New York City I: Nice Day for a Walk

 

I was 16 the summer of 1986 when I won a trip to the United Nations. At that time, New York City was a different animal. And by animal, I mean animal. As in “feral.” It was every bit the horrible urban hellscape we saw on TV, only worse. Our hosts (the Odd Fellows Lodge) were strict about the rules: Stay in your lines, keep your wallets in your front pockets, and for God’s sake, no matter what you do, don’t talk to anyone.

This was good advice. For the entire week, we marched up one side of stinking Manhattan and down the other, sweating in our sport coats or formal dresses. We stepped over street people sleeping on the sidewalk, tried to ignore the piles of garbage stacked like greasy beanbags outside the restaurants, and flinched at the sound of women screaming and chasing the crack addicts who had stolen their purses. The copy of New York Newsday, left on our bed by the maids on Day One, bore the lovely headline COP SHOOTING. To a kid from Cottage Grove, Ore., population 7,000, New York was terrifying. It assaulted the nose with sewage, fryer grease, and urine. And by the time I left, I was in love with it. I loved the buildings that disappeared into clouds. I loved seeing A Chorus Line at the Schubert Theater. I loved seeing all those important places that I’d always heard about on the news. When the bus pulled away and started the long trip back across the continent, I knew I wanted more. Someday soon, I’d return as a writer or a talk show host or some other sweet gig that would put me right in the middle of that beautiful mess.

Thirty-one years later, I finally made it back. I never got that book contract or that sweet NYT job. But I did have a couple of vacation days, some money in the bank, and my Canon. Mindful of the fact that New York wasn’t entirely tamed, I kept my 74-105mm and 200mm lenses at home and forced myself to get by with my 50mm—or, the “Nifty Fifty” as one blog put it. It sticks out of the camera body about 2 inches. It also forces the intrepid photographer to get close to the action.

I’m a little sad to report that New York … just wasn’t the same. That was mostly good, I guess. I could walk the streets without fear. I was ready for anything, of course. But it just wasn’t necessary. This new version of New York reminded me of when I lived in Portland, with maybe more angry car horn-honking but with fewer street people. (I counted two of them, and they were tucked away off the sidewalk, politely sleeping on boxes.) This time around, only hazard to walking around before dawn was getting inadvertently sprayed with a hose, because apparently they clean the sidewalks now. Servers in restaurants were much less cranky; new accents had replaced the standard dropped-R: Dominican, Eastern European, and others that I couldn’t place. But oh, New York. What happened to you? The fight has left the place. I don’t know if it was the much-maligned Disney-fication of Times Square or whatever, or if the city is still recovering from 9/11. Or maybe the creeping automation and Amazon.com has eliminated the need for people and storefronts to be stacked on top of each other.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked the cleaner, safer Manhattan 2.0. But I wanted some of the old New York. I wanted to be yelled at by a cop or something. Just once.

All in all, though, it was great to go back. And now that I’m only four hours a way, I won’t wait another 31 years to do it.

I’ll post a new batch of photos every day this week:

  • I—Nice Day for a Walk (today): I walk around smiling at stuff like that stupid U2 Vegas video.
  • II—THUUHHHHH Yankees Win: New York beats Toronto, David Judge gets tagged out after overrunning first base, and I pay $12.50 for an IPA.
  • III—Central Park: You could fit downtown Manchester in this thing and still have room for the rest of N.H., too.
  • IV—Day at the Museum: Doesn’t anyone around here know how to dust?
  • V—The Empire State Building Strikes Back … by taking $38 of my money for an elevator ride. Oh, and your tilt-shift cup runneth over.
Advertisements

Eclipse 2017

ab-2
Total solar eclipse from Gallatin, Tenn., August 2017

Like millions of other people, I braved the crowds and traffic jams to catch the Great American Eclipse on Monday. I didn’t quite get the shots I wanted, since I don’t have the kind of long lens necessary to magnify the sun and moon’s discs, which have only a half-degree of angular diameter. (That’s the width of a pencil held at arm’s length.) At the wide end of the scale, when I upgraded to my new Canon, I gave away my T-5 Rebel and my 10-22mm wide angle lens, which would have allowed me to get more of a landscape view with people and structures in the foreground. My new lens—which in other ways is orders of magnitude better—couldn’t do what I wanted. Worse, we were viewing the eclipse in the South, which means the sun was high up and at 24mm I didn’t have the span to get anything but leaves and branches. But that’s where I started, bracketing down from 1/4000th down to the mutli-second exposures. I’m happy that I live-view focused properly. Everything was sharp.

After getting ten or so wide-angle shots, I took a break to just enjoy what I was seeing. My son was with me, and we had endured a long drive and many misadventures to find ourselves in this little park in eastern Tennessee. Given all of that, fiddling with a camera the entire time felt wrong. But I only had two and a half minutes to work with, so it was time to get a few more exposures in. I zoomed in to 105mm, but the whole thing was still pretty small. I might have had a shot at getting something interesting along the limb of the sun—Bailey’s Beads, prominences, etc.—but by the time I was shooting zoomed in, my exposures were still too long. I was at 1/100th or something when the moon slid out of the way. There was an unbelievably bright flare in my eyes and on my last image, then a cheer from everyone in the park. The big event was over.

I have taught astronomy, written about it, read about it, obsessed about it. I know how an eclipse works. In fact, it’s rather boring: one thing blocks the light from another thing, coincidentally the first thing is small but the bigger thing is far away, etc. But I was not prepared for how it would feel to see a total solar eclipse with my own eyes. For two and a half minutes, I stood at the toe of some benevolent giant, one who could have stepped on me and everyone at that park and kept on walking. Instead, he looked down at us, gave a friendly wink, and wandered off.

Pulpit Falls

6Y4A7103
Pulpit Falls, Winchester, N.H., August 2017

I took a couple of chances with my safety to reach this waterfall, which is tucked away in southwest New Hampshire just over the Massachusetts border. The sun was almost down, and it was about a half mile hike up a path that hadn’t been used in a while. All I could think about was the sun going down and not being able to find my way back to the car. About ten seconds into the hike, I lost the signal from my phone’s map program, and I was hiking blind. Fortunately, there are blue ribbons hanging from the trees marking the trail. Without those, I’d have been screwed. But I’m glad I took the risk.

Seacoast

Portsmouth, N.H., and all along the seacoast

 

 

Maine

 

Maine seacoast and west toward New Hampshire.

Catching Up

It’s certainly been a while. Here are some photos ranging from mid April to just this week.