Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's a Good Day


It’s a good day. Monday. MLK Day. I’ve been displeased with that abbreviation: MLK. It seems too brief, incomplete, doesn’t reflect the complexity and accomplishment of the man. I also have confused feelings about the name (not the man, having never met him, but admit that I relate little to his movement.) But the name: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., emblazoned in white reflective letters on a green background, overhangs the intersection, cantilevered from the light pole in a seemingly impossible feat of engineering, having replaced for years that venerable old Albuquerque street name of Grand Avenue. We’ve had to give up a bit of the grandeur, it would seem, in order to make a place for “MLK”. Perhaps the “good old days” weren’t as good as we think.

I used to work in a small mom & pop TV repair shop, located on a side street paralleling Grand Avenue, remembering giving phone instructions to customers on how to find the shop. “Take Grand east from I-25, then turn right on Maple and go up the hill.” The shop is no longer in business, Mom and Pop having moved on, and Grand Avenue is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, the extra long sign flapping in the wind, reminding us of how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve yet to go.


It’s a good day. Monday at Winning Coffee. The sidewalk seating is busy this afternoon, the tables and chairs scooted out away from the building to catch the balmy winter sun. That high pressure system over the eastern Pacific continues to provide the desert southwest with dry, unseasonably warm weather, just like it has inundated the north and east with frigid cold and snow. I’m a bit selfish, but would like this pattern to continue.

“Kerouac sells really well,” Bradley is telling a customer, “so I bring all I have.” The book business was slow in December, he informed me, “but January has been up and down, like folks can’t decide either way.” There are large, western-themed paintings hanging around the coffee shop, the one of the bison hangs crooked, like the mass of the weighty beast is throwing the balance off.

The corner bar that surrounds the coffee roasting machine is piled floor to counter with fruit and wine boxes filled with used books, the labels on the boxes at least as interesting as the books themselves. There’s one with the name Aerdrome Oranges, sporting a graphic of the massive dirigible USS Macon, on the mast adjacent to the giant airship hangar at Moffett Field, taken from a photograph that I recall seeing in one of my many books on lighter-than-air flight. These days the hangar once more supports LTA flight operations, this time being the Zeppelin NT airship Eureka, operated by Airship Ventures. I mention this to Bradley and he tells me that his wife knows the co-owner of Airship Ventures. It’s a small world. My wife has promised me a ride in the Eureka during our next vacation to the bay area.

The coffee machine behind Bradley gleams in its shiny metal fittings, the brass handles reminding me of the control levers and wheels one sees in old photos onboard the Graf Zeppelin. On paper the old Graf wasn’t nearly as capable or sophisticated as its younger sibling the Hindenburg. But the Graf had a spectacularly long and successful career, as German Zeppelins go. Oh, the humanity.


It’s a good day. Monday, the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the forty fourth President of these Unites States. A lot seems to be riding on this coming event, the hopes and expectations of entire generations. Me, I’m hopefully expectant but also prudently cynical of anything good coming out of Washington, D.C. But I’m willing to be proven wrong, my cynicism forged through years of watching the political process unfold, like the slow, stinking rot of some boggy morass, the process measured by the periodic release of some surprisingly offensive new odor. I am reminded of the old adage “when you’re up to your ass in alligators it’s hard to remember that your original intention was to drain the swamp.” I hope and pray for Mr. Obama’s success, for his success is ours, too. But still, there’s them damned alligators.


It’s a good day. And so was yesterday. We had driven the Turquoise Trail to Madrid, NM, the trunk of the car loaded with tripod, Speed Graphic and sheet film holders loaded with paper negatives. The lens board is fashioned from Masonite, the lens being salvaged from an old 7x50 binocular. It’s this combination that I love to work with, the paper negatives providing a challenging yet manageable process, the improvised lenses (pinhole, plastic, salvaged or found) yielding surprisingly refreshing views.

While I was setting up to capture an image of a small grocery store, a young lad quietly observed me fiddling with the tripod and the bellows focus. I motioned him closer, and he intently stared at the view screen as I pointed out to him where I wanted the sharp focus point to be placed on the front row of fence pickets, then removed the lens to replace the waterhouse stop with a smaller aperture yielding a bit wider depth of focus. I adjusted the tripod a bit, refocused, then set the curtain shutter, inserted a film holder, pulled the dark slide, waited for the camera’s vibrations to settle out, and released the shutter. The boy walked on, back to his mother who was tending shop at a nearby gallery, perhaps wondering why the picture on that old guy’s camera was upside down. Heck, he probably doesn’t even know it’s broken.

The negatives developed fine later that day, though I had to wait upwards of eight minutes to get some to come out properly. It’s that ability to patiently wait, to not immediately assume the worst, which has improved my art. This is a lesson I must also apply to the new President and the prospects for the country’s future.


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