Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Start of Sorts (But Could Well Be the Reverse) With A Whole Lot Later (Certainly Not Sooner)

I find it difficult to write about myself perhaps due to my years as a photojournalist. I started out hoping to be a great author, to be creative, to write the definitive American Novel. Is that enough cliches or what?

Joining the local writer's club was not where I wanted to be for it seemed to be a farce, a circle-jerk of people wanting to read their prose first and foremost and then happily accept any plaudits offered by all and sundry. Viola! The proverbial bright light lit: why not go to college?

I did.

A digression: As a child and as a young adult I never was interested in taking pictures. If it wasn't for Emily (1st wife) there never would've been one baby photo of any of my three oldest sons. I have four and the youngest arrived during my after I discovered photography period. I was an inverterate reader willingly walking 6 miles the length of Bell, CA to practically “read out” the local library. I ended up traveling solo on the street car into Central Los Angeles to devour books at the public library. LA in 1951 was far different then it is now. But then why should I point out the obvious?

I do just because I can.

Digressing further, downward, or upward (you choose), I went to a community college and majored in journalism which meant I had to write for the student newspaper. Fortuitous this as it turned my life in a different direction and nudged me into my love of photography as well as a decade long odyssey traveling America's Pacific Rim in a pony drawn covered wagon.

Can you use a camera?” John Jopes, managing editor of The Ontario Daily Report, asked well into my job interview. “Of course,” I replied. As the cliché goes my mama didn't raise no dummy!

I was interviewing for a job since my second son was on the way and my GI Bill wasn't about to handle the expense. I had a pile of clippings from the junior college newspaper as my “portfolio.” I use that term quite loosely. “Ralph, what do I do?” I know Mr. Viggers saw right through me. He handed me a Mamiya C330 with a Honeywell “Potato Masher” strobe already attached. “F8 at 125th and use your strobe,” Ralph advised.

I soon began laying out my own Sunday photo features and started drifting away from my stillborn career as a Ernie Pyle wannabe. Another paper, another town, I had traded in my medium format Mamiya with a Honeywell potato masher strobe for a 35mm Nikon.

Richard Nixon, campaigning for reelection, stopped at the local airport for a photo op with then Gov. Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy. I snuck under the restraining ropes and calmly waited while the entourage of politicos and good fellas passed by encapsulated within their living wall of beady eyed secret service agents.

I melted in with the White House news hawks, press passes flashing under the halogen lights, and sans legality snapped frame after frame only to have my ego smashed against the shoals of hubris. I had forgotten to check the rewind lever and had not loaded the film correctly.

Us unlettered illiterates, and at times unwashed, called our paper, The Ontario Daily “Distort.” but softly and just when bending elbows over at Jake’s Grill. I composed under daily deadlines listening to the clackity clack of the lino types in the background.

I was a general assignment reporter primarily covering the police beat as well as photo features for the Sunday paper and specialized in covering the minority communities in the Pomona Valley.

I went on to work for a Fontana paper which published six days a week. There I covered school, city and county government as well as police and prisons. I handled all darkroom duties as well as photography in which I compiled my own file of photos those with a queasy stomach would be well advised to ignore.

I was soon promoted to Sports Editor in addition to my other beats. I enlisted the aid of a local police officer who delivered box scores like the pros. I wrote and photographed high school football, basketball track and baseball. There were no such critter as a “soccer mom” back then.

I enlisted the help of a local bowler who wrote a weekly gossip column about life on the lanes. She kept me in stitches and hot water as she tended to be bawdy and risqué at times.

I covered three cities and three counties and wrote stories about the big races at Ontario International Race Way as well as Riverside International and if space required did features like a photo spread on the 1st and only Nude Rodeo.

I briefly worked as managing editor of a small weekly in Colton, CA where aside from helping my one and only reporter choose what kind of pipe she should smoke and layout an ad rag for Bull Head City, AZ, I spent most of Wednesday afternoons sorting through a two foot length of chain from which dangled a huge assortment of varied and unmarked keys. The keys were for the coin vending machines which it was my duty upon duty, upon duty to fill with largely unwanted papers and collect the most wanted coins.

I published a monthly rock magazine with the help of young vigorous friends. My wife who used what then was the most advanced word processor, an IBM compositor, was my back shop and we quit when Guy, the most important one, left his job at the printing plant where he ran the press for us after hours.

I worked for The Bakersfield Californian where I covered eastern Kern County and wrote a column on country music but this was before Buck and Merle feuded their way out of “Nashville West.”

After moving up North, I opened my very own portrait studio since no publication in Puget Sound expressed much timely interest in a penniless ink stained wretch from down south who foolishly ignored the “No Californians Wanted” signs sprinkled along northbound I5.

During my decade traveling the dusty roads of rural California I stored my clip file with my mother. When she died the album walked away from her widower’s attic.

No longer doing film although I used to have a complete color darkroom, I now own a Nikon DSL with four lenses and am familiar with professional level photo editing software, I have my own laptop as well as a modern up-to-date desk computer.

I own and operate a pony ride business. I can write humorless when proper but then life can be quirky at times.

I really value this computer age for what would we do without spell ck and control-alt-delete?

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