Archive for Mar 14, 2011

We were zipping along Highway 101, just south of San Jose, when out of the corner of my eye, in a field off to the right, I espied what I optimistically thought would prove my first bingo photo op of the day – a very old, very rusted pickup truck.

I was driving too fast, maybe 70, to notice the make, but the very sight of it made me start salivating. “Perfect,” I said to myself, “perfect.” I did not expect to stumble upon so fine a Rusted Relic candidate so close to a major metropolis and so close to the highway.

The challenge presented was twofold: 1) Leave the freeway at the next exit and circle around on country roads, and 2) Once subject spotted, to make my way to the vehicle, camera in hand, and, as always, scanning for any possible interference, such as, say, a snarling canine and/or having a shotgun wielded by a snarling rancher aimed at me. To date – knock on wood – I have been so fortunate as to avoid both.

I circled around and, aided by my lynx-eyed navigator wife, Pat, espied it off in the distance. Bumping along a dusty, pocked dirt road, we slowly crept up to the ranch house. In the distance, I could see the truck. So close yet so far. I grabbed the camera from its bag in the trunk, swung it over my neck, and, before it could settle to gravitational rest, two men had approached. The younger, perhaps the son, I surmised, looked amiable enough. “Slam dunk,” I figured. Not so fast there, Mr. Photographer. The older man started waving his arms, yelling, “No pictures.” I hadn’t even mentioned what it was I wanted to shoot, but he must have known. Sixth sense, ESP, whatever. I reckon I wasn’t the first camera-wielding stranger to request up-close-and-personals of his prized possession (I never did learn the make or year).

“Why?” I asked, incredulously. I say incredulously, because – God’s truth – no one in the past had ever told me to take a hike. Well, first time for everything. “I just don’t want anyone near the truck,” he demanded. From the tone of the voice and the remonstration, it was immediately apparent that there would be no room for negotiation. “OK,” I may have said, or, more likely, I may have just muttered it inaudibly, to myself. In any case, much as I regret admitting it, I struck out. For the day, batting .000.

Tail between legs, I slunk back to the car, put away the camera and retreated, defeated, back to the freeway. If I said anything to Pat, I was too steamed at the time to be able to remember. How dare I be denied such delicious, low-hanging fruit! Clearly, my stars were not in alignment.

So, white flag of surrender held aloft for the whole world to see, back to Highway 101 we trudged. Destination: Santa Barbara, to spend the weekend with an old high-school classmate of mine and his wife, likewise named Pat. Disappointed as I was, I wasn’t about to let this rude incident spoil our much-anticipated visit.

santa barbara barn photo Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo OpsThree hours on, we had reached Paso Robles, a rapidly growing town, and growing mainly because of a booming wine industry thereabouts that in the past decade has come into its own as a major player in California and beyond.

The clerk at a tasting room we visited just off the public square – Clayhouse – told us that the Paso Robles vicinity today is what the Napa Valley was 30 years ago. Already, there are literally hundred of vineyards, with more being planted as we speak. If you haven’t tried wines – white or red – bearing the Central Coast appellation, do yourself a favor and uncork a bottle.

(Just wondering: How many wineries in California – or elsewhere in the U.S. – do you suppose turn a profit? Corollary: How many winery owners need or even want to turn a profit? As is well documented, many of them are filthy rich people in seeking a tax shelter. Ah, yes, the luxury of sipping one’s way to handing over less money to Uncle Sam. Must be nice.)

After sampling several varietals, buying a case of one of Clayhouse’s signature wines – Adobe White – we joined the wine club, stowed the case in the car trunk, and walked around the corner to a restaurant named Artisan. I specifically wanted to go there because, having visited originally last summer (when it was beastly hot), I knew how good the chow was, and I wanted Pat to get in on a good thing. A good thing it was. Two thumbs up … from each of us. Later would I read that the chef in residence had been nominated as one of the best new chefs of 2010 in the entire nation. No wonder the taste buds were so enraptured.

We stopped again in a lovely hamlet off the beaten path named Los Olivos. The Clayhouse clerk had assured us it was worth the detour. Indeed, a charming place – proverbial wide spot in the road – and consisting mainly of more tasting rooms, several restaurants, the famous Fess Parker Inn and Spa and – what appealed most to me at this juncture – a coffee house that, according to the sign behind the counter – “proudly serves Peet’s Coffee.” If you haven’t tried Peet’s, you should. Best gourmet java in America, and you can quote me on that. Started in Berkeley in 1966. Now coast to coast. Nowhere near as many stores as Starbucks has, but the brew is not-even-close superior.

SB old barn picture Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo OpsRoughly nine hours after we had pushed off from our home in Lafayette to the north, we rolled into the driveway of the Hansons. They greeted us at the door with huge smiles and open arms. A wonderful weekend with two wonderful people was to unfold.

The Hansons treated us like royalty. Two scrumptious dinners at their house – one of which was what we from the Midwest call a cookout (not, wash your mouth out, a barbecue. Someone fetch the Fels Naptha).

Taking advantage of a beautiful day – sunny, with temperatures rising into the 70s (in early February, mind you) – Gary and Pat gave us a grand tour of the area. We drove past a manse owned by the one and only Oprah, walked about the Santa Barbara mission (overrun with photographers from Japan), strolled the bustling pier.

“Catch anything?” I asked one angler. “Nope, but there’s always hope.” Perhaps benefit of a warm, sunny day when most of the rest of the nation is shivering is enough. Certainly would be – indeed, was! — for me, recalling all too vividly the nasty winters Gary and I endured growing up in Ohio.

Sunday morning. Light breakfast shared with our hosts. We hugged one another, said our goodbyes and let’s-do-this-again-soons, and saddled up for our respective destinations – they to church, we back whence we came.

Knowing that there would be few if any photo ops along 101, we slipped off onto Highway 41, which runs roughly east and west through San Luis Obispo County. Ah, yes, more of what I am always looking for – ranch and farm land, hills, vistas, seen-better-days sheet metal.

We weren’t more than a half-hour into our side excursion when I spotted what proved to be the first viable, doable photo op of the trip, a barn, off in the distance. I grabbed my camera, and, using a fence post as a surrogate tripod, squeezed off a number of frames, several – two of which you see here above – with cattle as what Hollywood euphemistically refers to as “atmospheric personnel,” better known to the layperson as “extras.”

sb old truck photograph Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo OpsSatisfied with what I saw captured on the LCD screen, I was putting the camera away when I looked across the two-lane. What did I see? Shazam! Must be Irish. A rusted old pickup truck perched high up a hill on another cattle ranch.

Like the proverbial chicken, I walked across the street to the other side. As I had done in taking pictures of the barn, I helped myself to a fence post to stabilize the camera, which, outfitted with a long telephoto lens, was beginning to feel a little heavy.

Off in the distance yet within shouting distance was a man, working alongside his truck, whom I presumed – correctly, as it turned out – to be the ranch owner. Waving my arms and holding my camera aloft for him to see, cupping my hands to my mouth, I bellowed, “Hi. I’m a photographer and would love to get closer to the old pickup if I may. Mind if I come onto the property?”

Although I couldn’t hear the answer, I was pleased to see him get into his Dodge Ram and head toward the main gate, securely padlocked and operable only by dint of keypad.

Sticking his arm out the window and pointing toward the keypad, he clicked his remote, and, voila, the gate started to swing open. I walked up to the driver door and introduced myself, handing him one of my business cards.

sb truck picture Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo Ops “I love to take pictures of what I call Rusted Relics,” I explained, “and the one behind us is a beauty. What make and year is it?”

“1940 Ford, sitting where you see it when I bought the ranch 20 years ago,” he replied. “Been meaning to move it, but I never seem to get around to it. Too much else to do around here.”

He added: “Drive around behind the shed and park there. You can walk up the hill and take as many pictures as you like. I’ll leave the gate open for you. How long do you think you will be?”

“Twenty minutes, I’m guessing,” I replied.

“Fine. Take your time. Nice to meet you.” Gazing at the card, he inquired, “What is ‘Rural Americana’?”

I explained as best I could in my two-minute, elevator-speech description of my subject matter. Seemed to satisfy. Or maybe not. The conversation concluded with my saying, “Visit my website and you will see. The address is on the card.”

I parked where he had suggested, behind the shed. As is her wont when accompanying me on my road shoots, Pat immediately reached for her novel as I reached for my camera.

After hopping over a gulley, I clambered up the hill, ogling this prize as I put one foot after the other. Upon arriving, I surveyed the truck and thought, wow, it’s perfect – old and rusted and with many coats of paint deliciously weathered over seven decades.

After shooting the rear and sides from varying distances and angles, I strode around to the front. Eyeballing it from maybe 20 feet away, I thought to myself, “Why the heck is there a canoe draped over the front?” Upon closer inspection, I saw that it wasn’t a canoe, but rather the hood, “slightly ajar,” as is evident from one of the images offered here.

sb truck closeup picture Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo OpsLying on the ground and concentrating intently as I squeezed off shot after shot of the front end, suddenly – and with no warning – a big, black dog was standing over me, clearly agitated and panting.

“Oh, oh,” I muttered defeatedly to myself, “the jig is up. After all these years, finally I meet my Waterloo – eaten by a hungry lab.

Well, I wasn’t eaten, not even so much as bitten. “Saying ‘nice boy, nice boy” as I rose to my feet, expecting to have to fend off a vicious attack from the four-legged security guard, the dog actually came up and licked my hand. OMG. Must be Irish.

As I reached out to pet him – foolishly, perhaps – I heard his master’s voice in the distance. “Boomer, get back here, right now!”

Boomer turned around and before obliging the command to return, he paused for a second, then dashed off. Luckily, and seizing a moment never to be repeated, I took a couple of exposures of paused (pawsed?) Boomer, one of which you see here.

sb tractor photo Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo OpsFinished with the truck and grateful that I proved not to be Boomer’s dinner, I eased back down the hill. Off to the side was a thoroughly rusted tractor, which, from appearances, may have been sitting there since before The Flood. I grabbed some shots of it – one shown here – put the lens cap back on the camera, placed it in the bag, closed the trunk, and, with a big smile on my face, we made our way out through the gate, which clanged closed behind us. Six hours later, we were back home. What a nice weekend, satisfying in every respect and, on the whole, most memorable.

Reminiscing with an old chum, seeing the sights, chancing upon a couple of come-hither photo ops. To borrow a phrase, “Life Is Good.”