Archives for category: Travel

Checkpoint JoeyToday was not quite a setup day and it was not quite an full operations day. The convention officially begins on Monday, but the setup part is mostly over. Yesterday was shortened due to the impending security sweep so we hurried to get everything done before 5:00 PM that we possibly could. We’d been told that the site would be open again at noon today. So I relaxed and took a lazy approach to the morning. We headed over to the site a little after noon to see how things stood after the sweep. Things stood in line. A long line. Everyone– DNC personnel, media personnel, vendors, contractors– was funneled through a single checkpoint, and security was unprepared for the volume of people and equipment that needed to move through. So we encountered delays. It took a little longer than an hour for me to get through the security checkpoint. Once inside, the activity level continued to rise.

I spent most of the afternoon working with the photographers that arrived on site. Our one outstanding issue from yesterday was power on the central camera platform, so that was a concern to not just our photographers but all the photographers who had positions there. The rest was primarily familiarizing them with what we had set up and how they could expect it to work: in our workspace, in the digital darkroom, on the photo platform. I took Tom Ferrara of Newsday on a tour of the photography facilities in the bowl. Talked at some length with Milbert Brown of the Chicago Tribune about possible ways to mount cameras on the central photo platform.

Don't Look So Surprised, Your HighnessAnd after all of that I turned into a paparazzi, myself, as CNN started doing live shots from the convention floor. I got a couple photographs of Gloria Borger, Wolf Blitzer, and Anderson Cooper setting up for their evening show. The extent of CNN’s presence at this convention is impressive. I’ve already talked about their takeover of Brooklyn’s and conversion to the CNN Grill. Yesterday they were doing shots from the roof, patio and interior of that building, from their two suites in the bowl, and from the convention floor. While the breadth of their coverage is impressive, I wonder about the depth of the coverage. This may be my prejudice toward print journalism and the written word. I do wonder if universal access– meaning cameras everywhere– adds significantly to the quality of the news being reported.

Ferris WheelThe night ended with a party for the media at Elitch Gardens. The Democratic National Party has bought out Elitch’s for two weeks: the week preceding and the week of the convention. We got a chance to go inside. Most of the rides were running. They had food and drink catered. One of the treats my parents gave me growing up was to take us to Elitch Gardens at the end of the summer. It has been a long time since I have been back. A lot has changed, including the location, but much of it remains the same. I wandered around the grounds thinking I was twelve-years old again.

Tomorrow will be a big day as almost all of our editorial staff arrives and looks to get set up.

It’s all happening. It’s all happening!

Podium From Center Camera PlatformToday was our last major day of setup and the energy of the approaching convention was palpable. The Democratic National Convention Committee promised the people of Denver an opportunity to see the convention site. They had vowed to make this convention the most transparent, open and approachable convention ever. So they held an Open House today. This was the moment for the Big Reveal of the speaker’s platform and stage design to the public. So those pictures I took of construction and setup back on Monday are now fair game, as the secret is out. Thousands of people queued up outside the Pepsi Center to get a look at the bowl and to find out how national party conventions fit into the American political system.

I worked.

We fulfilled the final technology setup obligations today. The last piece being securing positions on the central camera platform for our still photographers and fitting them with adequate network connectivity. In working on this element, I got the chance to sit in the middle of the bowl and take it all in. — Fortunately, some previous connectivity problems had required me to bring my backpack into the bowl to troubleshoot what was going on. Which meant I had my camera with me as well. So when we proved everything was working correctly, I was able to take out the camera and pretend to be a big time photojournalist.

Press PhotographyAnd just to demonstrate how much I am not a big time photojournalist, I took a couple pictures of the camera rigs of real big time photojournalists while I eavesdropped on the conversations the real journalists were having amongst themselves– and with their editors– regarding platform position allocations, shooting strategies and editorial obligations.

Tonight is the primary security sweep through the entire convention area. Everyone was to be out of the site by 5:00 pm tonight so that security– Secret Service security, among others– could make their inspection. We should be allowed back into the site sometime tomorrow afternoon. The big convention news was the speculation surrounding Barack Obama‘s selection of his running mate. There were also a number of related stories regarding a variety of hoaxes involving the selection being perpetrated against both party supporters and the Washington press corp.

I have a couple minor points to finish up tomorrow afternoon. Our editorial staff is starting to trickle in. Paul West, the Washington bureau chief for the Baltimore Sun was the first to arrive in our workspace. I expect more people to arrive tomorrow and almost everyone to be here by Sunday. At that point we will shift into operational support for Sunday and Monday and I will get to see firsthand whether the time and effort I’ve put into this project will pay off.

Lowering the BarYesterday I promised I would get a picture of the building CNN has taken over for their convention coverage. Here it is. I took a few different shots because I wanted to capture just how dramatically the cable news network had seized the space. The entire building is theirs. They have painted the bricks on all four sides. They have flown in top chefs from New York to cater for them. They have created a back porch looking on at the Pepsi Center: the CNN Grill. I do wonder what prude made them drop the bar. I also noted that on tonight’s CNN broadcast they had begun inserting establishing shots of the exterior of the Pepsi Center taken from the CNN Grill between segments.

Work proceeded apace today. The energy around the Pepsi Center is growing as Monday looms nearer. More people, more activity, more manic phone calls and vendors more harried than ever. I got a chance to spend a bit of time with Joe Keenan, Director of the Senate Press Gallery. We needed to work out some confusing logistical details regarding seating arrangements in the press stands in the bowl. I would have liked to have taken some pictures as we walked around the press stands, but sadly the no photography rule is still in effect.

Pepsi CenterWhat I did appreciate was the sense that these seemingly anonymous elements of the government are actually run by real people, who laugh and joke and get serious or crabby just like the rest of us. It was a simple thing, really, moving some seats from one section of the press stands to another, but it also reminded me in some ways that government is– despite what we may say from time to time– an essentially human enterprise.

After we called it a day in the media workspace, I decided to forgo the fancy dinner with my colleagues and headed out into lower downtown Denver with a couple bucks and my camera. I just wanted a little time for myself and to explore a little bit. I’m staying at a hotel just a couple blocks from the 16th Street Mall, so I headed over that way to walk around and got a couple pictures that I’m particularly happy with.

Street Performer 1Street performing has been popular on the mall for a long time. I headed over there thinking I might add one or more of the performers to my 100 Strangers project. The sun was going down and it was getting somewhat dark by the time I came across a man I thought would make an excellent candidate for the project. He was playing music on a large collection of glasses filled with various levels of water. While I watched, he played classical pieces from Mozart as well as some Beatles and some traditionals. Every time the performer took a break between songs and I thought I had an opportunity to approach him a woman off to his left would begin explosively describing a vast litany of conspiracies and unreflected political theories. — This is also part of the character of the mall. So I snapped a few pictures and moved on.

CalvoI did get a chance to approach a clown named Calvo who was barking up interest in “Burlesque As It Was” at Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret. He claimed that Barack Obama had already made his reservations for both of the special Monday and Tuesday night shows they are putting on to coincide with the Democratic National Convention. I think this was just an attempt to be relevant. It is very difficult to escape the notion that Denver is the host city for the convention. It is everywhere. But now that I think about it, Calvo made no mention of whether Michelle would be accompanying Barack. It makes me wonder.

In convention news, Obama has stated that he’s decided on his running mate and will announce that decision on Saturday in Springfield, Illinois. Also, rumors continue to circulate the Pepsi Center that the stage will be revealed to the public tomorrow. I hope that means that the restrictions on photography inside the bowl will be lifted.

Tune in tomorrow and find out!

The Daniels and Fisher TowerHurry up and wait. Today was dominated by the call to action: hurry up and wait. I hurried to make sure I would be available for vendors to deliver office equipment– monitors, keyboards, televisions, printers– only to wait to learn they will arrive early tomorrow morning. I hurried to make sure our assignments from the Congressional press galleries in the press stands, the central camera stand and the digital darkroom were what we had requested and been allocated only to learn that some of the spots were either confused, missing, still under construction, or left off the construction plans. So I waited for the press galleries to straighten things out with the contractors. All of this was not as bad as I may be making it out to be. It allowed me some time to catch up with other bits of the project. I got to do some work on QoS policy writing, performance testing and connectivity testing.

Some of the more interesting moments today were the meals. For lunch one of the broadcast engineers from KWGN took us to the Paramount Cafe. As soon as I walked in I immediately recognized it from when I would come up to Denver and go to Wax Trax on Colfax to buy records and then come down onto the 16th Street Mall for lunch. That was twenty years ago. Today a startling wash of nostalgia came over me as I stepped inside and sat down.

Four more people arrived in Denver today from Tribune. One left. There are now nine of us in town doing setup work for the convention coverage. For dinner we went as one big group to dinner at The Buckhorn Exchange. In their own words:

Denver’s original steakhouse, The Buckhorn Exchange is located in the city’s oldest neighborhood. This National Historic Landmark and Western Museum has been serving the finest in Old West fare since 1893. Prime grade beef steaks, buffalo prime rib, elk, salmon, quail, game hen, and succulent baby-back pork ribs are just some of the marvelous offerings on the Buckhorn menu. Exotic appetizers such as alligator tail, rattlesnake and buffalo sausage are available, and no dinner is complete without the house specialty, Rocky Mountain Oysters.

To the best of my recollection, I had never been to the Buckhorn Exchange before. I had thought about bringing the camera along to dinner to maybe take some sunset shots of the city. Schedules with a large group have a way of stretching out and I lost the light and put away the camera before we’d made plans on where we were going to go. Now I wish I had taken my camera with me to get some pictures of the inside of the place. The Buckhorn Exchange holds Colorado liquour license Number One. Live musicians perform nightly. Its walls hold a rare 575-piece taxidermy collection and a 125-piece gun collection. Elk, deer, moose, bison, big horn sheep, mountain lion, Colt .45s, Winchesters, Derringers, and a 1889 Sharp’s sporting rifle– to name just a few highlights.

In convention news, we learned that the DNCC will reveal the stage on Friday, so I should be able to get in there and take some more pictures of what it looks like as well as publish some of the previous pictures I had taken during its construction. I also learned that my city mayor, Richard M. Daley will be speaking at the DNC convention on Wednesday, August 27th– not that Daley is a particularly inspiring public speaker, but it seemed slightly relevant at the time I learned it.

Tomorrow I am going to try and see if I can’t find a way to take a picture of the building outside the Pepsi Center CNN has taken over for the duration of the convention. CNN has completely repainted the outside of the historic brick building with sloganism and marketing. I find it fascinating in a slow-moving train wreck sort of way.

The Gold DomeSame song, second verse. Could get better but it’s gonna get worse. — Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That’s not right. That’s not what happened today. Yes, it is the second day of setup, and yes much of today was similar to much of yesterday. But things did not get worse. We made progress. We didn’t kill ourselves with excess work. In fact, the only really negative thing to happen today was an extensive collection of fliers mysteriously appeared all around the bowl at the Pepsi Center declaring: all photography is absolutely forbidden, violators will be escorted off the premises.

My colleagues were amused by this development with the restrictions on photography during the final construction phase and have taken to good-naturedly blaming me for the rule’s inception. I responded by asking: So, at an event that will have thousands of members of the media present, are you saying that I was the only one who thought to bring a camera? Crickets.

The DNC has not clarified the reasoning behind the restriction. The speculation among the people working on setup here is that the party wants to keep the timing of the revelation of their big bad voodoo stage on their time table, rather than allowing just any asshat with a camera and a network connection to spoil the surprise.

So let me just say that I think the stage in the Pepsi Center is impressive. I also wonder how the designers feel about the move of Day Four of the convention to Mile High Stadium– the big night will not take place on this grand stage they’ve put together. I know that if I had been working on the stage and that happened, I would feel let down.

Union Station at NightAnyway. No pictures of the bowl. — So this evening after we were done working, I took some pictures around downtown Denver. I’m assuming those are safe. I mean, I was on public streets shooting pictures of the exteriors of well-known buildings. Maybe tomorrow there will be an addendum to the memo. Something about the current threat level being raised to prismatic! All devices containing prisms– like cameras– will be confiscated. Okay. I admit. Maybe that’s a bit overboard. I’ll stop now.

Other tidbits: I got to visit the LA Times western bureau office. I got the wireless router that wouldn’t behave yesterday to behave and do my bidding. I introduced two of my colleagues to sushi. I fixed a packet-queuing problem before it really was a problem. A reporter from the Denver Post stopped by our workspace to talk to us for story they’re working on regarding media preparation for the conventions. Is it wrong for me to think that newspapers writing stories about other newspapers’ business of making newspapers is slightly incestuous? I’m just asking.

And as a final note, because I know you all were very worried. Monday’s one-hour bomb scare closure of Market Street in lower downtown Denver has turned out to be a false alarm. These aren’t the mailboxes you’re looking for. You can go about your business.

I am in Denver, Colorado for the next nine days. After that, I fly to St. Paul, Minnesota and stay there for eleven more days. I am doing this in support of Tribune Publishing’s coverage of the two national party conventions. The Democratic National Convention begins Monday, August 25th in Denver. The Republican National Convention begins one week later Monday, September 1st in St. Paul. I am responsible for the networking needs for our newspapers for these two weeks.

Today was my first real day on the job. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been planning this work since November of last year. Then again, a lot has happened in the interim. Plans change. Sometimes plans change a lot. Sometimes plans change and you don’t even realize that they’re now nearly the opposite of what you thought they were in the first place. Or was that the third place? I forget. Plans change.

Anyway. It’s late. And I’m rambling. I thought it would be worthwhile to write down some brief observations about each of my days working on the conventions. I’ve brought the camera with me as well and am taking pictures. However I think I will publish the pictures a bit later, after the events have officially opened. I’ll tell you why a little later.

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It is uncommon for a film to have a dramatic impact upon me. While I like film as a general rule and I enjoy discussing them with my friends and family, I generally reserve my highest praise with more than a little caution. To confess in public to a film having significant impact upon me is quite rare. In the case of a film based on a book, it is more likely for me to read the book first, and then see the film than the other way around. For whatever reason, Into the Wild happened in reverse. Of the films I have watched in the last year, Into the Wild is my favorite. Sean Penn adapted the film’s screenplay from the 1996 Jon Krakauer book of the same name.

Jon Krakauer has done this to me before. A little less than a year ago I read Krakauer’s chronicle about the fatal 1996 catastrophe atop Mt. Everest, Into Thin Air. I was so engrossed by the book that I read it almost straight through. I paused in reading it for only a few equally compelling diversions: to go to work at a new job; to enjoy Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s video travelogue of their motorcycle trip around the world, Long Way Round; and to walk the entire length of Clark Street with my friends on a beautiful late summer Saturday.

Into the Wild attempts to tell the end story of Christopher McCandless. In the spring of 1990 McCandless graduated a top student at Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation he abandoned plans to continue to law school, broke off communication with his family, gave away his savings and began traveling the continent. For two years he made his way through the American Southwest, the Dakotas and the Pacific Northwest. He alternated between settled periods where he would work a job and make friends and time spent living alone without money or human contact. His eventual goal was the wilds of Alaska where he died in August 1992.

Upon viewing the film, Whirl noted to me that the story of McCandless’ disappearance, death and discovery were front page news where she lived in Oregon. The story became national news as well after the 1991 Gulf War fell off of the daily news cycle. I was living in Germany at the time and unaware of McCandless’ impact. Krakauer’s book made McCandless a heroic figure to many. The abandoned bus on the Stampede Trail where McCandless camped in Alaska has become a tourist destination and a campground. Others are more critical. Alaskan Park Ranger Peter Christian wrote: “I am exposed continually to what I will call the ‘McCandless Phenomenon.’ People, nearly always young men, come to Alaska to challenge themselves against an unforgiving wilderness landscape where convenience of access and possibility of rescue are practically nonexistent […] When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate.” I grew up the west and am not unsympathetic to that idea. The wild is unforgiving. The wild makes no special provisions for hope or transcendent experience.

There are several themes I find compelling in McCandless’ story without trespassing into hero-worship. McCandless and I would be close in age. We both traveled, often alone, into unknown territory around the same time. We both struggled with finding a purpose to our lives once unshackled from the expectations of family, school, friends and society. I never took the step of inventing a new life for myself– I could not, and cannot, loosen myself from the social bonds required by such a re-imagining. The romantic in me, the sentimentalist in me, the adventurer in me– still these are drawn by the possibility.

Krakauer’s wrote of the fatal mistakes on Everest with clarity and sympathy. I have great respect for him as a writer. I am very hopeful that his treatment of Christopher McCandless is written with the same voice. I could use that.

Elwood Blues Can Crush Both Dreams and BonesThree years ago I almost died. Do not worry. The story does not have a bad ending. I would not be sitting here writing it if it did. Besides, I have already told the story a number of times, so repeating it once more would not be particularly interesting for anyone. Including me. So I’ll sum up quickly: three years ago I was involved in an accident that put me in a coma. I suffered a serious brain injury, almost died and spent months in recovery afterward. I got better. The end.

That is the end of the bad part of this entry. The good part of this entry is that every year my friends and I celebrate this date by going to Las Vegas. Today marks the third year we have done so.

It was a really fun trip. The day before we were scheduled to leave two of our group wrote to let us know they would not be coming so there were thirteen of us instead of the originally-planned fifteen. We stayed at the Imperial Place, which is a dive-y sort of hotel-casino on the Strip across from Mirage and Caesars Palace and next door to Harrah’s and the Flamingo. This was the first time for most of us staying there. In previous years we stayed at the Tropicana on the south end of the Strip. This year we talked about getting a different view of things and Steamboat Wille and Hurricane scouted the Imperial Palace for us when they went to Las Vegas with Hurricane’s parents in May.

It's All GoodImperial Palace is not fancy. It’s a little tired. A little run-down. It has some charm and some unique characteristics, but it’s not the brightest gem on the strip, by any stretch. I particularly enjoyed the Dealertainers.

In 2003, the Imperial Palace spun off part of their long-running tribute show, “Legends in Concert” as blackjack dealers. Now the likes of Britney Spears, Jake and Elwood Blues, Gloria Estefan, Dolly Parton and of course Elvis deal you cards. Every once in a while, they step back from the table, climb up onto a small stage, sing and dance. It works as a quirky, kitschy dive-y diversion and is a lot of fun– a good match for the Imperial Palace.

Before I go on, I should talk about the fire. This interesting event unfolded just as we landed in Las Vegas. The roof of the Monte Carlo casino caught fire. To the best of my knowledge there is no causal relationship between these two events. Correlation does not imply causation, as my scientist child bride is wont to remind me.

Monte Carlo Fire Behind New York New YorkWe were driving north up the Strip and saw smoke rising in the sky. It was difficult to determine if Mandalay Bay, New York New York, or Excalibur were on fire. We were diverted off the Strip before we were able to see the Monte Carlo and caught the rest of the story when we got to Imperial Palace and were able to watch the news. This was a big story for Las Vegas, a major casino on fire on the Strip. I could not help but wonder why it was such a big story, though. It looked fairly obvious to me that it was a small section of the exterior facade that was burning rather than anything of real substance. And sure enough, the fire was extinguished fairly quickly, despite the smoke, falling flaming debris and gaggle of gawkers down below.

I have seen big fires in Chicago before– most notably the LaSalle Bank Fire and the Dexter Building Fire. Those were events: several hundred firefighters and serious property losses as a result. This was not. Now it may be a tribute to the Clark County Fire Department that it never got out of control, but the skeptic in me wants to assign the blame for the magnitude of the story to the media. Contrary to popular sloganism, what happens in Vegas rarely stays in Vegas. Flaming 40-story casinos make for dramatic copy.

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La Galerie des Glaces 1I am a time traveler. No, I am not talking about literally going back in time as numerous authors have speculated. Unfortunately— or fortunately, depending on which author you read— literal time travel is still unavailable. Rather, I am talking about the powers of sentiment and memory, coupled with conversation and photographs and more permanent artifacts of times gone past, to transport me to a time and place I have been before.

On Sunday, Whirl had to go into the Museum to work. She had told me about an extensive photograph scanning system in the biology research wing. She and I had been recently experimenting with ways to quickly and easily convert some of our print photographs into digital photographs. Our first attempts consisted of simply taking pictures of the prints with our camera mounted on a tripod. That was not ideal, but it worked well enough to get some satisfaction out of the process. The biology photo scanning system is much better suited. Of particular interest to me, the system is able to scan black-and-white negatives.

HölderlinturmIn 1991 I lived in Germany. I spent the entire year there, landing in Berlin on January 1st. New Year’s Eve came to me that year on a Boeing 747 somewhere over the North Atlantic. I returned to the United States a day before Christmas Eve. I brought my camera with me: a 1965 Nikon Nikkormat FT Dad had given me. This was not the first camera I had ever used, but it was certainly the camera I learned the most about photography using.

In the mid-80s, Dad converted the smallest bathroom in our house into an amateur darkroom. He built a table over the bathtub out of an old closet door. He obtained second-hand enlargers, first black-and-white and eventually color, wherever he could find them inexpensively. He taught me how to shoot, develop film, and enlarge pictures. I went on to use what I had learned to shoot photographs and develop pictures for my High School newspaper and yearbook. And in college, I took the camera along with dozens of rolls of bulk-loaded black-and-white film with me to Europe.

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In 2005, TIME magazine chose On the Road by Jack Kerouac as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to then. This largely autobiographical work is based on the spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends across mid-century America. Many consider this book the definitive work of the postwar Beat Generation– inspired by jazz, poetry, and drugs. I have never read it. I picked it up on my last trip to the bookstore, shortly before my trip to Pittsburgh. In college I read Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon while backpacking through Europe. Before that I read John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley on a family road trip. I like to read travel journals while traveling. This time I just got distracted by something shiny– namely a certain wizard.

So I’m about a month late, but I’m looking forward to reading this seminal stream-of-consciousness look at an America that no longer exists– and maybe never did in the first place.