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Burb's Eye View: A tale of unexpected friendship

February 18, 2014|By Bryan Mahoney | By Bryan Mahoney

Norman Sewelson was out of his car for… 20 minutes? Maybe 30? He doesn’t remember — it was a long time to be sitting by the heavy traffic on Pico Boulevard, waiting for the dirty little dog to trust him.

Then he realized the little animal with the big triangle ears wasn’t dark brown — that was just dried blood. It warily approached and sat beside the former pilot, clockmaker and World War II veteran.

“I said, ‘OK buddy, you want to go for a ride in the car?’” Sewelson recalled from the lobby of Evergreen Retirement Residence in Burbank, where he and Max now live.

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They went to the vet, and a week later, Max had a name and a place to call home.

That was six years ago. They are rarely apart these days, save for when Sewelson visits the Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park. You might see them traveling to Vons and back on their weekly errands, Max leading Sewelson in his electric scooter. They’ll be out walking their neighborhood behind Bob’s Big Boy — four rounds a day, up to an hour at a time, to stretch their legs and see the world.

In those moments when they’re apart, Sewelson returns to a world of cogs and gears and engines at the museum.

“I’ve always been interested in mechanical things,” he said.

At age 60, he fell in with a biker gang — if you could call it that. They were several friends roughly the same age, and they convinced him to try a motorcycle. One of them taught officers with the Los Angeles Police Department how to ride, so Sewelson was in good hands. After a year on a sporty Honda Sewelson upgraded to a Harley — despite almost dumping it a couple times.

Before tinkering on motorcycles Sewelson was a pilot with Pacific Bell. The job could require him to fly executives around the country on one day or buzzing utility poles in the desert the next. He’d fly 150 feet above the ground and, with one hand gripping a pencil (the other on the wheel), Sewelson would scratch down the pole’s number if he spotted damage.

Despite his years of service in the military, Sewelson did not receive his flight training there. In the summer of 1941, he worked at Lockheed fearing the U.S. government might draft him into the Army or the Marines.

He enlisted in the Navy instead.

“I figured, I’ll always have a warm bed on a ship … if it isn’t sunk,” he said.

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