“If you are fortunate enough to wake up in the morning, you have two choices. You can spend your day being happy or you can spend it being unhappy. … Ultimately the choice is yours.”
— Fred Buchalter, author of “My Unexpected Life, The Extraordinary Journey of An Ordinary Man”
For a third winter, many of us are staying home to stay safe. We dress as if every day is Casual Friday, and our outings are mostly to the market and drugstore to search for hard-to-find items like COVID-19 test kits and Styrofoam cups. Shelves are often empty, and we sometimes find ourselves searching our souls as we search for missing products. To put it simply, many of us no longer feel as if our cups are half full.
No wonder Americans are quitting work in record numbers. From April through November of last year, 32.7 million of them voluntarily left their jobs. The pandemic has prompted large numbers of people — particularly those with years of work already behind them — to reassess not just their careers but also their lives.
Count the four metro Detroiters featured in this article among them. One is a former radio man with a longtime yearning to write. Another is a banker-turned-baker. Still another is a grandmother who's resuming the college student life she left behind decades ago. Their dreams deferred are being converted into dreams come true because all found the courage to ask, "If not now … when?"
Fred Buchalter: 'I now had the time'
Troy resident Fred Buchalter’s memoir, titled “My Unexpected Life, The Extraordinary Journey of An Ordinary Man,” proves he is anything but ordinary. His passion to pursue his dreams and how he achieved each one is nothing short of extraordinary. Writing a book is just his latest triumph.
Buchalter, 72, spent his career in Detroit radio in many roles, including serving as music director at WCZY-FM (known then as "Cozy FM"). He also worked on Detroit radio veteran Dick Purtan’s morning show and later for WWJ-AM. At the same time, he was working in theater as an actor and singer. This spring, he will begin rehearsals on his 100th production with Michigan Opera Theatre.
Buchalter thought about writing his book when he retired from radio six years ago but never had enough time until "the pandemic came and everything else was taken away from me,” he said. “I now had the time to sit down and begin to write. Every morning, I met friends for coffee at Ridley’s Bakery Cafe in Troy. I would bring my laptop and start writing after everyone else had left.”
From Mondays through Fridays, he spent three or four hours every day writing while hanging out at the bakery's patio, which became his office. He completed his 26-chapter, 272-page memoir in six months.
Then, he said: “I had no clue what to do. I had never before written anything intending to publish. This was a first, and I had no idea how to do mass publishing.”
In the end, Buchalter self-published the book last May and began marketing it the old-fashioned way: He keeps his inventory in his car and sells his books from there. He's available weekday mornings at Ridley's. “It’s only for sale in the back of my car or if you email me,” he said, noting that he printed 110 books and has so far sold 85.
And the reaction? “My friends who suggested I write a book have told me they admire my courage at being so forthcoming, so honest,” he said, explaining that he saw "no point in writing the book" unless he was candid — and that he hopes his candor will benefit others.
“If my story inspires one person to follow his or her heart … I will consider it worth the effort.”
Will Rawls: 'Identify your passion'
Many of us have been doing casual baking during the pandemic, but banker Will Rawls has been pursuing it like a man on a mission. On Facebook, where he posts photos of his pastry creations, he is known as Yo Baker Man.
Rawls, 60, of Farmington Hills is a senior analyst with Comerica Bank’s institutional trust group and is working remotely from home. In his free time, he helps others in his dream project, Baking Angel.
At the beginning of the pandemic, he just wanted to do something nice for the front-line workers in the emergency room at Beaumont Hospital, Farmington Hills by providing some of his home-baked goods. “I dropped off my pastry trays to show my appreciation,” he said.
Then, with help from colleagues at Comerica, Rawls expanded his idea, and Baking Angel was born. Healthful boxed lunches were added to Rawls' baked goods and delivered to front-line workers at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak and Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit as well as Beaumont in Farmington Hills. Rawls and his Comerica colleagues later delivered lunches and pastries to the Wayne County sheriff’s office.
Rawls' desserts included his famous Oreo cheesecake muffins, sweet potato squares, lemon blueberry muffins, marbled fudge bars and chocolate-almond toffee. All his pastries given to first responders have a thank-you sticker.
“The joy in the faces and reactions have made me so very happy. I cannot put into words how much it has meant to me,” he said.
Rawls learned how to bake from his beloved Aunt Gladys, who could "bake the paint off the walls,” he recalled. "My passion comes from her." One day he'd like to write a book on baking and dedicate it to his beloved aunt.
His more immediate goal is to help more first responders in the spring after recovering from his recent knee surgery and to continue baking his cheesecakes for family and friends.
“You have to identify your passion," he said. "Don’t sit and wish and hope. By trade, I am a banker. For fun, I am a baker.”
Duffy Flynn Wineman: 'I now have a 4.0'
Nearly 50 years after she was a campus coed, Duffy Flynn Wineman of Bloomfield Hills is pursuing her dream of getting her bachelor's degree in theater. Now 68 and a mother of three sons and eight grandchildren, she is taking five courses this semester at Wayne State University and intends to graduate one week before her 70th birthday.
“I sat on the couch watching Netflix during COVID and doing nothing, and I started to think about my bucket list. I realized how much I want my college degree. I would like my children and grandchildren to come to my graduation.”
Wayne State gave her every opportunity to achieve her dream.
“My Wayne State academic adviser is so incredible," she said. “They were so inviting. They were so supportive. They encouraged me to get my degree and said, ‘You need to do this!’ And they walked me through everything. They showed me how to do my application and how to obtain my college transcripts from almost 50 years ago.
Wayne State gives 16 credit hours for life experience so I could apply my years as a volunteer drama teacher. They also give a 75% discount on tuition costs if you are a senior citizen and, of course, I am.”
It will cost Wineman between $12,000 and $15,000 to complete her degree.
“The kids in my classes are very accepting of me,” she said. “One day I was onstage and fumbled my line (my nemesis) and let out a very loud expletive. I dropped the F-bomb. One of the kids came up to me and said, 'You are the coolest grandma!’”
Wineman, who left college as a junior to marry and have children, was widowed as a young mother at age 44. She has spent decades acting in community theater, and St. Dunstan's Theatre Guild of Cranbrook is her "home away from home."
She has been a devoted community volunteer, an antiques dealer and received her Michigan Residential Builder’s License. Now, wherever she goes on campus, someone knows her. This includes the faculty. “The chair of the department sent me an email,” she said. “He wanted to tell me how happy they are to have me for the energy I bring to the program.” After each class, Wineman thanks her professors. Her young classmates are in awe of her.
“One of the young men in my acting class said to me: ‘You know you are famous here; they are talking about you in my dorm. I told everyone I am doing a scene with you, and they said how lucky I am.’”
But what about her grandkids? What do they think? Her oldest is 16 and now looking at future colleges. Wineman asked her advice on whether she should buy a messenger bag or a backpack.
“My granddaughter said, ‘Wait a minute, you are going to be on campus?’ She thought I was just doing an online educational program. … I now have a backpack so I don’t look like the little old lady.”
Though she's well on her way to achieving a dream, Wineman acknowledges “I have had a couple of hard weeks where I said, ‘I am too old for this.’ Then I turned it around, and I now have a 4.0 GPA!”
Joe Borri: 'No promise on tomorrow'
The pandemic has given Joe Borri of Farmington Hills the time he wanted and needed to pursue his life dream: painting.
"Because I can now paint every day, I feel closer to how I felt when I was young," said Borri, 59. "I feel the excitement again. I have a renewed vigor and a renewed hope that I can actually continue to do what I started out to do when I graduated as an art student."
In the early years of his career, Borri worked as an illustrator and did freelance work for the Free Press in the 1980s. He also worked as a consultant and manager in commercial art and design and as a digital imaging director. He's now working with former Detroit Lion Herman Moore's company as a creative concept producer, designing greeting cards and other products.
Open heart surgery in 2018 changed Borri's life.
"After rehab, I came back to work, and three months later, I lost my job," he recalled. "It was hard finding another position, then COVID hit and it seemed all the jobs were scarce. Painting helped bring money in as I worked other jobs to help pay bills."
The pandemic "has been an opportunity to get back in touch with what I love doing most and find joy in," he said. "I was also inspired by my daughter. She came back home during the pandemic. She is a practicing engineer and an artist. Watching her paint every day became a springboard for me."
Borri, the son of a Detroit policeman, has always followed his dreams — and succeeded. In 2007, he wrote and published "Eight Dogs Named Jack: And Fourteen Other Stories from the Detroit Streets and Michigan Wilderness," a collection of his short stories and illustrations. Over the years, people in the entertainment industry in both New York City and Detroit have commissioned him to paint portraits of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse and Eminem.
At present, the Northville Gallery and Frameworks in Plymouth feature his paintings, while corporations are commissioning him to do oil paintings for their lobbies, and friends are hiring him to paint their pets.
Borri feels the events of last three years have put his life in perspective.
“If you wait too long, there is no promise on tomorrow," he said. "There is an opportunity for all of us to think about what we are put on this earth to do. Why not make it happen?”
Linda Solomon is an award-winning photojournalist and author. “On top of my bucket list," she says, "is my wish to one day have lunch with director-writer Nancy Meyers.” Solomon's book “The Queen Next Door Aretha Franklin An Intimate Portrait” was selected one of Michigan’s Notable Books for 2019. She is the founder of Pictures of Hope, a nonprofit organization providing cameras to children who are living in homeless shelters. Contact her at lindasolomonphotography.com.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Pandemic gives metro Detroiters a chance to pursue deferred dreams