Review: San Andreas


My girlfriend’s family lives in both Los Angeles and slightly to the east of the Bay area. Living in California is in my future. Therefore, I felt it was incumbent upon me to take a look at the potential of my someday environment.

Oh my.

San Andreas rightfully earns the title: Summer blockbuster. It’s the next generation version of past disaster movies like The Towering Inferno and Earthquake from the early 70s. The movie is a bit plot-lite and centers on a family with issues trying to survive everything nature can throw at them. Paul Giamatti plays the role of the scientist who lets the audience know exactly what earthquakes are all about. This could have been a dull role, but Giamatti, as always, makes it interesting – he could make the reading of an aspirin bottle interesting;  Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, and Alexandra Daddario round out the central protagonists. If you’re familiar with disaster movies, you’ll recognize all the elements of the genre: a guy you think is good, but isn’t, someone who dies to up the stakes, escalation of tension at every turn as nothing goes right, burgeoning love interests that are fused by adversity, and a force that makes human effort seem impotent – another example that nature can be an untamed beast. You see true character revealed whether it’s in the form of bravery or cowardice. What doesn’t come our way, even though a rudimentary attempt is made, is the kind of emotional investment that grabs you as in movies past. Whose heart wasn’t broken when Fred Astaire’s character in Inferno loses his new love as she falls from a crumbling elevator, or when Shelley Winters dies in The Poseidon Adventure – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. For all of that, you do root for the characters just because the movie is fun and everyone is attractive.

The true star of the film is the special and visual effects. Simply put, they are stunning, and in my opinion they raise the bar for others to follow. The details of the devastation are micro-managed to the finest level. I scrolled down the list of people, who contributed to this part of the movie, and I scrolled, and I scrolled, and I scrolled. It’s one thing to demolish a building for a movie, to demolish a whole city brick-by-brick and window pane-by-window pane must have taken Herculean patience and the focus of an electron microscope.

It’s a must see for the big screen, the lack of emotional depth non-withstanding, you will enjoy this film: a total B+.

Oh yeah, about that move? I think I’ll be looking for something suburban when I get there.

Wells Fargo Fraud Prevention – Who Protects us from them?


Today is Thursday. This past Sunday – that’s four days ago – I was in a store and decided to buy something for my girlfriend. No problem, I use my Wells Fargo credit card and pay for the item. About twenty minutes later, we decide to buy one more thing in the same store. I attempt to pay for it using the same card.

No go.

I just shook my head in frustration and pulled out my American Express card – lucky, since I didn’t have another credit card with me. Sometime later, Wells Fargo leaves me a message that Fraud Prevention wanted to speak with me. I called them. I went through the litany of giving: my card number, my social security number, my mother’s maiden name, my date of birth, the billing address on the card, and the security code on the back of the card. I verify all the charges I’ve made, both in person and the ones I made online. Everything’s copacetic – I continue with my long-standing relationship with Wells Fargo.

For about an hour.

My girlfriend and I go to Dick’s Sporting Goods. She finds something she wants, but it’s not in her size. No problem, they can order it and have the item sent directly to our house. Wow, that’s fantastic. I pay for it with my Wells Fargo credit card. A short time later, still in Dick’s Sporting Goods, I attempt to pay for what we originally went there to buy in the first place.

No go.

It turns out the order from the store billed from somewhere in Pennsylvania and I’m in a retail location in New York. No worries, Fraud Prevention is on the case and puts a block on my card. I call them again, repeating the same litany as before. Everything seems copacetic – I continue with my long-standing relationship with Wells Fargo, albeit with a little more grumbling.

We go to lunch. I pay for lunch with my now-cleared, ready-to-use Wells Fargo card. No problem. By early evening, my girlfriend and I are tired from shopping and go to the diner for a light supper. I think you see where I’m heading here. I can’t call them again because I’m afraid I will have a heart attack right in the diner. Once more, my American Express card comes to the rescue.

So here we are today, Thursday. I finally summon the nerve to call Fraud Prevention to see what’s up with the card. We do the now familiar litany, verify all my charges, including the ones I’ve already verified, but this time there’s a catch. The wizards at Fraud Prevention now insist that I take myself and my Wells Fargo card to a local branch so I can prove who I am and to prove that no dastardly deeds have been committed using my account. I work in lower Manhattan. The branches near my home don’t open before I leave for work and are closed by the time I get home at night, so the nearest one is ten miles away from me. I explain this to the yahoo’s on the phone, but they claim ‘there is nothing they can do to lift the block’. So I take the train up to midtown. By this time, I’m ready to rip the platform managers head off.

There is much speaking between Fraud Prevention and the manager who checks my face against the picture in my passport. Once more, Fraud Prevention wants to speak with me and the litany is performed right in front of the manager. I am now able to recite the answers to all the questions without waiting to be asked. We review the transactions. They unblock the card. Is everything copacetic? I have no idea. My long-standing relationship with Wells Fargo has been marred by a form of treatment I have never experienced in over forty years of banking, and that includes a career as a financial controller/CFO.

If the employees who work in the Fraud Prevention departments are so unable to locate their backsides with both groping hands, how can we expect any kind of quality service? I understand they are trying to protect us from the baddies who lurk among the threads of the cyber world, but that shouldn’t mean the complete failure of common sense when confronted with proof positive and even worse, sending customers physically out of their way to prove their existence.

A Letter To Myself

Charles Whelan Sr

Today would have been my ‘father-in-law’s’ birthday. He was taken too soon, not from an accident or old age, but from a disease – Parkinson’s – that was accelerated because of spousal/elder abuse. My girlfriend, along with her sister and brother, have good cause to grieve what should have been a joyful day, instead she is seeking to find ways to deal with inconsolable pain. Often the purest and most engaging words come from that kind of pain and from that kind of experience. Here are her words:


I met a man on the street this morning while walking to work. He held a sign that said “I’m hungry”. I just bought myself some breakfast even though I’d already had a protein drink at 5:30 this morning. I was still hungry after a night of restless sleep, bombarded with endless dreams about those who I love most in the world dying all around me.

I walked past the man but couldn’t help noticing how thin he was. He was sitting on the sidewalk with his back supported by the side of a building. His clothing was dark, but more so from the dirt that melted into it, and him, on this steamy-warm morning. He was suffering. Much like the man I called Dad who should have been celebrating his 82nd birthday today surrounded by his children and grandchildren, but instead left this world 4 weeks ago tomorrow. He should not have left this soon. It was forced upon him by an evil and wicked being whose abuse and neglect exacerbated and encouraged his illness to take advantage of his weakness and inability to fight. He was left in pain and confusion knowing that he’d made poor judgments but now had to find a way to come to peace with that while tears flowed freely in his last days, realizing what he’d lost in the last years of his life.

My father’s golden years should have been just that. However, because of this monster, veiled in human form, my father allowed himself to lose his relationship with his brothers, his children, and grandchildren for many years. My father, in my memory, was a strong, creative, and independent man who was not always the most intelligent. He was easily led. But he was also someone who had a quality rarely found. He loved and accepted everyone around him unconditionally. He never tried to make anyone be different than who they were. He never tried to change anyone. He loved his family with all of his heart, good, bad or indifferent. Unfortunately, he felt that making the choice to create a relationship with this beast, he could not go back. He felt that he’d made his bed and had to lie in it. It was not his way to ask for help or go back on a commitment to God in marriage. And so he suffered.

He suffered physical and emotional abuse. He suffered hunger as he grew weak from his illness and even weaker as nutrition and support were withheld from him. This being, this person who was, in principle, committed to care, protect, nurture and support him, broke every rule. She abandoned him emotionally, created canyons of distance between him and those who loved him, made threats and accusations to his family members if they didn’t behave as she wished. He was a lonely man who just wanted a friend, but instead got a selfish, spoiled, alcoholic, abusive, conniving, opportunistic leach, who turned upon him and anyone who no longer served her whims.

I don’t understand why this happens to people who would never intentionally harm another. I don’t feel the man I met this morning would do that. As I passed him, I thought about what could have been the plight which led him to this place. I suddenly felt that I didn’t deserve the bag of healthy proteins I carried in my backpack. I have enough. I have more at the office if I need it. I stopped and pulled the bag from my pack and turned around to the man. I stopped and looked at him. He didn’t look up at first. So I said “I’m sorry, I don’t have much, but I have this nice warm breakfast. I would like to give it to you.” He gazed up at me; behind his round-lensed prescription glasses I saw kind eyes, but a broken spirit. He reached for the bag and looked right into my eyes. Maybe he saw my pain, or maybe he was just grateful. He took the bag and said “Thank you” in a soft voice. I turned and walked away. The tears began falling as I neared the next corner thinking how I’d had tickets to Los Angeles so I could be with my dad on his birthday today.

My father cried a lot during the last few months of his life. He never cried in my life before then. Not at funerals, not at my own wedding. I think he knew he’d run out of time and waited too long to ask his children for help. I think he felt guilty for all of those years he bent to her demands instead of fighting for himself and his relationship with his family. He realized what he’d lost during all of those years every time my brother and sister and I would visit and bring videos and pictures of his grandchildren with whom he never got to have much of a relationship.  His tears came quickly and fiercely. He would say over and over that he made a mistake, he commented on how beautiful the kids were and how proud he was of us and them. It was so hard to watch.

My brother and sister took those years very hard and held onto strong feelings of hurt and betrayal towards my father. I think because they each had children without strong grandfathers or even any at all on the other side. They had only my mother’s husband (who, by the way is incredible and loving) but not a blood grandfather. I, on the other hand, came to realize a long time ago when I was living alone with my father (during my high school years) after my mother, sister, and eventually my brother had moved away, that my father was only capable of certain things, but one of his most amazing attributes was that he just loved unconditionally. It didn’t matter what we did or how we felt about him or even if we ever visited or called. We were his family. We were his children. We couldn’t do anything to change how he felt. He never judged us. He simply loved us. I decided to give him that back to him. He couldn’t help who he was, and he always accepted that in others. He deserved to be accepted the same way. I felt so much more at peace with that than worrying about who he should have been and who he could now never be and wasting my time and energy being angry over something I couldn’t do anything about.

I am glad he finally called and asked for help. I will never forgive the damage that this person inflicted on my father – never. I am still trying to let it go now that my father is gone, but it still keeps rearing its ugly head. Maybe I won’t be able to. Maybe I need time. Maybe she needs to be dead, too. I just hope whatever happens to stop this pain happens sooner than later. I do try to look at what good things have happened since he called for help.

After we got him back, I was able to talk with him a lot more often, without her listening in on phone calls and having to be careful about what we discussed. I got to see him for as long as I wanted every time I visited. I got to reconnect with my wonderful cousins and uncles whom I adored as a child and lost touch with as my father lost touch with all of us. I have connected with my family in a new way – as a “team”; a team that we know is there for life, a team who we can depend upon to gather and protect any of its members no matter the threat or fear or need. I think we have learned how important it is to stick together as a family and to fight for that existence. To love each other through thick and thin and never to hold a grudge or expect one to be something they cannot ever be. To not hold back feelings, but also not to express them angrily or hurtfully, but rather to express them with love and compassion and as explanation rather than accusation.

I think I have a long way to go. I miss my father, and he should not be gone already. But I can’t change that. I have to love the memory and be okay with that.

Happy Birthday, Dad

I love you.