Sunday, April 28, 2019

Hope Springs

Captain Chad Vender Kooy

Our burly captain stepped out of the cockpit sporting a wide red white and blue flag tie which hung over his substantial self. He stood in the cockpit door for a moment and appeared to be talking to the cabin crew who were obscured by the bulkhead. Then he stepped forward. With a bemused smile he began to speak to the passengers in the cabin.

“This is your first officer. My name is Chad and I’m doing do something that’s hard for me, public speaking. So, bear with me. I appreciate your understanding.

I just want to say that we need more love and acceptance right now. There’s so much division in our country and it really troubles me. So, let’s reach out and show our love for the other person. I’m asking you to join me in reaching out to your brothers and sisters no matter where they come from. I’m talking about loving our neighbors. And by neighbors, I mean neighbors in the broadest sense. We live in a global community and the hate that is festering in our own country and around the world is eating us up.

I love this country and part of what this country is supposed to be about is friendship, caring and loving each other. I want to enlist you all to demonstrate those feelings. If everybody showed compassion and love for his fellow man imagine how wonderful our country and the whole world, for the matter, would be.

I hope you’ll do your part to reach out to the people in your neighborhood, in your town, in your state, across the United States and around the world. The world will be a better place if you do.

Thanks for listening to me. Have a great flight to San Francisco. It’s going to sunny and in the low seventies. Enjoy the heck out of it.”

My seatmate who appeared to be of Indian extraction turned to me and asked, “I’ve never heard a pilot talk like that. I’m from the UK and I’ve never heard anything like it. Is this normal in the States? This wouldn’t happen in where I come from.”

I told him that I’d never heard anything like it either and that I found the message to be very moving and especially pertinent right now. I said that I thought it might be specific to Southwest Airlines and I had the impression that the airline encouraged this kind of engagement and spontaneity.

To illustrate that premise I told him I’d recently heard the story about the four-year-old granddaughter of a friend of Peggy’s. The friend, we’ll call her Ann, told Peggy that the child had just completed two years of chemotherapy at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and that the institution rang bells for “graduating” children. Because Ann was flying from Denver to Los Angeles and couldn’t be at the hospital for the celebration, she approached the Southwest gate agent to ask about ringing a bell for the child in midflight. Ann wanted to make the arrangements if Southwest was willing. The gate agent asked her if she needed extra time to board. Ann initially said she didn’t so the gate agent repeated, “So do you need early boarding?” Being no fool, Ann said that she did, in fact, need the extra time.

Once on the aircraft she asked the pilot and crew if they would be willing to ring a bell for the child at precisely 10am, the time the bells would be rung at the hospital.  A few seconds before 10 the pilot got on the loudspeaker and asked that every passenger press their flight attendant call button to recognize a brave little girl who had completed her cancer treatment that very day. At ten AM sharp 237 passengers rang their bells for the courageous youngster.

So, it really might be a Southwest phenomenon. And it's certain I'll choose Southwest every time it's an option. 

Later I asked my seatmate, “Where are you from?”

“From the UK.”

“Where exactly.” I followed up.

“Birmingham, the Midlands,” he answered.

“What is your itinerary? Where have you visited?

He told me. “We visited the Grand Canyon then Las Vegas but we didn’t like Las Vegas so we came to San Diego a day early and now we’re going to visit San Francisco for two nights.”

He told me they were staying on Lombard Street in the Marina District and I said that the marina was my stomping ground from the early eighties when I opened a restaurant at Lombard and Steiner. I told him the Pizzeria Uno wasn’t there anymore though it was still a pizza restaurant. Scott's, my favorite seafood restaurant in the neighborhood at left this earth and with it the best Petrale Sole in the known universe.

He asked if I had any restaurant suggestions and I told him that I really had no idea since it had been so long, but Fisherman’s Wharf was close and he’d probably find something family friendly there.

When I asked how he and his family were enjoying the their holiday he told me, “The Americans we’ve met have been very warm and remarkably engaged. Much more so than the English.”

That gave me a flush of pride and gave me just a whisper of hope that the tribal hatred we’re suffering isn’t a terminal affliction.

I asked the Captain his name as I exited the plane. I'm Chad Vander Kooy. "I'm Dutch." 

Hell of a guy. And I am after all one-quarter Dutch.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Leaving Town

Store #1, Clarkdale, CO

I’ve gotten to the point that I have to leave town to take a photograph. That flies in the face of the principle that exploring your local environment completely is the path to making the most meaningful images. I hope it’s just a phase because travelling every time you want to be inspired is expensive. And exhausting.

Store #2, Clarkdale, CO

Sometimes the travel is for another purpose but, no matter, you gotta use it to your advantage. A case in point is driving to Durango, Colorado to attend the opening of Peggy’s one woman show at the Sorrel Sky Gallery. A grand success I must add. I wouldn’t or couldn’t miss it for one thing and it’s Durango for another thing. I do dig the place. We stayed in an ordinary chain motel with intermittent hot water, a good hand cracked egg breakfast and access to the Animas River path which is one of my favorite places to run. When I run the winding route I see more runners in an hour than I see in Taos in year. I really crave being in a town where fitness is front and center, where there’s a community of like-minded folks. It feels so vibrant and healthy. I’ve found that sensibility in small towns and big cities across the country. Boston has it. San Francisco has it. So, too, do Denver and San Diego. Bozeman, Montana has it. So does North Conway, NH from whence we came. Even though Taos is nominally an outdoor town it doesn’t possess that special vitality. A little of that is the aging population I suppose. Everyone is me.

Trujillo's Country Store, Blanco, NM

Two tanks, Navajo City, NM

Old store, Lumberton, NM

But this is about photography or the lack thereof. I drove to Durango by the tried and true route through Pagosa Springs. It sounds more exotic than is. But when returning to Taos I opted for the longer and more evocative path south through fossil fuel country to Bloomfield, New Mexico and east on US 64 to the Jicarilla Apache reservation and on the Chama and home. I’ve driven the Bloomfield, Dulce, Chama stretch a bunch of times so knew I’d trip over the desiccated hulk of some old saloon, school or church along the way.

The gargoyle screams

Above are some of those jewels.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Good Bones

The Hub Plaza, home of the wonderful Tapas Tree featuring world street food
Home town news

The Spanish conquistadors brought copper mining to what would become Silver City NM. In 1800 Colonel José Manuel Carrasco learned of a massive copper deposit from an Apache chief who showed him a sample of the mineral. Carrasco named the deposit Santa Rita del Cobre. After several years he sold the mine to Don Manuel Elquea who was followed by a colorful list of characters who worked the mine. In 1828 Christopher “Kit” Carson was employed as a teamster at the Santa Rita mine. After the Civil War a silver deposit was discovered on Chloride Hill and American miners led my Captain John Bullard began building the town that became Silver City. Bullard, in fact, laid out the town but was killed by marauding Apaches in February 1871 before seeing his vision realized. He did have the distinction of being buried in Silver City’s first grave.

The Silco Theatre

In its rowdy early days Silver City assumed the characteristics of mining communities throughout the west. It was a rough and violent place. Sheriff Henry Whitehill who brought some order to the town arrested Billy the Kid twice for theft. The Kid's mother was buried in the town cemetery. Later Whitehill referred to the outlaw as a likeable kid whose stealing was more a function of necessity than criminality. Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch frequented the saloons and brothels on Bullard Street.

Javalina Coffee House
Al fresco at the Javalina

When Captain Bullard planned the town, he didn’t anticipate the torrential rains that soak Silver City every summer so two foot high sidewalks had to be built to accommodate the river of water that flowed through its streets after a deluge. A ditch was dug to handle the runoff. 

The Gila Theatre

There’s a burgeoning art and music scene in Silver City and its Downtown Arts District shows promise. There once were three theatres on Bullard Street, the Silco which became a community movie house in 2016, the Gila which was shuttered for the final time in 2003 and the El Sol which presents live theatre today. From its New Directors Series the play Marjorie Prime completed its run April 14.

Silver City hosts several festivals during the year, among them The Southwest Festival of the Written Word, the Silver City Blues Festival and the Chicano Music Fest.

Silver City with its 10,000 residents is a contender. Its temperate climate with January highs in the low fifties and July highs in the mid-eighties is most appealing. It’s got a university. Housing is affordable. It’s three hours from Tucson. Cool art deco signs don't hurt.

I’m giving it a thumbs-up.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

On the road again

Twenty miles west of Socorro.

A couple of weeks ago I took a photo safari, the first in many months. Or is that years? The impetus was the call of the open road as much as anything. I’d been hankering to see Silver City for quite a while and that stems from my lust for little towns that have downtowns with good bones. We found the place many years ago, just passing through really. I remembered the coffee place we visited and used it as a touchstone this time. In wandering around Silver City's tidy downtown I stumbled on the Javalina Coffee House and it was just the welcoming establishment I recalled. Good coffee, too.

I’ve described these villages as places where you can amble to El Centro to get your morning coffee, a good breakfast, the New York Times and visit your local pub, a place where everybody knows your name. The village can also be a neighborhood in a larger city. An acquaintance said when he and his wife travel to a new city they search out locally owned bookstores and find that neighborhoods with independent bookstores usually have good restaurants, art galleries and, today, at least one busy brew pub. It's a package deal. One thing that they are not is dry.

Silver City, the home of Western New Mexico University hits most of these notes. Not sure about the dining scene. My dinner at Diane's, one of two "fine dining" establishments was decidedly ho hum. I'll do further research and report back. Fresh beer is alive and well at Little Toad Creek Brewery I'm happy to report.

I took the great circle route to get to Silver City, opting to head west from Socorro through the Very Large Array rather than the more direct route through Kingston and Hillsborough. I might not do that twice. It was a winding ribbon of nothing from Reserve, the most right wing town in the most right wing county in all of New Mexico. Reputedly you’re required to pack heat if you live in Reserve. I found it unnerving.

The images here and above are from the outbound drive to Silver City and include the vast Freeport McMoran copper mine fifteen mile east.

The former Evett's Ice Cream Parlor in Magdalena, NM

The Freeport McMoran copper mine that swallowed up the village of Santa Rita, NM

Unlike Freeport McMoran's Morenci, AZ mine which left a crater the size of Manhattan, the Santa Rita mine extracts copper from the mountain side.

Silver City is, on the other hand, a bastion of lefty politics owing to the college and a wave of educated oldsters that remind me of Taos.

The place has a shot at becoming a real art colony. Karen Hymer, a photographer and educator, who opened Light Art Space last October is counting on it. Her current exhibition Dead Art: An Analog Approach to a Digital World runs through April 28. It's a powerful show of work from her former students at Pima College in Tucson.