Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Goodbye Gulfport, Hello Hurricane

The last time I saw Gulfport, MS, was in June, not quite three months ago. It was as it usually is: part beach town, part tourist town, part trashy town. I see what I always see there: souveneir shops with shark-mouth entrances boasting cheap swimsuits and beach towels; casinos glittering with neon LCD screens; hotels with blinking vacancy signs lighting up the night.

We're visiting my grandparents - good southern people who will make me eat loads of gumbo and banana pudding, and with whom I will watch the pre-recorded 6 o'clock news at 8 o'clock at night. I will smile as Granny pulls a half-used tissue from some hidden spot up her shirt sleeve, and laugh as Gramps asks me once again how to operate his brand-new digital camera.

Before the trip is over, I will walk with my family along the beach by the ocean, very careful to step over both sand castles and broken glass. I will also take a guided tour of Biloxi, a town we always visit, but have never really known much about. I will slurp a cheap sno-cone from a vendor on the beach, and get tired of it halfway through.

I will do all these thing, and leave, never once giving thought to the possibility that this town I'm so familiar with - this town my grandparents have always lived in - might not be there when I return.

And now it isn't there. It's gone - almost all of it. Watching the news these past few days has not only made me very sad, but a little apprehensive as well. Are my grandparents still okay? Why wouldn't they just evacuate when they were supposed to? How will the town survive? Who will be able to live there now?

The last I heard, my grandparents are alive, and their house (about 3 minutes from the beach) is still standing. Yes, they have plenty of yard damage and debris, a tree through the roof of their garage and one blocking their driveway, and some water in the house, but they're alive. And for that I'm grateful.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

From Wetsuits to Weddings

I thought I'd go over what I've listed as the top 5 experiences of my trip to Texas last week, as well as some photos. So here we have, in no particular order:

1. I swam in a wetsuit. It was about midnight when my friend Heather suggested we go swimming in her pool. I said, "Are you crazy? I'll freeze my butt off." Heather said, "You can wear my wetsuit." ?!?!? Who but Heather would just keep a wetsuit hangin' around the house? So I wore it, and thus had my first-ever wetsuit experience.

2. While fighting off fear in a completely cricket-infested office, Heather and I designed the entire wedding program for our friend Erin's wedding. We finished AN HOUR BEFORE THE WEDDING STARTED. Did we get thanked? NO. It was a darn good program too, if I say so myself. Albany (the small town where the wedding was held) has a serious cricket problem. You might think I'm talking about those small cute chirpy things that make a little noise in the summertime. I'm not. I'm talking huge honkin' black cricket-beasts that not only fly, but bite too. Maybe Moses plagued Albany with crickets after he finished with the Egyptians, I'm not sure. There's a town square, okay, and all the shop owners put out pesticide pellets in the afternoon, and then the following morning they sweep the dead crickets into gigantic mounds. It's GROSS, and it's a never-ending cycle because there's always just as many the next day.

3. Amanda and I snuck out the house window to TP and shoepolish the cars of Heather's brothers and their friends. It was so 11th grade all over again, only I never did that in 11th grade. I was a late bloomer in the prank department.

4. I ate REAL Tex-Mex food again!! This crap they serve in VA will never, ever compare.

5. Heather's car broke down halfway between Abilene and Dallas on my way back to the airport. For those of you who have no clue where Abilene and Dallas are, well they're about 3 hours apart. And the car just died about halfway between the two. It was pouring rain, which didn't help me at all because of course I had to pee. After calling Triple A (or is it AAA?) we waited a good hour for the tow-truck to arrive. It didn't, and so we thought we'd try starting the car one more time. And it worked, miraculously. If you were to see Heather's car, you'd say it was a miracle too. Anyway, what had happened was all that rain had gotten everything wet under the car hood and caused the car to die. If you're wondering how this can possibly happen, just get in enough accidents to where your hood doesn't rest flush against the body of your car and then let it bounce around a little. But the story has a happy ending... I caught my plane just as they called for final boarding.

Say goodbye to Erin, who joined the ranks of married people last week at her wedding. Sad but true.

A cool photo, I thought, of the place where Erin's reception was held. Enlarge this for a much better view.

This is the courthouse in Albany. It's also the "center" of town. Notice those stormclouds rolling in.

Prairie Star
This is a shot from inside of The Prairie Star - convience store, deli, and grill. This place is one of four eating establishments in town. Albany boasts a population of about 1900 people.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Blue Balloon

I took my best picture of the summer this evening. I think it's my best, at least. I'm not the one who should be judging, but I really like it. See for yourself. Agree? Disagree?


I photographed the Bergton Fair in western Virginia tonight. My LAST assignment as a free-labor intern (supposedly). I had five hours to finish up and I FINISHED!!! I say supposedly because Wednesday when I mentioned to my boss that I only had five hours to go, he thought about it for awhile and then said, "Well, I could definitely get you some freelance work here at the newspaper if you'd be willing to shoot the fair next week." (This is a different fair, by the way.) I said, "Umm... I don't exactly want to make working for free a habit." He said, "No, of course not. I wouldn't recommend it either."

Sounds like a manipulation tactic to me. But it worked for him, I guess, as I am at their disposal next week for the Rockingham County Fair. And then after that, I'll hopefully be a "freelancer" as I continue to also work at my other job I just started yesterday. It's at this place called Artistic Photography, a studio that does weddings and portrait work. Anyway, we'll see how that goes...

More about the fair later. I'm tired.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Arbor Man Strikes Again

Well folks, I'm back from a week of vacation (sort of) in the good ol' Lone Star State. (Yes, that means Texas.) I have quite a few pictures and stories from that trip, but not enough time to share them. So instead, let me tell you about the interesting character I met today while out on assignment for the paper.

He was a retired pediatrician who spends his time now planting trees. Yes, tree planting. Before you think of this as a fruitless effort (ha! pun intended), I'll inform you that he did indeed win one of two national awards entitled: Arbor Day Foundation Good Stewardship Award. Don't ask me what it means, but it sounds important, right?

So this guy had over 300 acres of land on which he had turned out a cross-country running course, two manmade ponds, a conservation area, a hand-constructed picnic shelter, and a field trip location for elementary kids. And more, I'm sure, that's just what I saw of it.

I was getting the impression this guy knew nature.

He wasn't exactly a young skipper (he was pushing 80) so after I met him, we rode off for a tour on his trusty little' golf cart. Everything was hunky-dory until I spotted IT. A fat and dirty groundhog lounging in the middle of the uphill slope our golf cart was speeding toward.

"Oh," I said, pointing. "Look at that."

Mr. Arbor Man made some sort of grunt that left me questioning whether or not he had actually heard me. (Judging from the previous leg of the journey, this was not an unfounded line of thought.) But I had pointed, so I didn't mention it again. Meanwhile, as these thoughts swarmed my head, he just kept driving. Heading straight for the groundhog.

I think he sped up a little then, but it might have been my imagination.

The front two wheels straddled the animal, but upon its attempted escape I heard (and felt!) a significant ka-bump. The last left wheel had done the groundhog in.

I gaped, incredulous, at my chauffeur. Turning his head, he glanced at the roadkill and then back at me.

The Arbor Man's only words were, "Those things are a nuisance."

And we never spoke of it again.

Here's his picture so you can put a face to the story, but please don't sic the SPCA on him.

Arbor Man
Originally uploaded by emster214.
Dr. Burntner, a retired pediatrician, recently won one of two Arbor Day Foundation Stewardship national awards for his tree planting and conservation efforts in Rockingham Co. He owns over 300 acres of land where he has planted over 4,000 trees. Part of his extensive property is seen reflected here in his sunglasses.

Click on the picture to enlarge it, as this photo is much better viewed large.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Update on Grandma

My Grandma pulled through her surgery just fine, now boasting metal rod in her leg. Apparently she broke not only her femur, but her hip as well. The good news is she will be able to move and bend to a larger extent than we originally thought. And no cast! (I guess the rod takes care of that.) Anyway, thanks for sending your continued thoughts and prayers our direction.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Savannah, 3, gives me a shy glance.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Jonathan, 1, poses for the camera. Nobody arranged him in this position - he did that himself. I thought he looked like an old man in a little boy body.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Prayers Please

My grandma fell today and broke her femur (the thigh part of your leg). So she's in the hospital today, awaiting surgery tomorrow. The problem with this is she's 80 years old, and a speedy recovery is especially difficult at that age. She's in great health, but now she'll be in a cast from her hip down past her knee. That means no sitting down, no bending at the hip, no showers, and so on. I'm sure you get the picture. For a couple of months, this will be a complete lifestyle change, and one my grandfather is probably not too capable of helping her with.

It's hard to see my grandparents age. I'd like to think they'll be around forever, but I know that's not the case. It makes me a little scared to get old.

Also in the news... last spring I found out the son of my old boss from my job in Abilene had a brain tumor. He's the sweetest 5-year-old kid you can imagine. Anyway, the tumor was removed in surgery a couple of months ago, but after a recent MRI, they discovered it's grown back. He starts chemotherapy in less than a week, and it will last for the next 16 months. Yikes! A blog the family created to keep everyone updated can be found at:

Please say a prayer for these people if you have a minute.

Alright, enough with the sad. On to the happy... pictures! A few more random ones:

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A lone spectator sits in the stands of JMU's Convocation Center as he watches the boys in the leauge above him play a basketball game. JMU's Dean Keener basketball camp started the middle of July.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Bail bondsman Dover Harper calls himself Dr. Bond. He works part-time at an insurance agency, and does bail bonds on the side. When I went to take his photo, he was sure to let me know he didn't kill people.

old car
Originally uploaded by emster214.
This was originally a slide I shot a few years ago. (Ok, like four.) I just found a scanned version of it today, and thought I'd revive it a little. This old car was found just outside of Johnson City, TN.