In the banquet hall filled with trivia experts, I took one last leap up to the stage and swiveled to face the throng. They’d gathered for the Burbank Library’s annual trivia bee, and I as their host would guide them through the festivities.
I remember looking out at them, and their reaction to the stranger who just grabbed a microphone. It wasn’t crickets chirping, exactly. But never had I elicited so many looks of utter and complete confusion.
The trivia event kicked off months of conversations with some of Burbank’s most interesting characters who shared personal, sometimes tragic and often uplifting stories with me. In the ensuing weeks and months I’d meet movie directors, entrepreneurs, cancer survivors, paranormal investigators, and even a sword fighter.
One of the greatest honors was meeting TJ Adams and his family. A few weeks after he was injured by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan, he was at home with his parents, grandmother and brother, showing me the Purple Heart he earned in combat while evaluating his options for returning to duty.
Then in November, I talked with other veterans at McCambridge Park for the city’s Veterans Day service. The scene reminded me more of a family reunion — though many of these heroes undoubtedly keep in touch throughout the year, there were many more laughing and sharing hugs as brothers who wouldn’t let an arbitrary barrier like time weaken their bond.
At that event and many others, I met many Burbank “lifers” who can share colorful recaps of the city’s century because they lived most of it. They told me of the old city where orchards grew on the hillside, and you could stick just about any plant in the ample ground and it would grow there. They wove tales of Lockheed and old Hollywood legends that took place sometimes literally in their back yards.
I also met many transplants like myself who found their niche in a city that’s grown accustomed to newcomers, and they are bringing up a new generation of “lifers.”
In learning how business thrives in Burbank, I met a mom who makes sports equipment for little league teams, a kung fu studio that teaches kids martial arts when they’re barely old enough to walk, and a pizza maker whose primary business plan is to serve the community — and not just serve pizza.
There were those who needed a boost in troubled times. I met a single mother who was helped by the Burbank community with a little financial assistance for her family’s memberships to the YMCA.
I met another woman who learned how to read English with help from the Burbank Public Library, and one man found strength in his cancer fight through the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. He now pays that back by helping others through their own battles with the disease.
Through it all, I’ve counted myself lucky to have shared in your stories. This year promises to bring more good fortune — after all, I still have to learn how to ride a horse at the Equestrian Center and I still don’t know what goes into Yaki’s Teriyaki.
There are many more stories to explore; the fun part is finding them.
And if I didn’t totally make a fool of myself at last year’s library trivia bee, there’s that slim chance I could “cover” it again. I think I still have the “spine” for it should they “page” me.
My jokes might need some work.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he’s not traversing Burbank, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.