An f—ing know-it-all
Never let them name a street after you at Edwards (AFB) and never get so banged up they have to call in a pathologist to identify you.
I wake from a deep sleep to knocking on the door. I freeze. Where am I? It slowly comes back. It was not a dream- I should be in Spain. I made it over the Pyrenees without getting caught. Who is at the door, though?
I cautiously move toward the door, scanning the room for an escape and a weapon.
Someone with an American accent starts yelling: Yeager! I’m the American consul. Open up.
With a lamp in my hand, I cautiously open the door. There is a man standing there. He tells me he’s rounding up all the airmen and taking us to Lerida.
He shows me some official id.
I go with him.
He takes a group of us to Lerida, then Alhambra de Aragon. It’s a monastery.
I’m just happy to be well fed and a somewhat comfortable bed to sleep in.
Turns out it’s hot springs spa.
What a way to fight a war – hang out at the pool at a spa watching all the pretty Spanish girls.
After catnapping, I dragged and carried the airman for what seemed like hours. We were starving. We came upon a farm and I wondered if we’d be safe. I was sure we were in Spain but the people living on the border might sell us back to the Germans – they paid a good price.
We were so hungry and tired, we chanced it. We slowly approached the farmhouse. I’m sure they were eyeing us the whole way.
As we got closer, I examined the whole area, decided on some escape routes. As we got right up to the door, it swung open, and the woman beckoned us inside and hurry. They fed us a large meal and we slept by the fire as our clothes dried out. Much safer to hang our socks. I still did not go into a deep sleep. I was ready to run. How I would do so carrying the airman, I couldn’t quite work out.
All was well. I haven’t been able to find that Spanish family to thank them again.
Better fed, I got up on a ridge and could see far below, a fairly large town. I carried and mostly slid with the airman down the mountain. I left him on the road for the Guardia Civil, Spanish police, to pick him up and headed up into the mountains again to get as far south beyond the border as I could.
I finally came down into a town, hopped a bus, held on for dear life and made it to Sort. They put me in the jail, such as it was. I wondered what this meant – were they finding Germans to whom to sell me?
I escaped and went to a hotel where I slept for what felt like a month although I think it was only 24 hours straight. I didn’t care what happened, I needed sleep.
A knock at the door awakened me.
I’ve enjoyed jury duty and wish my friends would not try to avoid it. They need smart, thoughtful, common sense jurors. It’s our civic duty.
I remember an old family friend, a member of Philadelphia society starting in the 20’s – quite the living social history, telling us about his jury duty experience. The Judge was asking each juror in turn if they had an opinion as to whether the defendant was innocent or guilty.
Each juror in turn replied, “No.”
Until our friend.
The Judge asked him: “Do you have an opinion as to whether he is innocent or guilty?”
“Yes,” said this highly intelligent, highly regarded, erudite teacher and librarian.
The Judge did a double take and asked again.
“Yes,” our family friend confirmed
The Judge now very curious, asked, “What is it?”
“Innocent,” pronounced our family friend.
The realization slowly dawned on everyone in the courtroom.
Innocent until proven guilty.
He remained on the jury.
First time I was summoned to jury duty was during the time the O.J. Simpson jury was originally going to be picked. I deliberated with myself – a year or more of my life vs. perhaps a book deal….hmmm. I opted out. Frankly, I figured I would not be picked after voir dire – I was blond then and about the same age as Nicole.
I called the courthouse and asked if I could do my jury duty earlier. They were surprised. They had all sorts of people calling to be in the jury pool. I was the first and only person to call to get out of it. They readily accommodated me – I wasn’t trying to get out of duty, just that duty.
In Los Angeles at that time, you had to show up three days in a row to see if you’d be picked.
The first case to which they sent our group up was a bit scary. I was in the second tier and was called up to the box. The case was two big scary looking black prisoners had allegedly sodomized a third prisoner with a broom and other things. I wanted to put my hands over my ears and hum-um-um-um I so did not want to hear any more.
Fortunately, in criminal cases like that, the first people the defense attorneys get rid of are white women. I was excused. I wonder if they saw my revulsion. Someone said to get out of a murder trial just start mimicking making a hanging noose.
I’ve seen too many movies where the verdict is read: GUILTY, and the scary defendant points at the jury and says, “I’m going to get you!”
I was summoned to jury duty a year or so ago. It was hard to tell what the case was. They went through several potential jurors. I was almost the last one. The questions seem to center around: What do you think about toilet papering a house?
We’re about to sit through a case about TP-ing a house? When it came to the defendant’s turn to accept the jury or knock someone off, he deliberated at length with his lawyer. Finally, they came to a decision and I was excused. I was wondering why they hadn’t knocked me off asap. Usually white women…. (Turned out the guy, drunk, had threatened his wife and stepdaughter with a loaded gun after the TP-incident. It was not an isolated incident. They threw the book at him.)
The next case in Los Angeles to which I was sent up for their jury pool, was an eminent domain case. We went through voir dire where I told them I had a real estate license in California and an MBA in Finance from Columbia University. They kept me this time.
The jury was quite diverse. We had an elderly white man who was a retired small business owner, an elderly white woman, retired school teacher; a black young man from the ‘hood, an Hispanic woman in her 40’s, a young man in his 30’s, and every type between. I was 35.
The case was as follows: The Hungarian-American society, a group of elderly men who had been born in Hungary and had immigrated here after World War II, owned a building in Los Angeles. Cal Trans needed to use their property to dig under it for five years to build the subway so wanted to move them and their tenants for those years. The society used the upstairs for their club and a bank used the downstairs and paid rent.
The bank moved across the street and the evidence showed their net income increased significantly.
The Hungarian American society’s lawyer had hired an expert witness, a real estate appraiser, who spent three days explaining why he valued the use of the property at well over $500,000 – I think $600,000.
The expert witness about put us all to sleep for 3 days confusing everyone in the jury (but me, frankly). When the lawyer asked how much he was being paid, he said $3500/day to testify. We all realized that’s why he was speaking so slowly. I thought, I am in the wrong business. He was terrible.
The Judge was quite pleasant and affable but even he was getting a little tired of the prolonged testimony.
I was the only one taking full notes.
At lunch, we had vouchers of course. The first day, I had suggested we all go find a fun place to eat – heck we were in downtown Los Angeles with lots to see. Even during the day, it wasn’t that safe to walk around alone too far. I had to put on my Philadelphia city demeanor. Everyone wanted to discuss the trial of course and what had happened that day. We had been admonished not to do that and not to form an opinion before all the evidence was in. I changed the subject to find out about each person. Heck, we were going to be together for a while especially with that expert witness.
As the trial wore on (it went 7 days), I organized field trips after we ate lunch such as visiting the library downtown – a wonderfully huge building full of all sorts of books and with an exhibit of Norman Rockwell paintings at the time. It made it much easier to not talk about the trial, the elephant in the room.
Finally, at almost the end of the seventh day, it became time to deliberate and we went back to the jury room. First thing we had to do was elect a jury foreperson.
The schoolteacher nominated me. She said I was the only one who understood it all. Everyone was in accord except The black kid nominated the older white guy. The older white guy wanted the job. We had a vote. 10 – 2. I became the foreperson.
I went around the table and asked what each person thought. To a person, none of them understood anything the expert had said.
I kept saying, “There’s a piece missing.”
We asked for his charts. I went through the charts with the jury. How to value real estate? This property here valued as x close by, has all of these features the subject property has but it does not have these features. This other property valued as y sort of close by has other similar features but not all the features. So we had to value each feature and add or subtract.
I asked each person what they thought the value was. We had the expert witness’ general idea but….
I called on the black kid first. He was stunned. He was still awake which was good. I went around the table. Each of them was stunned to see how simple it was and how it took me about 20 minutes to do what the expert witness had taken three days to do.
The day was finished and so we had to come back. The next morning, we discussed it. The older white guy wanted to give tons and tons of money, triple what the rest of us wanted to do.
Most of us wanted to give about $250,000 – that’s what the mean valuation truly showed – plus some extra just for the time and effort to move, bring a lawsuit, etc.
The white guy wanted to give the Hungarian Americans something for their efforts to have to move and bring a lawsuit – about $550,000 or more. I reminded the group that the amount had to reflect that Cal Trans was only borrowing the property for five years and would then get it back all in one piece so it is essentially a mandated 5 year lease.
I asked if anyone had suggestions. So we split the difference and came up with about $400,000; an additional 60% hundred in sympathy. In fact, it was within the limits of a proper valuation so everyone could live with that. Except the older white guy. He wanted his number and that was that.
I said, “It’s almost lunch time. Why don’t we get our last free lunch and do a final vote after lunch?”
All agreed. We actually were sad we were splitting up, probably would never see each other again, and wanted to put off the separation.
After lunch and our last excursion, I think this time to the modern art museum, we headed back to the jury room, did our final vote.
I was still confused – something is missing – and said so.
“Why aren’t they asking about the loss or moving expenses for the bank? Although their income went up. Hmmmm.” This wasn’t part of the evidence or equation before us so we voted.
I think it was 10 people for $400,000 to two (elderly white guy and another) for $550,000. There was no way anyone could convince anyone else to go to the other’s side. We only needed a majority and we did not need another day and another meal, so we let the Court know we had finished.
We filed back in. The Judge asked who the foreperson was and was not surprised when I stood up. I read the verdict.
The Cal Trans lawyer had his head down, made notes, and had no reaction. I wondered. There was no happiness from the Hungarian Americans or the bank.
The Hungarian Americans’ lawyer asked for a polling.
After this, the Judge said, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. However, I’m sorry to tell you, we couldn’t tell you before, but there is another piece of this case and you all have to return on Monday to hear evidence and decide that part.”
To a person, each jury member quickly swiveled their head to me and stared. This did not go unnoticed. I smiled. Vindicated.
We all came back on Monday. After we took our seats, the Judge apologized for us having to come back and informed us the bank and Cal Trans had settled. I never did find out for how much but the bank – I think it was Wells Fargo – should not have gotten anything.
After we left the courtroom, the lawyers for the Hungarian Americans, stopped us. By then we had learned we had come in a couple hundred thousand dollars under what Cal Trans had offered. I felt a little bad for the elderly Hungarian Americans who had been sold a bill of goods by these attorneys and “expert witness”.
The lawyer asked: “How did you all come to our decision?”
Frankly, I berated them (but nicely): “Why did you bring this case to trial? That expert witness was so wrong on his estimates. He should be reported to the real estate licensing board. And you all should refund your fees. Ridiculous. You’re the ones who took advantage of these elderly gentlemen, not Cal Trans.”
The lawyer was stunned. I then said, “And why would you keep me on the jury given you knew you should have settled?”
The lawyer replied, “We figured you would be the only person who understood what was going on.”
You got that right. “I did. That’s my point. So why did you keep me on?”
He was stunned but not so stunned that he couldn’t figure out how to use the information. He exclaimed: “We’re going to appeal!”
He immediately asked the black kid: “Did she tell you how to vote?”
He looked at him, a little upset that anyone think some woman would tell him what to do and he would do it, a little upset that I made him participate, and a little proud that I took his opinion seriously, “Hell NO! She called on me to get my opinion… FIRST!”
I smiled. I think I may have changed this kid’s view of leadership and white women. Even just a little.
They desperately asked each of the jurors in turn and each said, “No, she asked us what we thought. She went last. The amount we awarded wasn’t her choice.” (Okay they didn’t have to tell that part J
The lawyers were truly upset – there went their coercion appeal.
Apparently our cohesiveness was unusual especially given the diversity. It was a fascinating experience.
I wonder what each of the jurors is doing now? And how they are telling this story.
Chuck Yeager: “Bob Hoover called us this morning. Colleen had died in his arms a week ago. They had been married 68 years.
I remember Colleen’s first or second date with Bob they went flying and ended up in the trees. The farmer who owned the tree came out of his house with a shotgun yelling: “Git yourself and your airplane outta there or I’m gonna shoot you!”
Colleen must have had a sense of humor and loved Bob because she married him after that!
I had gone back to West Virginia to drive my infant son Mickey from Mom’s out to Muroc AFB (later called Edwards AFB), California, and was going to pick up Bob and Colleen in Dayton, OH on the way. They had just gotten married, literally, when I arrived.
We drove forever and since none of us had enough money for a motel, stayed the first night in a graveyard. Some wedding night! Thanks goodness Colleen had that sense of humor.
Mom had fixed up a mixture of Karo syrup and boiled water to mix in with the baby’s canned milk feedings for Mickey to eat. With the heat, the Karo fermented and Mickey got plastered. He wore a silly grin and giggled clear across the country.
Colleen made it clear she wasn’t ready to take care of babies.
A couple of days later, we arrived at my house and as Colleen tells it: as a joke, Chuck hadn’t changed Mickey’s diapers after he had messed his pants a half hour before. Even after Colleen suggested it, Chuck refused to stop. He handed the baby over to Glennis and she was horrified: “You didn’t change his diapers the whole drive?????!!!?!?!!?” I replied: “Hell, no. We just wrapped another blanket around him to keep down the smell.”
Quite the introduction to military life for Colleen!
Whenever I introduced Bob at various events and awards ceremonies, I always told the crowd that the honors should really go to Colleen. She was his better half and a true partner without whom Bob would never have succeeded so well in life.
Victoria and I truly admired Colleen and will miss her.”
The summer between my two years at Columbia University Graduate School of Business, I accompanied my mother to Italy for an international meeting to prevent alcohol and drug abuse.
Sitting at the pool of the hotel, we met some of the band for Ray Charles. They invited us to the outdoor concert that evening. I wouldn’t say my mother was a great Ray Charles fan, nor was her friend, but it was to be a grand adventure.
We set out in the car naively thinking we could just drive on up. The traffic was astonishing and there was no parking. My mother’s friend, Pauline, kept saying, “There’s a spot!” But I sensed we were still miles from the forum.
I kept creeping closer, now having to politely beep so the hoards of those walking in the street might kindly part for us to pass.
We got to a barrier. Pauline was sure we’d be stopped and turned around.
I spoke to the guard in my most charming broken Italian as to our goal was backstage and we were guests. He looked at us, looked at me, and thought one elderly woman, one middle aged women and a cute young one driving them….speaking broken Italian. They don’t seem dangerous…..Okay.
And he let us through.
This happened a few times along the way. And each time Pauline was sure, we’d be taken into the police station. However, I had been to Italy a few times and if you are kind, polite and have a sense of humor, the Italians are delightful and fun-loving. One barrier, there were two and they found our predicament and us quite amusing. We all laughed and they shook their heads and waved us on.
We got to the backstage and parked there. The band was glad to see us and escorted us to say hello to Ray Charles which we did. He was very gracious and about to go on.
So they took us up the makeshift stairs to backstage of the makeshift stage where we could see the whole show. And by the whole show, I mean the entire football field size ancient Roman amphitheatre full of an energetic, enthusiastic audience as well as Ray Charles and the band on stage.
It was a clear night and the stars were out. Beautiful.
I marveled at how Ray Charles blindness didn’t stop him, perhaps enhanced his sense of hearing. I wondered what images a blind person has in his head.
From where we were standing, the music was extremely, painfully loud. And frankly the sound isn’t the best backstage – a little distorted.
My mother lasted about an hour and had to go. I wanted to stay, thinking it might be rude to leave mid-show. The good news is no one else wanted to go then so there was no traffic.
We got Pauline down the stairs; she had poor eyesight at night and moved slowly.
And into our car. We made our way out of the maze and eventually out a few miles past where the cars were parked.
After my mother died in June 1986, Nancy Reagan, First Lady, an advocate on fighting drug abuse, wrote a beautiful letter to me. Mrs. Reagan recognized the great contributions my mother had made during her lifetime in the prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse and drug abuse. My family responded and thanked her for her kind letter.
Three months after President Reagan left office, April 1989, as they were leaving a dinner in their honor, the guests all lined up on either side of a created pathway to the exit to honor the Reagans and say good evening.
As President Reagan was approaching where I was, I was about to put out my hand to shake his when a huge light shone right in my eyes momentarily blinding me. It was a video camera. I chose not to put out my hand as I didn’t know where it would end up. And that could have been bad.
The light was blocked by President Reagan and I could see Nancy Reagan. I introduced myself and thanked her again for her kind letter. She recognized the name and remembered my mother. We smiled warmly and then she moved on with her husband.
I met her not too long ago at the President Reagan Library at an event for the Medal of Honor Association. Getting a little frail, but still elegantly dressed and mentally agile, leaning on a tall, strong assistant, she was engaging and kind to each person who said hello to her. Again, she remembered my mother and now me.
I so appreciate her advocacy of stem cell research. It has saved several of my friends’ lives. And her Just Say No campaign. I imagine that may have saved millions of lives.
I have always admired Nancy and Ronald Reagan’s devotion to each other. I don’t exactly mourn her death. I admire her elegance and grace and willingness to stand up for what she believed in and I rather feel happy for her – I imagine her rejoined with her true love.
About 25 years ago, I was at a glamorous “Hollywood” luncheon at the Beverly Hilton hotel, standing in the back watching the show, looking at the fabulously rich women and what they chose to wear. I’ve always marveled that with all that money – it doesn’t mean good taste.
I found out the guys standing on other side of me, not with me, each holding a fur coat, were the chauffeurs. One asked me if I would like to try on the one he was holding. “It’s Ivana Trump’s fur coat.” Or maybe a stole.
I furrowed my brow as I thought, “What? Why would I….”
I thanked him and said I had one at home. I could just imagine trying it on and she turns up wondering indignantly (and correctly so) why I am wearing her fur coat. “Uh…keeping it warm???”
As the event was winding down, I looked around and was wondering if there was anyone I thought would be interesting to meet.
Donald Trump was heading in my direction – I was on the way to the door to leave. He turned near me to watch for and protect his wife who was the one involved in this event or charity. So I sauntered up, introduced myself and said I just wanted to meet you and say hello.
He was gracious and a gentleman. He stopped, shook my hand and said hello. I was struck by how tall he was and his voice. He was a nice, fine guy, no flirting, had no reason to stop and say hello as I was not a “financial big wig”. Just very pleasant.
He said he was enjoying the event but clearly was on a mission to get his wife and him both out safely ahead of the crowd.
I smiled at him as he continued on his way to join up with Ivana and was surely glad I was not trying on his wife’s fur coat at the time.