With permission, by Vallejo Times-Herald Editor, Jack F.K. Bungart, July 9, 2022
“Son take a good look around … This is your hometown.”
— Bruce Springsteen
My hometown is — early cliché alert — a part of me, as big a chunk of who I am and what I became as any DNA strand, any online genealogy search.
I left my hometown some 50 years ago, forced out, feet dragging — collateral damage to my dad’s burgeoning job status.
But my hometown never left me.
I go back every time a journalist’s salary allows and Wrigley Field beckons, always staying at the same hotel near the same hallowed grounds of my insanely blessed youth.
I am Highland Park, Illinois. I always will be.
Highland Park is my hometown.
Yes, that Highland Park.
There is something inherently shallow about making any news story, much less a tragedy like what took place on the Fourth of July, about yourself. Even a hint of it can smack of preening narcissism. A seasoned, highly trained professional doesn’t do that.
And neither do I.
At least not until my town, rolling in privilege and graced with the kind of classic Midwest charm that called out to the cameras of John Hughes, was torn asunder, right at the intersection of evil and tragic.
I can’t possibly imagine the soul-crushing anguish of those innocent parade-goers — from the lives lost to the ones left with wounded psyches as they grieve and attempt to make sense of the senseless.
But that was our Fourth of July Parade, the one I went to so many times, that this pile of filth in makeup desecrated. That was my street, Central Avenue, those bullet casings rattled off of. Right or wrong, it feels distinctly personal. Those were my people whose lives were ruined, on a classic American day, in what has, to our great national shame, become a uniquely American tradition.
Do the lost lives of my town matter more? More than, say, those beautiful souls in Uvalde, Texas — what was it, five minutes ago? They, too, were victims of a madman, another war-time killing machine, but with a historic level of law enforcement incompetence that would be darkly comedic if it wasn’t so sickeningly horrific.
Of course not. But there is a reason we brag about people from our old stomping grounds who made it big — I’m looking at you Rachel Brosnahan, source of my favorite TV character ever, Midge Maisel.
And there is a reason my jaw dropped, my heart sank and my gag reflex cranked into overdrive on the Fourth of July. That reason, that connection, that longtime love affair is why the crawl at the bottom of the screen on a holiday Monday was such a gut punch, as breathtaking as it was tear-inducing.
So no, this isn’t about me.
It’s about Irina and Kevin McCarthy, who saved their now-orphaned son with unimaginable courage and heroism, just down the street from where my U.S. Marine father started me on the path to manhood with a work ethic and strict allowance that never allowed for the spoiled brat-like behavior my opulent surroundings teased us all with.
It’s about Nicolas Toledo, who lost his life just a three-minute walk down the street from my childhood home, whose owners still kindly put up with my occasional, nostalgia-laced drop-ins.
It’s about Jacquelyn Sundheim, who had her life of laughter and generosity blown away just across the street from where I parked my bike so many times for yet another run on baseball cards.
It’s about Stephen Straus, killed just down the street from our iconic — at least it was for us — movie theater (as seen in “Risky Business”), where I fell in love for the first time. Her name was Ann-Margret, and suddenly girls weren’t so gross after all.
It’s about Katherine Goldstein, taken away just down the street from our supposedly “secret” passageway down the stairs next to the park and to the biggest body of water I could imagine — Lake Michigan.
It’s about Eduardo Uvaldo, mowed down blocks away from the bedroom where I would carefully set out my clothes at night for the next day’s trip to the greatest place on Earth — Wrigley Field.
It’s about Cooper Roberts, who deserved so much better from the grownups in Washington, D.C., and the authorities who missed the signs to stop a lunatic in their midst. No farther than a third baseman’s throw to first from where we religiously played baseball, all day, every day, until we couldn’t — and then cranking it back up when we could — a beautiful 8-year-old boy suffered bullet wounds that leave him unable to walk, much less run around the bases, today.
And finally, it’s about damn time … we do something — please, anything — about this mindless carnage. I was an 8-year-old boy when the New York Mets ripped my heart out in the summer of 1969. But I wasn’t shot by an assault-style rifle that nobody outside of the United States military has any business owning.
Most of us not named Marjorie Taylor-What’s Her Face — the wretchedly vile, prodigiously stupid conspiracy queen freak who all too predictably oozed out the poison of this possibly being a “false-flag operation” — know perfectly well what needs to be done.
A ban on all — every last one of them — assault-style, rapid-fire rifles, made specifically for wartime obliteration, to not just take out as many lives as quickly as possible, but to eviscerate the human body as efficiently as possible.
Allowing these weapons into the general populace — much less the hands of confused, teenage zombies — makes for uniquely cruel, obscenely abhorrent public policy.
It’s the kind of disgrace that perhaps doesn’t happen in a country with a congress full of actual public servants, not gutless cowards, supplicant careerists, and eager NRA lapdogs who left their conscience at the House coat check.
And no, that’s not “playing politics.” It’s common sense for the common good. Doing the opposite, to keep your seat of power and your nice parking spot? That’s playing politics.
This simply did not have to happen. It sure as hell didn’t have to happen in my damn town, or any damn town, anywhere. Not on the Fourth of July.
Let’s all take it personally. The alternative — becoming numb to shooting after shooting — is unacceptable.
My precious hometown is a crime scene today, surrounded by yellow police tape and soul-crushing grief.
It could be your town next.