Updated: Jun 29, 2019
Six Years after James Gandolfini died in Rome, the Fire Truck Expedition carries on the great actor's spirit.
James Gandolfini was more than just the most popular television actor in America. What few people outside of James' small circle of friends knew, was that this man's generosity and kindness knew almost no bounds. The hulking actor's positive influence and charity affected hundreds of individuals all across the United States and beyond.
A Heart of Gold
"You have to do the right thing, you know? Sometimes, that means giving a guy you never met before watch, because it'll make his day, which was pretty shitty until then."
Jim and I were unlikely friends. The hulking actor was 16 years my senior and one of the most famous people in the U.S. when we got to know each other through a mutual passion for watches. Over time, a very close relationship developed in the spirit of big brother-little brother. "You're the biggest pain in the ass I've ever met, Kobold," Jim would say on occasion and the feeling was mutual. We both looked out for each other and eventually would share our biggest secrets. Looking back, I don't think anyone knows all of the skeletons in my closet Jim knew about.
Regardless of how much I screwed up -a federal criminal conviction, albeit erroneous yet legally binding, was just one of many such "fuck ups" as Jim called my transgressions- Jim was always open-minded and forgiving. More than that, Jim went out of his way to help me in whenever a problem came up. What was so amazing to me was not my friend's support of me, but that Jim showed the same keen care for others, including people he'd never met.
Ten years after we met, I sought to redress the balance of our friendship by taking Jim to Nepal, a country where no-one except a handful of expats would recognize the famous actor. Jim looked forward to finally being able to walk around a city without photographers following his every step. The idea for fire truck expedition was born. We agreed on a date to do a week-long reconnaissance trip to Nepal, with a stop in Thailand, ahead of shipping the fire truck to India. Jim's son Michael was scheduled to come with us and so I was determined to make this trip a success.
Some Navy SEAL buddies of mine agreed to join us for what would basically be a vacation in the mountains and on the beach. I even convinced a manager at Thai Airways to install a row of first class seats in its aircrafts for the Los Angeles-Bangkok nonstop flight (the original configuration was business and economy class...the flight has since been discontinued).
On Father's Day, I congratulated Jim like I did every year. Jim was by far the most attentive, loving father I've gotten to know and I learned many lessons by observing his relationship with his son, Michael. "Are you looking forward to the trip in September," I asked. Three days later I learned that Jim had passed away while on vacation in Rome.
18 months later I phoned up another good friend, Malcolm McDowell. "Would you consider doing the trip in Jim's honor," I asked Malcolm. "Absolutely, I'd be my honored." In March 2018, Malcolm visited Nepal with the intention of staying for four nights. After falling in love with Nepal, Malcolm stayed for two weeks.
As a prelude to the fire truck expedition we produced a documentary film about Malcolm's road trip across Nepal with Manisha Koirala, the Bollywood legend. The Adventures of Maiko McDonald is in post production and will be released in time for the Visit Nepal Tourism Year 2020. The fire truck expedition continues to be planned in James Gandolfini's honor.