March 28, 2005

No parent should ever have to make funeral arrangements for their child. The violent acts against our children must stop now. We all see it on TV and in the newspapers on a daily basis. You see the gruesome crime scene, flashing emergency lights, police detectives questioning the witness, the paramedics working hard to save another life and the body, shrouded in white, being wheeled into the waiting ambulance. You think "Oh how awful, another kid gunned down for no apparent reason. Well, he must have been in a gang or on drugs".

But what you don't see is a mother lying awake wondering why her son has not come home. You don't hear that middle of the night phone call. You don't see the police as they pull their squad car up in front of his house. You don't hear the doorbell ring or see the house lights come on. You don't see his parents as they crumble in horror and disbelief. You don't see his mother begging the medical examiner to let her see her son's lifeless body. She just wants to hold him one last time. You can't imagine the unbelievable pain his siblings have to endure when realizing that their young lives must go on without their brother. Elderly family members cursing with raised fist asking why their lives were not taken instead. Family members and friends arriving to provide support and comfort.

In a senseless act of violence, my cousin, 21-year-old Justin Mendoza was gunned down in the early morning hours of March 21 by a stray bullet on the streets of San Francisco. This wasn't drug or gang related. Justin's "gang" was a group of friendly, respectful kids who loved to dance. Justin himself was a competitive break dancer. They had attended a private dance party at a club in San Francisco. When leaving the club a fight ensued; a young man, whose own mother was probably waiting up for him as well, pulled out a gun and randomly shot into the crowd of bystanders. Six people were shot, one died at the scene. Justin leaves behind parents Denise and Eddie Mendoza, younger sister Justine and older brother Jason. Justin was laid to rest last Friday, Good Friday.

We sometimes take our lives and the lives of our loved ones for granted. It's times like these that remind us to treat each other with kindness and love. Give someone a hug and tell them that you love them each and every day.

On a lighter note, it's "A Toast to Spring" as the Niles Canyon Railway kicks off its annual Wildflower Train with wine tasting from local wineries. The following wineries will be pouring their award winning wines aboard the train at 12:30, 1:30 & 3:00 p.m. as it travels down beautiful Niles Canyon on the following dates; April 3, Westover Wineries; April 10, Murrieta's Well; April 17, Little Valley Vineyard; April 24, Elliston Vineyards; May 1,Wente Vineyards; May 15, Fenestra Vineyards; May 22nd, Chouinard Vineyards.

Attention teachers and local educators. There is still space available to book your class on the Niles Canyon Railway's School Trains. Every Wednesday beginning April 6 through May 18 trained volunteers will guide your students through a 90-minute educational presentation, followed by an informative review of railroad and guard crossing safety called Operation Lifesaver. Operation Lifesaver is a non-profit group dedicated to increase public awareness about the dangerous conditions that can occur in and around railroad tracks and at railroad crossings. And the finale of course is a thrilling 1-hour train ride. Please call 510-727-4202 for more information.

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