Someone once told me the best thing about being a journalist was that I got a first-row seat to history. What I didn't know then — and what I'm only beginning to understand now — is how one defines “history.”
For example, last February I watched Burbank High School graduate Sevada Armen compete in the S.Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition. He brought every culinary skill he could muster to a time-limited, pressure-filled cook-off between top students from up and down the West Coast.
He plans on managing his own restaurant one day, and just making it to the competition was a turning point in his career. One defining moment in one young man's history.
I met Bill Burke a week later, right before he gave a talk to the Burbank Historical Society about his many climbs up Mt. Everest. At age 70, this year he attempted to set a world record as the only climber to perform an ascent up the north and south faces of Everest in the same run. On May 19, after moving for seven days up 11,144 feet with only one day of rest, a bad weather report — combined with fatigue — convinced Burke to turn back.
“Had I been 30-40 years younger, I would have continued moving up, knowing that I could move down quickly in case of trouble,” Burke wrote on his blog in June. “But, at my age, I move up and down at only one speed — slow.”
I met Bob and Kathy Burns in the spring, two lifelong Burbank sweethearts who are unofficial keepers of movie history with their priceless collection of sci-fi and fantasy memorabilia. Just this year, an action figure of Bob was released (as his ape character Kogar), as was a documentary on the Burnses and their contributions to the special-effects and movie-makeup industries.
A great moment in history for geekdom's beloved historians.
In the summer it was time to met the Road Kings, Burbank's unconventional car club that helped invent the sport of drag racing. They celebrated 50 years of raising hell with a car show to rival a Mecum auto auction — 700 hot rods filled Johnny Carson Park on a hot Sunday in June.
Who or what will make history next? Will it be the Story Tavern, named after the Story Hardware store that once existed in its San Fernando Boulevard location? Perhaps the Burbank Arts Collaborative, a gathering place for artists looking for people to help them with big projects, will make its mark.
And who might build on a legacy? I joined the Optimists for a monthly meeting that introduced me to a long line of Burbank educators who still give back to their community, and I joined the Burbank Jaycees in helping create networking and volunteering opportunities for young professionals.
This was a year of several firsts for me. I rode my first horse at the Equestrian Center, I attended the opening day for Burbank's very first caviar vending machine. I also tried the city's first bacon sundae.
Though history repeats itself, I don't think that will be the case with the sundae.
Of all the firsts 2012 held for Burbank, I'll most remember meeting Gustavo Osorio, 22, and his family. For the first time since his injury-induced coma in 2010, Gustavo was able to return to the Burbank Art Assn. to showcase his work. The association has become like a second family to him, encouraging him to get better and continue his passion for painting.
This year taught me that it's fine to witness history, but sometimes you have to go out and live it. In the coming year I'll be volunteering more — not as a New Year's resolution, but as a commitment I made to the Burbank Jaycees as their volunteering coordinator.
Who says history can't be a participatory theater? And who wants to join me?
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he isn't hanging with hot-rodders and mountain climbers, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter, @818NewGuy.