Cow Tipping and Sky Scrapers

As the holidays approach kick-off, I find myself searching through old photos more frequently.  I’m thankful for old photos–they remind me of where I’ve come from and refresh the memories I’ve taken with me.

These images are from a photography workshop I went to back in Columbus, Ohio (I have to add “Ohio” now because when you live in Chattanooga, they usually assume you mean Columbus, TN or Columbus, GA).

As I review the images and look at the metadata, I realize just how many mistakes I made.  That, too, is a reminder of where I’ve come from.  Sometimes it’s nice to realize I am learning even if the process seems slow.

I ponder why these images all seem to have been shot with a wide open aperture, resulting in out-of-focus foregrounds and/or backgrounds.  These days, I like to see the entire scene in focus in most landscape shots.  The difference between having lots of depth of field and the images in the gallery probably comes down to the want of a tripod and low light conditions.

But what jumps out at me as I peruse these photos is that in over 40 years of living there, I had never really seen downtown Columbus before this day.

I had walked the streets more times than I can count.  I’d been to theaters, restaurants, shops, meetings, museums, and even two courthouses.

But I walked the streets with purpose, my mind busy with the reason I was there or the things I needed to do, focused on what was ahead or behind and not on what was around me.

I wonder if I returned to my home town how I would see it differently.  I think back to vague memories of the Columbus skyline from my childhood.  There was one sky scraper then, the Lincoln LeVeque Tower.  It remains the most interesting of the tall buildings in the Columbus skyline even though its height has been eclipsed for many decades by its neighbor, the Rhodes State Office Tower.

As I look at these images and see blocks and blocks of big-city buildings, I realize how much the town and I grew up together.

My family arrived in 1970 when Columbus was still called Cow Town.  In fact, even when we left, there were still cows grazing on the OSU Agriculture campus pastures well within the city limits.  It would be hard to grow up in Columbus without knowing what cow-tipping was.

At the same time, Columbus invested in revitalizing some of its worst neighborhoods, developing its downtown riverfront, creating an awesome metro park system, and attracting large businesses that built up the Columbus skyline.  In retrospect, I realize that Columbus grew up without me noticing.  It turned into a real city with real attractions.

None of that makes me regret our decision to move to Chattanooga, however.  Perhaps a mid-western metropolitan lifestyle is less important to me than views of Lookout Mountain.


Greasy Spoon Comfort Food

The Longhorn is a long-standing tradition.  It’s not the steakhouse chain, although people show up with gift cards and expect to be able to use them there.  I think if they’d ever been to the steakhouse chain, they would realize immediately that this place isn’t part of the same chain.

I’ve never asked why it’s called the Longhorn, but the building seems to have been architected to simulate longhorns with the roof.  Who knows if the building or the name came first?

It’s been around since the 50’s and the minute you look at it, you know it.  This is true both outside and in.  It’s possible the counter and stools have not been replaced since the restaurant was originally opened.

But that’s part of its charm.

Its real charm, though, is the wait staff.  It only took going in there twice in one week before they started looking up, smiling and saying, “Hey, Guys!” when we walked in the door.  By our fourth visit, 2 servers had our “usual” pretty much down.  There’s nothing like having someone remember you, look happy to see you, and manage to remember even part of what you like to eat considering how many people these ladies serve every day.

When you’re in the mood for a down-home, greasy-spoon, fill-you-up kind of breakfast, the Longhorn is top notch.  If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t go there.

But, if you’re in the mood for eggs, they’ll be cooked to order perfectly (assuming you know what you’re ordering–I’ve heard people complain about over-easy eggs being runny, someday they’ll figure it out).  The “scattered tatters” are crispy, traditional hash browns (shredded potatoes, fried) and are always tasty.

The bacon is usually perfect, but can be a little overly crispy if you get there at the wrong time.  But whatever you order, prepare yourself for grease.  There’s a lot of it.

Unless you order pancakes.  The pancakes are awesome and not greasy.  But don’t expect anything fancy like real butter or genuine maple syrup here–this is a place that pays tribute to its 50’s heritage with whipped margarine served in a cup and corn syrup with maple flavoring.

This is the kind of place you go when you feel like being low maintenance.

When you walk in the door and Sandy and Terry pause in the middle of slinging food because they’re genuinely glad to see you, you remember there are more important things in life than having real butter.

I love the food.  For better or worse, it’s comfort food to me.  But what keeps me coming faithfully back is the sense of belonging to a community of regulars.  We update one another on weekend events, discuss what haircuts will look best on me, the server, or someone sitting down the counter.  We trade barbs and tease one another.  When people are waiting, we scoot down to make space.

It’s a nice place to eat.


One of the hazards of having a 2TB hard drive is the immediate accessibility of old photos.  There is something about fall that causes me to review.  With 9 years of photos on my hard drive, this can be quite a journey.

Along with review comes a sense of nostalgia.  As much as I appreciate my new life in Chattanooga, there are things I miss about my old life in Columbus, Ohio.

I try not to think about how much I miss my friends.  Although I have made a dozen or so friends in Chattanooga now and I would miss them, too, I don’t find that friends are replaceable or interchangeable.  Each is a unique relationship and each relationship is something I value.

I don’t need old photos to remind me how much I miss my friends.  What the photos do remind me of is there are other aspects of my old life that I miss as well.  Being within an easy 1/2 day’s drive of family is a big one.  Going from a 3 hour drive to a 7 and 10 hour drive is a big difference in how frequently we see family.

But there are small things I miss as well.  For example, I miss my gallery wall from our former living room.  Given that we somehow lost the prints on that wall in one of the two moves after selling the house, I miss the art as much as the wall to display it on.  It was one of those little pleasures I enjoyed everyday.

I also miss playing in the snow.  Although, I guess I would have missed that had we still been in Columbus this past winter given it was unusually warm.

Perhaps a bigger gap for me is the feeling of being part of the community.  Although I’ve found volunteer gigs I enjoy here in Chattanooga, it’s a little less immediate than being part of a neighborhood group that invests time and energy in improving the street we live on.

Along with changes that came from changing states, I also miss some of the things we left behind when we sold our house.  Like the raccoons on our deck that would eat peanuts left out for the birds.  Or being able to look out the windows and be eye-to-eye with birds ranging from Red-shouldered Hawks to Scarlet Tanagers to even occasional warblers.

I guess I am really missing living in a wooded ravine that not only brought the birds up close to our windows, but also allowed for a woodland garden, intense fall colors along our street, and a hummingbird nest above the deck in the summer time.

But even as I miss these things, I am also relieved.  After all, as much as I enjoyed life in the ravine and life in the house and community there, giving up those things has created an uncertain future that brings with it a sense of endless possibility.

The Marriott Marquis

I was recently at a Photographic Society of Chattanooga meeting when the speaker displayed an image so familiar to me, I almost thought is was one of mine.  But, then I realized it was better than my version.

I don’t feel bad about this–the subject was the Marriott Marquis hotel in downtown Atlanta.  It may be one of the more striking architectural features in Atlanta (from the inside), but it’s also quite a challenge to shoot.  Plus, the day I got to shoot inside the Marriott Marquis, I had owned my PowerShot G3 for about 2 weeks and knew about as much about photography as my elderly aunt (who couldn’t figure out how to use a camera with only one button).

I was in Atlanta for work at the time.  There was a huge tradeshow there and I was playing “booth babe.”  This is a joke because I worked in the telecom industry at the time and it was considered bad form to have anyone in any booth looking anything other than geeky.  I got to don a men’s button-down shirt that would have fit great if I were shaped like a large block and was long-waisted and short-legged.

But, I digress.

Just by good fortune, I was staying at the Marriott Marquis.  I had no idea at the time that it was going to be a photographic opportunity.  I brought my brand new, fancy point-and-shoot camera purely because I was so excited about having what was then by far the nicest camera (digital or film) I’d ever owned that I brought it along purely out of the desire to learn how to use it.

The problem with the Marquis is the difficulty of getting what you want in the frame without getting what you don’t want.  For example, you cannot get the entire stunning view of the balconies into the frame.  My focal length was 7mm for these shots.  I don’t know of an SLR lens that will go that wide unless it’s a fisheye.  Additionally, it’s a hotel with lots of people milling about doing what they want without concern for your shot–they’re there day and night.  A long exposure on a tripod might have done the trick for removing some people, but there are always people standing on the balconies gazing down and up and taking in the incredible structure.

Another problem is the lighting.  Higher up, the balconies get quite dark.  It’s difficult to get a balanced exposure that shows both the lower and upper balconies.

As someone who was:  there for business, without a tripod, in a hurry, and using a point-and-shoot I barely knew how to use, I think I walked away with some surprisingly good shots.  Of course, I cannot look at them now without thinking about how much better I could do today.  Atlanta is only a 2 hour drive–maybe I’ll have to actually go test myself one of these days.

New Sight

Ever since our first weekend visit to Chattanooga a year and a half ago, I have wanted to peruse the Hunter Museum of American Art.  The building itself has appeared in many of my photos.  Perched high on the bluff overlooking the Tennessee River next to the Walnut Street Bridge, it’s a place I have walked around many, many times.

I just haven’t made it inside.

But, with temperatures rising into the 100’s in time for Pat’s family to arrive in Chattanooga and an enticing exhibit called Sound and Vision:  Monumental Rock and Roll Photography, it was clearly time to go.

I would love to have access to shoot the interior of Hunter Museum when no one is there.  As it was, tripod-less and hurried, I didn’t do the architecture justice.  Photos of the photos were not permitted, but it’s just as well.  The photos in the exhibit should not be reproduced by taking crappy pictures of them hanging on the wall.

I wanted to spend hours absorbing each of them.  So many of the muscians I had come to know and love were so artfully captured.  I wanted to know why.  Why was each image so uniquely powerful?  I looked at each photo going through a portrait photographer’s checklist:  eyes lit well, subject framed with rule of thirds, soft light, subject fills frame, etc, etc.  Every image violated at least one if not many of the “rules” of portraiture.  I’ve suspected as much.  If you want an interesting portrait, you’ve got to do something different.  I can’t wait to go back when I can sit and absorb some more.

We moved on through the permanent exhibits in the museum, including those in the historic mansion portion of this building.  Once again, I wish I had the opportunity to do the architecture justice.  I’m not always a fan of deconstructivist architecture (except for the inherent irony in the term), but somehow the juxtaposition of the historic mansion against the ultra-modern section works.  Apparently the ultra modern section was designed by a student of Frank Gehry (according to an employee of the museum).  There is certainly a resemblance in the style.

Later that night, we went up to Lookout Mountain to celebrate Pat’s 50th birthday.  I’m now married to a 50 year old.  It bothers him, not me.  Pat’s sister was supposed to join us, but having missed her flight from Denver, she didn’t arrive until after dinner.  We took Pat’s parents to Point Park before she arrived and then ended up back there again first thing the next morning.

An interesting comparison in the photos (at least to me):  I was shooting with my 16-35mm lens in the evening shots and with my 100-400mm the next morning.  I managed to get a shot of our building at 400mm.  It doesn’t make a very good image with the morning haze, but it still blows my mind that we can see our building from Point Park.

Loitering and Licorice

A friend of mine recently said to me (roughly):  there is something about a walk by a river that makes all right with the world.  I understand this.  There is something inexplicably soothing about walking by water.

I am reminded of walking by the Scioto River with my grandfather when I was very young.  I remember walking down to the river with him and stopping to get licorice along the way as if it was something we did often together.  In reality, it probably happened only once–we lived three states apart.

We walked slowly together, talking very little.  There was something about Grandpa I liked.  I have so little memory of him that it’s hard for me to remember exactly what it was.  Something went quiet inside when I was around him.  Like I needed to listen very carefully for something important.

When we stopped at the grocery store, the plastic packages of licorice hung from metal rods pointing at me, demanding my attention.  I will forever associate black licorice with my grandfather–he was one of the few people I’ve known in my life who would go out of his way for it.

With our brown paper bag full of licorice, we made our way across the busy road I was never allowed to cross on my own.  We walked across the bridge, back when it had a steel arch capping it.  The pedestrian walkway separated us from the traffic, but I remember it being all metal–our footsteps generating a soft metallic clang as we made our way across.

About halfway, there was a sign that said “No Loitering.”  I asked my grandfather what loitering meant.  He made a garbled explanation, and then said “like this” and he sort of shuffled around in one place.  For months, I thought it was some kind of dance step.  I couldn’t quite figure out why you weren’t allowed to dance on the bridge.

We made our way over the river, stopping to look down at the water periodically.  We were probably loitering.

When we eventually made it to the other side, the water lapped slowly at the bank.  The ducks paddled towards us in the water, hoping for a handout from our mysterious brown bag.

We walked slowly, listening to the water, watching the light bounce off of it and the rest of the world disappeared.

Now, when I walk along the Tennessee River, the world gets bigger, brighter, and quieter all at the same time.  I look at the clouds that decorate the river valley.  I watch for the heron soaring along the banks.  I watch the people crossing the Walnut Street Bridge, silhouetted against the setting sun.  I listen to the water, the birds, the insects, and even the occasional shout from an exuberant teenager.  As a I look for images I want to frame with my camera and keep, I am in that moment enjoying the river and all is right with the world.