John Powell and his wife, Illana, had nothing better to do in October of 1984, so they decided to ride their bicycles from San Jose to Tiera del Fuego at the southern-most tip of Argentina.
They got back to California last week, having found the excursion required 12 months to complete, what with a six-month stay forced on them in Chile to recover from a severe parasitic infection. The Powells, both 38, said they decided on the trip even though Illana Powell, a chiropractor, had never been on a long bike ride before. The trip had been a lifelong dream of John Powell and, he said, "I just told my wife we'd better do it now or we wouldn't be able to do it."
John Powell had operated a pet wholesale business in Ventura, where his wife had a health practice. They bought bikes and other equipment and went north to San Jose to begin the trek so they could have most of the length of California to shake down their equipment and themselves before crossing the Mexican border.
The Powells biked the entire way, John Powell said, except for El Salvador and Nicaragua, which they flew over because they did not want to have to confront hostilities in either country.
The journey, which the Powells estimate at about 15,000 miles, was planned at least in part on the basis of maps provided by the Automobile Club of Southern California, which warned the Powells that many roads in the interior simply don't appear on any map.
"My wife speaks a little Spanish and it really paid off," Powell said. "We were invited into homes everywhere we went. Mainly, it's because of the way we traveled. It would have been different on a bus."
Now, the couple plan to rest up for a few days and return to Ventura. "We intend to start our lives up again," Powell said.
Color It, Uh, Green
On St. Patrick's Day everybody is Irish, and this year a Little Tokyo restaurant is proving to be no exception. The Sushi and Teri restaurant in the Japanese Village Plaza offers a St. Patrick's week special--O'Samurai stuffed cabbage.
'Stigma of Cancer'
Susan Amy Weintraub of Beverly Hills discovered it is not easy to have had cancer. She needed help. Finding none, she started a group to help people who, having conquered the disease, are faced with an almost equally pervasive assailant--discrimination.
"There is a stigma of having had cancer," the founder of Cancervive said. After losing four jobs, Weintraub began telling people her limp was the result of a skiing accident rather than a result of the chemotherapy and radiation treatments used to cure her of the cancer that struck 10 years ago while she was an 18-year-old at the University of Colorado.
The nonprofit, self-help group has 550 members from Southern California to Washington, D.C. Started in July of last year, Cancervive sponsors support groups, public and corporate education and legislation to fight job and insurance discrimination and helps cancer-free men and women deal with the emotional problems of having had a life-threatening illness.
"I have heard of so many people starting out whose dreams were snuffed out," Weintraub said. Like the 17-year-old boy who was turned down for an ROTC college scholarship because he'd had cancer when he was 7. Or the singles who lie, calling their disease something else, rather than having to face the rejection from loved ones or their families.
Weintraub discovered there are 3,000 cancer-related groups in California, but not one that dealt with cancer survivors. "I started the group for myself," she said, "but I figured if I needed it, someone else probably did too."
The group holds a series of eight weekly sessions in Beverly Hills, with plans to expand to San Fernando Valley and Orange County. The cost for the sessions is $80, but there is no charge for joining Cancervive.
For information call (213) 203-9232 or write 9903 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 344, Beverly Hills, 90212.
A Saintly Sicilian Feast
The patron saint of workers, St. Joseph, is having his day Wednesday and good Sicilian that he is, Dominick Albanese is already preparing for the celebration.
The feast--free to all who wander in--will be at 1511 S. Robertson Blvd. in West Los Angeles, coincidentally a Damiano Mr. Pizza, one of three pizza restaurants owned by Albanese.
If you want pizza, however, this is not the party for you. Albanese is sticking to tradition. A Lenten event, St. Joseph's Day is traditionally meatless. That means lots of pasta and fish (at least 13 different entrees in honor of the apostles) plus the cookies and cakes Sicilians traditionally bake for this day plus about 300 or 400 pounds of Albanese's homemade ice cream. (If you happen into the restaurant desperate for a pizza or a meatball sandwich, Albanese will oblige. But expect no bargains; only the feast is free.)
Albanese has been putting on this celebration for six years. He brought it to California from New York where his late uncle and aunt had made it a neighborhood tradition. They of course had brought it from Sicily. Last year, he said, 3,000 people--some coming from San Diego and Santa Barbara--crowded into the restaurant between 10 and 10.
A good publicity stunt? "Yeah, it gets publicity," he acknowledged. "But if you don't get some publicity people won't know about it. I just figure on this day people should come down, be happy. If they remember me later on, well, OK.
"I don't even use it as a write off. My accountant says I'm crazy. After all, it costs, well, who can say? But what's money? I just get a big charge from it."
And that's Italian, Albanese happily declared. But there are moments during the feast day when things can get mighty confusing. All that food, all that extra staff, all the volunteers, and all those people clamoring to get in. And if there's rain? Albanese sighed. One more thing to add to the confusion. At that point, he said, "I just let St. Joseph take over."
Juan, Where Are You?
If your name is Juan Santiago and you were a 22-year-old Army Air Force second lieutenant stationed in Italy in early 1945 and you were shot down in January of that year over Hungary, listen up. Your crewmates are looking for you.
That is the message conveyed by Jacob Grimm of Ligonier, Pa., the co-pilot of the B-17 Flying Fortress crew that is planning a reunion this summer in Hungary that will only be complete if Santiago, who was from Los Angeles and may still live in Southern California, can be located.
Somehow, the rest of the nine-man crew lost touch with Santiago after the war ended and now, Grimm said, all leads as to the former lieutenant's whereabouts have turned out to be fruitless. The bomber's pilot, Victor Prescott, now lives in Woodland Hills and a former resident of the Hungarian village where the craft crashed is now a physician in Hemet. Both the California residents plan to attend the reunion, Grimm said, and every effort is being made to find Santiago to make the event complete.
The event that brought the crew together was a mission from Italy to Austria in January, 1945. Severe winter weather played havoc with the airplane and its bomb cargo, Grimm recalled, "and everything that could go wrong mechanically did." One engine quit. Two others threatened to and the airplane fell farther and farther behind the rest of its formation.
Finally, over Hungary, Prescott decided on a forced landing, which went off uneventfully, thanks to a thick coating of new snow on the ground. "It was actually smoother than some of our landings with the gear down," Grimm recalled. Quickly discovered by Russian troops--who were then allied with the United States--the crew was returned to its base after 23 days en route. Then the war ended and the crew parted.
Now, Grimm is making final plans for a reunion that will apparently involve not just the bomber crew but most of the population of the village in Hungary where the plane crashed. Villagers were among the first to arrive at the scene. None of the crewmen was hurt in the crash.
"He (Santiago) was quite a character," Grimm recalled. He said the last address anyone had for Santiago was in South Central Los Angeles about a year after the war. "He was there then," Grimm said. "And I remember he told me he was born there."