My First Vlog Post: A Trip To The Wedge

I visited The Wedge in Newport Beach this afternoon. It’s a famous surf break. Lowell, a not as famous Eastern Pacific tropical storm, has blessed The Wedge with heavy surf.

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I visited The Wedge in Newport Beach this afternoon. It’s a famous surf break. Lowell, a not as famous Eastern Pacific tropical storm, has blessed The Wedge with heavy surf. Not great surf, just big.

This is the story of my trip to photograph it and some of my shots. Please click the button and watch my short video.

Where We Live

I walked in the door and sighed. Helaine asked what was wrong. I said we’d found the house. Three bedrooms, two and a half baths, on two floors with around 1,900 square feet of living space.

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This week marks a year since our hectic first week in Irvine. This is a totally different world. Nothing’s the same, right down to the side of the street that borders the ocean!

As the wheels began to turn and moving became more-and-more certain, we made a few house hunting trips to Orange County. Our cousins are nearby. That was a huge draw. Stef is close, but not too close. No winter.

Helaine likes new. For us that’s the right call. There’s lots new here.

Irvine is a rapidly growing suburb in Southern Orange County. We are inland from Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. To our north and east are foothills, then the Santa Ana Mountains, mainly wilderness.

This is unlike our former New England home in nearly every way. We lived in a town that grew organically. Our property line was not a rectangle.

Here, everything is by design. Each house is different, but in the same sense identical twins have differences. Irvine is a medley of your favorites in the beige family.

Housing developments pack the homes in then leave lots of common space with parks, pools and trails. That’s part of the deal for being allowed to build here. We have a city block sized common area with pool, basketball and tennis courts and large dog friendly lawn. It’s a minute’s walk away. There are kid playgrounds within a few blocks in every direction.

We saw a model and bought a house to-be-built. I walked in the door and sighed. Helaine asked what was wrong. I said we’d found the house. We were looking for this layout. Three bedrooms, two and a half baths, on two floors with around 1,900 square feet of living space.

We knew most, not all of what we were getting. Houses are different when they’re alongside their neighbors. As it turns out we chose well and got lucky. We’re very happy the way things turned out.

Our goal was a great kitchen for Helaine and great office for me. She is amazing in the kitchen, especially baking, and deserves to have a suitable space. My office is more about what’s in it than what it is. It began life as a third bedroom. It’s currently messy, but otherwise perfect.

We are very surprised by our utility bills. Because we have neighbors north and south we get morning and afternoon sun, but are shaded during the day. Our electric bill averages in the low $50 range. There’s also $15 for gas and $30 for water. All seem constant year round.

We seldom use the air conditioner. Low humidity is a big deal. We sleep with windows open 350 nights a year–maybe more. I leave a laptop on the patio and sit out there every night.

This is a community with lots of immigrants, most from Asia. Not all speak English. I often say hello and am met with a pleasant, but perplexed, smile.

I have a Chinese family on one side and a California raised Korean family on the other. I know one family well, the other not at all.

The Chinese family is multi-generational, living together. Some housing developments sell models specifically designed for that.

At Halloween one neighborhood father explained his young daughter didn’t speak English. She’d only been here a week. Welcome to America. Let’s go door-to-door and beg for candy.

I love this neighborhood because of the vitality I see. Young families on the move. If the American dream has disappeared, word hasn’t gotten to the people living here.

We got very lucky.

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade

There’s a hundred plus year old tradition at Newport Beach. Every year around Christmastime, dozens of brightly decorated boats cruise through Newport Harbor. Some are over-the-top!

Because Max is in the Sea Scouts, we joined our cousins at the Newport Beach Sea Base. They have a great location, on an inlet with Lido Island across the way.

There was lots of pre-parade traffic on the roads and inlet. PCH was jammed. On the water, lots of people were out for dinner and a cruise on huge multi-decked boats that could almost be called ships. Smaller boats darted back and forth.

Yes, we wore coats and gloves! Doppler came in her pink hooded sweater. My cousins supplied blankets. I had ear muffs, but they stayed pocketed.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it. There might not be anything quite like it! Dozens of boats, some very large, passing through the channel. All were lit up like (and decorated with) Christmas trees.

If you’re planning on being in SoCal, it runs Saturday and Sunday evening. It’s very cool.

Sunset At Newport Beach

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“Wanna come for a ride,” I asked Helaine? “I want to go to Newport Beach for the sunset.”

Since we’ve been in SoCal I’ve taken very few photos. It’s not that Orange County isn’t photogenic. It’s just photogenic in a different way than my old neighborhood in Hamden. There’s more effort involved to get to the right spot.

Newport Beach is around a half hour away. It is Greenwich with palm trees, right on the Pacific.

Our destination was “Inspiration Point,” which sounds like cheesy dialog from a 1960s beach movie. It’s a bluff just above Corona Del Mar State Beach with an ocean view that includes Santa Catalina Island, over 30 miles away.

There were 15-20 people milling about when we arrived. Sunset viewing is good sport here.

They must have known I wasn’t a native Californian. I wore a long sleeved shirt. They wore coats.

Tonight’s sunset was nothing special. There were few clouds to accentuate the color. I’ll have to come back.

(Click the photos for a larger view, including a tiny sliver of the Moon and Venus in the first image)

I Took A Tesla Test Drive At The Mall

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The decision has been made. Fifteen years is long enough. My 1999 Mercedes SLK230 is back on its feet and running well&#185 after a recent trip to the car hospital, but it’s time.

There are lots of cars to look at. Today I looked at the Tesla Model S.

The Model S is quite the car. It’s an all electric, no gas engine at all. Built in California, its range is listed at 265 miles.

Tesla doesn’t have dealers. It sells its cars direct from company owned showrooms. There’s one about 25 minutes from here at Fashion Island–a mall in Newport Beach.

IMAG0224-w1400-h1400I’m not sure I can describe Fashion Island properly. Let’s just say valet parking doesn’t see too many Chevys! That’s two Lamborghinis in a row in that photo.

As with most shopping centers in SoCal, Fashion Island is mainly open air with lots of foot traffic. The are a few anchor stores like Macy*s, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom’s plus smaller shops and kiosks.

IMAG0238-w1400-h1400We walked into the Tesla store and looked around. There were two cars on display, a Roadster and a Model S. People were crowded around both.

The Model S had its hood up. There was no engine there. It was actually a trunk. The trunk’s a trunk too!

Before long Jay walked up. His card says “Owner Advisor,” which means he’s a salesman. With some prodding from Helaine and Stef I asked if a test drive was possible.

Usually one could be scheduled in a few days, but maybe… Ten minutes later we were walking into the mall’s garage and climbing into the car.

It is a sedan. It’s a nice sedan, but from the outside not much nicer than any other car. The doors unlocked as we approached.

The Tesla is a fully electric vehicle, so there are a few immediate differences from what you’re driving now. It has motors, not an engine. When it’s not moving it’s silent. When its moving it’s still pretty quiet. The Tesla has no ignition key and no igntiion!

There are no gears. There’s no transmission. There’s no PRNDL. Push a small stalk on the steering column up for forward, down for reverse.

In front of me was a fully digital instrument panel. To the right was a 19″ flat display mounted so the long edges were vertical.

I gingerly backed out of the space then forward toward the street. Jay was telling me about the car, but I was concentrating on not hitting anything.

I am used to driving a powerful car. The Tesla is more powerful. At low speeds the torque is insane. It was obvious as soon I pushed down on the gas pedal.

We ran through some city streets then up into the hills overlooking the Pacific. Newport Beach is spectacular. I was taking a test drive in a location fit for a car commercial!

We made a right turn. Jay told me to hit it hard. The cars low center of gravity kept us firmly on the road as we accelerated through the uphill turn.

If a car can be unflippable, this one is. All the weight from the batteries beneath the cabin give it a very low center of gravity.

I hit 83 mph on one road before easing back. A man walking his dog gave me a dirty look. The car wants to run. I was at its mercy.

Jay showed me the GPS system and looked up something we were chatting about on the web browser. Yes, the car is on the Internet.

As we headed back toward Fashion Island we saw another Model S and pulled up to it at a light. I rolled down my window.

“I’m taking a test drive. Do you like it,” I asked? Two big smiles. Two thumbs up. Jay couldn’t have staged it better.

Like I said, it’s quite a car.

Using electricity brings the operating cost way down, as does the lack of scheduled maintenance. Of course this is offset by it’s astronomical price.

I’m considering it. It’s not out of the question. But, yeah, you have to swallow hard to pull the trigger on a purchase like this.

I’ll be looking at other cars. If not a Tesla, maybe another convertible–maybe the SLK250? I’m at the very confused stage of the process.

The Sun was going down over the Pacific as Helaine, Stef and I reunited. They’d done some ‘mall-ing’ while IMAG0231_PerfectlyClear_0001-w1400-h1400I drove.

We headed back to Irvine.

&#185 – Thanks Steve W. and Steve M. in Connecticut for excellent guidance that saved me grief and money in getting my car repaired recently.

Surfing At Newport Beach

We’re approaching mid-January but I’m on my cousin’s deck, sitting outside typing this entry. Granted, I’m about to go back inside, but the point is, I could sit outside!

It’s Orange County in Southern California. People were wearing jackets last night, but that’s about as cold as it ever gets – ever.

I went to work with my cousins today. I sat in on a meeting about their business and an Internet site. I butted in a few times. I hope I did more good than harm. One never can tell.

Michael and I bugged out after the meeting and headed west. Before long, we were in Newport Beach.

Before this trip to California, I knew I wanted to photograph surfers. It’s not that I’m into surfing or surfer boys, but surfing makes for good photography. My main ‘surfing’ lens is also my lowest quality lens, but with strong light it gets the job done.

Today’s photo problem was the light was behind the surfers. It shows in the pictures. If I had unlimited time and access, I’d come out in the morning when the Sun would be over my shoulder.

Newport Beach was attractive for a number of reasons. Like much of Southern California, there’s a thriving business district right up to the beach. There are cafes and shops and foot traffic. There’s also plenty of parking… or at least enough for a January afternoon.

Newport Beach also has a long pier. That allowed me to go out as far as the surfers, though still far away.

I took nearly 300 photos today. That’s crazy. In the film days, this never would have happened. Ansel Adams only had eight or ten plates when he hiked into the back country.

Digital photography is a blessing and a curse. The curse is, it encourages you to be slutty with your camera, shooting anything that moves (Slutty is the right word, isn’t it?).

We spent a couple of hours at the beach. The day was beautiful and mild. The waves were running five and six feet.

I called Helaine to tell her to throw a few things in a bag and join me. Whatever she couldn’t take, we’d get here.

There’s a lot to be said for the warm California sun. I’m still going back home tomorrow.

The Daughter Returns

Steffie’s home and on the sofa. She wasn’t feeling well last Thursday, so Helaine drove to college to pick her up and deliver her to the doctor.

When a student asks to leave her car at school and go to the doctor, you know she’s not feeling well! Thankfully, day-by-day, Steffie’s feeling better.

Finals at school were already done for her. Two papers still outstanding can be emailed to the professors. Modern life is good.

So now, in fine Stefanie Fox form, she spends a significant portion of the day on the sofa in our family room. The food is fresh and plentiful. There’s no fight for privacy in the dorm bathroom. There are no drunken freshman to pull a fire alarm at 4:00 AM.

“Do you have to sit there?” she will ask from time-to-time. It’s her spot. It’s easy to forget.

Having Stef home is a good thing. By and large, the three of us get along well. Even better, Stef is a playmate for Helaine and vice versa.

For me, the real advantage is anthropological. I get to watch what a twenty year old woman watches on TV. I am often dumbfounded by what I see.

A few seasons ago it was Laguna, then The Hills. This weekend Stef was watching a show about teens coming of age in Newport Beach. I’ve never felt so financially inadequate! I’m also embarrassed to say, I continued to watch for a while after she went upstairs.

Stef seems to gravitate toward reality shows. That’s what MTV and VH-1 have becoming – reality channels. There’s hardly any music on Music Television and few hits on Video Hits-1.

This is great for the network owners. Stef’s demographic is coveted and these shows are cheap to make. Advertising revenue is based on eyeballs, not program cost. The percentage of time devoted to commercials seems significantly higher than that seen on traditional over-the-air channels.

Along with Real World and shows I recognize are reality takes on ‘little people’ and heavily tattooed tattoo artists.

Maybe my age is showing when I say I find much of what she watches troubling. Of course, I also remember clips of crew cutted do-gooders saying Elvis Presley would be the end of us all. Please, don’t let me be one of them.

TV techniques are so sophisticated, I truly wonder how many of those who watch understand how little reality there is in reality TV… if there’s any at all.

More From The California Foxes

Just got this from my Cousin Melissa from Lake Forest in Orange County:

Fire has shifted back toward our house as we could see from increased smoke and ash – containment actually going down – we are back in Newport.

No wind, more support in the air and on the ground, yet the fire is still getting away from them. San Diego remains ferocious. New fire next to the nuclear power plant at San Onofre. They say it is “not threatened” but there are acres of power lines in and out.

With the wind dying and the humidity scheduled to rise, things should improve. However, fires already burning aren’t as impressed with improving conditions as the ones that haven’t yet ignited are.

More From The Firelines

Another note from the burn zone out west. This time it’s from Cousin Michael, in Orange County.

We’re still safe — and we’re also still in Newport Beach, although I did return to Lake Forest tonight to get a few more things, water the plants, and take Max to a Cub Scout meeting.

The fire isn’t burning quite as close as last night, it’s moved further east and south, but gigantic bright orange flames are still visible in the foothills just a few miles away. And because of the wind, and the terrain, and because the fire makes it’s own weather, the fire is almost completely unpredictable. That’s why we took the opportunity to stay overnight a few more miles away.

It didn’t look quite as scary tonight, even though huge pockets of flames were visible in the hills just above us. Maybe one just gets used to it.

For anyone who might be interested in following what’s happening in our area on the national news, the fire is variously called the “Foothill Ranch,” the “Portola Hills,” the “Santiago,” or just the “Orange County” fire. Fortunately, we have very brave fire fighters here.

Melissa grew up in Southern California, but Michael is from New York via everywhere. He’s been in SoCal over 15 years. In Orange County, he’s nearly a native.

These fires seem more insidious than other weather perils. How is it, in 21st century America and even with advanced warning, there’s nothing to do but watch the fire take its toll… and worry you might be next.

It’s Not The Camera

I am a photographer. That’s my hobby.

I’m a good photographer. I’ve seen the work of great photographers. Their best shots are better than my best shots. I’m OK with that.

I take a lot of care with the mechanics of my photography. I try and think through shutter speed, aperture, lens focal length and film speed (it’s still called that) before I press the shutter. I don’t always get it right, but at least I think about it.

As a photographer there is a question I’m asked all the time. In fact, I received this yesterday:

Hey Geoff,

I just saw the most recent batch of pictures you had on your site, and they’re amazing. I was just curious, what kind of camera do you use? I’m sure you have said it before on your site, but I don’t recall. I really want to get into photography and your camera seems to take really great pictures. Any info would be great. Thanks!

Let me repeat the operative part: your camera seems to take really great pictures.

I know the writer meant well. I would guess every photographer gets asked this question from time-to-time. It misses the point. It used to bother me. Oh hell, it still bothers me, but I’ve gotten used to it.

There is an excellent shot of Helaine, Steffie and me, taken a few years ago in Newport, RI. The sky had turned blood red at sunset. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I set the camera and handed it to a passerby. His shot was great, but it’s really my shot. If he would have just pointed and shot, the effect wouldn’t have been as vivid. I took the picture!

My camera is a Canon Digital Rebel. It’s the original 300D. I usually carry 4 lenses which go from 10 to 300mm.

It takes better pictures than when I first got it.

My Friend Bob

Bob Lacey has been my friend for a long time… a really long time. I met him my first day as a paid broadcaster – a part time, minimum wage position at WSAR in Fall River, MA. “Ahoy there matey, it’s 14-80.”

WSAR was a great place to start. It was a small station in a small market. The studio and transmitter were located in a residential neighborhood at the foot of Home Street in Somerset, MA.

We were top-40 back when stations still actually played forty records. We even had PAMS jingles. If you weren’t in radio back then, this might not makes sense, but PAMS of Dallas was the gold standard of radio station jingles.

WSAR promoted itself as serving the Tri Cities: Fall River, New Bedford and Newport. Yes, they were physically close, but Fall River and New Bedford might as well have been on another planet as far as Newport was concerned!

I met Bob (he was Skippy Ross back then) that first day and we’ve been friends ever since. After Fall River, we also worked together in Charlotte, NC, where Bob has been for over 35 years. How is that even possible?

We don’t see each other as often as we should and we had trouble hooking up on the phone because his hours and mine are as opposite as can be. Bob is the guy half of Bob and Sheri, the nationally syndicated morning radio show.

Obviously I’m biased, but this is a phenomenal morning show. In the parlance of radio, it is female friendly. It’s funny… sometimes even sexual humor… but never smutty or sophomoric.

Bob is a technophobe. There are no two ways about it. If it’s electronic or technical, count him out. I always expected his first laptop computer would be steam powered. That’s why it’s so nice to have him finally sending email. OK – he’s a decade late, but he’s here.

I can’t begin to tell you how good it was to get a message from him, and then a reply to my reply, and another email later. It’s been a while since a good friend has come into the modern era. Email can be a wonderful thing.

There are so many people who feel our constantly connected world is driving people away from human contact. I disagree. A few sentences from a friend is the real power of the Internet, not its weakness.

Off to Newport

Since she was a little girl, Steffie has played team sports. We have always gone to see her play when we could, whether it was basketball, lacrosse, or field hockey. Yesterday was field hockey in Newport, RI – 2 1/2 hours away. The day was beautiful, so we decided to go.

Oh, did I mention Steffie said it would be OK for me to bring my camera?

We have recently found that I-95 is awful on Saturday’s. The traffic is bad until you approach the split between I-95 and I-395 where it gets worse. I’m hoping this is summer oriented traffic and will abate when the warm weather crowd decides to stay home.

Newport is off the beaten path as far as the Interstate Highway System is concerned. We took I-95 to Rhode Island exit 3 and then got on a two lane road – seemingly forever.

Actually, the fact that it was a two lane road through a rural area wasn’t the problem. It was the speed limit that got me. Most of the way the limit was posted at 40 mph or less.

C’mon, I do 40 mph in my driveway!

Being on an island, the last part of the trip took us over two spectacular bridges (note to Rhode Island – EZ-Pass would be nice) with views of sailboat – filled bays.

I have been to Newport a few times, and was never impressed. What was wrong with me? This is a great destination. It is beautiful in so many ways, from the seaside views to the mansions to the walkable streets with shops and restaurants. More on that later.

Helaine had printed out directions from Steffie’s school’s website. It, unfortunately, referenced businesses that might have changed names or gone out of business. Basically, we went on a wild goose chase through Newport in search of St. George’s School.

Finally, in desperation, I called the school. The person who answered, quickly offered up that she was from Massachusetts. Luckily, after another few minutes of driving around I found a landmark she knew! It didn’t take long to get to the school.

It’s tough to believe there’s another school like St. George’s. On 200 acres in Newport, it has sweeping ocean views. The land alone must be worth hundreds of millions of dollars! The campus is dominated by a large Gothic chapel. There are numerous, well kept fields for field hockey, soccer and football.

Steffie’s team was there for pre-season field hockey scrimmages. Over the course of the afternoon, her team played three games – winning none. Still, it was just practice and Steffie played really well.

She had been a defensive player, but has now moved into an offensive position, basically covering the entire field. I have no idea how she and the others played three games. This is a physical game. Don’t think, because these are girls playing, that it’s any less aggressive.

I brought my Canon Digital Rebel and both lenses with me. It was an opportunity to try out a feature this camera has – continuous focus for sports – and the 70-300 mm zoom lens.

I am happy with how the camera and lenses worked in nearly every way. My long zoom lens is as ‘powerful’ as the lenses the pros use, but it is not as ‘fast.’ It needs much more light to produce similar pictures, and that forces me to either shoot with a slower shutter, wider aperture, faster film equivalent speed, or not take the picture at all.

There was so much bright light in Newport, it didn’t make a difference.

Looking back, most of the pictures were sharp and clear. The sports mode gave me shutter settings that were very fast, mostly taking shots faster than 1/1000 of a second. That meant stopping the action without blur.

I have read reports of this Sigma 70-300 mm lens not being particularly sharp. Maybe for the most critical of applications that’s true. It looks pretty sharp to me.

One of the cool parts of taking pictures at St. George’s are the amazing views. Many of the shots show the beach in the background. If you didn’t know any better you might think this was Malibu, not Rhode Island.

After the third game we decided to head into downtown Newport for dinner. I found a place to park ($10 – “You can park it yourself, I don’t take my test for another two weeks.”) and we began to walk around.

I was hungry, and no one objected, so we ducked into Christie’s, located on the docks. The wait was 15 minutes, so Helaine and Steffie went to a store, while I went out on the dock to take some shots.

It wasn’t long before we were seated, outside on the deck. We didn’t know it when we picked Christie’s, but our view was to the west and we were about to see a remarkable sunset.

Helaine and Steffie shared lobster bisque and I had chowder. Very good. My dinner was fried clams. Helaine had scallops. Steffie didn’t like the stuffing of her stuffed shrimp, but everything else was fine.

As the Sun went down I picked up my camera to take some pictures. I could see, in front of me, some people with a point and shoot camera trying to get a portrait taken. It wasn’t going to work – so I offered to take the shot and email it to them. That opened the flood gates.

By the time I was done, I had four email addresses in my pocket and had taken pictures of, and with, a bunch of people. It was around this time that our waiter recognized me and offered up that he was originally from Old Saybrook… instantly forcing me to up his tip another 5 %.

We passed on dessert at Christie’s and headed to Ben and Jerry near where we were parked. The day had gone on a very long time. I was getting tired.

We headed back toward Connecticut, following directions Helaine had downloaded from the net. I got us to I-95 where she took over and finished the trip.

I think we were all surprised at how much we like Newport. We will definitely be back.

Blogger’s note: There is a photo gallery with more pictures from our day in Newport here. Each picture on this page is also clickable for a larger view.