July in review

“Poets write of May and June,
But seldom mention warm July,
And August is neglected too
Is this because few words will rhyme?”

Sunny Months- Joyce Hemsley

Here 10 of my favorite photos from July.

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7/1/10:


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7/5/10:

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7/7/10:

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7/12/10:

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7/13/10:

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7/15/10:

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7/20/10:

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7/22/10:

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Vacay

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I’m taking a few days off for a little R & R. I’ll be back on Aug. 2. See you then.

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Mockingbird

“The streets of town were paved with stars,
It was such a romantic affair.
And as we kissed and said goodnight,
A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.” – A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square by Eric Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin

A nightingale singing at night in Berekley Square, England may be beautiful, but a mockingbird that sings when other birds have the good sense to be asleep is another thing. For the past few weeks we’ve been serenaded by a mockingbird a few houses away from ours. There’s just one problem, he’s decided to do it in the wee hours of the morning, about 3:00am or so. It’s a loud and clear song that has woken us up on several occasions.

The mockingbird’s call is a long string of what seems to be a compilation of other birds’ songs. It has a series of tweets, chirps, twitters, warbles and more in a loud, high-pitched clear tone which is can be pleasant, even pretty when it’s during the day. Like a dripping faucet, it just seems all that much louder and more annoying in the quiet darkness. For us it’s call is the avian equivalent of a car alarm going off in the middle of the night, over and over again. The only good thing is that we’ve figured out that the offending bird sits on the roof of a neighbor’s house two doors to the southwest of us. I can’t imagine what it would be like if he was on our roof.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds web site gives some tips on where to find mocking birds and how to attract them to your yard, but not how to shoo them away. It also says: “unmated males are the most insistent singers, carrying on late all day and late into the night.” So all we need to do to shut up our unwanted warbler is to find him a date.

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Blowin’ in the wind

“…Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do, crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind…” Dust in the wind by Kerry Livgren

Assignments like check passings, ribbon cuttings and groundbreakings are the bane of most photographers existence. The problem is trying to get something different in situations that are highly orchestrated. One has to work hard to get a new and different angle. Many times it comes down to standing in a different spot than everybody else if you can.

At the groundbreaking ceremony at the Lodi Energy Center natural gas-fired combined-cycle power plant in Lodi there were the obligatory speeches, introductions of officials and gold-painted shovels at the ready for the groundbreaking.

The was a stiff breeze coming out of the west/northwest. After a gust nearly knocked over Lodi city councilman and emcee Larry Hansen’s speech, he joked that the site might also be good place for a wind energy farm. When it came time for the groundbreaking and I was looking for a spot to shoot from, I could feel the breeze in my face and it dawned on me that’s where the dust would fly if I stood in the spot where everyone else was going to be.

Instead of being directly in front of the dignitaries, I positioned myself just to the north of the group. I was fairly close to them with a wide angle lens. I knew I wasn’t going to get all of them in the shot, but the angle made for a more interesting photo. They all stood holding the shovels for the picture and then dug into the pile of loose dirt that was put there just for the ceremony.

Sure enough the steady breeze blew the dust towards the crowd that was watching and most of the photographers, pros and amateurs alike, got a face-full of dirt. But from my vantage point I was able to get a slightly different shot and avoid the dust at the same time.

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U turns

There are very few photo opportunities on the interstate and the ones that are out there are difficult to get to due to traffic and the speed at which it travels.

I was driving down I-5 on my way back to the office from an assignment in Lodi when I decided to get off the freeway at Eight Mile Road to take the surface streets. It’s something I do when I have the time to see what I can find photographically. Turning south onto Thornton Road, I traveled a couple of miles and crossed over the Bear Creek bridge. A little past the other side, I spotted a young woman riding a bike with a dog sticking its head out of what looked like a small satchel around her shoulders.

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Not the greatest shot perhaps, but cute nonetheless. I decided to get a shot of her but there was no place to stop. I had to go to the nearest traffic signal to turn around. At the street, Estate Drive, the light didn’t allow for U-turns so when it turned green I made the turn, drove about half a block and did a 3-point turn and headed back out onto Thornton Road.

I was afraid I was going to lose her, but fortunately she was riding slowly and I was able to catch up. But there was no shoulder to park safely so I had to drive to the next stop light, A.G. Spanos Boulevard, to try and find a place. I could see the woman getting closer, but I still thought I could make it. As I waited for the light to turn green, I exchanged the wide-angle lens that was on the camera for a telephoto one.

I turned onto the street but “no parking” signs lined it. I was able to go about a block to find a residential street, Josahua Tree Circle, where I could park. From there I ran (well, for me it was more of a jog) to the corner of Thornton and A.G. Spanos. I got there just seconds before she reached the stoplight and I was able to fired off several frames. The light was red for her so I was able to approach her without having to run any more. I got her name and that of her dog and still a bit out of breath, walked back to the car.

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Aye matey

One recent update at the Pixie Woods children’s playland in Stockton has been the replacement of the faded cutout drawings of pirates to pirate mannequins on the island of the park’s lagoon. Quite a colorful upgrade for those on the boat and train tours of the Pixie Woods.

At Cal Expo, surrounding the main lagoon where people can rent and sail water-gun boats, were also several mannequin pirates that looked very much like the ones at Pixie Woods. Maybe they purchased at some pirate outlet store or perhaps the mannequins themselves are doing a little moonlighting to make ends meet in this tough economy.

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Not so itsy-bitsy spider

If you watched the old Hanna/Barbera animated TV series Jonny Quest in the 1960s, then you probably remember the episode with the giant robot spider. In the show, Jonny’s Dad, Dr. Benton Quest, is working on a top secret weapon for the government and the evil Dr. Napoleon Zin sends the ‘bot to spy on him. The form of a spider was a great choice given most people’s fear of arachnids and insects. The robot, with its round body and single eye, was indestructible. Machine gun fire didn’t even slow it down, and it only flinched when shot at by a tank (which begs the question: If Dr. Zin had this unstoppable machine, why didn’t he use it as a weapon instead of trying to steal Dr. Quest’s?).

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One of the most eye-catching pieces at the California State Fair’s fine art exhibit is this mixed media sculpture in the shape of a giant spider titled “Pest Control” by David Mudgett of Walnut Creek. In his synopsis, Mudgett explains why he created it. “Spiders have traditionally been given a bad rap. Often needlessly destroyed out of fear, they could benefit from a spokesman in their defense. An intricate strand in the web of life, spiders serve us in many ways. A natural combatant against garden pests, spiders also reduce the number of disease-carrying insects in our communities…It is my hope that this sculpture will act as an ambassador, provoking the viewer to face his or her fears by looking past the stigma and realizing the true magnificence of these creatures.”

When I saw it, all I could think about was the Jonny Quest episode.

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Counties fair: 2010

It’s State Fair time again and as always one of my favorite things to see are the county exhibits. I’ve come up with my own personal and unofficial “awards” to some deserving (or not so deserving) entries that have caught my attention in the past. This year I had an assignment to go to the fair a day before it opened so several of the 27 county displays were not yet finished, but for me, there were still some that stood out. So here are the picks for my third annual unofficial State Fair county awards:

The Mr. Big Stuff award:

Like a lot of the other counties, the Solano County exhibit features an assortment of fruit and veggies, but whereas the other displays have real produce within the normal size range, Solano County goes big. Although they’re fake representations of the county’s crops, what they lack in realness, they make up for it in size. Pears and apricots are at least 10 times their normal size. A cartoony chicken, twice the size of a normal one sits on the roof of what looks to be a roadside fruit stand. The letters that spell out SOLANO on the building are about 3-feet tall. Nearly everything about the display is big. Strangely enough, the cartoonish cows and California golden bears are smaller than real life.

The creepy-guy-in-the-window Award:

Mono County’s display is a life-size representation of the ghost town and state park of Bodie. In the window of a rustic building’s front door is a cut out of a man in an apron, perhaps a store owner. His color, an eerie yellow, is perhaps meant to be a sepia tone to denote an old-fashionness, but combined with an uncanny stare just comes across as slasher-movie creepy.

The Carmen Sandiego Award:

Sacramento County’s exhibit features the tagline: “Where in the world is Sacramento? How could you not know where the state capitol is? But since the fair is in Sacramento in Sacramento County, wouldn’t it stand to reason that fairgoers already know where it is?

The you-couldn’t-come-up-with-anything-else? Award:

The main subject of the Humbolt County’s relatively small display is the mythical creature Bigfoot. According to the Humboldt Farm Bureau’s web site, the county’s biggest industry is logging producing more than $170 million in timber. Nursery products and milk are also significant crops. California’s Redwood Coast web site touts the Redwoods National Forest, Old Town Eureka and Morris Graves Museum of Art as some of Humboldt County’s tourist attractions. Not once does either site mention anything about Bigfoot.

The toned-down-from-last-year Award:

Last year San Joaquin County’s display featured a protest from area farmers over Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal for a new peripheral canal. Unhappy with the though of precious Delta water used to irrigate crops in the Central Valley being sent down south, the San Joaquin Farm Bureau put a prominent terminator-like robot with glowing red eyes reaching out a cold, steely hand to literally rock the county as a centerpiece of the display (It won my “Most Politically Overt” award last year).

This year the threat of moving water to the south still exists as does the farm bureau’s opposition, but it’s not as prominent on the 2010 San Joaquin County display. Upon initial examination the exhibit looks to be a fair-to-middlin’ effort. Well executed, but not much to distinguish it from any of the other counties. Like those other counties’ efforts it shows the different types of crops and products that we produce. On the back in an area about 3 feet by 4 feet is a small desert scene with a sun-bleached bovine skull in the sand representing a cautionary tale of what the county would look like if our water were to be diverted southward. There are also several placards scattered about the display that talk about the water issue from the bureau’s perspective. However, it’s just all just small portion of the whole display almost buried in the back that one might miss it if they weren’t looking for it.

Famed negotiator Herb Coen once said the secret to deal-making was to: “Care. Really, really care. Just not that much.” Maybe that’s what the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau is going for.

Click here to see my 2008 list and here for the 2009 list.

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Get your motor running

Whether it’s going to an assignment or searching for an enterprise feature, I drive a lot for my job. I estimate that I’ve probably put in more than 200,000 miles for work, give or take a mile or two. Recently I had an assignment where I didn’t have to drive much at all.

Stroke survivor Herman “Max” Dierich, 75, was once an avid motorcycle enthusiast but now is confined to a wheelchair and recently started dialysis. Through the Twilight Wish Foundation, a group that grants wishes of deserving elders 69 or older, Dierich got to ride one more time.

From the Creekside Care and Rehabilitation Center in Stockton where’s he’s lived for the last 6 years, Dierich rode in a sidecar hooked up to a Harley-Davidson 2010 Ultra Classic driven by John Aires, a member of the California Valley Stockton Chapter of the Harley Owners Group. Other members of the group joined in the ride from Creekside Care to Eagle’s Nest Harley-Davidson store in Lathrop

When I arrived, Dierich was already in the sidecar rarin’ to go. I got some shots of the caravan as it left Creekside’s parking lot but I wanted to get shots of them motoring down the road. The problem was that it would be difficult, not to mention dangerous, to shoot and drive at the same time.

Reporter Joe Goldeen was also on hand for the story. He was headed toward his own car to follow the entourage when I called out to him and tossed him the keys to the company car I came in. “You drive” I said.

With Joe driving, I was easily able to shoot as Dierich and company drove through the streets of Stockton out to I-5. They then headed south to Highway 4 and then had a nice ride through the country east to Tracy Boulevard then to Matthews Road and finally to the Eagle’s Nest dealership in Lathrop. With Dierich too weak to get out of the sidecar, they literally toured the dealership on the bike. First through the showroom and then through the service bays. The ride home was just a straight shot back up I-5 to Stockton.

The whole time I was able shoot out the window, from the front, back and the side of them, telling Joe to speed up or slow down when needed. On the way home I had Joe move over into the slow lane and had the motorcycles pass us up, and Dierich gave me a happy thumbs’ up as they passed us.

It’s not often I have a chauffer on assignment, but when I do I try to make the most of it.

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Senioritis

Recently Margaret Kerry, 81, who was the original reference model for the Disney character of Tinkerbell, made an appearance in the banquet room of Valley Brew on the Miracle Mile in Stockton. She regaled those in attendance with stories of how she got the part, what it was like to work for the Disney studios and of Walt Disney himself. Spry for her age, Kerry displayed the impish humor that got her the part of the feisty fairy.

Children have always been the biggest fans of Tinkerbell and always will be, but of the estimated 50 to 60 people who came to see Kerry, only 8 were under the age of 12; the rest were adults. And while the kids were interested, the grownups were entralled by her stories.

Another octogenarian, actress Betty White, has been having a resurgence of her career lately. At 85 she’s recently been featured in commercials, was a host of Saturday Night Live and played a part in a new TV series. Perhaps this renewed interest in our elders is because we Baby Boomers are aging, too, and are looking for role models for doing it gracefully. And in those such as White and Kerry, we have found those who have done so.

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    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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