A few weeks ago, Eric and I finally got a small break, my first since March. We drove up to Mammoth Lakes, the air thick and hazy with smoke from the Creek Fire — the single largest wildfire in recorded California history.

It didn’t matter.

We rented a condo where we could cook and stay to ourselves, socially distant, but far from all the troubles back home. On the way up we stopped through the usual small towns that dot Highway 395. We went past Manzanar and saw the largely empty parking lot. I wondered how our friends from the National Park Service were coping and appreciated the sign bearing the name Manzanar Fishing Club as sponsors of roadside cleanup.

At Big Pine, some folks had set up a stand selling Trump-Pence banners and it was a good reminder that not all of us live in a liberal bubble. In Bishop, there seemed to be a fair number of tourists, mostly wearing masks. There were sights that are now familiar to all of us living in 2020: empty, closed storefronts, restaurants doing outdoor dining. The fires obscured the Sierras and it was almost like a summer smoggy day driving into downtown.

But it was good to get away — no, it was a necessary reprieve from a brutal, exhausting year. The fall colors— reds, golds and yellows — are spectacular and places like June Lake Loop and the Inyo National Forest have recently reopened. The wild trout rising in the streams of Yosemite didn’t care that we are in a pandemic, and didn’t much care for the flies Eric tried to coax them with either.

On the way to Mammoth, we stopped at Mahogany Smoked Meats in Bishop and picked up some bacon and beef jerky. Normally I’d get a big tub of cookies at Schat’s Bakery to share with our **Rafu** crew, but most of us are working at our homes now and the sharing of food is unthinkable at this moment.

One morning, Eric cooked up a perfect bowl of bacon fried rice: thick, crispy chunks of bacon, green onion from our garden, eggs and ginger. It’s a perfect dish: putting scraps of leftovers together and turning it into something sublime.

Everyone has their own take on fried rice. My favorite was always the bacon fried rice at Gardena Bowl, which reminds me of the way my grandmother Asayo Taniguchi made it. A new fave is the fried rice made by Leonard Kim of Cherrystones, with luscious helpings of kim chee and a sunny-side up egg. Eric and I will fight over who gets the last bite.

Bacon fried rice with bacon from Mahogany Smoked Meats. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)


How’s everyone doing? Hard to believe it’s been eight long months and now we’re at Halloween; probably the scariest Halloween season most of us have ever experienced.

Last year I recall seeing the kids from Nishi in their bright blue T-shirts picking up pumpkins at the pumpkin patch set up in JVP. Haunted Little Tokyo has adapted and I’m grateful that so many institutions in the community are making the best of these strange times.

JACCC AutumnFest is back and it’s terrific to see that Tim Manaka and Suzy Sasaki have returned to co-chair this year’s virtual edition.

Gail Sharp, Venice JCC newsletter editor, wrote movingly of a recent volunteer session and the joys of seeing other members of the community center, albeit at a social distance and with masks, after so long. The center is celebrating its 100th anniversary next year and 2020 will no doubt be told and retold in future oral histories.

Gail is so wise when she says, “The past months of staying apart have taught me again how fortunate I am to belong to our wonderful and caring community,”

I feel that gratitude every day, and look to it for sustenance as we enter the long, dark days of winter.


Tom Amatruda with a sign urging a vote for the environment in the Nov. 3 election.

“Put the sign somewhere where everyone can see it!” Dad said. He was adamant on behalf of his beloved companion Lois, and so Eric dutifully placed our sign in front of our home.

Lois’ son-in-law Tom Amatruda had sent the signs all the way from Minnesota, carrying a simple but urgent environmental message: VOTE to Save Your Children’s Home!

I feel incredibly fortunate that I got a chance to meet Tom’s late wife Lynne Morishita before her passing from ALS in 2016. At the time I didn’t know of her many accomplishments, but Lynne was a geriatric nurse practitioner and a fellow of the UCLA/USC Long Term Care Gerontology Center. Lynne developed a comprehensive geriatric healthcare program, which gained national recognition.

Tom himself is an oncologist and was incredibly helpful offering insight and expertise when Dad had been hospitalized a few years back. The care for others that Tom and Lynne put into their medical careers also manifests in their activism.

Lynne and Tom were involved in local politics in Minnesota and the signs are an extension of that. Tom explained that he decided to create the signs because of his sense that climate change hasn’t gotten enough attention in this election cycle.

An email address,, sends recipients to a message: “We are at a dangerous point. However, we are not helpless. The world came together in 1987 to make a treaty reducing the emission of CFC gases that were destroying the ozone layer. This treaty worked, and the ozone layer has started to heal. We came together to fight the menace of Hitler, to control nuclear arms proliferation.

“But this will require leadership by the US. And to achieve this, we must vote out the current government.”

Tom’s other message: “A Great Nation will be healed through truth and justice. Not with lies and fear.”

I like to think that Tom and Lynn’s example of activism has also spurred something in Tome and Lois, who were both incarcerated during World War II: a sense that everyone has to do more, to rise up and bring their own experiences into what is happening now and do something.

2020 has been one long dreadful grind — mixing outrage and anger, fear and depression, a sense of helplessness. But we can all do something in less than two weeks — regardless of party affiliation, religion or politics — we can vote.


Gwen Muranaka, senior editor of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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