Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The City That Never Sleeps...

It's been a while since I was in New York so my buddy and I flew up on Friday of the long Memorial Day weekend to take in a few shows and visit the Statue of Liberty which recently re-opened to the public.

No one is allowed inside the statue itself now but you step ashore on the island and can go to an outdoor platform high up on the pedestal. Before 9/11 you could go up to the "crown" but the last time people were permitted to climb a ladder from there up to the torch was 1916.

The ferry that takes you to Liberty Island continues on to Ellis Island so we also were able to see where more than 11,000,000 immigrants - men, women and children - were processed when they first arrived in America.

About a third stayed in the New York area but the rest fanned out in all directions. A chart showed the destinations of 950,000 newcomers during a one year period and I noted that 2 went to Florida and only 1 went to South Carolina. To Beaufort.
With all the discussion going on about immigration, it was a timely visit to the restored facility that was the 1920s welcome mat to America. Actually, about 2% were refused admittance for a variety of reasons and had to turn around and go back. What a crushing disappointment that had to be after coming all that way.

There was a haze over Manhattan as we sailed through the harbor on a bright and sunny day. It was Fleet Week - as part of the Memorial Day weekend - so Navy destroyers cut through the waves and helicopters clattered and hovered in formation overhead.

Sunday in the park meant going to Central Park after several hours of delightful wandering through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a perfect day for a drink at The Boathouse, strolling Strawberry Fields across from John Lennon's Dakota and joining the frisbee throwing crowd in the Sheep Meadow.

My last visit to The City was almost 2 years ago, a week before Christmas, and Central Park was buried under mounds of snow so a visit to the adjacent Guggenheim was as close as we got.

We did see two Broadway shows - The Odd Couple and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - and found a Blues club in West Village that plays 7 nights a week. Two great acts that have played here are due in New York in mid-July. We visited a pizzeria that dated from 1905 and yes, there is a distinctive taste to New York-style pizza. We stole forks from Tavern On The Green but there was a compelling reason that involved a lunch in Chinatown and chopstick envy. I'll display pictures of that and much, much more in a later NYC post.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

First Time I Landed On An Aircraft Carrier

The Oriskany, the "Big O," was taken out of service many years ago but it is the first - and only - aircraft carrier I ever landed on. In the early 60s my newspaper, the Union-Tribune, assigned me and its military reporter to fly out the day before the ship was due back in San Diego after a long deployment.

Pre-dawn we met the pilots of our two-engined Navy plane and as we struggled into bulky orange life jackets we were told what to do WHEN we had to ditch at sea. None of this "in the unlikely event...your seat is a flotation device" for these guys. It was still dark when we took off and headed for our carrier hundreds of miles offshore. They had stashed a thermos of coffee for us civilians seated in the back of the gray COD (Carrier Onboard Delivery). Well, that's what I remember it being called.

Hours later, it was light and I was craning my neck to search the sea below after the pilot had announced we were there. I saw lots and lots of Pacific Ocean with small waves and finally I spotted something about the size of a matchbox that seemed to be leaving a wake behind it. It was a very small matchbox.

We started circling down, down, down and the object slowly became larger and larger and it started to look like a ship and finally I could see that it was a pretty wide and long aircraft carrier and we were about to bump on board. The engines were screaming as we passed over the beginning of the ship and WHAP! we stopped. My ears popped.

I'd seen enough movies to know about the cable hook, etc. but the sudden stop and the complete shut down of the engines and the silence after hours of loud droning was a surprise. A pleasant surprise. Stepping onto the deck, I was reassured to be back on solid footing but in just a moment I realized my air legs now had to become sea legs as the ship rolled slightly side to side in the gentle sea.

I remember it being a very large ship with many levels and we had time to explore and discover it was a complete city with repair shops able to fix anything, food preparation areas, mess halls, and even shops - ship stores where you could buy duty free items. We were housed up forward, about as far forward as you could go, just behind the anchor chain lockers.

The rest of the day was spent recording the coordinated hustle and bustle on deck as the jets were launched off to head for inland bases and then mingling with the excited crew the night before they were to dock and see their loved ones after being away about 6 months.

I felt some of their excitement as we steamed into San Diego harbor and I snapped pictures of the sailors scampering around and their patient families waiting on the dock as the gangplanks were slowly moved into place. What a happy reunion!

A young pilot named McCain was launched from the Big O, shot out of the sky and held captive in Vietnam for more than 5 years. I worked with his younger brother who was a reporter at the Union-Tribune for a brief time.

When I came back to Charleston about 12 years ago, I went out to Patriot's Point and toured the USS Yorktown and saw an exhibit that mentioned the Oriskany had been decommissioned. That saddened me. I knew that in 1966, a few years after my first-and-only-landing, she had suffered a fire and lost a lot of sailors. A few days ago I chanced upon an article that stated she was going to be towed out to become a reef off Florida. Now I have seen photos of her last 37 minutes. She was designed to stay afloat and it took special placement of charges to change that. I wanted to share this with you. After all, Charleston is a Navy town.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Old photos of the Old Cooper River bridge..

Now that the last of the Grace bridge has been blasted down, I would like to share some photos from the Boyd family album taken when the Grace was going up. My grandmother was into the Charleston hospitality industry early on. She was f&b at the Charleston Country Club in the early 1920s, ran a boarding house in the late 20s and was head of a Navy Yard canteen (kitchen/messhall) during WWII. Her boarding house on Meeting Street was home to several steel workers on the 2-lane Grace bridge as well as a supervisor. Since he was a guy in charge, he took my grandmother up onto the bridge in the middle of construction. It's 1928 and no hard hat for Granny. There she was in her stylish cloche hat, dusty patent leather shoes and a prim purse next to the tracks used to haul steel up the span. He also gave her several photographs that I shared with the Post and Courier when it was doing a 75th anniversary issue about the bridge. The Boyd bridge connection continued in 1946 when my dad, her son, worked on the Bailey Bridge to reconnect the Grace when the span was knocked out. Finally, during a visit in 1964, I was able to balance a camera and snap a picture while driving over the Grace in heavy 2-way traffic as I had done many times while growing up in Charleston. (Many times driving over the bridge, not many times taking pictures.) I survived that crossing. Yes, I do have a LARGE piece of the Grace on display in my home.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

USMC : Photography = College Scholarship

Being a Marine Corps photog paid off big time! Toting around a camera during my military "career" for 4 years enabled me to be the first in the family to attend college.

In 1959 I had flown to MCRD in San Diego for a week with the Camp Lejeune, N.C. Marine varsity football team. I traveled as the team photographer, NOT as a player! The late 1950s were peaceful and many very good college athletes had enlisted as reservists meaning there were lots of young, talented players in the various services then. And rivalries developed.

As my East Coast team prepared to play against the Marine Corps Recruit Depot varsity team, they had to practice each day but I was free to roam around this pretty, laid-back southern California town that was similar to my seaside Charleston.

Eventually I looked up a priest who had taught me in high school and now was a History Professor at the young (11-year old) Catholic university. He introduced me to some of the senior faculty and he suggested that since they had no photographer maybe I would be a good candidate. I was experienced, had my own equipment, was now very interested in starting college and was about to end my enlistment in the Corps.

I accepted an offer of a photography scholarship to the University of San Diego and, as soon as I was discharged in 1960, I packed up my cameras and darkroom equipment and flew west. The sun-bleached blonde young man who met my plane and drove me up to the campus in his vintage "woody" asked if I were a surfer. I said I had body surfed at Folly Beach in South Carolina. He smirked.

So now I was a former Marine and a freshman in college, slightly older than my peers.

I started this photography blog two months ago and several people commented on the picture I posted of John F. Kennedy. Like me, they appreciated the crisp combination of the large, excited crowd and the speaker with his familiar face turned toward me. This was Senator Kennedy in the 1960 campaign and he had drawn a huge audience downtown in this supposedly Republican city.

With a few pals from the University, I pushed my way toward the platform and showing my USD student ID card, said I was the school's photographer and could I come up on the platform. Times were REALLY more simple then and I was given a quick ok by the policeman and I found myself in a great photo location.

A few years later, several months before he was shot in Dallas, I was a staff photographer with the daily newspaper and photographed President Kennedy again in San Diego. It took two weeks to obtain credentials this time through the Secret Service and the President's Press office. Times weren't as simple then.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

The "lie" actually was a prediction...

Telling the Marine Corps I was a published photog was a gamble. I was only an 18-year old, skinny PFC but I knew I would NOT survive as an MP. I didn't think they would stop the whole process to check out my story and, of course, they didn't. This was the late 50s and nobody was shooting at anybody. The Corps was doing more PR than fighting so a photographer was always a good occupation slot to fill. The CWO who headed the Base Photo Lab got a good laugh when I told him how I was selected to join his crew and he assigned a Sgt to teach me the photography details I would need to know to be an asset to the Corps.

About 7 years later, in 1964, I WAS published in LIFE magazine. As a staff photographer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, I took an aerial shot that I sent off to LIFE magazine and it ran full page on the Miscellany page. The funny part is, the paper had turned it down.

LIFE called to say they liked the shot but needed details for a caption. I had snapped it from a helicopter coming back from an aerial assignment on surfers and knew generally where the word was carved in the field but after driving around, knocking on many doors, nobody knew what I was talking about.

Well, duh. You couldn't see if from the ground! So I hired a fixed wing plane for about $90 an hour and we circled around the north county until I spotted it again. I jotted down landmarks, landed and drove up to the man's house and he explained why he had plowed the word "QUIET" in his back yard.

A few years later, a publication in the Netherlands sent me a check when they ran the picture in an article on noise pollution and several other magazines were taken by the message in the is an angry person who "has had enough and won't take it anymore."

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How my Blog was named...

Growing up here in Charleston in the 1950s, many of my fellow students at Bishop England knew that I was interested in taking pictures.

In fact, in my senior year BEHS somehow received a brand new Speed Graphic so my face often was hidden by that 4x5 large format camera as I covered sports and activities for the Annual.

After high school, bored and not mature enough to be interested in going to college, I joined the Marine Corps and was sent to Parris Island in July. Summertime in SC..what was I thinking? The only things moving in that heat and humidity were sand fleas. And recruits.

After boot camp you go up to Camp Lejeune, NC for some more combat training and then are assigned an "occupation." The day I stood in line to be interviewed and told what my career would be, the Corps was filling slots for future Military Police. Each man coming out was headed to MP school. I stood 6 feet tall and weighed about 130 pounds so I would have been the MP all the drunks would choose if there was a fight. Hmm. So I lied.

Well, not a complete lie. I said I was a trained photographer and had been published in TIME and LIFE magazine. The last part WAS a lie but they were picking MPs and didn't have time to check things out so I was assigned to the Base Photo Lab at Camp Lejeune. I would have been a skinny, lousy military cop.

Four years in the Corps convinced me that having a college education was VERY important and photography helped make that happen. More later.

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