Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Look out below

(This actually happened on my walk from the office to the station last Tuesday evening. No details have been embellished.)

The Pegasus Building in downtown L.A. was renovated a few years ago, so I presume it's apartments. Judging from the lobby, and given that it's in downtown (and the good part of downtown), I further presume they're expensive apartments, catering to the young, single professionals who at least believe they make enough to afford it.

It's not a hotel. That much is certain. The people who are inside either live there or are visiting someone who lives there.

The doors of the main entrance are set in about 20 feet from the sidewalk. In that stretch of sidewalk directly in front of that open area leading to the doors there is a long grate covering the exhaust vents for the underground train station (which itself stretches underground for blocks beneath the buildings along that street). In the evening it's not uncommon for warm air to be rushing upward through the openings in the grate. Even when that's not the case, I often see people walking down the sidewalk divert their path deliberately to not walk over it but instead trace its periphery by walking in that open area outside the Pegasus doors.

One would assume that the residents of the building are aware of the grate, being right outside their front door.

Shortly after 7, I walked along the sidewalk and noticed a young woman in a floral print dress come out of the Pegasus. She strolled from the door toward the sidewalk in slow, lingering steps, twirling her hair with her left hand. From her insouciant pace I would guess she was waiting for a paramour to pull up to the curb to pick her up for an evening out.

Mindlessly she continued toward the sidewalk as I continued in a perpendicular direction up the sidewalk and over the grate. Just as I was about to pass her she reached the grate, and out of the corner of my eye I saw that she clearly was unaware that warm air was rushing out from it.

She had a full-on Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot moment, with the skirt of her dress sailing up.

I didn't get any sort of good look as I was practically past her as this happened, but I heard her exclaim "woo!" in surprise and out of the corner of my eye caught a glimpse of white (which I interpreted as indicating she did have on underwear—we can no longer assume that to be the case here in L.A.) before she grabbed the skirt with her flailing arms and covered her lower half.

I kept walking without breaking stride and without turning my head to look at her directly. I didn't want her to see me smirking. I didn't get the impression that she was too terribly embarrassed by the incident; there aren't that many people on the street at that time of evening in that part of downtown, so at most a handful of eyes may have witnessed it. And now she had an amusing anecdote to relate when her date arrived.

I hope he appreciates that her anticipation of his arrival filled her thoughts so completely that she couldn't even remember that striding over the grate was likely to reveal her undergarments to the world (even if only for a second).

Of course, if it were a date for which she held that level of anticipation, wouldn't she be wearing fancier panties than white ones? So, if it wasn't a date…

I dare not speculate further.

Well, I'm sure she'll remember the next time she goes out…

Monday, August 27, 2007

Please don't look at--oh, go ahead

Noticing a pattern...

Last Monday I went to an undisclosed shopping center in downtown L.A. for lunch. As I do some of the time I slung my camera bag over my shoulder on the journey. After eating, on my walk back, I paused and noticed what I thought might be a shot (of the shadow of the circular lattice over the top of the center cast by the sun reflected off the tall building next to the center), so I pull out the camera and start to set it up. I put my eve to the viewfinder and got off one picture and then a voice said, "Excuse me, sir…"

The voice belonged to a youngish man in a white button-up shirt and a clip-on tie. Apologetically he explained that taking pictures was not allowed. He elaborated a bit, noting that it would be different if I was taking a photo of someone (i.e., were the focus of the shot a person in the foreground that just happened to have the center and the buildings in the background), but just taking pictures of the center was not allowed. He apologized again, and I believed it sincere. I put the camera back in the bag and said, "Eh, you're just doing your job." I even explained how I wasn't really getting the building but just the shadow, and he looked where I pointed and nodded. Then I turned and headed back to the office.

I'm not suggesting it's admirable that there are such restrictions, but to complain to the messenger would be like complaining to the cashier at McDonalds about the rules of the Monopoly game. The rules may be risible but they're not the fault of that individual whose livelihood depends on enforcing them.

I did not bother to bring up in that moment that in the past I had taken pictures of the center with my old little camera. And reflecting on it later, in light of the note about photos of people one was with—tourist-type photos—I realized that it wasn't a matter of security. They weren't concerned about terrorists getting valuable data from taking pictures of the outside of skyscrapers. It must be more along the lines of: They didn't want a professional photographer to make money selling pictures of their buildings (at least not taken from the grounds themselves, which are probably—technically—private property).

That was why I never got anything mentioned to me over the years I took pictures with my little Canon D400. The point-and-shoot cameras, where one holds them away from the face to see through the screen (rather than looking putting one's eye up to a viewfinder), scream out that the person taking the picture is not a professional.

The issue is not so much that I am doing something wrong but that with the new S3, I look like I could be doing something right. I have no way of proving that, despite the appearance of my camera, that I have little idea of what I'm doing, and that I absolutely will not profit from the picture. All the "security" personnel know is that I appear to be a photographer, rather than just some tourist snapping some pictures. And despite the appearance of public ground, it is private property, so any fuss I might raise would not find me on any winning end. (If I pointed the camera at the building across the street, they probably wouldn't care.)

(I did find, after conferring with some other photographically inclined guys at the office, that they too have been asked not to shoot there.)

The sad thing: The shot I did get off didn't turn out well at all. Even as good-natured as the admonishment (for lack of a better word) was, there was some extent to which it would have seemed less onerous had I been likely to get a picture that could have been used for commercial purposes, rather than merely another paltry attempt to capture an effect that clearly doesn't transfer well to photographs. Or at least if I really had the skill to get such a shot, rather than merely the appearance of having the equipment for it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Helping things along

People never cease to amaze.

The past Wednesday morning, during my ride to work on the train, I overhear a man speaking into the intercom with the driver (engineer?). He was sitting behind me so I couldn't see him, but being close enough I could clearly hear him. And what pressing matter did he have to report to the driver? (When the driver replied—which goes throughout the whole train, so we could all hear that—he asked, "Is there an emergency?")

The man wondered why the train was not traveling at full speed.

The train was probably going 20 - 30 miles per hour, but as one (he noted) who "rode the train to work every day," he felt it his duty to inform the one operating the train that there might be some issue with the wheels or something (as evidenced by the fact the velocity was not 40 - 50 MPH). That the train was traveling along tracks that run down the middle of a major boulevard and that it must stop at red lights could not possibly have played a role in why the driver would proceed at a pace slower than what might be construed as "usual"; there couldn't be instructions from the system headquarters dictating the velocity; there could only be some mechanical malady that the one in the compartment at the front had not discerned.

What was particularly compelling about his argument was how he peppered his observations and speculations with the interjection "You know what I'm sayin'?"

The driver could only stammer and undoubtedly suppress his inclination to say what he wanted to tell the overly impatient passenger. Eventually the man got it out of his system, having duly made himself heard. He had performed his good deed for the day (albeit spurred by concern about being late, not for the good of everyone), reminding the driver that the train can, in fact, go faster.

Apparently, all these years I've been riding have given me the wrong way of regarding how the driver runs the train. I have noticed on many occasions the train not go full speed and I concluded that when that happens there was a reason. I should have assumed the driver was just lapsing from paying attention, or perhaps that he mischievously sought to make me late for work. Surely he was just waiting to see how long it could keep it up before someone called him on it.

Silly me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Please don't look at this

The other evening I was taking some pictures in the area not far away from the office, getting in some more practice with my new camera. Then I took this shot:

Then a man in a navy blazer approached me and informed me that they would prefer no pictures be taken of the building. I raised no fuss. I put the lens cap on, smiled to seem as un-terrorist-like as possible, and walked away.

So as to not assist the enemies of our nation, I won't tell you what building this is, nor where it is.

I post it here only as a public service: If you see a building that looks like this, please refrain from taking pictures of it.

Or just cross the street and shoot away.

Somewhere under 500 words that are worth a thousand

At some point after I began regularly posting photos on the blahg (starting slowly in early 2006 and getting more frequent since then), I got the idea to start a separate site exclusively for pictures. However, I mildly feared that doing so would drive people to that one instead and that there'd be little traffic still reading the text-heavy pieces on the "main" blahg here. I had long suspected the most popular aspects of the web were the pictures and videos (but I wasn't going to do anything with the latter), with people being disinclined to read a lot of words. Oh, certainly there were those who would read, but given the ease with which one could glance at a photo and get one's equivalent of a thousand words, it seemed entirely possible that once that was available people would really have to be in the mood to actually read the thousand words.

Nonetheless, I put up a separate photo-focused site up back in April (announced here).

However, reviewing site metering statistics for both the main blahg and the photo one, the former has retained a much higher amount of visitors than the latter has gained. My concerns proved completely unfounded. People proved willing to continue reading, even when they had other options.

Frankly, I started to wonder: What's wrong with my readers? Are they gluttons for punishment? And the answer is obvious: Of course they are; they keep coming back, don't they?

Then I found myself slightly distraught over how low the visit numbers were for the photo site, despite being regularly updated. I have pretty low expectations (like I have a choice), but the photo site wasn't even pulling in a quarter of the visits the blahg was getting. I didn't expect to get many comments, because looking at pictures doesn't inspire the same sort of reactions as a composition with arguments and bad jokes, but not only were the thousand words more popular, the photos were barely getting acknowledged.

I started to worry that I was far worse as a photographer than even my most neurotic paranoia had feared.

The conclusion, however, was that pictures are all good and well, but they're not that satisfying unless you took them or are in them.

Thus, although my prose is undoubtedly of limited interest (given that the presumed audience for one who has achieved no fame blathering on about whatever the hell pops into his mind is not a significant demographic in the media-saturated world), it is more interesting than what are, all things considered, rather ordinary photographs of trees and clouds and buildings and sunsets.

I suppose I am, by relative strength, a better writer than photographer. Eh, given how much longer I've dabbled at wordsmithery (of sorts) than at snapping pictures, I suppose I would be disappointed if that were not the case.

I'm okay in one way by virtue of not sucking as much as I do in another.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Waking the dragon

Some of the shots I took a couple weeks ago at the Long Beach dragon boat festival have been posted on the photo site here.

(Unburdened from paddling this year, I had time to take pictures.)

Friday, August 10, 2007

It's not chewing gum and spitting

A few months ago we were driving east down Sunset Blvd., past the 101. At the intersection with Western, we stopped for a red light. Coming south down Western Ave. we could hear the blare of a siren (the deep fire engine type, not the whiny police car type).

When the fire engine was within view, we also saw step in the crosswalk (going south as well) a young woman with a cell phone held up to her left ear, her back to the approaching emergency vehicle. The engine slowed and started to swing wide in preparation for a right turn from Western to Sunset. That is, it was going to turn and cross the crosswalk with the young woman on the cell phone. And I say it was going to, because it couldn't actually complete the turn because she was in the crosswalk, only a few steps from the curb, blocking where the engine would go. So the engine, siren-blaring, had to stop for a moment.

Our car being up at the front by the crosswalk, we could see well what she did in response to this situation. She put her other hand up to plug her right ear and kept talking on the phone. At no point did she glance over her shoulder to survey the noise that was interfering with her conversation. She did not retreat back to the curb, nor did she expedite her rate of travel to the other side.

The engine waited.

After a few seconds she was clear and the vehicle could proceed on its way. She passed in front of our car, then up on to the curb and continued south along the sidewalk.

As we were turning right, when could witness what she did. She finished up the conversation and put away her phone, then stopped at the bus stop about 50 feet down from the intersection. There was no bus anywhere close.

It must be nice to have that level of focus, to remain undaunted in the face of a world so desperately trying to distract one from the important task of getting across the street to wait for a bus.

[Still, I guess we must commend her for taking public transportation. And we were in a car at the time, not really helping the environment.

There is no moral high ground any more.]

Thursday, August 09, 2007

It's not only rock & roll

The reason bands still make music with loud, buzzsaw-riffs is only ostensibly to keep the punk sound alive. It's not so much because sped-up power chords are easier to play (although I imagine they are). No, those tunes still exist because I need to have something to listen to through my headphones that can drown out the sound seeping out from the crappy headphones of the people sitting near me.

I can't afford to buy decent headphones for all of them, so I need those crunchy guitars to block what seeps out from their ears while allowing me to still listen at a volume that doesn't destroy my ears.

It's also necessary—perhaps even more necessary—to overwhelm hearing half of conversations on cell phones.

Thank you, post-post-post-post punkers.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Living free and oblivious

Weeks have passed since I saw the latest Die Hard film, Live Free or Die Hard, and given the nobody-cares-two-minutes-later world of today there's no point in bothering to talk about it any more. However, at the time I was theoretically inspired to compose a blahg entry. In theory, it would lament how, when viewing the sequence with the car-running-into-the-helicopter, I recognized it was shot near the office where I work in downtown L.A. (even though in the movie it was purported to be Washington D.C.) and how that took me out of the scene.

(I contemplated included links from Rotten Tomatoes showing the scene (see Killed A Helicopter With A Car) or noting here it is on YouTube, for those who hadn't seen the movie and gave a crap about seeing what I was talking about.)

I even took some pictures of the area (because it wasn't out of my way) to show how the spot on 4th St. that they made seem like was a tunnel entrance was merely the underpass of the Grand Avenue bridge. (I would have put it to the right, and identified that the vantage point for the picture was looking down at the spot under the bridge where they'd erected false toll booths for the movie scene.)

(I might have noted that the shot at the top of the post was looking out from under the bridge, toward the buildings that are clearly in the background of the scene when the car actually hits the copter. And being taken at dusk it gets kind of artsy. But that would have been utter digression.)

I even found a production still from the sequence that I conceivably would have included.

However, nothing more came of it.

Par for my course. In the days immediately after seeing the film, inspiration didn't strike at times when I had time to get into it. And the opportunity to seem timely quickly evaporated, and now I'm sure it's no longer worth bothering with dragging up my particular mental dilemma (again), especially this far removed from the release of the film.

If I did, the reaction from the reader would be along the lines of: Wow, you're really screwed up, Doug (which would be entirely accurate).

I'd concede purporting one location to be another is part and parcel of the nature of film making (later in the film the 105 freeway near LAX is made out to be Baltimore, for another example).

Then I could attempt to make some kind of argument about how nothing ruins the movie-viewing experience like having familiarity with how the movie got made. However, I would admit I don't actually work on movies. I'd have to concede I am merely familiar with an area used in a number of movies and TV shows and commercials (because it's so easily blocked off without causing serious traffic snarls); yes, occasionally I walk past the trailers parked on the street and the crew erecting sets, but I don't sit there all day watching them shoot the scene over and over. Presumably that would utterly destroy for me any potential for enjoying the film in its finished form. Of course, were I in that position, I'd probably get used to it.

Furthermore, I probably would have admitted I am not a good barometer of how those in the entertainment industry regard the output of the entertainment industry. (Then I'd follow with the entirely predictable line: I am hardly a good barometer of how I regard the output of the entertainment industry.) That would lead to pointing out that either those people who work on the films get jaded or they don't, and even if so, that still may not prohibit their ability to sit back and get caught up in the story and the characters without being distracted by the aspects that are manufactured for the movie and are not precisely accurate with (so-called) real life.

I'm sure I would have made an old inside joke: It's entirely possible that they are better at putting on their suspenders to hold up their disbelief.

The only larger thesis of any worth to others might have been: Be glad if your mind doesn't deconstruct your reality on a near-constant basis; you'll probably never realize how good you have it.

And I'd have to close with an insincere apology about how if I'd adversely affected the reader's enjoyment of the movie Live Free or Die Hard by revealing that they didn't really run a car into a helicopter in our nation's capital but thousands of miles away (like anyone would believe the government would allow shutting down a busy tunnel for a silly movie shoot—ah, but everyone knows L.A. has no such problems).

(The closest thing to a clever wrap-up I might have come up with--and would have included parenthetically--would have been the slight redemption of not knowing where they actually filmed the portions of that scene that are inside whatever tunnel they used for the parts of the scene actually shot in a tunnel. I'd be sure it wasn't in D.C. either, but not being some place I knew would allow those portions to seem much better, thus rendering the overall movie to be not a complete loss for me.)

Or so I would have noted if I were bothering to post about it.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Fair words


If you find yourself at the OC Fair, there are signs with helpful advice for staving off dehydration, preventing sunburn, sore feet, and even finding your vehicle.

If you're composing a term paper, or maybe a sign to be posted in a public place to be seen by thousands of people, you may find helpful the advice that "alot" is not a word generally acceptable for non-colloquial usage.

And if perhaps you purchase a corn dog or other food item on which you wish to squirt ketchup or mustard, they also offer important warnings to alert you that the squirting dispensers may, in fact, squirt.

Maybe a lot.