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A short hike through my personal history

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I got to spend a couple of days last month in Berkeley, the first sustained visit since I was a student there. It had been over forty years since I first arrived, and I used at least a little of my time to try to gauge what had changed.

My "graduation" photo taken in Berkeley in the fall of 1974. I graduated in March 1975, but had the picture taken in a studio on University Avenue because I needed it for grad-school applications. I can't recall now why I had a tie and a jacket.

My “graduation” photo taken in Berkeley in the fall of 1974. I graduated in March 1975, but had the picture taken in a studio on University Avenue because I needed it for grad-school applications. I can’t recall now why I had a tie and a jacket.

Me, for one thing. I’d changed in a lot of very big ways. I’d gotten to Berkeley as the Nixon presidency unraveled, just after Patricia Hearst had been kidnapped from her college apartment a few blocks up the street and just before police surrounded a house in south-central Los Angeles where her compatriots from the Symbionese Liberation Army were holed up. These were exciting times!

Even with all the craziness there, my Berkeley life was pretty mundane. I spent virtually every weeknight in the library reading and studying, explored the lay of the land by riding the bus and taking BART, seemed to have as much fun as I could handle on virtually no money. I remember that if I was very careful for the whole week, I could stop at a place called Kip’s Upstairs at 11 pm on the way home from the library Thursday night and have a draft beer. It must have cost 50 cents then.

I seemed to have a lot of friends in Berkeley (many of whom are still close friends today even though none of us remained in Berkeley). I never lacked for things to do. Every day was an adventure.

So what would it be like to stroll those streets again, to see the sights through middle-aged eyes that I first saw with a young man’s eyes?

It was, amazingly, much the same. Except it wasn’t.

The first apartment I lived in in Berkeley - 2633 Durant. It's vacant now, condemned and ready to be removed.

The first apartment I lived in in Berkeley – 2633 Durant. It’s vacant now, condemned and ready to be removed.

There were things I could easily remember, like the first Berkeley apartment I lived in, and things I couldn’t—like which was the window to my room? And did I live upstairs or down? What was the apartment like? How was it laid out? I remember having a desk and a bed, but I don’t remember a living room. There certainly wasn’t a TV. I kept up with much of the Watergate drama each day by going across the street to the dormitory and watching the news in the common room there. I saw the SLA shootout on a neighbor’s small black-and-white portable TV.

In the Fall of 1974, I spent quite a bit of time with my friend Tom. We’d gone to high school together, and he moved to Berkeley and got a room in a frat house a few doors down from my first apartment.

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The frat house at the corner of Durant and College. My friend Tom lived here. So did the guy who was going to marry Elaine Robinson in “The Graduate.”

Tom thought he might want to join the fraternity, but then decided against it. However, the state of Greek life in the mid-70s was such that there were a lot of vacant rooms. Tom paid the rent, and enjoyed the amenities—like the pool table. Ultimately, he opted out of the house and moved down the street a few blocks to a studio apartment. He said it was a lot quieter.

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The Durant Hotel, on Durant between Bowditch and College. Walking by it every day in my Berkeley years, I wondered how luxurious its rooms must be. As a post middle-age adult, I discovered I may have waited too long to find out.

The Hotel Durant was an imposing institution. The whole time I attended UC Berkeley, wherever I lived, I had to walk by it on the way to class and on the way home from class. It had something in those days you couldn’t find anywhere else in the area—a full-service bar. But I didn’t have the cash to saunter in and ask for a Cutty Sark rocks. That probably cost $2, which was also enough to get lunch. I had to opt for the lunch then.

I didn’t have much of a view last month from my room at The Durant. I faced away from the Campanile and the campus. The room was small and quaint. It was comfortable. That it was exponentially more comfortable than anywhere I lived in college probably says more about where I lived then than it does about the hotel now. And that bar? Still there, but I didn’t even go in. I figured the drinks weren’t $2 anymore.

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Reestablishing the Henry E. Strauber online legacy

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In searching around for information about the Sruel “Israel” Strauber branch of the family for yesterday’s post, I realized that a vital piece of the story had disappeared. That bit concerns the only street we know named for a member of the Strauber/Strober/Struber family.

1129Strauber Memorial Highway is in Holiday, Pasco County, Florida, on the Gulf Coast north of Clearwater and west of Tampa. It is named for Henry E. Strauber, who was elected to the Pasco County Commission in November 1972, sworn in two months later, and then died in September 1973. He was attending a meeting of the Florida State Association of County Commissioners in Miami Beach, where he was elected a trustee. He collapsed after dancing with his wife at the group’s banquet. He was 75.

Henry Strauber was remembered in news coverage after his death as a “stabilizer” on the county commission, the only Democrat then serving and the swing vote between the eastern and western sides of the county. He’d established a volunteer fire department in Holiday, as he had in Bethpage, NY, where he lived and worked before retiring in Florida.

The day my daughter Rebecca and I tracked down Strauber Memorial Highway alongside a mangrove swamp and photographed the sign, we turned up some additional photos at the Clearwater Public Library—file photos of Henry Strauber taken by the Clearwater Sun two months before he died.

Henry E. Strauber in his seat in the board room of the Pasco County Commission. (Courtesy Clearwater Public Library.)

Henry E. Strauber in his seat in the board room of the Pasco County Commission. (Courtesy Clearwater Public Library.)

Henry E. Strauber in his office as a Pasco County Commissioner. (Courtesy Clearwater Public Library.)

Henry E. Strauber in his office as a Pasco County Commissioner. (Courtesy Clearwater Public Library.)

I originally posted these photos in a family genealogy area of Google in 2008, but over time, Google didn’t have enough traffic to the “pages” area and eliminated it. I didn’t realize until yesterday that the digital memorial to Henry Strauber was no longer available. So here it is reprised.

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A few new old Strauber photos

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I caught a flash on Facebook this afternoon of some old photos and managed to retrieve them. They were posted by Alan Strauber, a Sruel “Israel” descendant, who kindly consented to letting me copy them and add them to the thousand or so others I’ve been archiving.

This picture was taken in April 1946, probably in Bloomingburg, NY, at the foot of the Catskill Mountains. It shows, from left to right, Milford Strauber, and two of his brothers, Henry in the center, and Mitch on the right.

milford henry mitchAll three were sons of Sruel (Israel) Strauber, who was the youngest brother of my great-grandmother, Surah Henya (Schkolnik) Strober. I know, I know. It’s almost like you need a score card to keep track, which is why I created one.

Raymond “Ray” Strauber was Milford’s son. He was one of the early instigators, with Vic Struber, of the Strauber-Strober-Struber family tree.

ray strauber 1946This was Ray in 1946 in his Merchant Marine uniform, in a picture from his high school photo album.

And this was Ray’s sister Norma, also sometime around 1946.

norma strauber circa 1946And not many years later, in 1949,Ray and his wife Bernice on the back porch in Rego Park, Queens, NY.

ray and bernice strauber 1949Alan mentioned in our Facebook back-and-forth that he has his grandfather’s photo album. Can’t wait till he scans it and we begin to see more of the first generation of the family born in the U.S.

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Symmetry in the urban infrastructure

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I don’t know what it was about the power lines that caught my eye as I drove alongside them a couple weeks ago. I’d been by this stretch of Sepulveda in El Segundo hundreds, if not thousands, of times before, and I’d never really noticed all of the parallel lines and sharp angles.

IMG_1612These suspended high-voltage lines run through a greenway on the west side of Sepulveda Blvd. While they do many things for homes and businesses, for the conduct of commerce, and for the comfort of life, I was particularly interested on this day by how they look.

IMG_1615Were these sentries protecting against some kind of invisible invasion? Were they signposts pointing the way somewhere? In reality, they were neither. They were merely wires carrying electrons from one place to another.

IMG_1611It was the aesthetics of power transmission that I was trying to capture with the camera, the symmetry and design. And what interesting geometric patterns they were making.

IMG_1609Hmmm. Much as I liked the interesting lines against the blue sky, there is a limit to what you can say about electricity in El Segundo. And I think I’ve arrived at that point.

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The JLOP showed up; Hollywood didn’t

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The call went out a couple Sundays ago for a photo meet-up in Hollywood. The JLOP, a rag-tag bunch of people I know with cameras who sometimes like to use them, seemed a little worn down. Only four of us (not counting Chula the Dog, who didn’t have a camera) met on the corner of Hollywood and Vine for a little walking, a little talking, and maybe some shutter-snapping.

IMG_1581 We’d been down this road before (quite literally). Of all the places JLOP has gathered, Hollywood has been the most prominent. But this night was different. Hollywood was dead. There were very few souls strolling down the boulevard. The clubs along Cahuenga, where we’d taken so many pictures on so many nights of people making the scene, were empty.

IMG_1591I’d opted to travel light, taking only my pocket camera rather than the larger SLRs I usually use. The advantage of the Canon Powershot G15 is that it has higher ISO settings, fancy photography-speak meaning that I can get exposures in most places without a flash. But the issue that night wasn’t the flash. It was more about not having much to shoot.

IMG_1598So I resorted to trying different angles on some of the landmarks I’d photographed many times before—the Capitol Records building, door locks, and signs. This isn’t exactly an inspiring portfolio.

My daughter Rebecca spotted what may have been the best shot of the night—a mostly-emtpy tequila bottle atop the traffic-signal electronics box. If we moved into an exact position, maybe we could get the street sign in the background.

IMG_1599It was a metaphor—but I’m not sure for what.

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Studies in depth of field

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Sometimes when I haven’t taken any pictures in awhile—like, say, today—I push myself a little harder and find something, even something simple and ordinary, to shoot. It’s a kind of workout, but the only things that get any exercise are my shutter finger and, in the best cases, my mind.

IMG_1359 The nearest thing I could find today was in my front yard. The roses have exploded in color bursts I don’t remember from previous springs. I thought for a minute and figured I could work on depth of field.

IMG_1362Depth of field is a term of art in photography, referring to how much focus is in a picture. If width is the first dimension, and height is the second dimension, depth is the third dimension. But in a two-dimensional medium like photography, that third dimension is an illusion. Shallow depth of field means only a small part of the picture is in focus. It could be the foreground, the mid-ground, or the background. In deep depth of field, all three would be in focus.

IMG_1363There are two ways to monkey with the depth of field. One is mechanical, and the other digital. In the mechanical manner, a bigger lens aperture will make for shallower depth of field, and a smaller aperture will make for deeper depth of field. The digital manner relies on computer software to do the focus trick.

IMG_1364Both methods have their virtues, and both have their drawbacks. For instance, the mechanical method has a more realistic look, but it can take some experimentation with the dials on the camera. Similarly, the software approach can alter depth of field in situations where the camera may have had problems, but it takes some aesthetic skill and a steady hand to mark the parts of the picture that require the software’s attention.

IMG_1368Which did I use this afternoon? A little of both.

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A national park I’d never heard of

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I was somewhere around King City when I first saw the sign for Pinnacles National Park. It struck me as odd that there was a national park in California that I’d not only never been to, but also never heard of. I’ve spent the bulk of my life in California, and much of it since the Golden State granted me a driver’s license at the age of 16 in seeing its many parts. The particular stretch of Highway 101, El Camino Real, that was now inviting me to Pinnacles National Park is one I’ve been on scores of times.

A couple days later, my visit to the Salinas Valley completed, I was overcome by the curiosity of just what these pinnacles were that had been made into a national park.

DSC_0014 They were rock spires, vastly different than the Gabilan Mountains just east of them that separate the Salinas Valley from the San Joaquin Valley. I learned at the Visitor Center that the Pinnacles had been created by seismic activity along the San Andreas Fault. The creation site was actually about 200 miles southeast of where the Pinnacles now stand, near the Antelope Valley in northeastern Los Angeles County. The Pinnacles had been pushed north in the jostling of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates.

DSC_0007It turns out, I also discovered at the Visitor’s Center, that I never knew about this national park because it was just over a year earlier that it had become a national park. The Pinnacles had protected status for over a century before that as a National Monument, having been designated by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.

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That morning my curiosity compelled me up a one-lane road east of Soledad was a warm one—over 90 degrees before noon—and I let reason take over. I didn’t have the right shoes for hiking and I also didn’t have any drinking water with me. (The rangers recommended a liter an hour for the two-hour walk through the caves.) I figured I’d have to leave for another day more detailed explorations of Pinnacles. Besides, there was a whole area of the park that wasn’t accessible without leaving the park and driving miles around to get to it.

DSC_0016As I was getting ready to leave, I looked up and saw the circling birds. My first impulse was to think they were some of the California condors that had been released into Pinnacles. The birds were circling at too high an altitude for a rank amateur like me to try to identify the species. Maybe they were hawks, maybe some other birds of prey.

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Or maybe my curiosity had paid really big dividends by giving me a glimpse of ancient beasts in glorious surroundings.

UPDATE (April 15, 2014 1:27pm PT): Due to my editing error, one of the photos in this post was duplicated, and two of the photos weren’t originally included. The photos have been rearranged.

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Into the Valley

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My travels took me deep into the San Joaquin Valley in January. Not the urban San Joaquin Valley of Bakersfield, Fresno, and Modesto, but rather the rural, forgotten San Joaquin Valley of Shafter, Wasco, and Corcoran. These are towns along California Hwy 43 where you see farm-implement dealerships and pick-up trucks. They’re the kind of places where it seems everybody’s hands are at least a little dirty with the soil that grows what America eats.

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These are almond trees just east of Allensworth. In this part of the world, that’s pronounced AAA’-mund (where the “a” sound is like the starting syllable of “apple”). I’ve always been impressed at how perfectly these trees are planted, the rows forming precise lines with a perfect vanishing point. They are, as are so many fruit and nut trees, leafless in winter. Thirty-five ago, when I lived and worked in Fresno and was a relatively frequent visitor to the agricultural world, they’d flood the troughs between the trees to water them. Now, with water in short supply, they’ve switched to irrigation carried by thick black hoses and dripped onto the tree roots.

IMG_1097The railroad is a key component of California agriculture. It’s how many of the crops get to market. It’s what built the San Joaquin Valley into an economic juggernaut a century and a half ago, and what made a handful of men multimillionaires beyond their wildest dreams.

IMG_1098I took almost all of these shots within a few miles of Colonel Allensworth State Park. I was the only visitor at the time I was there, and other than a couple of maintenance people, the only person I saw for about an hour while I was in the area.

IMG_1105The longer I stayed at the rural railroad crossing that evening, the more spectacular my surroundings became. The sunset turned into a symphony of color, a rippled curtain of majesty.

IMG_1106When that happens, about the only thing to do is to keep clicking the shutter.

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Rainy days and Fridays

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I braved southern California’s severe elements today. Those elements amounted to intermittent rain storms that were at times decidedly moderate in intensity. The goal was to snap some pictures with rain drops in them.

IMG_1191Initially, I canvassed the area to see what there was to photograph, but ultimately, I snapped all of these shots within 30 steps of my front door. Can’t beat the convenience. Lots of trees, flowers, and fruit, and hot coffee at the top of the stairs.

IMG_1200My daughter tells me that I’ve been a journalist way too long to see the world in artistic terms. She says I’m limited to a realistic view because of my training and my profession.

To prove her wrong, I ran all of these shots through Photoshop, and then through my new high-end effects program to enhance their artistic nature. I didn’t add anything that the camera didn’t catch, but I did throw a few vignettes on and do a little blurring to keep the focus off the trash cans and on the landscaping.

IMG_1204Dig those rain drops!

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JLOP vs. Downtown LA

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I guess I’m a little burned out on sunsets, so when the call went out for a JLOP gathering yesterday in the middle of the afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, my quest for variety compelled me to go.

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JLOP is the name we’ve given to a loose-knit group of photo enthusiasts who enjoy getting together from time to time to snap some pictures and chat. (I’ve mentioned our gatherings here, here, and here in the past, to link to just a few.) It is not a group, in that it has no leader, no dues, and no rules. If you want to shoot, you show up.

Downtown Los Angeles is an odd area—it’s the city’s civic center without being particularly civic or in the center. In truth it’s a financial and administrative area where a few people live and a few more work. But since I’ve neither lived there nor worked there, it always feels a little foreign to me.

IMG_1116Lately (as in over the last 30 years or so), downtown LA has become a collection of skyscrapers, which are impressive for their size and their defiance of seismic realities. We were hoping they’d have some photogenic qualities as well.

IMG_1132I was particularly drawn on this outing to the reflections. There are now so many buildings with mirror-like windows that, when the angle is right, you can catch two or three buildings in one view. The glass and the light sometimes show up as wavy lines within straight ones.

IMG_1141The Bonaventure Hotel (now known as the Westin Bonaventure) is, I think, one of the oldest of the glass buildings. It’ll be 40 years old soon. I’m sure I have been inside at one time or another, but I can’t tell you when it was. It’s always been about the outside for me.

IMG_1153Behind the Los Angeles Central Library—which I have been inside many times—are a couple of small fountains. They helped to break up the photographic flow for me.

IMG_1166And almost before I knew it, I was focused again on the Bonaventure. We’d crossed around so we were seeing it from a different angle, and the light had changed a little to pick up even more reflections.

IMG_1178I caught one last look as I was driving away from the skyscrapers, across the freeway and back into the world where people live. The lights were just coming on, and I was on the verge of being far enough away that the buildings were becoming an actual skyline. If you wonder where you are, the palm trees put it all into perspective.

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