I was reading an article today. The subject of the article isn’t particularly important unless you have a particular interest in Antarctic tourism. It was well written, articulate, and humorous. This blogger was ticked off all the appropriate boxes for what make a post enjoyable reading.

As the author regales us with tails of expedition ships and Russian sailors, and researchers who seem ever so slightly “off,” there was a thought lurking in the back of my mind. I wondered who the hell has the time or money to take off on 38-day cruise to the bottom of the world just to have something to write about. The blog itself was a fairly run of the mill affair without many bells or whistles – the kind of think you build when you’re more interested in writing than working in web design.

The answer to most of my questions came when at the end of the post, when the author thanked all of his supporters for donating to his Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter. Sonofabitch. This guy was crowdsourcing his writing and travel habits by taking online donations. I didn’t know that was even a thing people did, but it is… and it’s apparently far more lucrative that selling short stories $.99 a copy on Amazon.

With trepidation in my heart I sought out the Kickstarter campaign for the blogger in question. I wish I would have let it go, because I can’t unsee what I saw. I’m never going to be able to forget that 900+ people donated a total of almost $38,000 to this heroic blogger to go out and play advanced tourist. I’m amazed and jealous and sunned all at the same time.

It’s given me more than a moment’s pause as I wonder how I can coax 900 people out of $42 a piece – or more importantly can I coax 3000 to donate that much. Is it possible that someone is out there now using Kickstarter as their primary source of income? If there is, can that person please give me a bit of “how to” coaching?

There’s a quiet little corner of beach on St. Thomas I think would make a great spot for writing. Send me there and I’ll tell you all about it.

The thing I miss least…

Now and then I post about things I miss about working in DC. Today I was reminded about one of the great big hairy things that I don’t miss – trying to fight my way into and out of the city when the work day coincides with a major event or demonstration on the National Mall. Whether it’s a march on the Capitol or a memorial dedication, there’s nothing worse than being some schlub just trying to get to the office when there are roads closed all over town and hippies are packed into metro like sardines. When you’re just a guy trying to make a buck, thirty minutes of ye olde protest songs sung in an enclosed space and people dragging train cars full of kids to “see something historic” really just have a way of getting under your skin. Don’t get me started on the douchebaggery of not knowing you should walk to the left and stand to the right.

From those of us whose time in commuter hell is complete, all I can say is good luck and Godspeed you brave suburban voyagers. May your travels tomorrow not end in chaos and gridlock. If you can’t have that, at least try to remember it’s technically illegal to jump the curb, drive down the sidewalk, and run over the tourists. Sometimes staying out of jail is as much of a victory as you can expect.

Getting the good light…

Most of you know that I’ve always harbored a secret love of photography. And now that I’m looking at DC with less of a jaundiced eye, I am finding some really good shots. It’s hard to think about taking pictures when all that’s on your mind is dashing to the Metro and getting to your car before the rush home starts in earnest. The last couple of days, I’ve had time to really walk around the monumental core of the city and watch how the light moves on it. With so much sculptural detail, it’s a really magnificent study in shadow and depth. Just sitting at the reflecting pool, or lurking in the trees along the north and south ends of the building give you a chance to get a sense of the building. I think the ones I posted here are a good example set of what I took early yesterday evening.

I’ve always liked to take pictures early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Getting the good horizontal light that softens the edges without sacrificing detail. Sure, you can shoot tourist shots at high noon and be perfectly happy with getting Aunt Franny and Uncle Cletus in the frame with the bottom half of the dome. You can even control aperture speed to compensate for the harsh mid-day light, but you lose something in the translation. I’ve never quite figured out how to keep everything from washing out on the edges even at high speed. For me, the hour between 6 and 7 is almost perfect; exhausted tourists are heading off to dinner and most of the staffers have started to clear out. And you have this window of opportunity where the sidewalks are deserted, the light is perfect. If you’re quick, you can even manage to avoid getting the ubiquitous Capitol Police in the picture. Pictures with people are a pet peeve of mine… I want pictures of the thing, not the thousands of jackasses who came to see the thing. Any time I can get some good pictures, unobstructed by Skippy and Suzy Dragknuckle and their 3 kids, I’ve had a good day.

Playing Tourist…

I never really stopped to play tourist in the whole time I was working in DC. The Capitol and the White House were sort of landmarks you used when giving someone directions about how to get from point A to point B. They were just sort of “there,” but not something you ever really paid a good deal of attention to. I certainly never toted a camera around town between meetings and I guess that’s why I was so pleased with how some of my pictures from last week turned out. I was lucky enough to find a hotel downtown at 16th and K and had a perfect weather in the evenings for shooting.

Seven Hills…

Note: This post is based on notes I made on Wednesday, April 4. 2007 in Rome.

What we had was more an assault on the Eternal City than a tour… a nine hour mad dash across the city that took us from the Vatican Museums to the Sistine Chapel and Mass in St. Peter’s Square, and to the Coliseum, Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. There is so much history here… Where republican values were institutionalized in the West as well as where those ideals were lost for a millennium. Where empire was born out of civil war and the words of Cicero moved the world. Into the Forum Romanum, where victorious commanders were awarded their triumph down the Sacred Way into the Forum to the Capitoline. 2500 years of human history have passed this single spot.

The feeling one gets standing at the steps of the Curia, the old Senate house, or under the Arch of Titus looking down over the Forum are simply indescribable. Perhaps it’s simply my abject love of all things old, but it’s something like standing on a beach at night looking out at the dark sky bleeding into the even darker water and seeing the stars. You realize your own smallness against the backdrop of the universe. It’s an overwhelming feeling of awe and mixed with profound sadness at standing on the ruined remains of the ancient world’s sole superpower. It’s a striking reminder that all things pass in their time. Still, there is something overwhelmingly grand about Rome. Eternal City just about covers it.