Andy Greenberg of Omaha talks and talks — now on more than 200 radio stations, with one-minute motivational vignettes — but there's one thing he doesn't often talk about.
He and wife Carole survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, uninjured but in water up to their necks. They were vacationing in Phuket, Thailand, when the water arrived without warning in three waves — the last being the biggest.
An estimated 230,000 were killed in 14 countries.
“The Impossible,” a movie based on a real-life family that was separated in the disaster — also at a resort in Phuket — has garnered a best-actress Oscar nomination for Naomi Watts.
Naturally, I wanted Andy's take on the movie. But he hadn't seen it until I asked him to go.
“Otherwise,” he said, “I probably would not have seen it.”
It's understandable. Who would want to relive the horror?
When the couple in the film and their three boys were about to be struck by the water, Andy said, he and Carole reflected back to Dec. 26, 2004.
The night before at their resort, oddly enough, the Omaha couple had discussed over dinner the biblical story of the parting of the Red Sea. But the sea did not part the next morning in Thailand or other countries — it engulfed wide areas, and he said the movie captured the reality for him and his wife.
“Our hands reached out in the movie to each other, and we squeezed,” he said, “just as we did when we ran for safety that morning. We both knew what it felt like — we weren't actors when we grasped for dear life on a light pole on the beach.”
Andy and Carole had walked on the beach that morning, noticing oddities — insects burrowing into the sand and dogs running excitedly. And the edge of the water was farther away then they had ever seen.
They thought little about it and were settled in beach chairs when the first wave rolled in. As they moved back, it was up to their ankles before receding.
“We were more inquisitive than scared,” he said.
As they left the beach and crossed the street to their hotel, a second wave came in, three minutes after the first and larger. It receded, too, and then they heard people screaming.
“They said, 'Get off the beach! A big wave is coming!'” he recalled. Security guards grabbed him and Carole under their arms to keep them from being knocked down, and they made it through the water to higher ground on the steps of their hotel.
“It was surreal,” Andy said. “It was very frightening, and it was so fast we didn't know what was happening.”
At the time, they had no idea about the extent of the devastation, but they soon saw reports on international television. They stayed at the hotel until they were able to fly out when the airport reopened five days later.
Andy's vignettes on the Radio America network over the past year and a half are called “Your Daily High With Andy Greenberg.”
The irony is that he cites mundane slices of life to illustrate larger points — but doesn't use the story of surviving the deadliest tsunami in history. He says he doesn't want to appear to be capitalizing on the huge loss of life.
But now he has put some of his daily vignettes into a book, “Your High,” published by Oklahoma-based Tate Publishing Co. It is co-authored by Marian Shalander Kaiser, a writer and an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
The stories are Andy's — for example, “Three Eggs, Any Style.”
Menus often say three eggs “any” style, he notes with humor, but no one ever orders one scrambled, one fried and one poached. And yet in life, he says, you might consider “cracking the shell surrounding your point of view.”
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“Be adventurous. Try something new,” he adds. “Enjoy life and the multitude of opportunities it has prepared for you. And enjoy every exciting moment.”
He will sign copies of the book from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Hy-Vee Supermarket at 132nd Street and West Dodge Road.
Andy and Carole met as sophomores in high school in New York City. Years later, his job brought him to Omaha, where he eventually retired from a career in sales and marketing. He is now a trainer and motivational speaker.
For more than three years, his daily thoughts — drawing simple lessons from everyday events — have been heard on KFAB at 5:25 a.m.
The undersea earthquake that caused such devastation in the Indian Ocean was surely no everyday event — tectonic pressures had built up for hundreds of years. At least one person died near the Greenbergs' hotel, and names were posted of the missing.
The movie depicting the tsunami rang true for Andy, 63. He said “The Impossible” is excellent in re-creating the devastation but also in showing the importance of a solid family and of courage, hope and belief — and of never giving up.
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