Diane Pizarro

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On the morning of January 13, Diane Pizarro was at her home in Kailua, speaking via phone with her brother, when this message flashed across her screen …
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What is one supposed to do?

How is one supposed to act?

You’re a mother. A daughter. A friend. A spouse. And you are suddenly informed that your life—and the lives of your loved ones—is about to end.

This is the subject of today’s Quaz.

Diane is my former former Tennessean colleague, as well as a product of The Review, the University of Delaware’s student newspaper. She lives in Kailua with her husband and children, and works as a real estate agent. You can visit her page here.

Serious Quaz, serious subject …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Diane, so you’re inside your home in Kailua when the missile alert is sent out. So: A. How did you learn of it? B. What was your initial response?

DIANE PIZARRO: I’m on the phone with my brother in LA. He’s talking but his voice suddenly goes dead and the alert starts blaring through my phone. I pull the phone away from my ear to look at the text, and see the emergency alert, BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER and the haunting words, THIS NOT A DRILL.

The message disappears, and my brother’s voice comes back on. He’s still talking. I interrupt him, my voice shaking and starting to crack. “Adam, oh my god I just got an alert on my phone about a nuclear attack.” I run down the hall to find my husband, Fernando. I’m shouting, “Fernando, what should we do?” But the alert hasn’t gone off on his phone yet, so he has no idea what I’m blathering about. I tell him about the alert, but it has disappeared from my screen already. Still nothing on his phone. He turns on the local TV station and it’s college basketball. Nothing. At this point I tell my brother I’m getting off the phone to figure out what’s going on. The TV finally flashes up the same alert message, giving us confirmation, but we still keep looking for more information. Meanwhile my brother is checking Twitter and sees many other people reporting the same. Then the siren near our house goes off. (We find out later very few, if any, other sirens went off, and most news reports stated there were no sirens, but the ones by our house did. I don’t recall if it was just the tsunami warning sound we are accustomed to hearing during monthly tests or the nuclear warning siren they just added in November, but any siren in my panicked state was further confirmation of our worst fears). Now we are running around closing windows. The alert finally comes across on Fernando’s phone.

Our 9-year-old daughter is repeatedly asking, “Mom, what? What is it?” I’m not sure if I should tell her, but she keeps asking, so I tell her we received an alert and we were taking precautions against a possible attack, but that we’re probably fine. She knows it’s not fine and she she starts crying. She knows exactly what it means because her class recently went through a drill at school. Meanwhile her 11-year-old sister is still asleep. I go in her room and wake her, tell her she needs to get up and we need to get away from the windows. I ask her to bring her pillow and come into the hall. I run to the fridge and grab a bottle of orange juice and plastic cups (not sure why I grab orange juice, it’s just the first thing I see in the fridge, but no one wants orange juice. I think I felt I had to DO something. We would later laugh about this). Then we just sit in the hall, and try to comfort the kids as best we can. I take to Facebook to post a message and also to see what others were posting. My husband is looking on Twitter for more information and confirmation. We sit and wait.

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J.P.: I hope this doesn’t sound obvious—but what was the fear like? How would you explain it? What are the emotions running through your mind? 

D.P.: I felt very helpless, not really knowing what to do. I mean really, we had no clue what to do, other than close windows. There’s no time, so they recommend sheltering in place.  I was thinking about our 15-year-old daughter who was already in the air on her way home from a school trip to San Francisco. What would she be coming home to, or could she even return home? Would they turn the plane around? And she didn’t even know what was going on. I know they recommend filling a bathtub with water, but we didn’t even think that. We were terribly unprepared. While the first few minutes after the alert were filled with fear and panic, an eerie calm came over as as we sat in the hall and waited. I remember thinking don’t look at the windows, don’t look at the light. Those few minutes as we sat there in the hall we really didn’t even know what to expect. Even after we got the alerts that it was a false alarm, it took us a while to peel ourselves up and shake it off. I think I was still shaking for a while after, and just felt discombobulated for most of the day.

J.P.: How did you find out it was a false alarm? And what did that feel like?

D.P.: Fernando saw a Tweet from Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. That was the first confirmation. We kept searching for more confirmation, and I saw posts from a couple of friends on Facebook and eventually it became clear we were not in imminent danger. It was frustrating because authorities didn’t issue an official notification for 38 minutes, which seemed like forever. Then it was trying to find out what on earth happened. Local television finally started reporting that it was a mistake and then we could finally start going about our business. Like watching the Titans get destroyed by the Patriots. Oh, and when I picked up our 15-year-old at the airport, she was teasing me a little, like, “Oh, you believed it was real?” She had no idea the fear and panic we went through, but maybe that’s for the best. Those 10 minutes or so changed us a little bit.

J.P.: I’m sure you’re aware that, as all this was happening, Donald Trump was playing golf, and Tweeted about #fakenews unrelated to Hawaii. So … does that bother you? Or does it not really matter?

D.P.: I’ve stopped paying attention to anything he does. It’s pointless, and I’m not at all surprised by what he was doing or his reaction. The thing I’m focused on now is how can we get rid of him, and also get back Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

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With Fernando.

J.P.: You and I both attended the University of Delaware, both worked at The Tennessean. So, um, how the heck did you wind up in Hawaii?

D.P.: After having our first daughter in Nashville, we visited Fernando’s parents who had moved there out of the blue in 1996 from the U.S. mainland. We fell in love with it. How could you not? We were getting restless living in Middle Tennessee and Hawaii was completely different. Having his parents there was also a reason to move. Gannett, which owns The Tennessean where my husband and I worked, also owned the Honolulu Advertiser and we arranged to meet some of the editors in Honolulu. There were no positions available at that time, but when a city editor position opened up a few months later, Fernando applied for the position and we moved here three weeks after getting the job offer, in July 2004.

J.P.: My wife has often said, “I’d love to live in Hawaii.” But then I’ve heard two common negative replies: 1. You inevitably feel like you’re trapped; 2. People aren’t that warm toward non-natives. Any of that legit? And what is it like living there?

D.P.: Island fever! I’ve not felt that in the almost 14 years I’ve been here. I imagine some people can feel boxed in since you can’t drive anywhere but it’s not an issue for us. Everyone we’ve met has been extremely gracious, hospitable and friendly. It’s obvious my husband and I are not from here, but no one has ever made us feel unwanted or excluded. It’s all about how you engage with the people you meet and having an open mind and avoiding any preconceived notions. Aside from missile threats, I imagine living here is much like living on any coast of the United States: beautiful, expensive, full of wonderful ocean views and tropical settings.

J.P.: Like an increasing number of people, you’re an ex-journalist. Why? What happened? What caused you to leave the business?

D.P.: When we were talking with The Honolulu Advertiser, the only positions that were available for me would have involved working at night. With Fernando as city editor, we would have been on completely different schedules and we didn’t want that for our family. I decided to be a stay-at-home mom and I loved the time I spent with my children. When the children grew older and I started thinking about working again, so much had changed in journalism locally and nationally that I felt very removed and separate from my old career. I thought about what really interested me and real estate was where my interests were.

J.P.: What’s the journalism scene in Honolulu? Do you see good reporting being done? Are newspapers still important?

D.P.: Honolulu became a one-newspaper town in 2010 and that was definitely a loss. I think Honolulu Civil Beat, an online news site, does a good job of augmenting the one newspaper and the TV stations. There’s good journalism here but there’s room for more investigative work.

At the 2011 Pro Bowl
At the 2011 Pro Bowl

J.P.: You’re a realtor in Honolulu County. I’ve gotta think people are always itching to move there. So … what are the complications? Like, do people think they’re walking into something unrealistic? Paradise without problems? And what percentage of your business is locals v. people from off the mainland?

D.P.: It is very costly to live in Hawaii. With median single family home prices at $750,000, many people work multiple jobs to manage. Buyers coming in from the mainland can be unrealistic if they aren’t familiar with the market. Even $500,000 doesn’t go very far in most parts of the island. In Kailua for instance, the beach town where we live, $500,000 will only buy a 1-2 bedroom apartment with a $400-600 a month maintenance fee. Some of the newer subdivisions out west are more affordable, but with that comes traffic gridlock so people find themselves making tough choices regarding housing. In our little beach town, many single family homes have attached apartments added on that can be rented out to help with the mortgage. But be prepared to spend well over $1 million for something like that. Many of my clients are locals or transplants who have been here many years and are essentially considered locals, but I do also have a fair share of military and relocating civilian clients.

J.P.: One of your featured listings is a seven-bathroom, six-bedroom Honolulu home selling for $5.9 million. I wonder—are huge listings like that harder or easier than, say, your average $700,000 home? Do you have to approach them differently?

D.P.: The scale of Hawaii real estate is so much larger than on the Mainland. An “average home” here is a mansion almost anywhere else in the United States. I think about that with every transaction that I’m fortunate enough to have. Whether I’m working with a buyer or seller, the investment is very significant and I work very hard for all of my clients. Some properties have their own complexity because of specific issues with the lot or the infrastructure or legal issues. Some higher dollar transactions can go much more smoothly than those where the price point is lower, but it can also be just the opposite. The goal always is to have happy, satisfied clients. Much like the day in the life of a journalist, every day and every transaction is different. I love that and it gives me a great thrill to find the right house for a buyer, get offers on one of my listings, or learn about a home not yet on market, no matter the price point.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ted Spiker, Frank Sutherland, Kellogg’s Pops, New Jersey, Nerlens Noel, the elephant exhibit at a zoo, coconut pie, Punky Brewster, the number 34: New Jersey! (my first home in the U.S. after emigrating from London in 1981, and the setting for my high school years!!!); Frank Sutherland (hired me and also helped us get to Honolulu 11 years later); Ted Spiker (fun memories of late nights at the Review); the elephant exhibit at the zoo (where I first saw newly elected President Obama with his daughters before he took office, so whenever I see the elephant exhibit it reminds me of that day); Kellogg’s Pops (reminds me of college, eating them straight out of the box); coconut pie (haupia pie in Hawaii); the number 34 (prefer odd numbers); Punky Brewster (didn’t watch much TV at that time, was in college), Nerlens Noel (who?).

• Five reasons one should make Honolulu his/her next vacation destination?: Beautiful beaches; even more beautiful lush mountains; local cuisine, especially poke (raw fish, usually cubed and seasoned, and spicy ahi is da best); aloha spirit; the people. Once you let her in, Hawai’i stays in your soul.

• How did you meet your husband?: He came to The Tennessean for a conference we were hosting. He was working for the Clarksville (Tenn.) Leaf-Chronicle newspaper at the time. We sat in some sessions and I remember he sat across from me at dinner. He got a job at The Tennessean about a year after that and we hit it off right away.

• What’s the greatest smell in the world?: The ocean.

• Last time you saw snow in person?: June 2015 when we visited a friend in Washington State and we took a trip to Mount Baker. The kids threw snowballs, slid down the hill and made snow angels. It was priceless.

• Three memories from working at The Review?: 1. Late, late nights hanging out with Ted Spiker, Mark Nardone, Corey Ullman, Jeff James, Bob Bicknell and many others I’ve lost touch with, takeout grilled cheese and french fries at the student center; 2. The April Fools edition. Awesome. Do they still do that? I doubt it. So politically incorrect; 3. My first editors were Mike Freeman and Chuck Arnold. When I first started on the Review, I was new to journalism completely clueless. I was typing a story and lost it two or three times. Mike Freeman was the editor-in-chief and he took the time to help retrieve the story. He was a inspiring newsroom leader, and I have since enjoyed following his success. I read a Quaz you did with him a while back and was happy to see it. I lost track of Chuck Arnold but I always thought he would end up in the music industry.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants to buy a $10 million home in Honolulu, and wants to use your services. However, she insists you shave your hair and only eat peaches and Chex Mix for two weeks. You in?: Nope. I don’t like Celine Dion and it would also hurt my reputation.

• Do you think the Brooklyn Nets were wise to trade for Jahlil Okafor?: Who and who? I only know my Tennessee Titans.

• What are three things you always carry?: Phone, driver’s license, credit card.

• What happens when we die?: -30-