The Land of Snow Monkeys:

Snowflakes the size of rose pedals dropped from above adding to the three feet of snow already on the ground. Hell, it’s dark, cold and I’m lost again. This time I don’t really care as everything is a new experience and just beautiful.

This is really no surprise to the folks that know me. I can walk the back country for weeks with a topographical map taking direction from the sun but toss me in the middle of a city and I babble like a newborn.

My two main goals were to walk everywhere and not have one western meal in the six weeks that I was in Japan. My success rate on the first was pretty darn good and perfect on the second. I have a lifetime of being more successful in food related areas.

Just across the street I see an elderly man bundled tightly pushing snow near the wood gate of his home. He is looking at me with a cautious eye and right-fully so as I’m armed with my “Japanese for an American Idiot” card.

(Konbanwa) Good evening I say pretty pleased with myself.

(Hai) yes, notes the old man

(Hajimemashite) Pleased to meet you. The warmth of success is flooding me.

(Hai) yes, notes the old man

(Oneqai shimasu) Please help me. I’m feeling pure panic starting to set in.

(Hai) yes, notes the old man, this time with a hint of a smile.

I begin to point to the salmon colored card that has phrases in kanji hoping that I’m pointing to “I want to go to the Yanagimachi media village.” and not “Do you have a menu with pictures?” but my glasses are beginning to fog!

(Hai) yes, notes the old man pointing in almost the same direction I was heading.

(Arigato gozaimasu) Thank You

The offer for the 1998 team heading to Nagano, Japan came at the end of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The learning environment was tremendous if you were open to it both as a manager and the technology.

This type of work is not for everyone as the hours, emotions and details are daunting. Most rookies get sick in the first week and some never really recover from the experience, but the rewards can also be great.

What a difference two years makes. I traded my Leica cameras for a Mac laptop for work and the family as soon as I returned from Atlanta.

I was issued a wonderful Samsung broadband (the US was still messing with the thought of broadband at the time worried about the expense of conversion) cell phone that was crystal clear from downtown Nagano to Redlands. There were community computers everywhere to keep in touch with family.

I’m in the snow again, but it’s five in the morning and the flakes are smaller. It’s about a two mile walk from the apartment that has now become a morning ritual as many times during the week as I can make it.

The sound is beautiful filtering through the morning stillness. The bells mixed with the chants of the monks over morning meditation that echoes from the Zenkoji, a 7th century Buddhist temple sitting on the hill overlooking the city.

I like sitting on the steps below the giant bell because they are free of snow and you can look out over the small stone temples. You also don’t have to view the ugly CBS studio that was built to blend into the grounds of the Zenkoji.

The blending part didn’t really work. The other afternoon Al Roker was interviewing “Dave’s mom” from the Letterman Show. She was pretty darn funny behind the camera, Roker not so much.

It took less than four minutes for everything that I knew in twenty-fiveyears of photography to change.

It’s been a driving snow and the event postponed because of poor visability prior but Picabo Street is now rocketing down the “Super G” on a Shiga Kojen mountainside the photographer got one shot. He passed it to an editor transmitting behind him with a laptop to the office in Nagano. I relayed the image to the office in Arlington, Virginia. In less than four minutes you had the gold winning run on the website…old technology by today’s standards.

I’m in the snow again, more of an icy rain walking along a very narrow path next to the Yokoyu-River. It’s just a few miles into the Jigokudani Monkey Park also known as “Hell’s Valley” because of the boiling water and steam that escapes from cracks in the frozen ground.

It is an awesome sight crossing the bridge to where the snow monkeys play and warm themselves in the thermal pool. Just before crossing, a monkey jumps to the top of a snag as if providing the role of security scout.

There was mom, dad and kids huddling together in their matted fur coats as the flakes falling faster and thicker were forming a little white yamaka on those soaking in the steamy water.

The offer for the Australian Summer Olympics came towards the end of my stay in Nagano. This time they wanted my eldest daughter to come and help in the photo department and fill where needed. It was a wonderful opportunity to share this experience with my daughter.

My bags would remain packed for a six month loaner program taking me to Arlington when I returned home.

Unfortunately it all vanished just a few months later when the newspaper I was working for, was sold. It was the start of many things that would soon vanish in the industry.

(O kanjo kudasai)…bill please.

The Lost Roll:

Old trucks never die they're found just west of Mojave.

Old trucks never die they're found just west of Mojave.

“you know something baby?
when you walked into that room.
i could not believe my eyes.
ha ha ha looking so fine.
struttin across that floor.
and that little red skirt.
wooo ha ha”

Jack Mack And The Heart Attack – So Tuff

This was my first opportunity covering the Olympics with a very talented USAT and Gannett News Service team who came from around the country to Atlanta.

They were tired and hungry and spread out though the Waffle House, just across the street from our motel. It was close to midnight all were busy in conversation and opening their first beer while ordering.

I was offered the winter games in Lillehammer a couple of years prior and passed it to a talented colleague so I was excited to have a second chance.

I told myself that I would not miss a moment of this experience. I was so focused the first week that I forgot to call the girls. Anne was calm, for Anne, but there was no mistaking my lack of communication would not be repeated.

The Olympic Games were on television in each corner of the room when a “special alert” showing images of what looked like Beirut and not the Centennial Olympic Mall flashed on the screen. A bomb had gone off injuring over a hundred people and killing one. There was a few seconds of cold silence along with disbelief when the scramble for our bill and the door began.

In a moment of monetary weakness I heard myself yelling “Just go, grab equipment and go, head for the vans.” as I dug for my American Express card. “Just put those tables on the card.”

Lord did I realize that my card had to be paid at the end of the month and how will I explain this on my per diem?

The packed last van had room to squeeze me in and with an equal amount of money and threats; our driver was passing all others on the freeway.

The van was just slowing a block out when the doors swung open and everyone went flying to cover the story in all directions.

We just made it though most of the security but it was growing quickly and access was getting tight.

Stuff that you collect?

Stuff that you collect?

There were only two rules at the Photo meeting held before the games.

1. Don’t embarrass the company.

2. Photographers and Picture Editors, don’t let the Director of Photography ever see you without a camera..

I was holding a camera, but no strobe. I knew if I would have any success, I needed to stay with the light, and began walking towards the plaza.

You could smell the powder still in the air and see a light haze illuminated by the office lights.

I noticed a small group of people sitting on a curb in a small cul-de-sac.

As I got closer I could hear crying and saw a woman holding a young man with a napkin oozing blood from his forehead.

I asked if he was ok?

They were told to wait there for an ambulance.

Everyone just seemed to have an emotionless stare on their face and I backed off for a long shot using the street lamp for light.

I moved in closer but was shooting 2-4 seconds and knew I better head back to the office to be ready for photographers coming in with their film.

As I started for the office in the International Sports Plaza I worked my way to the back as police units were cutting off all movement.

They marched in a helmet and shield wall pushing everyone to the side and barricading all intersections.

I tried crossing the street towards the building and was pushed back by officers twice. I noticed a group of women in the crowd on the other side of the street and I started calling my wife’s name.

Both the officers and the women were looking around confused but I kept yelling “my wife, my wife, I need to get to her” pointing to the other side of the street. They relented and I made my run.

As soon as I was in the ground-level parking garage I felt a sense of relief…until I heard the metal and chain gates falling to the ground around me. The building was under lock down and every opening was now closed tight.

I made the elevator at the same time as an AFP photographer cursing in broken English only to find that the elevators, escalators and stairwells were also off.

Feeling defeated we walked around and spotted a third elevator half the size near the loading docks.

We pressed the button and jumped in finding the doors opening into the kitchen of one of the restaurants on the first floor, scaring the hell out of the cooks and serving staff.

Showing our ID they walked us through the bar and unlocked the front door. All eyes of the patrons never left us. It was if they were watching two terrorist given access to the main plaza.

Rounding the escalator I could see several of my colleagues banging on the front entrance trying to gain access to the building. They seemed to be a little relieved after seeing me run the flights of stairs on the escalator as security was running down yelling for us to stop.

At some point, I don’t remember my new French buddy splitting from me, but didn’t look back until I was in the darkroom tossing rollers into the Fuji film processor and firing it up.

Just as I hit the process switch a young GNS photographer was banging on the door with several rolls of film. I asked how he got in and he seemed dazed and out of breath. It was best just to get the film through the processor.

His images were strong and USAT was very anxious …and told me as such in constant communications. I lost track of time but it seemed like hours before the office started to fill,

Later in the day I heard that we beat the Associated Press by five minutes posting the first image from the bombing. Apparently at some point security had showed later in the afternoon looking for the guy that was running up the escalator breaking all their rules.

Not until much later did I have the opportunity to think about the fact that I had been sitting in the exact location where the bomb was left by Eric Rudolph hours earlier.

Both sad and ironic that the band playing that night was “Jack Mack and the Heart Attack” it was later learned that a video cameraman lost his life by heart attack running to cover the bombing…I never saw that roll of film again.

Lily Pond Trail:

A Mile of Natures Work!

Field Work:

It was 1965 when I first went to work in the fields.

After many years it still leaves a bitter taste, its grueling work will leave you in a daze.

I was ten years old and my best friend lied to the field foreman, telling him that I was thirteen-years old; it was the benefit of being “big boned”…there are few.

The field opportunity was by choice, it was for extra money during the summer and not because it had to feed a family or pay rent.

It was almost 4a.m., brown, white, black all wrapped up in flannel and sweat shirts jammed into a colorless van on its way out of town on highway 38 towards Merill.

The flatlands are as far as you can see. You can’t feel the climb to around 4000 feet where the soil turns to sandy loam.
The air is very still and cold for a summer morning and the sun starts to bounce off the the dirty windows but offering little heat.
It is silent except for the occasional snort of a sleeping worker.

Out the window thousands and thousands of acres of potatoes make up a green carpet as far as you can see. Rows and rows spreading out, that become overwhelming when you know they need to be weeded by hand.

You learn fast that you will break your back if you try to pull hunched over, even a young back can’t take much. It’s best to crawl, on you hands and knees, tossing the thick green weeds in the trench ahead of you where it will help to cushion.

"Weathered bench" Pella, Iowa

"Weathered bench" Pella, Iowa

After the first few days there is no point in even looking up, it’s just tough on
the soul once you see what is looming ahead.

The days are hot and all the workers cram tight under the only shade for miles that is provided by an old flatbed trailer. A couple dozen gritty hands shoveling in sandwiches and warm water going down like a fine meal.

There are times that I’ve been more tired from work in my life, but never so defeated. By the end of the week you almost forget the itching and light red rash from the pesticides, thoughts that don’t really hit until later in life.

All you really want to do is just get through the week, so you can get paid out by the foreman who dips in to his jeans pulling out a large wad of cash.
The ride home is much like the ride out, workers quiet, and too tired to talk.

It was almost nine years later when I found myself in the cotton fields outside of El Paso looking for a couple of days work to pay a bit of gas to keep the journey alive.

The work was by hand in areas where the machines couldn’t reach, but the cotton offered just enough return to not give up on.
Your hands better be of leather as the cotton is protected by a tough bowl that can take its toll.
Again, it was my choice and I’m not there to feed anyone but myself.

The faces were different, all brown but red from the sun and dirty from the earth, even the foreman. The color of the jeans and the roll of cash were the same, just as I remembered.

The Blue Cloud:

Blue Cloud One

 

The Cloud is not a hard place to miss arriving just this side of midnight, it’s the only doorway with the glow of light at this hour.

 

There was a single street lamp about a quarter of a block down pushing a ribbon of light along the brick wall that holds the door frame. It was just enough to show a bit of the texture allowing the beer sign to shine like a beautiful holiday decoration.

 

I was warned that the area could be a bit sketchy at night. But when you’re thinking a blues bar, sketchy is just what you’re looking for and after all it was Des Moines.

 

The beer was flowing much earlier in the afternoon and given the volume of the voices that filtered to the street with the cigarette smoke,things were well underway. 

 

I’ve often wondered why drinking seemed to impair one’s hearing.  It might have been the smack of the stick working balls around the table that added to the audible confusion.

 

Blue Cloud Two

 

The door was heavy and solid with a brass knob and appeared to have seen better days.  It had the look of a piece of wood that had touched a number of visitors, some that maybe left with a little help.

 

The group was down from the north and this was “Chicago Blues”.

You can tell the difference from the blues played in the Delta because there is nothing acoustic about it. 

It’s amped up and the harmonica is blown hard and loud against the microphone.  You could say it’s almost orgasmic, but there was no almost about it!

 

This was the music of Little Walter, Charlie Musselwhite, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. These were the sounds of the “Great Migration” when poor southern blacks moved north to find a better way in the industrial cities.

 

It was just yesterday that a photographer and musician friend and I were talking about the richness in this type of music.

 

“I’d sell my soul to play great blues guitar.” I told him.

He laughed and started for the door.

 

“Hell, I’d sell yours too!” the laughter faded.

 

Blue Cloud Three