When I was a very young boy all the gas stations in our town had colorful, little propellors strung between posts. Designed to attract customers, the propellors would spin in the breeze and make an odd, fluttering sound that I still remember well. I’d look out the window of the back seat of our station wagon and watch the propellors in marvel. I’d roll down the window so that I could hear their sound. I’d get down low as to get a good view of the propellors in the sky. I wondered if they might take off at any moment, carrying the gas stations with them.
The motion of the propellors is what initially attracted me to them. But, it was their glowing and rich, primary colors that were most magical. It may have been the first time that I’d really noticed color and how it could affect human emotion. It may have been the first time that I wished that I had a camera to freeze a moment of my life that I might then remember forever.
Not long ago, during a walk along San Francisco’s Embarcadero, I looked up in the very same way that I did in that old, station wagon. No, there were no whirling propellors—I haven’t seen them in many years. But, up there above me I did discover several neon signs and a string of red lights. They vibrated against an azure sky in a way that delighted me in exactly the same way as did those propellors of my youth. This time I did have a camera and the wherewithal to use it. This time I was able to take a moment and capture it.
On time on a hot and still summer day, the propellors of our town just sat there and didn’t move at all. I became impatient. A drive to town was an event and when I got there I expected moving propellors. So, I complained. “Mark,” my father bellowed, “Just enjoy the colors. They’re more colorful when they don’t move.” I so I did. The lights and signs along the Embarcadero didn’t move either. Nor were they lit. But, they brought me joy just the same—especially when I thought of that little boy in the back of the blue station wagon.