Taking pictures of strangers is a pretty stressful hurdle for a lot of photographers to clear. What if they say no? What if they get mad? What if they think you’re a creep?
Well it’s certainly a lot easier when a stranger asks you to take his photo. I was walking through Smale Riverfront Park in Cincinnati on Saturday when Ty asked me to take his picture. "Sure!" I said. I don't know why he asked, but I was happy to oblige. It kinda reminds me of a high school senior portrait, but he was already sitting like this, so it’s real and in-the-moment. I dig.
My family is on the road to Wisconsin to meet a new baby niece. We packed plenty of snacks, but lunch on the road was fast food. Our hotel last night was in Harrison, Ohio, a small town outside of Cincinnati and a mile from the Indiana border. Dinner expectations were low - just hoping for something simple the kids would eat.
Valerie was doing research on her phone as we approached our hotel, and the front-runner was Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. I have honestly never heard of this rapidly expanding chain, but it seems to be somewhere between Culver's and Steak 'n Shake. After checking in, I asked the fella behind the counter whether he’d eaten at Freddy's. Was it good or gross? He suggested if we were familiar with Culver's, Freddy's wouldn't be a surprise. And then he asked if we like barbecue.
"Oh, thanks, but we're from Virginia..." I started, trying to gently waive aside the suggestion of barbecue in southwest Ohio. Living in the South has spoiled me for barbecue the way that growing up in the North spoiled me for pizza and bagels.
"Well these folks are award-winning, and were invited to..." I don't remember where he said they were invited, but then he said four magic words: "They do burnt ends".
Change of plans. Valerie and I were taking the kids to Velvet Smoke.
Let me tell you, this place would do just fine in the South. I had some incredible burnt ends with creamy and delicious mac and cheese. Valerie loved her pulled pork so much that she did the unthinkable and saved her leftovers. On a road trip. Even Maddie loved the pulled pork. And the dang sauce! A sweet, tomato-based sauce that was a little zippy and quite good. I didn't even try the medium or hot because the mild was so tasty.
If you ever find yourself in or around Cincinnati, or driving toward Indianapolis, stop by this cue joint attached to a gas station. It's right off Interstate 74, and worth every minute you spend there. If the timing works out on the return trip, we may try to stop there again and try some ribs or smoked wings.
In November 2012 I was part of a special, fun little event in Richmond, Virginia: the inaugural Bill Conference. This was an "un-conference", an event with few, simple rules and no starting agenda. Some speakers (including myself) were approached ahead of time to seed the field, but most of the speaking slots were volunteers that day. Some attendees were prepared, others signed up in the moment and spoke extemporaneously. It was raw and pure and wonderful.
Bill Conference was created in response to the peak popularity of TED talks at the time, whose slogan is "ideas worth spreading". Bill Conference, on the other hand, proclaimed "Ideas are easy. Making stuff is hard." So I decided to stick with "ideas" and talk about how I could keep them from getting in the way of making stuff.
My whole talk outline is below:
Talking at BILL Conference
Giving Away My Ideas
1. Show video (if possible) from Coudal Partners about hobbies…
2. That's me - totally unfocused, interests all over the map.
Making lists of stuff?
3. This lack of focus means a lot of ideas all over the place. Now I'm going to share some with you - and I'm not afraid to give these ideas away because I haven't done anything with them. In most cases it's been about a year since I first wrote these down. Here's a sample:
// "I don't own a TV dinner" or "The Hipster Happy Meal"
// "Now that's a Hoff of a different color" - Traced/watercolor illustration of Dustin Hoffman with those words in the foreground
// Zen Cone - traffic or ice cream cone accompanied by some profound statement about traffic or ice cream.
// Write a hard-core rap called "Luxury Car Entitlement Syndrome" from the perspective of a reckless Mercedes driver taunting other people on the road.
// Create three music samples
// Make a short audio clip of the phrase "I love you" but replace the word "love" with a dubstep bass drop
// A parody book of creepy baby shower games
// An essay about the value of spending my money on travel vs. my house and possessions
// A blog post about how not being a genre fan, or something…
4. I write all of these down in this little notebook that I keep in my pocket. I do this to get ideas out of my head and make room for the ideas to keep flowing. Not only does it help me stop wasting mental energy on things I'm not doing, but FOR ME, it increases the chances of getting to an idea worth grabbing on to. And I've actually completed a some, like:
a. Writing and delivering a talk about shooting film photography
b. Develop, record, edit, and publish a new podcast.
The whole point of my talk was that I wanted to give away these ideas because they weren't precious to me. I get ideas all the time, and I was writing them in this notebook to get them out of my head. Making space for more ideas. Maybe I’d act on them, but probably I wouldn't. In the case of the ideas I shared that day, I hadn't acted on any of them in at least a year.
But a curious thing happened when I was done, and it haunts me a little to this day to the point where I wish I could go back and give better responses. Most of the people in the audience completely missed the point. I mean, it was probably the fault of my own amateur writing and delivery. I recall the majority of questions and comments revolving around better ways to collect/catalog ideas for later rather than how to get out from under the weight of ideas and move closer to doing something. Delivering the talk was deeply satisfying and exhilarating, but the response left me bewildered.
I don't really write my ideas down these days because a year after that talk I had my first child, and I barely have time for one hobby, let alone extra ideas. But I still believe in the concept. I suspect as my children grow up and I have a little more of my own voice back in my head that the ideas will return. I'm still going to want them out of my head so I don't get hung up on them. I'm still probably going to give them away after a while.
Tonight I finished watching Steven Universe. I cried because it was the end of something magnificent, beautiful, and original. I started watching the series only a few weeks ago with my kindergartner daughter and we promised not to watch any of it without the other. This quickly became a personal challenge, because I fell hard for this little work of visual and narrative art, told 11.5 minutes at a time. But I kept my end of the bargain, and it became a wonderful shared piece of culture for my kid and myself.
My 3-year-old son fell for it because, well, it's a cartoon with sight gags, action, wonderfully catchy music, and a striking visual style that's more detailed than it looks. My wife fell for the show for reasons that many adults (and me) surely do: the characters are richly developed and experience change over the course of five seasons. The overarching story and many smaller plots deal with complex emotional situations, evolving relationships, and heavy existential questions.
I love that Steven seeks to resolve conflict by also seeking to understand his opponents. I love the occasional homage to other TV shows (particularly some animated classics). I love the love-personified that is Garnet. I love that while most of the Crystal Gems have weapons, Steven has a shield. I love Connie, and Lion, and yeah, eventually Lars, too. I love the way music and dance are woven into the fabric of the show and its imaginative world. I love that such a deep, artful piece of entertainment could survive for five seasons on the Cartoon Network.
There's supposed to be a made-for-TV movie this fall, and I will try to be optimistic about it. I'm not sure what story is left to tell after the finale of season five, but I'm so into Steven Universe after inhaling it that I'll trust show creator Rebecca Sugar to deliver something meaningful. After all, she's why the people of this world believe in Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl...
I’ve only been knocked out once in my life. I was maybe 19 or 20 and was playing tackle football with some friends. I'm no athlete but I'm really hard to knock over so, with three guys hanging off of me already, a fourth gets his arm around my neck and brings me down. I remember falling, but I don't remember the impact.
The next thing I do remember is looking up at the sky with my friends standing over me in a circle. Nothing hurt, I didn't feel dizzy, and I felt fine the rest of the weekend. But something weird happened with my vision for the first time.
Imagine, for a moment, that you start seeing a bright spot in your vision—like what you’d see if you stared too long at an intense light source. But it doesn't fade over time; rather, it persists and grows, tracing an arc around your field of view. And then you realize that it’s not just a bright spot, but you can't even see anything behind it. It looks the same whether you have either one or both eyes open. You wave your hands in front of you and it’s as if they disappear as they pass behind a sparkly obstruction floating in the air. Then after about twenty minutes it just kinda fades away.
The first time I experienced this vision impairment was the very day I was knocked out. Later in the day I was talking to somebody when it started and, as it progressed, I became a little alarmed. I tried to make sense of what I was...partially...seeing, but I was able to piece together all the details in the short time it lasted. Of course as a stupid college kid I didn't think about it after it went away, and I never visited a doctor for a consultation. I connected the experience to my injury, but otherwise had no clue what was going on.
You know those wacky, spider-like head massager thingies? They look kinda like those Maman sculptures by Louise Bourgeois but with thin copper wires that spread open as you push the massager over somebody's (or your own) head.
I was at the mall in my mid-20s with my wife and some friends, and as we passed by a kiosk one of the friends stopped and grabbed a massager dingus.
"You ever see one of these things? They're scalp massagers, and they make your head tingle."
And without missing a beat she plopped it down over that back of my skull. I kind of shivered and felt goosebumps from head to toe, like my whole body convulsed at once. On the way back to the car, I noticed that strange visual anomaly creeping in, and I was glad my wife was driving instead of me.
Six? Maybe seven times all together in the past 17-18 years. This visual weirdness doesn't happen too often. The frequency hasn't increased, the severity hasn't increased, and I’ve never experienced any pain, nausea, or other discomfort/impairment when it happens. The most recent occurrence was just last week at the coffee shop. On the drive over, some intense reflections of the sun off of some windows caught me in the eyes. As I was sitting down to enjoy my espresso, what I thought were merely persistent bright spots spread out into my old surreal, annoying friend.
I'm not one to self-diagnose, but since I’ve historically been lazy about visiting physicians, I have done some research about this condition. It’s called a scintillating scotoma, or migraine aura. It happens when electrical impulses start to spread over the surface of the visual cortex of the brain, which is at the back of the skull. Most folks experience this condition preceding a migraine headache, and while there may be pain, dizziness, nausea, or speech trouble before the headache takes over, it’s possible for people to simply experience the vision problem. Some folks, like me, never get a headache afterward. I'm given to understand that common optical migraine triggers can also trigger the scotoma.
I’ve never had a migraine headache in my life (to date...knock on wood), but I’ve had these visual migraine precursors. I'm fairly certain that head injury in college is the root cause since I landed on the back of my head. The scalp massager seems like a clear trigger based on the overstimulating input at the back of my skull. And the most recent incident involved a common migraine trigger: intense light.
These days I do have a primary care physician. Migraine aura doesn't worry me all that much, but since this all seems to stem from a head injury back in the day, I might as well tell my doctor about it at my next visit.
Today, while helping my mother-in-law with a word processor problem, she just casually drops some anecdote about her childhood friend's older sister Judy. "You know, the woman who wrote Ordinary People?"
Oh, just ol' Judy? Just the author of one of the best novels I read in high school that was adapted to cinema four years after publication for a Best Picture Oscar? I’ve heard most of my mother-in-law's stories dozens of times, but this was the first time I found out she spent part of her childhood playing with Judith Guest's younger sister...that she attended the author's wedding as a kid.
Her stories from Ripon College about young "Harry Ford" are practically on a loop, but this was a new one.
10:30 PM - contemplated how lovely the weather was for sleeping outside
10:35 PM - realized that no spot on the ground is ever as flat as I think it is
10:45 PM - wondered how long I would be awake before my body gave up and fell asleep
11:05 PM - realized that the periodic thwacking sounds in the distance were dads in another campsite playing cornhole a few campsites over
11:58 PM - wondered if I could, undetected, slash the tires on the trucks belonging to the inconsiderate dads still playing cornhole and cheering loudly late into the night
01:30 AM - my body, wondering why I'm still awake, decides this is when I need to leave the tent to use the bathroom
03:00 AM - got to see/hear my daughter laugh in her sleep
04:00 AM - realized my bet against needing the rain fly on my tent was wrong
04:05 AM - realized I could put the rain fly on the tent by myself in about 60 seconds
04:07 AM - rain intensifies, making the early morning interruption worthwhile
06:40 AM - woke up stiff and bleary-eyed to a beautiful, cool morning that made up for most of the night
- Bosch PS31-2A cordless power drill
- Vivian Maier: The Color Work by Colin Westerbeck
- Tank, regulator, tubing and other parts necessary to make my own beverage carbonator
- A week of somebody else watching my kids so my wife and I can get a real vacation
- Time to walk around and make photographs during the day, in the middle of the week, when the weather is actually pleasant
- A little less conversation, a little more action, please
- A guarantee. No more attempts on my father's life.
- Zigzag ha
- A french fry robot
- A tactical string trimmer
- No regrets
- Something like a superpower that lets me know, intuitively, how to cook anything
- Maybe also the ability to find rest in a nap
- And no more allergies emerging during middle-age
- My own private Idaho
- 200 school buses
- An easy way out
Back in January, having seen ads in my Instagram feed for a while, I caved in and ordered one of these totally sweet (okay, totally tacky) jackets in gray:
"Ice Cold Lemonade", it turns out, is probably some shell company reselling cheap goods from China at a profitable markup. No big deal, I guess. I didn't pay much for this jacket at the time. I got my tracking number and waited a few weeks for the jacket to make its way through China's postal service and into the USA.
When the USPS tracking system told me it was delivered to my front door, I was pretty upset to discover that it wasn't actually there. I don't have a history of package theft in my neighborhood, but in recent months, I’ve had some occasionally crummy mail delivery service. Judging by the number of mail pieces delivered to my house for an address with a similar number or one block over with the same number, I assumed the same may have happened with my package. The best USPS could do was to "open up a case", which was effectively a dead end. By late February I’d written it off as a loss.
But I still occasionally saw marketing emails from the seller advertising the jacket, and I still really liked it. So this past week I did the unthinkable—something I never do—and bought it a second time. Order confirmed on Thursday, tracking number from China's mail system on Friday morning. I even remarked to a coworker on Friday about how unlike me it was to repurchase a lost item.
SO OF COURSE I get home on Friday to find that, nearly four months after the original order (and the day the new order has already shipped and can therefore no longer be cancelled), a weathered package from China has been left on one of my porch chairs. This thing looked like it had sat on an unknown neighbor's porch the entire time it was missing, but the contents inside were unsullied. So yeah, I felt pretty stupid right away, but I was also excited to finally receive the original order.
I tore open the package and things got weird before hitting me squarely with the stupid stick once more. I'm a big dude, so I ordered this jacked in the largest available size: 3XL. A puffy-cut windbreaker-style jacket of that size should have been just fine. Why, then, did the tag inside this garment say 5XL? I wrote it off as a difference in sizing between countries. I tried it on, and I'll tell you that this jacket may not have fit me when I was wearing XL garments in my youth.
I felt bad enough when the missing package showed up the very day my replacement order shipped. I felt extra stupid when I realized the redundant jacket won't even fit me when it gets here.
This whole experience has been deeply humiliating, but I figure I might as well share the story publicly so that I can move past it. I think I'll eventually laugh about it; not so much the wasted money and poor decision making as the crazy timing—the when and how I discovered my folly.
I'm a "come here" in Richmond, Virginia, even though I’ve now lived in this city for over half my life. And so I have an outsider's perspective on some of the Old Richmond traditions in a way that outsiders to any community do. I don't think most folks outside of my birth state of New Jersey know what a proper hard roll is, and they probably wouldn't understand why I care so much if they ate one. They don't have years of life experience, family memories, and community nostalgia to support what might be an otherwise unremarkable thing.
Sidebar: the “hard roll” (not to be confused with the similar kaiser roll) seems to be so intimately linked to the pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich that I find it nearly impossible to find a useful link to explain them. Nearly everything I see from the past few years are worthless Pinterest lists or forum postings about Jersey natives lamenting the disappearance of our favorite breakfast bread. Some things can’t even be preserved on the Internet, it would seem!
I similarly don't see much to celebrate around The Dairy Bar or Legendary Santa. I mean, I get why they're special for people who have shared milkshakes with grandparents for generations or whose family has visited with Legendary Santa back to the days of Miller & Rhoads on Broad Street. But the rest of appeal is lost on me. This weekend, however, my wife and I shared a little bit of Old Richmond with our kids that carries as much wonder and joy for outsiders as those who grew up in the region: a movie screening at The Byrd Theater.
A friend of ours invited us at the last minute to catch a showing of The Lego Movie 2 late in the afternoon, and we were game for it. Both of our children were completely awestruck by the interior as their eyes adjusted to the low light, and my daughter kept asking whether it was a "play movie theater" (comparing it, I imagine, to the Carpenter Theater where she saw The Nutcracker this past December). Even better, and unexpected for the afternoon showing, was the performance from Bob Gulledge on the Wurlitzer organ coming out of the floor.
Valerie and I are no strangers to the organ or the theater—we’ve even participated in the pre-It’s a Wonderful Life sing-along. But it was a new kind of joy to share a little bit of this old town with my kids. I even forgot the terrible seats for most of the movie :-)
I made a silly:
Behold the Taco Grand Inquisitor, aka Tomás de Taco-mada, leader of the Tex-Mex Inquisition.
An old 1960-something Checker Marathon, more familiar as a classic checkered yellow taxi cab through the 1980s. I hunted around forever trying to identify this thing, comparing every American (and many European) make, model, and year in the 1950s and pouring over photos of hubcaps. I was stuck in the 50’s because most of the stylistic elements on this body (flared rear fender, roof line, hubcap style) were only around between around ‘51 and ‘55.
Then, of course, my brilliant pal Phil took one look at it and realized exactly what it was: an old sedan from the Checker Motors Company. I should have asked him from the beginning and saved myself more than a few hours of research :-P
I drink everything pretty fast. Doesn't really matter whether it’s milk, water, beer, or a Tom Collins. If you’re a server at my table in a restaurant, don't bother asking—yes, I would like more to drink, thanks.
There's no beverage I drink faster—nay, chug—quite like unsweetened iced tea. I know it’s better for me to drink unsweetened tea anyway, but I just happen to like the taste. It’s what I want the most after mowing the lawn (even more than a High Life or a good kölsch). I can drain a quart of unsweetened tea in under 10 seconds if I'm truly thirsty.
I'm not picky about the brand/variety when I'm thirsty, but given the choice, I like Japanese teas - they tend to be more earthy and vegetal than Western palates prefer, but they tend to quench my thirst a bit more effectively. Ito En is a solid, common brand I see at ramen shops and Asian groceries, and my office has been carrying some of their teas in our beverage cooler for some time now.
One of my increasingly favorite products is the Ice-Steeped Cold Brew green tea. It's milder than some of the other products (not that I mind) and has a little less caffeine (that I do mind just a little :-P), but what strikes me the most is the aroma. The taste is in line with the above, generalized description, but this tea has a strong, uncanny aroma of honey. Bottle after bottle. It's intoxicatingly sweet-smelling, and provides a nice contrast to the flavor profile. This isn't sponsored (as if...), I just love the stuff. If you like unsweetened tea, find it. And give it a sniff!