Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Inspired by Hunter




"Fear and Loathing in the Duke City"

An epic journey of rage, foolishness and suffering at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

by William S. Hunter

I was almost across the Rio Grande when the caffeine started to kick in. It's anybody's guess as to how few people have actually had the pleasure of arising from a pleasant slumber at 4 a.m. on their own volition, without the foulmouthed cursing of some boot camp Drill Instructor to remind them of the error in their ways, but this would not be one of those mornings. I was to cover the goings on at this week-long ballooning convention for the hot air-minded, my expenses funded in spectacular fashion by my editor back at the New Brunswick Swagger, Dean Stapley, who had called me late the previous afternoon to deliver the pleasant news that I, William S. Hunter, would not be attending the annual Democratic fundraiser at the Watergate, but instead had to find a quick flight out of town on whatever plane I could scare up at the last minute and get my ass out to Albuquerque, pronto.

While I'm no fancy-pants hairspray journalist on the order of Sam Donaldson, I've been known to inhabit the darker corners of first class lounges on virtually every major airline this side of Air Guatemala. I like my drinks neat and gently stirred, my coffee as dark and rich as - well - they don't come dark AND rich around here, so never mind.

But the point is, I never expected to have to suffer the utter indignity of flying a budget discount airline like Southwest, where they have - get this - NO FIRST CLASS SECTION AT ALL! NONE! Boarding an SWA plane is like rats fleeing the light into some dark, narrow sewer pipe of an aluminum fuselage where this smorgasbord of humanity rush in, stow their enormous, over-sized carry-ons wherever they can and hunker down in survival mode for the duration. You can see it in their eyes, the intensity of fear, the shallow, quick breaths and elevated heart-rate, sure signs that this cross-country commuting experience is nothing like what we were promised by the overly-optimistic futurists from the mid-20th century. I ordered a coffee and two airline bottles of bourbon, downing them in quick succession. If I was going to suffer the indignities, I'd at least do it in style.

I endured the cross-continental flight, penned in between an over-stuffed Mexican and some business suit-clad fascist, arriving in the desert wastes late at night after a hasty and turbulent descent that felt like an unplanned emergency, like nobody in the armored cockpit had any clue where the hell Albuquerque was, like they were having to scratch around under their seats to find the old, outdated air maps of how to find the damned place. We - the whole zombie-like plane-load of us - roamed the dark, empty airport corridors looking for some way out, until a little Mexican lady pushing a janitor's cart pointed us in the right direction.

Outside, luggage in tow, the air felt thin, hot and dust-laden, like someone had sucked all the life out of it with a blast furnace and then salted it with particulates. I could feel my skin, at that very moment, releasing the last remnants of whatever moisture was left, shriveling up like ancient papyrus before my very eyes. But at least it was a dry heat.

I had to negotiate the rental car counter, staffed by some little prick of a tattoo-clad gangster with attitude, only to find the best car they had left was an old Ford Crown Victoria. I'd arrived in style, looking like some poorly disguised narc. But at least the AC worked.

I hauled ass through the narrow, pot-holed streets and out across The River to The West Side, where my editor, the bastard, had me holed up in some fleabag interstate motor lodge bordering on the scariest-looking barrio I'd ever laid eyes on.

Checking in at the desk and getting my junk hauled out of the Battle Cruiser's cavernous trunk, I then inquired as to the possibilities of any late-night entertainment for members in good standing of the National Press Corp. It would seem that none was to be had at this apparent late hour, aside from a walk across a busy six-lane thoroughfare to an all-night combination gas station/liquor store, laden with ready-to-eat burritos, lottery scratchers and booze. Plenty of booze, of every describable kind. But at least they have their priorities right, I thought, out here in the Wild West, having their liquor prices more prominently displayed than their gasoline prices.

Somehow, I made it back to my room in one piece, dodging a phalanx of late-night drunks, speed freaks and police cruisers in Hot Pursuit. All around me I could hear the roar of traffic and sirens, peppered with an occasional pop-pop-pop of automatic weapons' fire. Somewhere, someone was having a fine old time. Or not.

Dawn came harsh and brutal. Actually, it was still dark as night, and I'd hardly closed my eyes when the clock radio began blaring some gawd-awful mariachi music at an unheard of volume. I hurtled the cheap plastic radio across the room and into the waste bin by the door - almost Three Point Land - and hit the shower running. Blasted by a torrent of chlorine-scented mineral water, I was in as good of shape as I'd ever been, considering the circumstances. Somehow, I was to find my way through a predawn traffic jam of epic proportion, to some tumbleweed-strewn field on the other side of town. They should be pitied, the poor bastards, every last one of them, for they had no idea who they were dealing with.

"You want a double what? Expresso?"

"No," I indicated with a calmness that was already, at this early hour, being thoroughly tested. "Espresso. No 'X'. Espresso," I corrected.

"I'll see what I can do, okay?"

"Okay," I said.

I hurtled out of the cracked parking lot spewing gravel, the Battle Cruiser in overdrive, tranny whining something awful. Between my legs was the hottest, densest cup of sludge masquerading as coffee that I'd ever tasted, probably no different from whatever was keeping that engine in one piece. It also sported just a hint of red chile, just an accent, the "house specialty" at The Greasy Bean.

I hit the interstate doing at least eighty, confident in my journalistic intuition, when I was surprised to find myself being passed, like I was standing still, by a small squadron of dented, patched and rattle-can-painted econo-boxes, piloted by short, bald-headed young fellows with big ears and bigger attitudes, the boom-boom-boom of their bass making the Battle Cruiser shake with every beat. Stapley, that bastard editor of mine, had warned me ahead of time to not even look at them, saying that 'mad dogging' them could get me into a world of hurt. So I just sat there, eyes fixed on the road ahead.

Suddenly, red tail lights were all I could see in the dark up ahead. I braked, then braked some more, until I was sitting at a standstill at four goddamn thirty in the dark of an October morning in the high desert of New Mexico, surrounded by out-of-towners, gangsters and fascists in their GMC Yukons and Ford Expeditions. The American Dream in action.

It was at this point that something snapped inside me. Call it a survival instinct, call it journalistic integrity - call it what you want, but at that moment all of my life passed before me. And what it amounted to was this: I'd always played the outsider, the interloper, the guy out there on The Edge.

The Edge.

That was it! The Edge! That was the solution to my dilemma of getting out to that damned balloon field and the pilot's briefing in time to post a field report back to The Home Office and my idiot of an editor, who himself was probably comfortably asleep in his regal estate at this moment.

I punched her in low, spun the wheel like a mad fisherman at the helm and the old Ford Battle Cruiser roared to life. Riding the shoulder of the highway, littered by debris, that endless string of red lights whizzed by at an ungodly speed, just one continuous ribbon by now, and Boy Howdy! were we making good time, eating up miles of clogged interstate in one fell swoop.

Where in God's Green Earth did all these people come from, I wondered. There can't be this many people in all of New Mexico, even throwing in half of Arizona for good measure.

But my confidence was short-lived. Up ahead was my exit, all right, but the shoulder, and one lane of the off ramp, were barricaded by troopers as well-equipped for battle as any I'd ever seen, their tall, shiny jackboots glistening in the predawn streetlight, tactical belts arrayed in maximum masculine splendor. The classic Show of Force. I'd seen it before, and it ain't pretty. They will be in no mood, at this ungodly hour, to take no crap from anyone, least of all from some out-of-town, hotshot journalist who's running a bit behind schedule. Story of my life.

Using that secret combination of turn signal, hand wave and friendly smile (that seem so rare in these parts), I succeeded in at least merging back into line before being halted by one bristly-haired trooper with an especially cocky attitude, the fingers of his trigger hand nervously fidgeting with the grip of his sidearm.

I slid down the automatic window and flashed him my best smile, along with my press credentials. That would surely get his attention. There was no way I was going to sit in this goddamn line for the next hour, I'd come here with work to do.

"You're in the wrong line," he scowled. "Press entrance is on the other side of the field, off Alameda and Edith."

"Can you escort me?" I uttered, not believing what I'd just said. I must be losing my grip, I thought.

"Look, Mister, that's not how we do things out here, " he growled. "You'll have to follow this line into the field, then find the press entrance. Have a nice day."

And that was that, no special favors for a national press who might be in a position to provide this fine hamlet with some much-needed good publicity. I was on my own, it would seem.

It was at this moment that I spied, using all the journalistic intuition I could muster, the artifacts of a crumbling infrastructure. More precisely, up ahead I could see that the curb and most of the sidewalk were washed out by sand from some recent floods, and so I once again signaled all ahead flank speed to the engine room and got the Battle Cruiser heaving, rising her up on two wheels upon the sidewalk, skirting the entire line of vehicles slowly inching their way to the parking lot, dust and not a few middle fingers flying in my wake.

The progress of my flight was only halted briefly by attendants sporting orange safety vests and overly-optimistic smiles, charging a prepaid parking fee, which I was happy to pay and expense later to my idiot editor Back East. Succeeding in narrowly avoiding running over several large families in one fell swoop, I skidded to a halt in a cloud of dust, double-parking beside the chain link fence bordering upon the balloon field proper.

Lookout world, I have arrived.

(To be continued.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wading the Shelves



Post-Script: Really, since acquiring the iPad, several years ago (or has it acquired me?), I've not been nearly as voracious a reader of books as before. Hopefully that will change, as you can't beat the price of renting books for "free," the only issue being availability.

Should you be interested, here's a link to the Tony Hillerman Library's website, on which is a tribute page describing the writing career of this famed novelist of southwestern mysteries.

In this piece I mentioned Hoffmantown Shopping Center, another place I used to hang out at, due to Campbell Pharmacy (who had a good soda fountain) and Pen & Pad Stationary. Alas, the pharmacy is long gone, but Pen & Pad are still in business. I've been buying from them since my teen years.

Typecast via Underwood Universal. I haven't put the Hermes Rocket to bed in the closet, it's sitting besides the Underwood, but I wanted to get another machine in rotational use. A fine typer it is, with a great touch. Photo via Lumix G5.

Errata: 2nd to last paragraph should read "affected."

Also, my choice of the word "stimuli" was a last-minute change from the original draft's "stimulation," brought about by running out of space on that line and, not wanting to start another, saw that the shorter word would fit at the end of the line.

These are the kinds of structural problems one encounters when typing for final output, such as in typecasting, where the physical layout of the words matters to the finished product. Secretaries of old had to manage these kinds of changes as a matter of routine, but we've now been spoiled by three decades or more of word processors doing the physical letter arranging for us.

2nd to last line should read "the time spend reading..."

(Parenthetical thought: having to spend an extra few paragraphs of electronic text to provide error-corrections of the original typecast image serves to illustrate the intrinsic inefficiency of typecasting as a means of conveying text across the Internet - but which therefore reminds one that typecasting isn't about efficiency, per se, but rather that there's more information being conveyed than the content of the writing contained herein. There's also the appearance of the paper, the imprint of the machine onto the paper, the quality and color or ribbon ink, the condition of the particular machine, etc. There's more here than mere writing itself, which is the whole point of typecasting.

A typical typecast scan of mine, uploaded to Flickr at 800 pixels wide, will be around 800kb-1Mb in file size. That represents a lot of ASCII text, in comparison. Yet that hypothetical ASCII text will convey nothing of the character of the typewriter being discussed. In this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words!)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

To Be Secure in Their Persons





Post-Script: While we in the Typosphere might secretly take pleasure in our beloved's new-found popularity with the popular press and circles of government, there is a not-so-well-hidden dark side. What these recent news accounts represent is using the typewriter as a lightning rod for discharging their ridicule. "Unless you fix this spying problem," they seem to be saying, "we might have to resort to - get this - using TYPEWRITERS instead!! The horror!!"

Much thanks goes to Richard Polt, whose Alternate Manifesto blog article inspired these thoughts.

Typecast via Hermes Rocket.

Unloaded Colt Commander replica courtesy of Norinco ('cause, dammit, if I'm permitted to shop at Walmart I should be able to buy a Chicom gun, too).

Photos via Lumix G5.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Can You Ever Go Home Again, Toto?



Post-Script: Mention should be made of this recent blog article about the Bic Cristal, within which is mentioned Little Flower Petals' own recent blog article.

My brother's writing methods are worth mentioning. As I indicated, he uses Bic Cristal pens (usually blue) on lined filler paper or spiral notebooks. Having a quick, bold print, and being a fast writer, he's taken to writing on both sides of the paper, but with one important novelty. First, he skips every other line, giving himself room for edits and revisions. Second, he staggers the order of the lines on the reverse side, such that the imprint from one side's writing shows through on the blank lines of the other side. Simple, effective and rather ingenious, a necessity for someone who's taken to writing and editing in longhand on paper.

As I sat down at the steam-powered desktop PC to crank out this blog article, I picked up some anonymous promotional pen waiting for me beside the keyboard; it wrote much worse than the Bic Cristal, further testament to Mssr. Bich's invention. While I don't intend on giving up my fountain pens anytime soon (in fact, I need to rotate out my Lamy Safari for the Pelikan), I suspect these humble Bic pens will become a regular part of my writerly life.

Photo via Lumix G5 and the 20mm-f/1.7 lens wide open; typecast via Hermes Rocket (which performed spectacularly today, no issues at all, aside from my typographical errors).

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Kodak 616 Brownie Jr.





Post-Script: These aren't spectacular images by any means, but merely initial examples of what this camera might be capable of, using paper negatives. The lens is certainly a bit soft, having that "glow" that serves to reduce the contrast - which might not be such a bad thing, especially in bright light that can otherwise be excessively harsh with UV-sensitive paper negatives.

For preparing my standard stock of photo paper for use in this camera, I figured out how to cut five paper negatives (each 2.75" x 4.25") from one 8" x 10" sheet of photo paper, with minimal waste.

I didn't mention in the typed piece, but using Harman Direct Positive Paper (though it's no longer manufactured, I still have a supply in my darkroom) would enable proper exposures in bright light using the bulb shutter setting (the Harman paper being much slower than conventional paper negatives).

The reason is that, with the ISO 12 paper negatives, bright daylight requires a slower shutter speed than what the camera's instantaneous shutter is capable of (which is why I did two exposures back-to-back, tripod-mounted, for the outdoor image), while bright daylight is too much light to permit using the bulb shutter setting. It helps in this case to have a really slow paper, much slower than ISO12; or else employ a neutral density filter over the lens. It is also possible to use a darkroom contrast control printing filter over the lens, to both slow down the paper's speed and reduce excess contrast, but that will require more experiments.

I'm already looking at acquiring a Kodak close-up lens for this camera, as it seems ideally suited for producing intimate portraits.

Top photo via Lumix G5, typecast via Hermes Rocket.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

An Exceedingly Deliberate Act



Post-Script: This recruiting your relative to become a fellow typist business is a bit like enlisting a family member to become a fellow anarchist; there's always more at stake, for them and yourself, than what first appears. I do hope he truly enjoys his hobby, rather than feeling he has to do it out of a sense of obligation to me. But, even so, if he keeps at it long enough, it will become habitual, will take hold of him, I'm almost certain. I think the biggest factor will be if his machine remains reliable. Mechanical issues can become a deal-breaker, unless a person is predisposed to fiddling with things mechanical.

Typecast via Hermes Rocket. The intermittent carriage movement problem seems to be entirely gone, though a few of the type slugs will stick at their fully extended position after releasing their keys, indicative that more work is to be done; but this machine is already a joy to use, I can hardly see going back to using another machine in my collection. Photo via Fujifilm X10 in Madrid, NM.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Sunday Stroll



Post-Script: I can see a way going forward to using the 3:2 aspect ratio image in my work, but it is a bit more panoramic than what I'm used to. I suppose in this dramatic southwest landscape, there is some appeal in the wide and flat image, even if it is an urban landscape.

The original of this piece way typed at the Daily Grind, but my Hermes Rocket experienced more problems with not carriage advancing after certain letters, enough such that the original piece was sloppy enough to be a first draft. After returning home, I took the Rocket out to the garage, took off the panels, and proceeded to "fix" the problem in the same manner I had previously with other characters, by installing 1/8" brass tubes onto the levers for the problem characters, which has pretty much eliminated the problem (at least for today). Interestingly, all of the characters I've had to do this to have their mechanisms located along the middle of the basket, which points to some underlying issue with the shape of the curved bar that they all mutually activate to move the carriage escapement. I realize I'm not a "real" typewriter repairman, and so consider this "fix" just a kludge.

Photos via Lumix G5, typecast via Hermes Rocket.

Bonus Images: