The death of my friend Al Martinez, the Los Angeles Times great columnist, took me back more than a half century when Al and I first worked together at the Oakland Tribune, which he memorialized in his book “The Last City Room.”
For us putting out that paper, with its eight editions a day, life was a combination of excitement, depression, tension and fun, all of which we used as excuses to linger too long at the bar across the street, the Hollow Leg.
In one of his columns, Al described the walk across Franklin Street to the bar and back to the paper as a procession of young literary lions. Not sharing Al’s sentimental side, I told him he made the scene sound like the Left Bank of Paris.
He was a wonderful storyteller, finding the drama and humanity in events ranging from momentous to mundane. That’s why he had so many devoted fans. They felt he understood them. One weekend afternoon at Dutton’s, the now departed Brentwood bookstore, I saw people lined up outside the store to meet him at a signing and to buy an autographed book. They came from all over. One of them had even taken a bus from the Inland Empire to meet Al.
Al was a great storyteller in person. He presided over our occasional columnists dinners, attended by him, his wife Joanne; Steve Harvey, who wrote Only in LA for the Times and now for LA Observed, and his wife Tia; and me and my wife Nancy. Al always picked the restaurant and we traded stories. To be a featured character in those stories, a person would have to been talented, decent, and funny or a notable goof up or son of a bitch.
The last time I saw Al was at my 80th birthday party in October. His health was failing, but he looked—to use a word from our youth—absolutely dapper, sitting in our living room, entertaining people with his stories.
It was a fine memory of a good friend. We’ll miss him.