Sunday, July 16, 2006

Name-droppage, Army buddy makes good, and a new project

I'm still foundering in the depths of uninspiration, but I thought I ought to drop by this old place and provide an update of sorts.

First, my old buddy-turned-NCO Josh Salmons has been interviewed over at CK's Blog. He was kind enough to give me a credit for getting his blogging career going. If you haven't been by there yet, definitely check out Talking Salmons. He's doing some great writing from Taji, Iraq.

Unlike the good sergeant, I've somehow managed to avoid deployment. And now that I'm about at the "year left" mark, it looks doubtful that I'll go. I joined the Army, and missed the war. I can't really say I'm that upset.

So now that I'm heading into the home stretch, I'm looking toward the next phase. I've settled, I think (at least for now), on going to graduate school, and Ohio State University seems to have the best program for journalism. I haven't made any firm decisions yet, but the general idea of going back to an academic environment is very appealing.

Anyway, that's it from me at this point. Maybe inspiration will strike this week.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Time is relative

It was noon, today, and I was pushing the intercom button at the entrance to the post airfield. My first attempt hadn't raised a response, so I held the bastard down for a healthy spell the second time.

"Yeah?" a voice crackled. It was surely one of the civilians in the Ops hangar.

"I'm here for the Autocross event," I said. I ran my hand through my hair. It was too long, and greasy, since I hadn't showered since the day before.

"Not here," the Ops guy said. "You've got to go through the museum park."

"Great, thanks," I said.

I was heading to the airfield to cover the SCCA Autocross race. It's a low-key amateur racing event where anyone with a car and twenty bucks can strap into their vehicle and try winding around a slalom course at high speeds. Normally, this kind of thing would be exciting, but I'd been on 12-hour Charge of Quarters duty until six in the morning, and I was feeling a bit punchy.

The good -- and bad -- thing about CQ is that there's literally nothing to do other than watch television or read. I'd picked up a couple books this week, and at the beginning of the shift I cracked open J.D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye. I'd never read it in high school, because back then I'd been reading Greek and Roman stuff primarily -- Homer, Virgil, Caesar, Thucydides, Herodotus, Xenophon. The great books courses I took in college petered out after Communist Manifesto and Origin of Species.

I didn't know what to expect from Salinger. I was only really aware that his seminal work was apparently a favorite among assassins and conspiracy theorists.

I was immediately struck by the tone and language, which reminded me of some of Steinbeck's stuff. But the more resonant element was Holden Caulfield's general disgust for everything in his life, including, to a certain extent, himself. Considering the time it was written, I suppose Salinger published the first book about the modern angry teenage punk.

I'd finished it by 3 a.m. It's one of those books that ends somewhat abruptly, and it's difficult to put my initial reaction into words. I had several, I suppose -- including, "Damn, what a time to pick to read a book like this."

When it comes to the Army, I'd say it's safe to say I have a bit of a Holden Caulfield streak.

Back at the airfield, I turned the truck around and headed for Keyes Park. It was overcast, but still bright for my eyes. I found a narrow dirt access road onto the side of the airfield and turned in, heading eventually onto the tarmac where a guy with a clipboard was standing. He smiled and asked me to sign a waiver.

"I'm here with the paper," I said. He smiled again and handed me the clipboard. Waiver it was, I guessed.

I headed down the landing strip after taping on the paper SCCA bracelet. There were cars of all description lined up along the sides of the tarmac -- lots of Nissan Zs, late-model Mazdas, a few Acuras. There were kit cars with their tiny slicks, some dropped Hondas with loosened suspensions, even a Lotus. Toward the end of the parking area, near the coned-off course, several Corvettes, Cobras, and even a Dodge Viper or two sat waiting their turn to race.

The course headed down a side strip heading south, then veered north-west to the end of the runway I was standing on. Racers made another sharp right and headed straight back toward the beginning. The post commanding general was sitting there in a folding chair next to his wife, wearing civilian clothes and a stern-looking pair of aviators. By the time I'd noticed it was him, he'd noticed me, too, with my large tan Domke camera bag.

"Afternoon, sir," I said as he stood up to turn around.

"Oh, hey there," he said. I was surprised when he reached out to shake my hand. "How are ya?"

"Not bad, sir," I said. "Are you going to be taking your Viper out today?" I'd seen what he had parked in his garage at Quarters 1 during the cricket match several weeks before.

"No," he said. "But my son's taking his Mini-Cooper out."

The CG's kid wasn't driving one of those new Coopers you see everywhere these days... his was vintage, probably 1968 or 69, complete with steering column on the right-hand side for use on the streets of London.

I wished them good luck and headed off on my own. I snapped a few frames of drivers heading into the finish line. It seemed most of them were making it around the course in under 60 seconds... the timer's booth was announcing 58s, 57s, and 56s pretty regularly.

The parking side of the airstrip was littered with people. Some were looking into their engine compartments, others were wandering around looking for refreshments, while others sat under awnings, watching what they could see of the race. The Family Readiness Group from our new Engineer Battalion had set up a concession stand of sorts near where everyone was sitting and watching, and they were handing out Gatorades and candy bars to anyone with a sweaty dollar bill.

Eventually, a volunteer appeared and offered to hook me up with a spotter so I could get some pictures from the sidelines of the course. The spotter wound up knowing who I was -- he was a sergeant who'd sent in some nice words a few weeks ago about a vicious dog story I'd done. We chatted a bit on our way out along the side of the course. As we walked, a newcomer in a red BMW screamed past us, but cranked the steering wheel too hard going into his second turn. His car screeched into a donut and came to a halt.

"We can't all be 'Fast and the Furious,'" I said, trying to crack a lame joke.

"That's 'Too Fast, Too Furious,'" the sergeant said, completely outdoing me in corniness.

We stood a bit back from the first major turn, and I shot about 400 frames of drivers negotiating the curve with varying levels of skill. Some of them, you could tell, were old hands at autocross, while others, despite their flashy rides, stunk at it. Someone in a Mazda RX-8 wound his way around the turn as if he was driving Miss Daisy to church.

"Don't hurt yourself," I said to the back of his car as he meandered down the second leg of the track.

One of the fastest drivers around the track was in a silver Acura. His wasn't the most powerful car out there, but he was beating just about all the rest of the drivers in his division by at least five seconds. He was an 84-year-old dude named Charlie, the sergeant told me.

"Wow," I said. "And they say old people can't drive worth shit."

We watched Charlie hug the cones as his Acura rocketed around the turn and into the slalom section. He wove back and forth effortlessly, without once touching the brakes until he entered the next big turn.

Eventually I headed home. I'd gotten all the shots I needed -- hell, out of about 500, there ought to be a couple good ones. It's a crutch for sub-standard photographers like myself who are lucky enough to have a digital to work with -- pros call it "spray and pray," which is apt, and they thumb their noses at the practice. I didn't care, though. I was sleepy and just wanted a chance to lay down and nap the afternoon away.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Yes, it's Wednesday

Belated happy Independence Day to everyone, and a hearty congratulations to my old buddy Seth, who got hitched in Nashville this weekend past. I was fortunate enough to attend, and there were multiple episodes of craziness that preceeded the actual wedding.

For the sake of everyone involved, I've been sworn to absolute secrecy on some aspects of what happened. And as for the rest, it'll be a story for another time (which, if my past track record of following up stories is any indication, will probably never arrive).

I'm still pretty fed up with the daily newsreels and the color commentary that seems to go along with all of them, so I'm not in the mood to come up with any topical content.

So yeah -- basically what I'm saying is that I had an awesome weekend, but I'm not going to tell the story; and that I'm good and pissed about a lot of separate issues, but I'm not going to write anything about them. I'm the best, huh?

Anyhow, the suggestion box is open, so if anyone wants to step in and substitute for my erstwhile muse, please feel free. In the meantime, I'll be listening to Opie and Anthony.