Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Happy Trails Sally Starr

     I kissed another part of my childhood goodbye with the passing of Philadelphia television personality Sally Starr. Thinking of her brought back some memories when I spent time on weekday afternoons in front of the black and white tv.
     Normally I would drop my books and run right out of the front door when I got home from school. But on a rainy day I would warm up the old Zenith and turn to Channel 6 for Sally Starr's Popeye Theater. I figured my mom was praying for sunshine to get my brother and me out of the house instead of us horsing around like bandits and cowboys.
Sally Starr
     We'd have our plastic pearl handled six shooters in our holsters wearing cowboy boots and acting like Roy Rogers. We'd pull the trigger on those guns and the smell from the caps would fill the room. How my mom put up with us I don't know but she did turn gray haired fairly young. Those were definitely innocent times and I'm glad I grew up in the late 50s and 60s.
     But when it was dreary out I'd listen to Sally tell stories while waiting for the Popeye cartoons she would run on her two hour show. The one eyed sailor man with pipe in mouth and bulging forearms would battle the bearded bad guy Bluto who always tried to steal his girl Olive Oyl. The story line seemed the same and they'd tussle until Popeye would mumble those words, " That's all I can stand and I can't stands no more." He'd grab a can of spinich and smash his nemesis in the mush sending him into orbit.
     Then it would be back to 'Yur Gal Sal' and another skit. She was on television from 1951 until 1972 a long run in the tv world today.
     I met Sally Starr in 1988 on an assignment to photograph her for a Mercury article. I told her how I watched the show years before and out came that smile of hers. She was very friendly making it an easy photo shoot.
     Seasoned workers in the newsroom recalled Sally Starr and other tv personalities airing on Philadelphia stations including Happy the Clown, Pixanne, Captain Noah, Gene London, Captain Kangaroo and Chief Halftown. We could use more shows like these for kids instead of the afternoon crap talk shows that are on for adults. But times have changed.
     I was a cartoon watching enthusiast as a little guy.  From Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam to Tom and Jerry, Saturday mornings were my favorite times until I got kicked out of the house to play outside. I have to say that I saw my share of those celluloid characters and enjoyed all of them.
    And I won't forget the words of wisdom that I learned from Popeye to keep me on an even keel. "I yam what I yam."  Happy trails Sally.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Shooting Photos on COLD Winter Days

     Why do I want my house a warm seventy-six degrees in winter and on a hot steamy summer day I want it a chilly sixty-eight. It's one of those oddities I can't figure out, but last week it has been COLD! No doubt about it winter is finally here, the ground is rock solid and overnight temperatures are in the single digits.
The snow was so light on cold day it could be cleared with a leaf blower.
     Luckily, the lingering cough and runny nose I had were finally showing signs of ending just as the arctic blast hits the area.  There is nothing worse for me than to be out shooting photos with a fever and feeling like I'm frozen to the bone.
     No getting around it, I can't hide in the office and wait for it to pass. The news of the day will have something to do with the weather and I have to cover whatever happens outdoors.
     So out I go looking for photos with my hat pulled way down over my ears, gloves on and a hooded sweatshirt adding another layer of clothing before I button up my winter coat. I feel like the character Randy in the movie Christmas Story who was so heavily bundled up for a walk to school he couldn't put his arms down.
     The first day or two is tough and I'm shivering not yet adjusted after several weeks of milder weather. But, once I'm out for several days I get used to it and not affected as much. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to stay out all afternoon. I don't know how borough workers can repair broken water mains with water soaking them. Wrangling with tools in these muddy holes and trying to bolt down collars over cracked pipes. This has got to be one of the tougher jobs when the wind blows so cold.
     When it snowed last week I could drive around any corner and find a page one photo while I looked for daily coverage of the storm. With the large snowflakes falling residents were on it right away shoveling, salting and cleaning off vehicles. But as the winter gets longer and the weather continues people tire of the snow and the cold and just stay inside. It's as if they wave a white flag and give up to Mother Nature.
     I looked on line to see if  freezing temperatures over a period of time helps kill off germs.  The answer was no as noted by various scientific folks. I still prefer a good week of these frozen days. The air seems cleaner and better to breath. And it can't hurt to freeze up the moldy, soggy ground after all the rainy days in the forties this winter.
     So I'm not going to complain as I slog around on a bitter windy day. I know it's not going to last forever. Ground Hog Day is this Saturday, so at worst ole Pux'y Phil will give us is another six weeks of bad weather. That's not so tough to take though winter does seem to last longer than summer.
     The other day I walked into The Mercury building bundled up and definitely not making a fashion statement. The workers downstairs didn't envy me for having to go outside and were content to work at their desks.
     So I reminded them laughing that when the calender changes to May with temperatures starting to climb and Spring Fever affecting every worker, that I earned my days out shooting pictures under the sun after working through all those dreary days of winter.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Wristband Had a Strong Meaning

    Livestrong. At one time, the word molded in a plastic yellow wristband had real meaning for me. Not giving into anything. On tough days the word gave me an added sense of determination. Livestrong. Sadly, with time and admission of guilt it has lost its luster.
     Shortly after Lance Armstrong's foundation came out with the new wristbands in 2004 I got one, put it on my left wrist and never took it off. I try not to follow trends or fads. I never wear sports players jerseys or shirts advertising sneakers.
     But, I thought Livestrong was different. It made a statement on the fight against cancer and a way to live one's life. A subtle band of yellow let people know you were supporting the cause.
     I wore it for my mom Virginia who died from lung cancer never having smoked a day in her life. And for my best friend Dave who lost his life to liver cancer when he was only in his forties. When I looked down at my left wrist it reminded me of the both of them.
     It never came off. I wore it when I was dressed in a tux for my daughters weddings and I'd wear it when I went swimming in the ocean. I wore it until the plastic snapped.
     But I had a shiny new one waiting on my dresser replacing it immediately never missing a day until late in 2011. I was tiring of all the controversy on whether Armstrong was using steroids and blood doping to his advantage while pedaling his bicycle to a record number of Tour de France victories. So even though Armstrong hadn't admitted to taking steroids, I had enough and took the wristband off never wearing it again.
     I enjoy watching the Tour de France more than most sports on television. Everyday for a solid month these riders are in their Super Bowl or World Series. Not one game but a constant grind of tactics and teamwork. Jerseys ripped and skin bleeding from spills along the picturesque countryside. Grueling uphill climbs and whistling at incredible speeds and great skill down winding mountains.  Sprinting at the end to see who wins the daily race and met with a kiss and flowers from beautiful French women on the podium.
     I've grown tired of huddles and batters stepping out of the box along with constant stream of commercials. I lose interest in no time. But the biking tradition seemed to intrigue me and I'd watch for hours. It started with Greg LeMond back in the 80s who became the first American to win. I remember when he was accidentally shot while out hunting and watched as he made his comeback. LeMond was a great champion.
     I fell away until the guy named Armstrong starting making noise in the great race. Along with him the television coverage increased. I was just as interested in watching the photographers balancing on the back of the big motorcycles shooting pictures as they zoomed along. The scene kept me in my seat.
     Lance Armstrong was the top competitor in his sport and when he was diagnosed with cancer, he fought the deadly disease and made a full recovery. Livestrong. Who could deny this man and his work as he gave back to the world with his foundation that battles cancer.
     But along the way he made a monumental mistake just as many in his sport and also those in other sports. He used an unfair and illegal advantage to gain the upper hand to take him to the top of his profession.
     And yesterday he finally came clean, during an interview with Oprah Winfrey that yes, he took performance enhancing drugs. I wasn't shocked or angry, just disappointed that it took so long for him admit to doping.
     The bike race will go on. Armstrong is far from the only one who has been kicked out for using illegal substances. Just the most famous and highly decorated in the yellow jersey. His legacy will fade as years pass and new champions will be crowned.
     I don't remember what I did with the second wristband whether I misplaced it or threw it in the trash. But I kept the original wristband because it meant more than supporting a racer, I wore it for family and friends. Seven years the band stayed on my wrist.
     Maybe I'll find a new one of pink or purple if the cause is just. But, it won't be worn as a novelty.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year's Day Polar Swim 2013

New Year's Day 2013
     If your best friend jumped into a frigid river would you follow? I would guess the answer is yes as one hundred friends, family and Pottstown area neighbors decided that New Year's 2013 was a good day to take a frozen swim in the Schuylkill River for the fifth annual Polar Plunge at Riverfront Park.
     This year was especially chilly with the water temperature reading 39 degrees and the air temperature around freezing. The saving grace for the morning was no breeze to add on a nasty wind chill factor.
     The plunge continues to grow, but I don't for the life of me understand why anyone wants to jump in on a winter day. I can't take swimming when the ocean is 70 degrees. Even though I've been challenged to participate, I fight off the peer pressure and stay focused behind the camera and keep warm and dry wearing my heavy winter coat and knit cap.
Polar plunge at Riverfront Park
     It takes a special breed to jump in, a fool hearty and lively bunch to say the least. It's not just high energy males challenging each other but folks from all walks of life. Young skinny teens, boys and girls wait alongside fathers sporting a few extra pounds. And don't think mom is left out, she is jumping in too. Some dress in silly costumes and hats to match, others strip down to a bathing suit and pair of old sneakers which are a must to deal with the mucky and rocky riverbed.
     Hundreds of witnesses stand alongside these brave souls who are about to get the shock of their lives. And then the countdown 5,4,3,2,1!
     The crowd cheers them on and these happy souls run head first into the water. Some put the brakes on immediately as the water gets to their knees. They start feeling the icy chill, turn and slog back to the bank. Others push out to deep water, submerge themselves and bob to the surface letting out a loud shrill scream telling everyone know how cold the water really is.
Bonfire warms brave polar bears.
     The event doesn't last very long as the heartiest finally climb out of the river with skin turning a bright red.
     While drying off, it's a quick jog across the park where revelers stand and warm up by a roaring bonfire. You could hear friends already making plans to return next year for their annual tradition.
     I'll be there too, with camera snapping away to record the crazyness. Happy New Year Pottstown. You know how to have fun.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Travel - Baltimore : A Weekend Sanctuary

      Whenever Deb and I need a couple of days away from home we will pack a small bag and drive to Baltimore. The city is a two hours trip, and it is the perfect location for a weekend retreat.

View of the Inner Harbor.

     Many of the hotels can be reserved for a reasonable price depending on your budget. We have stayed in a number of different locations at the Inner Harbor. We also enjoy a stay out by the BWI airport where there are a variety of hotels to choose. From the train station near the airport we can catch the Light Rail that runs to the Inner Harbor. Cost to ride is only $3.50 for a round trip quite reasonable. We will also drive downtown and parking is $19.00 for the day.
     There are many different things to do in Baltimore. We have toured the submarine U.S.S. Torsk and the frigate U.S.S. Constellation which are moored right at the harbor.
     Deb and I will walk through town or get on the water taxi to different areas along the bay. It's a fun way to see the city and shoot some photos of the boats and buildings. Fells Point is a good stop for restaurants, bars and shops.

U.S.S. Constellation

     We found a bocce ball tournament while exploring Little Italy and sat in the stands and watched these talented, seasoned players. They were very competitive and an argument or two would occur during a measurement on a closely rolled ball. The flavor of the city is there for tourists to enjoy.
     We've traveled to see The Orioles play baseball and also The Ravens in an NFL game verses the Pittsburgh Steelers. The venues within the city make it a popular area to see major sporting events and visitors can turn it into a weekend stay. Once you get your bearing it's easy navigate around town. The Babe Ruth museum is close by Orioles stadium and this year I took the time to walk through his childhood home to see some of the Bambino's memorabilia.

Santacon event in downtown Baltimore led by Elvis Claus.

     The aquarium is a popular stop and widely visited by families with young children. You can't go wrong with kids and fish. The weekends are a busy time and we saw it on a weekday.
      There seems to be some type of music or group entertaining visitors most days. In late November, we've watched the 'Tuba Christmas' band play holiday classics on their large brass instruments. It's the same time that the 'Santacon' bar crawl goes on. Close to ninety guys dressed up in their favorite style Santa Claus suits get together and walk to bars and restaurants in the Inner Harbor area. I shot some interesting photos of Elvis, Grinch and Cowboy Santa. Some of the good hearted bunch hand out candy canes to kids.
     On one of the first trips, we toured historic Fort McHenry the renowned site that Frances Scott Key wrote The Star Spangled Banner while a prisoner on a British ship in the harbor. The fort has a walkway the runs along the edge of the grounds with beautiful views of the Chesapeake Bay and the city. 

Deb holds a Chesapeake Bay blue Crab.

     But the one thing that we enjoy most in Baltimore is the abundance of great bars and restaurants. Our trip is all about the wide variety of food to enjoy. Deb has a real taste for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and loves to crack them open while sipping on a cold beer. We can sit for hours with a dozen of the largest crabs and a pitcher of suds and make a meal out of it. Our favorite location for munching on these critters is L.P. Steamers Crab House located just up the road from Fort McHenry. The corner restaurant has old harbor flavor and the workers that steam the blue crab know what they are doing.
     There isn't anything fancy about the business, friendly employees cover the tables with paper and place a tray of the steaming crustaceans covered in a dry spicy seasoning. We are also given small wooden mallets. We smash away with the hammers grabbing small morsels of sweet tasty crab meat.  The blue crabs can be pricey but we like to treat ourselves now and then and enjoy the conversation and the company around us.
     Recently we've had fun going to restaurants that have been featured on television shows and the internet. I have always enjoyed diner food never in need of a fancy ambiance. One location we really enjoyed was Chaps Pit Beef where customers wait in line and then place an order. The small building has several picnic tables for seating.  

Tuba Christmas musicians play for crowds.

     My sandwich choice was a Chaps Special. The bun is piled high with corned beef, ham, beef and cheese. The order is rounded out with an order of fries. The juicy and tender sandwich hit the spot after a day of sightseeing. We'd go back on every visit, but there are always a number of other restaurants to try.
     During an afternoon at the Inner Harbor we stopped at Joe Squared on Market St. at Power Plant Live. It's a spot with craft beers and thin crusted pizzas baked in a coal fired oven. The square shaped pies are covered in toppings and bubbling cheese. We added a side of sesame garlic chicken wings which our waiter said were named best wings in Baltimore. Joe Squared features live music and the small restaurant fills up quickly with customers.
     And our final joint during this years tour was Dangerously Delicious Pies which is in the Canton section of Baltimore. This part of the city has seen a rebirth of shops and small businesses along with bars and restaurants where locals and tourists congregate in the late evenings. When we opened the door at DDP it had a real bohemian feel with paintings and photographs on the walls and a local photographer on hand that night talking to customers about his work. A band played on a small little corner stage in the front of the restaurant. Tables were filled with hungry diners chowing on variety of savory meat pies and dessert pies.  The place was packed as others stood with forks in hand snacking on one of the many tasty sweet pies on the menu.
A packed house at Dangerously Delicious Pies.
     Customers line up and order at the front counter and then try to hunt down a spot to sit. I ordered the steak and mushroom with gruyere cheese packed inside a pie shell and Deb chose the BBQ pulled pork pie. We each got a piece of sweet pie, an apple and a berry slice. It was part of a Saturday date night special totaling $20 which included a drink. The price was right and chowing on pies was a unique change from the ordinary dining experience.
     The New Year 2013 is only a week away and along with turning another page of the calender comes the annual resolution to get back on my more strict dieting habits of salads and grilled chicken. But when we travel to Baltimore for another stay, I won't tell when I slip off the healthy food wagon and treat myself to some comfort food at one of the many fine restaurants. Only problem is my waistline will give away my secret.