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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 4/30/20

Good morning!

One of the byproducts of the COVID-19 pandemic is a sense of fear—real, palpable fear, the likes of which hasn’t been experienced in our adult lives. Whether it’s fear of job loss, fear of food insecurity, fear of loss of health or life, this pandemic has affected individuals and families profoundly. These fears are playing out every day and many will shape our society, its preparedness, and its risk calculations for decades to come. Much of that fear relates to the unknown. And fear of the unknown often is worse than knowing the extent and duration of the risk. We really don’t have a clear roadmap of what lies ahead—only educated guesses (and a few uneducated ones).

I have a fear that when the economy slowly returns, consumer spending and confidence will take a long time to rebuild. People who thought they were comfortably able to over-purchase homes, spend to their limits on credit cards and spend profligately will pause before spending. And since our society is heavily dependent upon consumer spending, the economic return will be delayed, extending the misery for those most at risk.

This is not the first time fear has gripped the nation and the world. Certainly the Civil War, the Spanish Influenza, the Great Depression and World War II created an environment of uncertainty and fear throughout the nation. In each of these instances, these fears were realized as events played out daily. But there also were times when fear was more amorphous—when people feared an event that might occur. Notable among these is the fear of nuclear catastrophe—not from the peaceful use of nuclear energy, like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island—but the use of nuclear weapons that could rain havoc on cities and civilians. Most baby boomers no doubt recall “duck and cover” drills, when an alarm siren would go off while we were at school and we all would drop beneath our desks, hands behind our necks, crouched to avoid nuclear radiation. It seems so silly that such things actually happened.

But the silliness of the response to this fear didn’t end there. Some people built fallout shelters in their backyards. Others stocked up a year’s worth of canned goods. But what if that “duck and cover” fear grips an entire country? What if that country builds huge shelters within which its citizens can try to avert a potential catastrophe? One might think about building fallout shelter of colossal proportions…



It turns out that the “Sonnenberg Bunker” here in Los Angeles is not the first. The Swiss beat us to the punch.

First, a bit of personal background… It turns out the name “Sonnenberg” carries some weight in Lucerne. I have visited that city twice in my life. The first time was with my parents and sister. When we were on a tour of the city, we visited the famed covered bridges—the Spreuer and the Kapellbrucke. The pediments of these bridges (built between the 13th and 15th centuries) are adorned with beautiful 17th century paintings. The paintings display the family crests of distinguished families and donors from the Canton. One of these is the Sonnenberg family. As our guide pointed out, in a slightly anti-semitic observation, “of course, this isn’t your family…” True enough; as my father would say, our family dog had a better pedigree than we did.

The Sonnenbergs of Switzerland also are the namesakes of the huge nearly mile long Sonnenberg Tunnel through the mountains near Lucerne. The tunnel was built in the 70s, during the height of the Cold War. The Swiss seized on the opportunity of a mass excavation to add a huge underground nuclear fallout shelter. It’s a seven-story engineering marvel, capable of housing over 20,000 people for weeks, complete with a hospital, jail, and the other rudiments of a society—all underground. As is the case with most government projects, it was inadequately thought out and never would have successfully been able to accommodate the need if a nuclear war ever occurred. For instance, not enough bathrooms! Oh yes, and the huge bomb proof doors couldn’t fully close… Here’s an interesting article on the bunker:

Thank you David Woznica, for reminding me of the famed and ill-fated bunker!



When baseball players went on strike, killing off much of the 1994 season, I swore off of the sport I have loved since childhood. That commitment to abandon baseball was short lived, as I could never really turn my back on that great game.

Baseball, besides being a family bonding experience and part of our culture for over 150 years, also has been reflective of events in the world outside the ballpark. The Dodgers’ breaking the color barrier when Jackie Robinson joined the team in Brooklyn is a part of American history. A day honoring him is observed each April 15, when his number 42 is donned by every player, recalling a historic event that transcends baseball. (QUIZ QUESTION: Robinson was the first black player in the National League. Who was the first in the American League?).

For the seminal story of Baseball’s interconnection with American psyche and social fabric, watch Baseball, the nine part Ken Burns documentary. And if you want some great baseball reading, consider the following, all books ostensibly about baseball but also evocative of the time and place:

  • Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy, by Jane Leavy. Learn about arguably the greatest lefty (sorry Kershaw and Carlton fans), the hero who missed the first game of the World Series in honor of Yom Kippur, the reclusive Dodger legend, who boasts the greatest legacy over one of the shortest careers. Just reading about the beating his arm took starting every fourth day, with 137 complete games in his career, and the rehab of his discolored, swelled arm after every game is eye-opening. The book does a great job of painting a picture of the era of his career, in the late 50s and early 60s. Leavy’s prose is brilliant. If you like this, then also try The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, another period-focused story of an enigmatic, larger than life player.

  • The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn. A loving tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers, who until 1955 were the perennial National League victors and also-rans to the Yankees. The Ebbets Field days saw characters like Roy Campanella, Duke Snyder, Pee Wee Reese, and Jackie Robinson. Love exudes from each page.

  • October 1964, by David Halberstam. A picture of an era, with the last “big season” of a Yankee dynasty that stretched back to the 1920s with only intermittent droughts. The series was against the Lou Brock and Bob Gibson Cardinals. Halberstam brings his usual excellent narrative style and attention to detail.

  • Game Six, by Mark Frost. The story of the 1975 World Series, designated #2 of all time by ESPN. I remember that series like it was yesterday. Who wasn’t thrilled by Carlton Fisk’s game winner (but one can’t forget the Bernie Carbo set-up to get to extra innings). The 1975 Reds, arguably was one of the best teams ever fielded, with four future Hall of Famers (should be five when Pete Rose finally makes it). What a game and series.

Looking forward to the words, “pitchers and catchers report next week” and to the next baseball season (whenever and wherever that may be).



Enjoy a fun performance by opera star Joyce DiDonato singing Italian love songs for an NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert:



The answer is not Satchell Paige, probably the greatest player in the Negro Leagues. The answer is Larry Doby, who started with the Cleveland Indians in 1947, three months after Jackie Robinson started with the Dodgers. He arguably was as good a player as Jackie, winning the RBI and home run titles, a World Series and an American League championship (he played alongside Satchell Paige on that team). Doby was second in a lot of things, including being the second African-American major league manager.

The weather is right for baseball,


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