Portraits of a Pandemic

My former Palm Beach Post Chief Photographer is going to be disappointed. Every May 4, John J. Lopinot sends me a cryptic two-word message: “Never Forget.” He and I both know what he’s referring to – the killing of four students at Kent State 50 years ago. I haven’t forgotten, but this might be the last post on the topic.

Bear with me. I’ll get around to the point in a bit. With advanced age comes forgiveness for meandering.

2015 The Sky Has Fallen exhibit

Sky Has Fallen exhibit opening 04-17-2015

In the spring of 2015, Curator Jessica and I put together a major photo exhibit on the protest era at Ohio University for the Southeast Ohio History Center. The title of the show came from what has become Ohio University Post legend.

After a night of rioting two weeks after Kent State, the decision was made to close the university. The student newspaper, The Post, was on a hard deadline to get the story in print. Just before it hit the presses, someone said, “We don’t have a weather report for tomorrow.”

Editor Andy Alexander, a darned good journalist then and now, said, “Just write, ‘The sky has fallen.’”

A journey to Kent State

Kent State 08-25-2014

Jessica and I paid a visit to the Kent State May 4 Visitor’s Center to see how they handled the event and to see if there was any way we could collaborate with other Ohio museums for the 50th anniversary.

‘I didn’t want to be eating grass when I died’

Our guide was a fellow in a wheelchair who could glide up the hills of the grounds as fast as I could walk up them.

We were halfway through our tour when I realized the man was Dean Kahler, one of the students who had survived being shot that day. I hadn’t prepared to shoot a video, but I managed to capture his haunting tale. It was one of the most moving interviews I’ve ever done.

“I knew I had been shot because it felt like a bee sting. I knew immediately because my legs got real tight, then they relaxed just like in zoology class when you pith a frog,” he said. He never walked again, but he has turned into a highly competitive wheelchair athlete.

After the shooting stopped, he called out to see if there were any Boy Scouts around who could turn him over. “The only thought that came into my head was if I was turned over, would I bleed more internally than externally? I thought (shrugs shoulders) there’s a 50 / 50 chance that you’re going to die one way or the other. I knew I might die. I had a really good chance of dying, so I wanted to see the sky, the sun, leaves, peoples faces. I didn’t want to be eating grass when I died.”

What are we going to do for the anniversary?

Ohio University Protests

Jessica and I wondered how we were going to mark the 2020 anniversary of the event. What could we do that would add a new dimension to what we had already done?

I suggested reaching out to some Athens county residents and assembling a panel to talk about what they remembered. Not long after that, Jessica became a new mother, and we didn’t talk as often as we once did. I suspect she had barely enough energy to take care of ONE baby.

When the world changed because of COVID-19, I said, “I guess I don’t need to work to get a 50th anniversary show catalog to the printer, do I?”

1970 and 2020

She said she didn’t have any idea when they’d be able to open the museum, but it certainly wouldn’t be by May 4.

Then she said something that gave me pause: “There are a lot of similarities between 1970 and 2020. In both years, the university closed, graduation was cancelled, and the town emptied of students.

How about I come back to Athens?

After thinking about it for a couple days, I tossed out an idea: how about I come back to Athens to shoot a Portrait of the Pandemic? I will have missed the mass evacuation, but I could still document the empty streets, people in masks (or not), signage, anything that will help paint the picture of 2020, much like I had done with the turmoil and teargas of the ’60 and ’70s?

I still have the gas mask

I mean, I still had the gas mask Ed Pieratt shot my photo wearing during the riots. I could dust it off again.

I’m in the middle of reading John M. Barry’s excellent book, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. (He also wrote Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, a book I’ve read three times, and learned something new each time.)

Sign in Jackson, Mo., funeral home

That book has scared the bejeebers out of me because I’m in at least 2-1/2 of the high-risk categories. The more and more I read about governors opening up their states before we are anywhere near sure we are out of the woods, the more uncomfortable I became with the idea of driving 528 miles one-way to photograph people on the street.

When I was trying to justify the idea to some friends, I said that I had spent most of my life running into places other people were running out of. I may have made some bad judgments in retrospect, but I never made them without considering the risks.

It was time to do some serious risk analysis before jumping into this project.

In the end, I told Jessica that I’m not 21 years old anymore. I’ve dodged bullets in my life (literally), but I didn’t think it was prudent for me to risk what’s left of my days. I still have lots of film to scan.

I’m practicing social distancing

I’m trying to limit the number of places I shop, I wear a mask, and try not to have much contact with other people. The latter reason is why the only person I photographed wearing a mask was me at the top of the page.

Here are some images from stores in the Cape Girardeau area (plus some masks a friend left taped to my front door). You can click on any of them, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery.

Vistors DO come by the house

Phoebe – Deer 05-02-2020

I’m not completely isolated. I parted the curtains to see Phoebe the feral cat and a couple deer visitors the other night. They weren’t wearing masks, but they were observing proper social distancing.

Previous May 4 posts

Here’s a list of stories and photos I’ve posted about the Kent State and protest era over the years. I’m not sure if I’ll be adding to it. Sorry, Lopi.

Riverbend Park Bike Ride

Anne Rodgers Riverbend Park 02-25-2014_6555I see SE Missouri may be looking at another wave of ice and snow, so I ALMOST hate to post this. Friends Jan Norris and George Primm have been talking up riding their bikes on the trails in Palm Beach County’s Riverbend Park near Jupiter, Florida.

When Anne Rodgers sent me a message saying she had an afternoon free for a ride, I set aside stuff I was supposed to be doing and decided to see if I could still ride a bike. For the record, the trail, is beautiful. It’s not long, but there are lots of loops and it is very peaceful. (At least on a weekday when very few people were around.) Click on the photos to make them larger.

I USED to ride a lot

Anne Rodgers Riverbend Park 02-25-2014_6558Before I started this blog, I did one on PalmBeachBikeTours.com. I was riding as much as 3,000 miles a year, with metric centuries (62 miles) a couple times or more a month and a century (100-miles in a day) a couple times a year.

Interestingly enough, I rode a lot more when I was working than after I retired.

  • This blog takes a lot of time and travel.
  • My long-distance partner, Mary, crashed while not wearing a helmet, fractured her skull in five places and hasn’t been able to get on a bike since.
  • Riding partners Osa and Anne have real lives, so scheduling rides is a lot more complicated and we never rode enough together to do long distances.
  • I don’t deal with heat as well as I once did, so I switched a lot of my riding to nights. Don’t worry: I’m more visible at night than in the daytime.
  • I have a feeling like a pebble in my sock when I ride more than about 35 miles. The foot doc gave it a fancy name, but it boiled down to I don’t have the padding around my toes I once did.

Trail is mostly packed shell rock

Anne Rodgers Riverbend Park 02-25-2014_6559My Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike has relatively wide tires that rode very well on the hard-packed shell rock trail.

Here’s part of the account I sent to Curator Jessica when she asked how my ride went: I am severely diminished.

The first loop was a beautiful shaded trail with abundant wildlife. Then Anne, bless her heart, (an old Southern expression) suggested we ride another trail. She, being young and eager, led the way. THAT trail led under a bridge and then into single track mountain bike country that took us to a part of trail with water and ruts that could have been called the Grand Canyon had that name not already been taken.

Shell rock turns to grass to sand

That trail changed from packed shell rock to grass. Fortunately, that didn’t last long. Unfortunately, the next segment was patches of sugar sand with stretches of mud and water. We had strayed onto an equestrian trail.

Anne is a twig. I looked at Anne’s tire tracks. She was sinking in about half an inch. I’m two Annes and was plowing a rut. I was operating at  wobble speed or less and my heart rate monitor was approaching the line marked “Red Fountain.”

I told Anne that I was on the verge of bonking and needed to fuel the furnace to tide me over until we could find a nice place to dive into the sub sandwich she had brought along. We each had an energy gel that is about like a gummy worm in consistency.

We hadn’t gone very far when I got impatient and bit down on the gel. On my second bite, there was a very un-gel-like crunch. I told Anne to hold up a minute while I fished around in my mouth. Just as I had suspected, I had pulled a dental crown loose.

I ended up pushing my bike about half a mile because it was too soft to ride.

Deer were a nice surprise

Riverbend Park_02-25-2014_6588Once we got back on the main loop again, we made much better time more comfortably. We weren’t going so fast, though, that we missed this herd of deer chowing down on grasses. They showed interest, but not fear, even when I got to within about 50 feet of them.

Another rider spots the deer

Riverbend Park 02-25-2014_6594Two guys on mountain bikes rode up while I was shooting the deer. They were nice enough to stand back to keep from spooking them, but I motioned the one guy forward so he’d have a better chance at getting a shot. The deer drifted away slowly, but they must be used to seeing people in the park.

The parking lot we started from is also where there is a canoe concession to float the Loxahatchee River. If you are in Florida and want to have a taste of what the region used to be like, Riverbend Park is the place to go. Just stay out of the sugar sand and don’t crunch down on a sticky energy gel.

Oh, by the way, right after the dentist got me all numbed up, he told me he wasn’t going to be able to reuse the old crown and asked if I wanted to discuss payment options. NOW would be a good time for you to click that big red button at the top left of the page to order something from Amazon to help me pay for my new crown.

 

Moon and Temperatures Rising

Couple stuck in traffic jam 10-20-2013I left Cape late, but I had good intentions of making Athens, Ohio, in a straight run. What I hadn’t counted on was a one-hour traffic jam between Nowhere, Illinois, and Not Quite to the State Line, Indiana.

Except for putting me behind schedule, it wasn’t that bad: I just munched on junk food and cranked up the audio book on World War II history I was listening to.

When I looked in the rearview mirror, though, it was apparent the young couple behind me was having a lot more fun than I was. They smooched through the whole moving parking lot. I kept waiting for their windows to fog up.

(I cropped out their license tag for the same reason I’d stand on a table in some cowboy bar and say, “I’m fixin’ to take some pictures for the paper. If you aren’t supposed to be here or you aren’t supposed to be here with the person you’re with, stay over in that corner of the room.”)

That’s SOME moon

Moon rising over the Interstate somewhere in Indiana 10-20-2013A couple hours later, I pulled into a rest area for a 22-minute nap. When I got on the entrance ramp to get back on the Interstate, I thought I was looking at a big Gulf Oil sign. There was this huge orange ball hanging in the sky like a gas station logo.

I was already committed to getting on the road, so I resisted temptation to shoot the moon (so to speak), but I finally had to pull off on the shoulder to bang off half a dozen frames through the windshield. It was one of those times I wished I was a passenger: that silly moon kept teasing me with great photo ops for the next  45 minutes.

Scads of deer

Friend Jessica’s husband and a buddy went deer hunting last night and each bagged one for the freezer. I told her it would have been easier for them to drive along the road and pick up the dozen or so I saw on the shoulder after getting into Ohio. I hope the occupants of whatever vehicle hit them came out better than the deer.

Jessica lives on 40 acres so far out in the wilds of Athens County that the Lady in Sky who talks to me through my GPS kept asking, “Are you SURE?” Just as we pulled onto her driveway, a deer came running across the road in front of us.

 

Deer, Deer, Deer

Deer Old Jackson Road 08-13-2013_5237This just goes to prove I can’t (a) pass up taking pictures of deer and (b) writing bad headlines about them.

Buddy Terry Hopkins and I were riding around coming back from our Super Secret Mission to acquire Blue Hole Garden BBQ sauce, when we spotted these deer on what we used to call Old Jackson Road between Cape and Jackson.

You can click on the photos to make them larger. This deer looks like it has a fresh gash across the right flank.

Good thing I had a camera

Deer Old Jackson Road 08-13-2013_5245The deer were outside Terry’s window, so I pulled as far off the road as I could and rolled his glass down. He’s lucky I was shooting with my camera and telephoto zoom instead of a gun. He’d be deaf and probably missing part of his nose otherwise.

Terry’s Hawaiian shirt must have offended them, because they didn’t stick around long.

With a final flick of a tail

Deer Old Jackson Road 08-13-2013_5246With a final flick of a white tail, they were gone.

We saw deer on at least three residential streets on our meanderings that day. I don’t think we EVER saw one in town when I was a kid. Of course, in those days, we weren’t IN town. We were still outside the city limits.

Two other deer stories

With equally bad headlines.