Monday, September 16, 2013

Grand Canyon

Well, my “big trip” turned off cold, wet, and rainy, but I got a few shots (I admit, I photoshopped them pretty heavily in some instances to clear them up so you can see what I saw.).  Click the picture for larger.







^^^^(same as above, just black and white.)







Lockheed Constellation






Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Well, since many of my friends have written their 9/11 stories, I suppose I will write mine.  Mine pale compared with some, and certainly with any of those from people who lived in the City that day.  But I have two disconnected stories, and since this blog is really more of a diary than a blog (thank you faithful readers, all 4 of you), I figure I might as well write them down while I still remember them….

I started out in Houston, moved back to Dallas, then to Los Angeles, then back to Dallas.  I was living in Dallas in the late 80’s.  In most of the office buildings there then (as today) there is a little shop/burger bar/convenience store featuring some kind of (usually) edible items, along with the usual assortment of candy, Cokes, etc.  The food in our little cafĂ© was REALLY good, surprisingly so.  It was my first introduction into Iranian food.  The proprietor, Amir, a genial man with laughing eyes, always with a joke, a smile, a positive attitude, was a fabulous cook and prepared his family dishes.  We lapped them up.  If he wasn’t too busy, we’d invite him to join us, and eventually he told us his story.

Amir’s father was one of the “big” generals of the Shah of Iran (no, I don’t remember his name).  Amir was a happy-go-lucky student at the University of Tehran, majoring primarily in girls.  The family had money—Amir’s mother went shopping in her chauffeured Benz—so there wasn’t a LOT of pressure on him to graduate.  He was taking a leisurely course through college.  One morning, however, a teacher brought him an urgent communique from his father—“Come home immediately.”  Fearing for his family members (“Is Mother sick?”) he raced home.  His father was in his full “Imperial” uniform.  “Hurry, grab what you must have and get in the car, there’s no time!”  The Benz tore past the security at the airport and pulled up beside a waiting plane.  The family piled out and boarded—except for Dad.  He stood back, threw his most full, powerful salute, and watched his family fly to freedom.  He was executed 2 months later, on television.

Amir and his family arrived in New York with nothing—no money, no friends, very rudimentary english.  They had a distant cousin in northern New Jersey, and to the cousin they went.  Amir learned enough to fake his way into driving a cab, and did so for years, carefully saving money.

His brother found work in Dallas and soon Amir went for a visit.  He fell in love with it, and soon was running the little snack bar and regaling us with his stories.

After a while, though, he got an opportunity he could not refuse—one of his friends was going to sell his store in New York.  Amir sold out in Dallas and returned to New York, leaving us with those awful pre-prepared pimento cheese sandwiches on cardboard….

The next year, my company became ambitious and sent ME to New York.  I love New York; once you live there, a part of you is always a New Yorker. 

The first year, you’re a tourist—don’t go to sleep, you might miss something!  It’s Disneyland for grownups!  Ride the rides!  See the shows!  Eat the food! 

The second year you are a New Yorker.  You KNOW.  You can get around effortlessly, you know when the best time to visit each museum is, you know the best dim sum (the rest of the country had never heard of dim sum), the best falafel, the best burger, the coldest beer, the best deli, the best place to get a “pie” (New York for “pizza”).  I still find myself standing “ON” line, rather than “IN” line. 

The third year, somehow the glitz has faded a bit.  It’s hard to be glamorous when your best outfit has just been splashed with the black slush in the street from a passing M5 bus.  You start missing your car.  I have been peed upon by another adult human being one time---in New York. 

We were smug, we New Yorkers, in our own greatness.  A visit to the Trade Center was special, even for New York  It is impossible (and I tear up trying) to describe High Tea at Windows on the World.  The food:  sublime.  The service:  astonishing.  The atmosphere:  priceless.  Ordering another pitcher of martini’s, having them whisper down the throat as the sun sinks and the lights begin to come on….Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city!

In any event, I had a lot of business in the Trade Center (lots of insurance brokerages and law firms there), and was a frequent visitor. 

You took the #1 train, because it stopped there.  You could take the #2 (limited) or #3 (express) from Times Square, but that could be fraught with peril—the #1 trains were the new Japanese jobs, silent, graffiti-less, gleaming stainless steel with a/c that WORKED, while it was a crapshoot on the old bumpy, much painted, much graffiti-ed, sometimes ratty—as in, rats running through—though they got you there much faster. 

I got off the #1 train one day, happy-go-lucky, heading for an appointment when I heard yelling.  Yelling in NYC has two timbres:  street-corner prophets yelling about the end of the world (tune out) and urgent yelling, like NYPD yelling, “GET DOWN!”  This was that second timbre and I immediately turned to look.  the yelling was coming from Amir, who had seen me walk by his shop on the mezzanine of the South Tower and chased after me.  The cops were on the alert until we grabbed and hugged each other ferociously, obviously long-lost friends.  The cops went back to their doughnuts and Amir and I had much to say.  I went to my appointment and when I was through, spent the rest of the day with him, catching up.  He owned the little shop In the mezzanine in the South Tower, he was very very proud of it.  He proudly showed the pictures of his sons and his lovely wife.  He invited me to his home but I had other obligations, and demurred, saying we would do it another time.  As I walked away, I turned and saw him standing in the door of the shop, arm raised in farewell.  I raised mine as well. 

I never saw him again.  You know, you get busy and things go on and such, I was young and living in the most exciting city on the earth—we lost touch.  I moved back to Dallas, then to Nashville, then Little Rock.


Those who know me well know of my 6th sense, my “spidey sense”, “guardian angel”, “psychic ability”, whatever you want to call it.  It has saved my neck many times.  Usually, at the time, I am not consciously aware, but I will suddenly hit a whole set of obstacles and then find out later why.  Nowadays, I recognize it more easily and heed it more consciously.

Arkansas played a disastrous game to open our new Stadium in Fayetteville.  The game was against Tennessee and it was marred by a ferocious lightning storm.  My buddy Rob had come up for the game; I had to hustle him out that Sunday after the game; I had suddenly acquired a business trip to Charleston, West Virginia.  (I rarely choose my trips, they choose me).  I had to leave Sunday and fly all day—there is no good way to get from Little Rock, Arkansas to Charleston, West Virginia.  I finally wound up with a not-too-bad American deal—American LIT to DFW, DFW to STL, then STL to Charleston.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Got there Sunday night, spent the night at the Hampton, got up next morning and had my meeting, then headed to the airport to see if I could squeeze on a better flight.

There had been a storm in the midwest and American was AFU (figure out what that stands for).  The guy before me in line was an asshole, berating the poor gate agent.  He finally stormed off and she wearily said, “Next”.  I got to the front, said, “Ma’am?”, she looked up.  “Take a minute and take a few deep cleansing breaths.  Stretch a second.  I’ll wait.  We’re not going anywhere.  Take a second.”  She did—and by golly, she was going to get me to my destination.  It’s amazing how far a little kindness will go.

She routed and routed, finally coming up with a bizarre but workable solution.  “Ok, here’s the deal, just hear me out….Charleston to LaGuardia.  LGA to Miami.  Miami to Dallas.  No extra charge.”  I said, “Book it!” and cheerfully boarded my flight for LGA.

It was one of those spectacular fall days in New York City that seems straight out of a storybook, or a picture postcard.  Blue sky, you could see to Jupiter.  Bright yellow sun outlining all the brilliant, crazy, wonderful shapes that are New York, the most marvelous place on the earth.  We took off from LGA and, as luck would have it, we took a path known to many a New Yorker, the same path that would many years later be taken by Sully Sullenberger—take off, bank sharp left, come straight back down the Hudson.  Beautiful, spectacular views.  We got to the World Trade Center (which I had seen thousands of times at least) and I suddenly, without warning (to myself or others), and out of the clear blue sky burst into tears.  I do cry easily, but I “mist up”.  I do not burst into tears; I do not bawl; I do not “boo hoo”.  I couldn’t stop all of the above.  The flight attendant came to see if I was all right.  Every time I’d look at the WTC, I’d start a fresh round.  I had no explanation but was inconsolable the entire rest of the flight to Miami, thence on to Dallas. 

The date was September 10, 2011.


denouement:  I arrived at LIT very, very late at night, then had another hour drive home.  I was exhausted and, as I could then, dropped into bed.  Woke up late the next morning (hey, it was my company…) and padded into the kitchen.  This still occurs.  “Let. Dog. Out. Coffee. Must. Have. Coffee.”  So, I fixed my coffee and padded into the room I used as a den/office.  Flipped on the TV and they had some stupid disaster movie on—WTC on fire.  Where was the freaking Today Show?  I flipped to CBS—same movie.  With enough java juice, it dawned on me that there apparently was a fire in one of the twin towers.  Geez!  and I was just there yesterday! 

As my slow brain made this realization, the second plane hit the South Tower.  It was one of those moments (I don’t like them) when you go from either all or 3/4 asleep to suddenly all-the-way-awake, every pore, every bone, cobwebs gone, on the alert, adrenalin pumping---and I thought, “OH MY GOD, WE’RE BEING ATTACKED!”

As first one, then the other, of the magnificent twin towers sank in a flaming pile of debris, as people leapt to their deaths, as brave firemen and policemen gave their lives to help others, suddenly it struck me like a thunderbolt:  I had seen these towers YESTERDAY.  And wept bitterly.  Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen…Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is your judgment come….(it’s bad to remember all these bible verses at the wrong time).


So there you have it, my 9/11 stories.  I prefer not to dwell on it.  It makes me very sad.  The loss of life was horrendous, the entire country staggered.  I’ve never told those stories publicly before, only to close friends.  But, here they are.

Maybe someday, I’ll have the courage to write down some of my –other- stories.

Meanwhile, let’s salute the City with the Chairman:


Start spreading the news
I am leaving today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York

These vagabond shoes
They are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York

I want to wake up in that city
That doesn't sleep
And find I'm king of the hill
Top of the heap

My little town blues
They are melting away
I gonna make a brand new start of it
In old New York

If I can make it there
I'll make it anywhere
It's up to you
New York, New York

New York, New York
I want to wake up in that city
That never sleeps
And find I'm king of the hill
Top of the list
Head of the heap
King of the hill

These are little town blues
They have all melted away
I am about to make a brand new start of it
Right there in old New York

And you bet baby
If I can make it there
You know, I'm gonna make it just about anywhere
Come on, come through
New York, New York, New York

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Special Thank You

To the Houstonian( s) whose heir( s)(?) donated (to the Goodwill on Katy Freeway at Beltway 8) your exquisitely tasteful (we will overlook the Carpenters in light of the Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, Bizet, and Bing) collection of (anal-retentively maintained) albums, with a plastic dust jacket covering each album cover, which contains the flawless, like-new records: 

Having inspected a couple of your records and having figured out what they were, I looked frantically through the rack and found as many of the rest as were left; I then (gulp—even at Goodwill prices…) bought the lot.  I promise that I will endeavor to maintain them as well as you did, and I will toast you when I listen to them.

So thank you, whoever and wherever you are.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Photo Practice: Galveston

Trying to learn the camera, trying to learn PhotoShop (at least the rudiments of both) before my big trip this upcoming weekend.

I went to Galveston yesterday.  I don’t know why I don’t go more, it’s 45 minutes down the road and is a great trip.  Sitting on the seawall looking at the Gulf is great.  I didn’t go to “The Spot” this time, but only because I didn’t want alcohol when I had to drive back.

The Strand is a great photo op, the only part of Galveston that survived the 1901 Hurricane.  (If you’re interested in the 1901 Hurricane, read Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larsen.)

In any event, we proved:  (1) I’ve got a lot to learn about photography, the Nikon D90, and Photoshop Elements 11, and (2) I am too old and tottery to climb around on the jettys any more (sad face).  Well, worse things are coming….

All the below are with my Nikon D90 except those denoted in the comments as “iPhone 5”.

My efforts from yesterday:  (Click for full-size)


^You really do need to click this one.  I really shouldn’t do these, I risked a lot; I was driving, slowed down, and shot a burst of shots to make a panorama, getting horn-blasted by the christian in the minivan behind me whom I was making late to church (it was Sunday morning, everybody in the car dressed up; he honked, shook his fist, then sped around me while telling me I was #1 with his finger.  Nice going, Dad, in your minivan with the kids in the back.  Great example, and fine example of christianity…just reinforces what the rest of us think of you….)  This is the best view in Houston; I call it “Power and Money” because that’s what it is.  From left to right:  Galleria area (bookended by San Felipe Place (left) and the Transco/Williams Tower (right), larger than downtown Denver.  In the background between the Transco and Greenway Plaza, you see some “purple” buildings in the distance; that’s downtown Houston.  Further to the right are the towers of the Texas Medical Center, the largest accumulation of medical professionals in the world.  Immediately in front of you is the Southwest Freeway, and you can see the stack where it merges with the West Loop, the busiest intersection in Texas, one of the 5 busiest in North America, and the only 5-level stack in North America.  Power and Money.


^Whenever going to Galveston, I always stop at Kelley’s.  It’s NOT on my diet.  The Texas Breakfast, chicken-fried steak, grits, 2 eggs, biscuit and gravy, coffee, $10.  And the waitress calls you “hun” en espanol.  Kelley was a Houston Police motorcycle cop who was in the honor guard for JFK and Jackie when they paraded through Houston on November 21, 1963.  Kelley was later injured, and wound up being off the force.  He bought an old Rexall drug store and started his restaurant, which is still frequented by virtually the entire HPD (you’re very safe there).  One of my favourite things in Houston. iPhone 5


^This is the Texas Breakfast.  Chicken Fried Steak w/ cream gravy, grits, 2 eggs, biscuit and more cream gravy, coffee with cream.  Heart attack special.  As I tweeted, it’s gonna take a lot of bike rides to pay for that one, but it was worth it.  $10 + tip.  And the waitresses call you “hon” en espanol.  And yes, I ate all of it and no, I’m not ashamed.


The view from my seat at Kelley’s.  South Texas—Puffy little white clouds, palm trees—and a packed Gulf Freeway….Winking smile


^Speaking of “packed Gulf Freeway”, I should have left a couple of hours earlier.  Gulf Freeway (IH 45) Southbound at Beltway 8.  iPhone 5


^The Strand, “The Wall Street of the Southwest” ca. 1901, the central business district of the largest city in Texas in 1901, the biggest port, the richest, etc.  Dallas and Houston where?  San Antonio who?  These people ran the state.  The Strand, being on the highest ground on the island, survived the storm.  Most of the residences did not.  Again, read Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larsen (Isaac Cline was the Weather Bureau Chief in 1901; it’s a fascinating book.  His office was on The Strand, on the left side of the picture about 2 blocks down). The Strand is now a shopping district, almost wholly gay-owned/operated.  The Galveston Mardi Gras parade and Gay Pride parade go down this street, with throngs of people on the sidewalks and hanging off the balconies, a la New Orleans.  It’s very much like New Orleans.  Shops below, people live above in lavishly decorated apartments that belie the somewhat run-down look of the exteriors.  At the end of the street, the old Santa Fe railroad station now hosts the Galveston Railroad Museum, my next photoshoot when I’m bored on the weekend.

Following are just some architectural things I liked:






^Galveston is now a very busy cruise port.  The Carnival Magic, one of their biggest ships, is ported here.  Nathan and Pam got off this ship the night before I took the picture.  It’s 2 blocks from The Strand.



^I love this one and don’t remember having seen it before.  Maybe it’s freshly restored?




^This one really is yellow.  Love all the colours.



^Love this one too, and also don’t remember it.  I can identify the architectural style on this one:  Richardsonian Romanesque.


^Didn’t the City National Bank look imposing?  A safe place for your cash.


^The Tremont House—huge, imposing, glamourous, grand, and still one of Galveston’s finest.





^After the hurricane of 1901, the citizens literally shoved all the rubble down to the beach and used it as a base for a 17 foot Seawall.  They then back-filled the rest of the island behind it before rebuilding.  You can still see parts of houses, facades, columns, etc. in the rubble at the bottom. 


^Periodically, I just need the Gulf.  And, my God, I look just like my Mother’s family, just like Mom and her brother.  Geepers….   iPhone 5



^I love this picture.  I got to a deserted section of the Seawall and parked (my car is on Seawall Blvd. directly out of sight).  This gal whipped in directly behind me and I was at first afraid she was mad at me or something (I’d made a U-turn to do it).  No, she was just doing the same thing as me, taking a serenity break.  I climbed down onto the Jettys, she stayed up on top of the Seawall.  It was at least 10 degrees cooler where I was….



^Messing around with Photoshop


^Another in my “Kids, don’t try this at home” series.  I’ve been wanting this picture forever.  Very dangerous, heavy traffic on the Gulf Freeway approaching downtown (University of Houston is on left out of picture).   I was pretty impressed with myself on this one.


^Almost home.  Second-tallest stack in the US, 5 feet shorter than the “High Five” in Dallas.  This is the intersection of Katy Freeway (IH 10) (on which I’m traveling) and Beltway 8, the Sam Houston Tollway.  My exit is directly after this interchange.


^These were bloomed out when I got home.  As close to Cardinal and White as I am going to get, I think.


Yes, I left out many Galveston landmarks.  That’s the next trip.  So much to see and do, so many pics to take.  I have no talent, but I keep plugging.  Thanks to my few loyal followers for putting up with me. 


Finally:  One minute of serendipity: