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CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

To find the true Dodgers family, look up

Lolly Hellman is a season-ticket holder in the upper deck at Chavez Ravine, someone who socializes with her fellow fans and stadium workers. She's also a blunt dose of reality in this unreal season.

September 08, 2010|Chris Erskine

At first glance, Lolly Hellman is nothing special, another die-hard fan wearing Dodgers colors till she's blue in the face. Lolly hangs out in the high-altitude seats, the upper deck at Chavez Ravine. God's country.

"We're like family up here," she says.

Lolly, 57, can recite the names of all the fans and stadium workers around her. When usher Nadine Peraza recently had her baby, Lolly went to the hospital and gave a gift. When the ushers hold their potluck — yes, upper-deck workers organize such things two or three times a season — they'll share with Lolly and her husband and son.

"I'm telling you, down there they don't do any of that," she says, pointing to the expensive seats.

No, Lolly's nothing special, she'll tell you that directly. Sure, she is not to be ignored, the product of a rough upbringing, some lousy career luck and a diseased kidney she says her HMO won't remove.

Yet, she insists she's just another Dodgers fan, a season-ticket holder who usually attends 81 home games a year with Bruce, her husband of 39 years, surrounded by friends for as far as you can see.

"That's Shorty," she says, "the shortest usher in baseball."

"Oh, and there's Nadine," she says. "Hey Nadine, wave to the reporter."

Tired of the testimony of millionaire owners with seven country club memberships and eight houses? Tired of mercenary superstars who last only a year or three? Meet Lolly Hellman, a blunt, sharp-tongued belle of the ballyard — a dose of reality in this unreal Dodgers season. Loud Lolly Hellman, giver of gifts, and just about the toughest softie you never met.

Till now.

Like any Hollywood character, Lolly has a back story. Nine years ago, a Tuesday, Lolly was on a National flight bound for New York when the plane turned around on the tarmac at LAX and returned to the terminal. All flights were grounded, and Lolly's plans to visit the Mets, Yankees and Orioles would be put on hold.

"When we got home from the airport, there was a message on our machine," she recalls. "It was to confirm our dinner reservations [that night] at the Twin Towers."

Now, a lot of people did a lot of remarkable things on that Sept. 11. For Lolly, a litigation secretary with vacation time to burn, it was jumping in the family van and driving straight to New York.

"I just drove to the first fire station I came to," she explains.

Sounds so simple. But first, she had to talk her way past the National Guard — seven roadblocks — before finding a fire station with a pile of flowers in the front. Engine 54, Ladder 4, which was 15 good men lighter than the week before.

"Thanks but no thanks," the firefighter said when she knocked on the firehouse door. "We just want to be left alone."

As is her way, Lolly didn't quit. See those California plates? "I just drove all the way from L.A.," she explained. "I want to do something. I'm here to help."

They still didn't believe her. Los Angeles? You're from New York City, they told her. We can tell. You're too brusque. You answer everything with another question.

"Oh, is that right?" she said.

But some folks won't take "go the hell away" for an answer. For two weeks, Lolly did what she could for a frazzled fire company, making sandwiches, providing a mother's solace, a plain-talking angel in a Volkswagen bus, handing out the $5,000 she'd collected along her coast-to-coast road trip from strangers eager to help.

This summer, almost a decade later, she decided to go back, riding 2,800 miles on that bum kidney, determined to go this year because, at 57 and in questionable health, there's no guarantee she'd ever get another chance.

"What am I going to do, lie in the hospital some day and wish I'd gone?"

Lolly had it all planned. She would take Interstate 10 to the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, then race east to Shanksville, Pa., where she would pay her respects to the victims of Flight 93.

In Manhattan, she'd walk/run/walk in a 5-K "Run to Remember," visit the firehouse, then head home on the I-80 "like a bat out of hell."

"Gotta make it back for Yom Kippur," she said.

Last week, driving solo, she made it as far as Oklahoma City before having to turn around. Her brother-in-law was deathly ill. Back in California, they called for her to come.

Such is the lot of the tough-yet-compassionate people you lean on in a pinch. Life is messy like that. Messier than you could ever imagine.

So instead of visiting a firehouse this week in honor of Sept. 11, Lolly is spending it with her grieving in-laws, frustrated that her trip was cut short but knowing she's where she is needed most.

But come the last day of this long Dodgers season, now burning down like a lousy cigar, she will be back cheering for her heroes in God's country — upper deck, Aisle 11, Row P — where she'll bring closing-day gifts for the ushers who are like kin to her all season, the ones who help her make every Dodgers game a family reunion.

Nope, this Lolly Hellman is nothing special at all.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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