Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Ecstasy And The Agony

June 1999: The Royal Father, your servant, and the Queen Mother hung in there on the Mean Streak (now known as Steel Vengeance) at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. If you love roller coasters, it's the place to go. You can tell who loves it, and who's just along for the ride.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
This was a vacation within a vacation. I was visiting my parents from Texas, and as part of a week off, we took a side trip into Ohio to visit some sights and friends around Cleveland. Cedar Point was a place I'd been wanting to go for years. I don't know how many coasters it had in 1999, but it has at least 17 as of this post. I was surprised to learn it opened way back in 1870, making it the second-oldest amusement park in the world.

I can describe more of Mean Streak to you -- which has since been refurbished and retracked -- or you can just ride it yourself via this video:

Friday, June 29, 2018

Stand By...

August 2010: Our production crew is rehearsing blocking camera shots with the new set and video switcher, and so we're doing some mock newscasts between shows (which are currently being done out of the newsroom until the set is ready for its debut). Guess who gets to play sports guy?

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
I don't know where our sports team was on this night. They were probably out shooting stories or occupied with something more important. But no matter. I was able to take a few minutes out of writing scripts to help the team. I got to read a few sports stories from the prompter, cribbed from the 6pm, in a mildly grubby t-shirt and do cross-talk with the anchors. The legendary Chuck George, our beloved meteorologist, piped in: "Is there anything you can't do?"

Well, quite a bit. But I would've liked to call a few highlights, where I could've ad-libbed lines like these:

"It's up... it's over... uh, yeah, that's a home run."

"Coyotes on the power play in the third period. Just STUFF it in there! Arizona up 3-2."

"On the 14th hole. Nice and easy. C'mon, get in the hole! Yes!"

"Arizona looking for one good throw. Just one. And... maybe next time."

"Firecracker 400. Nasty pile-up right out of the green flag. C'mon, admit it, this is why you watch."

"Third set, it's getting vicious now. Just watch that killer backhand."

"Second half, the Wildcats doing what they always do -- come back from behind. Slamming it in there. Man, how do those backboards stay UP?"

"32nd minute. USA up and somebody goes down. That shove here -- just flagrant. Enough with the cards. Where's the penalty box when you need it?"

"Late in the second period, let's get it on. The main event here at center ice -- and a big left hand! Oouch! You, pick up that blood!"

"D-backs put it away 5 to 3. And with that, we'll put it to bed. Back after the break!"

Thursday, June 28, 2018

My Aunt, Your Servant, And A Very Long Camera Microphone

Circa July 1976 or 1977: That's my Aunt Susan about to do a man-on-the-street interview with your servant in this frame from one of our home movies.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
"Are you taking pictures?" she asks.

My Royal Father, behind the camera, signals yes.

"Well wait a minute!" she laughs. Just as we're about to do the interview, Dad runs out of film. You had to shoot tight on those Super 8 reels; they only held about 3 minutes of footage.

I don't know what she would've asked me, but it doesn't matter. This frame embodies the playfulness of my dear Auntie towards my younger brother and me, especially when we were still little -- playing in my grandparent's backyard, helping wash her car or water the plants out back. (That's not her car in the background. It's my Uncle's.) We did so many things together. Those memories stick. Those are memories every kid deserves to have.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

My First Pillory

Colonial Williamsburg, April 2004: My first experience with the famous tourist shot people get when they walk by the Old Courthouse. I haven't begun my hobby as a historic re-enactor yet. I'm getting there, though.

I remember going to Williamsburg that year on a whim. I was re-tracing some family vacations I enjoyed, just to go back and experience a piece of them again. The previous year took me back to Disney World in Florida. Now I was visiting the historic triangle.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
Something about that trip spoke to your servant deeply, even though the start didn't look promising. When I arrived on a Saturday night, the hotel was half-empty. The vibe of the place felt dead. But that was until I discovered Chowning's tavern (which is pronounced "CHEW-nings") and a pint of authentic Williamsburg beer with a newly-made drinking friend. I was glad I was walking back to the hotel. I was glad I was walking, period.

The best vacations are the ones you experience on a deeper level. Over the next few days I would get a hint of what my next few years of re-enacting life would be like as I toured the historic town, learned about the colonial militia and George Washington's soldiers, got more than a taste of what early American life was like -- and learned how to dance like a patriot. That tricorn was the only piece of historic garb I had to wear. For then, it was enough -- until it wasn't.

Eventually came a point where I wanted to live history, not just learn it. Less than two years later, I would meet up with We Make History in Phoenix, and the journey began in earnest. I would return to Williamsburg in 2008, this time in full Continental Army uniform. And I had to get another Pillory Shot....

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Baby Love

July 2003: I'm holding wee Campbell in my arms for the first time. She's so tiny and pretty. Her uncle is looking so frazzled and spent. That's what happens after a week of wildfire coverage.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
"There you are Christopher," my brother said. "Your new niece!"

The Queen Mother is not shy about making comparisons.

"I had to do this with you," she says when it's her turn to hold the new bunchkin. "Because you would not stay quiet."

Campbell spends most of the day snoozing. But when she wants milk, she'll do her best to get it -- even by trying to nurse off my mother's arm.

"Oh it's so frustrating," Mother says sweetly. "There's no milk in there!" My sister-in-law, however, makes sure she's getting her fill.

In the coming months, Campbell amazes all of us with her ability to be cool, even in the noise of The Field, an Irish pub in San Diego's Gaslamp district. She sleeps right through the bustle, and even when she does wake up, a pacifier in her mouth mellows her right out.

My Queen Mother wishes she had it so easy with her first-born, who could have been dubbed the Prince of Wails.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Laird Christopher, Dancing Master

March 2015: This has to be one of your servant's favourite pictures from Williamsburg. I'm at a community center following a meeting of the local Jane Austen Society. We've just had some discussion and dancing. And among other things, your servant taught an uncertain, inexperienced young lady how to cavort elegantly. That expression of nobility on my countenance is a reflection of my inner warmth, finally setting free the repressed 18th Century Dancing master within.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
This was after a grand ball the previous evening, which you can read about here.

As I was returning home to Tucson (and reality), your servant mused on Facebook about teaching the young patriots the arts of courtly capering. I have had many an opportunity to lead and teach. I am thankful for every one. But it's that one-on-one opportunity, the chance to teach a lady, give her honour and uplift her, that brings your servant the most joy.

"They're not china dolls," a friend once snarked.

Yes. I know. I get it. But I'm tired of getting the vibe that we're not allowed to be beautiful towards one another, that realism precludes us from constructive fantasy -- especially if it leaves us all better than we found one another.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Just Get It Done

April 2014: I was leaving for work in the morning to find I was trapped in my own apartment by a broken doorknob. I made a call to the emergency maintenance line, and I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, in exasperation and not wanting to be late, I reached for the screwdriver and rescued myself. Whenever the maintenance worker did arrive, he was greeted by a disassembled doorknob and the above note. I had the iron screen door locked to keep my valuables safe until then.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
It's a real pet peeve of mine when somebody tells you they're going to do something "right away," when "right away" means half an hour from now, or more. That's a sub-peeve to the larger peeve of people telling me on the phone something will get done and it doesn't. A nightmare with American Airlines customer service back in March involving delayed luggage marked the penultimate experience. After being told that, yes, my Princess' and your servant's bags would indeed be transferred to a rebooked flight after a cancellation, it wasn't, and I spent considerable time dealing with people over the phone who were clueless or apologetic or both, wasting time that should've been spent enjoying a weekend getaway in Virginia rather than listening to broken promises.

If you're a business owner, avoid the temptation to come up with new and interesting ways to alienate your customers. This includes those vicious, pain-in-the-butt computerized voice response systems that take too long and do nothing but tick people off while you claim efficiency. It's not good business. It's contempt for the people who buy your products.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The First Photo

Circa 1978: After I got ahold of my Royal Father’s Polaroid camera, I busted off a couple of interesting shots... of a wall. Perturbed to see me wasting film, he offered to school me on taking a picture the right way. What you see above is the fruits of his effort.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
He set me up in the study, by his large roll-top desk. The Polaroid SX-70 was on a tripod, with a remote trigger button. All I had to do was look through the viewfinder and squeeze that big red button.

We should’ve used a flash. The banker’s lamp heavily backlit everything. The composition was fine. My framing was fine. But everything else was way too dark. I thought about putting this picture into Photoshop, but I decided you should see it as is.

Still, this was better than a wall. Dad had that SX-70 well into the 2000's, and he tried to use it again with film made by a company that bought a Polaroid factory in Kansas. Those pictures came out garbage, and he ended up selling the camera to somebody in Mexico. I told him the pinch rollers or probably something else in that camera needed to be cleaned.

Digging through the Royal Father’s other pictures, I noticed a few other blurry, fuzzy snaps. Those weren’t my work. Honest.

Friday, June 22, 2018

A Lonely Town In The High Desert

October 2010: The idea was to go tour Edwards Air Force Base on a Saturday morning in the fall. That idea unravelled when the Royal Father, Queen Mother and your servant got there and found out, yes, there's tours -- but they had to be arranged in advance. That's how it works with the Air Force. So we were wandering more than a little bit aimlessly in the high desert.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
This was one of our stopping points, a place where the Royal Father sensed some photographic opportunities and took them. So did I. As I pointed out earlier this month, I seem to be photographically attracted to scenes of desolation. They make good snapshots.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Dirty Dorms And Funky Furniture

August 1992: My new dorm room at Hudson Hall on the University of Missouri campus. It's my Junior year, and for the first time, I have the entire room to myself. That's the Queen Mother meticulously wiping things down. She cannot stand even a little dust, and she wants to get it done before I start setting things up. A lot of those things, including books, are in those milk crates on the right. Those are actual milk crates, from actual dairies, not the imitation ones you see nowadays at container stores. On the bed to the right, you see the famous funky papasan chair, that comfy dome I still have today -- even though my parents wonder why.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
The old reliable Epson Star NX-1000 printer is boxed up in the left hand corner. That printer churned out at least five term papers and more than a few stories for journalism classes. People were starting to move to ink jet and even laser printers at this time, but the Star never let me down. And it played nicely with the Commodore Amiga 3000 (not pictured).

After my parents said their goodbyes and good-lucks, I set about rearranging things. I shoved the two twin beds together along the right wall to create a Queen bed. The desk on the right came out and got shoved along the other wall to create a "stuff table," a place to drop backpacks, books, and other things I didn't want to put away at the moment. With the desk gone from the right, I created an alcove for the TV, stereo and funky chair with headphones. It felt so 70's in that corner, especially on that one Saturday night I was up late listening to the classic-hits radio station out of Jefferson City, and they started playing "TSOP" by MFSB, better known as the theme from Soul Train.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Behind The Sword

When I first showed you this photo more than a decade ago on this blog, I wrote a humorous sidebar for it. What I didn't tell you what that a lot of real pain went into that post.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
It came amid a stressful time at work, because of confusing or nutty demands from management -- who probably got those demands from either higher-ups or consultants. But this is not rant time. This is truth time. I decided to channel my frustration into my inner Jacobite, hence what you see here. This photo came from the first Scottish skirmish I ever took part in. What this picture doesn't show you is the satisfaction I got from firing my French musket for the first time, the thrill of the battle we held like a flash mob nearly in the middle of a group of spectators (who didn't get hurt -- we're not that crazy), and the beauty of all our colourful outfits and kilts.

This was a continuation of my epiphany year of 2006, when I discovered We Make History and started reconnecting with GOD. Living history was a solace among the storms of work, and it still is. I find I have to keep reminding myself to lean on GOD and not myself or stuff or even living history, even if I believe that was the way GOD reconnected me back to HIM (Romans 8:28). Still, every now and then, I gotta pick up the sword.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Doggy-Dog Move

September 1994: After living in a trailer for a month, with most of my stuff thousands of miles away, I'm finally ready to move into my first apartment away from home -- far away, in McAllen, Texas. The Queen Mother and Royal Father have packed up my room in St. Louis and sent it on this van, hauled by one young man and his dog.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
The guy amazed me with his strength. Even though I offered to help carry stuff in, he could pick up a heavy living-room chair like it was a piece of paper and sling it over his back. I did have to help with the sofa. I wish I could've helped his dog.

He tied up the little creature and left him some food and water to keep him happy in the summer heat and humidity. Even so, I would hear a whimper now and then.

"Yeah, dem fire ants is gettin' at his paws," his owner said.

Fire ants? I couldn't see them. And it wasn't for a lack of looking.

I soon learned about how nasty they could be. I also learned how they brought down the career of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Reagan Brown after he was caught on camera sticking his hand into a fire ant mound. Legendary WFAA reporter Carol Kneeland captured that shocking moment in a famous report that followed another shocking moment.

Paraphrasing political commentator Molly Ivans, the episode taught Texans that Brown was too dumb to hold office.

But, back to the subject. It didn't take us long to unload, although I forget how long it took for me to get my apartment looking like something resembling normal. And yes, the dog was all right.

Monday, June 18, 2018

No Nonsense

October 2014:  Ladies, I don't envy you one bit on the matter of hose. I learned that as I came to the realization that I would not be able to put together my long-desired Renaissance outfit for Halloween without getting a pair of tights. Colored tights.

The acquisition is half the problem. I really do not want to have to explain myself in the face of the puzzled store clerk as to why a man is purchasing pantyhose. I could lie and say it’s for my (non-existent) wife. I could also take the approach of Bill Cosby, who proudly announced – while dealing with a toothache – “I want some Midol, and it’s for me!”

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.

This story originally appeared on my Facebook
page in October 2014.
Yes, I know I could get tights at one of the ubiquitous costume stores around town and dodge the hairy eyeball. But I need something the ladies politely call a “control top.” Renaissance tights had the same thing. I am deliberately also avoiding spending $40 or more on period-correct hosen, knowing the odds of it sprouting a run are not in my favor. I want something inexpensive and disposable given the sheer energy of my historic pursuits.

My first attempt takes me to Walmart, which thankfully has a self-checkout line. I slip a pair of purple tights in with several groceries, trying to make things look as normal as possible.

And yet, Murphy has to lay down his law somewhere. The moment after I scan the hose, the machine locks up, asking for an attendant for a price check. Now I’m going to have to explain it. A grizzled old man walks over and tries to reset the machine. He immediately runs into trouble just logging into the thing, grumbling and probably cursing under his lispy breath. When he finally gets past security, he can’t understand what the machine is trying to tell him.

I can. It says it wants a price for “CONTROL TOP TGTS.” Yet he seems to think the pack of hot dogs I’m holding in my other hand are the source of all this trouble.

“Can you remember what you paid for them?”

“I think $4. I can’t remember the cents.”

He doesn't want to call for a price check. Having mercy on me, that’s what he punches into the machine. He never figured out something was up with the tights.

When I got them home and unwrapped them, I noticed the package mentioned a “cotton gusset.” I had no clue what that was until I saw it... and saw where it was. When my face regained its normal color, I told myself the manufacturer might as well have put in a codpiece.

The fitting turned into a cramping, constraining experience. They fit, yes. Fit like a steak fits under shrink wrap. The label said I had the right size for my height and weight, provided I was a woman. The problem had to be my thighs. I knew I needed to go up a size.

I later returned to that Walmart, found myself an extra-large pair of tights that also matched my outfit more closely, went through the self-check with no price-check, and savored success after the fitting. Form and comfort at last. Still I don't know how my crown-and-tunic-wearing ancestors lived with something that feels a touch confining, even if it did make their legs look smooth and silky, shapely, sexy.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

All This And Toys, Too!

December 1994: The Royal Father took this picture on a Saturday afternoon while getting a tour of the KRGV studios. I couldn't come up to St. Louis for Christmas vacation that year, so the family came down to me.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
Here you see me where I spent a lot of my working day, in the control room building graphics. I'm sitting in front of a Chyron Infinit! character generator, one of the top systems of the day. I loved using it. I think I landed the job because I couldn't wait to get my fingers on the keyboard, and the management knew it. They wanted a news producer who wouldn't be intimidated by technology. Check that box right there.

I also built graphics using the control board you see on the far left, a nearly-ancient Ampex switcher with three MLE's. That console to the right is an absolutely-ancient NEC DME-II, a fancy name for a system that took video and squeezed it into boxes or slid it on and off the screen. You stored the setups for it in bubble memory cartridges. Yes, bubble memory. Look closely at the bottom left corner, and you can make out the joystick for the other video effects machine we had: an Ampex ADO. It did everything the DME did, but with an extra dimension, meaning you could tilt video on an X, Y, or Z axis. Instead of bubble memory, you saved setups for it on an old-school 5 1/4" floppy disk.

I used both of these machines in combination with the Infinit! to make stills because we didn't have a fancy paintbox graphics system. I'd build them through the board and save them on an electronic slide store machine. You can see the little black control panel for it on top of the switcher.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Abandoned Lunch Counter

July 2008: I don't know why I'm drawn to images of abandoned Americana, but oh do they look good on film. This is the dilapidated Twin Arrows truck stop on Interstate 40 east of Flagstaff. I was with the Royal Father and Queen Mother on the way to Winslow when we had to get out and take a look around.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
Dad and I squeezed off probably a dozen of more pictures of what was then and what is now.

Friday, June 15, 2018

This Is The City

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
December 2006: The Queen Mother, Royal Father and your servant visited the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. The highlight of the evening was not the spectacular view in the heavens or the planetarium, but the one on the ground.

I captured this picture with an inexpensive Cannon point-and-shoot PowerShot camera by leaving the shutter open for as long as the settings would allow. I think that was about six seconds. I didn't even use a tripod; I set the camera on top of a garbage can and used the self timer so I wouldn't be shaking it as I squeezed the shutter button.

Of course, I couldn't stop at just one.

Not bad for a cheap camera and an amateur photographer.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Happy Patriot

May 2012: This had to be one of the happiest days of my life -- the day the Tucson chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution inducted me as a new member.

"Are you going to be at the meeting on Saturday?" came a phone call a few days before from the chapter president.
Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
"Yes, of course," I replied.

"Good, because we want to get you inducted." Not doing it then would mean I would have to wait through the summer and get it done in September, and I didn't want to wait.

"I'm going to wear my full uniform," I said. I wouldn't have it any other way. This was a moment I had anticipated for a long time.

I had been a part of their color guard for at least three years, and I had been working on trying to document my patriot ancestry to make it official. I thought I could handle it myself, digging around on and the various genealogical websites. But the more I worked, the more work I found I had to do. I would actually have to write for records, something I wasn't sure I was doing correctly. And I still had a day job.

Fortunately, every chapter has a genealogical specialist who knows how to work the system. In a few weeks' time, we had all the supporting documents we needed to link your servant to a member of the Pennsylvania Militia -- Robert Foresman, who came over from Ireland. I have also learned about a Redcoat in the family, another ancestor who was part of the Continental Army, and a Confederate ancestor. Research on them may come at a future date.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Nice Outfit, But What's With That Big Phone?

March 2009: A visitor shared this picture of your servant, dressed in Scottish Jacobite attire, ready to march into battle. Look carefully, and you'll see my bayonet holder hanging down towards my feet. This image comes from the Verde Valley Highland Games, the smallest Scottish festival I know of in Arizona. I later enlarged this and hung it on my wall. I sort of look like a toy soldier in this, and perhaps that's why I like this picture.

Photos from my past and the tales they tell.
Other people have zoomed in on that big green phone in the back.

"What's a phone doing at a Scottish festival?"

That is actually part of an advertisement for a wireless provider -- I'll let you guess which one -- that showed up to the games. The commercial booths help pay the freight, and I can live with that.

I miss the Verde Valley games, even though they weren't that big of a deal. It was another chance to see another part of Arizona I don't usually get to -- and wear a kilt.