In the late afternoon light as the heat of the day slowly dissipates and shadows begin to grow. John settles into a convenient position on a green metal bench leaving behind his anxiety at the intersection of La Cienega and 18th Street. It is here that John displays his soul to the rest of humanity as he drifts away from the aroma of exhaust and the pandemonium of metal, glass and tires. He has found his universal solution to serenity while holding the worn pages of his book. Sometime ago John changed the narrative of his life, shipping out on red Target shopping cart, sailing the West above the red painted curbs and redefining window shopping. Books have become John’s traveling companion, his shipmate, his amigo and his manual. Words on a paper that fills the emptiness of time and place on his long voyage home.
We were not mentioned in S. E. Hinton’s book The Outsiders. Hinton’s novel takes place in Tulsa Oklahoma in the mid-sixty’s which is a beautifully written anthropology of the class division between high school teenagers. The Socs (pronounced ˈsoʊʃɪz / so-shis, short form of Socials) were from middle income to upper income families on the south side of Tulsa. They drove new cars given to them by their daddy. Thier social uniform were wheat jeans, penny loafers, button down collar madrases shirts, and white socks. Their haircut was reminiscent to the moptops of the Beatles. On the other hand, the greasers were boys from lower-class blue collar families from north Tulsa. Most were shade tree mechanics driving old 50’s Chevrolets and Fords that were retrieved from auto salvage yards. Their uniform were Levi’s, hand me down jean jackets, tee-shirts, Converse All Stars, and most important Brylcreem for that Elvis pompadour look.
In between the two tribe were the nameless kids who’s economic standing was somewhere between the families of Socs and the Greasers. We were the nerds, the geeks and socially inept when it came to girls. It is true that one of the most important qualities that can help teens establish their own identities is the ability to “fit in.” Finding friends who understand their problems and relate to them is paramount for teenagers. It wasn’t long until we realized that what we had in common was our interest in doing cool stuff instead of campaigning for popularity at school or smoking in the back of the school. We created our own tribe and we called ourselves “The GTO’s, Order of the Pythons” .
From 1964 to 1968 we produced movies using our parents Bell and Howell movie cameras. At first, we filmed our friends acting goofy around the house and favorite hang outs -that was in the 8th grade. By the 9th grade we were charging kids 50 cents to be in our movies and they didn’t just hang out at the parents’ house anymore. Kids were being blown up, shot at and chased by the bad guys in War movies, Spy movies and even a Roman drama. Growing up in Oklahoma the culture allowed hunting as a normal recreation which gave us access to shotguns, black powder and a great locations. The Verdigris River which is northeast of Tulsa was our favorite location and isolated from civilization and parental control. All the tall guys had to be the bad guys (the Germans) the little guys were the good guys (the Americans). We bought army surplus and dyed the fatigues black and spray painted the helmets and wore them backwards so they would look like German helmets. Once we had a old, gray ’59 Ford station wagon. We painted a couple of swastikas on it, filled the back up with black powder and drove it down the river and blew it up. We did this until we graduated from Will Rogers High School in 1968. Needless to say, we went our separate ways pursuing a life outside of Tulsa.
In 2010 as a result of facebook this little band of brothers reestablished the brotherhood -but, not without loss. In May of 2008 Dean Bishop who crated the GTO’s and was our mastermind passed away from cancer – Dean was financially supported and cared for by fellow members Rex and Ricky Gray until his death. Dan Lundy the tallest member of the GTO’s passed away in the mid 90’s from cancer after being exposed to agent orange in Vietnam. The surviving members of the original six GTO’s including myself are: Rex Gray and brother Ricky Gray and Dan Battreall.
I am eternally grateful to my band of brothers for not only giving me wonderful memories but laying the foundation for the career I enjoy today.
After a midnight shoot at The House of Blues in Hollywood. I packed up my camera gear and headed back to my car parked on Sunset Boulevard. Just a block away, I came upon the Saint of Sunset sitting on a small swatch of old red carpeting with his back resting against a chain link fence. As I approached he looked up and with bright eyes and a smile he said, “Good evening my friend.”
“And a good evening to you my friend and how is life treating you this fine evening?” I asked.
“Better now that you are here”, he said, “would you like a blessing?”
“yes indeed,” I replied.
Closing his eyes the Saint bowed his head whispering, “My friend and I are but actors in a theatre called earth, our stage is small but it is here where we rehears our play of life before the curtain closes. Blessings my friend.”
As the gap from being present fades, the realization is that my autumn days are here
It is not temporary, it will progress like a malignant tumor bringing about bewilderment
The anatomy of self becomes less reliant and my stride becomes a shuffle
The indelible art tells my story in ink which is fading into mosaic colors
Memories of wrong doing haunt me. I plead guilty in hope for a light sentence in the afterlife
I’ve become a conscious being aware of the many sentient spirits close at hand…..I miss them as they have transition to the stars
Beyond doubt, the universe makes the rules. I’ve learned to be careful for what I wish for
The cosmos rules my destiny. I like to think I do but the joke is on me
I still feel compelled to travel with an uncontrollable urge to risk everything….I blame my genetic code with the wanderlust gene of drd4.
Maybe the transition won’t be so bad after all, I’ll be able to surf the cosmos as I have always told my grandson
Imagine paddling out into the liquid night of space and surfing the rings of Saturn….
This unknown experience grows wildly within my imagination and the freedom it brings to my soul
Snapshots, no foreign language skills required.
I slid my right boot then my left boot into the hole leading to the tomb’s tunnel. There was the soft, muffed sound of my pants sliding against the rough stone as my feet fell into the tomb. My knees passed and my thighs followed – which was as far as I got. I was stuck between two worlds. My companions started laughing before cheering me on. “Push! Push, Dave”. There was a scraping noise as my 34 waist and belt buckle tried to shimmy. I’ve been told in the past, during romantic endeavors, that I have ‘a booty like a black man’ – something I’ve always thought of as an attractive asset, but which, in this instance, was a real liability. ‘I think I’m too big, guys,’ I told my audience, ‘I’m wedged in!’ as giggles grew louder and escaped from the darkness of the tomb. I too began to chuckle, which was uncomfortable considering the added pressure of stone against my waist.
When I returned to the States and the Tonight Show, I shared my big ass adventure with one of the comedy writers for the show, Larry Jacobson. We both had a good chuckle when Larry added. “You know Dave, if you were Kim Kardashian you’d still be stuck in that tomb.
My aging process was not gradual or gentle. It rushes up, pushes me over, and then ran off laughing. No one should grow old who isn’t ready to appear ridiculous. I’ve been there, done that, and bought a T-shirt. I’ve never lived a life of quiet desperation. Now I replay all my adventures in my afternoon naps….bonum vitae,
One of my favorite movies of all times is One Night On Earth. It’s a cinematic dream of just how connected we are as a species and all the synchronicity that life flings at us. The movie is a collection of five stories involving cab drivers in five different cities from around the world. Which is a causal or persuasive link to my nocturnal behavior of getting out of bed, grabbing my camera and climb behind the steering wheel of my KIA and drive. I actually like driving late at night. When I say late, I don’t mean 10 PM, or even midnight – I mean like the witching hours from 2 am to sunrise. There is no other time of day where you can see typically the most congested street completely empty. It’s like being teleported as the last man on earth. A bat maneuvering in the dark, it uses a process called echolocation. Echolocation refers to the process of using echoes and sound waves to navigate around objects. For my excursion into the great Basin of Los Angeles, I too use echolocation in the form of music to tap into the auditory cortex of my brain and beyond to the “seat of the soul” the pineal gland. The music dictates when I should proceed straight ahead or turn left or right. Tonight’s soundtrack is “A Perfect Place” a Morricone-esque soundtrack by Mike Patton. Ready set go! Among the endless metaphors for life, a road is perhaps one of the best. There’s times for speed, times for caution and times to stop. Ahead, the lights of a psychic storefront beckon me to take time to stop and enjoy the cold Pink’s hotdog I picked up earlier. This is A Perfect Place for my One Night On Earth.
After a day of traveling aimlessly along Sunset Boulevard it was time to take a break. It had been a good day of harvesting cigarette butts. Joe had always felt it was his civic duty to help address this serious environmental problem by picking up this toxic waste. Now was the time to sit and enjoy the fruits of his labor. He watched for awhile the congestion of traffic and remembered the time he too lived that life…. but no more. The last few embers glowed at the end of the cigarette as Joe inhaled, and as the white smoke curled up in a spiral motion, he pressed lightly his shirt pocket to the fragment ends of tobacco to insure a reserve till morning. Taking the last drag the ashes glowed brighter and crackled as air passed through the cigarette and the smoke went deeply into his lungs. He dropped the butt on the concrete and stubbed it out in a rhythmical tapping of his right foot. How wonderful it would have been to have a cup of coffee to accompanied his cigarette break he thought. The sun had set, but he had decided to stay sitting on the bench and watch the world drive by and maybe have another cigarette.
444 months, 1931 weeks, 13514 days, 324,328 hours, 19,459,690 minutes, 1,167,581,426 seconds. Thank you Bill W and Dr. Bob for a wonderful and exciting life with true friends who have never let me down….thank you my brothers and sisters.
Bob had the kind of face that would compel you to volunteer any loose change your pocket held without him ever asking for a handout. His home consisted of a metal shopping cart supported by well-worn wheels, two paper bags, an old plastic container of water and a rolled up gray blanket. The corner of Central Boulevard and Windsor Road in Glendale, California was where he called home. This move was a sage-like decision on Bob’s part since the Salvation Army was positioned across the street which provided food, clothing and care and half a block to his east was the Windsor Al-Anon club that furnished free coffee, occasional shelter and most importantly, some welcomed comradeship with fellow tribe members.
It was up to you to get Bob talking since he was never known to initiate a conversation. His english was laced with a thick Yugoslavian accent and it was because of this that he was christened with the street name “Bob from Yugoslavia”. In his youth, he was trained as a pianist but as the years passed by his hands grew to be swollen and arthritic which made tying his shoes or buttoning his coat as painful as a Beethoven sonata. Bob’s private moments took place in a utility alley behind the Armenian market where he would seek refuge by smoking discarded cigarettes and watching reality slip away.
We had a very short history in our acquaintance but Bob from Yugoslavia became my navigational marker that signaled my return home from overseas. As strange as it may sound, it was comforting to see him sleeping under the tree, his tree, at the corner of Central and Windsor. One day, I noticed that the only thing holding his threadbare jeans together was the grim beneath him. I managed to sneak a pair of new levis and socks into one of his paper bags while he was napping under his tree. I couldn’t help but watch from a distance to witness Bob’s reaction to his good fortune; he proudly held the trousers up to the sky with a toothless smile and turned to look around as if he would find a magical garment fairy. The following day I expected to see him wearing the new pants but to my surprise he was wearing the same grubby jeans. Bob had traded the jeans and socks for two packs of Marlboro cigarettes to a local gardener.
I asked Bob one day, “If you were to write a letter to God and be guaranteed that God would read your letter, what would be your the first sentence?” He looked up and spoke as expressively with his eyes as with his words, “God keep me warm and never let me get cold again”
We continued our brief interludes over the years until one day conspicuously absent from the corner was Bob and his shopping cart. A member of the Al-Anon club told me that Bob had peacefully passed away underneath his tree while napping. I can only hope it was on a warm sunny California day.
These three Muses are thought to be the goddesses of inspiration in literature, science and the arts.The Muses are believed to live on Mt. Olympus which is a prominent neighborhood near the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. It is here that the Muses entertained their father, Sid Zeusberger (a powerful studio head) and the other Olympian gods with their great artistry. Today, the three Muses take a break from their celestial duties and head to the Beverly Center for shopping, lunch and wine.
Mary McWhorter-Banks 1925 – 2020
Uh-will the wind ever remember the names it has blow in the past?
And with this crutch, its old age
And its wisdom it whispers, “No, this will be the last” – Jimi Hendrix
Mary is 94 years old with severe dementia, and resides in a hospice facility in Oklahoma. And she’s my mom. On November 6th, 2020 mom passed away from complications of Covid-19. This is the last moments I spent with mom.
Mom sits silently in her wheelchair vacantly staring at the bear wall above her bed. On occasion she will touch her locket that hangs around her neck. I know she feels like leaving, but she can’t go. Mom doesn’t know that this is her tomorrow. There are only fleeting moments when the depths of her dementia recedes, and she sees me sitting on her bed.
“What are you doing here?” She asks.
As quickly as I can answer. Mom vanishes back into the dark corridors of her mind. She’s gone, only to be replaced with an empty stare to the white wall above her bed. My love for the woman who gave me life isn’t always available, but somewhere in moms mind I can only hope she knows that I have not abandoned her.
I open my computer and start to play music to fill the void of silence in her room. Out of the corner of my sight, moms leg starts to gently move, I slowly turn my head so as not to detract from moms gaze. Following her leg down to the tip of her fuzzy pink slipper. Mom begins to tap the metal footrest of her wheelchair. Mom smiles, and the paleness of her cheeks disappears and is replaced with a rosy pink color hue. I wonder, what if I play music from her youth.
Playing a mix of Frank Sinatra songs, the room fills with big band music with “Ol’ Blue Eyes” at the mic.
“ I always liked him” she says somewhat abruptly.
“Mom were you a bobby-soxer?”
There is a pause as mom searches her past, “Yes.”
She looks over at me after answering.
“Who are you?” she ask
“Mom, I’m your historian.”
A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterdays life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife
And the wind, it cries Mary – Jimi Hendrix
There is something unique about Southern California light. Morning light is too short for the gold, midday leaves the gentle colors washed away, but at sunset when the blossoms close the alluring shades of light are flushed with an apricot tint with a lovely hue of lilac and pastels colors are reborn – or maybe it’s just the smog.
It is the weighty force that pulls at the body to the center of our planet, and for any other substantial mass there is no escape. But, with a degree of intensity in acceleration, liberation is possible from the slavery of this invisible force we called gravity. Breaking free is a flight risk, a temporary moment to fill the empty space, it becomes a grudge against gravity. For some it becomes a spiritual phenomenon, a vaccine against quantum mechanics and society. As this exploit loses energy, and with the friction of air resistance the complexities of reality drop you like a stone. It was a courageous moment but there is a conspiracy at work by the natural Laws of the Universe. As J.B. Smoove has put it so eloquently, “You know how you put peanut butter on a piece of bread and the bread falls – it never falls on the bread side down, it always falls peanut butter side down. That’s because of gravity.”
‘Scenes of rape in the arroyo, seduction in cars, abandoned buildings, fights at the food stand; the dust, the shoes, open shirts and raised collars, bright sculptured hair’ ~ Latino Chrome lyrics by Jim Morrison, The Doors
On April 29, 1992, twelve jurors in Simi Valley, California, delivered their verdicts in a controversial case involving the 1991 beating of Rodney King by four LAPD officers. The case received international attention when grainy footage of the officers’ attack on King was televised and it became a national scandal. The beating would never have been seen had it not been for George Holliday, who grabbed his video camera and stepped onto his balcony when he was awoken by sirens.
The verdict was read: all four officers were acquitted of excessive force and cleared of all charges. Due to the extensive media coverage, the public received immediate news of the verdict. Reaction in Los Angeles was swift as people began venting their anger. L.A. became a scene from a war movie, albeit one far from the facade of a studio.
The following night I picked up an assignment for CBS news to cover film director Spike Lee’s speaking engagement at the University of California in Irvine. The timing was ironic; following the King beating and the LAPD officers’ verdict, it was day two of the rioting. Spike was to talk about his new film ‘Malcolm X’. Irvine is about 45 miles south of Los Angeles, in the county famed for its oranges. Spike never made it; the announcement was made in the UC auditorium that, as a result of an upsurge in violence in L.A. and due to an exodus of traffic causing congestion on the freeways, Mr. Lee was unable to attend his engagement.
I’d taken the precaution of renting an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera; my 1978 Volkswagen Bus just didn’t have the speed or the protection for riding around the city of Los Angeles under such challenging circumstances and against brutal violence.
I packed up the camera and rushed back to L.A., heading north on the 405 freeway. It had been closed and was therefore free of traffic by the time I neared Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). With no police scanner to monitor the situation, I listened to KFWB news radio for leads, following police vehicles, helicopters and fire trucks that may have led me to riot hotspots. From their reports, I deduced that the worst fires and looting were taking place in central Los Angeles. At the interchange I took the on-ramp to the Santa Monica freeway that sits high above the ground on concrete columns. This gave me a spectacular view of L.A.’s cityscape – it stretched out before me, hundreds of dark gray smoky plumes spiraling upwards to meet the black sky. I could smell the distinctive stench of burning asphalt shingles, wood and rubber. Jesus! It’s Beirut L.A.
Lingering in the night, like a string of Christmas tree lights, were several police and news helicopters, their distinctive red and green pulsing taillights circling where civil unrest seemed to be worst. Known on the streets as Ghetto Birds, the LAPD helicopters sliced the darkness with their powerful searchlights on fixed points of unrestrained violence as media helicopters converged, scavenging on the carcass of a ravaged city. Above the helicopters were processions of commercial airliners with white lights making their final approach to land at LAX; the passengers looking down below were witnesses to a city gone mad.
Speeding along at 144 k.p.h, towards central L.A., I passed a huge house fire. ‘There’s a man on that roof!’ I shouted to anyone listening. I braked, leaving skid-marks and burnt rubber on the freeway, shifted into reverse and backed up to a suitable point to evaluate the scene. The silhouette of a man with a garden hose looked cartoonish against a wall of yellowy-orange flames. The sound of wood beams splitting from the heat of the fire rang in my ears. I grabbed my camera and rolled the tape, capturing the man as he moved back and forth, dousing the roof with water. I was eighty feet away, but I could still feel the heat as the building cooked.
Mesmerized by what looked like a wasted effort on the man’s part, his hose spraying out little attack towards the ferocity of the fire, I was unnerved by the sound of something whizzing past my ear. I heard the air split wide open as the hissing of a bullet passed by, followed by the sharp cracks of gunshots. I reacted automatically, panning the camera over to where the sounds were originating from when another shot was fired. Shouting began and a car peeled out onto the street below me. I had no idea if I was the target but I managed to get it on tape. I continued shooting film throughout the night, and it was only when I was filming a mass arrest of looters at a Von grocery store that a voice from behind me reminded me of my vulnerability.
‘You better watch out, cameraman.’
I paused. I didn’t want to press my luck so I packed up and drove to CBS Television City in the Fairfax District and licensed my footage to CBS news. The Oldsmobile, I returned without any damage.
April 30, 1992: President George W. Bush announced that he’d ordered the Department of Justice to investigate the possibility of filing charges against the LAPD officers, for violating the federal civil rights of Rodney King.
August 4, 1992: A federal grand jury returned indictments against Sergeant Stacey Koon and Officer Laurence Powell, both guilty of violating Rodney King’s constitutional rights, with an additional count against Sergeant Koon of willfully permitting the other officers to beat King.
Nearly six months later, on February 25 1993, the trial began in the courtroom of Judge Davies, on the charge of violating the civil rights of Rodney King.
April Fools Day, 1993: Expecting that history would most likely repeat itself, all local, national and international news outlets were gearing up to cover L.A.’s reaction to the verdict. I had been inundated by phone calls from news organizations to cover the event from the end of March. The booking I took was with the A.D. Production Company, the producers of the American Detective show that aired on ABC Network. I was on and off the phone throughout the morning with Mark, who’d produced the riot segment for American Detective.
‘Dave? This is Mark. We’re expecting a verdict soon on the King beating. If the cops are found not guilty there’ll be another riot. If they’re found guilty there may still be a riot. What’s your standby rate if a riot doesn’t happen right away? And do you have a gyro-zoom lens for the helicopter shots?’
Even though we’ve worked together for years, the business of booking has to be clear with very little negotiation; it is pay or play. For my services and for my camera, lighting package and audio gear, it runs to seven hundred dollars a day.
‘Well, Mark,’ I explained, ‘I’ll hold off until another job comes down. There’s no standby rate on my camera package, and yes, I have a gyro-zoom lens.”
There was a pause from Mark. I could hear talking in the background; I must have been on speakerphone.
Mark returned to our conversation. ‘Okay, okay. You’ll be positioned in the Special Enforcement Bureau command center of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, in south-central L.A. You’ve also been given clearance to ride along in their helicopter.’
In my experience, I’ve always found it best not to get too excited about a standby gig, since most inevitably go away on the same day the production companies hire you. This led to the question: ‘Do you want me to ink the date in my diary or shall I use pencil?’
Mark replied, ‘Pencil. By the way, we’ve also hired you a bodyguard for if we reassign you to the streets. If that’s the case, your bodyguard is on the SWAT team of the San Jose Police Department. Oh, and do you have a sun gun light for your camera?’ Mark asked.
Taking notes, I replied, ‘It’s been my experience that a light on a camera makes for a good target.’
‘Oh, good thinking. Okay, we’ll see you on the 12th of April, Monday morning, at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Commerce. We’ll also rent a bulletproof car, if we reassign you.’
‘How much is that going to cost you?’ I said.
‘A thousand dollars a day.’
I wasn’t surprised – you can rent anything in Hollywood. I called Bexel, the largest vendor of broadcast equipment in the country, to sublease some extra wireless microphones, a gyro-zoom lens and a wide-angle adaptor. I got hold of my friend, John Badovinac, who handled my rental account. ‘JB, this is Dave. Do you have…’ Before I could finish my sentence, John interrupted me.
‘Sorry, Dave, CBS has ten cameras and two gyro-zoom lenses and ABC has just rented what was left on the shelves.’
‘What? This is crazy. This is really crazy!’
‘We’ve rented out everything that has a lens. The networks and local stations are treating this trial as if it was the ‘84 Olympics.’
April 16, 1993: The federal jury convicted Koon and Powell on one charge of violating King’s civil rights. Sergeant Koon and Officer Powell received two and half years in prison. Officer Tony Briseno and Timothy Wind were found not guilty.
April 17, 1993: It was Saturday, 2:30 a.m. I was fully clothed and laid in bed, watching the re-edited version of Dune on television. I munched on another peanut butter Girl Scout cookie and sipped black coffee that was loaded with tons of sugar. I was in a hotel room at the Wyndham Garden Hotel, along with off-duty San Jose detectives and one ex-navy Seal, all of whom had been hired and assigned to me as bodyguards. They were armed to the teeth; the Seal was to drive our rented bulletproof Crown Victoria. Our team had been issued with flak jackets, Kevlar helmets, pepper spray and Israeli gas masks. Ironically, the instructions for the gas masks were in Hebrew which none of us could read.
Though I wasn’t upfront and close to the L.A. riots of 1992, I now had an official backstage pass to the ‘L.A Riots -1993 Tour’.
The decision was made to embed me within the Special Enforcements Bureau instead of a helicopter, in a platoon made up of thirty-six deputy sheriffs. We were to travel in sixteen marked patrol cars and one armored hostage rescue vehicle.
3:15 a.m.: The call came in to prep the gear, check out and travel to a new location. Dammit! Dune isn’t over and I’m going to miss the best part – where the giant sandworms appear to destroy the Harvesters mining on planet Arrakis!
In the hotel lobby I was informed that the production company had had second thoughts; they felt that the thousand-dollar-a-day bulletproof car was too expensive. They didn’t want to be held responsible for any ‘unnecessary’ damage. It looked like I was going to be riding in a deputy sheriff’s patrol car.
8:25 a.m.: We rendezvoused with several other platoons made up of uniformed deputies, in what appeared to be an abandoned hotel parking lot. I looked around the place: I saw some of the deputies relaxing in their vehicles while others paced outside nervously. No one was going to tell me how to behave or exactly what to expect. It was at that moment, as I distracted myself from such thoughts with a fruitless search for coffee, that I heard the verdict and sentencing of the defendants in the second Rodney King trial.
Several of the patrol cars had their trunks open with portable radios tuned to the KFWB news radio. The newscaster’s flat voice echoed across the parking lot, along with news of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a nuclear accident in Russia, a fire-fight with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, and a nifty review of Billy Crystal’s hosting of the 65th Academy Awards.
9:20 a.m.: The platoon relocated to a substation at the City Hall Complex in Lynwood.
11:25 a.m.: This was our first sit-down meal in two days. I was sitting in a plastic molded chair and table that had both been bolted to the floor. This was Angelo’s Burgers, a small fast-food joint at the corner of Imperial Highway and Atlantic Boulevard in Lynwood, California. As I ate my breakfast bean burrito and drank my second cup of coffee, I notice a handmade cardboard sign that had been written on with a magic marker resting on the counter where you placed your order. ‘Falling Down, with Michael Douglas, was filmed here on May 12th, 1992.’
It was at Angelo’s that Michael Douglas’ beleaguered character terrorized a fast-food chain called ‘Whammy Burgers’. I remembered his almost understandable motive for going berserk – the menu had progressed to lunch, and all he wanted was a little breakfast. In short, the movie was about a man in L.A. who went bonkers, so it was ironic that we were in Angelo’s with deputy sheriffs, having breakfast, whilst waiting for a city to go bonkers.
2:15 p.m.: Despite the announcement of the court’s verdict, this wasn’t what saw us race, at top speed, from Lynwood to an amusement park north of Los Angeles. A thousand tickets had oversold at a scheduled rap concert. Not surprisingly, some of the fans were upset and, out of frustration, had shattered the windows of restaurants across the street from the amusement park’s entrance.
4:35 p.m.: Boredom started to kick in. The deputies, our crew and assorted bodyguards were in a holding pattern at the upper entrance to the park. Everyone was hungry. With my supply of Balance bars and gum gone, all I had left was a bag full of Atomic Fireball jawbreakers, which I promptly started to throw at the deputies and production crew, shouting, ‘I’m coming!’
The production company eventually decided to get McDonald’s quarter-pounders for everyone. Halfway through the order, McDonald’s ran out of burgers, so most of the crew and the seventy-plus deputies ended up with Happy Meals. The Happy Meals came in red cartons and inside each was a toy action figure from Batman. A trade-off began between Batman, the Joker and Two Face, though it was Catwoman in her fitted gray costume that proved to be the most coveted.
7:46 p.m.: The sun set. I grabbed the Betacam and my Nikon camera and tagged along with a squad of seven deputies. We took in the sights and sounds of the park and I wondered to myself if we were going to stop long enough to get a corn dog. Occasionally, families and kids, looking for a way out of the park, stopped us and asked for directions. No one in our group was familiar enough with the park so we weren’t much help.
We’d not been in the park longer than fifteen or twenty minutes when there was a distinct change in the atmosphere. Instinctively, I hoisted the Betacam on my shoulder and removed the lens cap from my Nikon.
There was a lull in the night’s sounds. The normal carnival atmosphere had diminished; where laughter and the excited screams of kids on wild rides had filled the air just minutes ago, there was now just a low hum and relative silence. Something was happening. All of a sudden, there was a new sound – a differently pitched scream travelling through the air. It was a disconcerted screech that built in intensity, continuing until all the laughter had been swallowed. A swelling of emotion rose from my stomach, settling into my chest and heart.
Time seemed to shift then split, both streams working simultaneously. Different scenarios presented themselves in slow motion, while craziness was kicking off in the background in ‘quick time’. I was rolling tape and filming with the camera on my right shoulder while shooting stills using my left hand.
Like locusts swarming upon a field of grain, kids and families poured out of nowhere and surrounded us. The deputies reacted quickly, creating a circle in the middle of a concrete walkway. If you’d have looked down from overhead, you would’ve seen a circle of tan helmets surrounded by a sea of bodies with a sergeant in the middle trying to hear the two-way radio above the noise. One of my eyes was glued to the Nikon’s viewfinder when the camera’s motor drive whined with a ‘click-click-click-click-click’. Framed faces held expressions of dread, concern and confusion as the volume of pandemonium rose to an even higher decibel.
Somewhere in the park ahead of us panic struck like a flash of lightning. We caught the first swell of people seeking safety: a stampede of hundreds barreled right at us. What the crowd needed was a concrete wall, five-feet thick; we were but a mere fence of eight people. The crying, shouting and screaming escalated again. In the distance, ‘snaps’ could be heard. More screams from the stampede.
A deputy shouted, ‘Was that gunfire? WAS THAT GUNFIRE?!’
The mob receded a little, confusion filling the void. The milling crowd looked set to disperse; again, gunshots or firecrackers were heard somewhere in the park. A tidal wave of families, in sheer panic, descended upon us.
Unlike the 1992 riots, what was happening had an element of vulnerability from the families caught in the middle of a total breakdown of civil order. A group of teenage boys and girls ran up to us, screaming that one of the park’s security guys was getting beaten up behind us. We turned but couldn’t see anything other than a wall of bodies a hundred yards deep.
More deputies arrived from nowhere and we made our way across a sea of glass shards, white plastic coat hangers, price tags and paper images of cartoon characters. I filmed the sheriff’s helicopter as it flew overhead, its powerful spotlight shining down on the confused throng, creating massive shadows from the tree limbs and scaffolding which slowly crawled over the entire area like a black web. Looking through the black and white viewfinder the shadow looked ominous – almost alive.
As we passed a restaurant, I noticed that the doors were cracked. I stopped to peer into the darkness. In the foreground were the legs of chairs, tables and serving trays stacked on top of each other. Beyond the barrier a young man, dressed in his chef’s hat and whites, stared at me with a dazed, anxious look. I rested the Betacam on the ground and wedged my Nikon lens between the doors, snapping off a couple of shots. I could only assume that he’d chosen to stand sentry, protecting his co-workers and guests with a fire extinguisher as the world beyond the restaurant door suffered a momentary lapse of sanity.
The park was now quieter as the deputies prodded the visitors, containing them in the main entrance. I passed a long line of kids at a pay phone trying to call their parents to come and get them. Nearby, I saw a marble statue of a rabbit on horseback waving goodbye to its guests.
April 19, 1993: I read that morning in the L.A. Times that the park reopened on Sunday to an enthusiastic spring break crowd as law enforcement officials, park managers and a music promoter tried to pinpoint blame for the melee that damaged both the park and its reputation as a place for family entertainment. An all-night repair job replaced broken windows and a restock of looted merchandise was completed in time for Sunday’s 10 a.m. opening.
I later learned that the ‘confused mass of people’ cost the park an estimated two million dollars in damages. Forty people were evacuated as an emergency, and it took 450 deputies to move 40,000 people out of the park.
Urban legend has it that a body was found underneath the Viper rollercoaster ride four days after the riot.
During the comedown, in showbiz news, there was a big buzz around the release of Steven Spielberg’s film, Jurassic Park, about a team of genetic engineers who created an amusement park full of cloned dinosaurs before all hell broke out. Sometimes, science fiction can be a little too realistic.
Within days I picked up an assignment to the Middle East. As sad as it sounds, I was well prepared.
June 17, 2012: Rodney King, the man at the center of the infamous Los Angeles riots, was found dead in his home in San Bernardino, California. He was forty-seven. According to media reports, King’s fiancée, Cynthia Kelly, found him dead at the bottom of a swimming pool. King recently marked the twentieth anniversary of the riots. Mr. King, whose life was a roller coaster of drug and alcohol abuse, multiple arrests and unwanted celebrity, pleaded for calm during the 1992 riots, in which more than 55 people were killed, 600 buildings were destroyed and the city suffered $1 billion dollars worth of damage.
August, 23, 2012: The autopsy findings by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Coroner Division: The effects of the drugs and alcohol, combined with the subject’s heart condition, probably precipitated a cardiac arrhythmia, and the subject, thus incapacitated, was unable to save himself and drowned. There’s nothing in the history or autopsy examination to suggest suicide or homicide, and the manner of death is therefore judged to be an accident.
“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we all get along? Please….we can get along here.”
– Mr. Rodney King, May 1, 1992
Afghanistan: Kabul, Kandahar, and Bagram.
Australia: Sydney, Cairns, Mareeba, Atherton, Gordonvale, Undara, Chillagoe, Mt. Bartle Frere, and Queensland Outback.
Egypt: Saqqare, Giza, Red Sea, The Nile River, Cairo, Valley of Kings, Hatshepsut, Abu Simbel, Armant, Aswan, Luxor, White Desert, Thebes, Safaga, Marsa al Alam, Karnak, Al Harrah and Baharia Oasis
Fiji: Suva and Koro Island
France: Paris, Le Mans, Nice, Cannes, Toulon, Marseille, Toulouse, Montpellier and Corsica
Greece: Athens, Thessalonique and Island of Patmos.
Israel: Jerusalem, Golan Heights, Ramallah, Bethany, Jericho, Temple Mount, Nazareth, Gethsemane, Kasr el Yahud, Allenby Bridge, Caphernaum, Sepphoris, West Wall Tunnels and Judea.
Italy: Rome, Naples, Florence, Solerno and Island of Ischia.
Jordan, Mount Nebo, Tell Mar Elias, Mukawer and Amman Citadel.
Morocco: Quarzazate, Sahara Desert, Oued Amsailikh, Tagounite and Atlas Mountains.
Mexico: Chihuahua, Sierra Madre Occidental and Barrancas Del Cobre
New Zealand: North Island, South Island, Southern Alps, Mt. Cockayne, Lake Catherine, Lake Coleridge, Black Hill, Glenfalloch, Potts River. Mt. Peel, Forest Creek and Lake Tekapo.
Russia: Moscow, Murmansk, Severmorsk and Barrents Sea Artic Circle.
Scotland: Edinburgh, Inverness, Orkney Islands, St. Andrews Highlands.
Turkey: Istanbul, Van, Doğubayazıt, Tabriz, and Erzurum.
Maybe it’s that I have time. Time to explore digital art using original images from my own personal “B roll” while on assignment for others. After all I did go to art school (which I never finished) but photography stole my heart and I left the brushes, charcoal and blank canvases behind. I have been lucky to sell a few pieces of work, but that not why I do it. It’s sort of wizardry moving from my analog days to the computer screen. Scanning old slides and listening to music while lost in my own mind and letting go of what art is suppose to be.
Joy! That’s what I find in pursuing my art and reconnecting to myself and others. I also find joy when friends ask me to illustrate the life of a loved one who has passed or when an illustration creates awareness of societies forgotten souls. So, I guess you could say that regardless of what medium of art you practice, it represents not the outward appearance of an artist but the inward essences of our humanity.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is one of my all time favorite movies. The story is about photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) who is recuperating from a broken leg during a sweltering New York summer. As a successful photographer, he’s known for taking difficult pictures no one else can get, including the one of an out-of-control race car which smashed his camera and broke his leg an instant after it was snapped. Jeffries lives in a small apartment, and spends his time looking out the rear window into the courtyard of the building; he can also see into the lives of all his neighbors, catching glimpses of their daily routines. It’s the sort of thing only an invalid might do, watching them eat, clean, sleep and argue. There’s the girl who exercises in her underwear (Georgine Darcy), the married couple (Sara Berner and Frank Cady) who sleep on their small balcony to beat the heat, the struggling songwriter working at his piano (Ross Bagdasarian); and there’s the salesman who lives across the courtyard from Jeffries, the one with the nagging bedridden wife. They seem to fight all too often.
Like archeologist digging into the earth and discovering ancient artifacts I will pause the DVD so I can check out L.B’s camera gear and admire the work of cinematographer Robert Burks . For any photographer, no matter what you market this movie is fun and beautifully filmed.
Filmmaker Jeff Desom has created a brilliant and beautiful homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” . By editing a panoramic time-lapse video of the courtyard through the lens of Jeff Jeffries. Mr. Desom definitely captures the spirit and the subtext of “Rear Window” by observing the lives of others – which is what we photographers do best. Link to Jeff Desom’s time-lapse of “Rear Window” video: http://youtu.be/4vHRw9XiFMI Also, check out Mr. Desom website, very creative. http://www.jeffdesom.com/
1954 Rear Window Movie Trailer Link: http://youtu.be/6kCcZCMYw38
Good Morning President Biden,
With the lack to fight for Democracy here in America as 14 states have enacted 22 laws that restrict voting access making it more difficult for Americans to vote. Why would I think, that America would stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine in its fight for Democracy. America has become a weak bystander. The prestige and integrity America once stood for has faded with time. Not to be a downer Mr. President, but your weakness for swift actions to stop restricted voting rights here in America and to employ US with Nato military action for Ukraine is only encouraging Putin to expand his oligarchy reach. Both political parties and corporate interest are to blame for the downfall for what we Once Stood For.
Former KGB Putin only understands one thing, and one thing only. Dominance by assassination and slaughter. God save American Democracy and God save Democracy in Ukraine.
Les McCann first gained some fame in 1956 when he won a talent contest in the Navy as a singer that resulted in an appearance on television on The Ed Sullivan Show . McCann reached the peak of his career in 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival, recording “Compared to What” with saxophonist Eddie Harris. After the success of Swiss Movement album, McCann — primarily a piano player — began to emphasize his rough-hewn vocals more. He became an innovator in the soul jazz style, merging jazz with funk, soul and world rhythms. He was also among the first jazz musicians to include electric piano, clavinet, and synthesizer in his music. In 1971 McCann and Harris were part of a touring group of soul, R&B, and rock performers which included Wilson Pickett,The Staple Singers, Santan and Ike & Tina Turner. McCann is also credited in discovering Roberta Flack and obtained an audition which resulted in a recording contract for Ms. Flack with Atlantic Records.
In the mid 90’s McCann suffered a stroke that weakened his keyboard playing but his powerful singing kept him on the road. McCann’s comeback was solidified in 2002’s with “Pump It Up” a guest-heavy celebration of funk and jazz released on ESC Records. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Swiss Movement album, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson brought veteran McCann and a young trio of musicians to the KC Jazz Club for Swiss Movement Revisited.
Jackson is used to working with legends he cut his musical teeth with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the 1980s. He went on to record with such greats as the late Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Cedar Walton and Stanley Turrentine. Jackson leads his own group, and his latest release (Once Upon a Melody) hit No. 1 on the jazz radio charts.
In a 2009 Kennedy Center performance the interaction between Jackson, his young talented musicians and the old lion at the keyboard, Les McCann, reminded the audience that the old lion can still roar with heart.
It came about as an auditory hallucination while editing the video clip, Incarceration. The soundtrack revealed itself with a slow steady beat with long sweeping notes that were reluctant to fade away and lingered in my mind like an earworm. After writing the chapter, Beirut L.A., this enigmatic guitar came to mind creating a haunting atmosphere that actually seems to push the video along and integrated perfectly with the imagery on the screen. What was this song that played over and over as I edited the footage of the 1992 L.A. riots? After completing a rough edit of Incarceration the real work of finding that song began. Rummaging through my iTunes library I nearly gave up when I recalled a photo shoot for the heavy metal band Goad-ed. That is where I met guitarist Tracy G. A veteran of life on the road as the lead guitarist for Ronnie James Dio back in the 90’s. Tracy accompanied Dio on three world tours and to his credit, survived the life of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll A product of East L.A. his passion in music is his way of expressing himself when his confidence in words fail him. A man of good heart, his life experiences has given him insight to his soul that only hard times can dictate. In spite of Tracy G’s heavy metal credentials his soulful song “Lamborghini Blues” swept me away the first time I heard it and was the perfect soundtrack to Incarceration.
I had decided early on to edit Incarceration as a music video knowing that the emotional experience would be greatly enhanced without a scripted voice-over since I had already set the stage in the chapter. I needed the music to narrate what it was like to travel the streets of L.A. as it burned. Once I laid Tracy’s song “Lamborghini Blues” to the video and played it back I knew that I had made the right choice. By reading Beirut L.A. and watching Incarceration, I hope that you find yourself in the carseat next to me as we travel the streets of L.A.
A special thanks to Tracy G for his permission in using Lamborghini Blues for the video. Lamborghini Blues is featured on Tracy G’s “Erector Pili” CD. Artists: Tracy G on guitar, Mychal Lotz on keyboard, Jeremy Masana on bass, and Ray Luzier on drums. Link to Tracy G : www.tracyg.com .
Journal Excerpt: On Location/Sahara Desert
I was attacked by a camel today. I was knocked down from behind while shooting Tuareg nomads who were riding camels against a “Lawrence of Arabia” backdrop. All I remember was a loud belch, the tripod and camera falling to earth and a giant camel toe next to my head as I laid on the ground. My scalp and shirt was wet but it was not blood but camel saliva that was as thick as jello . After dusting myself off and getting back to work I detected an odd smell of coffee grounds mixed with asparagus emanating from my hair and stained shirt. Later tonight I plan to stand in the shower with my clothes on and free myself from camel drool and Sahara sand. My clothes will be dry by morning.
Last shot of the day and a welcome relief from the desert heat. If all goes well this will be the money shot – but most of the time it is just plain luck and being in the right place to capture a good image.
The Parting Shot
Journal Entry: March 30, 1999 / Marathon des Sable / Morocco / Sahara Desert.
“This is our fourth day of covering the Marathon des Sable; so far we’ve managed to lose our way, we’ve been blasted by a sand storm, we’ve run out of toilet paper and are now surviving on granola bars, turkey jerky and hot bottles of Coca-Cola. I have no idea how many miles we have traveled or how many times we’ve managed to get stuck in the sand. My driver, Nouh, speaks no English and smokes three packets of Marlboro Lights a day. He’s also fond of breaking wind each time he exits the Land Cruiser.
What I can tell you, should you not already know, is that the Marathon des Sable is a stage race that lasts 7 days and covers 243km/151 miles. To make things even more difficult, each competitor has to carry everything they may need for the duration of the race (apart from their tent) on their backs in a rucksack – their food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag, etc. In addition, runners’ water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint.
The backdrop to this event is the Sahara Desert. Not only is the Sahara the largest desert on earth, covering an area of 3.5 million square miles, (which amounts to 8% of our planet’s surface area), it stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the west across half of Northern Africa, to the Red Sea. It then extends down to the highlands of Ethiopia with temperatures recorded as high 40° +Celsius / 120° + Fahrenheit. The Sahara is a great leveller, making all men equal regardless of their station in life. So, when you come across another soul within this vast arena of sand, you stop, share, and remind yourself that here, we are all brothers.
Depending on whom you ask, the estimated population of the Sahara Desert varies from 2.5 million to 4 million people – so you would think finding a singing rabbit would be easy. Oh contraire.
The singing rabbit is competitor Derek McCarrick of the UK. Mr. McCarrick has been running marathons for Leukemia and Breast Cancer Research for the past 20 years and is still going strong at the age of 73. Mr. McCarrick has personally raised a staggering £200,000 ($ 319,920.00) for charity, an achievement which is all the more impressive as he has completed each race dressed as the cartoon character, Roger Rabbit!
Eureka! On the horizon we spot a lone figure of a man with the head of Roger Rabbit tied to his backpack.
‘I’m the only rabbit in the world that’s run across the Sahara,’ Mr. McCarrick once told me. He also added, ‘People think I’m bonkers!’ In 2008, this former coal miner was awarded the MBE (Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. For those who are not British, an MBE award is one of the highest distinctions that can be gained by a British citizen. Not bad for a chap from Minster on the Isle of Sheppey.”
I believe that I am trapped in the thoughts of a writer with no say or way out, I’m terrified that at the end of the last chapter I will no longer exist. I can only hope that the author has a strong vocabulary and a bigger imagination to let me have a happy ending. This is my sentence, where I live life on the pages of white. The author writes words without risk as I am forced to walk his narrative day in and day out, but I forgive the author. I’m not sure if my story is being revealed to him or even if he has the final say. I can only hope that maybe, just maybe the author will let me know my fate. Am I fiction or non-fiction, I just don’t know.
“Which of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
and the clowns have all gone to bed,
you can hear happiness staggering on down the street,
footprints dress in red.
And the wind whispers Mary.
I don’t buy prints from fellow photographers, but while reading the Huffington Post I came across this article titled; Photo Series Captures The ‘Beauty In Every Line’ On The Faces Of LA’s Homeless. There is no better way to describe my reaction to those images then to say “Impact”. I stopped and gave my full attention to this photographic essay of black and white images named “The Elders”. Photographer and artist Aimee Boschet had captured the humanity and dignity of homeless people in America. I didn’t just look at Aimee’s work, I studied it, and absorbed every face. When I came across image number ten of an elderly black man in a straw hat I was gobsmacked.
33% to 50% are female. Men make up about 75% of the single population.
About 42% to 77% do not receive public benefits to which they are entitled.
20% to 43% are in families, typically headed by a single mother.
An estimated 20% are physically disabled.
41% of adults were employed within last year.
16% to 20% of adults are employed.
About 25% are mentally ill.
As children, 27% lived in foster care or group homes; 25% were physically or sexually abused
Since 1977 I have celebrate my birthday by going to Pink’s Hot Dogs on La Brea Ave. in Hollywood, California. Woo, doggie! There I delve into my culinary delight of chili, onions, mustard, shredded cheese, one mystery meat hot dog, a steam heated bun, icy root beer, onion rings, french fries with ketchup, and a free chocolate cake. Happy Birthday to me at 73 years old. I made it this far in spite of the odds and speaking of the odds. What are the odds of my parents meeting, finding each other attractive and enjoying each other’s company, and continuing to stay together and having a child is 1 in 2,000. The chances of me being conceived to become who I am are (that is, that one particular egg meeting that single sperm; nice imagery for you there) is 1 in 4 quadrillion. The odds of my lineage remaining unbroken long enough to create me: 1 in 10[45,000]. That’s my incredibly unclear way of writing 10 with 45,000 zeros after it, so I don’t fill up this entire page with 0’s. This means that every single one of my Scottish ancestors and that one percent Nigerian also had to be conceived to become exactly who they were, so that scales the chance of existing down to 1 in 10[2,640, 000]. When I calculate all of these possibilities and chances, the chances of you or me existing are basically a big fat zero. Happy Birthday to all who have beaten the odds.
“Sitting here in La, La, Land I can see how you would believe that a gluten free diet and drinking green veggie smoothes is the answer to all your worldly woes. It’s a lie sweetheart, what really works in this world is a pack of Marlboro red, a cup of coffee and a buttermilk donut. Listen sunshine, there is no guarantees in life, this is it, this is all you get. Honey, you and I are living in a temporary parking lot between Nativity Lane and Sunset Boulevard.”
On January 28th I will be 73 years old and waiting with great anticipation to a happy spiritual ending when it’s my time to surf the celestial heavens. Unlike a quart of yogurt we just don’t know our expiration date. However I know exactly what is going to happen before I reach Nirvana; bed sores, bone fractured, bacterial infections, fluid in my lungs, incontinence, vomiting, dehydration, cracked lips, dry mouth, impotence, pneumonia, isolation, and a sensation of being strangled at the end with a final drip of morphine that’s what is going to happen. O’joy the pain of rebirth into the consciousness of the universe.
So, in the meantime, I spend a lot of time reflecting on past mistakes or is it “cognitive distortions.”
It’s accumulation of what if’s, could have’s, should have, shouldn’t have. I’m shouldn’t all over myself.
Only on occasion I think of my accomplishment to balance out the weighty remorse. But, I embrace my past shortcomings and the ones to come. After all, isn’t that why we are here in this life to learn?
George Harrison put it best, “People have to have a desire within themselves to know who they are and the reason why they are in this body.It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past, and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it, and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.
At the time of writing a blog entry on March 19, 2021, Holy Jeans. I didn’t realize I was actually writing about my soul and it’s vessel, my body.
Unapologetically, I publicly announce my love to my wearer….Dave. We are hard-wearing and tightly weaved in this life. Pay no attention to the transcending of receding cotton threads, or the lack of blue contours that have lost their constitutional condition. So don’t abandon me now Dave, for I too have toiled with you my friend. We have been down many roads and have collected many rips, bruises, soil and stains. Our souls are made of denim, I am your faithful indigo friend.
Thanks for Reading.
“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
― Jack London
It has the longest night of the year,
but it marks the beginning
of brighter days ahead.
May the Winter Solstice bring you a new season
filled with everything bright, beautiful and perfect waves.
There is a great stillness in the sand and her sights and sounds are tastefully presented in an easy tempo to our senses. Long endless miles of sand dunes and scorching heat, this is the image one has in mind when one thinks of the Sahara.With the reputation for the hottest place on earth, temperatures can reaching up to 57.7 degree Celsius (135.8 degree F). Which makes working conditions uncomfortable and first degree buns common. I relished in shooting midday, capturing waves of heat rising from the scorching sand and apparitions of lakes beyond our reach. My camera would get so hot to the touch I’d soak my keffiyeh with water and wrap it around the camera to keep it cool. I learn to do this when I first came to the Sahara and rested my cheek on the side of the camera while looking through the viewfinder. My face burned with such intensity that for a couple of days I had one large red rosy cheek. From that first experience I learned to have long sleeve shirts, long pants, a hat and a keffiyeh in my kit.
Our bodies are about two thirds water and when we get dehydrated, it means that amount of water in our body has dropped below the level needed for normal body function. What is uncanny, is that it’s so hot sweat will evaporates before leaving a wet stain on clothing so drinking water at interval (even if you don’t feel thirty) is essential. Drinking to much water will washes away the electrolytes which is why I carry powder electrolyte supplements in my pack. In spite of all the discomfort the Sahara desert is my favorite place to work. The Sahara’s is one place on earth where all men become brothers to survive her embrace.
A silence so great that I can hear the earth breathing, I have found my Atlantis.
Here’s how it works. When heaven and purgatory collide over the Great Basin of California and Nevada, the upper atmospheric pressure is so great that cold air begins to sink violently downslope compressing with the warm air. The temperature rises, the relative humidity drops and birth is given to the Santa Ana winds. As the Santa Ana exhales across the barren land an invisible assault of unpredictable chaos ensues. Beneath a sun splash sky the searing dry winds descent upon the Southland. It is the “Season of Suicide’ as the onrush is channeled through the passes and canyons that surround the City of Angels. Descending pass the sage, red willows and prickly pear the veiled breath of the devil sears the stems, exposed roots and unfolding blooms. Parched ravines become arteries of frenetic winds fraught with sweltering heat and are escorted with manic depression and bizarre behavior to the lost souls below. The mind-altering impact on some unwitting citizens can be explained away with the alibi, “the devil made me do it”.
The winds create turbulence manifesting vertical wind shear, which litters the sky with plastic grocery bags, splintered Styrofoam and showering pieces of debris. The decibels intensifies mixing the wailing of the protagonist with the sounds of dismembered trees and wind gust that sound as if vast swarms of locust have arrived. A spark spawns Dante’s purgatory in paradise; sirens resonate across the Southland as the atmosphere is flushed with crimson and ash. The vast canvas of the Southland is painted with a dry brush of heat, valley fever and paranoia as the Santa Ana takes to the red carpet in the city of Angels.
The hot easterly wind is properly and historically called: SANTANA, not Santa Ana! Sailors have a phrase, “Beware the devil wind Santana.” Refer to two years before The Mast, published in 1840, by Richard Henry Dana Jr. The original spelling of the of name of the winds is unclear, not to mention the origin. Although the winds have been commonly called Santa Ana Winds or Santa Anas, many argue that the original name is Santana Winds or Santanas. Both versions of the name have been used. The name Santana Winds is said to be traced to Spanish California when the winds were called Devil Winds due to their heat.The origin of Santa Ana Winds with an Associated Press correspondent stationed in Santa Ana who mistakenly began using Santa Ana Winds instead of Santana Winds in a 1901 dispatch. Be safe out there my friends.
Excerpt from Cue The Camels, Chapter Eight, Dog Biscuit and Noah’s Ark
We waited another half an hour after the Turkish patrol had disappeared out of sight before we hauled ass off the apron of Mt. Ararat and on to flat ground. My knees were shot and my feet were thrashed. We crossed numerous gullies, sliding down their drops then trudging back up their inclines, which rapidly depleted our remaining energy reserves.
Stumbling forward, my boots scraped against the rolling rocks as I repeatedly stabbed with the ski poles for an opening between the rocks to right myself. The flare must have burned out because it became dark again. I faltered a number of times but kept an eye on my fellow climbers Cronuck and Stublich and watched them move at a steady pace towards the faint yellow and white lights of Doğubayazıt on the horizon – which I affectionately call Dog Biscuit
My feet felt warm and soggy which was a sure sign of blood.
It was at this point – stemming from many things, such as dehydration and sheer exhaustion – that I fell into mild delirium and David Byrnes of Talking Heads became my chaperones.
‘And you may find yourself in another part of the world. And you may ask yourself: well, how did I get here?’
‘You know, David, you’re holding me hostage with that broken record. I mean, I can appreciate your words but after a while it gets a little old. Know what I mean?’
I didn’t get a straight answer from David; instead, he gave me his advice. ‘The sound of gunfire, off in the distance, I’m getting used to it now…’
At that moment, a second flare burst in the night sky. It was a couple of seconds later that we heard the low boom of the flare gun, which meant there was a good distance between us and the Turkish military. I made it to the edge of the stone field; Cornuke and Stublich stopped long enough to ask me if I was okay. My lips were cracked, my tongue was swollen and all my saliva had evaporated. I could only answer with a nod and a whisper: ‘I’m okay.’
Ahead, I could hear Dick slapping the iridium satellite phone repeatedly, trying to get enough charge out of the dead battery to make a call to Micah, our Kurdish fixer, so that he could meet us at the predetermined rendezvous point.
George grumbled. ‘This is fucking stupid. Let’s go to the main highway and catch a ride to town.’
Dick stopped smacking the sat-phone and directed all his attention towards George. ‘Shut the fuck up, George. The Turkish military use that road all the time. What do you think they’ll assume if they come across us on that highway with all our gear?’
George didn’t listen and relentlessly argued his point as the sound of the dogs’ howls grew louder. There was a gunshot in the distance followed by the hiss of another parachute flare. That was all the motivation we needed; the five of us turned and hauled ourselves across the plain. David followed nearby. ‘We make a pretty good team. Don’t get exhausted; I’ll do some driving. You ought to get some sleep.’
‘You know, David, it must be Mercury in retrograde with all the hurdles we’ve had to clear,’ I muttered.
There was no response.
We’d been tramping about in the darkness for hours and we were spent, physically and emotionally. We walked on autopilot, using the light of Dog Biscuit as our beacon.
‘You know, David, I could’ve stayed in L.A. picking up work shooting a mindless sitcom and watching a celebrity with two soft, protruding organs give us the local weather report. I could have, but I wouldn’t have had this wonderful field trip to remember. Know what I mean?’
David paused then caught up with me. ‘You may ask yourself: well, how did I get here? You may ask yourself: where does that highway lead to? You may ask yourself: am I right; am I wrong? You may say to yourself: my God, what have I done?’
Rummaging through some old stuff, I found the opening to an old show of mine, Through The Lens of Adventure. Ahhhh……50 seconds of memories.
“I just really want to tell you right now Enzo, that it is extremely plausible that you have created your own world and the illusion is that you are a neurotic mess because your mother was a neurotic mess. You think to much and feel to little, now go home and eat some prosciutto, drink some vino and take a nap.”