2022.08.10: Notes and Pictures Taken on a Long-Ass Train Ride From Stamford to Charlottesville


My first post in a while. Consider this a warm up for getting back into the writing habit. Consider yourself warned: you may be bored.

I’m booked on the 11:29 Amtrak Northeast Regional from Stamford to Charlottesville. I had asked my friend, Emil, for a ride to the station. He said yes, but first he needed to take his wife, Sarah, to work at eleven. I was initially okay with this, but when 10:30 came around I became anxious about the potential that he might not get me there on time and, as I didn’t want to chance missing the only train to Charlottesville from Stamford today, I arranged for an Uber, texted Emil that I was getting a ride to the station.

I thoroughly enjoyed my driver, a woman named Joy who moved to Stamford from Port Chester two years ago with her husband and two children – for the schools and a safer neighbourhood. We talked about the advantages of living in Connecticut as opposed to New York State. Her one complaint was the property taxes on vehicles. Between their two cars they pay something in the neighbourhood of One Thousand Dollars annually. She’s glad that gas prices are going down; at their peak they were cutting into about half of what she would make on average. Uber, she said, was giving a Fifty Cent per trip gas ‘help.’ We both had a good laugh at that. I liked her so much I gave her a Ten Dollar tip, just Two Dollars less than the fare.

Stamford Station wasn’t particularly busy. At the newsstand I picked up copies of the Financial Times and The New York Times, a tin of Altoids and a bottle of Canada Dry seltzer. Both papers were thin: I’m already done with the FT and am saving the NYT for the leg from DC to Charlottesville.

Took some pictures at Stamford before the train arrived (late).

I am enjoying my seat in the Business Car. Five-F, a window seat on the West side of the train (if you consider that we’re traveling South). So far, no one sitting next to me.

Just outside of Manhattan, about fifteen minutes from Penn, the train comes to a slow and squeaky stop. We sit there for perhaps ten minutes with no word from the crew. When we start moving again, the conductor announces: ladies and gentlemen, as you can see we have no power in the cars, but the good news is that we’re moving. We apologize for the problems which we’ll address with the maintenance crew when we arrive at Penn Station.

The worst part about the lack of power, it being daytime, is no air conditioning. In ten minutes or so that we’ve been traveling, the air has become thick and uncomfortable. No problem for the remaining five or so minutes to Penn, but I wouldn’t want to finish off the trip to Charlottesville this way.

The train came to another stop, high above some part of Queens (interesting that instead of going through the Bronx as other trains I’ve taken to Washington do, we’re traveling across Queens and Brooklyn – sort of along the BQE). There we stayed for a good fifteen minutes before moving again. Power has been restored to the cars, so the AC is back on, but the ride is going slow. We were told that it would be another ten minutes to Penn about ten minutes ago and Manhattan is still across the river.

Power substation in the Bronx near the Randall’s Island Connector

The passage from New York to Washington, DC was fairly uneventful. At one point I walked two cars up to the Bar Car (through the Quiet Car and one of the Coach Class cars). For lunch I had the Angus Burger (a cheese burger microwaved to a shoe-leather consitency), a bag of Miss Vicky’s chips (sea salt), and a slim can of Stella Artois. These I ate at a table I shared with a young woman in possession of a stack of word search and crossword magazines, a bag of peanut M&Ms accompanied me back to my seat. They’re gone now.

It was raining hard as we pulled into DC. We sat there for a good long time as they changed the engine, the crew, cleaned the train and took in new passengers – might have been an hour, might have been longer; thank God for the distraction of a good book (still deep into Sally Mann’s memoir, Hold Still). At some point the rain stopped and I didn’t notice. Looking out the window at 17:43 I found it to be darker than I expected (because of the clouds? because we’re that much more south from Connecticut? because of the approaching Autumn?) As I asked this last question, the train started moving.

Hopeful that we would get to Charleston at a time approximating our scheduled arrival, I was disappointed when the conductor informed us that we were an hour behind schedule in a scolding tone, as though we were responsible for the delays. ‘Whatever time you expected to arrive at, just add an hour to that!’ she said out loud while, silently, I heard her add ‘you bastards!’

Texting my wife this last update (and by the way: we’re stopped again in the middle of nowhere, so maybe the hour delay was an optimistic estimate), she hopes that I’m comfortable at least. Must say that, in spite of it all, I’m doing pretty well. Getting in some reading, writing, photography (out the train window) and music reading. I said I was contemplating walking back up to the bar car for a stiff gin and tonic after we pass Alexandria. We’ve been stopped just outside Alexandria for the past fifteen minutes, so I’m getting up now.

Thirty minutes later, still sitting outside of Alexandria, double gin and tonic in hand. On the train, they don’t actually make a gin and tonic. Sort of like the pubs in England, they give you a do-it-yourself kit. The main difference is that rather than pouring the gin in your glass and handing you a bottle of tonic, here you get the gin in airplane bottles. The only thing they put in the glass is the ice – and thankfully, they give you a lot of that because the gin is warm and the tonic is warm so you lose the ice quickly.

On the way back from the bar car I stopped between cars and called Jane. Not a lot going on. Some continuing drama over the thefts of personal property at work which I’ve written about elsewhere. Basically, more victims and an ineffectual response from management that probably emboldened the ‘barracks thief’ in their pursuit.

19:08: after more than an hour, the train moved thirty feet. We’re getting there! I’m afraid that earlier statement of a one hour delay was highly optimistic (since, as I say, that was over an hour ago). I’m sure this is also our fault and I hope the conductor doesn’t come down the aisle flogging us for it.

19:17: we have just inched into a station that is not Alexandria. We’ve stopped yet again.

Train stopped for no apparent reason just outside Burke Center, VA

19:46: Still outside of Alexandria and we were ‘reminded’ that we are stopped because of a tree on the tracks. REMINDED? This is the first time anyone is hearing of it. This is becoming an epic adventure of Homereque proportions.

20:22: Announcement: ladies and gentlemen, the maintenance away crew has arrived and are at work removing the tree in front of us

21:45: Woman lost control of her car and ended up on the tracks. They moved the car and we’re on the move again

22:54: One Virginia woman describing to another Virginia woman where her daughter lives in New York City: ‘I don’t know if you know it: West Village? It’s right next to Greenwich Village.’ I roll my eyes so far back they actually face forward again.

The never ending journey

22:51: Well…. I don’t know how to say this without slamming my head against the seat in front of me, but there is a ‘defect’ on the track and we’re stuck in Manassas for a while. WTF?

22:55: Oh! Either we’re moving or I just passed gas. Too slow to tell

22:55 and a half: No, we’re moving. Verrrrrrrrrry slowwwwly

00:42: Arrived in Charlottesville. There are many ways to look at a bad situation. I’m going to look at this as having gotten an extra five hours on the train for free.

Par Avion

I’ve taken a bit of a break from writing – mostly to do some reading, but also because I didn’t have anything interesting to write about. I still don’t but, as that has never stopped me before and I’m done reading for a bit …

I spent some time last week packing things up at my mother’s apartment. They’re putting in new flooring (the old flooring having been ruined during Ida’s flooding) and needed the cabinets and various drawers emptied to keep the breakables from breaking and make the furniture easier to move around. I discovered two things:

First, forty-nine years of accumulated stuff is not easy to pack up in a week! A little easier in two, but not much more.

Second, and I don’t know why this interested me so much more than many other assorted photos and memorabilia: an ‘Air Mail Writing Tablet’.

Airmail, I’ve read, was discontinued in 1977, so you kind of get an idea how old this tablet is.

It is from a time where tablets didn’t run out of power, they just ran out of paper; you replaced the ink by buying a new Bic (or, perhaps, sharpening a pencil), and you sent a message by licking a stamp and placing an envelope in a box on the corner.

[Digression: You can still do all these things, except, maybe, licking the stamp since they all seem to be self-adhesive these days – I’ve tried licking one… didn’t like it.]

Unlike other writing paper, air mail paper was thinner, therefore lighter, and semi-transparent , but not quite as light and transparent as tracing paper. It was used because the cost of mailing a letter overseas, priced by the ounce, could quickly add up, especially if you had a lot to say. All our relatives were – still are – in Brasil and my mother, who didn’t write well, would dictate letters to me that sometimes took up four double-sided pages.

[Another Digression: My mother was a champion of TMI before TMI was a thing. Sometimes what she had to say could be quite embarrassing for a young me to put down on paper.]

To keep your lines straight, these tablets came with a sheet of ruled paper that you would place under the writing sheet. If you didn’t use it, you would likely start writing diagonally rather than horizontally – being left-handed, this was a big problem for me.

The internet still has a lot of airmail pads and envelopes to sell…

‘Go back in time with our Airmail Stationery Sets!’

‘Lovely white vintage onion skin paper! Totally a rare fine!’

‘We have a stash of this amazing paper and would love to share it with you. Available in two sizes’

… I’m thinking of using part of the remainder of this fifty sheets in this tablet to write a friend or two.

Up Close and Personal With a Strawberry Calix

There were a couple of strawberry calyces (caps) in the sink this morning and I got the idea that they might make for some good pictures. It’s a sunny day, so I took one of them out to the stoop where I photographed it using a macro attachment.

A bit of strawberry ‘meat’ attached to the calyx, I thought, made it look weirdly interesting.

Unbeknownst to me, an ant had come to check the cap out and popped out from behind as I was shooting.

To show some perspective, I placed a dime in a couple of the shots.

I’ll say nothing else and let the pictures speak for themselves. Hope you enjoy.

Most of the pictures were taken with the attachment on a 40-100mm zoom lens at different focal lengths, a couple with a 40mm prime. The camera set to Aperture Priority at f/22, and an ISO of 400

Profile Update Fridays

Every Friday I update my profile picture on facebook and usually add an ‘interesting’ story about it. I thought I’d share today’s update here (with some minor edits and additional pics).

2021.09.03: Profile Update Fridays – While tidying up the office, which used to be my daughter’s bedroom (and still is when she visits), the light coming in through the window was just too good to waste so…

…out comes the tripod and the remote shutter app for the Olympus and a series of selfies were taken for this update. The one here, with Brownie, was my favourite of the bunch.

Brownie has been in the family since Elyse’s age was measured in months. He has a speech impediment, but don’t call it that because it makes him angry (we just say he has an ‘accent.’)

He’s had an interesting life: he’s a computer nerd and can fix almost any problem – which works out well for his brother, Teddy, who is forever spilling chocolate milk on his keyboard; for a while he dated Cheerie, a Build-a-Bear cheerleader who moved to Florida about fifteen years ago (they’re still in touch); he’s good natured and puts up with a lot of the pranks his brother and the other stuffies pull; he – and the other stuffies – regularly goes to a summer camp run by Mister Peabody (a stuffed version of the cartoon character).

Mr Peabody is an unscrupulous dog. He uses these camps to make money off of the free labor provided by the unwitting stuffies, convincing them they’re doing crafts. He gets away with it because these camps are always on different islands outside of the United States. A few years ago he had them rolling cigars in Cuba saying they were making ‘leaf rolls’ for a made-up holiday.

My Daughter’s stuffed animals have had a much more interesting life than I ever had.

Plop!

There is a drain in our driveway that I step over every morning. I’ve never paid any attention to it until one recent morning when, as I walked over it, I heard the ‘plop’ of something falling into the water.

I thought I had dropped something into the drain. I looked in but didn’t see anything other than a mess of leaves, twigs and some water, so I walked away hoping it wasn’t anything important.

The following morning and almost every morning afterwards I would hear that ‘plop’ every time I walked over the drain and, so, of course I knew that there was something – likely a frog – living in there.

I tried several times, unsuccessfully, to sneak up on it. No matter how stealthily I approached, trying not to cast any shadows, whenever I got near enough to look in: Plop!

Today I decided to give something different a try.

Using my phone as a remote shutter release for my Olympus, I rested the camera face-down on the grate, covering it with a plastic bag because of the light rain falling

Then I walked a few feet away and waited, using the phone as a view-finder.

I waited a good fifteen minutes without any guarantee that the frog – or whatever it was – would be so obliging as to place himself where my lens was pointing. But I was rewarded for my patience with two halfway decent shots of my new neighbour.

Crop #1 of Mister Plopper
Crop #2 of Mister Plopper

The photos of the drain and setup were all taken with my iPhone X-R

The photos of the frog and interior of the drain were taken with my Olympus OM-D E-M5III using a 14-42mm lens (set on auto at 14mm)

Plastic bag courtesy The Greenwich Time. Probably the most useful thing I’ve gotten out of our local paper in some time.

I’ve Got Sunflowers on a Rainy Day

Rainy, humid morning. My initial thought was I’d slip on some waterproof shoes, a rain jacket and go stomping through Pomerance Nature Preserve but, when I opened the door and felt the oppressive, 95% humidity, I said ‘no thanks. I’ll just go early to the coffee shop.

Getting out of the car at Aux Delices I spotted the sunflowers next door at Porcelanosa and decided I could make them my subject for the day.

2021.08.19: First picture – lens fogs up just as I’m about to press the shutter release and suddenly I lose not only a clear shot, but also a bit of the focus

I ran into an unexpected problem early on: the humidity and relative heat outside the car caused my lens to fog up almost immediately when I removed the cap. The first pictures I tried to take (the one above being the first) didn’t come out so good. Patience, however, is not only a virtue but allowed me to wait until the temperatures of camera and outside evened out. Then, I was able wipe and keep the condensation off the lens and proceed.

2021.08.19: Sunflower seen from behind – after the lens cleared

Last year I had taken pictures of the sunflowers growing here using my iPhone. Today I had my Olympus with a 14-42mm lens which allowed me to get some decent shots from fairly close (about 7 inches), so I concentrated on trying to get some detail shots.

I know nothing, really, about sunflowers – or flowers in general – and, so, every time I take a close look at them I’m amazed by how otherworldly they seem…

… and by seeing something I’d never noticed before, like disk florets: the center of the sunflower pictured below is a field of flowers inside a flower! Maybe nothing new to anyone who knows anything about them, but it’s been all I can think about since I took these pictures, just adding to that otherworldly feel for me.

So, though I didn’t get to go on my usual morning walk, it wasn’t a water morning: I not only got to take some nice pictures, I got to learn something new as well!

Equipment: All pictures taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M5III (mostly set on auto) using an Olympus M.14-42mm lens at various focal lengths and edited using Snapseed on my tablet while drinking coffee.

Ordinarily I like to use aperture priority so that I can get some depth of field – for example, I would have liked to capture the church in the background in a couple of shots – but it was a bit breezy and the flowers just wouldn’t stand still for a longer exposure.

Palm of the Hand Story: A Tale of Birth and Death

With fall arriving in a little over a month, I thought I’d tell you a story about leaves. No words, just pictures – all taken this morning with my iPhone outside a coffee shop in Riverside, CT

My Mother Brings Me Back to Reality

So… A short one:

Earlier this week I was at my mother’s and I was showing her some pictures on my iPad when I came across the one below which I had posted on my Instagram account with the caption ‘Having a tropical daydream in Stamford, CT’

Honestly, I wasn’t sniffing the palm tree!

My mother takes one look at it, smacks me on the back of the head and says ‘why are you sniffing that palm tree?!? What’s wrong with you?’

Thirteen Exercises – Part 3: Four Corners

INTRODUCTION/RECAP: I recently read an article called ’13 Creative Exercises…’, yada-yada, by Todd Vorenkamp, yada-yada, link to the article at the bottom, yada-yada, this is my attempt at the third exercise. (See this post for a full explanation)

Exercise 3: Four Corners

The instructions for Exercise 3 were simple: Choose one subject and place it, where it exists, in each corner of the frame for four images.

I can already hear your sighs of relief: whew! Only four images. Sorry, I took about fifteen! Cheer up, though, I’m only going to post eight.

It took me a while to get this one done because I had hard a hard time coming up with a subject to photograph.

My reading of the instructions were that it had to be something that either couldn’t move or, at least, wasn’t going to move while I was shooting it. Okay, fine: I could do another tree or some more mushrooms, but the whole point of my doing these was to move away from that. Then, the other day, I’m walking around town (Greenwich, CT) and spotted Melvin.

The gallery opens at 10:30 yet, here is Melvin: 6:30 in the morning, impatiently checking his watch, anxious to pick up that new sculpture for his foyer.

Melvin is a statue standing in front of Cavalier Ebanks Galleries (not his real name, I named him after my late father-in-law – both solid men). Always looking at his watch as if waiting for the galleries to open, he is possibly the second version of the statue – I’m pretty sure there was a different one in front of the gallery at it’s original location before it moved three blocks up Greenwich Avenue (I remember him wearing a suit).

I cornered Melvin in the four pictures below.

Exercise Image 1 – Lower Right Corner: Looking down Greenwich Avenue
Exercise Image 2 – Upper Right Corner: Ground level, looking at the gallery storefront from the street
Exercise Image 3 – Lower Left Corner: from beneath the sidewalk bench
Exercise Image 4 – Upper Left Corner: Looking up Greenwich Avenue

So, I promised (threatened?) eight pictures. The four exercise shots plus the featured and the introductory images make six, below are two bonus shots.

Bonus Image 1: Across from Melvin is Saint Mary Church built 1900-1905 of stone cut from local quarries.
Bonus Image 2: Looking across at St. Mary’s Parish House

link to 13 Creative Exercises article on B&H:
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/13-creative-exercises-for-photographers

Stumped

Taking a small break from the creativity exercises while I look for a good subject to use in Exercise 3. Meanwhile…

I paused for about fifteen minutes during my morning walk through the Mianus River State park to take pictures of a stump. I know: sounds about as exciting as… well, taking pictures of a stump, but I wanted to share them with you anyway.

This particular stump was interesting to me because, the closer I got to it, the more its top started to resemble one of those ancient villages built on the side of cliffs (my wild imagination pictured something like the dwellings in Mesa Verde).

As I thought about it I realized that, in a way, it was very much like that. Looking abandoned now, there was once quite a bit of life here: small creatures living here and mining this stump for nutrients. Perhaps some are still here, hiding during the day time from the giants walking the earth around them.

Aerial photography
Skyline
Urban canyon