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Sometimes, a story in the paper can lead to an unexpected family reunion.

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Eric Petersen in 2016

Eric Petersen in 2016.

David Schmalz here, thinking about the unexpected turns life can sometimes take, and how the opportunity for surprise always remains possible. 

That’s because I was recently talking with a source from a cover story I wrote in 2016 about Monterey Downs (the failed proposed mega-development in Seaside on the former Fort Ord that called for razing an oak woodland to build single-family homes) and he mentioned that his biological family members tracked him down in February 2021, in part because of information contained in my 2016 story. 

The man’s name is Eric Petersen. He’s a longtime Salinas resident, retired IRS auditor and avid environmentalist—he’s mounted and lost bids to get elected to both Salinas City Council and Congress, as a Green Party candidate. 

Petersen, 71, was born in 1951 and was adopted when he was 2 months old. He grew up in Menlo Park, while his biological siblings, he says, grew up nearby in Berkeley. 

When his brother Mark Dreyer reached out last year, Petersen says, he’d read the Weekly’s story and already had a good idea of who his long-lost brother was.

“It let them know what they were getting into,” Petersen says. “When Mark called me, we had an hour-long conversation. The stuff he knew about me—I didn’t have to tell him anything. It made their end easy, my end easy, and I had fun doing it.”

Petersen says that, for years, he had a sense he had biological relatives out there in the wild. But it wasn’t until a nephew found him on 23andme.com that the connection was made, and then Dreyer did further research to confirm it. 

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What’s also wild is that Petersen says he and Dreyer established that they both attended the Hardly Strictly bluegrass festival in San Francisco in 2018 and 2019, before either of them knew the other existed. “The similarities are almost scary,” Petersen says of he and his brother.

Petersen now knows he has three brothers—he’s seen Dreyer twice, he says—along with nieces and nephews. 

“This whole thing is just really, really neat,” he says. “I’m still emailing that article to people.”

It’s some of the most heartwarming feedback I’ve received about a story I’ve written, and though the mission of the Weekly is officially “to inspire independent thinking and conscious action, etc.,” I like to think that, unofficially at least, it’s also to help bring people together.

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