“I need to photograph more,” I said to myself on a crisp, spring day. I was in one of those artist’s slumps where I felt the desire to make something but not quite having the energy to lift myself from my chair. Instead I rocked myself into further justification for doing nothing. I looked out my window knowing that I was wasting a perfectly good day.
My dad was a people watcher. He could sit in a public place all day long and watch the world as it passed by him. I grew up in New Jersey—the outer suburbs of New York. An area ruled by autos, it was rare for us to take public transportation anywhere. But, when we did take the bus, the train, or the ferry, my dad would invent stories about the people on them. I suspect that we all play this game whether consciously or not. We label people and assume certain aspects about their lives. The mental stories become more elaborate when we’re forced into the idle observation associated with public transit.
The San Francisco waterfront was still gray from the early-morning summer fog. For the second time in two weeks I’d visited this very spot with my camera. The waterfront seemed different on this day. As I looked deep into the bay, the reflections danced with a darkness that I found compelling. Mostly amorphous, they changed as we came up adjacent to the San Francisco Bay Bridge. These long, linear reflections made me stop in my tracks. The bridge has become familiar after ten thousand visits to this waterfront, seaming nothing like it did the first time I laid eyes on it some thirty years ago. Back then the sight of the bridge made me gasp, now it brought a faint smile and a deep breath of gratitude.
Along San Francisco’s Embarcadero is an old food joint called Red’s Java House. It’s been there forever. Back in my youth I could get a double hotdog there for about a buck. So, I went there a lot. I’d walk from my South-of-Market office down to the waterfront for my hotdog—a long way for a lunch break. The double dog is now almost $6.00 but it’s been about thirty years since I first found the place. But, less than six bucks for a double dog wrapped in a sourdough roll still seems like a good deal to me.
A red flash! I blinked, thinking it to be some kind of short circuit deep inside my retina. Another red flash! Was it an illusion? Or was there something in the brush ahead? I left the path and walked lightly among the dead reeds, trying not to make noise. Stealthiness was an impossible task. The dried, hollow sticks snapped easily under my weight. Flash! Flash! The red flash moved further yet away. It was toying with me.
The wind is howling this morning. It howled last night and for the three nights before that. Wind signals change. Something is blowing out and is being replaced by whatever is blowing in. By the time whatever is on the way actually arrives the wind will have wreaked its havoc. Broken planting pots, fallen garbage cans, branches and leaves are everywhere. This wind leaves behind the debris of change as it blows in something new. And I suspect that something new is the summer season.
Window mannequins have always seemed creepy to me. Actually, all mannequins give me the willies—but the ones in windows are especially scary. They stare back at me with that frozen smile and those cold, cold eyes. It’s as if they all share some secret, mannequin-world joke that they’d never reveal to flesh-and-blood humans. I don’t know why shop owners resort to using them. Who wants customers coming into stores shivering with goosebumps?
Barbershops have changed a lot over the years. For example, back in the old days you’d never get a shampoo at one—that just wouldn’t happen. You dealt with the little bits of cut hair like a man—by scratching your neck and back and stomach until it was red. I still remember the day when they started to put sinks into my hometown barbershop. It was downhill from there. The scented shampoos replaced all the good stuff; the talcum powder, the scalp tonic, and most importantly, the straight-edge razor along with the leather sharpening strap. Now barbershops are like women’s salons except they still stick a barber’s pole outside so that men will go into them. Most barber’s poles don’t even rotate like they once did. It’s all fake now.
It is a grand notion to think of suburbia as being monumental. Normally perceived in daily life, it seems like a monotonous parade of one block after another, one lawn after the next. If one is attracted to the grandiose, suburbia can often be numbing
The city, San Francisco or most any city, is full of small, fleeting treasures. Riches are everywhere—little vignettes of joy, intrigue, and ephemeral pleasure that compel me to click the shutter of my camera. Many are haphazard collections of life’s serendipity. Most affirm my belief that the cosmic powers that run this universe of ours have a very good sense of humor.