Finally getting to meet Willie Nelson (well, sort of)

On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter October 2, 2020

By Columnist Thomas P Blake

Finally getting to meet Willie Nelson (well, sort of)

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that Greta and I would be attending an outdoor drive-in-movie-style concert in Irvine, California on September 25.

It was to see “True Willie,” the most authentic Willie Nelson tribute band in the world. I had never met the real Willie in person although I tried a few times at concerts.

My Stand Up Paddle Boarding buddy Russell Kerr and his wife Pam know True Willie. Russell said, “My friend Roger Hegyi has a band called ‘True Willie.’

I recalled Greta and I seeing True Willie perform four years ago at an outdoor concert at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. They were fabulous. We were amazed how much Roger looked like, and sounded like, the real Willie Nelson.

Russell had said two weeks ago, “True Willie is playing at a unique outdoor concert on September 25 at the Great Park in Irvine.”

“During this pandemic?” I said.

Russell stated, “It’s a drive-in-movie type of concert. You sit in your car or in socially distanced lawn chairs next to your car. My wife Pam and I are going.

“Why don’t you and Greta come and park next to us? I can introduce you to Roger after the show. He’s not Willie Nelson, but he’s the closest thing to Willie you’ll ever meet.”

“How do you know him?”

“Pam worked with Roger’s wife, Diane, at Aegis Assisted Living on Niguel Road, a few years back.”

Greta and I bought a car ticket in advance; the cost was only $30. We followed the Kerr’s car. To ensure we could park near the stage, we got to the Great Park an hour before the show. We were cars number four and five, respectively, in line.

Our cars were parked 20 feet apart in row two, with a clear view to the stage. We sat outside the cars in lawn chairs. It was a great concert. After each song, the audience would honk their car horns in appreciation. True Willie liked that.

The band played about 20 songs including three of my favorites: “Pancho and Lefty,” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” and “Seven Spanish Angels.”

 True Willie and the Boys Irvine California September 25 2020

And yes, after the concert, Russell led us to the front of the stage. He said he had mentioned to True Willie that Greta and I would be there. When True Willie saw us with Russell, he yelled out, “Hello Tom, hello Greta.” Pretty cool for a guy we’d never met. But it was getting dark and lots of people wanted to say hello also.

I handed Roger an autographed copy of my book, “Prime Rib & Boxcars. Whatever Happened to Victoria Station?” The front cover features a 1976 picture of Johnny Cash and me together in front of the Victoria Station restaurant in Newport Beach. I thought Roger would get a quick out of it. 

Tom Blake’s book available at the bookstore listed below

Russell said, “We’ll meet Roger next week when we have time to talk.”

On Wednesday, Roger, Russell, and I met at the Coffee Importers in Dana Point Harbor.

I asked Roger: “How long have you been a musician and when and why did you become a Willie Nelson tribute band?”

Roger said, “I’ve been 50 years in the music business. Nine years ago, my family and I were attending a concert at the Greek Theater in L.A. There was a huge photo of Willie on the side of the building promoting an upcoming Willie Nelson concert.

“My daughter looked at me, and then at Willie, and said, “Dad, you are Willie. And I now am.”

Roger added, “I don’t do it for the money; I do it to make a difference and share the music of an icon.”

Over a cup of coffee, I was finally able to tell Willie Nelson (well, sort of) how much Johnny Cash thought of him. It took me 45 years to pull that off.

He handed me an autographed cd of 11 of  his songs.

If Dana Point can bring back the outdoor concerts in Sea Terrace Park next summer (canceled this year due to the pandemic), maybe “True Willie and the Boys” will be invited to perform.

Here is True Willie’s website.

P.S. this comment was added a week later. Meeting True Willie inspired me to call my long-time friend, Lou Robin, Johnny Cash’s manager from 1972 until Johnny passed away. Since then, Lou has done estate work for the Cash family. Lou in his career produced over 5,000 concerts, many of those for Johnny Cash. I worked with Lou 45 years ago; we remain great friends.

Six Incredible Women

On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter –  April 10, 2020
Six Incredible Women

by Tom P Blake

Part 1 – Off the top of my head

What the heck do bloggers write about during a pandemic, besides strictly pandemic news? After 26 years and 4,000 articles, columns and eNewsletters, I never thought I’d be tongue-tied.

But, I am, sort of. Do you really need to be reminded to appreciate your mate and your friends? Do you need to be reminded to beware of romance scams? (Well, one more COVID-19 related scam. See Part 2 below). Do you need to hear my suggestions about senior first date behavior?

No, because while we are all mainly staying home, I doubt if any face-to-face first dates are taking place across our Champ nation.

Persevere Champs. This pandemic will make us wiser and tougher. You men and women are an incredible group. I have vast admiration and respect for you.

There are people out there who need you, your guidance, support and friendship. They are friends, family and strangers.

We must persevere.

Part 2 – More on bank and credit card scams during these difficult times

Champ Loretta, who works for a bank, added to last week’s eNewsletter scam-warning by Citi Bank of fake bank and credit card email scams:

Loretta wrote: “Please note that one should always check the site name in your browser. That is the line that should start https:/

“If the site is not https:/ don’t click. It’s that simple. Many scams are not secure sites. Start there. Then check spelling.

“Go to your bank website and send them an email to their secure site. Whatever you do, don’t provide personal details from an unsolicited text or “Official” seeming email.

“I work for a bank; Internally, as a test, the cyber security department will send us fake emails seeking for people to click. This testing is done to reduce potential phishing and enabling scammers access to bank systems. If we click inappropriately, then we must take a refresher test. Takes 45 minutes to an hour. We have learned: Don’t click if you are rushing. Don’t click or respond if you haven’t reached out to your bank in another manner like their web site with https:/”

Part 3 – “In loving arms”

This is a newspaper column I wrote about an experience I encountered three weeks ago in Dana Point, California, my home city. I felt it would be a nice diversion from the 24/7 bombardment of bad news we’ve all been receiving surrounding the virus. It’s called:

                                           Six amazing women

Saturday, March 21, 2020, was a beautiful day in Dana Point. After being quarantined inside their homes for most of the week, people had a nice opportunity to get some sunshine, exercise and fresh air, while maintaining a six-foot distance from others. At that time, it was permissible to be outside, while avoiding close contact with people.

That morning, my Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) buddy, Russell Kerr, and I decided to paddle from Baby Beach in Dana Point Harbor to Doheny Beach in the Pacific Ocean, and back, about a mile and a half in each direction. Not bad for an 80-year-old dude, and a 72-year-old Kiwi (New Zealander).

Stand Up Paddle Boarding Tom and Russell Kerr in Dana Point Harbor 

Near the harbor mouth, we saw what we thought was a two-foot log bobbing in the water.

(As many paddle boarders and kayakers do, we pick up trash and debris that floats in our waters. Normally, one of us would slide the log on to our paddle board, and, bring it ashore. A log like that, if struck by a boat, could damage the propeller or punch a hole in the boat. We often arrive back to the beach with lots of retrieved plastic garbage on our boards, which we discard in the trash bins.)

Upon closer inspection of the object, we saw that it wasn’t a log—it was a baby sea lion. And it was struggling to get breaths and stay afloat.

We hoped it could make it to a rock on the nearby jetty, 20 yards away. Plus, we saw three adult sea lions about 50 yards away, thinking one might be its mother.

Both of us being age 72-plus, we thought it not a good idea to try to rescue it by hand. Sea lions have razor-sharp teeth, and a bite could have compromised our immune systems during the COVID-19 outbreak.

We looked for help; there were no boats around. We felt there was nothing we could do. Leaving that pup behind broke my heart, and Russell was troubled as well.

Back at Baby Beach, after paddling, we saw a Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) rescue truck pull up.

Two PMMC women, Krysta and Wendy, scurried to the shoreline carrying a blanket.

The sea lion was laying on the paddle board of Candice Appleby, San Clemente, a nearby city. Quickly, Krysta and Wendy put the pup in a blanket and whisked the pup away to the PMMC truck to take it to the rescue center in Laguna Beach, five miles up Pacific Coast Highway

Candice Appleby with baby sea lion on her paddle board

 Photo courtesy of Val Ells

From a distance, I introduced myself to the woman who rescued the sea lion, and told her I was a columnist for three newspapers and asked what had happened out there on the water.

She said her name was Candice Appleby, a resident of San Clemente. She explained that she is a SUP coach and had been out in the ocean instructing a client. She said, “When we came back inside the harbor mouth, I saw three women kneeling on their paddle boards.

“One was my friend Val Ells, Dana Point, (who happens to volunteer at PMMC), and another was Lisa Hazelton, San Clemente. I don’t know who the third woman was.

“Val yelled to me that there was a sick seal pup there and they were trying to get it on a board.

“I paddled over and was able to get it on the back of my board. Val had her cell phone with her, so she called ahead to the PMMC, and was told a rescue truck was being dispatched to Baby Beach.

“When I got back to Baby Beach, the rescue workers were distressed that it was such ‘a baby.’ They rushed off with her.”

I was impressed with the humanitarian act of those six women—four on the water plus the two from the PMMC.

Another woman, standing a few feet away, commented, “Candice is a world-champion paddle boarder.”

“Is that true?” I asked Candice. She humbly admitted she had won The Dana Point Battle of the Paddle/Pacific Paddle Games nine times (a very big accomplishment among paddle boarders, the world over). I asked for her website address:

I was amazed to discover, when checking out her website, that Candice is probably the greatest woman paddle boarder in the world.

In the midst of the COVID-19 dark news, where hundreds of thousands of people across the country and around the world are risking their lives to try to save the sick, these six women were a bright light with their heart-warming act of kindness, in trying to save this precious little sea lion.

And, as we are learning during COVID-19, lots of people can’t be saved. Candice forwarded to me this news from Wendy and Kathy at the PMMC later that afternoon:

“Sad News: I am very sorry to report but sadly she passed. Our team worked on her for three hours straight. She was very emaciated and hypothermic. Her lungs sounded terrible.

But we wanted to let you know she died in warm loving arms.

I admit, my eyes watered. Sad news indeed, but on the positive side, six incredible Orange County women had tried to save this little sea lion.

The PMMC is a charity. They exist on donations. I sent one; they appreciated it.

We’ll get through COVID-19—because of people like these six women and all the workers, women and men, who are involved in the virus battle: Dedicated, willing to give of themselves and risking their own health to save others.

However, there won’t be paddle boarding for a while—the beaches and beach parking lots in Southern California are closed.

As I was finishing today’s eNewsletter, I glanced at my desk-top calendar, which has a photo of animals next to each month, to check today’s date, and noticed, under the month of April, that featured two baby rabbits, a quote by Anatole France:

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  Wow, so true.

Part 4 –  Free Ebook coupon

Almost 30 of you downloaded the free copy of my ebook, “Italy 23 Days by Train,” on The offer is valid for another week. It’s simple to do, well, a couple of you had some difficultly, but overall, it went pretty smoothly. Go to the Smashwords website, search on Tom Blake, you will see my books, click on the “Italy 23 Days by Train” cover. Where it says, Purchase, click on that but enter the coupon code: LP83M. You will not be charged and can download it or read it online.  Enjoy

See you next week.

Widow and widower LAT relationship

On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – March 20, 2020
by Columnist Tom Blake
Widow and widower LAT relationship (living apart together)
Nearly half our Champs are widowed. They tell me they’d prefer meeting another widowed person because they’d both be able to relate to what the other has been through.
Today’s story is about a widow and a widower who reside in a small Midwestern city. They did not meet online; they met at a gathering.

As a member of our “Finding Love After 50” Facebook group, our Champ had read about and decided to try to initiate a new social life in his own town. He joined a group that had dinner together once a week.

At his first dinner, he saw a woman of interest to him, but she left before he could talk to her. She had also noticed him. A week later, she emailed him to see how he was getting along. But, several weeks went by; she didn’t attend another dinner.

He decided to email her and found that she had been away at her summer home.

It took them a few months to get together. When they first met in person, it wasn’t on a date. They met to discuss starting a widower and widow group in their city. Soon, they took an interest in each other. They found they loved many of the same things, such as being outdoors and enjoying nature.

They’ve been a couple for four years.

Today, how they approach their relationship
Gordon wrote, “My lady and I are in a LAT (Living Apart Together) relationship.

“We live less than 10 miles apart, we both own our homes, no mortgages, we have our own retirement/pension funds, and healthcare. We both have one grown, married child and each of us lost our spouses at a young age, after long illnesses and caring for them.

“Robin, (not her true name), my partner, is 10-years-younger than I and our previous lifestyles were much different. We have found that each of us has much to contribute to the other and can enhance each of our lives.

“She was married to a faculty member of a large university and I retired from a small community college, after 23 years in the Navy. We love being around the water and swimming.

“What makes it work for us is that each of us has embraced the other’s background and experience.

“I like to kayak, fish on a trout stream, hike and she has embraced that and now we both enjoy kayaking, boating, hikes, and being out of doors. She says she might even go fishing with me. I have taken up photography and editing photographs, her interests, and we take frequent trips to photograph and enjoy the out of doors.

“We do not agree on everything–such as politics. One is conservative, the other is liberal. We believe that our relationship is much more important than debating or arguing our political viewpoints.

“We want to live life to the fullest every day with a smile–in the time we have. Friends and family tell us that we are always doing something and comment they wish they would live as we do.

“We enjoy the smallest of things as well as the bigger adventures and never fail to stop smiling or take a single day for granted.

“One of our greatest claims to life since meeting is that we have never laughed so hard that tears flowed and our stomachs ache. We define love as happiness.

“Re: living together. As long as we are in good health, and, can do so, we will likely not live under the same roof; although, we periodically do when we go to her summer house for a week or two, travel to different places for vacations, or on overnight trips.

“We both enjoy our ‘days off,’ as we call them, to just rest up at our own homes for a day or two, enjoy our own space, and spend time the way each of us chooses independently. We also have household chores to get done.

“We see each other five to six days a week; those could be the entire day or as little as meeting at the gym in the morning.”

“We also go out for a cocktail, a music event, community activities, and take frequent car rides in the area in which we live and love.

“Robin has numerous girl friends that she periodically gets together with and I have hobbies including RC airplane building and flying, fishing, and other things I do on my own or with the few men friends I have.

“I dated numerous ladies prior to meeting Robin. She waited over two years after her husband’s death to begin dating. I was her first date after losing her husband.

“One thing that became very important and refreshing with Robin and I was the immediate understanding that our previous marriages were real (mine 41 years, hers 38 years) and would never go away. That the love we had then was lasting; although, we both learned very quickly that our new relationship was equally as good, different, and strong.

“We both understood our previous lives could not be forgotten and would not be relived. Yes, we both brought our share of baggage to the relationship and it had to be sorted and discarded.

“I have spent time with her husband’s family and she with mine. My son, soon after meeting Robin, announced to her that they really liked her and welcomed her into the fold. Her daughter was much slower to understand that her mother could have another relationship, but with time she is beginning to do so.”

Tom’s comment: A LAT relationship isn’t for all senior couples. A big issue: affordability. In a LAT, each will have an assortment of household expenses. Whereas, when couples live together, they will likely share or divvy up household expenses, including mortgage payments, property taxes and utilities, reducing the cost to each person.

The decision to live together should not be made solely because it’s more affordable. All the values we always considered important still are the first and most important considerations. Saving money can be the frosting on the cake.

Part 2
Reminder: No Meet and Greet this month in Dana Point.

On Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day, my usual Stand Up Paddle Boarding buddy and I went paddling. It was a beautiful day and we made it a point to be six-feet away from each other.  I felt it was safe to leave the house. He wore this St. Patrick’s Day outfit. Lots of pictures were taken of him by people walking the sidewalks while we paddled. One young child was with her parents. She yelled to him, “What’s your name?”

My New Zealand paddling buddy, Russell Kerr, on St. Patrick’s Day

He replied, “St. Patrick.” The young child responded happily. So, thanks, Russell, for putting so many smiles on people’s faces during this somber time.

Also, because many people are self-quarantined, it can get lonely. Call your pals and have phone conversations. That can help. Encouraging news: A Trader Joe’s employee told me they will not run out of wine. Hurray!

A tribute to New Zealand and those loved ones we’ve lost in 2019

 On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter – December 20, 2019

By Columnist Tom Blake

           A tribute to New Zealand and those loved ones we’ve lost in 2019

My 2019 Holidays eNewsletter is a tribute to people who were important to Champs, who passed away this year. Two world events in the last week triggered this thought. Both are coincidentally related to New Zealand.

Why this unusual topic? The idea came to me this week while Stand-Up Paddle Boarding in Dana Point Harbor. I was paddling with my usual paddling buddy, Russell Kerr, a native of New Zealand. Russell and his wife, Pam, have dual New Zealand/USA citizenship. He and I talk about events of the world whenever we are on the water together.

The first event Russell reflected upon was the White Island volcano eruption off the coast of New Zealand on December 9, in which 18 people perished.

I couldn’t help but think of the friends and relatives of those who died that have been affected by this tragic event.

And the second world event that Russell and I discussed occurred on December 12, with the passing away of Peter Snell, New Zealand’s greatest athlete ever, a middle-distance runner, who would have been 81 on December 17.

Why did Snell’s passing affect me?

In the summer of 1960, I traveled in Europe with four friends. We spent several days at the Rome 1960 summer Olympic games. On Friday, September 2, 1960, we watched in Olympic Stadium Peter Snell win the 800 meters run in track. It was the first time in 24 years a New Zealand runner had won an Olympic track and field gold medal.

I was a college cross country runner at the time and admired the grit Snell had shown in that race. Snell broke five world track records in his career. In the 1964 Olympics, he won both the 800 meters and the 1500 events.

Fast forward to 2011, when my partner Greta and I were on a cruise around New Zealand’s North and South Islands. One of the ports where the ship docked was Wellington, located at the southern tip of the North Island.

On our way back to the ship after a fun sightseeing day, we popped into a shop called the Olympic Games Museum. I was curious to see if Peter Snell was featured there. Did anyone in New Zealand even remember Peter Snell?

Inside, there was a pair of worn-out track shoes on a podium under glass. I asked a man working there if they were Peter Snell’s shoes. (They weren’t).

The man judged from my accent that I was from the United States. “Why is an American interested in Peter Snell?” he asked. I told him about being in Rome and seeing Snell win the gold. I mentioned I had admired Snell ever since.

The man’s name was Terry Daly, the Commercial and Marketing Director for the New Zealand Olympic Committee. He gave me an official New Zealand Olympic team lapel pin and told me he wanted to give me something else, but it was in his office in Auckland. I told him our ship would be there in two days. He gave me his card and asked me to come by.

After sightseeing in Auckland, Greta reminded me that we needed to go to Terry Daly’s office.

Terry gave us an Olympic team jersey autographed by the great Peter Snell. I was incredibly moved and honored.

Snell’s jersey hung on the sports wall of fame at Tutor and Spunky’s Deli, my Dana Point deli, from 2011 until I sold the deli, in 2015. Since then, it’s been on the wall in our garage.

When Peter Snell passed away this week, I went to my garage and took down the framed jersey to photograph it. I felt a heart-string tug.

                     Authentic autographed Peter Snell track jersey 

I took several minutes to ponder Peter Snell’s life, and how humble he was, and my life, and how fortunate I was to have seen him run, although I never met him. But my brother Bill did. Snell became a dentist in Dallas, where my brother lives. Their paths crossed one time. Snell passed away in Dallas.

So, to Peter Snell, and the people lost in that tragic White Island volcano, and my Dana Point deli customer, Vern McGarry, and my high school buddy Champ Carm, whose sweetheart Karen Jenkins passed away this year, and all the others, who have passed this year, or in all years, in fact, thank you for being in my life and/or the lives of our Champs.

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. May 2020 be a good year for all of us.