The Lizard In Her Sneakers (a cautionary tale)

The middle schooler grabs her sneakers from the front porch and we race to the car— late for school as always— it’s Monday.  We’re driving and stop at a traffic light and as she puts on her first shoe she screams, “Oh my god, DAD!” “Oh my god”.  “DAD.  Lizard.”  OK I’m no expert, but nothing ever good has come out of the phrase “Dad.  LIZARD.” And I proceed to see a lizard jump out of her shoe and ON to the dashboard of the car.  Lizard.  Still at the traffic light and now I’m screaming like a baby.  I open the car door like I’m going to evacuate in the middle of the intersection.  She opens her door.  The lizard proceeds to run right to the crevice between the dashboard.  “Oh heck no.”  “Stop it!!”  “Don’t let the lizard get in there!!”  “We’ll never get it out!!”.  Green light.  Doors still open.  Close door.  Cars beeping.  Now the lizard is half way in the crevice with only its feet and tail sticking out.. the feet wrangling back and forth.  We bank a right turn.  Pull over.  Doors open.  Evacuate.  “Oh no, not you kid”. “Grab paper”. We need to get it out!!”  The lizard clinging on for dear life.. half way between the dashboard and being forever lost on the inside of the car… and sweet freedom two feet away.  Middle schooler gingerly grabs the tail.  Slight tug while I cower nearby.  I use a postcard to try and inch it back on top of the dashboard.  It’s clinging.  Still clinging.  Daughter moves in again and tugs slightly again.. finally.. finally.. the lizard relents.  Then there’s the moment with kid sitting there holding a lizard by the tail in the middle of the car as I yell, “outside the car.  OUTSIDE the car.  OUTSIDE.”  And she finally placed it outside on the grass.  Freedom.  To start a new life several blocks away.  We got back in the car.  She put on her other shoe.  We headed off to school.  Monday.


((**hypothetical picture of the lizard))


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Horse #22: The Power of Local News

A 22nd horse died today at the historic Santa Anita Race Track. 22 horses in what has become a disastrous season. But this was different than the rest. This was different because a local news reporter and crew were there and documented it all. Our team from Fox11 LA. The morning didn’t start out that way at all. We had actually set up a story with Santa Anita looking to do a piece on measures taken to keep the horses safe. We were given exclusive access this morning to speak with top trainers, to show the practice runs on the track, to use a go-pro on a jockey to show the perspective of rider and horse in unison on the track.

What happened was much different.  Much. Different.

In the middle of interviewing one of the most famous trainers in the business, the sirens wailed at Santa Anita. Our camera panned to the track. And right in the middle of that interview, right in the middle of the story on what’s being done to keep the horses safe, a horse broke both her front legs. She labored to breathe. She stood still. Other jockeys circled around. Green tarps were brought out to block the scene. The horse was eventually removed from the track. She had to be euthanized. She was number 22. Horse #22. Horse racing has been around for centuries. Like it or hate it, it has been a survivor. Horses have died in races before. Horses have died in practices before. But somehow this was different.

A colleague asked me if perhaps this was the industry’s “Black Fish” moment, referring to the reckoning that Seaworld faced a few years ago. I don’t know. But the difference today is that a local news crew and a local reporter were there today to see and document the entire thing. Despite best efforts to keep the horses safe, another went down.

Within three hours, Santa Anita issued what it called, “An Open Letter About the Future of Thoroughbred Racing.” In that document, track owners called the last weeks beyond heartbreaking and unacceptable and listed the most extensive changes coming to the business of horse racing in decades. Decades. The park itself called this a watershed moment, a seismic shift in how things will be done in the future. I know the trainers love their horses. I know they love this sport. Now comes the change. Horse 20 wasn’t enough to do that. Horse 21 wasn’t enough to do that. It was horse 22 that did that. Horse 22. The horse that a local news crew and reporter were there to see as she took her last steps.

I believe in the power of local news. Sometimes we shed the spotlight on a problem when we never expected to.

Today was one of those days.

A footnote: One day after we aired our footage, the Los Angeles County District Attorney announced her office has assigned investigators to work with the California Horse Racing Board to investigate the deaths

A second footnote: California Rep Judy Chu is now calling for a Congressional hearing into the horse racing deaths at Santa Anita and changes that need to be made across the horse racing industry

Here is a link to our news story.  Caution.  Some video is tough to watch but we felt it was important considering the national spotlight being shed on this issue.



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Panic! At The Parenthood

I looked over at my daughter and she was beaming. BEAMING. Every song was the greatest song. Every song touched her soul. Every song. And at some point during the concert, at some point it hit me, this was HER band. I was just a visitor.

After years of introducing her to my music: U2, Billy Joel, Coldplay, the Dead and so many more, SHE was introducing Panic! At The Disco to ME. She and 18,000 of her closest friends. I mean, I know the band. I know a bunch of their songs. I loved the concert.

But make no mistake, this band is HERS and I was just visiting.

It might seem minor but it actually hit me in a big way. She is growing into an independent thinker, with independent taste, passionate about what SHE is passionate about. And on one Friday night I was grateful she gave me that glimpse. U2 is my band. Panic is hers. And we can enjoy BOTH.

The passing of the torch occurred somewhere around 10pm when Brendon Urie of Panic At The Disco flew over the arena while playing his piano. It would be a pivotal moment.


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Mysteries of the Old Photo Album (part 4) Family Found!

I was speaking with a friend last night and we were talking about what happens to someone’s prized possessions and photos when those people are no longer with us. What’s priceless to one person, worthless to another. Memories fade with time. And so perhaps it was with the old photo album, relegated to a second hand table at a local flea market. I saw it last month and it really bothered me that pictures of Peter and Mary, love letters from the 1940’s, pictures from his time in the Navy, were being picked over for a profit. I went back last week and it was there again. I couldn’t pass it by. They wanted $25 for it. I bargained them to $20 and felt guilty doing it. Someone’s life summed up in the pages of a weathered, old photo album, and I haggled for a better price.

If you’ve been following the stories this week, you’ve heard about Peter and Mary. Tucked inside those pages, the story of a young couple in love. Peter in the Navy. Mary working at home. She’d write him all the time. Letters. Cards. A snap shot of a bygone era. There was a small piece of cloth from Pearl Harbor tucked inside. There was a western union telegram from his birthday. Air mail envelopes with a three cent stamp and the message, “win the war”. Pictures of their young boy.

And so I bought the album and did the only thing I know how to do in this social media era when it comes to finding someone quickly. I wrote a Facebook post, hoped it would go viral, and used the power of the Internet to help me in my search for Peter and Mary’s family.

People shared it. Friends of mine. My reporter friends. First a couple. Then a few dozen. Then a hundred or more. I wrote a second post. And a third. People contacted me from across the country, filling in little pieces of the puzzle. People contacted other folks hoping to find Peter and Mary’s family. I contacted the Navy, Navy historians, and countless wrong numbers. And then, someone contacted ME. “Peter and Mary are my grandparents”.


“My grandparents were my life.”

And so today I hesitantly dialed her number and we spoke on the phone and I got to hear first-hand– even if briefly– the story of Peter and Mary. She’d never seen this album before, doesn’t know how it ended up in a flea market, and she was grateful that a random person thought enough of the album to retrieve it.

The little boy Peter and Mary spoke about in the album so many decades ago? He was her uncle. He died in Vietnam. It was rough on the family, especially for her grandmother. Their other son (born after this album)– her dad– also fought in Vietnam. He made it home. And recently they too have been looking into their past, tracing their family’s history of service in Vietnam.

I described the album’s rough and worn contents, a treasure trove of family memories. And then I prepared them for transit. Memories from Pearl Harbor to Southern California and beyond, memories of Peter and Mary and the life they made together, now headed via Fed Ex to their next destination, ready for a loving home and a family reunion. As for the next chapter? It’s now her’s to share.

Thanks so much for everyone who helped with the search unraveling the mystery of the old photo album.

Pete Wilgoren

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Mysteries of the Old Photo Album (part 3): The Story of the Greeting Cards

To Peter Cherney

A time forgotten is found again. Pete. Can I call you Pete? I know Mary did. I know while she waited for you to come home from the service, she called you Pete. After reading those letters and cards, and looking at those pictures, I feel like I know you more and more. Your service in the Navy. Your love for Mary and your little boy. WHERE did life lead you? WHY did your memories end up on a bargain table at a flea market.

I couldn’t leave them there.

And HOW did people not see the treasures inside. Pictures of you beaming with pride in your Navy uniform. Pictures of Mary. Pictures of your little boy. The letters we’ve spoken about already. Now, the greeting cards. The CARDS tell another story altogether. And if anyone bothered to peel open the cards, or carefully lift them off the weathered pages of the album barely stuck to those little black squares, they would have seen the OTHER messages Mary left to you in those early days of the 1940’s. I found them. A time gone by. YOUR time. Lost. Now Found.

That one card with a checkerboard blue and white faded fabric bow still tied to the side:

“this oughter make you better even if it’s junk”… and inside, this: “a crazy card and what’s it for.. well bet it helps to win the war”

When I carefully peeled the card back from the album, THIS message penned in cursive:

“Dearest Pete, I find I can spare three dollars right now and I know it isn’t much but it might help. You’d better get pen and paper and sit right down and write some letters to me, love Mary”

Then there was that other card saying, “while you recover from your operation”.

and in Mary’s cursive on back:

“Dearest Pete, I thought this card was cute. Hope you like it too. The guys sure teased me a lot today when I went back to work. They said I looked like I had a hard weekend. What do you think? Love Mary

one other card said simply “how ya doin’ sailor?” and inside Mary wrote, “Come on Pete, write a letter!”

There was that one card with little red elephants on it titled “about that letter I owe you”.. and inside the final line of the card “I will write soon, honest” to which Mary added in her own cursive, “I really am ashamed”

And one final one- the funny duck with the soft feather still attached after 75 plus years saying simply “Sick?” and inside Mary wrote, “sending you this card was Pepe’s idea. He picked it out and insisted on my buying it for you. Pepe & Mary”

I wonder what YOUR cards to Mary looked like. And how did you end up in San Francisco anyways. I’ve seen that small piece of fabric tucked into the album stamped “naval hospital, Pearl Harbor”. Did you suffer injuries in Pearl Harbor? Were you being treated for injuries at Ward 6 of the hospital in San Francisco where those letters were air mailed with the three cent stamps?

I’ve written now to media relations with the US Navy. I’ve also written to the Naval Historical Foundation hoping to uncover the missing pieces of your service.

Telephone numbers for relatives?
One was disconnected.
One was now a construction company. One had an answering machine!
Bingo!! I left a message and waited.

The nice man returned my call hours later and said he’d never heard of you.

In all fairness, I hadn’t either, until I picked up an old and worn and forgotten album. Now I can’t forget you.

From California to Indiana, looking to see where we can find your family, Peter Cherney, and reunite them with your history.

Pete Wilgoren





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Mysteries of the Old Photo Album (part2): Love Letters From Mary

I poured over the scrapbook of memories found at the flea market. The pages fragile, worn, breaking to the touch. So many pictures of Peter Cherney in his sailor uniform. He was proud of his service you can tell. And then there were the letters. All those letters from Mary.

Today I took a closer look at those envelopes and the postmark: one letter was mailed from Los Angeles in October 1943. That stamp. Three cents. A proud American eagle on the stamp with the slogan “Win The War.” I have a feeling Peter was working to make that happen.

How his mementos and photos and long lost love letters from Mary ended up in the bargain bin of a flea market I don’t know. Maybe people just never took the time to look at every page and every envelope.

All I know is I’m holding letters more than 75 years old. They smell of history and the worn paper they were written on in perfect cursive.

As I hope someone reading this continues to share the posts, as I hope we can reunite someone in Peter and Mary’s family with these treasures, I thought the best way to show you just what I stumbled on, was to transcribe one of Mary’s letters.

So here it is, dated October 11, 1943, Mary writing to the sailor she loved:

“Dearest Pete, received two letters from you today. Still laughing over that corny joke about the Lone Ranger. A few minutes after I read your letter, my brother called up. He’ll probably look you up before this letter reaches you.

Honey, my sister Tony gave me five dollars to send to you. But I used it. (Hope you don’t mind). In case she or anyone else asks you, tell them you received it. You could write my sister a letter thanking her for the birthday gift. You can write it to this address and I can give it to her.

Sunday I took Pepe (on that five) to the baseball game (leading men and comedians) at Wrigley Field. I bought popcorn, peanuts, hot dogs and soda pops for him and myself. Then I took him to a show and dinner. I spent quite a bit of money on him and myself. But because I wouldn’t buy him a coke he called me stingy. I got so angry I almost slugged him. Yet in a way it was kind of cute.

Today, after I went to the nursery after him, we were walking toward the R Car line. Two little girls waved to Pepe. He wouldn’t wave back. I asked him why he didn’t want to wave to them. He said if he waved to them they would be his girl friends and he didn’t want that. I told him they wouldn’t be, that they would be his pals instead. He smiled and said Oh. What a son we’re raising. (One for the books).

I’m writing this letter to you instead of ironing. I’m making this good and long. I hope you appreciate it. Honey this Friday I’m going to be initiated into the union. You should hear everybody teasing me about what color (unknown) I’m going to write. Well I’ll tell you about it when it’s over. I hope you and my brother can come home together this weekend. Well honey, till next time, love Mary.”

With that, her letter was neatly folded in the air mail envelope and sent off to San Francisco in October of 1943. Pete, I know you got the letter because at some point you carefully folded up that envelope. You carefully put it with your prized photos in an album. And you held onto it for years.

You held onto it for years along with cards, and that tattered piece of cloth from Pearl Harbor. I’m sorry these correspondences ended up in a flea market somewhere. It just doesn’t seem right.

So far, we’ve traced you to LA and Indiana. We think you passed away years ago. So did Mary. But your memories and your life live on in these mementos.

Here’s hoping we can reunite them with Peter and Mary’s family.

Pete Wilgoren




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Mysteries of the Old Photo Album (part one): Snap Shots of a Life Well Lived

To Peter Cherney,

I couldn’t let it happen. I COULDN’T. Last month I saw this tattered old photo album for sale at a flea market amongst other old postcards and albums at a vintage stand.

Those things always catch my eye. WHO are the people and places relegated to the past, memories to be bought, and bargained for, and repurposed for some project.

But this album caught my eye. And when I came back today, I bought it. I HAD to.

Peter, you deserve better. I can tell you served your country in the navy. I see postmarks from the 1940’s, addresses to your unit in San Francisco, a tattered piece of cloth stamped from the naval hospital at Pearl Harbor.

And I see so much more.

Letters from Mary. Clearly she was the love of your life. That one letter from 1943 where she apologized for using your five dollars of birthday money. She took your little boy to a baseball game at Wrigley field. She talks about the peanuts and popcorn. “What a son we’re raising” the letter says. And that other letter where Mary says she’s sending you three dollars so you can buy her postage and supplies. “You better get pen and paper and sit right down now to write some letters to me.”

There’s a Western Union telegram.
“Sending $26. One for each year. Love”

I see pictures with your fellow sailors, pictures in the snow, pictures with your family, pictures of a life well lived.

How this album ever ended up tattered and broken and picked over and relegated to a flea market, I will never know.

I am hoping people will share this message and that someone reading this knows Peter or Mary, or their family.

Peter’s legacy, his service to country, his love for Mary, their family, deserve more.

Pete Wilgoren


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