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Best of the East Bay: Meet

What do an NBA star, a U.S. congressman, and the Sharknado director have in common? They’re the most interesting folks in our backyard.



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Steph Curry / Anthony C. Ferrante / Nicki Bluhm / U.S. Rep. George Miller / Bree Turner / Tony La Russa / Missy Franklin


Courtesy of Insider Images/Stuart Ramson for U.N. Foundation

The Superstar: Steph Curry

Warriors breakout guard is a winner on court and off.

After just five seasons, Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry has established himself as one of the NBA’s true superstars. But he hasn’t let success and fame go to his head.

This becomes clear as the six-foot, three-inch hoopster walks through the downtown Oakland Marriott and is cornered by a woman armed with an iPhone.

“It’s my birthday, Steph!” she screams, blocking Curry with the aggressiveness of a Clippers defender. “Can we take a picture together?”

“Of course, ma’am,” says Curry, softly. He poses with the woman, as a small group of looky-loos starts to gather, each holding an iPhone. “I hope you have a happy birthday.”

Courtesy of Golden State WarriorsCurry scoots onto an elevator, shrugs, and offers a shy smile. He’s whisked off to an interview with an L.A. sports network, during which he answers questions politely. The sports talker wraps the interview then lets Curry know she might be able to hook him up for a day of golf with Tiger Woods in the off-season.

“Great,” Curry says. “I’d love to play golf with Tiger Woods.”

Curry, whose father is former NBA player Dell Curry, grew up in North Carolina, where he was a high school and college star. He left Davidson College after his junior year to enter the NBA draft and was picked by the Warriors in 2009. Curry recently bought a home in the East Bay suburbs where he lives with his wife, Ayesha, and two-year-old daughter, Riley.

“There’s so much to do here,” Curry says. “We love just walking around downtown Walnut Creek and recently took our daughter to Children’s Fairyland; she loved it.”

As Curry has matured into an NBA superstar, the impact he’s had on his team has been phenomenal. With the exception of that electric 2006–2007 postseason, the Warriors had suffered through two decades of losing seasons. With Curry leading the charge, the team has gone to the postseason the past two years, and there’s a bright future ahead.

“The Warriors have the best fan base in the NBA, and we want to give them playoff series after playoff series,” says Curry, who has three years left on a $44 million contract.

As incredible as Curry has been on the court—in 2012–2013, he broke the record for three-point shots in a season—he isn’t just helping the Warriors win games but helping some of the neediest citizens of the world. For the past two years, Curry has worked with the United Nations Foundation on its Nothing But Nets program, raising awareness about malaria. For each three-point shot he makes, Curry donates three mosquito nets to families in Africa, and the Warriors match that donation.

“I went to a refugee camp in Tanzania last year, where there were about 64,000 Congolese refugees,” says Curry. “I spent a week on the ground there for the net distribution: 34,000 nets were distributed, one for every two people, which was plenty for that camp.”

The refugees greeted Curry with great enthusiasm, even though they didn’t know he is an NBA star. The experience was much different than his sports celebrity life in the United States.

What’s it like to be showered with that kind of attention?

“It’s fine, as long as you don’t let it change who you are,” he says.

— By Peter Crooks


 

Paul Drinkwater/NBC

The Director: Anthony C. Ferrante

Cult filmmaker follows his surprise hit, Sharknado, with a bigger, bitier sequel.

Last summer, East Bay–raised filmmaker Anthony C. Ferrante had the thrill of a lifetime: His low-budget, made-for-TV movie became the biggest thing in pop culture. Sharknado—a horror-comedy about a freak hurricane that spews killer sharks into the air and onto land—blew up on social media, caught the attention of every late-night comedian, and received record ratings for cable’s SyFy Network.

“The movie premiered at a time when there wasn’t a big blockbuster out, and it captured people’s attention on Twitter. Watching Sharknado and tweeting about it became a live event,” says Ferrante. “Excuse the terrible pun, but it was a perfect storm.”

Ferrante, who gets eaten by a shark in his film, was amazed at the reaction to the movie on social media, as legions of horror fans and celebrities live tweeted Sharknado's first showing.

“The craziest thing was to see someone like Mia Farrow tweeting ‘OMG!’ because of your movie,” he says.

Ferrante, who grew up in Antioch, started making movies as a teenager after taking classes at Los Medanos College. He shot some of his first shorts in locations such as the basement of Antioch's historic El Campanil Theatre.

This month, Ferrante is back with a sequel to his unexpected juggernaut. Sharknado 2: The Second One premieres on July 30 on SyFy. The first film’s success means that Ferrante is working on a bigger scale this time around and with more famous faces. Judd Hirsch, Matt Lauer, and Al Roker all make appearances—although Ferrante is mum about who gets munched.

— By Peter Crooks


 

Taryn Kent

The Singer: Nicki Bluhm

Lafayette-raised rocker hits the big time.

When singer Nicki Bluhm performed her single “Little Too Late” on Conan last fall, it was hard to tell if the song was being performed in 2013 or 1973. Bluhm’s chic-hippie look and the tune’s soulful groove would have fit right into the classic California singer-songwriter era.

“I love the albums from the late ‘60s and early-’70s—Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and others,” says Bluhm, who grew up in Lafayette. “I got them at thrift stores because they were cheap, but I quickly found that I liked those softer-sounding records.”

That cool retro vibe is one of the many pleasures of the album Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, one of the best LPs to come out of the Bay Area last year. Bluhm says her family’s diverse musical tastes exposed her to many sounds when she was growing up. Her mom loved Motown, her dad loved country and jazz, and her brothers loved Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead. One of her friends from childhood, Deren Ney, plays guitar in Bluhm’s Gramblers, as does her husband, Tim Bluhm, also of the band The Mother Hips.

Bluhm's local performances caught the attention of music bookers at Another Planet Entertainment a few years back, leading the Berkeley-based promoter to sign Bluhm as one of the first acts they managed. Bluhm’s appearance in an international Gap ad and an unexpectedly successful YouTube video of the band covering Hall and Oates' “I Can’t Go for That” while driving in a van have expanded their audience even further.

“It’s a real rare blessing to get to tour with the band and travel the nation and play,” says Bluhm. “There are so many parts of the United States that I would never have gone to otherwise.”

As much as Bluhm likes playing on the road, she also loves playing hometown gigs. Her shows at Lafayette’s Town Hall Theatre have sold out almost instantly. Her fans can look forward to a performance at San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival in early August, after which Bluhm will head into the studio to work on a new LP.

— By Peter Crooks


 

 

Courtesy of U.S. Rep. George Miller's office

The Congressman: U.S. Rep. George Miller

Tenacious politician looks back on 40 years in D.C.

On a Monday morning in late March, U.S. Congressman George Miller sat down at a Martinez Starbucks to talk with Diablo about his 40 years serving Contra Costa and Solano constituents in Congress. Miller went to Washington, D.C., in 1975 as one of the “Watergate Babies,” young Democratic members of Congress elected in the wake of President Richard Nixon’s scandalous resignation.

Miller ran on a platform to pass national health care and to end the Vietnam War. Over his four-decade legislative career, he focused on education, environment, and labor. In 2010, he co-authored President Barack Obama’s much-debated Affordable Care Act.

At age 69, Miller is still fired up about his district and the work government can do for people. He remains extremely popular in California’s 11th, winning his final election in 2012 with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Not surprisingly, our interview was interrupted at least a dozen times by residents asking to shake his hand and wish him well in retirement.

Q: Thanks for meeting on your home turf, Congressman Miller. What do you look forward to most when you come to the East Bay?
A: My home, my backyard [here in Martinez]. I get up at 5:30 in the morning, and I go out and have a cup of coffee and look at the trees and read the paper. That’s a wonderful, peaceful time.

Washington, D.C., is a company town, and the company is politics. It never stops—doesn’t matter if you are going to dinner with friends, doesn’t matter if you’re going to the show, doesn’t matter if you are taking a walk. It always comes back to the discussion of politics.

Here, my neighbors and friends give me a lot of space, and you can have a nice conversation over a hamburger.

Q: What do you do when you’re here?
A: I’m always observing my district. I came in Thursday night, and Friday, we had a meeting about the redevelopment of Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek.

Then, I visited a couple of elementary schools, seeing what’s happening, what they are doing right and wrong. We spent some time in an early childhood education program in four public schools, and it was very encouraging.

Today, I am going over to talk to some of the adjunct faculty at Diablo Valley College. I’ve been trying to get greater disclosure for the way these people are treated. These are people with their Ph.D.s, with years and years of teaching [experience]. They are just not given any benefits, not given a permanent office or time to meet with their students.

And tonight, I’m going to a talk about minimum wage in Richmond.

Q: You were one of the “Watergate Babies” when you went to Washington, D.C., in 1975. Please compare then and now.
A: Then, we were getting toward the end of our formal involvement in Vietnam; President Nixon had resigned. There was a lot of turmoil in the country.

This was a Democratic district when I got elected, but there were many in my class who were the first Democrats to be elected in their district in 20 years or longer. We were going there to change the system, make it more democratic, more transparent. But it’s almost laughable when you compare campaign financing then to what we have now. There has been a colossal change in the growth of money being given to campaigns—and for the first time, secret money because of the Supreme Court decision. No disclosure whatsoever.

Too much has ground to a halt because of severe partisanship, because one side is antigovernment in anything. And it is taking its toll. We are not meeting the needs of this country. It’s not a given that we will always be a world leader. You have to work at it, both economically and in security matters.

But right now, you have the Tea Party, which believes that there is no purpose for the American government. Which is a complete denial of American history, of course. But that’s what they believe.

Q: You coauthored the Affordable Care Act. How did that assignment come to you?
A: Because of my committee chairmanship, I was involved in writing much of the health law with Henry Waxman and Sandy Levin. It was a great honor, but it was hard; it was a slog. You should know there were never any Republican votes for it—ever, ever, ever. But we just had to go. We had the opportunity. President Obama supported it, and I am very proud of it.

There have been multiple efforts to try and sabotage it, and no efforts to try and fix it. Only to destroy it. There are a lot of things we would have fixed, fixes that everybody on both sides agreed should be [made], but [the Republicans] did not want that: They just wanted to kill it.

But we’re excited because we will have millions of people who are going to have health insurance that’s more affordable. When the president signed that bill, I got goose pimples, thinking, “This is what I came here to do.”

At some point—somehow—the Congress will come together. We owe the American people to fix it. That is what the people want.

Q: What other big bills have you worked on?
A: I was involved in passing the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, helping students who have physical and mental impairments, making sure they have access to a public education. That was one of the first things that I worked on. Now, we celebrate that as a basic civil rights law of this nation.

No Child Left Behind: I worked on that with Ted Kennedy and President [George W.] Bush, making sure that no longer would the responsibility or performance of poor or minority children be hidden from the public.

We found out that huge numbers of these children were not performing at grade level in reading and math—predictors of how likely those children are to drop out of high school. In this economy, dropping out of high school is a real detriment to your future.

I worked on changing the cost of student aid, trying to make college more affordable. It is hard to deal with the cost because it’s up to the state, but we were able to lower interest rates for about five years.

Q: If you could call the shots, how would you fix the education system?
A: I’d make it so that the questions you ask and the answers you provide are based on whether or not this is good for children. We always start to ask that question, but then we ask, "Is this good for the adults? Is it good for the administrators? Is it good for the teachers?" And we never get back to the children.

Q: How is public education in the 11th district?
A: We have some of the best schools in the state. We have some of the worst schools in the state. That’s no secret. You can drive right to them. It’s a sad fact: After all these years, you can still drive to the same schools with the same problems.

Q: The environment is another of your signature issues. Can you speak to the success of groups like Save Mount Diablo and the Muir Heritage Land Trust in protecting open space?
A: That’s the best success there is. Just yesterday, I was running in Briones with my dog and we got to the top of that ridge, and looked east to Mount Diablo, and west to Carquinez, and could see the protection, and the building of the bikeway that is going to connect Crockett to Martinez.

You have these high-energy land trusts in the area that have great support across any idea of political divide, young and old. The best thing going in this whole area is the East Bay regional parks system, a gift beyond comprehension, genius in terms of changing the environment and livability of this area. Those people who got together 75 years ago and created that system—you go to Tilden, Bear Creek, Las Trampas, Castle Rock—it’s the greatest mental health system. It’s also the biggest regional park system in the world.

Q: There is a new TV show called Alpha House that’s based on your home in D.C., which you’ve famously shared with other members of Congress through the years. What do you think of the show?
A: I have not seen it! It’s not a conscious thing; I just have not seen it.

The house has gotten a lot of attention over the years. My family lived there for about five years, but my son wanted to come back here to go to high school, and I started commuting.

If you don’t have your family in town, Washington can be an isolated place. It gave us a chance to get to know one another. Interestingly, everyone in the house got into some kind of committee or party leadership.

We’ve gotten to watch each other’s kids grow up and share experiences, and have a place to BS at night. It’s sort of a flophouse. It’s pretty basic. Little or no food; we only eat cereal because it doesn’t spoil.

Q: You were just 29 when you came into office. Does it feel like 40 years have gone by?
A: No, no, no. The first trigger in my thought about leaving was after the signing of the health care bill because it was the reason I came in. It was: job done. But then we saw the controversy around the health care bill, so I thought, better stay here and protect the handiwork.

And then in one of these interviews in the house, Chuck Schumer said, “George has been married to Cynthia for 50 years, he’s spent 40 years in Congress, and I’ve been living with him for 32 years. I’ve spent more nights with George than he’s spent with
Cynthia.” And I thought, “That doesn’t sound great.”

My father told me that if you get into politics, you have to treat it like you’re killing snakes—one after another. So I never thought about the time because it was always about the next thing. How I am going to get the minimum wage passed; how am I going to get No Child Left Behind passed? Go! Go! Go!

Q: What will you be doing this time next year?
A: I want to follow my passions. Education. We know how to address many of the problems students face. I will be deeply involved with the environment, probably something local. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see if Cynthia can put up with me.

— By Peter Crooks


 

Adam Cantor

The Actress: Bree Turner

Alamo-raised actress goes Grimm.

Bree Turner would totally move back to the East Bay suburbs if it weren’t for the whole Hollywood thing.

“It’s an absolutely idyllic place, the best place to grow up. It felt like the small town in Grease,” says Turner, 37, referring to Alamo. “I absolutely want to move back there; that’s my goal.”

Turner, who stars on the hit television series Grimm, attended Stone Valley Middle School and Monte Vista High before chasing her dream of being a professional actress and dancer in Tinseltown.

She found success right away, appearing in a range of TV and film roles. One of Turner’s noteworthy early gigs in Hollywood was working on the Coen Brothers’ beloved 1998 comedy, The Big Lebowski.

“On my cool factor short list, The Big Lebowski is right at the top, although I wasn’t super savvy with the Coen Brothers’ filmography at the time,” says Turner. “I did not necessarily understand the level of awesome that they bring to every project.”

Turner appears in The Big Lebowski during a wild choreographed dance sequence hallucinated by Jeff Bridges’ bowling-enthusiast character, “The Dude.” The scene pays homage to the elaborate dance numbers in Busby Berkeley’s films from the 1920s and ’30s.

“Those bowling pin headdresses we wore were so excruciatingly painful. Mine was really small and was crushing my skull the whole time,” Turner recalls, laughing. “Jeff Bridges took pictures of us and recently put out a beautiful book of his photography: His pictures of all The Big Lebowski dancers are in there.”

More recently, for the past three seasons, Turner has had a high-profile role on NBC’s Grimm, a fantasy show set in the contemporary Pacific Northwest. Turner’s character, Rosalee Calvert, helps a Portland detective solve homicides,
some of which are committed by supernatural creatures.

Peter Kramer/NBC

“I love this show. Its creators are these beautiful fantasy geeks who are constantly creating and living in this new world,” says Turner. As for her role as a foxlike creature, Turner digs how the character allows her to explore “the duality that is in all of us but so few of us really express.”

Asked to explain her own duality in further detail, Turner talks about how she juggles being an actress and a mother of two young children.
“I’m the only one in the cast who has children, and sometimes I’m holding it all together with the skin of my teeth,” says Turner, who is married to an orthopedic surgeon. “It’s tough, but it’s getting a little easier every day. I love being a mom, and so far, I’ve been fortunate and have been able to do both.”

Even with all her success in Hollywood, Turner’s ultimate fantasy is moving her family to the East Bay.

“My parents are still there, and now my younger brothers are having kids in Danville,” she says. “Who knows what the future will bring?”

— By Peter Crooks


 

Courtesy of Animal Rescue Foundation

The Legend: Tony La Russa

One of baseball’s greatest managers receives the game’s highest honor.

Alamo resident Tony La Russa has a big summer trip planned this month.

On July 27, La Russa will go to Cooperstown, New York, to be inducted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame for his career as a manager. A former infielder whose playing career was sidelined by injuries, La Russa went on to manage 33 seasons for the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s, and St. Louis Cardinals, winning three World Series titles. In May, La Russa took on a front office position, as Chief Baseball Officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Locally, La Russa and his wife, Elaine, are best known for their work creating the Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek. We caught up with La Russa to look back on his career in baseball and to chat about his upcoming honor.

Q: Tony, congratulations on your upcoming induction into the Hall of Fame. While this must have seemed inevitable, what was the experience like hearing that you had been selected?
A: Well, there are a couple of steps to being selected, and I really did not think this was my year—so it came as a huge surprise.

First, the selection committee announces the candidates that will be voted on. In October, they announced which fellows would be candidates. I was on this list, but so were Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, who had retired a year earlier than I did. I had convinced myself that they would get in this year, and I would have to wait.     

At the winter meetings in Florida, the committee has its vote on a Sunday night. The next morning, when the committee meets for breakfast, they are told the outcome of the vote. So, once they know, they call the guys who were voted in. If you don’t get a phone call by 8:45 in the morning, you’re not in.

The phone rang around 8:35, and I was told that I had been voted in unanimously.

I was really stunned and overwhelmed. I got the call, went downstairs, and sure enough, Joe and Bobby were there. The three of us had been voted in together. Which made it perfect because those two guys are the epitome of what it means to represent Major League Baseball.

Q: Did it sink in right away that you were going in the Hall of Fame?
A: I think the symbolic way to understand the immensity of all of it was the volume of e-mails, text messages, and phone messages I received. You know when your e-mail does that ringing sound when you have a new message? Mine was going bing, bing, bing, bing, bing.

Q: You played for the Oakland A’s their first season in the East Bay. What are your memories of the 1968 A’s?
A: Just to show you how less-than-mediocre my career as a player was, I have three memories. Two of them involved pinch running and one was a pinch hit.

The year the A’s came to Oakland, if you check the box score of the opening game at the Coliseum, we got beat 4–1. A guy named Dave McNally pitched a no-hitter into the 7th, and Rick Monday broke it up with a home run. I pinch-hit in the ninth inning and got a single. So I had the second Oakland A’s hit and the first pinch hit in Oakland Coliseum history.

Q:  When you look back on your career as a player, is there any way you could have imagined making it to the Hall of Fame?
A: (Laughs) No! The only credit I ever gave myself was that I stuck with it for so long. I signed at age 17. My first six years in uniform, I had major injuries five times. I don’t know why I didn’t hang it up, but I hung in there 10 years. I had a couple really good Triple-A seasons and a couple of cups of coffee in the Major Leagues.

When I knew I was not going to make it, I went to law school. I knew I could be a lawyer. But then I got the bug to try and manage a team, just to say I did it. Now, this was the first time that my wife, Elaine, stepped forward, and she deserves the lion’s share of the credit. We had gotten married and still did not have our girls. She endorsed it, and after two years of managing, I was in the big leagues.

Elaine was pregnant with Bianca, just a month from delivery, when I got the job in Chicago. So by far the most fortunate part of my opportunity is thanks to Elaine, who could have said, “This is overwhelming, this is unfair.”

Q: Your family has been such a huge part of the East Bay community for nearly 30 years because of your years managing the A’s, and because of ARF.
A: Yes, we had those years with the A’s, which were family-friendly: We would go to spring training together. And once the kids were in school here, we did not want to uproot them. This is our home.

The ARF story is beyond our dreams. The great majority of people I have met in the last 10–12 years say hello to me as an ARF guy more than a baseball guy. And that becomes more true every year. Wonderfully true.

It’s amazing how much we have accomplished with ARF. When we planned our rescue facility, we were going to try to build a 10,000-square-foot facility and instead built almost 40,000. We just bought the lot next to our parking lot to expand.

And it’s hard to believe the impact that ARF has had not just here but nationally. Thanks to the Internet, we’ve been connecting animals to kids in education across the country. We have already placed almost 200 animals—mostly dogs—with veterans. We are always trying to innovate and expand ARF’s mission.

Q:  You won three World Series as a manager—one with the A’s and two with the Cardinals. That last series in 2011 will rank as one of the wildest in history, especially because of the incredible comeback your team mounted in game six.
A: That 2011 team I rank with the gutsiest and grittiest of any of them. They made a historic comeback in the regular season: We were
10 ½ back with 32 to play and made it into the playoffs on the last day of the season.

In the playoffs, we went into Philadelphia, which had the best record in the league, and beat them in five games. Then, we went against Milwaukee, which had the best home record, and beat them in six games. Making the World Series when I knew I was going to retire—it was like Fantasy Island.

In the series, we lost games four and five, and we were down by two runs in game six. But that team would not give up. The bench was just alive. It was really inspiring to see a team dig down that deep. You get down to two outs: It was almost time go out there and congratulate the other team as the winners. And then [David Freese] hits a triple to tie it, and then we were down again, and [Lance] Berkman’s hit ties it again, and then Freese hits a home run in the 11th to win.

I just remember thinking, “This game will be talked about forever.”                                                                                                                                             

Now, here’s the postscript to that game. Elaine was there for that game, and our friend Howard Schultz from Starbucks. After the game, we went to eat and saw the highlights on TV; and we realized, we have to win game seven, or it’s not the same story.

I remembered hearing the hockey player Mike Eruzione from the 1980 Olympics talking about how excited the team was after they beat Russia: But they knew they still had to go beat Finland for the gold.

So I decided at 3:30 in the morning, we had to put game six behind us. We could not lose that edge. We had to finish the story.

— By Peter Crooks


 

Michael Pimentel/GoldenBearSports.com

The Athlete: Missy Franklin

Olympic gold medalist talks about life at UC Berkeley.

While we’re commuting to work or in line at Starbucks, 19-year-old Missy Franklin is gliding through the California Golden Bears’ practice pool, readying herself for this summer’s Nationals meet. The Olympic gold medalist just wrapped up her first year swimming at UC Berkeley, where she lives in the dorms and balances 20 hours a week of swim practice with a full-time course load. Diablo caught up with the amiable Pasadena native, who also holds the world record for the 200-meter backstroke, between classes at Cal.

Q: You won four gold medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Did the excitement wear off after the first one?
A: It’s just completely indescribable what that moment feels like. It’s amazing knowing all the hard work you put in and all the sacrifices you made were worth it. It felt that amazing every time.

Q: Who do you look up to?

A: Growing up, my role model was [Lafayette resident] Natalie Coughlin, which is kind of cool because now I get to see her every day, and we’ve become good friends over the last couple of years. I love how committed she is and how hard she works. And there are so many things she is interested in outside the pool. She’s an unbelievable cook and has her own garden. I like that she’s willing to try new things.

Q: What do you like to do, aside from swim?
A: (Laughs) Right now, the only other hobby I have time for is studying.

Q: How do you like living in the East Bay?
A: There’s no shortage of things to do. There are so many cute places to study, hikes to go on, places to go in the city.

Q: Are you training for the 2016 Olympics?
A: I’m honestly not even thinking about 2016 right now. I’m training for Nationals this summer, which will qualify me for [the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships] and the World Championships next summer. I have so much ahead of me.

— By Stacey Kennelly

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