As usual, it takes a while for true Fall to kick in around these parts in New York City. Other areas surrounding us might get cooler quicker (especially North of the Bronx), but here in the city things stay annoyingly toasty and warm for a bit longer.
We recently had just such a day, unusually warm for this time of year. Cin and I decided to make the best of it and spend the morning going for a walk along the waterfront. Aside from all the tourists it wasn't such a bad day, but it did get quite hot as the morning progressed -- reaching 83 degrees by noon time. Ugh!
But it wasn't all sweaty doom and gloom for me. As you can see by the above photo, I brought my Canon camera along and made a little unofficial photo shoot of it with Cin being my ever patient model and muse. Below is a collage of all the wonderful pics I was able to make with her as the subject:
I have to say, even though I have such basic camera gear and lenses -- very much on the amateur or "enthusiast" end of things, for sure -- I was very pleased with what I was able to pull off on my compositions this day. Not bad for just a quick bit of walking around, and running 'n' gunning-style of photo shooting.
This, however, ended up being my favorite photo of the whole ordeal, taken toward the tail end as we climbed up to Brooklyn Heights and finished our walk along the Promenade up there:
God, I just love her smile here. And that playful, teasing look in her eyes. Her face is like a budding photographer's dream come true!
Anyway, that ended up being almost the last photo for the day, but not the very last. Even though I almost forgot, I had to somehow get in a photo of the two of us together, of course. Which is sorta tricky when you're the one who's the photographer. But still, it ended up being a simple thing when you have so many other people milling about:
It's always nice to get one of the two of us together. Unfortunately, I don't smile much in pictures. At least, not of the kind where I show teeth. I usually have a more subdue, subtle, almost barely there kind of smile. Cin makes up for the both of us, though, as she always has such a big and lovely smile. One of my favorite physical aspects about her, that smile.
Alas, though, I think I can say for certain that we are done with Summer weather around here. The long range forecast is showing nothing but 60s and even some 50s during the day for the next two weeks or so. Which reminds me: I need to take down the window AC units at some point soon. Can't have them in still by the time old man Winter rolls through.
For the time being, though .... how are you all enjoying October?
So, it's that time again. Time to add another year to the ole odometer. As usual, I never feel any different on this day. I'm still in relatively great shape for my age, and everything else in my life is as stable as always. Maybe a little staid, in fact ... but that's kinda my own fault. I need to take more chances and be more spontaneous!
Anyway, that's still a work in progress.
Meanwhile, my birthday has come and gone. I started the day on a good foot, though. Got up bright and early determined to take my turning 43 in stride. I donned my Superman shirt and headed into Manhattan for breakfast at a favorite diner, followed by a movie. I caught the re-release of the original Matrix film in theaters. And in Dobly Cinema, no less!
That was a lot of fun, getting to relive the experience of when I went with a school friend to catch it when it first released back in the spring of 1999. I was only 22 then, and fresh out of college working at a publisher of computer magazines. Although I would go on to own multiple versions of the movie at home -- and have since watched it a dozen times on my tv -- I just couldn't resist seeing it on the big screen one more time. And I must say, the story gets me pumped with each viewing.
Afterward, I walked around the city for a little bit. I ended up discovering that Amazon has a physical, brick & mortar bookstore down on 34th street near 5th Ave. Intrigued, I decided to give it a look-see as there has been a disturbing trend of more and more bookstores shutting down in this city as of late. So to see one actually open up -- and from my favorite online bookseller, no less! -- I had to see what it was all about. As I predicted, though, the inside of the shop was more about presentation than actual content. Pretty much nothing but bestsellers on offer, with the shelves so evenly spaced and nicely arranged. As if more for show and not utility, you know?
But that was okay. I was there by chance, anyway. The sci-fi section had only the big name books by big name authors. And I owned most of those already. So I skipped ahead to the non-fiction History section, where I was immediately inundated by boring World War II offerings. Ugh! I'm so sick of this country's fascination with that conflict. ENOUGH ALREADY! So instead, I bought two books which were more my style. One is about how the early Christian church set out to systematically destroy all the "pagan" art, books, and opposing cultures that would not fall into line behind the burgeoning new religion. And this included the sciences, of course.
The second book I purchased is a surprisingly deep overview of the history of our species, our ancient lineages, and the various migrations out of Africa. I eat this stuff up, folks! It's a subject that's been so fascinating to me since I was introduced to anthropology in junior high. So something tells me I'm going to enjoy this particular tome a lot!
Later that day my darling surprised me with a nice birthday cake -- yum! -- and we did a little celebrating of our own at home, before heading back out for dinner. She took me down to Chinatown, to one restaurant I've actually never been to before. They're renowned for their Peking duck especially and, my god, it was delicious! A really great dining experience all around, and it definitely made me happy and feeling special.
Afterward, we took in the cool September air and went for a little evening stroll around Chinatown. I showed her all the secret and cool little hidey-holes of the neighborhood, to places where no tourists go but is totally authentic and working-class even to this day. That was a great time!
Finally, after trying a few local watering holes that were too crowded on a Saturday night in the city, we ended up at this chill Mex-Latin restaurant at the edge of Chinatown for a few drinks at the bar. Which is, as you know, the perfect way for me to end a night out!
So, here's to another year on this planet. I'm now firmly entrenched in my 40s, doing my best to embrace aging and all that jazz. But I have to say, I'm doing pretty well for myself all things the same.
New York City has been experiencing a little taste of autumn these past several days -- my kind of weather! It's been moodily dark, rainy, and deliciously cold for going on 4 days now. Perfect jacket weather. And you already know how I love jacket weather.
It's had a remarkable effect on my mood. Suddenly my spirits are lifted and I feel as if I can take on the world! Wow ... I honestly don't know what it is, but summer heat and sunshine seriously drags me down. I walk around for 3 months generally feeling "ugh!" the entire time.
Well, ok, that's not exactly true. I must admit that after a long winter, those first few weeks in June around here can feel refreshing. Walking around in short sleeves for the first time after many, many months hidden indoors I can all but feel my skin greedily soaking up that vitamin D! And, yes, it gives a heady rush of feel good endorphins for a brief time.
But then summer has the nerve to go on for another two months or more, and that brief love affair I have with it wears off quick. By the time September rolls around, I'm so over her!
And so, yeah, this isn't yet the start of cool, crisp Fall weather around here. It's really just a short-lived taste of things to come 6 or so weeks from now. But it's enough to make me a truly happy camper this one week at least. On my way to work yesterday morning, I lugged my camera with me and took the following atmospheric and dramatic shots on the rainy streets of Greenwich Village:
It's days likes these when the Big Apple truly looks like its DC Comics counterpart -- Gotham City. I'm pretty sure Batman keeps watch some nights from atop that clocktower.
Fans of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy know what 42 is: it's the answer to the "Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything."
Deep, huh? Hey -- just don't forget to bring a towel!
But for me, in addition to being the answer to all that exists ... 42 is the age I've become. Yes, I'm now more than well acquainted with being in my 40s. Wow! Can't believe I've been on this planet for so long. I wonder how much longer I'll be here, and what comes next?
Exciting to find out!
But in the meantime, I'll keep on enjoying life here on Earth. The above photo was a self portrait I took on my previous birthday last year. It was right before I was set to fly off to Morocco for a week. One of the best trips I've taken, in addition to this one I already blogged about of course. I'll write up my Morocco trip report soon here, so stay tuned for that.
Anyway, fast forward to this year and now I'm one year older. Which is fine, I don't mind. I still consider myself young anyway. I certainly feel it!
I ended up spending the evening at a quite excellent Turkish restaurant in Kip's Bay. Wow! It was such a great dinner, and best yet -- I got baklava for dessert. Yum!!!
Afterward, we went to a nearby theater to see the latest Spike Lee joint: BlacKkKlansmen. I was super impressed with this movie. It's so good! I'm currently trying to recommend it to everyone. You should check it out, too, if you get the chance.
Overall it was a pretty good way to turn 42. Before heading out to dinner, I took my annual self portrait for posterity:
Oh, thank the Seven that September is finally here!
I thought it might never come, what with how blastedly hot and humid it's been around these parts for the past 3 months. This has been a hotter than normal summer for the New York City area, and oh how I've suffered because of it. I hate the heat! Yeah, I'm sure I mentioned it before more than a few times on this blog. But it bears repeating.
Well now that summer is unofficially over thanks to the passing of Labor Day yesterday, that can only mean one thing: MY BIRTHDAY IS NEAR!!!
Yup, it'll be upon me in a few days, and I'll be turning 42. It's the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, oh didn't you know? That number is. So how can I possibly be nothing but thrilled about being 42? Truth be told, I have no hang ups over growing older. I'm happy, successful, and living comfortably. More importantly, I'm still in excellent health!
So basically this means I get to enjoy the day for what it is: a celebration of my life on this planet for the past 42 years. As an eternal optimist, this is the only way I can view the occasion.
Anyway, I'm sure I'll have more to say after the actual day has come and gone. Stay tuned!
In the meanwhile, this past weekend I traveled upstate to visit my sister living in Hudson, New York. I got up early in the morning and rushed to Grand Central Terminal to catch the first Amtrak train smoking and heading north. The main waiting area, pictured above, was very quiet and subdued for being just before the start of rush hour. I had about an hour to wait for my train, so in the meantime I had breakfast at a nearby indoor diner, browsed a newsstand next, and then finally had some time to snap photos with the camera gear I had brought with me.
See, I was going to visit my sister and to see her baby girl -- my first ever niece! -- who has just turned 6 months old. I had seen her shortly after she was born, of course, but now she would be wide awake, sitting up, and even playing with toys. So I knew I just had to bring my camera for the occasion. I won't post any of her pics here, but suffice to say that my niece is quite the cutie! OMG, she is so beautiful and very adorably chubby! I couldn't be any happier for my sis, and she's being such a great mom. Our mother would be so proud of her if she were alive today.
It was great seeing my family, including my auntie and her husband, again. We all had dinner at a nearby restaurant in town, and it was great to have that connection.
Eventually, though, I headed back to the city. While sitting in the dining car having a coffee by the big windows of the train, I saw so much beauty upon the waters of the Hudson river that I had to pull my camera out and snap off a few shots. Because the train was speeding like a bat out of hell, however, I had to adjust the shutter speed on my cam to a fast enough rate so as to minimize the blur:
Considering that I shot this through a dirty, smudgy window ... I think it came out pretty decent. I love sunset light! It makes every landscape photo look so surreal and gorgeous!
So, now that summer is drawing to an end in an official capacity soon -- what are you looking forward to the most about the coming Fall season?
Me, it's jacket weather. I love jacket weather! I know it may sound silly, but I've always felt most comfortable going out in the world in a jacket or hoodie with big pockets. That's the key, see: pockets! I need to have pockets on me when I go out, and jeans or trousers alone just don't cut it. I have like a billion things to carry, and I detest schlepping along a backpack or satchel to carry them in with a fiery, hot passion. So more pockets help, yes.
Am I the only one who loves jacket weather for this reason?
When I was a little boy, I would daydream constantly. All I ever wanted to do was escape from the desolate poverty of the South Bronx and live in a place of wonder and magic. Stories drew me in, and I read voraciously as a result.
It was only appropriate, then, that I should fall in love with fiction in all its forms. First came books, then video games, and then comic books; and finally ... the umbrella genre of Speculative Fiction. So, in effect: anything and everything that had to do with the fantastical, be it science or in fact fantasy.
This is a photo I took of myself the other day. While cleaning my place, I came across a t-shirt I had forgotten I owned since 2004 when the Punisher film starring Thomas Jane first came out. I wore it a few times back in those days, then promptly shelved it because I thought I was too old for such silly things.
And now I've found the t-shirt again, and I'm even older! The difference this time, I guess, is that I just don't give AF about how old I am, or how silly I might look. I'm going to do only those things that bring me joy from now on.
That's the mood I'm in these days. I am reminded that all the things I love to do are not to be ashamed of, but to be embraced. What's the point of living in this world if you're not trying to appease number one, numero uno -- i.e., yourself!
About a year ago I dusted off my old Nintendo system and popped in one of my favorite video games from 1989: Ninja Gaiden:
This game I played from sunrise to sun down and beyond, until I had mastered it like very few people have ever been able to accomplish. It's one of my silly proud achievements in life, and I took the opportunity to record it for posterity. It took me around 2 weeks of "training" to recapture the mastery I once had over this title, but eventually I pulled it off. What makes this recording so special to me is that it finally presents irrefutable proof to all who've ever doubted me that I can defeat the game without my character, Ryu Hayabusa, ever dying! In fact, he barely even gets touched by the demon hordes and enemy ninjas sent to stop him in his quest:
This is considered one of the toughest old-school games around, but I tried to make it look like child's play. I hope I succeeded!
See what I mean? It's important to let loose and have fun. To recapture one's youth from time to time, if only to remind yourself of what you once held as the universe's paramount truth:
I'm a creature of habit. Everyone who knows me knows this. Or, rather, I should say that I'm a creature of planning. I plan everything out -- my days, my clothes, my workouts, my expenses, my travels. Everything gets plotted out and charted down to the decimal point!
In general, I hate jumping into a situation completely blind. I need to have all my options choreographed first, with chances of failure appropriately weighed, and with plenty of back up plans or failsafes in place in case failure does occur. Only then do I act.
Yes, I'm serious. I do this for everything, and especially when important decisions need to be made.
But lately I've been thinking about the few times in life I have made important decisions out of spontaneity -- that is, without having my course pre-routed for me or any measurable back up plans to cover a failure.
One such time was my first job out of college. I hated that job. I had been at it for 19 months and really wanted to quit. Me being me, however, I couldn't do so until I first had another job lined up to land at when I jumped ship. It was tough being able to go on interviews and still do my day job, but I managed it. For months I went on several interviews in the publishing industry here in New York, but to no avail. I had no leads.
Then one day my difficult manager was being difficult as per usual. She pushed my buttons one too many times on this day, however, and I decided right then and there that I was done! I went to her boss and presented my resignation. I announced I would give them two weeks to find my replacement, but that I was out after that. When asked if I had another job lined up, I replied that I did not. The director seemed taken aback by this, and assured me that I could take all the time I needed to find a new place of employment before I left.
I resolutely held my ground and replied that, whether I found another job or not within that two weeks, I would still be leaving at the end of it. It was just a feeling I had deep in my core, that this was the right step to take and -- more importantly -- that things would somehow all work out if I give in to fate.
So I left the company after 2 weeks with nothing new lined up. I then spent the next 2 weeks afterward interviewing at various places. And just like that, I found myself starting a new job at a new company on the 3rd week. This place was better structured than the last, my reporting manager was the nicest person I had ever interviewed with, and best of all -- I was getting paid a LOT more!
I remember thinking to myself: Wow! Had you not gone for it and quit, you might never have had the free time to even go on this interview, let alone land the position!
It was a lesson that taught me not everything needs to be *safe* before you make a life change. Sometimes you just need to read the situation and understand that it's time to move on. You need to act when you feel that it's time to act.
Yeah, lately I've been feeling this again. Not just at work, but in my personal life as well. It's starting to feel like as if it's time to move on. Which scares the hell out of me, because I have no alternatives lined up. I do want to switch to another job opportunity, though. I just don't know exactly what to do right now. Do I simply look for a change of scenery within the same field? Or do I reinvent myself entirely and try for a field that is totally different from what I do now, but which would make me happier? Something involving photography, perhaps? Or freelance writing, maybe? Because I'm starting to feel the boredom of my current job.
Then, too, I'm wondering: Should I leave New York City? Where would I move? I would love to move back to Vermont where I went to college, but I would imagine my chances of finding work there would not be as favorable as they would be in another big city. Or should I move to Texas where my current company has its headquarters in the Dallas area? My brother lives in Houston -- should I move there, perhaps?
Honestly, sometimes I wish I could just take that blind leap of faith and simply GO! Leave everything behind in my current life and completely change my situation.
But on a much less serious, yet oddly connected note .... just recently an acquaintance of mine from years ago contacted me out of the blue. I hadn't heard from her since then, but she had been an aspiring actress and model at the same time that I had begun exploring photography. We had helped each other out back then: I taking her headshots, and she ... well, posing for 'em! Fast forward to earlier this year, and this same woman texted me wanting to know if we could meet up again and do another photoshoot. I told her "sure, of course!", although truth be told I wasn't feeling all that confident in my abilities to take good photos of anyone. I didn't want her to think of me as a *real* photographer, you see? Too much pressure on me! Because then her expectations would be so high, and the end result would not live up to the imagination.
Still, she had loved my headshots of her, and I did explain that photography is just my hobby and not my actual living. Trying to downsize her expectations, you know?
But then months went by, and I realized I just didn't want to put myself out there like that. To set up a meet with this woman, go over how I wanted to shoot her, and then execute the shoot.
Then one night a couple of weeks ago, out of nowhere, I sat up on my couch while watching tv and said: Hey, why not do it tomorrow?!
It was a crazy idea and totally spontaneous and on such short notice ... but I reached out to her and asked her if she would be willing to do the shoot within the next few days. She told me she was free in the morning if I wanted to shoot something quick; otherwise, it would have to wait until she got back from a trip out of town 10 days later.
I leapt at that and said: bet! So we set up a quick street shoot outside her building the following morning. Basically, in less than 12 hours from the time we texted until the time we saw each other face to face. Hey, that can be a lifetime in this city!
Anyway, I'm happy to say the shoot went very well. Far better than even my best expectations. It was a quick affair, and we made a quick decision on what she should wear. Something casual for sure since it was stifling hot and humid this July morning in New York City. At first she wanted to wear a summery dress, but then thought she'd rather wear something she would normally wear and feel more comfortable in. I dubbed it her "Boho chic" look!
And so, for an hour that morning while the light was still soft and dappled, I shot her on the front steps to her apartment building. These were just a few of the photos I made:
As I said, this ended up being a really great shoot for me. And best of all, my client loved her photos! She squealed with delight and high-fived and hugged me upon seeing them on the viewscreen. It was a great feeling.
And I was very happy for taking the chance, completely out of my comfort zone, and simply DOING IT rather than pre-planning and second guessing and talking myself out of it. Coming as it did while I'm in the midst of this current existential funk, I have to say it gave me a lot of food for thought concerning the direction to take my life next.
Maybe I really should just go out there and take the plunge. Make a change, and to hell with the possible risks. Maybe life is all about risks, no? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
Earlier this year I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. A trip to Panama's steamy tropical province, Bocas del Toro.
Now, before this year I had never heard of Bocas -- as it's so lovingly referred to by travelers to this jungle paradise -- but I was searching for someplace exotic to take myself that year, and frankly I had plenty of options. A cultural exploration of the mountainous region of Romania's back country? I really wanted to do that. Or how about a photography tour of Western Ireland? Oh man, oh man!
But then I came across this guy's account in Condé Nast Traveler of his 2012 solo trip to Bocas del Toro in Panama, and suddenly I knew that this was the place I just had to go to. It spoke to me on so many levels!
This is my account of that 7-day adventure.
DAY 1: Here There Be Balboas!
I was so excited the night before I was to fly out to Panama. I checked and double checked everything, went through my suitcase to make sure everything was still there, and most importantly I made sure that my camera equipment was safely stored within my carry-on bag. This was going to be a big trip for me, and a perfect opportunity for which to practice my newfound hobby.
So with that in mind, fair warning: From here on out -- all pic are mine!
The flight from New York City to Panama City (there are no direct bookings to the capital of Bocas) is straight forward and painless -- that is, if you book with the country's premier carrier for International flights, Copa Airlines. It's a 5 hour direct flight between the two cities, and I had made arrangements to spend a day and a night in the country's capital before boarding a local flight to the province of Bocas del Toro, my ultimate destination.
Luckily the country has a 1:1 monetary exchange with the United States, what with its deep historic and economic ties to the U.S.A. and all. So this means the US Dollar and the Panamanian Balboa hold identical value there, and in fact the USD is accepted as legal tender throughout the country. So, there was no need for me stop by the Currency Exchange bureau on my way to the taxi stand outside of the airport. I simply grabbed my bags and hailed the first cab that pulled up to the curb.
And I was off to my first destination just like that! Which, in this case, happened to be the historic "Old Town" of Panama City known as Casco Viejo -- aka, Casco Antiguo. You'll find both names used for the district, although the latter seems to be used more by locals. All the cabbies know how to get there, however, as it's practically tourist central.
My cabbie spoke almost no English, and I speak only a little Spanish. But between the two of us we managed to cobble together a weird Spanglish shorthand for conversation during the 45 mins ride. He enjoyed very much that I was wearing my NY Yankees baseball cap, since after all baseball is the No. 1 national sport here, and the legendary Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera, is their native hero. No, seriously, this country is quite obsessed with their local boy turned sports legend. Mariano could probably run for president there and win handily.
Anyway, the drive through Panama City that early afternoon was quite a sight. The poor areas are extremely poor and rundown. It pretty much looks like the back towns of Mexico. But the more well-to-do districts where most of the corporations have their offices and the big chain hotels cater exclusively to tourists -- you would not be out of place thinking that you were driving through downtown Miami!
Tourists using downtown Panama City as their selfie backdrop.
This city definitely has a southern FL vibe going on if you stick mainly to the affluent areas. So, yes, the differential between rich and poor in this town is HUGE to say the least. It's quite disconcerting to the outside visitor, this stark contrast.
Earlier this year I embarked on a trip of a lifetime to Central America. Specifically, I visited Panama's steamy rainforest province of Bocas del Toro, a place I had never heard of before, but of which I had read many encouraging accounts.
But first, if you wish to read up on what has transpired before, click on the link below:
DAY 2: Honor Among Thieves. Sorta (But No, Not Really).
After taking another leisurely stroll around the Old Town in Panama City where I was staying, it was time to pack up my things from the day before and commence the second leg of my trip; to fly west northwest into the tropical jungles of Bocas del Toro!
Flea market abutting the sea wall in Casco Viejo.
I bid farewell to the hotel staff and Ubered my way over to the local airport for domestic flights (Albrook) -- which is separate from the international airport (Tocumen), and located almost on the opposite side of the city. For some reason, my cabbie didn't even know where this airport was, and so it took a little longer (and a few frantic exchanges in broken Spanglish) than it should have to reach the place.
But once there, I was greeted with one of the smallest airports I've ever been to. Not as puny as the landing strip on North Eleuthera island in the Bahamas when I stayed there a few years back -- but still pretty tiny. And laid back! There was hardly any security, and people were just walking in and out of the terminal from the street with no luggage or anything. There wasn't even a terminal, to be honest. Just a waiting room and an announcement over the PA system alerting you (in Spanish) when a plane was arriving on the tarmac. Basically, it felt more like a train station than an airport.
When the plane that would take me to Bocas did arrive, though, I noticed a ton of American and European tourists were suddenly joining me. It seemed like they came out of nowhere! This reveal actually helped to put me at ease, because in that moment I knew for sure that I was on the right flight. I don't think white people travel from Panama City to anywhere else in the country *except* to Bocas del Toro. I may be wrong, but probably not.
As you would expect, the plane was one of those small commuter type deals and we were all crammed tight in there. Luckily, the flight from Panama City to Bocas Town is just under one hour long, so it was hardly that big of an ordeal. And anyway, I just couldn't wait to get there!
Unfortunately, I had no idea of what would be in store for me once I reached this tropical province. A near catastrophe totally of my own making, but which almost ended up ruining my trip before it really even got started!