Life On The Moon?

M y grandfather Herman Allison, born August 4, 1885, in Morgan's Mill, Texas, once told me that when he was a schoolboy, a topic for debate was: "Is the moon inhabited?"

~ Words and artwork by Russ Allison Loar
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Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Seven

Don Callender

I was always a rather small cog in the wheel of American journalism, yet I was lucky in meeting notable and accomplished people. I sought them out whenever the opportunity arose, wanting more than anything to hear them speak, to observe and understand the making of these extraordinary people and how their thought processes worked.

I was lucky at the very beginning of my journalism career. I’d only written a few stories during my internship in 1984 at The Orange County Register when the editor suggested I write a story about a newly remodeled Marie Callender’s restaurant in Tustin, California, just being completed. After contacting the restaurant manager, she mentioned that the founder of the restaurant chain, Don Callender, would be visiting the new location in a few days and I could interview him then. I jumped at the chance.

When I walked into the restaurant for my lunch meeting with the 57-year-old Don Callender, he eyed me suspiciously until I told him I was the reporter from The Orange County Register he was expecting. He said, “When I saw your shiny shoes I thought, Oh no, here’s another one of these guys from the city." He said city inspectors imposing a labyrinth of regulations were making it difficult for him to open the remodeled restaurant.

The luncheon interview lasted several hours. He was eager to tell me about the origins of his 112-restaurant chain, how it began with his mother, Marie Callender, making pies for restaurants. “My mother was a good cook at home,” Callender said. “She made good pastries and she was working for a place that had a little lunch counter and she made pies.”

The family’s wholesale pie business began in 1947. “We started with a rolling pin and 700 bucks,” he said. “Dad did the delivering and I was making the pies with mom’s assistance and guidance.” In 1964 the family opened their first restaurant, in Orange, California.

Callender grew up poor, but always believed a strong work ethic and a close-knit family would bring success. “There is more opportunity than ever before in America,” he said. “Every time you see a kid in a workplace with his parents, I guarantee you, you’ll see a happy kid. They’ve got a sense of worth.”

Callender sold the Marie Callender's chain in the late 1980s but remained active in the restaurant business, creating several new restaurants throughout California. He died in 2009 at age 81.

~ to be continued

~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photo by Mark Rightmire for The Orange County Register
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Nine

Tom Hayden ~ Anti-War Activist

I met Tom Hayden during a press conference in the early 1980s attended by a large, outdoor crowd of students at Cal State Long Beach where I later earned a degree in journalism. I can’t remember if Hayden was already a state assemblyman, or running for the office at that time. He served in the Assembly from 1982 to 1992 and as a California state senator from 1992 to 2000.

Hayden was one of the Chicago Eight, later called the Chicago Seven after defendant Bobby Seale was tried separately. The anti-Vietnam War activists were indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and incitement due to their involvement in the violent protests at the notorious Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968. Their conviction was later overturned. Hayden was also one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a left-wing oriented group that was active in the 1960s. He was married to actress Jane Fonda from 1973 to 1990.

Fresh from my transition from musician to college student, I asked Hayden if he thought marijuana should be legalized. He was reluctant to answer the question and joked, “You’ve got to give me a minute. I’m too high to answer that question right now,” prompting laughter from the assembled students. At the end of his extensive joking, he said quietly, “It should be the same as alcohol.” I don't think he wanted to be known as a pro-legalization advocate during that time of his career.

Abbie Hoffman ~ Anti-War Activist

Abbie Hoffman was also one of the Chicago Eight. I interviewed and photographed Hoffman in 1987 at UC Irvine when I was a reporter at the Irvine World News. Though Hoffman was a respected anti-war activist, author and university lecturer, his speech at the open-air campus rally was comedic as well as political.

He railed against then President Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra scandal, and urged students to protest university research in Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly known as the “Star Wars” missile defense initiative.

Diagnosed as bipolar, Hoffman committed suicide two years later in 1989. The New York Times reported that a coroner found the residue of 150 phenobarbital pills in his system, along with evidence of alcohol ingestion.

Though Hoffman did his best to encourage the college crowd that day to help create a new generation of student activism, I remember his speech best as a superb standup routine. He could have killed at any comedy club in the country. Thirty years later, I can’t remember the event well enough to quote his humorous remarks, but no doubt about it, inside this scruffy rabble-rouser was the heart of a funny, funny man.

~ to be continued

~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved