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Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category


Nov 18

In Rants at 11:42am


I never get happy at airports. Being at an airport deeply, truly engages my Irish Catholic sense of foreboding. I’m very fatalistic about what could go wrong in the air, of course, as I imagine most passengers are on some level. Being a photog, I actually get more stressed about what could happen on the ground.

Like the other day. I had angst right from the get go, mostly ’cause I was flying an airline I never use, had no real idea about their policies, and I had a bunch of excess bags. (Go figure.) But it started real well. The lady at the Air Canada counter couldn’t have been nicer, and took care of things with dispatch. Overage rates were of course paid, but then she went the extra mile and put priority tags on the stuff, even though Drew and I were flying economy. My buddy Bill, who’s my editor at National Geographic, where we fly economy all the time,  gleefully refers to this as flying “chicken and goat class.” He’s very ill. One of these days, I’m gonna take him on location with me. Maybe stuff him an overhead luggage bin. Give him the location work full monty:-)

Went through security, and for some reason, they ran my Ipad twice, and then chemical swabbed it. That’s a first. I speculate it’s because I just loaded Rambo movie on there so it’s now considered potentially dangerous.

Got through security on one concourse and were directed down a long, ominous looking hallway to another. This brought us to a glass walled corral, from which there was no exit. Other passengers were also accumulating there and we were all rattling around like marbles in a jar. I felt like all of us had suddenly joined the marching band in Animal House, and were merrily pumping our knees and sliding our trombones even though we had been led to the end of a brick walled alley.

Through the glass I could see another screening operation. I tapped timidly on the window, seeking an exit, an answer, or an explanation. During the shouted conversation through the thick glass I was told the area would be opened “right quick.” When would that be? The answer, “Right quick!” came again. I was tempted to simplify my question. “At ‘right quick’ where is the big hand and the little hand?”

Instead I breathed deeply. We trudged back down the hall and found another security person presiding over an exit, or “sortie.” He explained that the concourse for our gate was closed. I told him that wasn’t exactly an exclusive piece of news. Then I popped the ultimate question, the one that always befuddles all concerned in these periodic follies life presents. “Why?”

He folded his hands, drew himself up in righteous fashion, and quite literally became twice his normal size, right there in front of me. He said two words, quite simply. “The Americans.”

Well of course. No further explanation required. The root of the problem pointed out in exquisitely precise fashion. Being, as the English would say, a “cheeky bastard,” this line of discussion connected to my long nurtured resentment of authority faster than JPEG basic through a Firewire 800 cord.  “Would that be all Americans? Or just the Republicans?” I inquired. “Or perhaps those of us who prefer baseball to hockey?” I mean, sadly, I guess, there are a lot of us. Could it possibly be that all Americans were over on that concourse? I had no idea the airport was that sizable.

He looked at me hard. His eyes narrowed and grew slit like, and he remained in his fully engorged state.

He went on to attempt an explanation that had something to do with the flights to the US from those gates and the security screening operation at one concourse, and there weren’t enough people, so they had to shut down those gates, and they’ll be open later, when they turn on first one and shut down the one that’s open now, and there’s lots of changes everyday and they don’t tell me diddly.

He concluded by saying, “It’s asinine.”

No argument here!

So we waited in ever growing numbers at his area. Every person, literally, who came there kept proceeding down the hall, oblivious to the fact that their destination was unobtainable. Which meant he had to bellow from his position,  “Gates are closed!” endlessly. I thought about asking if he ever thought of putting up a sign, or was he just enjoying himself too much.

But then I thought that might be construed to be antagonistic, and would elicit from him a series of hoots, clicks and grunts that would undoubtedly reassure us all of his dominance.

A nice Canadian lady, intuiting from my discomfiture that I was yet another impatient, irascible American smiled at me and said, “Pretty weird, huh?” I agreed. Then she said, “Almost as weird as the TSA.”

I had to chuckle. I tried to remember when the last time was that I had encountered a situation quite as futile.  Oh, yeah, Kennedy Airport! No matter where it is, no matter who runs it, there’s nothing like an airport to start your day!

More tk….

The Sounds of Silence….

Aug 4

In Rambling, Rants at 7:30am

Just flew Frontier Airlines for the first time. They did a good job. Counter agent was very nice and didn’t even give me the evil eye when I approached laden with 8 pieces to check and just me traveling. Everything was pretty smooth, though, as is typical of every airline, a little tight in coach. I was working on my laptop, and the guy in front of me decided to recline suddenly. I think I might have broken a rib. It’s really, really hard to type when you have to lift your stomach off your keyboard to get to the keys.


So Frontier’s cool, though it is, as their jaunty slogan suggests, a different kind of animal. Rustic is perhaps a good way to put it. I half expected the flight attendants to be wearing red plaid shirts and suspenders. Their free snacks were decidedly on the natural foods, chex-mex side of things. When I passed the flight deck I thought I heard the pilot and co-pilot humming bars from “I’m a Lumberjack and I’m Okay.”

The real trouble with flying a crunchy airline out of a crunchy city is that you might end up sitting near someone who just visited the Pacific Northwest and had a life altering, body scrubbing, soul searching, colon cleansing experience. Such was my fate to sit close-by to someone who had done just that.

Fresh from the salubrious, pine tinged air of the great outdoors, this particularly exuberant, thoroughly pleasant wacko had just been ensconsed at some ashram type of retreat where no conversation was allowed. Yep. Couldn’t speak a word for over, like 48 hours. Silent. Non-verbal. Not a peep.

And my wasn’t she the little pent up bundle of conversation! Holy shit. I was listening (it wasn’t a choice) from a couple rows of seats away in the waiting area, straining my eyes to see if I could see the aisle and seat number on her ticket. I kept thinking about   Airplane! and those folks who offed themselves rather than listen to another word about George Zip.

Oh my. Evidently, the place was really beautiful, and the experience of utter silence so profoundly soothing that, like a magpie on speed, she just chattered on about it to anyone in earshot, leaving any sense of the irony of it all bobbing in the wake of the twin Evinrudes of her lips.

Evidently the  deep, nearly spiritual connection with silence didn’t take. She was a one person cocktail party, basically supplying both ends of the conversation as people desperately tried to appear otherwise engaged. It’s tough, though, attempting to appear compelled by reading the type on the air sickness bag.

It’s okay. Another day in the skies.  A baby started screaming, and the steam went out of any talking in our section. Lord what a wonderful noise.

More tk….

I Coulda Been a Contendah…..

Sep 17

In Rants at 11:34am


Gotta love The Onion. First rate reporting.

It’d be great to be a Blue Angels pilot, I think. But having flown in formation with them a couple of times and having my head scrambled to the point of not being able to find my ass with both hands while these guys are flying wingtip to wingtip at several hundred knots, I know that’s not happening. Ever. Just ain’t got the skills.

Everybody has occasionally wished to be something else, or perhaps something they cannot be. I wanted to play center for the New York Knicks many years ago. My meager athletic skills and tendency to remain steadfastly governed by the laws of gravity made that unrealistic.

I’m sure all of us who endeavor photographically have met folks who want to be photographers, which is totally cool. I’ve always been of the opinion that we’re all in this mix together. It can be a tough gig, but also a wonderful one and thus very alluring, so questions and aspirations abound. And, once the photographic cat is out of the bag, a gear discussion often ensues. Also cool. I’m a gearhead, so hey, let’s talk f-stops. But then there are those folks who don’t discuss wanting to be, or the fact that they love shooting and are thinking of dipping a toe in the market waters, or they are working on a project and learning and seeking advice and pushing and getting better. There are those folks who coulda been.

Met a pretty confident, aggressive guy recently, while shooting this Geographic job that is currently turning me into an angst ridden pretzel. He went the equipment route immediately. No wonder. He had lots of turbocharged stuff, like, I don’t know, the Canon 3D Mark4S with the Eddie Bauer camo coating and the fast glass with the low rider flame decals. I was, you know, respectful, saying intelligent, pithy things, like “Whoah.” And, “Cool.” Maybe the occasional, “Yeah!”

It was an extensive recitation, to be sure. He flat out said he really had the gear down, knew how to work all of that stuff and that he could be a photog. Lock solid. Done deal. Shoots lots of pictures.  Then, he got thoughtful and said, “My big problem is content.”

You know how you’re smiling at someone and there’s that moment where your face just kinda gets fixed and slightly immobile, cause it doesn’t know what to do next? You keep smiling, but it feels like somebody just slapped on a quick facial mask, one of those gooey, crusty, pomagranate, blue green algae seaweed paste numbers? A glazing, if you will.

What do you say? In my head I’m screaming, like, “That’s a pretty big problem, dude!” But I think I mumbled something about just hanging in and working it.

Happens, right? I had someone once, swear to God, say to me that they could be a photographer, but they just didn’t have the time. I kind of spluttered a reply, something like, yeah, wow, it can be time consuming. You’d have to take fewer shifts on the lube rack.

I love photographic dreams and aspirations. Got a ton of ’em, even still. I love looking at pictures and sorting out ideas. Especially at a workshop, where there is one essential element in the room all of us share–the desire to find the next level. It’s great looking at work, especially a project, ’cause that set of pictures is really a road map to how that person thinks and feels. That’s why picture editors I came up working for wanted to see your contact sheets, not just your greatest hits. Your contact sheets show very clearly where you hit it right, or where you went off the rails.

I especially love the fact that I still feel overwhelmed in the field. There are time I am so completely bereft of inspiration and ideas I say to myself, “I wonder what a really good photographer would do right now?” I’m not kidding, or being self effacing. There are some jobs I just feel like I’m standing there, the last human in a horror movie, and the zombies are closing in.

So you have to be confident, to be sure. (Or project confidence even while inside your head the insecurity meter has gone to DefCon Five.) But a healthy dose of anxiety and self doubt (“I’m using a 200–maybe I should go wide?”) are also important tools in your bag. Causes you to double check yourself and remember how fragile photographic success is, and while your last frame was Fat City the next one might be a ticket to Pismo Beach. The fact that you rarely have THE answer is a good one to remember. No need to focus on it to the point of paralysis. Just remember it.  You are only as good as your last job. The next one may just eat your lunch and your soul.

So I don’t have too much patience for the odd person or two or three or dozen who gives you that kind wink and cocksure nod about how they could do this bang on full time and you should see the fantastic stuff they just shot. I used to just smile and nod. Now, thirty years on in the struggle to be good at this seemingly easy thing to do, I think I just nod.

Oh well, just part of the human condition I guess. I mean, I coulda been a brain surgeon. I just always had a little trouble with math and science. More tk….

Searching for AT&T…

Aug 23

In Rants at 7:01pm

I’m in Maine, teaching at the venerable Maine Media Workshops. We had a great week, great class, nice bunch of folks. I haven’t told too many people about it though, cause in terms of cell phone connectivity,  I might as well be in Mongolia. The cell plan there might be better. I hear that after 9pm, you can yak all you want for free. Or is it, you can call all the yaks you want for free. Dunno. Have to read the fine print.


My cell signal I’m sure is out there, somewhere in the fog. Thing is I don’t have a boat. I’m land bound, so I drive around, looking for it. I find it here and there, glimmering at the end of the block, like a special effect in the movies. Five bars! Come closer, it beckons like a siren.  And then it vanishes,  just like those ball players in Field of Dreams.

We’re right at the water, so I’ve been thinking about penning a word doc on a thumbdrive and stashing it in a bottle, and hoping the coastal currents carry it New York way, just to let Annie know I’m safe. It’d be almost as efficient.

I’m operating my communications efforts at the behest of AT&T because Verizon lied to me. The man at the counter told me when I updated to the Storm that it’d work no problem on a Mac based system. A little software assist, and bing, the Storm would be smooth. Like buttah.

No. After two days of trying, which even consumed a freelance day rate to a tech savvy assistant, everyone at the office had dubbed my new phone the “ShitStorm.” Brad and Drew, on their way to Photoshop World, dragged my caveman ass into an Apple store to buy an Iphone. Which is what I made the pictures for this blog with. Thankfully it does takes pictures. Cause otherwise, that puppy’s just so much useless weight on the drag strip right now.

Oh well, it’s Maine. (Forget it Jake, it’s…Chinatown.) That beautiful stretch of Northeast that the rest of the country only remembers when they think about going someplace where it’s not too hot in the summer. Lots of nice folks up here. Though it must be admitted, there is a substantial, crusty group of natives who think being born in the state of Maine automatically bequeaths to you the right to be grumpy towards anyone not born in the state of Maine. And boy, in the summer, there are lots of those folks. Vacationers everywhere. Folks from the big city who de facto have no brains, can’t tie a bowline, get up senselessly late in the mawning, and are just uselessly frivolous because they weren’t born and raised up in good old Maine, the land common sense. In particular, if you’re not from here, you absolutely cannot operate a motor vehicle with any skill whatsoever. Given that fact, I drive very cautiously, so I don’t pull a move that will piss off a local. You never know. The person driving that pickup truck you just cut off might be a congenial, blue jeaned, hard working man of the land with a few acres and a barn full of cows. Or he just might be a genuine, deep fried state o’ Maine wingnut who got rid of the cows long ago and now has the barn stuffed with more heavy caliber automatic weaponry than a Somali warlord.

Nonetheless, people are on the roads, though. The traffic in downtown Camden on the weekends looks for all the world like the Manhattan side of the Holland Tunnel at 5pm. Why are all these folks here? Don’t they know there’s nothing to do here? I mean I guess there’s stuff to do, like hiking, boating, fishing, antiquing, staring at the fog, beating back mosquitoes who when they score it feels like you just got stung by a Black and Decker power drill with wings, or trying to decipher driving directions given out in a Maine accent. But most of these endeavors smack of relaxation, so I’m not all that interested.


Best reason I know of to come here is…ice cream. If you are wandering around downtown Camden and are not interested in buying a duck decoy or a hoodie with a picture of a lobster on it, head for Camden Cone. They’ve got this flavor I’ve not seen around before–black raspberry chip. Scoops of purple inundated with big chunks of chocolate. Only downside was that after I finished,  I walked six blocks with my empty ice cream cup, eventually just putting it in the truck and taking it home to throw out. Say what you will about New York, but every ten feet there’s a trash can. More tk….

Notes from the Flightline….

Jun 7

In Rants, Travels at 10:46pm

Man it was rough at Kennedy. I mean, it’s never easy at that nexus of sweat, angst, nerves and fatigue nestled near the Brooklyn shoreline. It’s a classic case of way too many of the frayed, obnoxious and demanding being serviced by way too few of the disinterested and disgruntled.

The cafeteria line was really long, made longer by people demanding specialty food alterations that really didn’t have a prayer of making anything that had been baking under glass for several hours in the noxious JFK terminal air taste any better.

One of the guys slinging food behind the counter did a quick, mostly covert move and appeared to get his finger so far up his nose as to indicate there might have been something truly valuable up there, but, ahhh, relief, he turned around and put on gloves. Thank goodness….with the motley and colorful variety of pizzas served there it would be tough to pick out a booger.

I got stuck behind two pleasant ladies who insisted on debating the various tantalizing merits of almost every offering, but then got themselves one slice of cheese pizza to split and moved forward. I was right behind them at the register when they sparked a lively debate with the cashier about getting the pizza/salad combo price and were informed the discount didn’t apply to a piece of plain cheese pie.

It was all cordial and chummy, but it took several minutes to agree to the ala carte pricing. And then! Drumroll please! The search for the wallet begins! Both of these ladies had shoulder bags the size of say, a large turkey. They were both crafted in that puffy, fabric-y style that looked like they were stitched together from the also rans at last year’s county fair quilting contest. Colorful is the kindest word I can find at this writing.

Eventually, the wallets were found, and the aforementioned pizza was bought. Why do women do that? Wait for the cashier to tell them the total and have a hand out before they in turn reach for the dough? I mean, they hadda zip open these bags and begin a rummage that would make the search for the holy frikkin’ grail look as easy as a connect the dots game on a Denny’s placemat.

I would not have put my hand inside one of these bags. The innards were spilling out and looked a bit reminiscent of that plant in Little Shop of Horrors. I was waiting for one of them to belch “Feed me!” in guttural tones. I’m surprised these women had all their fingers.

See, men don’t do that. They belly up to the counter, $20 in hand, and just fork it over. Like Robin Williams says, you get your McBurger and fries, grab your McChange and get the McFuck outta there. Maybe it’s cause we all remember our first illegal beer bought at a bar and we had no idea what it was gonna cost so we had a twenty ready to go so as not to get embarrassed by having to fish out some extra dough on the spot. Dunno. Might be genetic. Might be that chromosome right next to the one that causes Male Refrigerator Blindness.

Back to the ladies. Oh, we’re not done!  They also asked for cokes with lots of ice cause they had just got back from Europe, and you know, “In Europe, they just don’t serve anything with ice! I mean, really! They drink their soda warm! Can you imagine? And you can’t get tap water anywhere, it’s all in bottles, they cost like $6 each! I tell you, we’re glad to be back in America!”

And by golly, we’re glad to have you back…

I got on the plane and was seated next to someone who was part of a group that couldn’t get seats together so they were shouting to each other over the aisles. Pleasant. My neighbor allowed in a loud voice as he probably shouldn’t have just had those 4 beers. It was a swell flight. More tk…..