And Now, For Something New…

Yesterday was my last day working at the running store. Nearly seven years have passed since I first took the job — almost on a whim.

Well, not quite. I got divorced in 2010, and found myself with time on my hands. I volunteered to work a race packet pickup for the company in 2011, and soon found myself applying for part-time employment. I was hired, and over the years became a reliable, trusted and valuable employee. I was given a set of keys to the store, and a security code, that enabled me to open and close the store without supervision.

It was a lot of fun. I learned about running shoes and other facets of running and running gear. I met a lot of really nice people, and have had numerous customer compliments.

But times change. The company has had its ups and downs.  The Internet has affected many brick-and-mortar businesses, and the running store was no different.  Being locally owned, a “mom and pop store,” so to speak, the resources to compete against the giants are limited.  What they do have is a community mindset, trained running specialists, and a real desire to satisfy customers.  However, it’s a balancing act to keep costs low and grow or maintain a business.

Management has changed, and in my opinion, not for the better.  There is a lot of turnover, which is understandable when you consider all employees (except managers) are part-time.  It’s retail, so it’s mostly young people working for extra cash rather than people committed to the success of the business.  Store management is non-existent.  One man “manages” three stores, which in many ways means he isn’t managing any store.  Employees aren’t trained, and policies and procedures are being twisted store by store until no one knows how things are done.

I have no desire to be a manager, even though for the past couple of years I’ve felt like one.  So I decided to walk away.

Truthfully, I haven’t quit.  Part-time employees are asked to submit their availability for each upcoming month.  I have simply declared that I have no availability.  I have said that I can fill in if there is an emergency or special event, but I don’t want to be on a regular schedule.

So… what do I do about this site’s name and focus?  For now, I’m letting it stay.

The Collection Expands

I was recently asked to provide evidence that I had some music expertise, so I used this blog as a reference. Which got me to thinking, I haven’t added my latest acquisition to the site.

Gibson ES335 Walnut

Gibson ES335 Walnut

This is a NOS (new, old stock) 2017 Gibson Memphis Limited Edition ES-335 Walnut. I have long lusted after a 335. It’s an iconic guitar (to me, at least). Alvin Lee played his “Big Red” at Woodstock.

Alvin Lee playing

“Marty McFly” (Michael J. Fox) played one in the original Back to the Future movie. Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Larry Carlton — even Eric Clapton — have played the 335.

Red is (to me) the traditional color, but there are natural finishes, colored (Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters plays a blue 335), and then I came across the Walnut. I’m a sucker for wood looks, so I couldn’t resist.

A short back story: I’ve had and played a 1957 Gibson ES-225 since the early 1980s. It was my main guitar for years, and I played it unplugged as well as amped. It’s a wonderful guitar, but its one pickup is somewhat limiting, and it’s shown the signs of time and wear. It’s earned its place in its case…

So, enter the ES-335, and the from the moment I picked it up and started to play (without even removing the plastic from the pickguard), I felt like I was home again! Same feel of the neck, same heft of the body, same cradling sensation when seated — man, this guitar was ME!

I hesitate to call this my favorite guitar, as I have several that earn that appellation each time I strap one on. But it’s won a place in my heart — and an honored place in my “go to” spot.

¡ Pura Vida !

I just returned from my first-ever trip to Central America (okay, I’m ignoring the several trips I’ve taken to Mexico). Costa Rica, to be precise.  A wonderful trip with a Road Scholar group, which made it “extra” compared to the “beach and bistro” vacations taken by many.

Road Scholar trips are vacation tours with an educational “wrapper.”  The trips include lectures and activities that are geared to enhancing one’s knowledge of an area, history, culture, people and more. All transportation, lodging, meals and tips are included.

There were lectures on Costa Rica’s history, biological corridors, chocolate, insects and bats, Quaker settlers, butterflies, coffee and more.  Many of these lectures were performed while touring.

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

Costa Rica’s major exports are pineapples and bananas, but their coffee is right up there with the world’s best!

coffee

Coffee Plantation

Did somebody say pineapples?  A visit to a pineapple plantation yielded lots of information, not to mention tasty bites and drinks.  Take-away:  Pineapples are picked ripe and cooled to 45° immediately, where they will stay fresh for up to 40 days.  Pineapples in your grocery are already fresh — no need to poke, punch, pull or tilt.

pineapples

Pineapples nearing picking freshness

Costa Rica is one of the densest bio-diverse areas on earth.  It’s a haven for researchers and scientists.

blue morpho butterfly

Blue Morpho Butterfly

I attended a fascinating lecture and demonstration on insects and bats.  A side trip to a hummingbird sanctuary was included.

Hummingbirds are everywhere!

I’m still reviewing photographs, so I may post a follow-up to this article.  But for now, Road Scholar has gone five-for-five in my satisfaction rating!

Yay, yay, Vacay!

I leave for Costa Rica in two days.  I’ve never been there before.  I decided on this trip a few months ago, and didn’t really get a sense for it until recently. Titled, “A Taste of Costa Rica,” this is a multi-destination adventure with a lot of photo opportunities.

Most of my travel destinations have been to U. S. national parks, or cities (for work, mostly) or for European points of interest (given that I spent much of my youth there).  For a change, I’m headed to Central America; I’ve only been to Mexico and the Caribbean to date.

This will be my fifth trip with Road Scholar.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous trips, always having some trepidation before the start, and then having a fabulous time! I now have faith that the trip will be utterly satisfying!  I heard a story a few years ago that demonstrates the passage to faith:

Having trouble with his car, a man asks his neighbor for advice. His neighbor recommends a mechanic. Uncertain, the man takes his car to the mechanic, hoping he will repair the vehicle.  The mechanic indeed, fixes it.

Later, he once again has car problems, and takes it to the same mechanic, hoping once again that the man can fix it.  He does.

The third time he has car trouble, he takes it to the same mechanic, this time with faith that he will fix it.

Due to work considerations, I need to report every time I travel outside the country.  Having to provide hotel names and addresses, I needed to look them up, and the results I found depict outstanding facilities.

Hotel Balmoral, San Jose

Selva Verde Lodge

Hotel Arenal Monoa

Hotel Montaña Monteverde

Wyndham San Jose Herradura Hotel and Convention Center

 

The first quarter of 2018 is past.  Time to take some time out and recharge the batteries.  And take some good photos, I hope!

Red Strats

It’s been nearly four months since my last post, so I felt like I needed to freshen the place up. Searching for a topic, I thought I’d mention my latest acquisition, a new guitar by G&L.

Some background: After Leo Fender sold his eponymous company to CBS in 1965, he spent some time designing and producing guitars for Music Man and then with partners George Fullerton and Dale Hyatt, founded G&L Musical Instruments. The name stands for George and Leo (not sure what happened to Dale). So, in the truest sense, a G&L guitar is a Fender!

I’ve read many good reviews of G&L guitars but never had the inclination to buy one. There are no shops near my home where I can go try one, so they have always remained in the periphery of my guitar world.

Until recently. Musician’s Friend, one of the online stores I visit, has a “Stupid Deal of the Day” offering, and I’ve purchased a few items that way. One day, they were offering this G&L Tribute Legacy in a color called “Irish Ale” at a price that was too low to resist. So, thanks to a tax refund, I pulled the trigger.

G&L Tribute Legacy

In “Irish Ale” with a tortoiseshell pickguard, a G&L Tribute Legacy

What intrigued me about this guitar besides the color, were the specs. The body is made of Nyato(h) a wood according to the wood database, is common to “India through Southeast Asia to the Philippines, New Guinea, and the Western Pacific Islands.” The neck is maple, but the fingerboard is Brazilian Cherry (not rosewood, which is now on the CITES endangered list). I’ve preferred maple fingerboards, but I thought I’d see how this compares.

Now, let’s be fair. My “other” red guitar is a Fender Custom Shop Robin Trower Signature Stratocaster that costs ten times as much. At this point, the Fender plays better, but I have to admit, the G&L sounds sweet, and I am sure I’ll really enjoy playing it after it gets some proper set up,

My Red Guitars

2006 Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster and 2018 G&L Tribute Legacy

The Hat’s The Thing

My new fascination is with hats.  Fedoras, Pork Pies, Trilbys — not with caps, which so many men are wearing these days.

1980s Flechet Fur Felt Fedora

Facing the weather and the fact that my always thin hair has become terribly fly-away, I’ve decided to upgrade my image by donning headwear that will not only keep my hair in place (unlike a baseball cap), but will add a sense of fashion.

Pork Pie in Navy Blue

To date, I have a small collection of hats. I tend to favor the smaller brims (Trilbys, Pork Pies), but I purchased a 1960s Mallory Eagle that is the best fitting and stylish hat of the bunch.

The author models his 1960s Mallory Eagle


I have on order a rabbit fur Sterkowski fedora. It’s coming from Poland and is due to hit my address any day now. I’ll post more when it arrives.

For now, I have a Loden Green and an Oxblood by Bailey’s of Hollywood, which round out the collection. For now.

Never Enough Dalí

I took my now-annual one-day trip to St. Petersburg, Florida last week.  As a Knight of the Order of Salvador, it’s incumbent on me to attend the annual Investiture and Elevation Ceremony, which takes place every November. It’s also an opportunity for me to view the current exhibit.  This year, it’s Dalí and Schiaparelli.  Elsa Schiaparelli was a fashion designer (1890-1973) who collaborated with Dalí and other artists of her day.

The House of Schiaparelli continues to this day, and some recent designs were on display as well as some of her original Dalí-inspired works.  Unfortunately, the layout of the gallery was such that photographing items was challenging, to say the least.

But there were also Dalí works on display, from the museum’s own collection, some of which I had not seen in years.  And I had never seen the Zodiac.

I found humorous Schiaparelli’s commandments for women.

(Sorry about the awkward angle and distractions.  I couldn’t find a way to photograph this without trampling other exhibit items – which I’m sure the museum wouldn’t appreciate!).

The weather was great, and I managed to do everything I’d set out to.  Lunch at Casey Key Fish House, purchase salami and landjäger sausage at Geier’s, and a last-minute trip to Old Miakka to visit dad.

Puhan Headstone, Old Miakka Methodist Church

Then I attended the Order of Salvador ceremony, and went for dinner. My hotel manager had recommend a Vietnamese “fusion” restaurant, La V, where I had — what else — pho!

pho

Pho at La V

Sometimes the quickest trips are the most satisfying!

A New Appreciation For The iPhone Camera

While I sit in the airport lounge on a four hour layover, I thought I’d take a little time to put down some recent impressions on the iPhone.  You see, for the past two weeks I have been traveling without a camera.  As such.

Yet I still have my phone.  And I found numerous photo opportunities, and the only recourse I had was to pull out my phone.

As has been my experience with cameras (both film and digital) in the past, I have found that activating the shutter is only the second step in photography.  The first is composing the picture.  The third is developing the photo.

Right now, software developers are releasing next-generation photo editing programs, and it’s almost hard to keep up.  Just recently, new and beta versions of ON1 Photo RAW, Aurora HDR and Adobe Lightroom have seen updated versions with new features (and new licensing schemes, in some cases).  Both have released beta versions, and ON1’s beta is public, meaning anyone can download it for free!

My recent travels have taken me to major cities:  New York and Boston.  Armed with only my iPhone 6s and a laptop with photo editing software, I managed to capture some very nice photos.

Fort Point, Boston, MA at dusk

Taken from the Evelyn Moakely Bridge.

Artist Gianna Stewart created this foam “iceberg” that “floats” in the water.

In the photo above, I used Adobe’s new Lightroom CC (the old version is now named Lightroom CC Classic). When shooting a wide shot, Apple’s iPhone exhibits pronounced barrel distortion. I used the Geometry tool in Lightroom to straighten everything — with a single slide and a click!

Manhattan Skyline in Black and White from the original color photograph.

Another example of straightening (I may need to adjust this one a bit more).

Boston Financial District

Finally, an “arty” photo I snapped on the spur of the moment. What two streets typify New York City? (well, maybe Madison Ave. But you take what you can get).

Getting Right-Sized

Has it really been nearly six months since I last posted?  According to WordPress and my site logs, apparently so.  Time to rectify that.

The summer has been mostly work, work, work.  But I managed to get in some “me” time recently, and that’s what this is about.

I struggled to find a vacation that would address my interests, wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, and which could be taken at a convenient time.  I searched and searched, considering trips to Alaska (still on my must-do list), a Mediterranean cruise, a visit to Machu Picchu, and other exotic travels.  Long flight times, added “single traveler premiums” and other disincentives caused me to pass on some otherwise very enticing possibilities.

Then, I happened to visit my Road Scholar account and saw that a trip I’d put on my wishlist was available, the single premium wasn’t too horrible, and addressed one of my interests directly:  A photo journey through Utah’s national parks!  I quickly booked it, and the die was cast.

In preparation, I took a day trip and drove to Blackwater Falls, WV to test my camera skills, hiking endurance, clothing choices and mindset.

Blackwater Falls, WV

Camera
COOLPIX P900
Focal Length
5mm
Exposure
1/640s
ISO
100
Camera
COOLPIX P900
Focal Length
5mm
Exposure
1/640s
ISO
100

Blackwater Falls, West Virginia

 

 

 

 

Camera

 

COOLPIX P900

 

 

 

Focal Length

 

5mm

 

 

 

Exposure

 

1/640s

 

 

 

ISO

 

100

 

 

 

I felt I was prepared.

A discussion of Road Scholar will have to wait for another post.  Suffice it to say that this was my fourth adventure with them, and each has been a very rewarding experience!

My first trip with Road Scholar was also to Utah, where I visited Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon (North Rim) national parks.  This trip was a ten-day journey around a circle which included Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Monument Valley and Lake Powell/Antelope Canyon.  The difference:  Specifically intended for photographers.

The longest vacation I’ve taken to this point was seven days.  I wasn’t sure I would know how to handle a longer time frame.  Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

Scheduling made this trip different.  We would frequently arise early in the morning to do a sunrise shoot,

Bryce Canyon at Sunrise

Bryce Canyon at Sunrise

Camera
NIKON D7500
Focal Length
55mm
Exposure
1/80s
ISO
200
Camera
NIKON D7500
Focal Length
55mm
Exposure
1/80s
ISO
200
Camera
NIKON D7500
Focal Length
55mm
Exposure
1/80s
ISO
200

 

 

 

 

Camera

 

NIKON D7500

 

 

 

Focal Length

 

55mm

 

 

 

Exposure

 

1/80s

 

 

 

ISO

 

200

 

 

 

 

Bryce Canyon at Sunrise

and often would eat dinner around 5:00 p.m. so we could do a sunset shoot.

Panorama Point, Capitol Reef

Camera
NIKON D7500
Focal Length
26mm
Exposure
1/10s
ISO
200

 

 

 

 

Camera

 

NIKON D7500

 

 

 

Focal Length

 

26mm

 

 

 

Exposure

 

1/10s

 

 

 

ISO

 

200

 

 

 

 

Panorama Point, Capitol Reef

I love this area of the country.  In this day and age, where we measure the time of our lives in hours, days and weeks, the visible geology of this land shows how time is measured in millions of years!  The enormity of the rock formations, the petroglyphs etched thousands of years ago, all serve to remind me of how truly small we are in God’s tremendous universe!

Wow

 

 

 

 

Camera

 

NIKON D7500

 

 

 

Focal Length

 

60mm

 

 

 

Exposure

 

1/250s

 

 

 

ISO

 

200

 

 

 

 

Wow.

The capstone to the trip was Antelope Canyon. I have been enthralled by photos taken in this Navajo-owned marvel, and hoped I could come away with one or two “keepers.”  I shot over 250 photos during my 90 minutes in the canyon, and at current count, have at least 19!

Lower Antelope Canyon

 

 

 

 

Camera

 

NIKON D7500

 

 

 

Focal Length

 

18mm

 

 

 

Exposure

 

1/100s

 

 

 

ISO

 

2000

 

 

 

 

Lower Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona

And guess what?  I have been invited to exhibit my photos!  This is a first for me, and I’m really flattered, excited and honored to be asked!

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

smart? Or not?

The wheels were already turning as I made ready to move into my new home.  I had previously noted the existence of an electric vehicle charging station

Electric Car Charging Station

and I knew instinctively that I was going to have to find a way to put it to use.  After all, despite the resistance to (and I freely admit my participation) new forms of fuel, there is a part of me that believes electric vehicles are the wave of the future (at least until fusion power becomes the norm).

I did some research. I went to CarMax and looked at a used Nissan Leaf.  I went to a Chevy dealer and checked out Motor Trend’s 2017 Car of the Year, the Bolt. I read about BMW’s i3 (and oh-so-sexy i8!).  But YIKES, the cost of these cars — even used!

But one car came across my browser page:  The smart fortwo electric coupe.  Designed and sold by Mercedes-Benz (the name is actually an acronym: “Swatch, Mercedes ART”), this little two-seater has a quirky appeal (to me, at least).  I don’t need a new car; my 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350C4 with only 19,000 miles on it is just a doggone fun — and attractive — car.  And I’m going to keep it!

I found several smart electrics (or “ED” as they are unfortunately named) in the area.  I went and looked at one in a lot, and kept coming back to one I saw online.  I called the dealer, an independent used car seller, and said I wanted to check it out.

And check it out I did.  In fact, I wrote a check and drove it out (away)!

It’s a 2015 and had 17,400 miles on it.  I put $1,800 of tires, brakes and service into it to bring it to manufacturer’s spec, and now it’s my “local runabout.”  It has a range of about 90 miles, and a top speed of about 76 mph.  A/C AM/FM with AUX and USB inputs, a charging plug (for my phone) and surprisingly roomy!

I’m not sure where this is going to lead me.  I’ve been saying this is my way of dipping my toes into the EV pond.  Time will tell.