The Ninja Chief
Our first meeting with Chief Michael Mastronardy of Toms River began in a flurry. We were with the Discovery Crew in a grocery store parking lot somewhere in Toms River. The crew had just had a minor accident with the production RV and we were taping up the front bumper so that the vehicle was operational. We had an hour before we were scheduled to meet the Chief at the agreed upon time. At 2 pm the Chief called saying: "I'm sitting here waiting for you -- where are you!?" Running through our minds was the thought -- "but we said 3 o'clock! not 2 o'clock!" File that under things you'd like to say, but don't. We knew we needed to meet the Chief if the Discovery crew were going to be able to do any filming in Toms River, so we scrambled. Somehow we got to the Stewart's parking lot by the Toms River Bridge in a matter of minutes. Immediately upon meeting the Chief, his giant personality leapt out at us. He was no-nonsense, and wanted to know exactly what our purpose was - asking pointedly why our project was important enough to garner his time and attention during his insanely hectic schedule dealing with the fallout of Sandy. He must have liked what he heard from us, because the next thing we knew, three of us were packed into the back seat of his black SUV. He made it very clear from the outset that while the Barrier Islands were indeed hit hard, the mainland was also hit very hard. We took a tour of parts of the mainland, where every few minutes he stopped to talk to a resident - opening his door each time to speak, because his window didn't work. It was amazing to watch Chief Mastronardy operate. He asked questions and took action, often saying "I'll take care of that" and as we were driving away he was making arrangements to do that which he had promised. Talk about multitasking. There was no doubt in our minds that this was a man who said what he meant, and it also appeared that he meant what he said. Once we crossed the Bridge, Chief Mastronardy took us to some hard hit areas on the Barrier Islands. While we were struck by the devastation, we were also struck by how personal this was to the Chief - not only as a resident of the area, but also how he was invested in the people under his command. At each checkpoint (of which there were many) the Chief stopped his car, opened the door and spoke to the posted Officers -- his concern and interest readily apparent. The entire time we were with the Chief he was conducting business -- at one point it was as if he had 8 hands, 9 phones and 3 keyboards all going at once. To say that our time with him was intense, would be an understatement, and yet his dry sense of humor came through at various times. The Chief was also somewhat Ninja-like; periodically during our film making over the next few days he often seemed to materialize out of thin air. While he had posted Officers with us to make sure that we were safe apparently he was keeping an eye on us as well. We learned a lot from Chief Mastronardy and we felt that we were with the person who was the right man to be in charge of a very difficult situation. We are thankful for the time, attention and heart that he gave us.