He sits back in the comfort of the driver's seat's lumbar snuggle, hands on steering wheel at the proscribed ten and two position, NPR radio playing in the background. It is early enough that the sun has just risen above the mountains to the east. The early morning commute has already begun, someone in a large pickup truck tailgating him, then impatiently blasting past at fifteen or twenty above the speed limit, barely making it through a yellow light to recede in the distance in a haze of OPEC fumes.
There is no justice in the world, he thinks. Where're the cops when you need them? On the other hand, they only seem to show up when it's him that's found violating the traffic laws, never the idiots in SUVs and big trucks.
He's headed south, down Eubank (down being synonymous for south, thanks to the conventions of the Mercator projection, another consequence of global empire-building), the sun to his left, shadows of trees and buildings producing a strobe-like effect in his left eye, a staccato light-dark-light-dark-light rhythm, while the right eye remains in shadow, no strobe-like effect, the dissimilarity between the left eye's strobing glare and the right eye's more serene view making him wonder if there might be some hidden physiological response involved, like the way some epileptics can be put into a seizure by flashing lights, wondering about the left eye's strobe's affect upon the right brain, the hemisphere that's supposed to involve creativity. Perhaps this left eye strobe will induce some abnormally strong creative inspiration this cool, Wednesday morning before he has to return to work, leaving the more rational left hemisphere to wallow in its still half-wakened state, before the carbs and the caffeine kick in from the breakfast he's headed toward.
The large truck is nowhere to be seen, its driver probably a Republican right-winger, as are most of the cops in town. They seem to protect their own, instead going after small foreign cars that are more likely to be piloted by the liberally-inclined, of which he's not, really; more libertarian than liberal, yet still a registered Republican, just to confuse the pollsters and throw them off the scent. Yesterday was Super Tuesday, a notable date on the election season calendar.
He's had this theory of political partisanship that asserts both major parties are two sides of the same coin, their overt divisions over specific hot-button issues mere window dressing to obscure their more fundamental similarities, after the cameras have been shut off and the talking heads go home and the politicians of either ilk can continue taking their back-room graft from corporate shills. His theory furthermore asserts that, to maximize the democratic affect, a voter should register, during a midterm election, in the minority party, thereby granting him the maximum degree of choice; the most important concept being not to get too hung up on party names and superficial labels. The best democracy money can buy, he thinks, as he rows the shifter through another intersection on the way to breakfast.
He now sits in the coffee shop at a small table beside the east-facing window, bright morning light streaming in, surrounded by potted plants on the bay window's shelf, his right eye now in the sun's full glare, his left eye shaded by the room's gentle morning light. There are no gnats this time of year, it being too soon for the pesky insects to infect the shop's potted plants. On the other side of the glass barrier, seated at a sidewalk table, is the street lady that people call Cherokee. She's wrapped in her usual blanket, drinking a to-go cup of coffee, doing the crossword puzzle and reading the paper. The barrier that separates him on the inside from her on the outside is much thicker than the window's mere quarter-inch thickness of glass. Cherokee has the year-round complexion of a street person, well-tanned and sun-wrinkled, and exudes the odor of the unwashed. Yet, appearances can be deceiving. Through the window, he can see that she reads the paper with relish, and does the crossword with an ease that reveals some literate, middle-class background. Another mystery yet to be unveiled, he thinks.
Another man exits the coffee shop, hands Cherokee a rolled-up five dollar bill, then heads to the VW van parked at the curb and drives off, the head of his large yellow Labrador Retriever hanging out the passenger-side window, perusing the sidewalk cafe setting that fades into the distance.
The man is done with his breakfast, heads out the rear exit to the back parking lot where his car awaits in the free parking that's all too hard to find, and retrieves his camera. He checks the various settings on the rear screen, making sure the ISO is set to 100, and attaches the manual focus film lens to the camera's adapter ring.
Manual focus. An anachronism in this age of auto-everything, of which he's consciously aware. One just can't place the camera hurriedly up to one's face and snap a picture while relying on the camera's automation to properly determine the plane of focus. Camera's aren't intelligent, contrary to what the adverts might state; they don't know your creative intent, where you'd wish to place the plane of best focus within the image field. Hence one reason why he prefers to manually focus the lens himself. His other lenses, the autofocus ones that came with the camera, have a manual focus override, but it's not a direct focusing of the mechanics of the lens, more like fly-by-wire, similar to the way modern aircraft are controlled, with an intrinsic delay and lack of direct mechanical feedback. No, this manual-focus lens has a real distance scale, a real mechanically-coupled focus ring, and a manually adjustable aperture ring that click-click-clicks in discrete little elegantly mechanical steps, that he can look down at and tell what setting it's at before he ever places the camera up to his face. There is no poking around at electronic screens to control these camera settings, more like the physicality of a real tool. Maybe that's it, the realness of it. Or maybe he's a control freak, he thinks, as if his favoring of manual camera controls is an overt symptom of some hidden psychological condition, which he'd rather not think about right now, because right now the late-winter's morning light is perfect, and the weather is balmy enough for a light jacket, and there are images to find and capture.
It's an hour later, and he's wandered the side streets and alleys of the city in search of that elusive image that might have escaped his grasp during the many previous camera walks he's taken on these same streets. He's sitting in another coffee shop, half a mile up the street from breakfast, a bit more upscale, the price for a cup a dollar higher. Traffic passes by outside the window, while affluent middle-class patrons chat over breakfast or stare into their computer screens. There's roadside construction going on the street outside, workers in hardhats and work boots dragging hoses and manning shovels, while pedestrians walk back and forth to who-knows-where, and large red city buses, along with numerous smaller cars, pass left and right, busy on their way to wherever it is they're going, as if a city were merely an assemblage of destinations to be pursued, as if people could not possibly stand still for very long, as if being in-transit were some permanent mental state.
His coffee cup is empty and stomach satisfied and so he, too, picks up his things and heads out the door, in-transit to who-knows-where, in search of another illusive image.
(Written on AlphaSmart Neo, photo via Lumix G1 with manual-focus Minolta MD 28mm lens attached)