Another year I might have been at the famous – world famous – Village (NYC) Halloween parade. It’s for grown-ups as in it is humorous and elaborate and pretty R rated. Political satire and recent events are the inspiration. You’d have had a ton of Hillary Trump satire. Really!? Nope, this is family and for kids. It’s not NYC. The folks are friendly and not particularly fiendish. Go for cute. It’s called the Sea Witch festival and it brings in a ton of revenue to the local economy. The parade is big enough to attract live TV coverage. A helicopter hovered overhead. It was commercialized with every local radio station parading in vans with logos plastered along the sides. Yes, local business is supportive and heavily represented. In the end it’s about the kids. Right?
The Little Pie Company makes a SCAW – sour cream apple walnut pie for which the recipe is intentionally left out of their cookbook. It is their signature pie. The apples are sliced, not wedged. The topping is brown sugar and walnuts in a thick layer of decadence. I’ve imagined this pie. And since I moved from NYC, it has seemingly been a pursuit to reproduce the recipe. We went apple picking. There was no better time to recreate the recipe. We looked in several places and settled upon the Silver Palate recipe. It utilized sour cream. The topping is described as a streusel. Our recipe tasted exactly as the Little Pie. The topping was too meager. It’s plenty sweet and tastes the same as the Little Pie too. It just needs to be thicker. After all this time, I have reproduced another recipe. Osso bucco was another recipe that turned out to be dead simple to make. Meanwhile, the secret recipe is really not so secret after all.
New York harbor, nighttime, the Staten Island ferry, it’s all for free. Yup, no fare, it’s free. And it goes right by the Statue of Liberty. And you get a nice view of lower Manhattan. You see the new Freedom Tower. For all of this you simply cannot beat the ride. The bonus is the night ride which gives you the lights of the city. It’s pretty special. Just get on the boat.
It’s dawn. I admit I am not up at dawn too much. And wherever you are it’s a plus to get a picture. There was fog on the road over the fields and the early morning glow was worth a shot as well. No time. We were on a mission. So, I settled for an image as we crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Yup, it’s early. Sometimes there’s not enough time to stop. And sometimes you are there at the crossing just as the sun comes up. It’s a one way trip and the time you pass is not really planned. It was fortuitous timing to hit the bridge right at sunrise.
I visited Blackwater Falls again. I’m lazy. I did not bring a tripod for a long exposure to get the water falling in a blur. It’s a nice effect. I shot two images bracing my camera for a long exposure. It wasn’t long enough. But I got motion blur. Then I used Photoshop and cloned the blur onto my sharply focused image. That is about as much patience as I have. As I said, I’m fairly lazy. I like to get it in one shot and I do not care to do a lot of post processing. Hey, it’s natural.
I love the bright lights of the carnival at night. Before digital photography these were very hard shots to get. Now it’s pretty easy. And even for moving objects, you have sufficient speed to stop the action. Ferris wheels are fun. They are assembled on site. I like getting the view.
Each night during Forest Festival they staged a free show at 7PM. Have you ever been to a show where the comedian was laughing at his own jokes? The audience wasn’t – laughing. He wasn’t cursing. He was an ex-cop. And just as you’d expect, cops don’t have much sense of humor. Ever get a ticket(“traffic” – it would have been a crime to buy one for this show)? And he made fun of everything and everyone including his wife. Hey! Move on over Donald. Yes, he was lame. I kept waiting for the second act. The announcer never made a move with the hook. Too bad. Nope. He was it. We walked out. I’m not sorry, except that we stayed too long. Sometimes you are just not that funny. Tag, you’re it!
It’s an annual event in Elkins. There’s a carnival and a parade and a celebration of mountain living. I have not attended in a very long time. I remember it being very cold at that time of year. Nope. Global warming, the leaves are still all green. I don’t remember the rides much. They are $4 a ride now. And there are the ducks. They sit in the water. You turn one over and everyone wins. That was my favorite. I liked to be winner. Nope, I still don’t gamble. And, you gotta love rides that spin your brains.
I walked on the beach. It was a balmy 78 degrees. It’s not what you get in the Red Sea in Jeddah. There, it is 100 and scorching about anytime you stand in the sun. Of course the water is warm and fish are waiting. Not so here, it’s about 70 at its warmest. That is toe dipping water for me. And the beach is typically like the desert. No coral no fish – fish need coral mutually. So, no diving. Surfing is a possibility. For now my dive gear is in storage. I like warm water. I was spoiled by the Red Sea. So I will find other things to photograph. Finally!
Hey! A spider on its web! Big and ugly, did I tell you I don’t like bugs? It was hard to shoot. The darn web was moving in the wind. It was just like underwater where everything is moving too. I’d have tried for better detail but I was not too committed to the shot. After all it’s big and ugly. But, spiders gotta eat too. This web looked functional more than artistic.
Bowden Fish Hatchery. I haven’t been here in a long time. Yes, it’s been decades. I’m surprised it’s still going. They raise trout for release into local streams to stock and replenish. It’s a nice program. People follow the trucks with fishing poles to catch the fish as they are released. I guess trout are good eating too. They grow the fish in large runways filled with juvenile fish. The fish grow until quite large.
As an aside I am the worst fisherman ever. I could drop my hook next to a fish (I have) and fail to catch it. It’s neat to see that some things have not changed from my childhood.
I lived in Elkins, West Virginia more than 50 years ago. Everyone has gone and moved away. The town is so small. I remember it larger. Maybe my legs were shorter. Surprisingly buildings remain and I can remember the people who once lived there.
My third grade school, Elkins First Ward, is now an apartment building. Repurposed and re-tasked, the town has changed so that the number of students has dropped and shifted. The high school nearby is gone too. Third grade to sixth grade. I had a split class in fourth grade. Half were fourth grade students (us) and the other half of the class was fifth grade. We still got educated “good.”
My house – back then – my mom built it. Well, at least she directed the construction. Three bedrooms, we lived there for five years. I lay in the side yard looking up at the clouds and thinking my parents were so old. The summers were endless. Kids in the neighborhood would surround the house and we’d play steal the flag. It’s fifty years later and no tall trees overhang the house. It hasn’t changed too much.
Anne Leyen lived here. She moved to Ohio shortly after I moved back to New York. I tried to reach her. I just wanted to know if she has had a nice life. Her sister eventually replied that Anne does not do reunions and does not do email. Oh boy, I guess she’s older than I thought. Twitter? Her dog Taffy shit in the front yard. We stepped gingerly around her yard.
The Nestors lived here. The youngest daughter painted my brother Eric completely with white house paint. Eric took a bath in turpentine. I can’t imagine it was healthy. The paint eventually came off.
Ricky Solow lived here. He was bigger than me so that put me behind him in the pecking order of kids. Eventually I triumphed – brains over brawn. But the chips you have as a kid you never leave completely behind. We watched Kennedy debate Nixon. I was annoyed because cartoon programming was suspended.
The Trimble house, they lived here a while. It was right across from the school. Colleen invited me to play one day. All I remember is the three speed English racer her brother had in the hallway. Yes, back then it was forward to invite a boy over to play. It’s a nice memory that sat with me more than fifty years. The house changed a lot, but it’s still there. And my memory has mellowed quite a bit too. I rode a Roadmaster Sears one speed. The English racer was so exotic. I ride a Specialized Tricross nowadays. And Colleen remembered that I nearly fell out of the back seat of my father’s car when we were kids. Someone else pulled me back inside and my father drove on without ever checking. No harm, no foul.
I missed the jumping. We wandered into a college competition late. It’s a sport with which I’m unfamiliar. Seriously, there are folks who dress the part and then participate. I’m afraid I’m not sympathetic. Certainly the competitors are serious. I’m struggling to make sense of it myself. Sorry, I suppose there is beauty in training a horse to perform on command. It’s called training and art for the sake of mastery. Oh boy. I’m just poking fun at their expense. Not fair. I was an intruder in a foreign culture. There are purists and elitists out there who will defend the sport. I’m not one. One more pound and you don’t button that last one. Watch out!
Imagine, all these years and I’ve never had any. At this point in life I hardly need a new sin. Kettle corn has not been on my radar. Those in the know recommend it. I’m hooked now. It’s hot and when the popping begins be sure to wear a helmet and gloves for protection. Sugar caramelizes on the bottom of a heated kettle. The coated corn is reminiscent of Cracker Jacks but less cloying. Add a little salt to finish and the product is hard to resist. May I have some more please?
It’s entirely different when you are a patient. Ordinarily I see patients. When I sit in the other chair, suddenly I am not in control. Recently I asked my ophthalmology buddy about a line I was seeing in my right eye visual field. It was on the lens of my eye and moved as I turned my head or my eye. It was stable. It bothered me because it looked like something moving across my field of view. No big deal I had it checked. I got the full exam. I just wanted to know if there was a spot on the lens of my eye. Taking no chances, Rida gave me the whole exam including a retinal scan and optic nerve scan. The ophthalmology guys have some of the neatest toys. I was blind after being dilated. I could not see in the bright light. No problem. It wore off. I’m fine. And yes, it’s way better to give than receive. I passed the tests. My kids won’t believe me. They have said that I’ve been impaired for a while. Hey! I passed and I have the paper to prove it.
Imagine (nightmare) turning your pet loose on the tarmac of the Jeddah airport. At the terminal you are taken by bus and walk the tarmac upstairs to board. I can tell you the process. I know the steps. And at the very last, just before the accept your precious pet, there will be one last paper to file or fill or a stamp you failed to attain. Imagine all of that and trying to get you and your tech out of the country? I was warned and luckily did not try it. Thank goodness!
Here’s what I know. US Customs will accept your pet without quarantine if certain steps are followed. There are forms to be obtained. And there are state forms needed. There is a website and for $15 you can get the forms. Or you can get them direct but you might miss a form. You need a health certificate from a Saudi vet. The pet needs a chip. A rabies vaccine must be administered at least 30 days in advance. The airline requires specific travel crates. The Department of Agriculture must examine and approve the export one week before the flight. You must visit airline cargo one day in advance of travel and be approved. You go to the airport early on the day of the flight and check your pet at the check-in counter. Good luck! There are simply too many moving parts. Anyone, anywhere along the line can foul up the whole process. I’m glad I gave up. I just imagined opening the travel crates on the tarmac and that was enough.
Traumatic!? You bet. I released Casi and Lulu on Thursday afternoon. My flight was at 6AM Friday. I was not about to chase two cats at 2AM before I left for the airport. I nudged Casi at the door and off she went. I never saw her again. She seemed a bit surprised but more than willing to brave the heat of Jeddah. Lulu left me shaking. She was not going. She did not understand. And she fought me tooth and claw. It was one of the saddest things I ever did. I caught her up in a big towel and got her out the door. That evening she peered at me from the bushes but would not come near. The hardest thing was not being able to explain that I was leaving. At least she’s safe in the compound. I hope.
There’s weather again. Seasons! Rain! Yes! After four years of scorching sun and no rain, I’m back and with someone who obsesses over the weather forecast. It’s refreshing to factor in the weather into my plans. I nearly did not make the flight. The luggage story was the end. That was pretty much the prelude to closing the plane doors. In order to leave there is a list: plane ticket, exit visa, close your bank account, turn off your phone, hand in your work card – iqama. There is a dance. It’s choreographed so that the steps are defined. The exit visa and ticket are last. You get a ticket after you have a visa. You need to hand in your iqama to get your visa. But you need the iqama at the bank to take your money. Read slowly. You mess up and you are not leaving. Before that the hospital has its own list and each item requires a signature and a stamp. Yes! A stamp! Go figure: the mailroom, the library, security, etc., etc. Finally, there is a survey: did you enjoy your stay, and would you come back to work? I guess the wrong answer and you stay longer. Say nothing, do nothing to rock the boat. Of course, it was great. “Frosted flakes!!”
Can I make this story short? Yes, I got out. Stop reading here.
No one tells you the exact sequence. You sort of puzzle things out. There is an end of service pay mandated by the government. Calculations are made. Then the money is transferred to your bank account. The first week was haj – September 9 to 14. Banks and the government are closed. Don’t ask. Shutdown, closed, just stopped for five days plus the weekend on either end. I dove. Nice. I was on paid leave. Ok, but I’d rather have been home.
The new Saudi week starts on Sunday. I have till Friday to complete business and get on the plane. Monday – maybe the money will be in by Wednesday. It’s close but doable. Monday, the travel office tried to give me a ticket for Friday. Nope, no final exit visa. That comes after the bank is closed. Tuesday waiting. I went to stare at the finance lady who said Wednesday maybe Thursday. No! It has to be Wednesday! I received a helpless smile. She said she was trying. Wednesday morning, the ticket office called me in to take a ticket for Friday. They could not wait longer or it would be next week. Is it a joke? Finance says that they need a signature from housing. What! WTF! I already have all my stamps and signatures! Sorry, it won’t take long. Surreal? I need an entry exit visa. Get that and then transfer money from Saudi to NY by internet banking. Nope! I have to take a final exit visa. Rules! Shit. No bending the rules! I went up the line to the Deputy CEO. He mumbled that something would be done. So far, nada, nothing! It’s noon. I had just come from the bank. They were kind enough to volunteer that Thursday was Saudi National Day! That is the equivalent of Fourth of July here. No government or banking – it’s a national holiday! You’re kidding right!? At that moment, my money from the hospital hits the bank and I receive the text message. I cannot get to and from the bank in time for the government office to go and get an exit visa. There’s not enough time. Before a holiday everyone quits early. Does this country function? Not like anywhere normal, for sure! Solution? There’s a bank near the hospital. I rush over, break traffic laws, run red lights, cut off other cars and get there to the sound of the local mosques blaring out “prayer time.” Closed for 40 minutes, I was screwed! Sure enough the doors were locked and I was out of luck. Shit! An old Saudi man came and pounded the door. He was not waiting. I followed him in the back door. Cheated one more time. I had to check off a box for withdrawing so much money. “Which works?” I asked the teller.
“Medical,” he said. I figured, “mental” by way of insanity worked for me. Back to the hospital. Sami, government relations shook his head. Maybe, maybe not. What did he care? He was not staying an extra week. But… after a long pause on the phone several hours later… he reported… success! Visa, bank, ticket – done. Priceless! My phone is still not settled. The never did cut off my internet when they threatened. The bill is unpaid. I’m in the US and receive Arabic texts about my bill. Can’t read ‘em. Don’t need ‘em. Hey! I got weather again!
I recall the famous photo of the last helicopter out of South Vietnam with people hanging from the skid of the Huey. It was not that bad! But it was exciting enough to recall – in only a few words.
I had been living out of suitcases since I arrived in Saudi. But stuff accumulates. Dive gear! In the end there were three suitcases, one carry-on, and a back pack. The third suitcase had to go as extra luggage. A cash payment, no credit card, was required. I had to find the 24 bank at the airport. My one hundred dollar bill was shoved back through the teller’s window. Too old! What! Well, I guess I had hung on to it too long. Still good, just no good in Saudi. The second one was ‘medium’ old. Passed. There are two TSA checkpoints. Yup, two! One is for the Saudis and the other is US style – take out your laptop and belt and shoes and everything etc. First checkpoint, fine, no muss, no fuss. The second only minutes before boarding was – nope! My tech gear – multiple redundant portable hard drives – could not travel in the cabin. The bag had to be checked. I had to go all the way back through to the baggage check-in counter. Trust me, it was hell. You laugh. I worried that the drives would be tossed and turned and toast by the time they arrived in DC. The other drives in my backpack were still good to go. The TSA agents did not seem to think the three in the backpack were over the quota. Fine! I managed to leave my laptop at the second TSA. A guy waving the case passed me and I grabbed it back into my possession. Yeah, I was a bit frazzled. Good news, my baggage was off the plane fast and safe in DC. Customs waved me through even with all my stuff. Home! Yay!
I’m out. On the plane. The door closed and I got out of Saudi. Happy! Yup! I was surrounded by African pilgrims for the ride home. Maybe I have MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). They coughed front and back of me all the damn way home. I got it about two days later. Stress lowers your immune system. I have been fighting a vicious cold for two weeks. It’s not fatal. And it’s probably not MERS. These very nice ladies posed for each other during the latter part of the flight. They did not even notice that I stuck my camera up and shot them in their finery. You would have to say it was worth the trip. The ladies would disappear into the tiny restroom for lengthy makeovers. Why dress to return home? Who knows? I will always remember them by this image and the vicious cold they shared with me.
Not quite. I’m not religious. Particularly. In Saudi this view does not fly. So, say nothing. I was advised to do so and for this particular time I did so. So there is no upcoming crucifixion. However, there is always a last supper. My last night in Jeddah, well next to the last, I ate out with the people who cared about me and meant most to me. It was “bye.” We had a very nice peaceful subdued dinner in a Korean restaurant. My circle was complete. I taught Khalid how to use chop sticks in about ten seconds. He’s good. I’ll be missed. And I will miss them. A lot of history was shared these past four years. To paraphrase – what happened in Jeddah, stayed in Jeddah. Or, if you have something nice to say do it. No one likes to hear complaints. To which I can only add, “We sure did some interesting shit.” Yes, that’s the operative word.
Selfie. It’s a wrap. I’m not bragging. It’s been an incredible journey.
Dives: 399 – Minutes: 25877 – Hours: 431 – Images this year: 21834 – Total four years: >50,000 images
I have logged 399 dives. Darn, just one short of 400. I did not log early dives nor training dives. That would be about six months until I got a dive computer. Some dives were short, maybe 30 minutes. And the longest was in excess of 100 minutes, 109 on a recent dive. I got better at air management. The average dive was about 64 min. This year I dove a lot and took 21, 834 images with a Canon G7. I have used a Canon G11, two Canon G12’s, and three Canon S100’s. Basically, I used three housings. I have two strobes. Redundancy was a must. Saudi has very limited access to equipment and supplies. All my stuff was largely brought from the US. I traveled with extra everything – batteries, memory cards. I always had a flashlight for unexpected night dives. I often had an extra camera housing – just in case. I have had about any camera problem you can think about. So be prepared. Everything fails. It’s a bit like wedding photography. You have two of everything. It’s a rule. Something always happens. I saved my buddy the other day. His memory card was full. I have forgotten to load my memory card. It’s better than forgetting to turn on your oxygen. But, I’ve done that too. (Ask your buddy to turn you on.)
There were three fantasy things I wanted to do in life. Dive. Fly. (I flew with a buddy in a Bell 47 helicopter.) And parachute. Two out of three ain’t bad. And I got to do both extensively. I’d have liked to have done one more night dive. And there are pictures in my head that I never got to image. Four years on the reef and I still saw something new on the last dive. I went into the water never expecting to make statistics. Fun, learning, pushing my personal limits – when the fork in the road came, I took it.
It took two days to go from not too much to see, to eyes and mouth. We actually returned to the same spot. This is a neat trick – to return. It’s not easy. Everything looks similar. In the forest one tree looks about the same as any other. Here’s how I figured it out. I used my dive computer. I saw we were at 50 feet and about twenty minutes in the dive. So, we retraced our path. It worked! Tomorrow the eggs will be hatched. We know this from the last find. Once hatched, the tiny fish will be chaos and I would never get an image. And, we weren’t waiting to see the hatching. Too bad.
I imagine being there to image the hatching. It would indeed be a rare and special thing to witness. That would be for someone way more OCD than I can admit to being. But… No! It’s not my day job and I don’t have the time. But at least for the next diver, it’s about two days to eyes, and one more to hatching.
Damsel fish lay eggs and the guard them. This one moved in and brushed against me as I swam by. I knew it was guarding something. Eggs! It was too early. Nothing had developed yet. The eggs are tiny. You need very high magnification. How high? Enough that I can’t see the eggs by myself. I wear glasses now. There are no corrective lens in my mask. So I shoot and then wait to see what’s on my computer. I am fascinated that I can technically get images like this. And even more special is that finding this is so rare!