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The next chapter begins


I’m a week late in getting these posted, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t show pictorial proof that Rebecca is in place at UC Berkeley.

IMG_1759This is Foothill dormitory on the northeast side of the Berkeley campus. It’s about 90 seconds after the four of us—Rebecca, her mom, Chris, and I—got the bed heater over the mattress, the sheets on, and the bedspread on top.

It’s also about eight hours after a 6.0 earthquake rocked Napa, about 40 miles northeast of Berkeley.

It was an auspicious start to the day, to college, and to the new chapter in Rebecca’s life.

IMG_1760I had been through the parents’ orientation earlier in the summer, and had heard the many stories about the overwhelming emotion this moment would bring. Many of my friends, even the stoic ones like me, told me they had to use tissues when they went through this.

I had some emotions, to be sure, but none of them were of the kind likely to bring tears to my eyes. I’d wondered about this moment from Rebecca’s birth, maybe even from her conception. I’d wondered if I’d be able to convey to any kid the importance of working hard and staying focused in high school, of having high aspirations, and of figuring out a way to fulfill them. I guess I did convey those things.

Tears? Nah. I’m thrilled Rebecca is getting to live her dream, just as a lifetime ago I was able to live mine. I’m ecstatic she, alone, made the choice of where to go and what to study. I’m happiest that Rebecca is getting to be Rebecca.

It doesn’t get any better than that.


The Vic files, part 5: What death tells us about life


Here are some more treasures from the files Vic Struber sent me. These are the death certificates of Vic’s grandfather, Mendel “Max” Struber, and my great-grandmother, Surah Henya (Strober) Schkolnik. They were siblings.

VRS Doc 010Death certificates are treasure-troves of important information for genealogy researchers, but they can also be stores of misinformation. Note that Max’s surname is misspelled on his death certificate. It shows up, and in consistent ways, as “Struder.” That’s the kind of error that could have caused it to be lost in the files forever. Max’s father is listed as Philip. In fact, his father was Folic. It’s a simple matter of translation, but inasmuch as Yoinus Folic, or Yoinatan Folic, never came to the United States, his name was never pronounced in English.

His mother’s name is listed on the death certificate as Pesice. In fact, it was Pesha. And her maiden name is listed on Max’s death certificate as Struder, but was actually Cohen.

Max died on April 3, 1931, though the death certificate is stamped “1930.” Bureaucratic error? Probably. Mis-set date stamp? Could have been. Source of confusion for years to come? Possibly.

Max’s death was caused, according to the autopsy mentioned on the death certificate, by diabetes mellitus and a fractured rib (accidental), though what these two things may have had to do with each other isn’t made clear. The death certificate says he was 60 years old, though we suspect from other information, such as immigration documents, that he was more than a decade older than that, either 72 or 73 years old.

VRS Doc 009

Surah Henya (Strober) Schkolnik, listed on her death certificate as “Sarah Skolnick,” died three and a half years before her brother, on September 11, 1928. Her death certificate lists her as 75 years old, but we think (again based on other records, such as immigration documents) she was actually 76 or 77. The cause of her death was listed as broncho pneumonia. Her father’s name is listed as Felix, though (as with Max) it was actually Folic. Her mother is listed as “unknown,” which may have been a momentary lapse in memory by a family member at a very trying time, the immediate wake of her death. The address listed as her former residence, 796 Lenox Road in Brooklyn, was the home of her middle child, my grandfather Paul.

Genealogists call these kinds of documents “primary sources” and understand there may be discrepancies with other kinds of official documents and records. They’re vital documents in studying the history of a person or, in our case, a family, but they’re not infallible.

Still, when they reach back 80 or 90 years, they are fascinating.


The Vic files, part 4: the Touro stamp


In one of the files Vic Struber sent me, there was an envelope within an envelope. The outer envelope had Vic’s handwritten note that Taube (Held) Strober had posed for the picture. The inner envelope had a picture, a stamp, and a postmark—the kind of thing philatelists collect.

VRS Doc 8

The only picture is the one on the envelope, showing a woman covering her eyes while lighting the shabbat candles. This is clearly the one Vic’s note indicates Taube posed for.

I wish I could tell you how all of this came to pass, but I can’t even come close to confirming it. What I can tell you is that the Touro Synagogue, in Newport, RI, is the oldest existing synagogue in the United States. It was built in 1763, more than a decade before the country declared its independence from England. The stamp was issued, as the postmark indicates, in 1982, after decades of wrangling. The government commission that approves stamps first felt that a stamp commemorating a synagogue violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against an established government religion. The stamp’s proponents suggested that other religious buildings of historical significance in other parts of the country be similarly celebrated. Then the commissioners said the Touro Synagogue wasn’t really of architectural significance. It was easy enough for the proponents to provide documents that it, indeed, was signifcant.

But the fight over the stamp doesn’t tell us anything about the envelope, and how Taube (Held) Strober got to be on it. In fact, doing some checking, it seems she was not on the official issue of what stamp collectors call the “cover.” George Washington was on it. In fact, on various websites which show many more of the envelope covers, none even come close to looking like the one of the woman lighting the candles.

What’s included in Vic’s file isn’t a copy of the commemorative. It’s the real thing. It would have been much more difficult to alter a picture on the actual envelope than it would be on a copy.

0136This is a photo of Chaim Groinem and Taube (Held) Strober, probably taken sometime around 1910 in Brooklyn. Taube lived from about 1857 until 1940. She bore her husband, who was a roofing contractor in Brooklyn, ten children.

Groinem, as he was known in the family, was one of five children of Yoinatan Folic Strober.

20140821_YOINATAN_FOLIC_STROBER_descendants_VERTHow a woman who lived in Brooklyn got on the cover of a commemorative stamp issued more than forty years after her death for a synagogue in Newport, RI doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

Maybe it’s not really her on the cover. Maybe it’s another woman who resembles her, an ancestor of a prominent family who were actually members of that shul. Perhaps one of Taube’s descendants became a driving force at the Touro Synagogue. Maybe there’s some other explanation that hasn’t yet presented itself.

Those are the maddening mysteries of genealogy.


The view from on high


I asked Rebecca to write a little something about her backpacking trip last week in Yosemite. She chose not to reduce what she calls a “life-changing event” to a short blog post. But she did give me some photos from the trip, three taken by one of the other students and two she took herself.


(Photo by Emily Benjamin at emilybenjamin.com.)


Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

(Photo by Emily Benjamin at emilybenjamin.com.)


(Photo by Emily Benjamin at emilybenjamin.com.)

(Photo by Emily Benjamin at emilybenjamin.com.)


(Photo by Rebecca Skolnick.)

(Photo by Rebecca Skolnick.)


(Photo by Rebecca Skolnick.)

(Photo by Rebecca Skolnick.)


Stopping by a field on a sweltering day


I’d had about enough of Interstate 5 the other morning, and I decided to get off the road and stretch my legs for a few minutes. I was near a place in Tulare County called Alpaugh, which was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The exit had what the highway signs like to refer to as “no services”—no gas station, no fast food, no sign of humanity.


I don’t want to make it seem as if I’d traveled to the other side of the moon. It was just the San Joaquin Valley, a place I’d lived several decades ago for almost five years, a place I was familiar with. In fact, I’m among the small number of north-south commuters who can see some beauty in these wide-open spaces. In this shot, for instance, there’s the moon itself, straight above the double-yellow lines. It was much more prominent to the naked eye than it was to the lens.


Directly across the road from where I’d stopped on the shoulder, there were some wild sunflowers growing. They were growing tall, in fact, so I made part of my stretching exercise capturing the flowers with the moon in the background. Once again, the moon was much more prominent to my naked eye than it was to the lens.


So even in the desolation of a hot San Joaquin Valley morning, it was possible to stretch my limbs and grab a few shots before getting back on the interstate.


Look who’s back from her mountain tromp


IMG_1753Yup, she came down from the mountain Friday afternoon. And from everything she’s told me about the six-day trip through the high country in the Ten Lakes area of Yosemite National Park, it was an absolutely spectacular time.

Rebecca took two disposable film cameras on the trip, and had the pictures printed yesterday. I’ll prevail on her to post some of them here, because this was not your standard sightseeing drive through the Yosemite Valley. This was a hump-it-up-the-mountain and then hump-it-back-down-again trek into the wilderness.


The Vic files, part 3: The genealogy bond


Doing genealogy takes being in touch with a lot of people. That human contact is easier (and certainly cheaper) now with email and social media. But even before computers, some people were good at communicating. Vic Struber, who has turned over his genealogy files to me, was one of them. Sometimes he made contact with people he’d tracked down. And sometimes, as with his second cousin, Raymond “Ray” Strauber, the connection came from a happy coincidence.

VRS Doc 6

VRS Doc 7Ray’s letter to Vic is undated, but I’m guessing it is from the early 2000s. The first thing to notice is how the connection came about at all. Vic’s older son Frank works in customer service at an airline at McCarran Field, the Las Vegas airport. And Ray’s son Alan, about whom I posted last month, happened to be passing through there. It’s not all that odd that they would have bumped into each other. But it’s extremely odd that they recognized in each other’s names a potential relative, managed to exchange information about it, and then got the information to their fathers who could then act on it.

I believe Ray and Vic ultimately got together. Ray died in 2007. However, we’re still mining the fruits of their collaboration.


And now she’s gone…


The tension was getting pretty thick as Rebecca and I drove up Interstate 5 on Saturday. She has had a number of very exciting experiences this summer, but none seemed to carry with it the expectations and enthusiasm she had for her six-day backpacking trip in Yosemite’s high country. It was a special event put together by the recreation department at UC Berkeley.

Rebecca after we parked the car and walked next door to the backpack trip rendezvous point in Berkeley.

Rebecca after we parked the car and walked next door to the backpack trip rendezvous point in Berkeley.

The whole thing is fraught with significance, especially for dad. It’s Rebecca’s first backpacking excursion, and it comes just before a huge academic excursion called college. The structure where we parked is on the site of the rooming house my father lived in when he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley in 1946-48. And the street is one I walked daily forty years ago. Yeah, there was lots of history happening between the car and the meeting spot, which was about a hundred yards.

But the big thing I had to contend with was being sure not to embarrass my daughter. I thoughtfully snapped this picture (with Rebecca’s permission) right outside the garage, so none of the other backpackers would see us. And when she met up with the group, I waited only long enough for her to get her pack off so I could hug her and then be on my way.

Yeah, who needs parents anyway?


The Vic files, part 2


Another surprise in the genealogy files Vic Struber mailed me this week—Vic and his second cousin, Bennett Strober, started to organize a family reunion in 1983!

19830100 reunion draft letterThere are a couple of great insights here. One is that they have largely been unable to track those who descended from female members of the Strauber/Strober/Struber family. This was a considerable problem at the dawn of the computer age, when the essential information for charting a family was on paper or in the heads of those members of the family. But what it meant is that the reunion would have included only people with the family surname—so the descendants of a woman (like me, perhaps, the great-grandson of Surah Henya (Strober) Schkolnick), or of multiple women, wouldn’t be included.

To this day, it’s difficult to track family members over multiple name-changes. We sometimes hear from people sharing information with us things like, “Oh, she married a guy named Gordon, and they had a couple of kids.” Maybe it’s all the information that person can offer at the moment, but it’s pretty obvious that it doesn’t help an investigator hunt down and contact that woman’s descendants.

Vic and Bennett also intended to add a little market research.

19830100 reunion questionnaireAs these were apparently draft documents that were never distributed, we don’t know the results of how many wished to be in contact and how many didn’t.

What we do know is that there was once a great gathering of the far-flung members of the Strauber/Strober/Struber clan. It was on May 4, 1941 in Brooklyn, NY, where the bulk of the family lived, and it was a big to-do.

SSS reunion 19410504This was billed as the “1st Anniversary Dinner” of the Strober Family Circle. And to the best of anyone’s knowledge, there was no “2nd Anniversary Dinner.” Seven months after the family gathered, World War II broke out. And whatever momentum had been established before the war, it was apparently gone after the war.

But the memories of that evening together were not lost on two of those in attendance, Vic Struber and Bennett Strober. More than forty years later, they were working on bringing everyone back together.

strober reunion bennett and vic id'dThose who have been part of the Jazlowiec discussion group on Google know that there have been calls there for a huge family reunion. Those calls have all come from Scott Strober, who is (not surprisingly) Bennett’s son.

So far, there are no plans for a family get-together. But the digital equivalent is taking place here, on a Facebook group, and on the Google group. If you’re part of the family, be a part of the discussion!

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Look who’s here!


IMG_1716Rebecca’s plane had touched down only 90 minutes before she asked if we could go to Tito’s Tacos to celebrate her arrival.

Tito’s, of course, is another of those iconic Los Angeles eateries I’ve been drawn to all of my life, and that I’ve succeeded in teaching my kid how to be drawn to. There are, to be sure, more authentic tacos in Los Angeles. There are better tasting tacos. There are bigger tacos. But there aren’t any that have a stronger emotional attachment for us than that stand in the shadow of the 405 in Culver City.

And this wasn’t just any old arrival. This was Rebecca’s first meal as a real Californian. She took the test and obtained her California driver’s license in June. She registered to vote here. She has a bank account here.

And now, to cement the deal, she has eaten her first meal here. Welcome to the newest Californian!


The mystery package from Vic Struber


The parcel landed with a thud, all 2 pounds 3.4 ounces of it. I hadn’t been expecting a package, so out of a habit developed more than a decade ago, when it was a good idea to look for a sender’s name, I checked for a return address. It was from Vic Struber.

I know Vic Struber. He’s a cousin. He is one of the pioneers of researching the Strauber/Strober/Struber line of my family, that huge intertwined tree that now includes more than 1,500 names. I attach to that tree through my great-grandmother, Surah Henya (Schkolnik) Strober, who was the sister of Vic’s grandfather, Mendel “Max” Struber.

That makes Vic and me second cousins, once removed. And that, I figured, is hardly enough reason to spend $15 postage sending something.


The “mystery file” that Vic Struber sent.

Vic started working on genealogy in the 1970s. He was trained as an engineer and worked in the field for decades, which means he notates items with terse comments, the relevance of which are immediately obvious. He also does it legibly.

Inside the package, a bundle of correspondence and documents relating (primarily) to the Strauber branch of the family.

A quick word of clarification: there was one family that lived in a couple of villages in what is now the western part of Ukraine. Their name, probably adopted by edict of the Emperor Franz Josef of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 18th Century, was Strober. But in the alphabet soup of history, as different countries took over the area my ancestors came from and those countries had different languages and, in the case of Ukrainians and Russians, whole different alphabets, the spelling of the family name developed variants.

They probably would have pronounced the name SHTRAW’-burr, and today, it is variously spelled Strauber, Strober, and Struber. In records at Yad Vashem in Israel, the surname of family members lost in the Holocaust is frequently spelled Sztrauber. And that doesn’t even bring into consideration what they did to the name at Ellis Island!

The treasure trove of correspondence, documents, and notes that Vic Struber developed over decades of genealogical research.

The treasure trove of correspondence, documents, and notes that Vic Struber developed over decades of genealogical research.

But what to do with all of this information? Vic invited me to toss it, but I knew it had taken hard work to accumulate it and it was of great value in understanding this group of people from whom I (and Vic) descend. I could have placed it into one of the milk crates I use for filing papers. But it struck me that the best use of these documents was to share with other family members, so they could learn, as Vic had and as I have, exactly who the family members are.

susan strober letter

Susan Strober’s letter to Vic Struber, undated, conveying a few family documents.

I had to do a little research, but Vic’s notation that Susan Strober was somehow related to George Strober makes me think she is a great-granddaughter of Chaim Groinem Strober (person #50 on our family tree), a granddaughter of Morris Strober (person #395), and a daughter of George Strober (person #401). Interestingly, Susan Strober does not appear on the family tree. She’s one of the many generations we have yet to file in.

Stapled to Susan’s letter were three New York City death certificates, reproduced below. They are for her great-grandfather, Chaim Groinem Strober, her great-grandmother Taube (Held) Strober, and her grandfather, Morris Strober.

Death certificate of Chaim Groinem Strober, identified as Hyman Strober.

Death certificate of Chaim Groinem Strober, identified as Hyman Strober.


Death certificate of Taube (Held) Strober.

Death certificate of Taube (Held) Strober.

Death certificate of Morris Strober.

Death certificate of Morris Strober.

When I emailed Vic to thank him for keeping the file alive, he told me he has two more headed for me. So look at this as the beginning of an online repository of Strauber-Strober-Struber family documents.


A short hike through my personal history


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.


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.


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.


Reestablishing the Henry E. Strauber online legacy


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.


A few new old Strauber photos


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.


Symmetry in the urban infrastructure


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.


The JLOP showed up; Hollywood didn’t


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.


Studies in depth of field


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


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.


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.


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.


Into the Valley


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.


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.


Rainy days and Fridays


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!