Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Best of 2009

We wrote last week about some of the worst ideas of 2009.

Space limitations kept the list to a precious few. We fondly remembered the exploits of Octomom and Balloon Boy, Tiger Woods and Mark Sanford, Gavin Newsome and the Tea Party Patriots.

But we hardly scratched the surface.

We had every intent of revisiting the subject this week. But like Scrooge, our resolve to engage in another "bah, humbug" column has been melted away in the warm bask of the holidays.

So instead of mocking the mediocre, we will instead hail the heroes today, those formidable individuals who give us hope that maybe, just maybe, the human race sometimes gets it right.

So let us raise a glass in praise of:

Captain Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger III. Our newest Rose Parade grand marshal successfully carried out the emergency ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, offshore from Manhattan, on Jan. 15, 2009, after his plane struck a flock of geese, disabling both engines. His piloting skills saved the lives of all 155 people on the aircraft.

But more than that, he is the sort of "aw, shucks" hero that Americans love, a Jimmy Stewart firmly in command at the controls. And yet he is an American everyman: Sullenberger lost 40 percent of his salary over the years, which contributed to financial strain prior to the Hudson landing. He and his wife were facing the possibility of having to sell their home in order to stay afloat.

Jorge Munoz is a school bus driver who has taken it on himself to help hungry New Yorkers make it through tough times. Since 2004, he has handed out more than 70,000 meals from his mobile soup kitchen in Queens - for free, according to CNN. Munoz estimates that food and gas cost approximately $400 to $450 a week; he and his family are funding the operation through their savings and his weekly $700 paycheck. "I'll help anyone who needs to eat. Just line up," Munoz says.

Firefighters. Oh, sure, they drew some flack for their response to the Station Fire in its early hours. They reacted slowly. They should have used helicopter water drops after dark. But for those of us who watched the fire burn 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest, it was a miracle it wasn't much worse. In a sort of slow-motion rampage, it threatened thousands of homes and businesses, threatened to destroy Mt. Wilson and burned for weeks, covering much of the Foothill area in smoke and ash. Two firefighters died in the blaze. Battling this inferno were brave men and women who defended a lot of homes they could probably never afford to live in. Without them, a lot of us would still be bunking down in high school gyms.

Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. Just about the time the Olympic Games get boring, along come a couple of young studs who do the impossible. The best thing about them: they seemed to be having a genuinely good time while smashing world records. Honorbale mention: Brett Favre. Old guys can still play, too.

Mandi Bohrer. Mandi is gung-ho Army all the way. She graduated from West Point, served in Iraq and is married to a fellow officer. She and her husband are also parents of a 4-year-old daughter. Both mom and dad are being deployed to Afghanistan. It was either go together or stagger their deployments and spend nearly three years apart. In the meantime, the Bohrers have updated their wills and documented their last wishes. "It weighs heavily on me," Bohrer told Newsweek magazine. "But if I don't step in and go, someone else will have to. Someone else will have to leave their family."

Barack Obama. Not so much for who he is but what he represents. He is not the first president who rose from humble beginnings to achieve the highest office in the land. But he's the first African-American to do so and that very fact has endeared him to millions while earning him a place in history and ending an ugly chapter in the United States.

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