Jennifer Danny | Sam-Ski and My Friend Named Erber

Jennifer Danny
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This past June 6 my father-in-law would’ve celebrated his 92nd birthday. He passed away in late 2020. We didn’t get to see him to say our goodbyes due to COVID, but we did get to speak with him on the phone to let him know we loved him and hoped he’d be home soon. 

The “hope” of him being released from the hospital never happened. My husband’s cell phone rang at 4 a.m., and I’ve learned that is never a good sign. When he answered his cell phone, I knew by the look on his face that the news wasn’t good. His father had died. 

Sam was born in 1930. He had an identical twin brother, named Gene. Together they grew up, and the stories they shared about their childhood were fascinating. Life back then was so different. Their mom, Rosie, worked at See’s Candy in Los Angeles. She was one of the original See’s Candy ladies. Sam and Gene loved USC. In fact, Sam would tell me they’d save enough money to take the bus and go and watch the football games every chance they got. 

He lived out here in the Valencia area for over 25 years. In fact, he was known by many as the mayor of Starbucks, where he joined his friends for morning coffee and conversation and dare I say a bit of political debating. His daily routine was simplistic. He was the kind of man who lived by the saying, “early to bed, and early to rise.” I suspect decades of having to be at work before the sunrise helped to define his routine. 

Sam always told me I was the daughter he never had. He called me Jen-ski and I in turn called him Sam-ski. And often I had to be the voice of reason for some of his life moments that he encountered. And as he entered his mid-80s it was becoming apparent that maybe he shouldn’t be driving anymore. He had called me and said he had received a notice in the mail that he needed to go to the DMV and retake his written and driving test. He didn’t understand, but I didn’t know the whole story. So as respectfully as I could, I said often in life there’s a cause-and-effect component. He asked me what I was saying. I said, “I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but did you or could you have caused something, that in turn the ‘effect’ was that your ability to drive was being questioned?” 

He then told me he had backed out of a parking spot and barely, emphasis on barely, tapped another car, a Range Rover. And in my head, I thought of course a Range Rover, not a 1977 Datsun, but it was the conversation he and the other driver got into, which I think, though I’ll never know exactly, made the other driver report him that he shouldn’t be driving. I’ll never know the whole story, but my Jen-mind pretty much can sum up anything. 

The day he was scheduled to go to the DMV, a friend of his, a gentleman I know from work, offered to take Sam. Funny thing about having friendships with Sam’s friends from Starbucks, they would keep me posted on the “behind the scenes” stories always with a wink and a giggle. 

So now came the prep for the written test. My husband printed out samples of the written tests and gave them to Sam. When the day arrived for Sam to go to the DMV, his friend picked him up and I waited at my office to hear the how everything went. I found out that he didn’t pass. The friend mustered up all the strength to say, “Well, Jennifer, I think the next time he shouldn’t wear his pajama pants and slippers to the DMV.” 

I said, “That sounds like a deal breaker to me,” as I rolled my eyes. I thanked him for taking Sam and let him know how much I appreciated his kind help. 

Realizing the inevitable, that Sam, at the tender age of 88 years old, may not be able to drive anymore, my husband and I decided we’d handle it with kid gloves and discuss it with him. Sam got so mad, and he said, “I’ve been driving for 72 years!” 

And I said, “I know that, but now it’s time for a change. We cannot let you drive without a license and since it’s been suspended, it would be illegal.” I continued, “We cannot let you harm yourself or someone else, and we need you to understand that.” 

He was reluctant, and there was no other choice, I told him. After several more discussions and even having his friends give their insight, he understood that it was the only way. Shortly after that day my husband and I decided we’d discuss other options. We told him we would teach him how to use Uber. 

He said, “I’m not getting in a car with a stranger.”

I said, “Sammy it’s Uber, they hire drivers, and you can sit in the backseat, go meet your friends at Starbucks, do your grocery shopping, go to the barber, you’ll be fine.” 

He said, “Erber?” 

I said, “Uber.” 

And he said, “Is Erber your friend Jen-ski?” I said, well, kind of -ish. 

OK, he said, “I trust anyone you know, and I’ll try it.” 

So, we got him a cell phone. Mind you, he had only had a landline for the last several decades. My husband added the App and taught him how simple and easy it was to use. So, he tapped the app and, unbeknownst to us, he tapped it again, and well again, and again. I went out to the car to get something, and I saw the Uber driver waving at me, and then another one, and another one. All in all, seven arrived. I said, “Wait a sec, let me get my husband.” In the end we signed him up for the city’s senior Dial-A-Ride, where all he had to do was call a day before he needed a ride and that worked out just fine. Every now and then, Sam would ask me how my friend, Erber was doing. I would say, he’s doing just fine. 

The week after Sam died, I happened to be channel surfing and I saw something on the college sports channel guide, it said: USC @ SAM DIEGO STATE. Yes, it said, Sam Diego State. Ah, I thought, Sam-ski, hope you enjoy watching the game from Heaven. 

To most people it was merely a typo on the guide, but to me it was so much more than that. 

Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.

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