Life as a photographer is not always easy, or, I survived my Spain trip (and want to go back)

November 4, 2015
In the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood, Madrid, Spain

In the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood, Madrid, Spain

Okay, right off the bat I want to set the record straight or admit my naiveté or poor judgment or bad luck and say that I have to update my last post of about a month ago. At that time I had just arrived in Spain and had settled into a room in the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood of Madrid. I was there to take a one-month long super-intensive Spanish language course. The school was in an adjacent neighborhood (good school, but I can get to that either later in this post or a future one).

But anyway, in that previous post I registered my awe at how friendly and peaceful everything was in this big-city environment with families with little kids in strollers and in the arms of their parents or tagging along out on the street late at night — the Spanish like to walk (the pasearse they call it).

All true.

But in the not-so-early morning in broad daylight, on a lonely back street not far from the above photo, I got a rude awakening and was jolted back to reality. I was innocently taking photos when I heard someone yell. Without going into too many details and wasting space, suffice to say that one man seemed to claim in broken English (and I don’t think he was Hispanic, but that has nothing to do with this really) that I had taken his photo and had no right and that I had to hand over my camera. We struggled. I was not hurt but my camera, which I was able to retrieve, was because the man threw it to the pavement. The camera would not work after that. Fortunately I was able to save the photos already made — they were on a card inside. And here’s the crazy, maddening part of the whole ordeal. I know what this guy looked like. He was not in any of the photos.

It’s entirely possible he was simply mentally unbalanced, on something, or just a bully.

But it’s a lesson for picture takers. I mean I had always heard that in some foreign countries people either don’t want their photos taken or want money for them. But I had actually thought I was being careful and not being in anyone’s face and not being too obvious.

And here’s something weird. I had what turned out to be an unheeded warning before I left the states. I was taking a photo at a bus stop in my hometown — where I began my journey —  and a homeless woman got mad and threatened me. She was not in any photo I took either. It’s not easy being a photographer.

The irony continues: I have taken hundreds (thousands?) of photos for newspapers in my so-called career in journalism, and only recall one negative incident. I was taking a totally useless photo of a single-vehicle car wreck, fender bender, no one hurt. But the teenage-girl driver’s father was upset with the whole incident. She was not even in the photo. He grabbed the strap of the camera that was around my neck and I thought he was going to choke me with it. He demanded that I give him the film. Well, my concern, besides being strangled, was that I had some more important photos on the roll — I mean there goes all my work. I somehow managed to convince him that I would not use the photo of the car wreck but I needed to keep the film. He relented.

Well, I thought this post was going to be about my trip to Spain but I just had to get that out of the way, a catharsis of sorts, and maybe a helpful travel advisory.

So my unfortunate incident with the camera at first cast a pall on my trip, but I got over it rather quickly. I thought of buying a new camera, but instead fell back to my cell phone camera, in my ancient flip phone (I mean I only saw one other flip phone on the whole trip and everyone everywhere in the world it seems carries a cell and is staring at it or madly doing the two-finger text thing). But the above photo was taken on my poor old now broken camera. The photo was taken on a side street. After my incident, I tended to stay on the main drags of that particular neighborhood. But I did wander farther in other neighborhoods — but tried to be super aware of my surroundings, polite and unobtrusive — and I missed out on countless good photos because of it. My dad, a professional journalist, taught me that most photos (not all) are better with people in them.

Bottom line: stuff happens or can anywhere you are in the world — even right at home.

Well like I said, I meant this post to be more about my Spain trip in total. I’ll have to do that in my next post possibly. But I can say it was well worth it and I love Madrid. I love Spain. This was my second trip to that country. I hope to return some time.

Oh, so did I learn how to speak Spanish?

I learned a lot. I had taken courses years ago and I had used the language in the real world, as much as I knew, in my most current work as an over-the-road truck driver.

To really know any language, you have to use it in the real world. I’m working on that.

Coming back from Montana…

August 31, 2010

Cruised though Missoula, Montana, my sister and I, on the way back home to California. I have some relatives who live there, some of whom were at the family get together at Polson. Just went through for a look-see. I was impressed with the downtown and some of the surrounding neighborhoods.

I usually prefer the older and more settled parts of towns than the new additions — but I’m not putting them down and I didn’t go there anyway in this case, except to drive through some of the urban sprawl on the outskirts.

There’s a vibrancy from the mountain air and the feeling of Big Sky Country. And I like towns that have old buildings that are still functional and have not been turned into tourist traps.

But probably my biggest thrill and surprise on the way back so far was a stop off at Oregon City, Oregon.

Now here is a place I have been in and out of along 99-E for the last decade and more. I often pick up loads of newsprint at the mill there, called Blue Heron these days.

From the mill I have often looked straight down the main drag of the historic section but never had a chance to go into there. This time, not being tied down by the truck, I did . What we (my sister and I) found was the town elevator. It even has its own operator.You get a free ride up the mountain the town butts up against and on top a bird‘s eye view of the whole area. Spectacular is the only word I can find, but that does not do it justice.

We ate lunch at Oregon City before heading out on 99-E and then crossing over I-5 and eventually connecting up with 99-W. I had driven that route years ago and it‘s still just as scenic as it was then. It‘s quite a break from what becomes the monotony of I-5 (having traveled it so often). You‘re more up close and personal with nature and the small town and country life on that route. But don‘t plan to be in a hurry. A trip that would have taken about an hour and a half on the interstate ate up all afternoon — but an enjoyable afternoon.

Soon I‘ll be going back to work, maybe driving along some of the same routes as the past few days.

Go figure. A truck driver‘s vacation.

The Montana visit….

August 29, 2010

(written evening of Aug. 28)

It was cool and overcast with a little rain today, but I enjoyed the weather and the day even so. Heck, why not? I’m in Montana!

While I doubt that as a Californian I am hardy enough to withstand the coming winter, it’s only August, and I won’t be here then anyway.

Tagged along with the family gang for a round of golf at a local course. Didn’t play. Never have. But I think I can see how one could easily get hooked. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to tell that I tagged along. Don’t know if that’s allowed.

Someone said if you can get off a couple of good shots or drives or whatever, you get your confidence built and tend to forget the rest of them — I could see that.

“The idea out here is to have fun”, one of my nephews told me, adding that you also should strive for not hurting anyone and not putting yourself down range (and I myself would suggest that if you’re with the gang I was with learn to duck). And he said you should try to refrain from getting into arguments — it tends to defeat the purpose of the whole thing.

Both my nephew and one of my brothers hit a ball into someone’s front yard. They threw my nephew’s ball back. My brother had to retrieve his. I guess there’s a limit.

The Golf game over, some of us took a drive around Flathead Lake — stunning! They tell me it’s bigger than Lake Tahoe back in California — I’ll have to check that one out (should be able to quickly look that up on the computer).

Okay, I guess what I was supposed to say is that Flathead Lake is slighlty bigger than Lake Tahoe and it is the largest natural fresh water lake in  the western part of the lower 48 states. Hey it’s big and beautiful.

I knew I had one musically-inclined nephew, but I didn’t realize I had two. They gave us all a little Blue Grass music concert, one on the guitar and one on the mandolin.

I’m more than a year into my sixth decade now and I got a chance to reunite with one nephew I haven’t seen since I was a teenager.

One of my other nephews has designed a portable combination weather station and highway camera that the state road department uses on its projects. I have to say my oldest brother has raised some big healthy boys — no longer boys; well into-middle-aged men now — must be the Montana air. And they are all quite talented. And let’s don’t leave out the girls. One of my nephews has a daughter who teaches at a college back east. Met several other people, family and in-laws of family and so on. All healthy and good looking and sturdy stock.

The only downside to family reunions is that you get reminded that you may have been shorted in the family gene pool.

My sister and I are probably leaving for home tomorrow. Don’t know if I’ll ever get back this way. But if I don’t make it to Heaven, at least I got a glimpse of it. Glad I finally made it to Montana after all these years of my oldest brother and long-time Montana resident urging me to come.

The Road to Montana, Day 3:

August 28, 2010

Friday dawned clear in Spokane, no smoke or dust left over from the previous day and the wind had died down.

My sister and I went down to Riverfront Park and parked across from City Hall and viewed the Spokane Falls — a spectacular sight in the middle of a city! Still trying to make photos with my cell phone. I used to be a news photographer and saw a perfect shot with some wild apples in the foreground and the falls in the background but I could see with my set up it would not come out (and maybe not wild apples, but not a domesticated orchard).

Went over to the Merry-Go-Round. I didn’t go on the ride but I bought one of those throwaway cameras and retraced some of my steps and made more photos.

I kept wondering what that strikingly huge and magnificent castle-like building was in the distance. Drove over there and found out it was the county courthouse. Never have seen anything like it.

If you haven’t been to Spokane — go. The downtown with its magnificent buildings — lots of brick– is worth the trip alone.

Oh, and I forgot. You can get an aerial view of the falls by taking a gondola ride out of the park — but we were too chicken for that.

I still needed the sleeping gear I forgot to bring and some other items. We headed west out U.S. 2, which doubles as a local thoroughfare, and stopped at The General Store. Didn’t buy my bedding there, but I did buy a western belt and a Stetson hat and my sister bought me a new pair of outdoor shoes as a belated birthday present (Aug. 13). I was going to buy some cowboy boots, but the shoes seemed more comfortable for now. Great selection and great prices. I highly recommend the store.

We needed to get heading east again to Montana and so we did. But I still needed a sleeping bag or some kind of sleeping gear. We stopped at the Paul Bunyan hamburger place for lunch in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. No Walmart in town, but the girl told me how to get to Kmart, but I messed that up so we headed east, hoping to find something on the way. I was holding forth with a discussion on economics and was suggesting we throw up tariffs and that by buying cheaper costing goods from China we were cutting or own throats.

As it happened, out of the clear blue a Walmart appeared just before Kellogg Idaho. I bought a ten dollar sleeping bag made in China and on the way back out to the car told my sister to forget what I said about how bad it is importing all that stuff from over there.

And let me go back and mention that the Coeur d’ Alene downtown is pleasant and I noted an interesting turret on the corner of a building going back out of town.

It wasn’t long and we arrived in Montana and headed northeast at St. Regis.

I knew Montana was beautiful, but I was surprised nonetheless — it’s downright gorgeous!

It was an enchanting ride along the Flathead River and the road up through Ronan and up through Polson where my brother lives was scenic as well. And then there it was spectacular Flathead Lake.

Oh, yeah, at Ronan I called my brother on the cell phone and asked whether we should stop to eat or whether there would be dinner at the cabin camp we were supposed to meet at. Found out it was about a half-hour drive and family members were waiting on us — no pressure.

And we arrived. I talked to nephews I had not seen in years. More family coming tomorrow.

This Montana country is great. I think I could get used to it — that is until winter hits.

Road to Montana, day 2:

August 27, 2010

Left the small farming town of Madras, Oregon and headed north on U.S. 97.

Oh, I neglected to mention that on Day One, North of Redmond and Terra Bonne, I pointed out to my sister the crossing of what I call the “little Grand Canyon”. If you haven’t been on that route, it takes you by surprise — all the sudden you cross a bridge and it almost looks as if you are crossing the Grand Canyon.

Anyway, headed out into the dry hills and through Cow Canyon and across the high desert plateau and took a ever-so-slight detour down the main street of Shaniko where a magnificent and quite authentic Old West style hotel sits — it’s closed, but it’s for sale. The whole town looked empty. But it’s a fairly genuine-looking relic out of the Old West, with only a hint of an attempt at an amusement park.

Back out through the high desert on 97 we slowed down as the speed limit sign calls for us to do through the farm town of Grass Valley — some of the sagebrush lands give way to dry land grain fields there.

A man sitting contentedly in a lawn chair out front of his Airstream trailer was watching the traffic go by.

I convinced my sister that we should take 97 on over the Columbia River into Oregon, even though the quickest route to Spokane, our next rest-for-the-night stop, would be to hang a right on I-84.

Got back into the evergreen trees and climbed Satus Pass and then down into the dry desert again and into the Yakima Indian Nation Reservation. A flagman stopped us. I told my sister that the Indians sometimes asked for “tribute”. Okay it was road construction. Only a slight delay.

Dropped down some more into the irrigated farming country and through the town of Toppenish and hung a right on I-82 and took a slight detour through the town of Zillah — I like the name. Nice town — built on a hill.

Then back eastwardly bound on I-82 and we stopped where I wanted to go on this route, the Teapot Dome Service Station. The little building is built in the shape of a teapot, with shingled exterior walls and a roof that looks like the lid of a teapot, and there is a handle and a spout on either side. The service station is no longer in operation. I understand it was built in 1922 as a kind of spoof, if you will, on the Teapot Dome Scandal of the early 20th Century that involved illicit activity in the granting of federal government oil leases in the Harding administration. We did not have regular cameras, but tried to get shots with our cell phones. You know? When the outside sunlight is glaring it’s hard as heck to see what you’re shooting with those cell phone cameras.

Into Washington State, north of the Tri Cities, Pasco and Richland and Kennewick, we ran into a dust storm out of the rolling sagebrush and grasslands. Not bad enough in most places to really obscure vision to the extent that it prevented safe driving, but a lot of dust nonetheless. There was a fairly high wind, and I presume the dust was coming off of cultivated lands that I know are close by. Lots of farming in the area. I have hauled many a load of potatoes out of the region in my time.

Where U.S. 395 joins I-90 is the town of Ritzville. And I know I describe all towns as “farming towns”, but that’s what it is. We took a little detour through what is described by sign as the Historic downtown of Ritzville. If you never have and have a chance to do so, I would recommend you do. It’s still appears to be a going community and you will see what old towns with their main streets and businesses looked like years ago. I’d give you any number of modern shopping malls and big box stores for an old fashioned Main Street any day.

Reached the edge of Spokane by late afternoon (I‘m actually writing these words on 8-26-10), which we plan to take a little tour of tomorrow.


ADD 1:

That dust I mentioned earlier seems to be smoke now — there are several wildfires in the region.


I jumped on the free wi-fi, something I’ve just in the last day become accustomed to. It’s sure a lot faster than my AT&T mobile card or even my DSL hookup at home — and it’s free (with the motel room).


This is not meant to be an exciting travelogue — just some musings by a somewhat lost soul who misses his dearly departed wife and best friend ever of 43 years and who is taking a trip with his sister.

P.s. P.s.

I highly recommend the Best Western Motel in Madras, Oregon.

I do not recommend the Best Western Motel in Spokane on Geiger — unless you like slamming doors. I haven’t gone to bed yet — but that can’t be good.

The Road to Montana, day 1:

August 26, 2010

As a truck driver, I’m taking the proverbial busman’s holiday, helping my sister drive to Montana (in her car) for a family get together. I’ve never been to Montana.

Day one got off to a good enough start, leaving Redding, California, where I live, that is until we were many miles into the Sacramento River Canyon and too late to turn back and some chance remark I made to my sister reminded her to ask if I had brought my sleeping bag and some towels, things we were told we all needed to stay in a cabin in the woods — uh, no, I forgot.

I drive U.S. 97 frequently, but I’ve always wondered what that weird statue object in front of a place called the Chrome Shop, between Klamath Falls and Chemult, Oregon is. It’s kind of a cross between a dinosaur, and rhinoceros, and a, well I don’t know, some kind of wild creature.

Stopped and spent time at the High Desert Museum just south of Bend, Oregon. Lots of parents with little children were there and a bus load of school kids had just left. Quite an extensive display on prostitution in the old west — I guess a new emphasis on telling it like it is or was in history. But, honestly, if you’re ever up that way you should stop. Lots of interesting things on area history and native Americans, okay Indians. Also plant and wild creature exhibits, inside and outside. And also a play area for the kids, and even a temperature controlled place to leave pets. And one feature that was especially good was sound effects in some of the old west exhibits (but no sound effects for the first exhibit I mentioned). Also quite a display on card cheating apparatus used in the old west — and a pretty good replica of an old west saloon.

We’re not going long haul each day. We only got as far as Madras, Oregon (I think a five or six-hour drive out of Redding).

Stopped at a motel. I had been driving. Got out of the car. Later my sister asked if I had the keys. I thought I left them in the car (something I never do, but). I didn’t; they were in my pocket.

Probably the only real excitement of the day.

I’ll try to update as I go along.