Update and apology…

I’m sorry. I’ve been very quiet for a while now (and TOT is almost on hiatus) for a couple of reasons, one of which I’m STILL not at liberty to discuss just now, and the other being the visit of a very ugly critter name of Hurricane Harvey – a seriously obnoxious guest who quite comprehensively wore out his welcome before he moved on.

But It’s not been a totally unmitigated disaster. Mostly, sure, but not totally.

First, the not-so-devastating news: I live in Sharpstown, which is a small suburb (I guess by now it’s probably considered “near town” or even urban) just about four miles outside Loop 610. As I told several people, there’s a small neighborhood in the middle of Southwest Houston that had less rain than almost anywhere else in the area and no flooding, and I live right smack in the middle of that neighborhood. The nearest major street to me is Fondren, and during TS Allison and Hurricane Ike, the last two major rain events to hit this part of Houston, Fondren flooded. Badly. As in waist-deep on me, so almost 3 feet in the center of the road and close to 4 feet at the edges. Damaged a bunch of houses and townhouses in the area and ruined dozens of cars, mostly because of people trying to drive through several feet of flowing water in vehicles equipped for, at best, a couple inches of the stuff. Just for clarity, this is a really bad idea and you shouldn’t even think about trying it yourselves. Trust me. If your vehicle doesn’t have a chapter in the manual about Fording a Stream in Your Vehicle, do NOT attempt to ford streams in your vehicle. It doesn’t end well.

Anyway, as a result of this, the city of Houston rebuilt Fondren, from below the ground up. In the process our storm drainage here went from two 32″ cylindrical culverts to three 6-foot square culverts. This time, although my street got a foot or so deep in spots, Fondren never closed and the water in my area never got further than the main sidewalk a few feet off the street. This is good for me and for my neighbors – none of our homes, none of our cars, nothing was flooded. The only water that got to Rommie was coming down, and she shrugs that off. She does want a bath now, but otherwise…

So I don’t think I get to complain about bad luck for my next two or three lives…

And for the last several days I’ve had something of an insider view into how a major news organization works, which if nothing else has taught me that I DO have the skills and the ability to play this game. (Yes, I know, most of you have told me that and told me that and TOLD me that, but it’s never so clear from the inside… until now. )

And now for the devastation part of this…

Several of my friends and friends of friends weren’t NEARLY as lucky as I was.

I’ve spent a couple days in the aftermath helping friends who live in that complex document losses for FEMA and insurance companies, and salvaging what few bits and pieces could be retrieved after most of a week under Buffalo Bayou, which at the worst of it was about three feet deep where I was standing to shoot this. (I was there days later when the water was back where it belonged; my bootsoles got wet but that was all.)

These folks, most of whom were retired or close to it, are almost entirely wiped out. One of my good friends, who lives under the tall windows at the left of the frame above, managed to salvage a few bags of clothes and a handful of knick-knacks, but lost all of her furniture (including family heirlooms and antiques), her appliances, her books, her electronics, and her car.. She’s a writer and a movie buff, and much of her personal history, and almost everything she owns, was drowned. About half of her neighbors are in the same situation, along with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of other Houstonians, and a much greater number of Texans and, now, Floridians as well. This hurricane season is beyond horrific; none of the words I know really reach on this. There are miles and miles of these scenes. Tens of thousands of people have popped up here from all over the continent to help us, and we are truly grateful (you have no idea), but the recovery will be massive and will take decades. For many it probably won’t happen at all.

There’s just not much to say. As I said, I’ve been doing my photodocumentarian and local “fixer” schtick for the last several days, so I haven’t had time to shoot a lot of images myself, and when everyplace looks either normal or totally devastated… well, there’s not a lot of motivation. It’s too big and there’s just no way to really get an emotional or visual handle on it. We’re devastated, we’re collectively shocked out of our minds – this complex and many other parts of Houston had never flooded before and got several feet of water this time… but, well… Like the guy who hung his flag here, we WILL be back. It may take a bit, though, and if we’re a bit self-obsessed just now, this is why. Bear with us.

(And thanks for the well-wishes and all that, but seriously, not to worry about me. I really WAS quite unconscionably lucky on this one. I’ll take it.)

Rosenberg RailFest Reprise

The weather forecast for this last weekend messed up several half-formed plans, but early on Sunday Morning I noticed that it was Museum Discovery Day at the Rosenberg Railroad Museum. Perfect. I like Rosenberg, it’s “out of town” but not that far (20 miles, give or take), I haven’t been to the Railroad Museum Festival in a few years, and there’s a lot of indoor and covered space if the weather goes squirrelly. And, of course, it’s a museum. With train cars. And model trains.

You’ve probably realized that my inner child is still a little boy, at least sometimes; he likes ships and boats, cars and trains and planes and fire trucks and even farm machinery – and he doesn’t draw many lines between models and full-sized toys. (He’s also not always real bright or aware that we’re actually a middle-aged man getting towards older-than-that…) He got to try scuba diving and race driving and flying an airplane for a few minutes, as well as several other dumb things. I think he’d try skydiving if I’d let him…

Anyway it’s Sunday, Andromeda II is full of gas, I’ve got charged batteries and plenty of camera chips, a freshly inked pen, notebooks, and a shoulder bag with Clif bars and full water bottles – and cabin fever. It’s about time to twist the key and go.

The predicted rain hits about halfway between here and there, but it’s light and we’re on an adventure, so it’s “Press On Regardless,” and, sure enough as we go over the Brazos River at Richmond it lets up, and by the time we get to the Museum the ground is more or less dry…

First stop is the new G-Gauge Garden Rail layout…. which, due to the weather and the threat of worse coming, is shut down. Maybe later, I hear, if the storm goes the other way. (It looks good; the yardmaster and I compare radar maps (Yay for Weather Underground!) and conclude that it’s likely that the storm’s gone past us and is still going.) So when the track and the electrical things dry out a bit, there will be model trains to play with.

Until then… it’s around the building and off to the big shed for stop 2: The Quebec.

This is one of the prides of the museum – an 1879 “Quebec” executive coach built by the Northern Railway of Canada. It’s got an interesting history – abandoned and almost lost (a matter of hours, perhaps). The details are on the Museum’s website, here.

It’s a thing of beauty.

One more for the end of the year..

Okay, this one’s been burning holes in the HD for almost a month now, so I guess it’s time to throw it up here.

Last post I mentioned that I was in the FW/D Metroplex for family reasons (a thing which will probably become more common for the next I-don’t-know-how-long). On the way back I swung east a bit to Mission Tejas State Historical Park. Mission Tejas has been on my “go see” list for a couple of years now, so I finally went to see it.

Mission Tejas is an homage to the early Spanish Missions of East Texas. The current log cabin structure was built by the CCC “boys” back in 1934-35 and dedicated, along with the park itself, in 1936. There’s some interesting history here; few Texans outside of serious history buffs are even aware that the Spanish attempted to create missions in the East Texas Piney Woods. They weren’t particularly successful, in part because they never found a way to make the Piney Woods missions self-sustaining the way the south Texas missions were, and in part because sending supplies or reinforcements to those missions required a long trek from Spanish Mexico to East Texas through hostile territory over bad or non-existent roads. And, too, the Spanish appear to have just had some abysmally bad luck into the bargain. In any case the missions failed, quickly. So it’s a largely unknown bit of history, which means I’m researching it with the intent of learning enough to make it an interesting tale just for you guys. Okay, it’s a lot of fun for me, too, but I was always weird like that.

Meantime we have these two shots, outside and inside …. because the day I was there I was the only person there, and it was cold, misty, and grey, which doesn’t encourage lots of landscape photography. But that said, it’s a nice little state park, and in addition to the mission “replica” there’s camping, some wildlife watching, nature hikes and fishing.

A section of El Camino Real, the original road from East Texas down to Spanish Mexico, wanders by about half a mile down the hill from where I stood to shoot these. (It’s now a National Historic Trail with its own nonprofit foundation, which means there’s actual maintenance and preservation being done. Yay!)

Come Spring I’m going to set up Home Sweet Nylon Taffeta Home in the park, lace up my boots, sling a camera bag, and my staff and I are going to trace a few of the 700 or so miles from here to San Antonio…

Of course this means that it will be necessary to post something, either here or over at The Other Texas. (Note: If you’d like to receive an email when I post the story, or any others, please go back to the front page, find the “send me email” link, and join the mailing list. It’s an automatic feature – you won’t be sold and you won’t be spammed. My word on that, because I HATE having that done to me…)

Happy Trails, in any case….

Getting there: The park is 21 miles northeast of Crockett on SH21, near Weches. You’ll need a car, or good boots and a walking staff, because there’s no public transport or bus lines this far out. The site offers, as said, camping, hiking, fishing, picnicking, and history. Plus flush toilets and hot showers – which matter more than you might think on cold winter mornings.

Willkommen – Christkindl Market

The calendar said I was going to the Tomball German Christmas Market this weekend. Unfortunately, as for many of us, the calendar failed to take account of the reality of life with aging parents, so instead I wound up at the Christkindl Market, which is the ARLINGTON German Christmas Market.

It’s a small festival, only a few years old, and so far it’s still a fairly standard small local arts & artisans festival. It may become more thematic as it grows, but for now the merchandise is nice and a great deal more varied than most small festivals I’ve been to. In no particular order, I found displays of Andean Textiles; Nepalese masks and statuary; Turkish lamps and Senegalese baskets; Alpaca textiles; wooden drinking mugs, bowls, and other stuff; works from a local artists’ alliance; nice prints from a couple of landscape and travel photographers; a selection of German lace, woodcarvings, and miniature cuckoo clocks; and Bavarian ornaments, decor, and kitsch. Also presenting displays and, in a couple of cases, demonstrations, were a lapidary shop (with a geode cracker and a selection of 11-30 million year old surprise packages!); a lady trading in African clothing, art, and beadwork; a couple who turn out very colorful dichroic glass jewelry; a filigree maker from North Carolina; and a Persian artist who turns out some truly magnificent wooden inlay work. Oh… and a wonderful little chocolatier whose shop was giving out free samples. Yes. Free Gourmet Chocolate. My job is an unutterable horror.

Take a look. (There’s a bigger version of the collage behind the thumbnail copy, but the aforementioned aging parent still has the world’s slowest remaining dialup connection and gets timed out whenever I post big stuff, so I try to keep the front page here fairly tight. Those of you whose parents still live in the neolithic will understand; those of you whose parents haven’t gotten that far back will understand someday, probably sooner than you’d like. Be patient…)

Go. Enjoy. Lots of fun stuff you won’t find at the mall or the Big Box.

GETTING THERE: The market is on a closed stretch of Road To Six Flags on the north side of Globe Life Park (the Rangers’ Stadium, for the old-school contingent) between Ballpark Way and Nolan Ryan Expressway, just East of Collins in Arlington. It runs from now until 23 December… Website with directions, hours, and lots of other stuff, some useful and some not, is HERE.

This Day In History 61 years ago

A few years ago I was in San Antonio for a festival and, as I usually do, I set up my tent at the KOA on the east side and caught the bus into town. (I got into the habit of riding Via when I was in college there; it’s still one of my personal touchpoints for what a public transit system ought to be.)

And I noticed something, and as I pulled out my camera thinking it was a special bus, the other passengers and the driver all told me that no, this is standard – the front row left seat of all the Via buses have this.

61 years ago today… and although it definitely feels as though we’re moving backwards, we’re still not quite at this level again. Yet.

61 years ago.

The Turkeys are Loose..

Okay, by now everyone knows what’s going on.

It’s … whatever the Saturday after Black Friday is, and as I rarely leave the cave on Black Friday unless I’m being paid to do so, I don’t have to recover from shopping or mayhem…

So while I’m not out buying things I don’t need at sale prices that generally aren’t all THAT good, I usually plant my happy butt in my computer chair to sort through and work up the (far too many) pictures from Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (The curse of having digital cameras that let me shoot several hundreds or thousands of frames without stopping to reload is that I shoot hundreds or thousands of frames without stopping to think about HOW much work I’m making for myself later….)

Yup. I did it to myself again. I DID stop just short of a thousand frames this year, 900-odd, but it’s in my mind that the parade was a little shorter than usual and much more crowded, which made moving around harder.

Still, that leaves me, when all’s done, a pretty sizable gallery for you to ramble through and enjoy. So, oddly enough, I’m gonna shut up and let you go do just that.

So click on any of the pictures here…. (They all take you to the same link…)

Enjoy. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Life Goes On…

If you look at the last post, I lost a good friend earlier this month.

Well, I didn’t “lose” him exactly, we know exactly what happened… but talking with him is a little harder now, and I’m spending a fair bit of time trying to remember and write down what I can of the Pittman stories I heard or was part of, because what’s left is all there will be, and remembering them seems important. I just wish I’d written a great many of them down when they happened.

(Lesson for those of you with crazy friends – take good notes. You’ll want them later. I’m SURE there was a great story here, but while it _was_ a night to remember, well… I don’t.)

Anyway I spent a couple of days driving out to Alpine for the official “sending friends on ahead” rituals, which, in theory at least, make the situation just a bit more bearable. I suppose it was a “good” trip, for some value of the term. Andromeda the 4runner purred like a kitten all the way, we didn’t run out of gas, water, or food, and although the air mattress did blow out the truck’s quite comfortable to sleep in.

But, all things considered, I wasn’t really that much “there” in terms of looking for photographs. A quick stop at the historical site and Texas Tourism Office at Langtry to soak up a bit of myth and a BUNCH of brochures and maps and travel literature ended with me holding down the bar at Judge Roy Bean’s Jersey Lilly Saloon…

(I’m not big on writing saloon reviews, but the service WAS somewhat slow. This might be because the saloonkeeper has been dead for over a century now. I wouldn’t complain, though… I’m not entirely sure just how dead he might be, and even as a ghost the judge is probably still a man to reckon with….)

Not too many miles later I got into memory-land and I’m going to quietly draw the curtain on the next day or two…

But Davis Mountains is a pretty state park and the people there are both friendly and efficient. I highly recommend reservations, especially on pleasant weekends. There was a sign on the door: “We’re Full. All campsites in the park are taken or reserved. If you don’t have a reservation you’re probably out of luck.” I HAD a reservation and still wound up with a “go to the end of the world and take the second left” campsite, not that I minded. There were signs posted that the park now features Brown Bears, Mountain Lions, and Javelina, but the only dangerous wildlife I encountered was a troop of New Mexico Boy Scouts one campsite over. Good kids, mostly.

I’ll have to go back and wander, because I never even got the cameras out of the truck. I wasn’t feeling it and I wasn’t on anyone’s clock, so I took a couple of days off, mentally.

But after the memorial service and the scattering, I started pulling myself back into the here and now of things…

This is sunset, the night of the scattering, from more or less Pittman’s Point, which isn’t on the map but IS on SH 170 just west of Terlingua, on the west edge of Long Draw…

I curled up in the driver’s seat and slept there that night, owing largely to the late hour, an unwillingness to shell out a lot for a hotel, and a weird vibe from the campsite I’d reserved. The next morning at first light I headed east into the park, stopping for a shot of the entry sign…

and a conveniently placed tree…

and a few mountains.

After which I stopped for water and book shopping at Panther Junction, the Big Bend park headquarters. It’s one of the best places to find information about the history and geology of the park, although Jean Hardy-Pittman’s Front Street Books in Alpine has a decent selection too. (Full Disclosure: The “Pittman” on the end isn’t coincidental. Jean was Blair’s wife and, arguably, better half for the last several years of his life, and she DOES run a good bookshop.)

There were several books in the store that looked worth reading, but given that I’m prepping for a major move the idea of buying more books was a bit unappetizing, so… I filled the water bottles (Desert safety protocol 1: NEVER pass up the chance to refill your water supplies… ) and headed north.

A few miles up the road from PJ is an exhibit called “Fossil Bone,” dealing with the geology and paleontology of the Chihuahua desert, which long before any of us existed was covered with water and inhabited by several kinds of interesting critters, at least one of which was the size of a flying Greyhound bus. They don’t come around much any more, though. Anyway there’s a whole new exhibit being put in now, but it won’t be ready for several weeks or months yet. So with no exhibit I wandered around, looking at the sandstone formations in the area, and before long I drifted into an Irwin Allen-esque moonscape world where everything slipped out of scale and I could almost see the little models climbing the cliffs and fighting off invaders and dinosaurs and spaceships…

(I probably spent too much of my youth in my own and other writer-types’ imaginary worlds, but they knew me there and I had friends…)

By then it was getting on towards 1100 and starting to warm up. I’ve been in Big Bend when it gets several steps past warm, and as I don’t generally like hot weather, I didn’t want to wait for that, so… time to leave. I made one more stop for a nice tall yucca, still in bloom for some reason…

and then I put my foot down and headed back to Houston, because no matter how much I love wandering the back parts of the planet, I’m still stuck needing to make a living. For now.

In that connection, please read the Obligatory Commercial Note.

(Obligatory Commercial Note: Prints of most of the pictures here (in fact, most of the pictures on this blog) are or can become available for purchase through my space at Fine Art America. If it should happen that you’re more interested in photos printed on shirts, tote bags, pillows, shower curtains, or other strange kitschy stuff, they do that too… and some of the stuff (by no means all, but some – usually I don’t judge but even pigs gots to have SOME standards) is available in that format too. If you’re looking for something and it’s not on the FAA site, drop me an email. Yes, it’s a commercial enterprise, but (a) they take plastic, which I’m not otherwise able to do, and (b) I, and therefore you, get _far_ better prices than I can offer if I have to do all the back end stuff myself. Thank you for your patronage. Yes, I’m trying to turn some of this into a money-making enterprise, or at least pay FAA’s far-from-exorbitant fees.)

Blair Pittman 1937 – 2016

Blair Pittman

April 1994 – Somewhere on the side of Chimborazo 15,000 feet up in the High Ecuadoran Andes

February 12, 1937 – October 10, 2016

August 1994 – So we’re on the train from Guayaquil, Ecuador, up into the Andes, when suddenly Blair decides to hold up the train….

Good friend, mentor, travel partner, companion in crime
(They never could catch us…)

August 1994 – It wasn’t until we all crawled back into our suddenly very small van that we realized those bags he was lying on contained raw sheep manure. It was a while before we let him live that one down.

Rest easy, my friend… see you soon….

The 18th Century would like a word with you….

Between the heat and the neighbors starting the Holiday fireworks a couple of days early (and staying with them more or less continuously for 3 days…) I was pretty much unFourthed by the morning of the 3d. I decided that I’d much rather get dangerously dehydrated in the shade of a beautiful mansion with a handful of agreeably sober historians than in a big open field with twenty or fifty thousand rowdy drunks, so I went back to 1776 at Bayou Bend instead of hitting the big commercial festivals. (Yes, I know, it wasn’t BUILT then and this part of the country was still what God meant it to be – a yellow fever swamp. The Allen Brothers won’t be born for decades. Time Travel involves paradox. Deal with it.)

Yes, they’re carrying military weapons – but the Second Amendment is still a few years in the future and the NRA is a LONG way off yet.

The problem with musicians is they don’t know enough to come in out of the sun…

“Pay attention, you. This is important and there WILL be a test. Several of them, actually. And they’re not graded on a curve.”

“We hold these Truths to be Self-Evident: That All Men are Created Equal…”

Okay, we’re not there yet but at least some of us are still trying.

There was other stuff, games and crowds and music and cake and such, but … This was the important part. (Well, that and drinking ice water by the gallon trying not to die…)

I hung around for an hour or so after the reading, chatting with soldiers and musicians and even a couple of Tories (“That’s Loyal British Subjects to you, you traitorous b*stards…”) and in general melting slowly, and then headed home. I thought about going out later for fireworks shots but there were already enough things going boom two buildings north and I just wasn’t up for it, so I stayed in and drank more gallons of ice water. After a few years fireworks all start to look the same anyway.

(Late Edit: To the right of the top post is a box for you to sign up to receive email updates when we post here. ESPECIALLY if you’re coming here from a FaceBook link, I’d appreciate it if you’d use that. You won’t be sold or spammed, and when I leave Facebook (soon) we won’t completely lose touch. Thanks.)

And while I’m at it…

Playing tag with los Federales and the US Army gets tiring…

Nota bene*: This is a professional at work.

Don’t try sleepdriving at home, even if you ARE the ultimate legendary crossborder badass.

*Mrs. Jenkins, my HS literature teacher, would be proud of me. Some of that stuff stuck.