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Way back when, on or about the occasion of my 45th birthday, one of my adopted brothers gave me one of those poured stone coasters for my coffee mug. Molded into the top was the fine slogan

If you haven’t grown up by age 40,
you don’t have to.

It seemed a good thought but the math was wrong, so, not seeing the trap, I looked at him and said “Brother, you DO realize I’m 45, right?”

That little sumbitch looked me right dead in the eye and said, just that quick, “Brother, you always WERE the slow one of the family.” Should’ve seen it coming. Maybe he was right.

* * * * *

I ran across that coaster on my desk the other day, underneath one of my favorite coffee mugs, which had suffered a broken handle and was waiting for me to make it right. Making things right has become more important to me in recent days, so while I got out the superglue and (successfully!) reattached the handle, I read that coaster again, and realized — I’m well past forty and I’ve been much too grown-up lately.

As it happens I covered model train shows and modellers off-and-on for the Chronicle, so when I saw a notice on Facebook I knew where I’d be on Saturday. Every year, on the third Saturday in February, the overaged seven-year-olds of the San Jacinto Model Railroad Club hold their annual model train expo/show/swap meet, since 2003 known as the Greater Houston Train Show, and since 2005, they’ve gathered at the Stafford Center, which is just a few miles southwest of my Sharpstown home base. So bright and noonish on Saturday, I checked that I had the six buck adult admission fee in my pocket and that the camera batteries were charged, and off I went. (I had some hopes that explaining that I had basically been stuck at 7 years old for half a century myself might get me in for the child’s price, but I didn’t really expect it to work, and it didn’t.). I might have had a chance but the club cheated… the wives were running the ticket table! They’re very nice ladies and all but they LIVE with eternal 7-year-olds, so… But I did get a couple of laughs for the idea, so it wasn’t a total waste.

* * * * *

My first stop, after collecting info on a couple of area railroad museums I’ll maybe do more with later, was the Layout Room where the members of the Houston “G” Gaugers had set up a large multi-track oval.

G-gauge is big for models; the cars are about 5″ tall and correspondingly long, a little over a foot or so.

And because track alignment on mobile layouts isn’t always all it could be, the cars will sometimes derail or jump the tracks and require an intervention.

Click the 2 to go to the next page. (There are 3 in all.)

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.

So yesterday afternoon the editor-beings dispatched me to the Heights to see a Citzen about a Constable. As happens I was up in the Heights one afternoon earlier this week and the traffic then had been similar to the mall parking lot on Black Friday, so I left base camp with a LOT of time in hand, Just In Case.

And, as always, when you’re ready for Just In Case, nothing happens.

So I wind up hanging out in the front of Donovan Park, watching kids on all the toys and climbing/clambering stuff and chatting with a nice lady I’d met just last week on another shoot in another part of town… and along comes this tall gangly dude, friendly-looking, burdened with an armload of miscellaneous stuff. I watch, wondering what’s going on – he might be my Citizen but that doesn’t feel right – and he starts opening things up and putting things together, and okay, that’s a paint box and that’s a folding table, and no, that’s an easel, not a tripod – we’ve got ourselves an artist here. I wander over for a look – I’ve got little to no talent in that particular medium myself, so it always fascinates me.

Turns out it’s Roger Seward and he’s got a beautiful day to work with, so he’s going to get some actual painting done…

And THEN.. THEN… Just in Case happens. A crew of small persons approach from the unguarded Northern Reaches, and they glom onto the artist right off. There are a couple of minutes of just watching him do his thing, and then, kid-like, “we’re doing that in class too.”

Hmmm… This could turn into something. We Have a Situation, and chemistry is developing here. Fortunately the Citizen Victim has arrived. He’s over by the gate trying to raise the Constable by phone. Meantime, I’m watching out of one eye for the constable to show up, and keeping the other eye on the artists.

And then I glance away to check out what might be a cruiser coming up the road, but no, it’s just HPD… and I look back and Roger’s got the painting off the easel and down at work level for younglings, and this wonderful moment is happening, right here…

and this….

and it just keeps getting better…

and …

and EVERYONE gets in on the act…

And then, as all good things must come to an end, Mom comes back, the Constable arrives, and reality reasserts itself.

But there were those few minutes…

There are times when I hate this job, but on days like this, I wouldn’t do anything else.

One of the risks of doing “hyper-local*” media work is that if you don’t make a constant effort to look out past the horizon, your universe gets very small. A few weeks ago I noticed in passing that a delegation of Lamas from Drepung Loseling were scheduled to visit the Asia Society Texas Center to create another sand mandala. This is always a special event, but in Houston it’s not really THAT uncommon – one group of Tibetan Lamas or another comes through about every year or so. The thing is, though, after the first few minutes it’s not THAT much of a spectator sport, and I’ve seen it several times, so I marked it on the calendar out of habit and went on looking for stories.

The people involved with this are pretty slick about getting the word out, though, and the blip on the radar kept growing, and growing. And I kept thinking “nah, everyone knows about this, and every photographer within fifty miles will be there…”

See, my philosophy on covering minor news events without an assignment leans strongly in the direction of “hit `em where they ain’t”; if an event is going to draw a couple dozen other photogs, it’s unlikely I’ll find anything they aren’t getting, which means I’m mostly blocking the view of the paying customers, and selling anything after the fact is a matter of out-marketing those other guys… a thing for which I have no gift, little skill and even less inclination.

But as it turns out.. “everyone knows about this” was only most of the population of Houston proper. I mentioned the event, again in passing, to a Foreign Facebook Friend on Friday night, and he lit up like a neon sign. He’s at least 3/4ths of a Buddhist, you see, and had never seen the mandala work….and in and around the flood of words he typed at me over the next fifteen minutes I caught on that the message was “man, you just GOTTA go photograph this for me. You gotta, you gotta, you just HAVE TO…”

So…

50x50blackspacer


*a current buzzword – translates to “full coverage of the neighborhood, less coverage of the next street over, fading to virtually no information at all about anything more than twenty miles out…”

Discovered about midnight last night that for some reason the blog wasn’t coming up. I’d been backing up the archives a couple of days ago so I know it wasn’t down long, but nonetheless it WAS down. I don’t know what happened or why, but when I contacted the tech support guys I heard bullwhips and vacuum cleaners in the background and a couple of fading screams that sounded like dustbunnies dying horribly, and the blog came back up again. So here we are.

I got nothing.

But, by way of apology, one of my neighbors has a kitten.

His name is Francisco and he’s very very cute.

Enjoy.

I must get back to copying the archives. Only about three more years to go.

GULFTON — There are days when making a living as a photojournalist doesn’t seem like the best idea I ever had.

Last Saturday wasn’t one of them.

Newspaper work , at its best, can be interesting and far from routine. But, as a guy I was working with on a story once commented, “You don’t work for a newspaper. You’re with the Comical.”

True enough – but that “with” is the difference. I’m not staff, so when there’s nothing coming in (which is the usual case these days, for most newspaper freelances) I get to go walkabout.

And I found a bunch of other people going walkabout, too….

Or rideabout as the case may be…

As well as a couple of politicos, basically waving the flag – they’re already well known in the area.

Houston City Council District J representative Mike Laster (center) with staff….

Sylvester Turner, a local with a long resume in city and state government, now running for mayor.

and an assortment of dancers, martial artists, skateboarders, teachers and students from Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center just up the road.

The Harris County Courthouse, originally built in 1910, was renovated sometime during the late 50s. According to historians and conservators, the renovation was if not botched at least not particularly desirable from a conservation standpoint. Consequently, over the last several years it has been restored to original appearance, at considerable expense. There was a grand opening and ribbon cutting on August 23d, and I’ve been trying to get the pix sorted and edited since.

Here’s one: One of my favorite bands, Celtaire, provided appropriate music for the occasion….


More behind this one… clikenzee pic.