than once.  My tryout was back in 1951, the very first year for Little League in Palo Alto. The field looks much the same today, with the dirt infield and grassy outfield big enough for adult baseball games, and adaptable for adult games, softball, and Little League distances.

After a lengthy makeover, the recently reopened baseball diamond at El Camino Park is back in play, and it is in great shape. Constructed in 1924, this field hosted generations of sports and entertainment events. But my best memory is from that first year of Little League ball. As one of the hundred or so kids who tried out for a spot on one of just four teams, this field holds plenty of special memories.

The atmosphere is different, of course. Sarge Casey, an important local character from the 1950s, no longer roams the sidelines shouting encouragement like the good-natured WWII casualty that he was. A former marine with a severe head injury, Sarge was the field’s caretaker and everyone knew him. That's why the field out at Baylands is named after him. I’m sure that the old 1951 Coaches -- Howard Bertelsen, Bill Alhouse, Frank Pfyl and Joe Mack -- would have been proud of this renewed El Camino Park.

Along with many local business men and women, they were the original founders of Palo Alto Little League, and this is where we played the very first season. The day I was picked by Palo Alto Sport Shop, I didn’t realize how lucky I was. Like today's players, I couldn't know how important my team manager, Howard Bertelsen, would be in my life. Bert was to be my manager for eight seasons, from Little League through American Legion. During that time we won seven league titles and traveled to Stockton for the American Legion regional finals. During baseball seasons he was like my dad, since mine had died many years before. While I was at Paly High he shared me with other dad-figures like Hugh McWilliams during football season and Clem Wiser during basketball. The Little League experience prepared me well for my varsity seasons as a shortstop at Paly, then later at Annapolis.

Many of our Little League players went on to notable careers. Sport Shop selected Denny Brewick and Noel Barnes, who later starred at Cal; and Frankie Farmer, who was signed out of high school by a major league team. So was Dick Holden, who played for 20-30 Club with manager Frank Pfyl. Pitcher Ted Tollner played for Joe Mack at Golden State Dairy, and went on to star in three sports at Cubberley, then became a successful head football coach at USC and San Diego State, then an assistant for the Niners. Alhouse’s Bobby Wendell and Jerry Reed went on to star at Menlo-Atherton, and Wendell became team captain for Cal’s NCAA champion basketball team.

The 1951 tryout took just one day to test the local ballplayers. 2016 tryouts spanned two different Saturdays and Sundays that began at 8AM and ended around 5PM. And while this year's numbers were much larger than in 1951, I got the feeling that the level of competition, the fairness of the judges and the enthusiasm of the young players has not changed much in sixty-five years.

Like my grandson Jack, I was eleven back then, and like kids then and now, I was worried about making a team. When it came time to field fly balls and make a throw home, I’m sure I bobbled one or two, and looped the long throw to the plate instead of firing it on a line. And we were all nervous. We fielded grounders, then went to bat against a live pitcher. We took our swings, then sprinted around the bases as fast as we could, fueled by fear and adrenaline. Then we went to the sidelines and watched the others go through the same drills, wondering if they might beat us out.

In the first season of 1951 there were just four teams, and we played all of our games at El Camino Park. The total number of players was about 60. When I visit the current Little League web site, I count more than fifty teams, totaling more than 600 young players with over 200 volunteer managers and coaches. Our teams play games at multiple locations, with majors and PCL leagues using five different ballparks, including El Camino Park.

Palo Alto Little League has come a long way in sixty-five years. Thousands of boys and girls have learned and competed, assisted by thousands of volunteer parents and community supporters. The organization and the leagues are quite an asset for Palo Alto, and the tryouts made a lasting impression on me. As my friends and I left El Camino Park back in 1951, pedaling our bikes past the train station and down University Avenue before turning toward the Peninsula Creamery, none of us knew if we had made a team. Most of us felt we had done our best. And it is very likely that every one of us knew we would never forget that day.


1952: The Middlefield Sunken Diamond

Palo Alto in 1952:  Palo Alto was a small college-town in 1952, and a friendly, safe place to live even for poor families like mine. Then, as now, Stanford was a thoughtful and generous neighbor, and University Avenue, South Palo Alto and Midtown were very kid-friendly. Thanks to the university, and to Palo Alto Hospital, Moffett Field air base, and nearby Dibble Hospital where SRI now stands, this was a place where families from different races, religions and economic levels lived, worked and went to school together with a strong sense of community.

Back then, kids from ten years old to high school age rode their bikes downtown, or over to Menalto and East Palo Alto, to Mayfield and South Palo Alto, and all around the Stanford campus. We went to Saturday matinees at the Stanford or Varsity Theater to watch Superman, Roy Rogers or The Green Hornet; or the Park Theater to see Lash Larue, Buck Rogers or Batman. There were open fields where Duveneck School is now and where Crescent Park School used to be, and in Mayfield, and out near the current Little League field. The current Mitchell Park area was filled with fruit orchards back then, and crops like carrots and lettuce. There was a horse riding stable called Franklin Riding Academy over on Louis Road. The popular shops and restaurants included Duca & Hanley, Stark's Bakery, Rapp's Shoes, Kenyon's, Thoit's, The Texas Cafe, Golden Dragon and the Peninsula Creamery. And I can't forget Harry's Hamburgers over in Whiskey Gulch!

Some of the popular community gathering places still exist today, including the Palo Alto Community Center (now Lucie Stern Community Center), Rinconada Park, the Yacht Harbor and multiple school playgrounds that were overseen after school hours by a fabulous PA Recreation Department. The drive-in movie was out where Greer Field is now; and in the opposite direction, a popular drive-in restaurant called Marquard's was located on El Camino, just into Menlo Park. Addison Elementary (my alma mater) and Walter Hays existed even back then, along with Channing, Lytton and Van Auken elementary schools, all of which were later replaced by houses and condominiums.

There was no major league baseball west of St. Louis, so our favorite professional team was the San Francisco Seals, where Joe and Dom DiMaggio had played. They were in the Pacific Coast League (PCL), which was considered the elite minor league team at the time. They played against the Oakland Oaks, who were in Emeryville, and the other top teams included LA Angels, Hollywood Stars, San Diego Padres, Sacramento Solons, Portland Beavers and Seattle Rainiers. Kids were allowed in free at all Stanford football, baseball and basketball games.

As Little Leaguers, our baseball cards featured Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Warren Spahn, Roy Campanella and other famous players. And stars who are no longer remembered much, like Chico Carrasquel, Ferris Fain, Bobby Avila, Del Ennis and Robin Roberts. I even had a '52 Mickey Mantle rookie card before trading it to my friend and team catcher, Neill Parkin, for my favorite player, Phil Rizzuto. This transaction gives you an idea of my poor business sense. Neill and I still have our cards, and most of them, including the treasured Mantle card, are far too worn from use to have much value.

The Middlefield Little League Park, A Community Success Story: The Middlefield Little League Park was a team effort and an unparalleled community success-story. The league's long history, and its current popularity among kids and their families are ample evidence of this success.

1952 was the first season at Middlefield ballpark, and it was the second year of Palo Alto Little League. To many, this season was even more exciting than the first, because many more kids got to play. The league grew from four to twelve teams, so nearly 180 players could compete instead of 60. We still drew from Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. This expansion also tripled the number of sponsors and volunteer managers, and it required a savvy financial plan that included incorporation and ongoing funding.

The ballpark itself was inspired by Stanford's elegant Sunken Diamond, and it was created by visionary community leaders like Dr. Harry DeFeo, local merchants like Eddie & Bernie Hoffaker at the PA Sport Shop, Frank Pfyl at 20-30 Club and hundreds more parents and community-minded citizens. In addition to considerable money and time, they donated heavy equipment, like excavators and graders; and materials for fencing, dugouts and buildings -- and considerable influence with city administrators.

From the beginning, one of the most energetic and enduring supporters was Bill Alhouse. A charismatic shortsop at Stanford and former US Marine, he managed the Floyd Lowe Realty team from 1951 onward. When Lowe passed away, Alhouse purchased the company and it became Alhouse Realty, as it is known today. Bill was still involved with Little League when he died in 2011, at age 85. That was the year of PALL's 50th anniversary, and I was proud that his family invited me to join them when Little League honored him at opening day for that 50th season.

The 1952 opening-day at the new ballpark was a city-wide celebration. It was notable for the large community turnout, and for two prominent local guests. One was Glenn "Pop" Warner, 81, a legendary football coach for some of Stanford's greatest teams. The other was Ty Cobb, then 66, one of major league baseball's all-time great players. He threw theceremonial opening-day pitch. In 1952, when I was twelve, Cobb seemed like a very old man to me. He seems a little different to me now, as I turn 76!

I hope that these bits of information about the Palo Alto of 1952 help provide a context for our Palo Alto of today. The images provide a few details about the generous businesses and individuals who donated time, talent and treasure. You may even see a few familiar names.

There are only a few around who still remember those days in Palo Alto, and even fewer who participated on the baseball teams. I hope that you and your youngsters can take some inspiration from the community actions, and from the boys who learned and improved their skills enough to play ball into college and beyond. I hope that our kids enjoy their current teammates and coaches, and that they someday recognize and appreciate all that their parents are doing for them. Finally, I hope they will remember their own experiences as long as I have. Regardless of how long or how well they play ball, these moments are pretty special.

Play Ball! Donald McPhail


September 16, 2015

Why Do Airlines File For New Routes, and other strange stories...

     I miss trading stories with my late friend Ed Remington, on our recollections about the olden days in the airline business. Ed and I were at United Airlines together in the 1960s, and often shook our heads about executive decisions. This commentary is about airlines choosing routes, and and it's prompted by the recent flap last week, that ended the United career of its CEO.

     I was working for Hawaiian Airlines in 1978, when the airlines became deregulated. Among other things, this meant that routes and schedules were no longer exclusive to a handful of airlines, as dictated or managed by the government. Airlines -- existing carriers or newly formed companies -- would now be able to file for new routes, and the government would consider approval if in the public's best interest.

     When the new rules took effect in 1978, it was reported that multiple airline representatives had waited all night outside the Federal building in DC, to file new routes in the early minutes of the newly unrestricted environment. I was Hawaiian's Midwest Regional Manager in the Chicago office, and knew that our government affairs guy was right in the midst of things, ready to make a momentous filing. At the time, we (and Aloha Airlines, our main competitor) were strictly inter-island airlines, without equipment, staff or expertise to fly the longer haul between Hawaii and the mainland. But we were highly competitive, and we felt that this filing would mean new status in the highly coveted mainland-Hawaii marketplace, joining existing major Hawaii carriers like United, Western and Pan Am. It could also mean that we would lose the essential support of those same carriers, because we would now compete with them. Quite a bold move, and we were pretty revved up.

     As we stood around the telex machine that morning awaiting the announcement, here it came: "Hawaiian Airlines has filed for the route between Baltimore and Seattle." Excuse me? Baltimore-Seattle? Was this a joke? Hawaiian didn't fly between Seattle and anywhere, so this was not a subtle way to capture the Washington/Baltimore Hawaii market. There was no evidence that a Washington/Baltimore market even existed for Hawaii. Someone in Honolulu must have had inside information about a huge wholesaler who might use this route? Not so.

     As it happened, we never did initiate the transcontinental service to Seattle, though we did lose the trust, and much of the business from United, Western and Pan Am and we gave Aloha a huge advantage in terms of connecting schedules and passengers. This led to a very close relationship between United and Aloha, which proved nearly-fatal on multiple occasions. Many years later, after I had left the airline business, this rift between Hawaiian and United unexpectedly set the stage for Hawaiian to launch its current, very successful mainland-to-Hawaii services, using Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas as gateway cities. Since that time, Hawaiian Airlines has been ranked among the world's top airlines for service and dependability, while United continues to struggle to attain its former stability. And for a variety of reasons, including its long dependence on United, Aloha went out of business. So, out of the odd filing for Baltimore-Seattle, came the blossoming of Hawaiian Airlines transpacific success story.

Aloha, bruddah Ed,

Donald McPhail

August 20, 2015

Capitalism Versus Democracy

    My novel is set mostly in 1929, the year of Black Tuesday and the stock market crash, so one of the main threads that runs through it is the question of wealth, and how it is acquired and used. A related thread is how capitalism and democracy are often mistaken for one another, leading to conversations about why and how the two very different terms are often confused.
    One of my fictional passengers, a wealthy and likeable statesman named Lloyd Winston, is based on a visionary business leader on LaSalle Street in Chicago. In my book, Lloyd raises these issues by using the term "extreme capitalism", when he says:
That’s my term for the last decade or so. When everyone went wild after the war. And now people are fixated on money and borrowing. Gone crazy for big cars, big homes, big investments, and all these new electric gadgets. Is this what we have become? Defining ourselves by our wealth, and our things?
    He goes on to describe more public-spirited times, the early 1900s:
When Alita and I left for China, America was struggling to come to terms with job conditions of the working class, women’s rights, diseases -- all sorts of moral and ethical questions, for the good of our country. We supported President Wilson then, even if we disagreed with some of his measures. We were dealing with what was best for our people. If our president failed, we all did.
    It's not much of a stretch to apply these comments today.
    The question of wealth and poverty captured my interest over forty years ago, when it was articulated to the financial community by Rich Franke, a wise and internationally respected financial leader. It had been an important issue in 1929, when that investment bubble burst, and again in the 1970s when inequities were growing, and yet again during our current financial recovery.
    More recently, a Pew Survey indicated that the wealth disparity between upper and middle income Americans hit a record high in 2013, where upper-income families were almost seven times wealthier than middle-income ones, compared to 3.4 times wealthier in 1984. When compared to lower income families, upper income family wealth was 70 times larger. Why does this matter? For me, it's more than a matter of fairness. Hard working and innovative people have every right to earn money. But how much is enough? And how much should be invested for the common good -- and their own -- in public health, safety, education and wise governance.
    Franke spoke with foresight and concern about the growing gap between rich and poor, and about the covenant that wealthy citizens have with the non-wealthy. My interpretation of his warning is that the poor are not likely to rise up against the rich so long as the gap remains acceptable. After all, workers do need employers, and employers earn the right to live better than their workers. But watch-out if the gap becomes too wide, or the workers will rebel, through legal protest, public unrest, and criminal activity. Around the world, you can see this in the startling crime rates and heightened security in Mexico City, Johannesburg and other urban areas where a small wealthy class is surrounded by a massive population that is largely uneducated and extremely poor. Crime reports in major U.S. cities reflect a similar trend.
    Most of the characters in my novel are wealthy. A few are selfish scoundrels, and several are heroes. So it is not wealth itself that is the problem. Another conclusion is that the tragedy of the market crash is not the devastating effects on my wealthy characters, but the long, terrible depression that plagued ordinary people for so many years after the crash.
    I hope that readers will look at my book as more than just a quaint or ironic story about an unusual cruise. Important questions are discussed, and distinct conclusions are reached. Agree with them or not, it is important for us all to be aware of unintended consequences of "extreme capitalism", and the importance of healthy, educated and financially stable populations.
Donald McPhail

August 2, 2015

Book Tour in Palo Alto

Thanks Sarah Hill and Books Inc. at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto, for a warm welcome and an enthusiastic crowd of readers. It was quite an honor to present my book directly across the street from my old high school. I thought of my old english teacher, Mr. Vittetoe, of course! In fact, several people from my Paly class of 1958 were on hand to ask probing questions! It was a particular treat to present in cooperation with my new friend, historian Rick Helin. I discussed my novel and some of its characters; then Rick helped compare and contrast with the real passengers on the actual cruise. Quite a fun experience for Rick and me.

Thanks Sarah, and to our attentive audience! Now I'm working on future book events, in San Francisco and other familiar locations. We'll keep you posted!

Donald McPhail

July 20, 2015

The Book Tour Continues in Marin County

Thanks to Sam Barry and Book Passage in Corte Madera for a wonderful welcome and a stimulating audience! Our July 18 event was filled with good vibes, beginning with Dick Fregulia's acclaimed jazz piano. Tunes from the Roaring Twenties set the stage for quite a discussion, ranging from the novel's hero Duff Malone's beginnings in South Africa, to his 1929 assignment with the "Millionaires Cruise".  We covered the recent real-world discoveries of historian Rick Helin, of ten reels of film from the actual cruise, diaries from the ship's doctor, Leo Stanley, to still photos that were on display from the cruise itself. Ironically, the two actual photos represent high points in the fictional story: a young couple on 1929 Waikiki Beach, with only the Outrigger Canoe Club (on its original site), Royal Hawaiian and Moana hotels in the background; and the SS Malolo sitting in Pago Pago harbor. Many important things happen to my characters in Waikiki and Pago Pago.

Thanks Book Passage! Thanks to all who attended! I look forward to seeing more friends and new readers on Thursday (July 23) at Books Inc., Town & Country Village in Palo Alto.

Donald McPhail


July 12, 2015

ACES: It’s Not What You Think!

    Maybe it’s because I’m a writer now but I think it goes back further, to when I was in business. It irritates me a little when people over-use trendy terms like “I source” when they mean “I buy”, or “it impacts” when they mean “it affects”. Why not say “I called her” instead of “I reached out to her”? Maybe it’s because I’m 75 years old, and easily irritated!
    This preference for real words also extends to acronyms. When media use terms like POTUS and SCOTUS and DSO, it’s distracting and impersonal. Why not simply say, “President”, “Supremes” and “Duck Stamps”?
    Now I’ll contradict myself, and endorse a program called “ACES”. The study of adverse childhood experiences -- acronym ACES -- is a useful and understandable way to identify this powerful method of presenting childhood trauma and its severe effect on young people. ACES seems to stick with readers or listeners, because it’s a clear shorthand for a very serious topic. Anything that helps people to understand childhood trauma -- its cause, effect, and treatment -- has my respect and admiration.
    At Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma, where I’ve been a board member for some fifteen years, ACES is the frame of reference when we discuss cause, care and environment for our residential students. ACES is based on a study by Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control. This is the largest study of its kind, and it examined the health and social effects of adverse childhood experiences over the lifespan of some 18,000 participants. So what does this have to do with “The Millionaires Cruise”?
    My book was officially launched in October, 2014 at an event sponsored by Hanna Boys Center. As I prepared my thoughts for the reading and discussion, I realized how appropriate this was to be linked with Hanna Center, because of my characters.
    When I created the primary characters that populate “The Millionaires Cruise”, I wanted to use their own individual backgrounds as a way for readers to get to know them better, to understand why they did the things they did.
    Like most readers or parents, we generally accept that things that happen to us when we are young can influence our personalities and attitudes. It makes sense that these things will have a major influence on how we turn out.
    Some of the traumas include physical, psychological or sexual abuse by a parent or family member; parental separation or divorce; mental illness; substance abuse; and overall neglect.
    Our hero Duff Malone was a smart, physically gifted young man, but his father father died when he was just four, and his mother became an angry and unpredictable alcoholic. These two traumas confused him, and limited his confidence and self esteem. It was the presence in his life of two or three key friends and mentors that helped him to gain self-worth, to survive and excel.
    Similarly, Christy, Bergen-san, the Swanton sisters, Emile and Camille, Jason Gibson, Chester Warren, Aubrey Kirsch and Toots were all products of their childhood experiences. Some were severely affected by multiple traumas, that we would now call ACES, and couldn’t overcome them. Others survived and healed, because of particular people in their lives.
    So there is a direct link between Hanna Center and the characters in “The Millionaires Cruise: Sailing Toward Black Tuesday”. As often happens with writers, while they were playing out their roles, some of them took on lives of their own, and went in unintended directions. This is a good thing, because to me, the less predictable and patterned a character is, the more interesting.
    I hope you enjoy the novel, and find some elements of reality in it, and will give ACES and childhood trauma some thought.

Good Sailing!
Donald McPhail


April 7, 2015

Way Stranger Than Fiction

What do you do when a stranger calls and says he's watching home-made movies of a story you just made up and published? It's eerie, no?

A few months after publishing my novel in late 2014, I received such a call, and it was more than surprising! Historian Rick Helin called in February, and asked if I was the author of "The Millionaires Cruise", which he had just read. "I am," I responded cautiously. He continued, "Would you like to see some movies that were taken on your 1929 millionaires cruise?"

"Of course!" It turns out that Helin lives literally fifteen minutes from my house, another coincidence, and he was just finishing the transfer of ten reels of "home movies" that were taken during this notorious Pacific sailing. They were donated to his local historic society by the family of Louis Normandin, a prominent San Jose auto dealer.

Then he asked, "Do you want to read diaries from the cruise, written by the ship's doctor?" Dr. Leo Stanley's name appears in my story, the only passenger's name I could find in my extensive research prior to writing the novel.

A few days later he asked, "Was your father's name William R. McPhail working for American Express?" It was, and then Helin said he had found my dad's name on the ship's passengers list for the 1929 cruise.

This was fascinating news to me. I had always known he was aboard a similar cruise two years later, and I simply created the Duff Malone character to represent him, and moved Malone to the more dramatic, stock-market-crash '29 sailing.

A less dramatic, but interesting coincidence, my new friend Rick Helin was from Palo Alto (as I am), and was raised on the Kailua-side of Oahu. I spent several years in the Hawaii travel industry, and may well have strolled past him as we enjoyed a typical sunny and beautiful Kailua day! Good-kine coincidence!

Aloha, Donald McPhail


March 15, 2015

Blogging Toward Black Tuesday

“What’s the point?” seems a reasonable place to start.

The point of this blog is to draw readers to my new novel, “The Millionaires Cruise: Sailing Toward Black Tuesday”. It’s an indie (independently published), so few people know about it. But if you enjoy interesting characters, and are attracted to love stories in unusual historic settings, I think you might like it.

The subject is a new one, in the sense that it hasn’t been covered before. (Note: If you find that this 1929 cruise has been fictionalized before, please tell me about it.) I couldn’t locate anything beyond vague references to this unusual cruise. My research uncovers no trace of books -- fiction or non -- about this troubled voyage.

The facts are these: On September 21, 1929 the SS Malolo sailed from San Francisco on the first leg of a ninety day Pacific cruise. Some 325 passengers were all acknowledged millionaires, specially selected by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Matson Navigation Company, owners of the SS Malolo. This was to be the most luxurious cruise ever offered, aboard the world’s newest luxury liner.

And here’s the unusual premise: 325 passengers sailed away as millionaires, buoyed by a runaway economy and eternal prosperity. The Great War had been won, stocks were soaring, speedy new cars and fancy electric products were all the rage, prohibition was ignored, and clothing and hairstyles were wild and loose and sexy. Just 38 days later, on Black Tuesday -- October 29, 1929 -- the American stock market crashed and their lives were forever changed.
“What about me? How does this affect me?” are often the first thoughts. And how do you know, when you are sailing far away in the China Sea? All you have to go by are conflicting reports on a narrow communications system. Enigmatic South African Duff Malone is the acknowledged leader aboard ship. The most experienced cruise director at the world’s most successful travel company, Malone is charged with maintaining trust and confidence among these important passengers. At the same time, he has his own doubts. Stitching together newspaper headlines from his Los Angeles office, sent via cryptic radiograms, Malone and his wise assistant, Werner Bergen, parcel out information with the care of parents who are looking after edgy children.

Then there is the love story, the inevitable interest of energetic, interesting people who are thrown together for an extended period of time, in close and glamorous quarters. Where do business interests end, and personal ones begin? Can one guard against attraction in romantic places like Hawaii, Yokohama, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Pago Pago, and the world’s most luxurious ocean liner, the SS Malolo?

These and many other human interests are presented in a unique way. Those who are interested, please ask for “The Millionaires Cruise: Sailing Toward Black Tuesday” at your nearest book store. It is also available in ebook format via Amazon.com. If you prefer to withhold interest until you learn a bit more, stay tuned. My next blog will talk about how the book came to be written, and some ironies that have recently come to light.

Safe Journeys!  Donald McPhai