Returning Home

Trips to Columbus, Ohio are always confusing to me. I never know which direction should be referred to as “going home.” I once wrote that home is where your bed is. By that criteria, I guess Chattanooga is our home destination. However, having spent nearly 40 years living in Columbus, the paltry 3 we’ve lived in Chattanooga have not been enough to erase the feeling of returning home when we head North on 75.

This last trip North ended the longest stretch I’ve gone to date between trips to Columbus. It’s been long enough that I can’t actually remember when my last trip up was, but I know it wasn’t in this calendar year. With my remaining family all living elsewhere these days and many of my friends having moved away as well, it sometimes catches me off guard how much Columbus still feels like home. When I think about what makes it feel homey, here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. I know how to get to every place I want to go without using GPS. If one route has traffic, I know another route, also without GPS.
  2. I can come up with restaurants I want to eat at based on style of food, quality of adult beverages, particular favorite dishes, or outdoor ambience. (I confess, I did have to check with several restaurants on whether they allow dogs on their patio or not–Tisen came along on this trip.)
  3. I know where the “bad” parts of town are.
  4. I know where the best camera shops in town are and which ones carry Canon gear.
  5. I have a doctor and a dentist there.
  6. I know where to go for a safe pedicure without an appointment.
  7. Graeter’s Ice Cream is available just about everywhere–even Costco.
  8. The biggest problem is trying to fit everyone we want to see into a few days and realizing we’re not going to be able to get to see many of the people we’d love to catch up with.
  9. We have a place to stay where there is a room just for us and our dog is welcome (and offers from several other friends to stay with them)–I guess we do have a bed in Columbus.

This trip was timed around the Columbus Guitar Show. It was my first time working a show (although I’ve attended a couple before). Manning the booth and giving away T-shirts to people who participated in my marketing campaign turned out to be both fun and exhausting.

One of the best things about our timing was that we were in Chattanooga for the beginning and end of the Riverbend Festival, but missed the middle of the 9-day event. This means we didn’t get tired of the extra people and traffic in the downtown area. And, we were home in time for the fireworks–out of all the fireworks in Chattanooga, the Riverbend fireworks are by far the best and longest display.

Plane Food

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I suspect I am drunk. I am on a plane. I arrived late for my connection, meaning I didn’t have time to eat. I had skipped breakfast. So, at 30,000 feet or so, I had a glass of wine on a stomach with nothing but a tiny, quarter handful of peanuts in it. Between the altitude and the empty stomach, it’s possible my judgement is impaired.

Evidence in favor is that I discovered my salad had a clear plastic lid over it when I dispensed salad dressing on top of said lid.

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Further evidence includes that I ate every morsel of my plane food thinking it was one of the finer meals I’ve had. I chowed down on the plastic-wrapped roll (I did remove the plastic wrap first, thank-you-very-much) with what butter I could scrape out of the plastics container thinking it tasted fantastic. I even ate the iceberg lettuce salad without feeling like someone should take some nutrition classes.

What’s most alarming is that when they came back around with the drink cart, I asked for a second glass of wine!

Fortunately for me, I am sitting next to a sweet, older lady who doesn’t seem to suspect a thing. Although, I think I caught her casting a glance when half of my cracker fell into my lap due to a mis-timed bite.

Speaking of cracker, I was eating the aforementioned cracker with cheese. Not fancy, aged, unpasteurized cheese from France (as one might reasonably expect on a flight to Paris) but rather smooth, slightly plasticine Tilamook cheese from good old Oregon, USA.

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I enjoy Tillamook Cheese–I’ve even been there in person and done the factory tour–but let’s face it. Americans really have little patience when it comes to producing things that require time to ripen and age. We don’t even let our fruits and vegetables ripen before we load them on the truck and ship them off to market.

But what’s remarkable about this is that I really enjoyed the Tillamook cheese. Maybe not so remarkable–I’m an American; I can even enjoy eating Kraft American Cheese. But it’s the degree to which I’m enjoying it that’s so surprising. It tastes like something rare and remarkable.

Oh dear, I’ve forgotten all about my fireworks theme! Perhaps I’ll have some of that second glass of wine . . .

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Human Fireworks

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The theme of fireworks made me think of the chemical fireworks that sometimes ignite between two people. This thought reminded me of a story from my teenage years. It was about someone I didn’t know well, I just knew of her. She was a mother and wife and she went to her high school reunion, reunited with a high school sweetheart and KABOOM! Fireworks.

Fireworks so powerful that she left her husband of over 20 years to marry this man from her past. It was an incident that shocked and dismayed many of the woman’s friends. I believe it was the notion that someone could be so overpowered by a chemical response that they could lose all sense of direction and suddenly wind up on a new course that they found terrifying.

In contrast to this story, my own father was reunited with a woman he went to school with about a year after my mother died. They never dated in school, although she and her husband and my father and mother double-dated in college. The four of them maintained a long distance relationship over the years, exchanging hand-me-downs for each others’ children (I got the daughter’s clothes; her brother got my brother’s clothes), and even visiting a few times when we were children in spite of living many hundreds of miles apart.

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When both her husband and my mother died within 6 months of each other, my father and his friend found support in exchanging emails about the experience, which eventually led to a first date. I never asked if there were fireworks, but I tend to think there were. After all, they saw each other in person for the first time in 20(?) years at the end of May that year, then she came out to visit Dad for their 2nd in-person date in early July. Her second day in town, they showed up on my porch excited to announce their engagement

While I was not prepared at the time to accept that while I was still struggling emotionally with my mother’s death my father was ready to move on, I have come to really love this story. I find it incredibly romantic that two kids who grew up together in the country came together and fell in love 40 years later. I’m happy to report that my father and his wife seem to still have the fireworks going strong 13 years later.

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Balcony Lessons

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During the Riverbend Fireworks, I had the interesting experience of meeting a young woman who was using her new Canon Rebel (not sure which one) for what was nearly the first time. She had apparently bought it from eBay, played with it briefly, and then set it aside until the night of the Riverbend Fireworks.

She asked me a few questions about what settings to use and I’m afraid I might have overwhelmed her with information. I was reminded of the conversations I had about 9 years ago when my own adventure with photography started with a good friend a colleague who was usually patient and willing to share information.

But I had the realization as to how quickly it becomes difficult to answer a simple question when the person asking it has no knowledge of the basics of photography. I also had the realization of how much I’ve learned.

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I did my best to explain to her how she might select an appropriate aperture and what an ISO setting is and why a slower shutter speed might be beneficial. I also explained why turning off her flash might be a good way to prevent wasting her battery since it wasn’t going to help. I’m not sure I did a food job of containing myself or the information. After all, I think she was looking for a more definitive answer like, “when you’re shooting fireworks, use f/11.” I haven’t found the equivalent to the bright sun rule of “Sunny 16” for fireworks, but then, given the number of times the Sunny 16 rule hasn’t worked for me, I’m not sure it’s realistic to call it a rule.

In any case, I realized that I really need to find a venue to teach photography. I enjoyed that little 10 minutes of playing teacher more than I expected.
I am a big fan of learning by teaching–there is nothing that pushes me more to really work at something than when I know I’m going to have to teach it. I love the feeling of having something to pass on to someone else. Whether it’s work related, tricks on photographing fireworks, bird facts, or even something completely outside my normal areas of interest, nothing make me feel more alive than the feeling that I have something to share.

 

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Dogs and Fireworks

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Dogs are frequently afraid of fireworks. I would venture to guys that dogs fall into two categories: Those who are completely oblivious and those who think the world is coming to an end. Tisen does not like fireworks. Nor does Twiggy, who is visiting with us again while her mom and dad are on vacation.

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Tisen seems somewhat embarrassed about his fear of fireworks. Like he knows he’s supposed to be a big tough boy and not be afraid of loud noises. Instead of whining, howling, or barking, which would only draw attention to his cowardice, he hides. But if you happen to look in on him from time to time, you’ll discover he often has a puzzled look on his face like he can’t understand why his humans are not distraught by all the noise.

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I think there is a simple explanation for this disparity in human and dog interpretation of loud noises. I think it’s hearing. While one might speculate that canines have less ability to understand the source of loud noises or to reason as to whether they are in potential danger or not, I really think it comes down to pain. The deep, reverberating booms and high pitched crackles sound so much louder to a dog than to a human, it seems quite possible they are in physical pain.

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This being my theory, I was doubly surprised when I spent the entire length of the Riverbend fireworks out on the balcony of the common room (where dogs are not allowed) and Tisen remained parked by the front door waiting for my return instead of hiding under the sofa, desk, or Daddy. Twiggy cuddled with Daddy, leaving Tisen to fend for himself as the stalwart guard patiently awaiting the return of Mommy. I felt pretty guilty when I got home and found him still waiting for me.

I wonder if he is more afraid of losing Mommy than he is of fireworks? This also made me feel more guilty getting on a plane the following morning.

Tisen braving it out at the door

Tisen braving it out at the door

Shooting Fireworks

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Well, there comes a time when we are all caught off guard by ill preparation.  I can list a long number of excuses as to how this happened, starting with working way too many hours for my day job, but the truth of the matter is that I didn’t give getting my blog posts ready ahead of time top priority and, therefore, it didn’t happen.

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So, I am about 45 minutes away from leaving for the airport.  I’m headed overseas on a business trip where my internet access may be limited and my time most certainly will be.  And, I have only photos of fireworks ready to post.

So what’s a daily blogger to do?

Well, I’ve decided to do some really short posts on the theme of “fireworks.”  We’ll see if I manage to get a post a day up!

For today’s fireworks-themed post, let’s talk about some things I’ve learned about shooting fireworks.

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First, if you’re going to be really close to the fireworks (in this case, we were within a .10 of a mile as the crow flies from where they were being fired), put your widest lens on your camera.  Since most of us now have cameras with 20+ megapixels, cropping to get tight photos is an option and there is a bigger problem with fitting all the action in the frame.

Second, if you know which way the wind is blowing, find a spot upwind.  This will help reduce the amount of smoke in your images.  Unfortunately, that was not a possibility for me, so I do have a lot of smoke in my images.  I managed to do some adjusting to reduce it’s appearance, but it’s still annoyingly visible.

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Third, your cameras metering is useless while you’re shooting.  It will jump all over the place as the fireworks create large amounts of light and then fade.  By the time you adjust exposure, it will be too late.  Remain calm.  Check your photos on your LCD early even if it means missing a shot of the next one going off.  It’s better to miss one or two getting your exposure set right than to get home and find that every shot you took was completely blown out or too dark.

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Fire over Water

The last big performance of Riverbend winds down as the crowd grows in anticipation of the fireworks

The last big performance of Riverbend winds down as the crowd grows in anticipation of the fireworks

If every fireworks display were the likes of the Riverbend Fireworks, I think there wouldn’t be a shortage of explosives worldwide.  That could be a good thing–fireworks are probably among the more peaceful things we do with explosives.  Although I suppose there are a lot of people who would disagree that that’s the best use of explosives–a few of my friends are extremely grateful for the explosives used in their airbags, for example.

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Regardless, fireworks always feel nostalgic to me.  I don’t know why–fireworks displays are so much more sophisticated and reliable than they ever were when I was a kid.  I think I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old when I started anticipating the success or failure of the 4th of July Fireworks based on the weather.  Rain the week before the big display was a disaster.  Perhaps “the fireworks got wet” was really just a euphemism adults used to explain away all the “duds” that would fail to go off with little more than a “ffftttzzz” and maybe a spark.  But the children in my neighborhood grew up terrifies of rain right before fireworks because we were sure there would be lots of duds.

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I remember fireworks taking an hour or more from start to finish.  I remember being blown away by the finale when a dozen or more fireworks blossomed in the sky simultaneously.  I remember the show leading up to the finale consisting pretty much of one, maybe two, fireworks going off at the same time or in close sequence.  I remember lots of time between fireworks when the sky was simply empty.  I remember the first time I ever saw a fireworks display that had been timed and choreographed with music.  It was in the 1980’s.  They played Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” as part of the montage.  I can’t remember being to a fireworks display set to music without hearing Lee ever since.  In fact, I heard it again tonight.  That guy must make millions just on fireworks background music.

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Things I don’t remember from the suburban fireworks display my family attended every 4th of July, sharing a blanket in the grass of a local park, include adult men without shirts on, extraordinary traffic jams, closed roads, cops with lights flashing everywhere, people packed like sardines into all available open spaces and fighting over the high spots.

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Of course, the suburb that sponsored the fireworks from my childhood has all of 10,000 people living in it.  While Chattanooga may not be a big city, it’s nearly 20 times the size of that.  So I guess it’s unfair to compare the sweet innocence of the suburb I grew up in  to the issues that arise when you take a very large number of people and put them in a very small space.

The fireworks have been over for at least 45 minute now.  But sirens keep going by outside.  Hopefully it will settle down soon.

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