San Pedro Still Lifes

photo by Benjamin Mayer

They’re the things we see every day, yet don’t.

The places we take for granted, like the homes and cars we pass while going to work every morning. Or the strip malls we drive by while running errands, unnoticeable unless we have a reason to give them our full attention.

For German-born photojournalist Tim Maxeiner, it’s these simple, nondescript spots that he finds interesting. So interesting that he put together a photo book featuring still lifes of various San Pedro homes and automobiles, aptly titled (from a German translation) Home Alone.

“I like to take pictures of every day things that are somehow fascinating to me,” he says over coffee at Sacred Grounds one morning last month, “because it makes life more fun if you’re fascinated by really simple things you see every day, you know?”

Looking at Maxeiner, 26, you wouldn’t peg him as an artist. Standing a few inches taller than six-feet, the slender, messy bleach blonde haired photographer is just as comfortable catching waves on a surfboard as he is capturing moments with his camera.

The book is chockfull with images from various parts of San Pedro, including Point Fermin, South Shores, Vista del Oro and downtown. Each of the exactly 99 photographs includes one home or business and a car (or two) parked outside in front or on the side, depending on the angle.

Aside from a handful of businesses featured, no addresses, street names or license plates are visible. Unless you’re from San Pedro, the cars and homes could be from Anywhere, USA.

The project started as most projects worth their artistic merit do, with Maxeiner waking up one morning last year asking himself, “What am I going to do today?”

“I start walking around whenever I go to a new place,” he says. “So I took my camera with me and looked around and really liked the San Pedro architecture. It’s really diverse, from really old to brand new. And I always had this idea of old cars. I just like the look of old cars.”

photos by Tim Maxeiner

So Maxeiner started walking around town shooting photos. One photo turned into five, which turned into 20, which turned into something he thought might make for an interesting book. A noted photojournalist in Germany, he decided to pitch the idea to a few German book publishers. The imprint Delius Klasing, which touts itself as “Europe’s largest family-run special-interest media company,” responded right away and offered Maxeiner a book deal, printing a limited run of 2,000 copies of Home Alone.

But getting to that point took a bit of time. The way he explains it, Maxeiner’s journey from the outskirts of Frankfurt to San Pedro is something out of a movie.

He fell in love with surfing at an early age, after discovering the sport and living vicariously through surf magazines his father would buy for him. When he was old enough, he took a sojourn to France where he picked up the sport for real, learning to catch waves on the French beaches. But what he really wanted to do was come to America, more specifically… Southern California.

“Southern California is such a great place where you have all these possibilities,” he says. “That’s why everything comes from here, especially from this area. If you look at youth culture, skateboarding, surfing, music, the punk rock scene, it all comes from here.”

After finishing school and saving some money through odd jobs, Maxeiner took a trip to Canada and worked at a ski resort, knowing it was easier to obtain a work permit there than in the U.S. While in Canada, he and a friend decided they wanted to go surfing and drove to Baja California from Vancouver, hitting the waves at every surf spot along the way. Picking up the journalism bug from his father, Maxeiner decided to chronicle that journey and sold the story to a German car magazine.

After a few more back-and-forth trips and a few more bylines about the surf and car culture of America that he sold to various German publications, Maxeiner decided he wanted to make Southern California his home. Now an established photojournalist, Maxeiner obtained a journalist visa and established himself in San Pedro.

“I took a map of Los Angeles and I was like, what is Palos Verdes? And then I saw San Pedro next to the harbor,” he recalls. “I drove up 7th Street and saw a sign for a room for rent. I knocked on the door, talked to the guy and he said if I wanted the room, I could have it. I told him I’d call him later, then I left and drove up the hill and saw the coastline and instantly turned around, drove back to the place and said I’d take it.”

The rest, as they say, is history, which is also a subject near and dear to Maxeiner’s heart.

“I love history over here because it’s so young,” he says. “In Germany, everything is so old. Here, you can still talk to people who can recall what [the early days] here were like.”

To keep himself busy, Maxeiner is currently working on a photo project with the San Pedro Bay Historical Society and has been doing video work for a few local businesses.

On Saturday, April 13, Maxeiner will host an event celebrating Home Alone at the Le Grand Salon in the Arcade Building in downtown, located at 479 W. 6th St. Light refreshments will be served and books will be available for purchase.

“I’m really interested in the simple stories of life,” he says. “I want people to look through Home Alone and say, ‘I know somebody who lives in this house. I know somebody that owns that car.’ I’m really open to everything and if somebody asks me to take a picture of their family in front of their car, I’m honored to do it.” spt

Pedro Parking: A Photo Book Presentation of Home Alone is Saturday, April 13 at 6 p.m. at the Le Grand Salon (479 W. 6th St.). For more info on Tim Maxeiner, visit www.timmaxeiner.com.

WWII Air Corps Veteran Gets Silver Star He Never Knew About

After World War II, New Mexico native Domitilio Lucero, like so many others, came to Southern California looking for work.

He got a job at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard on Terminal Island and discovered San Pedro. He married his high school sweetheart, and they put down roots and raised four sons, two of whom graduated from Fermin Lasuen High and two from San Pedro High.

Lucero didn’t talk much about the war, which was typical for most veterans. He had been a sergeant in the Army Air Corps, an engineer/gunner on a B-26 Marauder medium bomber based in England, and had seen plenty of action before being gravely wounded in a mission over Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. It took years of research from his sons to get the whole story, and it turned out to be a whole lot more than even Lucero himself knew. Back in the states, recovering from his wounds, he was unaware he had been awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award exclusively for combat valor.

Nearly 70 years later, Lucero, now 89 and living in Barstow, will receive his Silver Star in a special ceremony Nov. 5.

The Dec. 23, 1944, raid on the German rail bridgehead at Arhweiler was supposed to be a “milk run” for the 391st Bombardment Group, part of the Ninth Air Force. But the fighter support for the 32 planes in the raid never materialized, and they were sitting ducks when set upon by 60 German fighters. Only 16 bombers made it back to base, and nearly every one of those was damaged, including Lucero’s. His citation for “gallantry in action” reads:

Although thrown from his position, Sgt. Lucero crawled back to his post and although his armament was inoperative, he gallantly continued to inform his pilot of enemy aircraft positions. Sgt. Lucero’s heroic determination and courage under heavy enemy antiaircraft fire despite his painful injury reflect the highest credit upon himself and his organization.

Gerald Lucero, the youngest brother and 1970 SPHS grad, told The Air Force Times what his dad remembers of that day.

“He said they were coming in at you like you wouldn’t believe – five, 10, 15 of them, just coming in at you like you wouldn’t believe. He said he was just shooting everywhere he possibly could, and then they disappeared.” Then came the flak from below.

“He said you could see these black smoke bombs coming from the bottom, and then they were just tearing at the aircraft. He said he saw several aircraft going down, and that’s all he remembered.”

Struck by cannon fire from an enemy fighter, Lucero, then 21, spent 18 months in hospitals, where part of his rib was used to rebuild his nose.

Before he left his supply job at the naval shipyard in 1972 to go to work at the Marine Corps Logistics Base outside Barstow, he saw all four sons follow his footsteps into the service. The oldest, Elroy, a ’65 graduate of Fermin Lasuen, joined the Army and served in Germany. Today, he’s an electrical engineer in San Jose. Stevan enlisted after a cousin was killed in Vietnam. The ’67 Lasuen graduate became a member of the Army Airborne’s Special Forces and fought in Vietnam from 1969-70. The San Pedro resident is a recently retired schoolteacher after a long career with Los Angeles Unified. Vincent joined the Army and served stateside. He’s a security guard in Victorville. Gerald broke with family tradition by joining the Navy. Today he’s a time-share manager in Hawaii. Gerald, point man in the effort to get his dad’s Silver Star, told The Air Force Times of the impetus behind the effort:

“We just want to make sure that my children – his grandchildren – know, and their children know, about his involvement in the war because we’ve all felt… that my dad is a hero and what he had to endure… and I now… hear about this, and it’s even more so.”

Veteran Thanks a Veteran
I got this letter in response to my Memorial Day column on Bob DeSpain, the Rancho Palos Verdes veteran who survived the sinking of the USS Hoel in WWII. It speaks for itself:

“I served aboard the USS Hoel (DDG-13) from Jan. `69-Nov. `72, a guided-missile destroyer. (On) my first WESTPAC cruise `69-70, the ship was chosen to represent the U.S.A. in New Zealand’s bicentennial celebration.

“Our course took us to Pago Pago, then to Samar and over the site of the sunken USS Hoel (DD-533). All aboard paid their respects with a ceremony and wreath casting in memory of the crew lost in the battle.

“The information from official records was read to the crew of the battle and heroism of those men lost and those that survived.

“I salute Bob DeSpain for his labor, tenacity and survival. The battle, being outgunned, was lost yet successful in slowing down the enemy.”

It was signed by William G. “Bill” Forst, a Torrance resident. To Bill, Bob, all of the Luceros and every other veteran, an early happy Veterans Day. spt

Untamed Creativity

E.G. Ryan reads one of her children’s books to students at Gulf Street Elementary School in Wilmington (photo by Diana L. Chapman)

With an unusual past as a senior defense analyst for the U.S. government, E.G. Ryan (her pen name) never thought she’d give up her post – a job where she was able to “fly all over the world.”

Even when she learned she was pregnant with twins, Elisabeth Ryan kept working. “I was traveling to Guam, Singapore, Japan, Germany,” explains the nearly six-foot blonde. “I was pregnant and miserable. I never thought I’d be that mom who would stay at home completely. But the day I saw them [the twins], they came six-weeks premature and that changed everything.

The arrival of Nick and Maximillian (Max), now 8, and the later arrival of four-year-old Alexa Rose, all with the last name Ryan-Shirley, sparked her imagination and brought back her old flame she carried for years – writing and drawing.

At the age of six, Ryan wrote and illustrated her first book. Now eight books later with a boatload of ideas percolating, the incessant doodler says she had no idea her children would change her path. They gave her endless, adventurous antics, she says. A bounty of material for her books which she will share during a book signing Sunday, Dec. 2 from 2 to 4 p.m. at The Corner Store (1118 West 37th Street).

“They are my books,” Ryan explains. “Without them, I would not have had any children’s stories. Without them, I’d still be working for the government. They are so close to my heart.”

Her wild, bright tales include Spunky the Dog and Foxy the Cat – characters that appear in all her books. The books often feature animals at their home such as frogs and ants and each has a charming tale even parents will greatly appreciate. Most have a gentle message without boxing kids on the head – and gives parents another way to teach children to get out and play, clean up their rooms and enjoy life.

In Spunky the Dog, Spunky gets mad and mean and the more mean he gets, the more green spots show up on his body. He deserts his family and continues on his own mean journey until he realizes he doesn’t like being mean anymore. He returns home to see if his family still wants him.

Ideas often materialize in Ryan’s daily life. Her first book, Moon Balloons, spun from a day when the two-year-old blonde, curly-top boys at the time, clutched balloons their mom had given them. Nick accidentally let go of a balloon and as he watched it float to the sky he began screaming and crying with Max immediately following suit, Ryan says.

To quiet them, she had to think quick. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, it’s going up to help hold up the moon.'” The twins immediately calmed down.

The author’s ambling into the publishing industry hit some rock hard objections. Some told her she shouldn’t write and illustrate her own books. She needed to pick one or the other, and of course, there were no promises of publication. Refusing to give up, the harried and busy mother of three decided to publish the first set on her own and at one of her first events at The Corner Store in San Pedro, Ryan sold 200 books in one day. Foxy the Cat, Spunky the Dog, The Dreamies, Moon Balloons and The Collect-Its jumped out the door. The Good Foodies is available now too along with Spot’s Smile and The Green Thumbs.

“I see [they like the books] from the response I get from the children, from the parents, from the educators,” Ryan explains, who adds she does the work because “I want more niceness in the world. I want kindness.”

What she knew, Ryan says, was what publishers did not: children loved her stories. She began to read in classrooms across the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Los Angeles Unified schools and could tell by the looks on their faces that the children were riveted.

Her untamed illustrations that suck up cloaks of staggering color, likely are one of the biggest attractions to her books. The combustions of blends welded with intense detail immediately snag children’s attention. All her books are drenched in shades such as mustard yellows, streaks of lime greens, and splatters of ruby-reds and teal blues.

Wanting to see for myself if kids really enjoyed her work, Ryan kindly came to Gulf Street Elementary School in Wilmington and read to first graders who stared at the storyteller with big eyes and sat frozen. They didn’t make a peep. The author then moved to a group of 4th graders who – even though were older – passionately loved her stories. I picked this class since I’d been conducting writer’s workshops there and wanted to see what the students thought. They were asked to write about Ryan’s work.

“I like how she writes about her family in her book and her animals,” wrote 4th grader, Johnathan Benavidez. “I couldn’t believe when she said she had frogs. That is very cool. I like how she wrote about her daughter and how her room was dirty.”

Wrote Hannah Marie Martinez, 10: “I liked her books because she uses a lot of color and designs. I liked all her books and I want to read the others. I think she will write a lot more books. I love Spunky.”

The author also has written three novels: SOS 999, Letter 16 and Irish Eyes, two of which will be published by the end of the year.

“I just love it,” Ryan says of writing. “I have a zillion ideas. I have whole stories in my head. My life is like a purse. It doesn’t matter how big it is. It’s always full.” spt

E.G. Ryan’s books can be purchased at Amazon.com, The Corner Store and Rok N Ell Baby Boutique, both in San Pedro, and through www.EGRyan.com.

E.G. Ryan’s book signing is Sunday, Dec. 2 from 2 to 4 p.m. at The Corner Store (1118 West 37th Street).