10.19.2021

OT: Not about photography, per se. But isn't everything about your health also about photography?

Walking the friendly streets of San Angelo, Texas with a camera and no agenda.

When I got back home there was a message from my doctor. His office had gotten their allocation of this year's flu shots and he had one set aside for me. He suggested (strongly) that this would be an exceptionally good year to get a flu shot. I believed him, called his office back and arranged to drop by today after swim practice to get poked in the arm. I figured that while I was at it I may as well also arrange for a third dose of Moderna/Covid vaccine as well. His office doesn't do Covid vaccines but he wrote a quick prescription which would allow me to get the Moderna shot prior to the government's final approval. 

I got up in time for swim practice and flailed through my second practice since the big road trip. Still working out the driving kinks and tight muscles. Gold Medal Olympian, Clarke Smith was our coach on deck this morning and he handed out a great workout. The water was too hot today so he switched from a medley of middle and long distances (his favorites) to a tighter agenda of shorter sprints with more rest intervals. Hot water is nasty to swim in and leeches out water from your body quicker (osmotic pressure?). You don't really notice it till dehydration kicks in and screws up your physical performance but it's smart to bring your (non-breakable) water bottle to the pool deck. 

After workout I dragged myself over to a Starbucks near the doctor's office and self-medicated with a small latté empowered with an extra shot of espresso. Revived and caffeinated I walked in, bared my left shoulder, and got my flu shot. Spent a few minutes kidding around with my doctor and then headed down the street to grab my third dose of Moderna vaccine from the 38th St. Pharmacy. No big news there, just nice folks and no nonsense. The shot was over before I knew it. This one in my right shoulder.  And I hate getting punctured...but am getting used to it these days.

So, why did I get my third dose and why so anxious to get it now? 

I'd like to travel a bit more this quarter and most of where I'm interested in going (to take photographs) requires getting on planes. And walking through airports. And sitting in rental car transit buses. And all of this requires me to be around nice, kind, smart people but also  other people who aren't smart enough to understand the mechanics of pandemics, the efficacy of masking, and doing it right, and the reality that by the end of this year well over a million people will have died of Covid right here in the U.S.A. And most of those who will have died believed themselves to be exempt from a fatal outcome because....?

I think all air travel should require full vaccination of everyone in the closed metal tube, hurtling through the stratosphere. I believe that people unwilling to believe in the science of vaccines can't conversely believe in the physics of flying with any intellectual rigor and should not be allowed to menace the health of the virtuous. Fuck em. 

But I'm not in charge and the next best thing I can do if I want to travel by plane is to be as fully vaccinated against Covid as possible and as medicated against the flu as I can be. Those two steps and the wearing of a tight fitting N95 mask in all indoor and on plane settings while traveling will go a long way toward making sure I have a fun time photographing when I get to my final destinations --- instead of gasping for breath, minute by minute, on some anonymous hotel room floor, hoping against hope that someone finds me before my oxygen levels fall below 70 and I become comatose. And expire.

So, it is in effect, an extension of my preparation to engage fully in my photography craft that moves me to embrace proven and safe medical steps to ensure my safety and, by extension, the safety of those with whom I come into contact. 

If you are a crazy anti-vaxxer don't bother to get your undies in a bunch and send me pseudo-scientific crap from some MAGA website about vaccines, etc. It'll just go into the internet trash can as soon as I see it. Stupid is never a good strategy. 
 


Added the next morning: The combination of the flu shot and a full, third dose of Moderna hit me like a ton of bricks last night. After dinner I headed to my favorite reading chair to dive into a spy novel and I couldn't keep my eyes open. My right arm (Covid vaccine) hurt like the dickens and I had an on and off  fever all night long. My muscles were tight and I couldn't find a spot or posture on the bed that was comfortable. I'm much better this morning. But now tired.... I figure it's better to get everything over with at once. If one sleepless night prevents my demise from Covid I think that's a fine bargain. And I don't have a "real" job so naps will probably become the order of the day....

The Long Overdue Vacation. Part Two. First Stop = San Angelo, Texas. Photos Galore.


The quickest route between Austin and San Angelo, Texas takes about three hours and fifteen minutes. It's just a mile short of two hundred miles. When you drive there from here you'll probably find the first fifteen minutes of wending your way through Austin traffic frustrating but about twenty miles into your drive you'll be cruising along Hwy. 71 with very little auto congestion and you'll find yourself on some rural roads out past Llano, Texas accompanied by so few cars that you might not see any in front or behind you for a while. It's almost a disquieting calm if you are used to traffic in clogged up, heavily populated urban centers. But it's actually a nice and relaxing way to travel.  As they say, "the miles just seem to slip by..."

Unlike trendy, tiny and mostly boring Texas places that capture the popular attention, such as Marfa, Texas, San Angelo seems to do a great job staying off of most peoples' radars. While Marfa is still making bank on the fact that the 1950's movie, "Giant" was filmed there, and it does have a smattering of small art galleries, other than the high plains weather and rough countryside there is little to admire and even less to keep one entertained. San Angelo is the opposite. It's mostly overlooked by the gatekeepers of trendiness and it's not really physically close to any major cities or hubs but once you've taken a day or two to dig in and explore you'll find that this is one of the most interesting towns in central Texas. With a population of about 100,000 it's actually got....infrastructure. Something sorely missing in places like Marfa, Marathon and Terlingua. 

What I mean by that is: in San Angelo there is a medical center and a choice of decent restaurants. Enough affordable and welcoming hotel space and well kept park space to make the inner core of the city feel comfortable, accessible and safe. If you look up statistics for the city you'll find that it's safer, crime-wise, than most places in Texas. The unemployment rates are low. The entrepreneurial spark is obvious and the generation of new businesses is solidly in the plus column. It's not a rich city by any means but one can see that the divide between rich and poor is less obvious or real than it is in a newly wealthy city like Austin or San Francisco. In all, the town has a very nice and friendly vibe. Not at all what I expected when, in the past, I have glanced at Texas maps and thought about travel destinations. I guess that's obvious given that I've lived less than four hours away since 1974 and have never gone there...

When B and I planned last week's trip we saw San Angelo as a convenient place to stop before making the run across the intimidating expanse of west Texas, toward New Mexico. After spending a couple of days and nights (going out and coming back) I now see it as a unique travel destination for anyone wanting a break from the Austin "experience" of high prices, endless hipsters, stupid money and ruthless new traffic. 

B is our inveterate researcher and she's the one who found our hotel for the our outward bound overnight in San Angelo. The hotel was the "Old Central Firehouse Bed & Brew" which is a tiny, boutique establishment on the second floor of a completely, and very nicely done, total makeover of an old fire station in the center of town. The downstairs is a Pizza and Craft Brew restaurant. But don't worry about the noise from the restaurant; it closes by 9:00pm and this part of town quickly quiets down. The rooms are comfortable, modern and spacious. The showers are an amazing bit of tile work. 

We made our big, theme decorated, hotel room our headquarters and headed out on foot to explore the historic downtown area. Me with a Leica SL and a 35mm lens, B with her trusty iPhone. We'd gone about three blocks from the hotel when we stumbled across a magnificent gallery of painted murals. I've put a bunch of mural photographs in the body of the post, below. They are mostly from an area called, "Paintbrush Alley." The main show (and these are curated, outdoor shows) is tucked into the alley way and the theme right now revolves around the movie, "Giant." 

Unlike Austin's now gone Graffiti Wall, the artwork here is commissioned, curated and not defaced by amateur spasms of bad graffiti and gang signs. And the art work is fun, humorous and immersive. We spent hours exploring the downtown space because, in addition to the Alley Murals, there is a sponsor called, "Art in Uncommon Places" that has as it's mission supporting artwork all through the historic neighborhood. From small shadows boxes in front of storefronts to sculptural installations along the nearby river walk. 

We had the Austin Cow Project but San Angelo settled for Sheep. 
Here's one right next to our hotel.

It was a bright, sunny, hot day so we donned on our wide brimmed hats, sucked down some water and got those cameras working. We came across little groups of young people taking selfies against the murals and, to a person, they were sweet. No other way to describe them. 

I guess to really do justice to the murals in a traditional photographic way I should come back with a wide,  tilt-shift lens and painstakingly visit each wall with a high res camera and a stout tripod but that's just not my style. Even so, I enjoyed the raucous colors and the tongue in cheek content. And, of course, it's all free. 


Back a second day, a break on our return trip to Austin.
Camera: Leica SL2. Lens: 24-90mm f2.8-4.0









This kind of photography is best done, IMHO, with a standard zoom and a high dynamic range camera. Taking images of the murals was especially fun since the skies were clear and clean and my camera could drop all the way down to ISO 64 or even 50 in order to really dig into the details and the wide range of tones. On the first day of photography I used the Zeiss 35mm f2.0 lens. I could see a bit of easily correctable barrel distortion but the colors and the sharpness of the lens were as good as anything else I own. 






Even the dumpsters are thematically decorated back in the alley.

A mosaic installation in the nearby park. Right next to a river with a nice, paved riverwalk.
Just a delightful area. And "art" everywhere you turn.

can't pass up good store window mannequins...


A very stern looking baby.

 B is a wonderful travel partner. With an advanced degree in studio art from UT and thirty years of experience as an advertising agency art director and graphic designer she's always on the look out for great shows and vaguely promoted installations. She's also patient when walking with me but happily independent so we can go in two directions at once and meet up later to compare notes. It's nice to have a visual pro act as a guide for well researched "art opportunities." I'll write later about her insistence on going to the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe. Almost worth the entire trip just in that one visit. And I would have missed it...

The last 45-50 out of town jobs I did for clients were all typical working travel experiences. I flew to my destinations for all of them. You had to pack to fit stuff on smaller aircraft because you are never assured, when flying into "third tier" markets, that you won't be on a mini-jet instead of a 737 or larger aircraft. You also need to pack light so you can single-handedly get through airports and to rental car counters. Assistants have been off most peoples' budget radars since the great recession. The mantra has therefore been: Don't bring more than you can carry by yourself.

Traveling for leisure in one's own car is a delicious luxury. Especially if your schedule is relaxed and flexible. I packed a range of clothes, from desert wear to cold weather comfortable. I brought along a jacket and tie for nice restaurants (never needed) and enough swim gear to run my own masters practice (needed always). I found great pleasure in seeing something like clusters of big windmills, or open desert, and circling back to park and pull out a camera and document what I was seeing. Then back in the car and back down the road.

We even kept a box of various hats on the floor behind the front seat so we could grab something weather/sun appropriate as desired and not be limited to one choice for the entire trip. By breaking up what could have been a long haul into shorter and calmer legs the feeling of being relaxed was amplified. 

The other aspect of travel we were most conscious of this time was to always eat well. No fast food. No chain food. We made virtuous efforts to find the best restaurants wherever we were and to eat as healthy as we could. Not always easy in the smaller towns but one of the most delicious salmon dishes of the entire trip was consumed in San Angelo at a fun restaurant called, "The Angry Cactus." It was perfectly prepared and accompanied by fresh, steamed French green beans, and sweet potatoes. Wonderful. I would go back again....oh, yeah, we did.