Celebration of Life for Jack Brandais
Celebration of Life for Jack Brandais
Jack Brandais, 'joyride guru' who shared love of county roads, dies from heart attack at 59.
There’s no telling how much peace and harmony Jack Brandais brought to San Diego by suggesting to people that they get out of the house.
Get out and drive.
For almost two decades, his “Weekend Driver” column in the Union-Tribune told readers about the county’s best roads — the most scenic, the most thrilling, the most historically interesting — and gave them detailed directions about where to go, what to see, and where to stop for photos or a cheeseburger.
And as much as the locals appreciated the San Diego native’s homegrown insight, they also came to rely on it when friends and family came to visit.
The self-described “Joyride Guru” died Feb. 3 from a heart attack. He was 59.
“Everybody talks about destinations,” he liked to say. “I write about the journey.”
Born Nov. 25, 1958, Mr. Brandais spent many Sunday afternoons while growing up in the back seat of a Pontiac station wagon as his father took the family on drives in San Diego’s backcountry.
After freelancing for local publications, he began working in 1986 as a public information officer for the city of San Diego’s Building Inspection Department, starting a career in media relations that spanned 30 years and included stints with city schools and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“He knew how journalists thought because he was one,” said Lynne Carrier, also a FEMA reservist and former reporter. “He knew how to get them the information they needed to let the public know what was going on.”
But that was his day job. His passion was cars — especially his treasured blue Mazda Miata — and taking them out on the county’s highways and byways.
In late 1999, he approached the Union-Tribune about writing a freelance column. After producing a couple of prototypes, he got the go-ahead. The first “Weekend Driver” ran on July 1, 2000, with photos he took, and detailed a 45-mile South County ramble from Otay to Rancho San Diego.
“It was an instant success,” Maynard said. “People liked his folksy style. It read like he was talking to you as a friend, telling you a cool place to go.”
People who knew him said it isn’t surprising how the column began. “Jack was not shy,” Carrier said. “If he thought he needed to do something, he would work hard to convince people to let him do it.”
She remembered when he went to New Orleans for FEMA in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast. The agency’s initial response was widely seen as bumbling. Brandais helped alter that by organizing press events, including one aboard a cruise ship being used as a temporary shelter — timed so the cameras would be on as survivors ate a hearty lunch.
In 2007, he took a job with city schools in media relations, answering questions from reporters about the bad and the good taking place in and around the classrooms. He told colleagues he expected to be there three years. He stayed for seven.
“His real strength was putting the students first,” said Linda Zintz, who was his boss. “Regardless of the politics in the district, regardless of whatever budget crisis was going on, he made sure we remembered that we were there for the kids, and that the kids were still doing great stuff.”
He retired to concentrate on his car rides. In addition to the “Weekend Driver” column in the newspaper, he began publishing e-books of individual trips under the “Joyride Guru” moniker with titles such as “Jaunt to Julian,” “Towering Old Highways,” and “Curves, Dirt and Cuyamaca.”
“It was just pure love for him,” Carrier said. “He was someone who lived for the experience of being outdoors and seeing what was around the next bend.”
His last column, about a drive to Pine Valley, was awaiting publication when he died.
When he wasn’t behind the wheel, Mr. Brandais was a fan of Jimmy Buffett and baseball. For many years he had season tickets for the Padres and lived in a condo downtown because it was so close to Petco Park.
Anne Krueger, a friend who accompanied him to games, said Mr. Brandais punctuated the outings with imitations of broadcasters spouting cliches. “Throw strikes,” he’d say when a pitching coach went to the mound. “Some lucky fan just got a nice souvenir,” when a foul ball went into the stands.
Proud of his French heritage, he made a tasty croissant, according to another friend and school district colleague, Lisa Petrillo. Mr. Brandais would sometimes post pictures of his latest culinary triumph on Facebook.
Mr. Brandais never married. He had a cat named Mr. Big and many friends who remember him as the kind of person who brought them soup when they were sick.
He is survived by his mother, Sylvia Brandais of San Diego; his brother, Phillip Weber of Gypsum, Colo.; and a nephew and niece.
A celebration of life is planned for 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 26 at the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park.