Ray Dobratz Wake

The casket was surrounded with artifacts from Ray’s life. I saw a pair of fireman turnout boots first. There were work boots too and a fishing rod and photos. A bottle of whiskey and can of beer were at the ready. The moment became deeply poignant.

Marc Robbins and I drove to Old Saybrook for Ray Dobratz wake tonight. There comes a time when you just say to yourself, “God, I’ve been to a lot of these.” I suspect the frequency will rise over time. This is another thing you don’t think about as a kid desperately wanting to be a grownup!

Ray was killed in the Middletown power plant explosion last week. He was sports producer Erik Dobratz’s dad. Knowing Erik got me pretty close to knowing Ray.

What a tribute. The line stretched along the length of the funeral home and around a corner. Most of Old Saybrook High School’s parking lot was filled with mourners. Marc estimates 500 in line. A co-worker I ran into told me she waited nearly an hour and a half. This was as many people as I can ever remember seeing for this kind of thing.

Because we came in the middle of our work day Erik told us how to cut the line. I’m hoping those who waited in the cold don’t feel we were disrespectful to them.

We approached the casket. It was closed as might be expected under the circumstances. The casket was surrounded with artifacts from Ray’s life. I saw a pair of fireman turnout boots first. There were work boots too and a fishing rod and photos. A bottle of whiskey and can of beer were at the ready. The moment was deeply poignant as seemingly random items helped paint a picture.

Erik and his family seemed OK–well composed considering.

I’m not sure what we expect when a family is so suddenly undone. The grief comes in waves. They’ll surely be knocked down again many times over the next few days and weeks.

I hugged everyone and told them how sorry I was for their loss. They hugged back. Ray’s wife, three sons, sister and mother each took a moment with everyone in the long line.

In my religion we don’t have wakes, but I think I understand a lot of what they accomplish. With every hug you’re assuming… offloading if you will… a little piece of the family’s grief. No, you don’t take it all away–not even tonight’s massive showing can do that.

The grief we have is directly proportional to the love we have. There was too much love for all this grief to ever go away.

It’s Good To See Old Friends

I have been friendly with Barry since I met him at my first poker game in the late 70s. During the time both of us were ‘between wives’ we hung out took together… even took vacations together. Though we live far apart I still consider him one of my best friends.

I should add, going on vacation with a dentist is a learning experience. I seem to remember his swishing mouthwash at least a half dozen times a day. And, you’ll be glad to know, no one has cleaner hands!

We weren’t able to see Barry in Atlantic City, but knew he and his wife would be passing through on their way to a wedding in Rhode Island. Originally we were hoping they’d come to the house for bagels and lox, but time didn’t permit. So this morning we drove into New Haven and waited for them at the Greek Olive.

Their trip took a little longer than normal because of traffic on I-95. There are choke points here in Connecticut that slow any trip down – and they hit them all. It is especially true around the Greek Olive which is next door to the new Ikea, itself a destination for thousands.

It’s always good to see old friends. You can catch up on their lives and then trash everyone else you mutually know.

Barry and Sheila were my first friends to become grandparents. It was fun for them, sobering for me. Having contemporaries with two generations below them isn’t something you think about while growing up.

They left, leaving Helaine and Steffie the opportunity to walk across the lawn to Ikea. If you’re not here in Connecticut, you have no idea what a big deal has been made of this store. We had stories on the news. The newspaper splashed it across its “A” section. It’s an especially significant event for New Haven which has had almost no new retail activity in years.

The parking lot was even more crowded than when I went with Ann earlier in the week. Outside, a New Haven firetruck stood in front of an ambulance. Both had their emergency lights on. I figured it was a shopper who had bought something and only then realized he’d have to find a way to get it home and then assemble it!&#185

The crowd inside the store would make you think they’re giving something away. It’s been a long time since I bought furniture, so maybe they are. I’m unqualified here. I do know it’s simple and spartan. Some of the items are so simple they resemble the milk crates we used for furniture in my college dorm.

I left Helaine and Steffie to walk around and returned to the car. Since I had my camera, I wanted to take a photo of the former Armstrong Tire (then Pirelli Tire) Headquarters. Built 35 years ago and designed by Marcel Breuer, the upper floors of the building float above the rest. It’s abandoned now, used mostly to hang billboards. There are rumors it will be reworked into a hotel or other commercial space.

As I walked, I caught glimpse of a few of the cameras that have gone up since Ikea was finished. Most of the surrounding intersections have four fixed cameras to see what’s going on. I think, since they’re on the same pole as the traffic lights, that they go back to the city.

Helaine and Steffie met me at the car. Steffie had bought an ice cream cone, the second food related purchase made by my family at this furniture store. In fact, with my earlier trip, we’re 0-2 in furniture.

&#185 – I am only kidding around because a fireman told me someone who had fallen and wasn’t serious.

New Camera

Over the past few years I have become a little nuts over digital cameras.

Early on I had an Olympus point and shoot with 640×480 resolution, extremely slow shutter and very wide lens. I always stood closer than people expected, or asked someone taking a photo of me and my family to move in because the camera captured such as a broad area. I became so predictable that the wide angle lens advisory I’d give to strangers became a family joke.

Next was a Casio QV2000-UX. Compared to the Olympus’ 307,200 pixels this one had over 2 million. The pictures were better, the lens longer and narrower. Casio, unfortunately, really isn’t a camera company and the cameras reflected that. It was somewhat difficult to operate and ungainly.

Next up was the Fuji Finepix S602Z. This was my favorite camera of all time. I had graduated to 3 megapixels (though Fuji through some sort of mumbo jumbo math claimed 6 megapixels) and a camera designed like a camera. The S602Z resembles a film SLR camera – except the eyepiece viewfinder is actually a tiny video screen. That is a real disadvantage because you can’t see when it’s dark (even when the camera could be pushed to shoot a picture) and focusing in low light is nearly non-existent.

I took about 9,000 photos from March 2003 to August 2004. Imagine if I had paid for photo processing!

Steffie and Helaine had a love, hate relationship with it. If I became too much of a pain in the butt (like while on vacation or traveling to New York City) it was my motivation. On the other hand, if they took it to a Rick Springfield, or other, concert it was the perfect way to take photos and bring back something that was often spectacular. Steffie’s concert photos with the S602Z have been published twice.

This summer I began to feel I was ready to take the next step and began reading the photo magazines and computer bulletin boards. My two choices were a Nikon D100 or Canon Digital Rebel. For a variety of reasons, though price was most important, I chose the Canon.

The more sophisticated the camera, the more difficult the purchase. I’m not just talking about cost, though the price varies among mail order and brick and mortar dealers. The camera body is stock. Everything else is custom configured.

The Digital Rebel is 6 megapixels with a very sensitive and precise sensor for capturing the images. Nearly every parameter that controls the shot can be customized. It can be used as a point and shoot camera, but that would be sacrilege.

I decided to buy the body without the Canon lens and instead ordered two Sigma lenses. Though mine were not, lenses can be more expensive than the camera itself! One, 28-125mm, zooms from a wide angle to medium range telephoto. The other, 70-300mm, zooms from mid range to very long.

The zoom can be so long, magnifying the image so much, that it can’t be used under less than bright light! It’s not that it won’t take the picture. When the light’s dim you have to hold the shutter open longer. Unless the shutter time is very fast you will move the lens and blur the shot.

I’ve had the camera a few days and am very impressed. This shot of the moon (something every photographer with a new long lens seems to do) came out just the way I wanted. I haven’t had a chance to be artistic, but have looked at some technical aspects of the shots. Are they sharp enough with the correct color? What’s the depth of field? How slow a shutter can I get away with?

On the other hand, it is heavier and bulkier that what I’m used to. Reading the postings I see some users consider a single lens their ‘walk around’ and leave the rest home unless they know they’ll be using them.

The more I read, the more I realize I don’t know and will have to learn.

A versatile camera doesn’t take better pictures on its own. Yes, there will be an improvement if only because the glass and sensor are better. My job is to work on optimizing my skills and understanding how the camera should be set under any situation.

Tonight I’ll be doing the weather at the Orange Volunteer Fireman’s Carnival and I’ll bring the camera with me. After the news there’ll be a chance to take a few (dozen) shots. It should be like letting a sports car out on a stretch of open road. I’m looking forward to it.

Fireman’s Dilemma

Of all the fireworks displays in this area, I enjoy the one in Hamden, run by the Hamden Volunteer Fire Department, the most. New Haven’s is probably bigger, but Hamden’s takes place at Meadowbrook Golf Course, a huge open space which is conducive to being neighborly. There’s music and lots of smiling.

Much of this week I’d been kicking myself for not having taken off tonight so I could see the show (and photograph it). Good thing I didn’t.

My friend Cindy called just before 9:00 PM. She told me she had a scoop – and she really did. The fireworks had been canceled – canceled by the State Fire Marshall!

At this moment I don’t have all the details, but I think it has something to do with the launch tubes. It’s good to be safety conscious. Back in 1980, in Torrington, a fireworks display gone bad ended up injuring a bunch of people. No one wants a repeat of that.

The most interesting part of this story might be how the Volunteer Fire Department got shut down by the Fire Marshall. Ouch.