Night Flight

Flight from Boston to DC

On Friday night I flew from Boston to Washington, DC. It was a short flight and we were either flying low or the sky was unusually clear, perhaps both. We could see New York quite clearly and then Philadelphia and Baltimore. Coming toward DC, the view was was amazing. There’s a sweet spot for this, when you’re low enough to see the lights below as beautiful, almost abstact patterns — lines and clusters. Fly a little lower, and it’s still beautiful as you start to be able to recognize the patterns as cities and coastline and highways and rivers. A little lower, and it’s less beautiful as you recognize shopping centers and parking lots and traffic.

And then you land and go on your way, becoming part of the pattern of lights on the ground.

Fifty Years Ago

Crystal Park, Worcester, Massachusetts

Like most members of my generation, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard that President Kennedy had been shot.

I was a freshman at South High School in Worcester, and my class attended the afternoon session due to overcrowding. That November day I was sitting in Mr. Timon’s Latin class, trying to pay attention. I remember Mr. Timon’s little jokes — if you couldn’t answer quickly, he’d say “Tempus is fugiting!” The classroom door opened and the Assistant Principal came in and announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. That’s all he said — he looked shocked, gave us the news and walked out. If I remember correctly, our classroom was near the office and I think he just needed to tell someone. We were all sitting there looking at each other waiting for Mr. Timon to say something and just a minute later we heard the chimes of the PA system followed by the announcement that President Kennedy was dead. Then there was some confusion, and they sent us back to our homerooms and dismissed us early. I remember the awkward feeling of everyone standing around not knowing quite how to react, what to say. I left the building with a group of friends and we just stood around on the sidewalk on Main Street by the Main South library branch in a block with some stores and a coffee shop. I remember looking in the window and seeing the shocked-looking customers sharing the news. Eventually we walked over to the corner of Main and Maywood Streets, across from Clark University and in front of Crystal Park. (There was a sign identifying this as University Park, but I never heard anyone call it that.)

We just stood around there for a while, feeling historical. Someone mentioned that this was like when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and we talked about how there was no television then, and maybe a guy on a horse would have ridden up to our school to give us the news three days later. We knew this was a major event, sad and also scary. We had grown up during the Cold War, hearing about the Atomic Bomb and fallout shelters and watching Khrushchev bang his shoe on the table at the UN. The previous autumn, we had lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, watching President Kennedy on television addressing the nation, and we could see this was serious. I watched the address at a friend’s house at the top of our hill, and when I was walking home I remember looking at my street, my house, the streetlights illuminating the leaves on the ground, a chill in the air, thinking how beautiful and special it all was, my world in all its ordinariness. Would the peace be broken with the sound of planes about to drop bombs on us, ending it all? And that’s what was on my mind when we were standing around at the edge of Crystal Park — what did the President’s assassination mean? What would happen next? Please let things just go back to being ordinary again.

Caroline Kennedy and her pony MacaroniWe stood around on Main Street talking until it started to get dark, and my friends got on buses to take them to their neighborhoods, and I walked home. I dreaded going in the house and having to talk about the death of our young, handsome President, who seemed like a regular dad playing around with his young children. My own father had died a few years before, and I tried to avoid thinking about that, or saying anything that might remind my mother of our loss.

The next few days were rough. Our life centered around the news on television, and we went to a memorial service at a church downtown. I tried to avoid connecting the assassination with the loss of my father, but on the second night I remember going into my room and crying uncontrollably for a long time, holding the pillow over my face to try to muffle the sound. Then I wrote a lengthy sympathy note to Caroline Kennedy, telling her how sorry I was that she had lost her father and that I understood just how she felt. I remember saying random things that I hoped would somehow make her feel better, like that I thought she was pretty and that I loved her pony and thought “Macaroni” was a really cute name. But writing the letter just made me upset so I ripped it up.

Riderless Horse at President Kennedy's FuneralThe news came so fast in the next few days. We saw Lyndon B. Johnson sworn in as President, Lee Harvey Oswald caught and then shot by Jack Ruby. We saw endless photographs and video of Jackie Kennedy looking beautiful and tragic, and heartbreaking pictures of the Kennedy children. I had not attended my own father’s funeral (my choice, one I deeply regret) and I became somewhat obsessed watching the President’s funeral and looking at all the photographs in the newspaper and Time magazine. I think I conflated the two funerals in my mind, and to this day when I imagine my father’s funeral I picture a riderless horse and a flag-draped coffin.

I don’t have an ending for this. My friends and I grew up listening to our parents’ generation talking about where they were when they heard the news about Pearl Harbor. We knew this was going to be our generation’s “where were you…” moment, and I just wanted to record mine.

Hilltop Steak House is Closing

Hilltop Steak House CowsThe Hilltop Steak House in Saugus is closing. This super-sized restaurant was once one of the busiest in the country, but it’s been in decline for years. I’m sorry to see it go — I’ve never eaten there, but the kitschy architecture with the giant cactus and the herd of plastic cows out front has been part of my life for most of my adult life.

I just worked out the math and I’ve passed this restaurant over 10,000 times, going to work, school, concerts, theatre, professional meetings, family parties, and the airport. It’s impossible to ignore it. I use that cactus as a marker of distance and time — when I get to that point I have a pretty good idea of whether I’m running late or doing OK. And I always look over at those cows, just to make sure they’re there. And every December I enjoy seeing them in their Santa hats. I always meant to stop and take some pictures of them and when I heard they were closing, I hoped that they’d wait until after Christmas. But they are closing next Saturday, so I guess I’ll never have the chance.

Unless they auction them off…

Hilltop Steak House Sign

Nothing New Here

It’s a rainy Sunday. This morning I went out for breakfast and parked in front of the Beverly Public Library. I took a picture of the roses there, wet with rain. On my way home, I stopped at the Wenham Cemetery for a few minutes and took a picture of the autumn leaves on the trees and on the ground. Then I stopped for a few minutes at Hamilton-Wenham Public Library to take a picture of the library and another looking down Union Street — more autumn leaves on trees and on the ground.

If I look through my 8,000+ photographs on Flickr, I can find near duplicates for each of these pictures. I like the rain. I like roses. I like autumn leaves. I drive past this library and this cemetery nearly every day, sometimes five or more times a day. I like stopping to take pictures, and often find myself standing in pretty much the exact same spot, taking nearly identical pictures.

I like to think of myself as an adventurous person. I love to travel and photograph new places, and I like to take that traveler’s mindset at home, and explore the area where I live, finding and photographing places with historical significance, or just things I find visually interesting.

But I also love my daily routine, and don’t mind taking nearly identical photographs of familiar places. For me, photography is not primarily about creativity, it’s about appreciating and capturing whatever catches my eye on any given day, even if that means I end up with lots of nearly identical pictures.

The Special Gift

Smiling NinaI like to think that we each have a special gift to share with the world. I’m still not quite sure what mine is, but I know exactly what my dog Nina’s special gift is. She’s a reminder.

She’s a friendly dog, and loves to meet new people. People ask about her breed and I explain that she’s a Sato, a street dog from Puerto Rico adopted from the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem. They tell me how cute she is and say she seems very good-natured. Then they often look at her for a minute or two, and then tell me who she reminds them of. Sometimes it’s a movie star dog like Benji. There were actually at least four different dogs who played Benji, and she definitely bears a resemblance to them, some more than others. (For example, see the 1974 Benji.) Some people mention the 2010 movie Firehouse Dog, and I think she resembles that dog, too, or would if she had much longer legs.

But most people tell me she reminds them of a dog they used to know. Sometimes it’s a dog they had when they were growing up, or their grandmother’s dog or a neighbor’s dog. And that, I believe, is Nina’s special gift: she’s a mixed breed dog who perfectly embodies the general concept of doginess and reminds everyone of happy memories of a dog from their past and sends them off with a smile.

A New Mural in Downtown Beverly

Artist Philip Coleman has a new mural on the Pond Street side of Casa de Moda, a shop selling stationery, jewelry, gifts and accessories in Beverly, Massachusetts. Painted with the assistance of interns from nearby Montserrat College of Art, the mural, called Calle Casa, is a street scene that shows people walking, a couple sitting outside a cafe and a view of the harbor in the distance. It blends in with the Casa de Moda building, and intentionally includes barrier posts and a Do Not Enter sign to discourage drivers from crashing into the building. (The man and dog in the foreground should help, too!)

Casa Calle

1 2 3 4 5 6 35