Thursday, December 8, 2016

New York, New York...

Simply stated, there's no finer place on the planet than New York City. If I could live anywhere, and money wasn't a factor, drop my ass in the middle of Manhattan and leave me be. I'll be fine.

I try to get up here once a year. Last year, I came up for a Mets game (my first at Citi Field). The whole point of this trip was to go to the Carnegie Deli in New York City. They're closing on New Year's Eve and, dammit, I wanted one more pastrami on rye.

The trip into the city would be made with two of my oldest, dearest friends, Patty and Eileen. We've been friends since high school, and I think I would be hard-pressed to find two people I would rather run amok in New York City with. We'd long decided that we would go into the city on the Tuesday I was on Long Island. We got lucky with the weather. It was cold, but clear.

We got on the train out of Central Islip at about 9:30am. There was some delay, but nothing to horrible and certainly nothing that was going to put a crimp in our day.

 


We made it into Penn Station a little after 10:30am. It's always surprised me how busy this place is all day long.


Penn Station, about 90 minutes before the lunch hour...

Now, when I go to New York City, there are those things which let me know that I am, in fact, in the greatest city in the world. One of those things is the venerable Madison Square Garden. I can't imagine going anywhere in the world and finding too many buildings which have a more recognizable name. As you come up from the subterranean Penn Station, it's right there:

Madison Square Garden...

Our first stop was all for me: B&H Photo on 9th Avenue. The place is absolutely enormous and carries, quite literally, anything that any professional or amateur photographer could ever want. If you ever fine yourself in New York City and you happen to be a photographer, it's worth the visit, even if you don't buy anything, just to check out the conveyor system they have.

After B&H, we started to make our way up to midtown and the Carnegie Deli. This was, after all, the entire reason I decided to make this trip. The walk wasn't bad at all, despite the temperature being in the low 40's (and it might as well been 10 degrees below, amIright?). It wasn't long before we found ourselves in the middle of Times Square:

Times Square...

Times Square...

We made our way from Times Square over to 7th Avenue, turned left and, before we knew it, we'd made it to the Carnegie Deli.

Or, more accurately, we made it to the line of people who were waiting to get into the Carnegie Deli:

The line to get into the Carnegie Deli...

You know, it's a funny thing. When you're moving along in sub-arctic temperatures, you really don't get cold. Your blood is flowing and you're getting some exercise and, well, everything is grand. It's when you stop moving that you begin to question the wisdom of waiting on line, outside, to do anything. It's even more insane to wait outside in such temperatures, to do anything, for an hour and 45 minutes.

But that's what we did.

Freezing my ass off on 7th Avenue outside the Carnegie Deli...

Our perseverance was rewarded, though, when we were finally seated.The Carnegie Deli is a lot smaller than I remembered, but the experience was exactly the same:

Celebrity photos, from the span of almost 80 years, cover every wall of Carnegie Deli...

Eileen, Patty and me patiently waiting for our lunch at the Carnegie Deli...

Our server, a lovely older lady named Desmarine, came over and took our orders. Of course, we all went for the pastrami on rye which contains over a pound of pastrami. Patty and Eileen opted to split a sandwich and, considering the size of these things, that probably wasn't a bad idea. I had no one to split mine with and, even if I did, I wouldn't have. This sandwich, after all, was the reason I came to New York in the first place and, goddammit, this was mine:


Carnegie Deli's pastrami on rye with mustard: Culinary perfection...

I'm not generally known to be a man of any deep faith, but things like this have to, at the very least, make you allow for the possibility that there really is a God and that he wants us to be happy. He wants us to be really, really happy:

Don't I look happy?


With our meal completed and the bill paid, we decided to start making our way downtown. We made it as far as Rosie O'Grady's on 7th, where we stopped for a little bit of warming therapy:

Mmmmmmmm... juice...

While we were enjoying our first cocktails of the day, there was a bit of a commotion outside. A number of police vehicles streamed past the bar, some of which stopped to block traffic. As we weren't that far from 5th Avenue, our first thought was that it was Donald Trump's motorcade. In fact, it was the motorcade of Vice President Joe Biden, who was to appear on The Late Show with Steven Colbert.

Joe Biden gets rock star parking...


The Vice President's seal...

We worked our way down 5th Avenue until we came upon St. Patrick's Cathedral. There aren't too many more iconic sites in New York, so we decided to stop. I've been in some amazing churches and cathedrals in my time, but never St. Patrick's. That would change today:

St. Patrick's Cathedral( low-res cell phone picture)...


Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral. The cathedral covers an area of two acres and seats in excess of 2,500...

After St. Patrick's, I had another "first" on my list. I'd never seen the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. That, too, would change today.

The Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. It's 94 feet tall, weighs 14-tons and has 50,000 lights...

Prometheus, the most photographed monumental sculpture in all of New York City...

Rockefeller Center as seen from in front of Saks 5th Avenue...

We slowly found ourselves back on 5th Avenue, where we decided to check out the windows of Saks 5th Avenue. Window dressing takes on a whole new meaning in New York, and Saks offers an amazing example of it:



One of the entrances into Saks 5th Avenue...


And, as if that wasn't enough, there was also a Trans-Siberian-esque lighting/music display on the side of the building, right on 5th Avenue (apologies for the sketchy focus):




After Saks, we decided we wanted to make our way down to the East Village to check out "Beetle House NYC", which is a Tim Burton themed bar. It was down on East 6th Street so, coming from 51st Street it took a little while. But it was worth the ride and the $18.00 cab fare, especially considering that it was dipping into the high 30's and was starting to rain a bit.

Behind the bar at Beetle House NYC...

Eileen and Patty checking out the drink menu at Beetle House NYC...

Even Sweeney Todd was on hand to scare patrons. This guy did a really good Johnny Depp...

These are true craft cocktails here, and I'm pretty sure I'm stealing one of them and making it my own. It's one of the tastiest cocktails I've ever had. And, no, I'm not going to say what's in it.

Yet...

That's red sugar around the rim...

Our bartender, Eddie, treated us to a shot of Fireball, served in bitchin' skull shot glasses, before we left...


Despite the fun we were having at Beetle House, we hadn't had dinner yet and we still had to catch the train back to Long Island. So, we said our goodbyes to Sweeney Todd and Eddie and quickly got a cab. Our destination? Five Napkin Burger on 14th Street. We'd passed this enticing burger joint on the way to the East Village, and I'm pretty sure it was nothing more than the name which convinced us to go. We got out of the cab and darted across the street, into the waiting confines of yummy, beefy goodness.

I got the cheddar & bacon burger with a black & white malt. Sweet mother of everything holy these were good. Five napkins? That's actually a bit optimistic:

At some point, I think someone decided that all food in New York City had to be enormous...

Probably the best malt I've ever had. Shakes are good, but this thing? Daaaamn...
Looking down at my watch, I was both surprised at how late it was and by how quickly the day had flown by. We'd done a lot on this day, and there were probably a dozen more things we'd have done if we'd had the time. Such is the nature of New York City. We grabbed a cab back to Penn Station, got on our train after a short wait, and made our way back to the Island.

I can't wait to see what we do next year...

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Off To The Big City...

It was with a bit of sadness that I recently heard that the Carnegie Deli; that iconic fixture on Manhattan's 7th Avenue, which has played host to countless celebrities, political figures and other assorted luminaries, would be closing its doors on December 31, 2016. I'd been there a few times as a kid and always loved the ridiculously huge sandwiches they served.

And I wanted one more.

So, after talking to some Long Island friends, I decided to make a pilgrimage to the big city. I decided I would, one last time, enjoy what is truly a culinary masterpiece.

It would be a quick trip. I would spend six quick days on Long Island, visiting friends and stomping around the old stomping grounds. But there would be that one goal. There would be that one unwavering draw to the city which was the catalyst for this entire trip.

Carnegie Deli.

I scored a ridiculously low airfare (which I jumped on) and flew from Jacksonville on December 3. Now, admittedly, it had been some time since I'd been on a place. I last flew in October of 2012 when I went to Portland, Oregon to scope out the area prior to accepting a job there. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that, since then, someone finally decided that it was okay for me to leave my laptop in its bag and that my shoes could remain on my feet.

I haven't used this in a few years...


I've flown out of Jacksonville International only three times, and I always get a kick out of the different displays they put up. Since I would be flying close to the holidays, I guess it comes as no surprise that there would be a sleigh. Only this had a decidedly Floridian twist. You see, the sleigh on display was being pulled by eight porpoise:

How Santa gets around Florida...


And, as if a sleigh pulled by eight porpoise wasn't enough, how about a Maserati? I'm not sure why it was here; it's not like there were a bunch of them on display. Then again, at $92,000, I guess they really need to sell only one:

Merry Christmas...


My flight to New York was uneventful (isn't that the best way?) and I was collected at Kennedy Airport by my friend Patty. As it wasn't that late, and I hadn't yet eaten, we decided it that we'd get some dinner. If you ever find yourself driving around Long Island at 9:30 at night and you want some dinner, might I suggest breakfast at the Hauppauge Palace Diner:


Any time is a good time for breakfast...

The next week promised to be a blur, so we called it a night after we ate and headed back to Patty & Chris' house.

This week should be a good one...

Friday, November 25, 2016

What Your Mortality Has To Say About Those Plans You've Made...

Someone sent me an internet meme recently.

Now, of course, we all get these almost daily. Many are funny, many are stupid, but they're harmless enough that you usually forget about it within seconds of closing the e-mail. 

This one I received recently, though, was not one of those memes. This one demanded that you think about its message:



I sat and looked at that for a minute, and it reinforced the way I've decided to approach life.

In April, my ex-wife's brother John, to whom I had remained mildly close, died suddenly at the age of 49. He was a relatively healthy guy. He may have smoked an occasional cigarette and probably could've had a better diet, but he was in far better health and physical shape than I am. That notwithstanding, his life came to an end on the shitty end of a heart attack.

Just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine here in Florida; Russell, was found in his apartment. Now, Russell was known to have a drink now and again and he was a smoker. Still, like John, Russell suffered a heart attack that brought his life to a premature end. He was only 51.

I'm 54. I have a horrible diet. I could stand to lose a few pounds. While I no longer smoke, I did so for 35 years. I drink. I don't exercise. There's a litany of reasons why I'm a prime candidate for a premature demise, yet here I am.

Considering your own mortality sucks.

So, back to that meme...

Nothing is guaranteed. John had great plans for his kids that will go unfulfilled. While Russell and I weren't close, he'd been bringing his life in line with a healthier lifestyle. What he'd planned for that healthier lifestyle I can only guess. The point, though, is that it doesn't actually matter at this point.

I used to be a big fan of plans. Let me make a plan and a list and, Goddammit, I'll rule the world. But that's not how life works. I've accepted that life doesn't give a damn about my "plans". What I want to do tomorrow or next week or next year matters not to life. It's going to throw what it wants at me and, when it finally decides to throw me my last breath, I want to go out knowing I didn't have "plans" that would forever go unfulfilled.

See, you're going to run out of time. At some point, your time will be up, and there won't be a damn thing you can do about it. The bitch of it is that you don't know when that time will come. It could come tomorrow or it could come ten years from now. But, when you think about everything you want to do, ask yourself: Do you think you've got the time?

Live your life. Live it now. If you're lucky enough, you'll be living it 20 or 30 or 50 years from now.

But you might not...

End Of An Era...

I suppose it was bound to happen. I guess I just didn't want to wrap my head around the reality of it. I knew it would hurt. I knew there would be an inescapable sense of loss.

The Explorer is gone.

My 1999 Ford Explorer served me well. It got me from San Diego, California to to Portland, Oregon. Then, when it came time to leave Portland for the east coast, it became my refuge on wheels. For 5,800 miles over the course of 25 days, I was in that truck, having embarked on the trip of a lifetime. It was just me, with my camera in the passenger seat. It's the best goddamn thing I've ever done.

The reality of my situation, though, is such that I do a lot of driving, and the Explorer just wasn't the most fuel efficient vehicle on the road. At only 17 mpg, I was driving away a significant percentage of my profits, especially if I was driving to USC in South Carolina or Florida State in Tallahassee. I had to bite the bullet.

So, the Explorer is gone; sold to a young family who needs it for piddling around town as opposed to making protracted road trips. In its stead is a 2013 Nissan Altima:



I'll miss that truck, to be completely honest with you.

I'm going to leave the photo of the truck on the beach at the top for a while; at least until I get a more appropriate photo of the new ride (which, by the way, averages 38mpg). 





Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Back To The Grind...

Summer shooting is fun, but there are two undeniable truths to it. 

First, it wears on you. In a place like Myrtle Beach, you experience a very special kind of heat. The humidity is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated. The heat index (that magically random number that some meteorologist came up with years ago) was routinely over 100 degrees. Now, ordinarily, that would be enough. But not in Myrtle Beach.

The fields in Myrtle Beach are artificial turf. Artificial turf can be (and often is) 10 to 15 degrees hotter than natural grass. It was common for the surface temperature of the fields to reach temperatures approaching 150 degrees.

And you feel it in your feet all day long.

Add to that the fact that, while you're shooting different teams every game, if you're not careful it's easy to get complacent. You tend to always line up the same shots, game after game. This is where the mental part comes in. You want to get something "new" while maintaining the standards which have been established for photos. These are a couple of my best from the summer:








The second undeniable truth is that summer shooting always comes to an end. When it does, you'd better have something else ready to go.

The month of August is, historically, the beginning of my "college shooting". Photographing sororities and fraternities can be challenging. These are kids, after all, and they often have the attention span of... oh, look; Something shiny!

You realize what I'm saying.

The shooting, in and of itself, isn't difficult. The difficult part is getting a bunch of college kids to not only listen to what some middle aged photographer has to say, but getting them to do what he tells them to do.

My shooting starts August 13 at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. I'll be photographing just one sorority this time around, but that's okay. Like I said, the hardest part of the gig will be the drive. These shots are from a shoot last year at the University of Central Florida, but you get the idea:




So, the summer is over and now it's time to get back to work.

You know... If you wanna' call it that...

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Summer Begins...

When I was a little kid (Hell, even a big kid), summer was what you looked forward to. What better way was there to spend 2-1/2 months than doing nothing, or going to the beach, or doing any number of irresponsible things to pass the time. It was perfect.

That's fine, of course, when you're 14. But, when you're knocking on the door of 54, the allure of doing nothing worthwhile for an entire summer just isn't as attractive as it used to be. After all, there are bills to pay and, as such, one must maintain a certain level of gainful employment.

When I was 14 I don't think I even owned a wallet.

My primary revenue stream is shooting at colleges and universities. This, of course, pretty much dries up in the summer. Accordingly, I need a gig to get through those lean times. Two of the last three summers were spent in Pennsylvania. This year I was looking for something different when Glossy Finish contacted me.

Well, I spent Memorial Day weekend up in Myrtle Beach, and it was great. There were eight photographers, six of which lived in the condo the company has rented for us. The shooting was non-stop, even in the rain. It made for some interesting shooting scenarios, but we muddled through and, when the sun was out, it was amazing (if not extremely humid, as well). I came away with some nice shots, though, and it's always fun to watch the parents ordering products with the photos you took.

One of our partners is Canon USA, and they were kind enough to send us over ten cameras to shoot with. This, of course, is something we photographers love, because it means we save the wear and tear on our personal gear. Now, while most of Canon's loaner stock is reserved for the Olympics in Brazil later this summer, but they managed to send us six 1DX bodies, four 7D bodies and some lenses:

Insane amounts of equipment are commonplace at a Glossy Finish table...

The last summer gig I had I was given a golf cart. I'm not the only one who uses this, but that's okay. All of the photographers have access to this. And the thing freakin' flies!

But, of course, it's not about the gear and the golf carts, it's about the kids and the game of baseball. All we need is John Fogarty's "Centerfield" blaring over the PA system and the scenario would be complete.

These are just a sampling of what I came away with last weekend:









For me, the best part of getting to shoot these kids is watching the intensity they play with. They approach every game like it's the 7th game of the World Series.
The intensity on this kid's face is awesome. And that swing resulted in a three run shot over the fence...

I'm enjoying some down time for the next week and a half here in St. Augustine, doing some writing for the magazine and getting caught up some things, but I'm looking forward to getting back up to Myrtle Beach and the Ripken Experience...



Let's Talk Apps...

From time to time, I'll be talking about cell phone apps as I find good ones. Let's face it, it's almost impossible to get thro...