Danville's Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger ran into more than a few people on his same wavelength Sunday at Bay Books in the city of Coronado in San Diego County.
There was the contingent of retirees from San Diego's defunct PSA Airlines there to greet the former commercial pilot. There was the aide who asked for an autograph from the Air Force veteran for his boss, an admiral. And there was the man from Coronado, Greg Hansen, who actually saw US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River where Sullenberger managed to land it safely four years ago this month.
The author was at Bay Books to talk about his newest release, Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage From America's Leaders, and Highest Duty, the 2009 account of his life and the moments that led up to his heroic landing in New York.
Since then, the Texas native has traveled the world and encountered big names he said he otherwise never would have met “in 100 lifetimes.” The opportunity led him to explore the topic of leadership by interviewing a variety of people, from educators and baseball managers to military veterans and politicians.
He, however, didn't focus on his own heroism – he was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People because of it – even when attendees raised it with him.
That made them all the more complimentary after they had received their signed books.
“He did something that most people wouldn't be able to do,” said Sue Beam, of Indianapolis, who is spending three months in Coronado. She told him she thought he was “a wonderful hero.”
Sullenberger, who many of the 200 people in the crowd addressed by his nickname during the two-hour book signing – he didn't seem to mind – paused to speak with the majority of the well-wishers.
From offering thank yous for praise about his actions in 2009 to an “It's good to see you,” when someone mentioned a common acquaintance, Sullenberger, 62, managed to fit in the personal moments despite the large crowd that packed the store.
He moved briskly and when someone said, “He writes fast,” he overheard and quipped, “It's not my first rodeo.”
Henry Muller, Bay Book's co-owner, said Sullenberger was one of the biggest draws the Orange Avenue store has seen, ranking his appearance with other popular authors who visited, from Oliver North to Sen. John McCain, who owns a home in Coronado.
“It makes our month,” Muller said of the sales generated by the signing.
The author proclaimed his support for independent book sellers like Bay Books, which he said “foster that love of books, that love of learning, that love of ideas.”
He has the reading bug as well, saying he favors non-fiction, particularly books on history, neuroscience and cosmology.
“Big ideas fascinate me,” he said.
His exploits though continue to rivet his fans, like Hansen, who watched as Sullenberger's plane floated on the Hudson River.
“As a pilot he did what you're trained to do,” Hansen said. “But whether you do can it when it's actually happening is another situation. A lot of guys might have panicked. He didn't.”
Have you read Sullenberger's books? Have you run into him in the East Bay? Tell us in the comments section below.