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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Senator Dianne Feinstein, who just died at age 90, is shown here at a press conference in November 1978 announcing to the public the murders of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. WikiCommons photo

By Thomas Shess, ex-San Francisco reporter and Editor in Chief of San Francisco Magazine--The last time I saw Dianne Feinstein in person was the day she uttered the words (above) hours after San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and local district Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated in cold blood. 

The defenseless elected leaders died on November 27, 1978, at the hands of Dan White, an embittered ex-cop who felt he was cheated out of a chance to recant his resignation from the Board Supervisors earlier. Other explanations for the killings also surfaced. The killer was a troubled man. He is dead now. 

When I did see Dianne (who died this week at 90 years), she was conducting a press conference following the killings. As the ranking President of the Board of Supervisors, Feinstein was by law appointed San Francisco Mayor, a post she was re-elected to for more than a decade thereafter. 

I was in the pool of journalists covering the sad events that day. I don’t remember a word she said to the nation, but I admired the strength she possessed and the steely professionalism with which she spoke. She rose to the occasion and, as history will remember, she went on to a brilliant lifelong career in the United States Senate. 

Image from Thomas Shess Media Collection
The Senator’s passing has rekindled memories of when I first met George Moscone. I never met Harvey Milk.  I was editor-in-chief of an inflight magazine for a San Diego-based airline. Pacific Southwest Airlines only flew routes within California. I was in my mid-20s when I was hired away from being a business reporter for the San Francisco Examiner to edit PSA California Magazine

 Although the magazine was a publication of a corporation, my staff was given free rein to cover the state as if we were a real journalistic enterprise. Of course, we had our limits. Writing about airplane crashes was a big taboo. 

However, PSA management was enlightened about important topics of the day. They agreed to my idea to interview George Moscone, the newly elected Mayor of San Francisco, as they did beforehand when we interviewed President Nixon and his 1972 opponent George McGovern. 

Moscone was a gregarious San Franciscan. His love for his city rubbed off. I have never stopped loving the Bay Area and especially North Beach, a favorite Moscone stomping ground. I believe my short time with George Moscone influenced my decision to leave PSA Magazine to take the top editorship of San Francisco Magazine. 

While at SF Mag, we published an article critical of one of Moscone’s leadership positions. He was on the phone to me right after he read it. Details of the call are fuzzy almost 50 years later, but I do know we offered him a chance to rebut. “Your honor, you can have the cover story for the December [1978] edition.” He agreed. 

 When deadline came for him to submit the article, he called me and wanted to hand it to me in person. I agreed and we decided to meet later at his office. We met in his private office, just off the big office where he ran the City. 

He reiterated his points, where he felt the magazine misunderstood a leadership decision that he made. I was surprised the meeting lasted an hour. He remembered the cover story PSA Magazine ran on him the year before and kidded me because he, indeed, was not an airline hostess. Back in the 70s, PSA liked putting stewardesses on the cover. We shared an adult beverage as we negotiated who was going to be on the cover. “Your honor, it would be our honor to have you on the cover.” Sorry, life is corny sometimes. 

 He directed me to contact his press staff for the photo shoot we had to schedule for later in the week. By noon, the next day, George Moscone was dead. 

 He was murdered in the small office where we met the early evening before. Frankly, San Francisco has never been the same. 

 George Moscone’s bylined article ran in the December 1978 edition of San Francisco Magazine

He didn’t make the cover. Instead, we ran an image of the city he loved. 

 Reading a recent CNN report on Feinstein’s death, it was noted that Feinstein rarely talked about the day when Moscone and Milk were shot, but she opened up about the tragic events in a 2017 interview with CNN’s Dana Bash. 

Bash wrote, “Feinstein was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors then, and assassin Dan White had been a friend and colleague of hers. “The door to the office opened, and he came in, and I said, ‘Dan?’ “I heard the doors slam, I heard the shots, I smelled the cordite,” Feinstein recalled via CNN. 

Dianne Feinstein for Mayor photo on Steiner Street, San Francisco.

Feinstein on the campaign trail, San Francisco.

Friday, September 29, 2023



By the caffeine crew at -- The history of National Coffee Day seems a bit, well, fuzzy (like the image downloaded above, top). We believe September 29 came about as a jolting reminder to get back to work following a long summer — even though it’s a full week after the first day of fall. 

After all, Americans have turned procrastination into an art form. On the other hand, the history of coffee itself clearly goes back to 15th century Yemen. (Check out Dave Eggers’ recent book for a fascinating look at how it all went down.) As for Europeans, they got their first taste about 100 years later — with Venice leading the way. 

Per the National Coffee Association, it wasn’t a smooth ride: “Some people reacted to this new beverage with suspicion or fear, calling it the ‘bitter invention of Satan.’ The local clergy condemned coffee when it came to Venice in 1615. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. He decided to taste the beverage for himself before making a decision, and found the drink so satisfying that he gave it papal approval.” 

 Mainland Europe’s first official coffeehouse (no, they didn’t serve lattes) opened in Venice around 1645. 

 Back in the U.S., if it weren’t for the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Americans may never have swapped tea for coffee. When the colonies revolted against King George III’s hefty tea tax, tea was out and coffee was in. 

Things really started to percolate in the mid-1800s when brothers John and Charles Arbuckle started selling coffee to cowboys in the American West. 

James Folger successfully introduced coffee to gold miners in California. Upon returning to San Francisco in 1865, Folger became a full partner of The Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills — which eventually became the J.A. Folger & Co. in 1872. 

 Other brands including Maxwell House and Hills Brothers soon entered the coffee market. 

A yearning for “specialty” coffee took hold in the 1960s. Peet's began offering a variety of coffee in 1966, and a little Seattle company called Starbucks changed everything in 1971. 

Today the U.S. coffee shop market has grown to a $45.4 billion industry, according to Allegra World Coffee Portal’s 2019 Project Café USA report. Dry coffee sales topped $9 billion in 2017 in the U.S. 

So, let's raise a cup of coffee today to thank King George III! 

PS: Check your local coffee writers for lists of free coffee today!

Wednesday, September 27, 2023







Tuesday, September 26, 2023




 Excerpts from a documentary via YouTube. 

The following is a recital, perhaps the best in history, of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865), by actor Daniel Day-Lewis, which appeared in the film “Lincoln (produced by Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy). 

 Mr. Day-Lewis received an Academy Award in 2013 for his portrayal of President Lincoln. 

Included in the documentary are equally important words by President Obama. 

 Future generations, as is our current ones, are and will be blessed to have such a performance available to recall and remember the fight for total freedom must never be lost. 

The Second Inaugural Address by President Lincoln is a remarkable piece of history. 

It is also poetry. 


Monday, September 25, 2023


This is It!
By Thomas Shess
First published in San Diego Magazine, August 1998. Dates in the article reprinted below reflect the 1998 viewpoint.--ed.

The most memorable day in San Diego’s collective psyche, September 25, 1978, turned out to be a 101-degree scorcher, the most stifling and smoggiest day of the year. At 9 a.m., however, the sky was clear, the temperature just hitting 80 degrees. An idyllic California morning.

Almost 20 years later, radio executive Joe Gillespie says: “I remember that day as if it happened yesterday.” Two decades ago, Gillespie was news director at KSDO Radio. Today, he’s the station manager for WLAP in Lexington, Kentucky. “It was too perfect a day. There was no way you’d expect a PSA jet to fall out of the sky. I mean, you could see forever,” he says. Fall out of the sky is exactly what Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 from Sacramento via Los Angeles did—after it collided with a single-engine Cessna some 2,600 feet above the Mid-City intersection of 38th Street and El Cajon Boulevard.

Pieces of the Cessna, with its two-man crew, crashed at 32nd and Polk streets in the heart of North Park, an eclectic mix of shopkeepers and working-class residents, a few miles from the San Diego Zoo. Ground zero for PSA’s 150,000-pound 727-214 was Dwight and Nile streets, just west of Interstate 805, only 3 nautical miles northeast of Lindbergh Field. Flight recorder data showed the collision happened at 1 minute, 47 seconds after 9 am. Flight 182’s impact with the ground was documented 3¼10ths of a second past 9:02. From resounding collision to fiery aftermath, the elapsed time was just mere seconds.

Two hours after the worst of the horrific black-and-orange smoke cleared, PSA management and investigating officials reported that no one aboard had survived the passenger jet’s 300 mph plunge into the residential neighborhood. By noon, the world knew of the tragedy—the highest air disaster death toll ever in the United States. All 135 aboard the Boeing jetliner perished, as well as two in the Cessna and seven persons on the ground. Only a few bodies were even recognizable as human. Gary Jaus, a rookie cop at San Diego Police Academy, was one of 15 in his class given the somber duty of combing through the wreckage for anything that could be used to I.D. a victim. Today, Jaus is a sergeant in charge of community policing. “How much gore do you want me to tell you about?” he asks. “There were no faces on the bodies. There were no bodies to speak of—only pieces. One alley was filled with just arms, legs and feet. I worked at Clairemont Mortuary before I became a cop, so I was able to do my duty without getting sick. I was no stranger to dead bodies, but I wasn’t ready to see the torso of a stewardess slammed against a car.”

Bodies were crushed in the remains of an Audi, where a couple died on the spot as they were driving. One body slammed through the windshield of a car. Blood was all over the hysterical driver and her baby. Bodies were on rooftops. Slammed against trees. Gore was splattered on exterior and interior walls of homes. In a small daycare center next to ground zero, the 33-year-old caregiver and mother was killed, as were several children.

“Man, do I have to tell you it was horrible?” asks the veteran cop, his lower lip trembling. “It was gruesome. The heat of the fires and the sun made the whole scene surreal. We couldn’t drink enough water. All around us was the stench of kerosene and burning flesh. We did our job by rote, locating the pieces so the SWAT team could mark the spot and cover the body parts.” Shown a yellowed copy of the San Diego Evening Tribune, he notices a story about an older woman who was talking on the phone with her sister when the jetliner exploded on her house. Jaus puts his hands to his face briefly, glances out a nearby window and speaks very slowly and softly. About noon that day, he and fellow rookie cops had stumbled on the charred door of a gutted residence.

“I saw them pull the door up. Underneath were the remains of a victim,” Jaus says. “They guessed it was a woman, but they couldn’t tell. They guessed it was a resident instead of a passenger because the corpse was holding on to the receiver of a phone. It was definitely a phone. I could see the cord hanging.”

Eyewitnesses and Ironies
More than 140 eyewitnesses to the midair collision and resulting ground-level devastation would be documented—a chilling number, considering it almost matched the death toll. In the end, fewer than a dozen were deemed credible.

Among those witnesses were several on-duty firemen, who saw the disaster from two different locations. Firefighters, along with police and surviving local residents, saved many lives by bravely entering flaming houses to rescue trapped victims.

North Park–based Engine Company 14 was parked at Morley Field on the northern edge of Balboa Park. Four members of the company (one truck) were exercising along Upas Street. Engineer/driver John Allen was jogging when he heard a huge popping noise. It made him jerk his head around and look up into the sky. He saw the aftermath of the midair collision, which later reports would say was virtually head-on. Pieces of the Cessna’s propeller were embedded in the right wing of the 727. The impact ruptured fuel and hydraulic lines, causing a massive explosion.

Allen grabbed the two-way radio he carried with him. He remembers being out of breath from running as he called in one of the first eyewitness reports from the field.

“Engine 14, we’re responding,” he recalls repeating several times to a disbelieving San Diego Fire Department dispatcher, who thought at first Allen was reporting a car fire. Allen and the rest of his company scrambled to their truck and raced to the fireball only blocks away.

The Fire Chief’s Story
Another key set of eyes saw the disaster seconds after the collision. “I saw something fall away from the big plane,” remembers Robert Osby, then a battalion chief with the SDFD.

Osby was at the inferno within minutes. En route, he was able to radio a confirmation of Allen’s call to the fire department’s dispatch. The alertness of Station 14 provided immediate equipment at the fire. Osby’s arrival gave needed leadership to rescue efforts already under way.

Now San Diego’s fire chief, 61-year-old Osby is a native of San Diego and a career fireman. He graduated from Stockton (now Martin Luther King Jr.) Memorial Academy, San Diego High and SDSU. But nothing prepared him for what he witnessed in late September 1978.

“About 9 a.m., I was standing outside Fire Station 28 in Kearny Mesa. I was standing with my back to the station and facing toward Montgomery Field. We were discussing upcoming training procedures. Nobody wanted to go inside. It was already too hot.

“Then I could see the eyes of one of the men sort of drift away. I knew he wasn’t listening to me—so I followed his eyes up into the sky.

“‘Oh, jeez, did you see that!’ I shouted.

“‘What was that?’ the other man demanded.

“‘Damn, the engine fell off the wing,’ I said.

“I saw a puff of white smoke or steam, then what I thought was an engine fell straight to the ground. I saw it very clearly. I knew it was a jetliner, but I had no idea it was PSA.

“I saw the smoking jet banking, turning toward the airport. It seemed to hang there for a second or two, then it continued its banking turn for another few seconds before it started spinning straight toward the ground.”

Osby jumped in his red car and fumbled for his “Kojak light,” the portable emergency flasher placed on the roof. Radioing what he saw to the dispatcher, he tore down I-805 south to the site of black, billowing smoke. Mentally, he was setting up plans for a command post. He knew he would likely be the first ranking fire officer to arrive.

“I parked away from the scene,” he recalls, “far enough so I wouldn’t run over hoses on the way out. For the fire command post, I picked a parking lot near the drugstore [Sav-On] at North Park Way and 32nd. From there, I figured we could progress safely.

“I jogged to the scene. From my side of the fire [north], I was ahead of any fire [department] engines, although I could hear them approaching. I was facing a huge wall of flames, and black smoke was everywhere. I saw a TV crew already there. I couldn’t believe it. I saw police and residents climbing into burning houses to look for victims. Unbelievably, I saw a U.S. Navy fire engine already on the scene. It was trying to get water out of a hydrant, but the water main had been ruptured.

“There was fire everywhere,” he says. “When other engine companies started coming down both Nile and Boundary, I told the men to proceed carefully, because I knew there were power, water and gas lines down. Also, I didn’t want them to drive wildly into the scene and run over any bodies that were lying in the street.”

Looking back from his downtown office 20 years later, Chief Osby salutes the fire captains at the scene. “They really didn’t need orders from me—they saw the fires, they saw the hydrants, and they went into action, laying down lines of hoses and beginning to fight the fires. They were able to set up an encircling perimeter around the fire because they came from so many different directions. The crash was at the hub of the wheel, and they targeted the flames by approaching like spokes on that wheel.”

Much later, Osby learned that crash investigators were amazed at how small the disaster site was. Only two sides of one short block of Dwight Street were devastated.

My heart goes out to the victims—but thank God firefighters saw it first and were able to arrive in time to keep the flames from spreading for blocks and blocks. And thank God it hit in a working-class neighborhood on a Monday morning,” he says emphatically. “Many, many people were at work instead of in the homes that were destroyed. Who knows how many lives were saved as a result?”

Osby vividly remembers details that ran through his mind as he ran up to the grisly scene.

“The first thing I saw was the huge tail section that said PSA. I remember saying, ‘Damn! That’s San Diego’s airline; that’s one of ours.’ To this day, I haven’t felt such a sinking sensation in my stomach. I became nauseous—not because I was starting to see dead bodies and body parts all around me, but for the simple reason that these were living human beings only moments before.

“I could smell the kerosene burning, could see the fire working its way through the rubble,” says Osby. “Magnesium fires were everywhere, and they had to be left alone because water was not going to put them out.” (Magnesium is one of the metals used by Boeing to assemble that generation of 727s. It is still used today by the air industry.)

“I had no hose, and because I was a training officer, I made myself a lookout for the arriving fire crews. I kept telling them where the downed power lines were. I remember shouting for civilians to get away from the bodies. The neighbors just wanted to help by putting cloths and blankets over dead bodies. But we couldn’t let them, because there might still be pools of jet fuel or live power lines next to those bodies. I shouted a streak to keep people away, and I know many couldn’t understand why I was raging at them.

“Fire crews kept arriving,” says Osby. “It was only then that I could fathom the complete destruction of the area. San Diego was lucky the plane didn’t pancake [hit in a parallel-to-the-ground glide path]. When the jetliner pretty much went in nose first, it contained the fireball to a smaller area.”

Twenty years later, the intersection of Dwight and Nile in North Park shows no outward signs of the crash. The neighborhood was rebuilt, and people moved on. No plaques or memorials mark the site. The only known memorial was a brass plaque hung in a hangar at Lindbergh Field by PSA employees to remember those who died. Margery Craig, an ex–Evening Tribune reporter and later a PSA public relations staffer, says the plaque was ripped down when the new owners bought PSA.

“I think it’s in someone’s garage,” she says, “and that’s a shame.”

Media’s Story
John Britton had been on the job five years as a TV journalist when he was assigned by the local NBC affiliate to cover a photo-op story for Lucille Moore, then president of the County Board of Supervisors. Channel 39 cameraman Steve Howell was with Britton, along with a handful of other reporters. The county press event was held at a Go-Lo service station located at University Avenue and Boundary Street, adjacent to I-805.

The time was about 9 a.m. Hans Wendt, a staff photographer with the county’s public relations office, was in the background, holding his Nikkormat EL 35mm camera and ready to snap a shot. He had stepped back to get a better view of the crowd. The fact that he was farther back and out from under the service station’s overhang would be extremely important a few seconds later. Channel 39’s Howell was shooting with color film, pointing his shoulder-mounted camera at Supervisor Moore and Britton, who was holding a microphone to her face.

The press gathering heard the grinding crash and explosion. So did Warren McKenna, another witness, who says the Radio Shack he was working in shook as if it were in an earthquake, and the sound was so loud it emptied the store at I-805 and University.

Howell spun around after he heard the initial midair collision, his camera still recording. He glanced up and pointed his lens in the direction of the falling Cessna.

“I’m still amazed that we got that footage,” says Britton, now a public relations spokesman for Pacific Bell in San Francisco. That fearsome footage, a staple of countless TV stories about the crash, no doubt will be seen often this September as the crash anniversary is reached.

As Howell was capturing the Cessna’s death spiral, Hans Wendt was training his 35mm camera on the flames and trailing blue-and-white smoke streaking from the right wing of the 727. The county photographer later discovered he had captured two vivid color photographs of the jet’s final moments.

The following day, Wendt’s shot appeared on page 1 of The San Diego Union and in newspapers around the world. The all-too-vivid photo also made the cover of other publications, including Time.

By the time Britton looked around, Howell was running down Boundary Street with his camera continuing to roll. Britton knew his colleague would need more film magazines, so he jumped in his car and followed him.

“When we got there [about three blocks away], no one—living—was around,” says Britton. “All I could see was Steve Howell silhouetted against a 30- to 40-foot wall of flames. I couldn’t believe he was that close!” About that time, Britton saw a policeman arrive on foot. “We stared at each other, and without saying anything, we grabbed Steve away from the flames.”

All day, Britton gave reports seen around the world. “All I can remember was trying to do our job. It was about an hour before our station had set up a live feed from a command post. I remember Paul Bloom was the news anchor that day. He kept coming at me for updates from the crash scene.”

Only a few blocks away from the scene of the disaster, KSDO Radio had its headquarters.

“We heard this huge explosion,” says Hal Brown, the announcer on KSDO’s morning news program. “I ran to part the curtains, and I caught a glint of falling metal out of the corner of my eye. Seconds later, we heard this tremendous explosion. Somehow, I knew there had to have been a midair collision. I interrupted CBS News to say there was a tremendous explosion in the North Park area. I said something like it was a midair collision and we’d get back with more details. That report hit the airwaves about 30 seconds after the crash.”

KSDO’s news director, Joe Gillespie, did something he knows is against unwritten broadcasting rules: He left his on-air post. “I heard the crash, and next thing I know, I’m looking for the keys to a station car,” he says. “I knew I had to get to the scene, and I knew the car had a radio. Before I delegated anything, I realized that I could probably do it faster myself. [Gillespie was the only one who knew where the car that had the transmitting radio was parked, and he had the keys in his possession already.] I knew we had to get something on the air. That was my goal. I didn’t want to be there just for the sake of being first.”

Gillespie believes he was at the crash site at Dwight and Boundary—tapes have him calling it Dwight and Boulevard—at the west side of the devastation. Channel 39 was at the east end. Neither Gillespie nor Britton remembers seeing the other. “My main focus was to see what was going on, then run back to the car radio to file my dispatch,” says Gillespie. By the time he reached the area of the crash, Gillespie had a live feed back to Brown, who was now running solo at the microphone, with sportscaster John DeMott working the phones.

Remarkably, Brown and DeMott were able to get San Diego Airport manager Maurice “Bud” McDonald on the phone to confirm that a PSA jet had crashed on approach to Lindbergh Field. Soon, CBS News was carrying KSDO’s reports live to the nation and the world.

“Looking back, it was depressing to keep giving the same report,” says Gillespie. “It was so damn frustrating. There was no way anyone could have survived that inferno. I could see the despair in the faces of the cops and the ambulance teams. The gurneys were just hanging at their sides.”

That image is frozen forever in Gillespie’s mind. “Paper and metal debris and body parts were all over the place,” he says. “People were running around with garden hoses. And all the time, the police kept pushing everyone farther and farther back. I kept putting as many witnesses as I could find on the air. Ask me what I said, and I would have to refer to the tapes of our broadcasts. Next thing I remember, it was getting dark.”

The Evening Tribune heard about the crash from a telephone tip, says a former reporter. The afternoon daily was an hour and a half from its usual deadline. The entire newsroom quickly mobilized and managed to put a remarkably comprehensive edition out on time.

“It was all a blur,” says one former staffer. “We all did what we had to do.”

Much of the focus of the Trib’s newsroom centered around the city desk editor at the time. Jim Nichols, later praised as “one helluva rewrite man,” wrote the cover story under a huge banner headline: “AIR TRAGEDY! Worst U.S. crash kills 140 here; 10 homes set afire by jet debris.” The one-column story snaked down the page next to an amazing aerial color photograph of PSA’s ground zero by the Trib’s Thane McIntosh.

That hour-and-a-half newsroom effort earned the Tribune its first Pulitzer Prize.

A Voice from the War Room
From the late 1940s and into the ’50s, PSA was known affectionately as the Poor Sailor’s Airline. Headquartered at Lindbergh Field, PSA popularized commuter flying. Few of its flights were more than an hour long (so no meals were served), fares were cheap, and the flying was fun.

When the jet age came to commercial flying, PSA took to the new 737 and 727 service with its trademark smile. It catered to the day-in-and-day-out business commuter. By 1974, the airline had gone into a frenzy of expansion, with hotels, radio stations and big new L-1011 jumbo jets. Then the oil crisis hit. PSA profits shrank to match the legendary shortness of its female flight attendants’ skirts.

In 1978, Bill Hastings was a veteran of five years in the PSA corporate public relations office. He had gone straight from SDSU to the original low-fare “airline with a smile.” On September 25, 1978, the PR brass had sent Hastings to Sacramento on an early-morning flight to discuss safe flying on a TV show. When Hastings arrived at Sacramento Metropolitan Airport, he grabbed a company line and called his boss, Duane Youngbar, who was head of corporate PR for the publicly held company. The time was about 9 a.m.

Two decades later, Hastings easily remembers the conversation.

“Duane and I were talking bullet points about the upcoming TV show. I heard him beg off the line for a second. I heard garbled conversation in the background. He came back on the line and says to me: ‘A plane has just gone down in the park’ [Balboa Park]. He turned away, but this time I could hear him clearly.”

Hastings recalls that Youngbar’s voice became alarmed. “‘Whose jet is it? What? Is it United’s? Is that it? Oh, God—no, no! It’s one of ours!’”

Hastings took the next flight back to San Diego, knowing only that one of PSA’s “grinning birds” had gone down. “I had no details. As I sat there, my thoughts were on the disaster plan we had on the books. I tried to recall what I had read. I couldn’t even think because some yahoo seated nearby was complaining to anyone who would listen how he was going to make PSA pay for having him miss the previous flight. I wanted to get up and shake him and tell him the previous flight out of Sacramento was 182.

“Everyone was going about their business efficiently when I got to PSA’s PR offices,” Hastings says. “There was tension, but it came from grief, not lack of preparation. Duane Youngbar allowed the media into our war room as long as they didn’t get in the way. When we had information, the media had the same information.

“I think the airline and the city of San Diego lost its innocence that day,” Hastings muses. “Times were different then. Less uptight. The crash of 182 changed all of us. It changed me. PSA 182 was San Diego’s JFK. With each following disaster, we seemed a bit more jaded.”

The Aftermath
“With the arrival of the computer age, many important safety strides have been made in the airline industry. It’s hard to pinpoint which ones are the most important,” Hastings says. “I guess the most obvious is that today, air controllers use radar to safely keep track of air traffic. It wasn’t long after 182 that the FAA scrapped the old system of having the pilots maintain visual contact with each other.”

Fire Chief Robert Osby thinks technology has helped to fine-tune disaster preparedness. “I learned a lot from the PSA crash. Back in 1978, we had local police and fire officials, federal, state and airport agencies all with separate command centers. Now we’re more centralized. More time can be spent on efficiently saving lives instead of fighting confusion.” Why is the loss of 144 souls in one plane collision so poignant when more people die—about 35,000 a year—in traffic accidents?

Chief Osby turns to the large windows in his office. “One scene I can’t erase from my mind,” he says, “is seeing baby clothes on the ground and no baby around. I saw the teddy bear, but...” He doesn’t finish. Radio executive Joe Gillespie sums it up. “We’re shocked by disasters, especially those that happen randomly and to total innocents. We’re fascinated and appalled at the same time, because we know deep down that it could have been us on that plane.”

John Britton says now he was too busy to think about the carnage. “I was doing my job. Our cameraman took it a bit harder. After all, his eye was the camera’s eye. He saw it all, from the first moments to the end of that day. That was tough duty.” He says Steve Howell felt guilty accepting praise and honors for covering a story when so many people died. “I told him there will always be accidents, and there will always be reporters and photographers covering those stories. We just happened to be there when it happened. Understanding that has made me a better reporter. I came to know I need to be more sensitive when covering news stories, especially those involving human tragedy.” September 25, 1978, was one of the first major disasters captured so quickly and so graphically by the media. In many ways, coverage of that story began the long litany of real-life horror that too frequently plays on our TV screens. Television brought the Vietnam War into our living rooms. The collision of PSA’s Flight 182 and the Cessna 172 brought a huge domestic disaster home.

It hurt us all.

Thomas Shess, a contributing writer to and former executive editor of San Diego Magazine, was editor of PSA California Magazine, the in-flight publication during the late 1970s. He is a native and resident of North Park and publisher of the North Park News and founder and chief editor of

This article was voted Best of Show at the 1999 awards program San Diego Chapter/ Society of Professional Journalists.  He also earned Best Magazine feature, San Diego Press Club in 1999.  He never wrote another word about the crash.  This will be the last time it will be republished.

Sunday, September 24, 2023


 THIS PHOTO SAYS IT ALL.’s award-winning
Cranky Diner columnist returns
only to discover things are a bit backward
 in Solvang, CA. Read why.


 GUEST BLOG / By Eric Peterson, legendary Cranky Diner columnist--Have you ever been to a town that makes you feel stupid just for being there? If so, you’re not alone. Solvang, a town in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, 35 miles north of Santa Barbara, just makes me feel that way. 

 The storefronts are a Disneyesque rendition of Danish architecture, a scam artist merging Baroque, Renaissance, and Rococo styles into what the city calls “Danish medieval style.” You know the drill: half-timbered buildings with simulated thatched roofs; brightly colored imitation brick and stone fronts with paned windows. 

These phony facades are so frilly, kitschy, and corny that I find the town deeply depressing, like dining at a greasy spoon that makes Denny’s au current. It’s sleight of hand, filler, time wasted. Still, tourists arrive by the busload. 

Glassy-eyed husbands shuffle like zombies a few steps behind their bossy wives, who’re on the lookout for Danish keyrings, souvenir charm spoons, and wooden shoes for the entire family, including the dog. 

MAYBE NEXT TIME. A Solvang survivor gave me this postcard of Solvang’s The Danish Inn. Great windmill but even the recent replacement “New Danish Inn” is gone with the wind so says Yelp. 


Solvang’s shopping district has four windmills within four blocks. With its cheese shops, bakeries, and dearth of decent restaurants it’s little wonder so many tourists think they’re visiting Holland when they come to Solvang. That so many store owners wear traditional Danish costumes only adds to the confusion—in a police lineup most visitors couldn’t tell a Danish bodice from a Dutch apron, a pair of Danish clogs from a pair of Dutch klompen. 

 The one store I was delighted to find in Solvang is a hardware store. Suicide prevention types call Valley Hardware a civil liability. As too many tourist husbands enter wild-eyed searching to buy rope. I couldn’t argue. On a recent visit to the town, I lasted about two blocks before I became deranged enough to mull checking myself into the nearest California State Mental Hospital. 


Solvang was founded in 1911 when two Danish pastors and a college lecturer—all three of them Midwesterners—collaborated to find land in California for a Danish settlement. They put their stake in the ground in the heart of California’s Central Coast when they acquired 9,000 acres from the Rancho San Carlos de Jonata land grant, which surrounded Mission Santa Inés. 

In the years following World War II, Solvang’s Danish Village motif gained traction. In 1947, a feature article in “The Saturday Evening Post” ballyhooed the town’s quaintness, and the horror show that is modern-day Solvang got its legs. 

WHAT A KICKLoads of fun at Solvang’s recent Danish Days annual celebration is to perform lively dances from the Motherland. Especially popular among Solvang locals is the dance where you kick your partner in the butt.


How exciting does it get in Solvang?

--The Julefest holiday celebration runs from late November until early January. 

--Danish Days in September.

--The Fourth of July Parade and Festival.

 A highlight of Solvang’s Julefest Christmas celebration is St. Lucia Day, when a comely young blonde—think high school homecoming queen—dresses in a white gown, dons a crown of candles, and leads a candlelight procession into Solvang Park. Like the pole dancer, Saint Lucia is a flight of fancy. She enters the town square with all eyes on her, but no one will go home with her. 

All this ho-hum manages to promote visitors year-round, and the dogs are eating the dog food so why change the menu. As a result, Solvang reports over one million visitors a year. 

Another great shortcoming of Solvang is its restaurant scene. You may know that Copenhagen, Denmark, was home to Noma, a Michelin three-starred restaurant named by certain food critics the World’s Best Restaurant five times between 2010 and 2021. (I say was because the restaurant has since closed, its business model of having more employees than customers, and serving shrimp with live ants, chocolate-covered moss, and whole duck heads, among other delectables, to these precious few guests, was ultimately declared unsustainable by the owner.) 

In Solvang, unlike Copenhagen, there are no temples of haute cuisine. Examples of this cheflessness are hot dogs on the menu at Paula’s Pancake House. Copenhagen Sausage Garden you can ditch the sausage and have an all-American burger with fries. On the menu of Fitzpatrick’s Tavern, an Irish pub, you’ll find a Philly cheesesteak sandwich and a Carolina pulled pork sandwich. Don’t blame the cooks. 

There’s no economic rationale to concoct anything other than what the paying public desires, and Solvang’s visitors apparently desire great quantities of filling provincial fare: meat and fried potatoes; sugary cakes and pastries; low-density foods that are high in carbohydrates and fats and guaranteed to make your glucose level spike and add poundage to your waistline. It's no wonder most visitors leave Solvang exhibiting symptoms of gastritis, clutching their stomachs and groaning. 

Most leave on charter tour buses. 

Some leave in ambulances. 

 Others, like me leave their senses. 

SPEAKING OF PANCAKES. By reputation alone, I had to try Paula’s Pancake House along Mission Drive. After I gained a menu tip from an exiting diner, I ordered a burger with fries elsewhere. Speaks well for the pancakes, eh? 


The best thing you can say about Solvang’s food scene is that it doesn’t have a Pea Soup Andersen’s. That’s a position of eminence reserved for Solvang’s sister city Buellton, four miles to the west, on Highway 101. 

 Pea Soup Andersen’s is a destination atrocity, in my book. The restaurant bills itself as a “favorite of salesmen, tourists and truck drivers for over eighty-nine years.” 

For this discriminating clientele, Pea Soup Andersen’s offers a restaurant, a bakery, a gift shop, and a museum, all encased in a half-timbered building not unlike a Marie Callender’s, if a Marie Callender’s had a big, stupid windmill. 

 The bakery, Pea Soup Andersen’s website notes, “specializes in freshly baked pastries that will please your pallet.” Pallet is not palate. That should come as a comfort to all you truckers driving semi-trailer flatbeds loaded with pallets. 

Pea Soup Andersen’s has a big menu—soups and salads, hot sandwiches, and a list of entrees that reads to me like a catalogue of horrors: pot roast of beef, pork loin under gravy, Danish meatloaf, chicken pot pie, chicken fried steak. 

To most any food order you can add a bowl of pea soup, which comes out of the vat looking like mossy, greenish-yellow swamp water from a sci-fi flick. It apparently tastes better than it looks. The restaurant claims to serve more than two million bowls of this peat bog annually. I did the math. It comes out to two bowls for every visitor to Solvang—one bowl going in and one bowl coming out, surely. 

We’ll pause here for a Rolaids stop. Don’t get me wrong. My grievance with Solvang—and the fatuity of Pea Soup Andersen’s—isn’t just superficial. I am a third-generation Californian, and I consider the state’s Central Coast sacrosanct. Rolling golden hills, stands of stately oaks, a rich history of settlement, conquest, and prosperity—this is Steinbeck Country, wine country, farm country, the land Wallace Stegner immortalized in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Angle of Repose. I don’t particularly care if people want to dress in costumes, buy keychains, and slurp pea soup. But as a Californian, I stand firmly against opportunistic clods who perpetuate lame notions—like that it’s a good idea to take 9,000 acres in the heart of my state’s Central Coast and pretend it’s Denmark. 

ANIMAL RITESSolvang City Council ignored PETA animal cruelty claims by renewing the horse drawn trolley company’s permit to pull its full-sized tram around town. Pulling the charmless vehicle has to be an agony for the horses, especially during those long, hot summer days. 


 --Runaway. Imitate your best Monty Python exit. The chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime in Solvang is 1 in 74. Based on FBI crime data, Solvang is not one of the safest communities in America. Relative to California, Solvang has a crime rate that is higher than 29% of the state's cities and towns of all sizes. 

--Leave town. Best thing to do in Solvang is limp back on state highway 246. Go West avoid ignore all lures and odors leading you to nearby Ostrichland USA. 

 --Tours. There’s a 25 minute wrong end of the horse ride on the Solvang trolley that includes a 15 minute stop to re-shoe the Belgian draft horse pulling the1900s Danish street car. --Tap water. Drinking water is checked daily by the State’s Water Division. There must be a reason for such regulatory regularity. 

--Walking times. See more than enough of Solvang on an all day leisurely stroll (if you’re using a walker). 

--Menu success. Best if you don’t speak English or have to wear double eye patches. 

--Bucolic. Not a vegetable but more like something you just stepped in from Belgium. 


-- Eric Peterson’s debut novel, Life as a Sandwich, was a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards. His second novel, The Dining Car, won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Popular Fiction, the San Diego Book Award Gold Medal for Contemporary Fiction, and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Silver Medal for Literary Fiction. His third novel, Sunshine Chief, won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for General Fiction. His most recent book, titled Museum of the Unknown Writer, is a collection of essays penned exclusively for  



In this collection of seventeen personal essays, Eric Peterson reveals his own misgivings, grievances, and delights with the world around him.In this 

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