At the end of July, members of Los Bilingual Writers and of MANA (Mexican-American Women’s National Association) de San Diego stopped by Logan Heights Library in San Diego, CA to share their story. Among them were Luis Natividad and his daughter Marisol. They arrived towards the end of the day and immediately it was obvious that they were more than parent and child. The suspicion was cleared when Marisol and Luis sat in the recording room and Luis wondered out loud “What could I tell you about me that you don’t know yet?” and Marisol answered with “I know everything.”
But as it turned out, there were still things that Luis and Marisol hadn’t talked about and they spent the next forty minutes talking about his parents and about his feelings as a son, a father – and a grandfather. Marisol is the mother to two little girls that Luis calls his “reason for living,” and he gladly described to his daughter how he rocked her children to sleep the night before, with Marisol sporting a slight smile. He spoke of the mistakes his own father made and about the ones he tried to avoid.
The Restoration Room in the basement of the Aerospace Museum is a window into another era. In here, a group of retired WWII vets lovingly restore and bring back to life old fighter planes and engine parts so that they can be displayed in the museum upstairs. The average age here is 80.
“This keeps us off the street, out of the pool halls, and out of the kitchen,” said Gene Harper, 78, (left) who paused from restoring an old engine for a midmorning snack of chicken wings and cookies with pals K.C. Reynolds, 78, (center) and Ernie Olson, 86, (right).
We convinced some of these gentlemen to preserve their stories for posterity. Ernie Olson invited fellow volunteer Herb Franck, 84, to the booth where they talked about surviving Pearl Harbor and their concern for the Restoration Room’s future. “I got here 18 years ago and we had 200 volunteers. Now we’re down to less than 100,” said Olson. “We’re fading away,” added Franck. “And there’s no one in line to step into our place.” In the photo above, the two are standing in front of the Restoration Room’s "Wall of Volunteers."
Recently Abdul Habib Shakoor, 14 and his dad Abdul Shakoor, 59 were invited to the StoryCorps booth by their friend Gholam Alizzadeh (the gentleman standing in the photo explaining the StoryCorps process to them). Alizzadeh felt the Shakoors had an important story to share. They immigrated to San Diego from Afghanistan last year. During their conversation, Abdul Habib, who speaks very little English, asked his dad a series of questions in one of Afghanistan’s main dialects, Farsi. For the most part, Abdul Habib’s dad replied with short answers, except for one question near the end which he animatedly responded to at length. After the interview, we asked Abdul Habib what he’d asked his dad. He replied, “I asked him if he was proud of me.”
Hussongs is an oldtime dive located in a small fishing village an hour south of the San Diego/Mexico border. It’s a 110 years old. A moosehead hangs from the wall and the regulars fling peanut shells on the floor. Legend has it that the margarita was invented here in 1941.
Jose Manuel Rodriguez Leon, 65, is the official shoe-shiner at Hussongs. We conducted an impromptu interview with him thanks to the help of Roberto Uriarte (pictured above), who kindly offered to translate from Spanish for us.
Jose Manuel Rodriguez Leon: Good evening.
SC: Is it true you’re the official shoe-shiner here?
SC: How did you get the job?
JMRL: The guy before me stabbed a customer so they kicked him out and I’ve been here ever since…that’s 39 years.
SC: It looks like you’ve seen a lot…
SC: So what has life taught you?
JMRL: To live… (He pauses and then smiles)… To live and let live.
We’ve relocated from San Diego State University to historic Balboa Park, home to (among many other things) 15 museums, an organ pavillion, and the San Diego Zoo.
We’re parked in front of the Aerospace Museum.
One of our favorite people here is N.S. “No Say” Wright, 65, whom we met thanks to local NPR affiliate KPBS. N.S. is our volunteer. He knows everything about everything and has a story to go with it. N.S. says he retired from the daily grind a few years ago and since then has been practicing the art of “unlaxing”– a form of deep relaxtion that involves spending tons of time with his grandkids, gazing at the clear blue sky, volunteering with the California Highway Patrol, and telling passersby about StoryCorps. In the photo above, he’s holding court to a rapt audience.
San Diego is the nation’s most haunted city, according to ghost hunter and native San Diegan Michael Brown. We went on his ghost tour in Old Town, a historic street lined with old-fashioned saloons and shops.
Michael, who speaks in a monotone, has spent the past six years scouring Old Town at night and documenting his supernatural encounters. In this photo he’s playing us an “Electronic Voice Phenomenon” or “EVP” of what (to the untrained ear) might sound like dogs barking, but is in fact a ghost couple fighting.
If you look carefully at this snapshot taken in Old Town’s El Campo Cemetery, you will notice a circular thing floating in the background. Facilitator Jackie Goodrich believes this is a reflection from the camera’s flash, but her co-facilitator Piya Kochhar (who incidentally took this shot) maintains this is an “orb” or “entity” from the other side.
Recently, three generations of the Seidman family came the StoryCorps booth: Arnold Seidman, 96, Robert Seidman, 54, and Michael Seidman, 17. The three live together in San Diego. “We all have this sarcastic humor that’s passed on from generation to generation,” said Michael. “Yup,” said Michael’s father Robert. “Dry, dryer, and dryest…” said Robert’s father Arnold, pointing to his grandson, his son, and then himself.
In this photo Michael is listening in with headphones as his grandfather recounts how he proposed to his wife during WWII via a letter.
San Diego is known for its beaches, perfect weather, proximity to Tijuana, military bases and — for most of February and a little of March — as home to the StoryCorps MobileBooth. We’re here thanks to the local NPR affiliate KPBS, and are parked on the enormous campus of San Diego State University.
We recently went to L.A.’s infamous Skid Row at the suggestion of a StoryCorps participant who worked there for many years before retiring. The area occupies a 30 square mile radius in downtown L.A. and is home to the homeless, says Scott Chamberlain (pictured above) who works at Union Rescue Mission — one of the 30 or so homeless shelters located in the heart of Skid Row. About 15,000 people come here on any given night. Some stay in the flophouses, some in the shelters, and many on the streets. Scott told us that the street he’s looking out at fills up with people once the sun sets and that L.A. has the largest homeless population in the country, with about 90,000 people going homeless each night.
We conducted a series of StoryCorps “off-site” interviews with residents and employees of the Union Rescue Mission, which is L.A.’s oldest homeless shelter. A teenage girl told her mom she feels ashamed to let people at school know where she lives. “I tell them I live in L.A.,” she said. Two gentlemen talked about their love of football and their long path to homelessness. In this photo, Loriel Castillo and Chaplain Bridget Wilson get ready for their StoryCorps interview, in which Loriel (the lady in blue) speaks about her dreams of starting a catering business.