Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure and honor of personally knowing “Detour Dave” Sandler and writing about the local radio traffic reporter on numerous occasions.
Dave, who we lost yesterday, March 14, was a true prince in every sense. The word mentsch is used far too much in Jewish circles. After all, not everyone can be a mentsch.
But Dave really was. He cared about people. He didn’t just talk the talk; he even looked after the folks he cared about.
An old friend recently related a story to me. When he came out of the hospital after having cancer surgery a couple of years ago and was feeling quite weak, Dave contacted him on Facebook and suggested they meet at a local coffee shop to catch up and schmooze. After a lifetime of medical crises and health scares, who knew more about these kinds of daunting, critical situations than Dave?
“Dave and I just sat there for an hour and talked about what might be coming up for me,” my friend recalled. “He said, ‘You’re going to get healthier and better, but listen to your doctors and listen to your body.’ It helped me a lot. He didn’t have to do that. He was just such an unusual person. He was selfless, a one-of-a-kind.”
That anecdote’s not a big surprise if you knew Dave Sandler. He looked out for his friends and anyone who was down and out. He possessed that empathy gene, maybe because of the tough breaks he’d endured and overcome over the course of his lifetime.
Dave also never forgot those who helped him during his darkest days, like the staff at the University of Maryland Medical Center. In 2009, while playing in a softball game at Northwest Regional Park in Owings Mills, Dave suffered sudden cardiac arrest and nearly died.
He underwent surgery at UMMC to repair blocked arteries, and he later became a strong supporter and “poster boy” for that institution and for Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital. He also was a strong advocate for The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore after two of its constituent agencies, CHAI and Jewish Community Services, helped him avoid losing his home during one of his health crises.
“I learned that it’s impossible to ‘go it alone’ in life, and surrounding yourself with the right people is paramount to success and getting over all obstacles and hurdles,” Dave wrote in a Jmore column a couple of years ago. “What I’ve learned … is to never give up, no matter how bad or daunting the odds are.”
I first met Dave when I was a young reporter and someone suggested him as a good subject for a profile. This was when Dave was actually flying over the Baltimore metropolitan area on a daily basis and delivering traffic news for WBAL News Radio and 98 Rock. I called Dave and he said he’d be happy to have me join him for an excursion through the friendly skies of Charm City. As someone with a fickle, occasional fear of heights, I gulped hard but said, “OK, see you then, Dave.”
Photographer Craig Terkowitz and I drove over to Martin State Airport and met up with Dave and his pilot, whose name I no longer recall. It was a picture-perfect summer day for flying, but I admit I was more than a tad skittish about going up in a small, four-seat “puddle jumper.” While Craig proceeded to duct-tape his camera to the wing of the plane and jerry-rigged a wire to allow him to snap photos of us flying over the city, Dave assured me there was nothing to worry about. I saw immediately he was a completely calming presence and a true gentleman.
As we took flight in what felt like a glorified Volkswagen Beetle with wings, I watched the Middle River landscape below us become increasingly distant. Nonchalantly, Dave told us a story or two of times when the plane’s engine shut off suddenly, inexplicably, for a few minutes while he was delivering the traffic news. “Weren’t you absolutely terrified?” I asked him, nervously eyeballing the clouds floating around us. Dave chuckled and responded, “Not at all. I was confident it would all work out — and it did.”
That was Dave. In a word, fearless.
And as we sailed high over the choppy waters of the Inner Harbor and seemed to be able to practically touch the tops of Baltimore’s tallest skyscrapers, I watched Dave tell commuters the best routes to get home. He did so with such self-assurance, enthusiasm and commitment, making it all look easy.
Dave was the consummate professional. He knew people were depending on him, and he cared. A lot.
Safe journey home, my friend. And thank you for a day I’ll never, ever forget.