Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Joplin Rags

The music of Scott Joplin evokes this incredible nostalgia for me, a longing for the irretrievable past.

It's completely irrational, and probably a conditioned response. Joplin's music has been used extensively in movies and on TV to represent late 19th/early 20th-century America.

I've always had a special fondness for a couple of his tunes, like "Solace."

(This version of "Solace" is not, I don't think, played by a sentient being on a real instrument. It's all MIDI. As such, it has the emotional depth of a carburetor. But you get the idea.)

I love Scott Joplin, though, and have been on a Joplin kick for the last week or so. This happens to me every few years. "Solace" is such a beautiful piece of music.

Some time back, I edited video of my son, shot when he was about three. I used Joplin's "Bethena" as the soundtrack. It damn near brings tears to my eyes when I watch it now. Talk about the irretrievable past! There's my kid, still at his most innocent, running around a college campus we lived near at the time. He and I ventured into an empty building (it was on a weekend) and he runs around playing. Joplin's music perfectly complements these activities.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Road Rage

Such danger! Such an absurd misadventure!

It’s the only way I can characterize it.

Same bike – but another ride another time
I was about 25 minutes into a two hour bike ride (estimated distance: 30 miles) when I approached a red light at an intersection. I would be turning right, from due west to due north.

As I neared my turn, I noticed a black Chevrolet Silverado 4x4 stopped in the turn lane, about to make a right of its own – same direction as me, that is. (A Silverado is basically a pickup truck on steroids.) I went to the right, around the Silverado, on the road’s shoulder.

Just as I passed the Silverado, the light changed from red to green. I proceeded past the truck and made my turn.


Except that the Silverado’s driver took exception to what I had done. I guess I should have signaled a right turn, but I wanted both hands on the handlebars. Technically, I may have been in the wrong.

Almost immediately, the Silverado caught up to me on the north-bound road. He rolled down the passenger side window and said, “You didn’t signal. I had to wait to see what you were going to do,” or something like that. At this point, he was very calm.

I basically waved him off. It did not seem like a very big deal to me. Plus, I don’t care for lectures from motorists wanting to correct the error of my ways.

So I ignored him and pulled ahead. He caught up to me again, maintaining the same speed as me. He said something else – to tell you the truth, I don’t remember what. But I’ll admit that he was still – I think – rather calm.

I waved him off again, and pulled ahead. (That’s how slow he was going, and on a main thoroughfare!)

He caught up to me again. Now, though, he was furious. In the few seconds between our exchanges he had popped a cigarette into his mouth, and it bounced jauntily as he screamed, “Pull over right now!

If I wouldn’t stop before, I wasn’t about to stop now – not for some furious stranger who might have a gun in his glove compartment.

Now he sped ahead of me – but only a few hundred yards. He pulled over to the side of the road, and I figured he was about to get out of his truck and accost me. But he didn’t. I passed him by. He sped past me again and pulled over again. I passed him again.

Somewhere along in here another cyclist caught up to me and asked, “What’s up with him?

This cyclist appeared to be one of the many professionals you see in these-here parts. He was dressed in tight fitting, logo-festooned lycra road gear, and had shaved legs. He also had an Australian accent, so I'm going to assume he was Cadel Evans.

“Apparently he didn’t like a turn I made a little ways back,” I told him.

“He seems really pissed.”

“Yes, he does. In fact, you might want to drop back a little, so he doesn’t think we’re together.” Better if just one of us got shot; then there would be a witness.

Confrontations between cyclists and motorists are not uncommon where I live, and Cadel must have taken me seriously, because he did indeed drop back.

I passed the Silverado man again, and he sped ahead again, and then pulled over again – this time a little further down the road than before.

Cadel caught back up to me. “I’ll say this, I said to him. This guy is persistent.”

“Did you get his license plate number?”

“No – but I suppose I should.” And when I passed the motorist again, I took a good look at his plate and committed it to memory. I also took note it was a Chevy Silverado with a Hefty toolbox fitted across the back of its flatbed.

By this time I definitely felt the guy was stalking me, or trying to intimidate me. “I’ve got a cell, if you want to call the police,” Cadel offered. But I had my cell, too. I didn’t know any police phone numbers offhand, and 911 seemed a little extreme – though it wouldn’t be if I got shot, or beaten up, or run off the road.

After a few more miles we reached Jay Road. Cadel made a left turn and cycled off into Neverland. I stayed on my planned route, which continued north for another mile or so. This stretch of road was rather remote. There are wide open spaces on one side, and not much traffic – no witnesses, I thought, with growing concern.

Our little cat-and-mouse game continued. The Silverado sped ahead, waited until I caught up and passed, then sped by me again.

Finally I was nearing Lookout Road. I planned to turn left there, proceed for a mile or so to 63rd, then head north over the Diagonal Highway into the Badlands north of Niwot (as described in Dead Frog). To my great relief, the Silverado, still stalking me after what by now was four or five miles, turned right on Lookout.

But I noticed he had pulled over along Lookout – still watching me, no doubt. I made my planned left turn. I looked back, and sure enough, he had turned around and was trailing me again.

Right about then a cop car drove by me in the opposite direction. And several things happened simultaneously: I thought about flagging him down,  and he executed a U-turn, turned on his lights, and gave a short blast of his siren.

Only then did it occur to me that the Silverado had called the cops, as I had thought of doing.

I pulled over. The cop pulled over just behind me. The black Silverado pulled over just behind the cop, who, I should note, was not a city cop but a Sheriff’s Deputy. A jurisdictional distinction.

The Deputy got out of his car and approached me. “I’m glad to see you,” I said.

“You know why I pulled you over?”

I did, and told him so. I admitted that apparently, I had not properly signaled a turn some miles back but hadn’t wanted to listen to the safety tips of some self-righteous idiot – who from my perspective had been stalking me ever since.

The cop said that the guy reported I had shouted Fuck you! at him. I said no, I had not used that most evil and monstrous of words.

Then the cop talked to the motorist. I sat there on my bike, well out of earshot.

The cop returned after a few minutes. “He really wants me to ticket you,” he said, and my heart sank. “But when I explained to him he’d have to show up in court, he changed his mind.”

And so he let me off with a warning. I said thanks, adding that I was prepared to apologize, if that's what it took – but by then, the Silverado had driven off.

I still had many miles before me, but not much heart for the ride. The guy in the Silverado may not have had me ticketed, but he had ruined my ride, though he didn't know that.

Then I decided that he could only ruin my ride if I allowed it. So I kept going, completing the whole thirty miles as originally planned.

I imagine the Silverado driver in a bar somewhere that night, telling his drinking buddies about some asshole cyclist who cut him off, screamed Fuck You! – but got a surprise when a cop showed up. Maybe he'd even embellish a little, saying I'd gotten an expensive traffic ticket I wouldn't soon forget.

I feel lucky having gotten away without a ticket and without a beating, even if the guy was apparently not stalking me, after all. I really don't think I did anything wrong, and even if I did, the guy completely over-reacted.

Although I have had this nagging doubt: is it possible I let fly with the F-bomb? Sometimes that word slips out a little too easily...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No Comment

Anybody out there?

Am I wastin' my time writing this blog?

I don't get many readers here, and rarely get comments on the stuff that I post. It's a little discouraging.

Admittedly, my posts are all over the map. One day I might write about the Kennedy assassination. Another day I might write about baseball. On another, I might write about picking up litter, or about toilets.

So there is a certain inconsistency. Readers probably don't like that. They probably like to have an inkling of what they might be in for, before they stop by on a regular basis.

But I like it the way it is. It's why the little LUNG blurb at right calls this thing a free-form blog. It's no way to build a readership, I don't reckon.

Apparently, it's no way to invite comments, either. I rarely have much response to any of my posts, even when I'm crass enough to solicit them.

And yet, I enjoy writing these things – even if my readership is so low as to be immeasurable. I check the statistics that Blogspot makes available, and see that there are a few posts that get a modest amount of attention. (See "popular posts" at right, beneath the blog archive.)

So I'll keep at it. And if you're reading this – well, thanks for stopping by! Don't hesitate to come again!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So Much to Read, So Little Time

Sometimes I despair that I'll ever find enough time to read all the stuff I want to read.

When that happens, I remind myself that, barring some unspeakable something or other, I'm probably going to grow way old (longevity being in my genes) and end up with plenty of time on my hands.

So the time will find me.

Paradoxically, I'm just as likely to despair that there isn't enough stuff I want to read.

Am I full of it, or what?

I started thinking about this earlier today when I heard a brief portion of an interview on the radio. An author was talking about the Civil War. He said something about the South being the aggressor at the Battle of Fort Sumter; something about Lincoln sending an unarmed supply ship to said fort, thereby forcing the South to either let the ship through on humanitarian grounds, or attack an unarmed vessel. They chose the latter course of action.

I'm sure it isn't nearly so simple.

In the interview (actually a podcast of Fresh Air) the author was plugging his new book, 1861. I wanted more details, but lamented the fact that I'd never have the time to read that book. Not anytime soon, that is. There's just too much stuff on my plate right now.

Then I lamented the fact that I don't know much about the Civil War.

But I take comfort in knowing that one day, I should have plenty of time to read, and there are innumerable subjects that interest me. And innumerable books on each of these topics.

What about you? Please give me your thoughts on this matter.

Related topic: I want to read real books. I'm not a fan of e-readers!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Camera

Another from the file: True Tales of Detroit, circa 1988 or so (!!) [All present-tense references are thus very, very dated. Also, parts of it take place outside of Motown.]

Many years ago, during a visit to Washington DC, I stepped off a subway train. As I made my way toward the exit, I realized my camera bag, with all its contents, was still on the train. I dashed back to the platform but was too late: the train was gone, and my trusty camera (along with film, flash unit, second lens, and Vietnam MIA t-shirt stuffed into a side pouch) went, quite literally, down the tubes.

(Photo by someone other than me)
So my first-ever trip to the nation’s capital was essentially undocumented. There would be no photographs of Kennedy’s grave at Arlington, where I stood with strangers beneath dripping trees, waiting on the rain.

And no pictures of the Vietnam memorials. I'd shot two rolls of film, but they’d been in the camera bag and were gone now. Gone, like the soldiers whose names appeared on the shiny granite slabs. At the base of the monument I had discovered a letter, open, left by a veteran. My doomed macro lens had focused up close, so a few lines could be read, and I snapped the shutter.

Then I picked the letter up and read it. The writer said he was the only member of his unit to survive a particular engagement with the enemy. He still wondered why. And he told his dead buddies that he would meet them all someday, in hell. I don’t recall whether the document was signed.

"When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!" So goes the tired Ann Landersism; it bounced around my brain, along with the word “Nikon,” as I thought about my departed Pentax. I resolved to replace my missing camera with a better machine.

It didn’t take long, either. I had been back in Detroit for about a week, and still hadn’t received all the bills from my visit to Washington, when I walked into a camera store. My intention was to just look around, and sniff out a few prices. But a particular machine caught my eye, a 15-year-old Nikon-F – “A real camera!” the salesman said. And against my better judgment I wrote out a check for the amount due, and left the store with a new camera tucked under my arm.

I raced home to read through the owner’s manual and load up with film, my mind plotting an afternoon photo session. I skimmed through the booklet, gathering just enough for a basic understanding of my new picture-gun. Then it was off to the car for a drive downtown, to open fire on an unsuspecting city.

First stop: the People Mover, a multi-million dollar mass transit system, which at the time had been open for less than a year. I’d ridden the 2.9 mile loop around the downtown area a number of times already; it afforded spectacular views of the city. So I parked my car near the Greektown station, paid my fifty cents, and climbed on board. With scarcely a jolt, the car moved out, humming on its electric track.

The photography was actually pretty simple. Shots seemed to frame themselves, as vintage 19th century buildings came in and out of view. Detroit suffers from a dreadful national image, due to crime, mismanagement, graft, and general urban decay. But from an average height of thirty or so feet, it is downright beautiful.

A man who appeared to be a professional photographer boarded the train, loaded down with photo gadgets and accessories. A big photo bag was slung over one shoulder, a couple of cameras were around his neck, and an assistant lugged a tripod and other gear. All I had was a ratty old camera bag, pressed back into active duty, and my new, used Nikon with its crummy little 50mm lens. I felt a bit intimidated, and was glad when this photographer and his second banana got off the train.

Soon I got off as well, having completed one full circuit on the People Mover system. The safety of my new camera was very much on my mind. I made sure it was tucked securely into its bag. But what if I had left it on the train? What if it had become the second of my cameras lost to mass transit, I mused, in a scant two weeks? The irony would have been too great, and I would surely have flung myself headlong from the platform to the ground below, breaking my head open at last, and spilling its absurd contents onto the sidewalk. Passersby would be horrified at the gory sight; a dog would sniff curiously at the ooze seeping from my shattered skull, and perhaps take a tentative nibble.

None of that came to pass. I shot off a few more frames in the downtown area, and eventually headed uptown toward home.

I stopped off in the city’s cultural center, thinking I would take a few pictures of statues in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Instead I went into the public library across the street and checked out a book, John Hammond On Record, and then went back outside, where I took a snap of Copernicus, a bust of the Polish mathematician.