Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

This weekly photo challenge was tough, because a majority of my shots are urban in nature. Cities fascinate me. I’m the first generation in at least a handful that didn’t spend my childhood dodging buses, trolleys or loitering in front of corner candy stores daily. The city is a part of me though and I feel as strongly about it as I do with the pastures of Ireland. Only God and my old soul know why.

Though I have many to choose from, here are a couple of the most recent shots. Enjoy.

Amsterdam Alley

Berlin

 

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The Subway Is Not Your Personal Chauffeur

 

© Mae East 2012

I’ve started taking the train to “work” recently. I say that loosely, because although I am working, it is for free.  I used to take the train and subway regularly as a kid in high school, and I probably never really paid attention to everything that was going on around me. Sure, I looked out for my friends and lectured them on street smarts, but I’m sure I was pretty careless when it came to watching my own back.

The other day I sat there, as the train shot into the city and found it fascinating how different people are, even though we are crammed into the same environment. I suppose one could say the same thing for humans living on earth together, but in such a small and compact location, the differences in behavior were amusing.

Things I decided to never do on the train, based on observation:

  1. Wear headphones, at least not on both ears. I see people of all ages and demographics walking through the subway in a total fog because they do not hear what is going on around them. To be honest, it makes me nervous. They’d never hear feet pounding the linoleum behind them, or a warning call. Be aware of your surroundings.
  2. Be like the people who touch everything and then eat with their hands. I’m not a germaphobe, but don’t grip the handrails, door handles, ticket machines and escalator rails and then eat your apple. You might as well have passed the apple through the hands of five hundred people before gripping your fruit and taking a bite. Gross.
  3. Bring a million bags on the train and plop them all down on the ground. One, you’re creating an issue for people to get in and out of the train car without falling. Some people act like the train is their personal shuttle and there’s no need to be considerate.  You’re wrong.  No one wants to trip on your bananas. I’m making it sound like people are eating healthy here, and while I’m at it, no they aren’t.
  4. Pulling through one of the worst neighborhoods in the country, literally, and whipping out every electronic gadget you have. I suppose people aren’t watching the news on their iPads, because it’s a common trend that thieves walk down subway cars and simply slip your smartphone, iPad, etc., out of your hands and keep moving, exiting the train with your fancy devices and all your personal information. Maybe if you heard the guy coming and your bags weren’t scattered all of the floor, you’d still have it.  Be smart.
  5. Exhibiting a lack of manners. I have no problem moving out of your way when we get to your stop. You could not just nudge me. Maybe a simple “excuse me” would suffice. I’ll even stand up and not just slide my legs to the side, so you have more room. I feel like a freak when I say “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” or smile. I’m not a Pollyanna, even though that is one of my favorite movies, but a little common decency can get one a long way. Being rude just gets people mad at you. It’s almost like the zombie apocalypse has already occurred under the streets of this city. There’s got to be something they’re happy about, especially you, girl with cute shoes.

We all have somewhere to go and we all paid to hitch a ride, might as well be wise and pleasant about it.

Brussels: More Seedy than Chocolatey

On a partly sunny late June morning, our redeye landed in Brussels. With dreams of chocolate and architecture, we waited in the immigration line, eager to hit the cobblestone, rather Belgian stone. Our plan, per Rick Steves, was to peruse the town for a few hours and later ride the rails to Bruges. We hopped the train to city centre, stowed our carry-on suitcases in a locker and approached our first outdoor look at Belgium with a warm welcome from…drunk bums. Upon exiting the main train station in Brussels, we found trash, drunk confrontational homeless people and open outdoor toilets. Yay, we made it!

Don’t get me wrong, we like to make our own adventures but since we were foreigners, I suggested we just keep walking toward the Grand Place or Grote Markt like Rick said and get the heck away from the train station. He did mention Brussels was a little seedy, but Brussels sounds so fancy and French, so the only seediness I envisioned was that of chocolate dipped strawberries. Still, each city has its less desirable areas, so we ventured on and found what our little hearts desired…cappuccinos and chocolate filled pastries amid tall and ornate structures.

It became more and more overcast and eventually started to downpour, but the flowers that lined the windowsills of La Grand Place were still beautiful. The architecture consumed hundreds of pictures on our memory card, with each angle or sculpted archway appearing more intricate and astonishing than the last. This was the Belgium I wanted to see, shortly followed by a little peeing baby. “Let’s go see Mannequin Pis”, I tell my husband. “A pissing mannequin? What? Why?” I expected a response like this, since the only portion of the Belgium book he read was on the beer. But we did find the tiny statue of the baby boy peeing into a fountain, which seems to capture quite the crowd of tourists. It is a national symbol afterall…and there are many different variations that poke fun at the original. I found these much more amusing and not quite G-rated enough to post for your viewing pleasure.

We continued to wander and saw a parade of Belgian police ride through the narrow streets on gorgeous horses. It was a procession that included drumming and what seemed like a ceremonious trot through the main square. And though it was raining and the sight was one that we’d remember, I remember most getting my jeans smattered by….”stuff” from a horse splattering on the Belgian stone. I think that is the most delicate way to put that. Wonderful, a post full of bodily functions. But luckily we had our handy laundry detergent and my husband stopped laughing long enough that I could get cleaned up and we could head over to Bruges, which would hopefully welcome our tired and cranky selves with open arms, clear skies and beer.

Things That Used To Be; City Style

When you look at the neighborhood around you, do you wonder what it used to be?

Did it used to be busy, or was it quieter? Is it safer than it was or a tad seedier? What kind of people roamed the road and what kind of wheels rolled down your street? Do your views today make you long for the past or yearn for the future?

Old Philadelphia, courtesy of thingamababy.com

We took a stroll around a pretty neglected area of Philadelphia over the weekend. We had no real destination. My pictures fail to capture the atmosphere unfortunately.  It’s something I’m learning to figure out as an amateur. I like to find the beauty in what “was”, and I like to dream about what used to inhabit the buildings and sidewalks that I walk.

When I see areas that are abandoned and half demolished, I wonder if the area is going through a transition to be rebuilt again or if the crumbling bricks are a true metaphor for the neighborhood. Time will tell.

I’m not foolish enough to think that the past was glamorous. Crime, corruption, drugs and heartlessness have always lurked in corners of every time period. There are still sights to be appreciated and customs that are appealing, particularly when we don’t know the pitfalls. The revolutionary buildings that I admire may not have seemed so beautiful with excrement being flung out the windows out into the alleys below.

There are times we can’t experience and life to be enjoyed today.  Generations will pass on, scenery will continue to change and traditions will be altered. That is how time works and it always will.

I’m A Brick – Part Two

Philadelphia was built by innovators and blue collar immigrants. Though we’ve housed our fair share of wealthy folk, it has never been an upscale or rich city; rich in culture and history, yes, but not in money. Like other old East Coast cities, Philadelphia was built by people like my ancestors. They mixed the mortar, carried the bricks, polished the marble and bend the heated iron.

The city has beautiful areas that are captured of Philadelphia based movie and TV sets. It also has beautiful materials left in rundown neighborhoods that share marble steps amongst trash and crumbling concrete. It may not all be polished, but it’s ours.

To coincide with my last post, here is Philadelphia and its brick.

 

Why Motorcyclists Are Awesome

Do you know anyone who rides a motorcycle?  I mean, a real motorcycle, not a crotch-rocket or moped, no offense.  I’m talking about an American, loud piped, chromed beauty on two wheels.  I grew up riding on the back of my Dad’s bike, starting a lot younger than I should have and I still get a smile when I hear the pipes roar down the road.

There was something calming about the vibration of the motor and the wind against my face.  I used to fall asleep as a child on the back of the bike, which looking back seems pretty dangerous.  On more than one occasion, Dad felt dead weight on the back and had to pull over to secure me to the seat.  Actually, that is really dangerous, isn’t it?  No wonder my Grandmoms hated seeing me pull up on the back of the bike with that big goofy helmet and my little jean Harley jacket.

Bikers are more than meets the eye.  The do more than rock a leather vest and chaps, which no one else can do.  Maybe a cowboy can do chaps, but I’m tempted to believe they come from the same breed of people; gruff and strong.  From my experience, they come from blue collar background and are down and dirty guys.  Whether the biker you know lives the biker lifestyle or a corporate CEO turned biker on the weekends, they all seem to get along in a roadside bar because they have the bond of the open road.  It’s evident in the way they wave to each other as they pass.  I know I don’t wave to other Ford drivers.

Some of the scariest looking guys I’ve ever met were bikers, and they were also the kindest.  We rode with firemen, military, police officers and men who worked with their hands.  They had long beards, beer bellies and were long overdue on their haircuts.  They remember your name and your story no matter how much time passed.  They’re the guys you meet up with on Sunday morning at a diner and ride through the afternoon with.  They are lifelong friends who will help stop your oil leak and tow you to get your tire fixed.  Some have tattoos, some don’t.  A real rider never wears sneakers and shorts, but long pants and boots, no matter what the weather.  They know how to pack light and be prepared for anything that lies ahead.

They maneuver around people who don’t know how to share the road and with people who don’t see them, while stabilizing hundreds of pounds of metal on two wheels.  They are the first to stop and help you.  They support their friends and all of their causes, and will remember fallen friends in the form of embroidered patches and charity rides or events to support your family.  They talk like sailors amongst friends, but treat a lady like a lady, with respect.  They are sons, brothers, fathers and husbands.  They relish old stories and they aren’t afraid to cry when it comes to reflecting on something important to them either.

I certainly don’t mean to leave the women who ride out.  I’m actually related to some fine female bikers and proud of the way they handle themselves and the road without intimidation, in a predominately male atmosphere.  At this point, I just don’t trust my balance to join them and I’ll stick to the back for now.  Maybe one day…

My opinions here are based on my twenty-plus years of experience with motorcyclists I’ve known amongst my Dad’s various groups, as well as my father-in-law’s. There are always exceptions to everything, in addition to a slutty half naked biker rally girl for each kind of rider I’ve described to you today.   Just never judge a book by its cover, like I almost did with the random Hells Angel who saved me from getting crushed at a concert.  The guy picked me up like I was a feather.  Never imagined a man that frightening looking could’ve been so graceful, and in a mosh pit.

Vroom vroom…the open road is calling.

Photo courtesy of the Rapid City Journal.

Irish Sheep

I always just liked my photography the way it was. Not the fact that it was simple and mostly luck, but I might have felt it was cheating to alter it in any way. That being said, I had a Groupon for a large canvas that I needed to order and I need a nice piece for my new home office. I played around with an image I found that just felt so calming to me. It is of sheep.

This picture was captured while my husband drove us from the tip of Northern Ireland to Dublin, at the very end of our last trip there. We were desperately trying to beat the huge snow storm we had dodged our entire trip and this was taken just before we lost our luck at outrunning it. There is something calming about sheep; except the sheep that have the red blotches; this just seems morbid to me. I can deal with splotches of green or blue on their coats for farmer identification, but the first few times I saw splotches of red on a sheep my first reaction was
Continue reading

One Hundred Years Was Not That Long Ago

As we approach the on 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I think to myself how recent it was, but just how different life was; or was it?

My great-Grandmom was born in 1912, one month after the sinking and she only passed away two years ago.  Her little sister is still kickin’ at ninety-eight and there are several people alive today that are well over one hundred now.  Think about the transitions they’ve made in life.  We laugh about teased hair from the 80’s and disco music at Studio 54 but this older generation changed fashion, music and pretty much everything life had to offer, repeatedly.

It wasn’t that long ago that women wore corsets, couldn’t vote and got picked up for a date in a Model T.  Most people who served in WWII were born about ten years after the Titanic sank, and just like that generation, soon they will be gone as well.  We only just lost the last WWI soldier in the last year.

It put it in perspective for me when our little town newspaper mentioned that a Titanic survivor lived a couple little towns over.  He was the head barber for the White Star Line, who operated the Titanic.  The man journeyed over seven hundred times on transatlantic ships and nearly perished that night in the cold waters of the Atlantic.  The article touts him a hero, who assisted the crew as they tried to get as many as they could to safety in the few lifeboats available.  He was eventually swept off the ships edge when it split in two and after clinging to dining chairs in the water, Continue reading

What Did New Jersey Do to You?

I was technically born in Philadelphia, but raised right over the bridge in New Jersey.  Despite popular belief, it is not the armpit of the country, it does not smell bad (outside of Newark) and there is a ton to offer, other than fodder for late night TV hosts.

Why does everyone hate Jersey?  What have we ever done to you?

There are some things that need to be cleared up.

  1. The Jersey Shore crew, yeah, they aren’t from Jersey.  They are from New York.  Don’t judge us on their characters.  Even the shore doesn’t want them there.  They did nothing but ruin our already ridiculed image and waste our tax dollars.
  2. New Jersey is the Garden State.  There is an abundance of agriculture and farming.  Though it is the most densely populated state, there is an array of pinelands, beautiful coastline, mountains, creeks, rivers and farms that add to the beautiful landscape.  As a matter of fact, bordering states know us for our delicious Jersey corn and tomatoes, and Ocean Spray uses our local cranberry bog farmers for their juice.
  3. North Jersey and South Jersey people have nothing in common.  This is a tried and true fact.  Though the state is only 170 long by 70 miles wide, South Jersey has no common traits or loyalties to North Jersey and vice versa.  They were originally two separate territories between 1674 and 1702 and they should have stayed that way.  South Jersey supports Philadelphia sports and clean air.  North Jersey houses New York fans and commuters.  I’m not sure if you’ve noticed that I’m partial.
  4. Don’t ask me who supports New Jersey major sports teams; I don’t know anyone who knows the answer to that.  There has to be somebody, I just have yet to find them.
  5. New York loves to make fun of us, yet they fail to recognize that Manhattan would not function without the assistance of New Jersey public agencies and our workforce.  Also, your beloved Giants play in Jersey, don’t forget it.
  6. Entertainment trends seem to define us.  We are also not all mobsters.  I won’t deny that they exist, but I also won’t admit to it.  I don’t want cement shoes.
  7. I realize I just said entertainment seems to define us, and I do somewhat resent that, but our state pumps out some of the greats to be proud of anyway; and many more.  They are in no particular order, but we’ll let the Boss believe otherwise.
  8. We love our diners.  We have the most in the world – how can you not love that you can’t get five miles without stumbling upon a place to chow down on an omelet at 3am?
  9. Thomas Edison did a lot of inventing here, while Atlantic City revolutionized gambling and leisure.  Light bulbs and slot machines are still important to our culture; I think you’ve heard of them.
  10. You can make fun of us all you want, but we’ve got hundreds of pluses and 8,821,155 people who tell you that you’re crazy not to appreciate our history and what we have to offer.  No, I don’t work for New Jersey, but if you visit, maybe you can drive my taxes down with tourism profits.

I Belong to Nowhere

I visited an old friend last weekend and she was asking what my husband and I were up to, and if we had any future plans.  I told her that depending on what happens with my career, we wouldn’t be opposed to moving to Europe or some authentically historic American town, but we’ll see what happens.  She said how she could never do that, just pick up and leave, but it’s something that we have grown accustom to and maybe it’s slightly hereditary.

I’m an avid ancestry enthusiast.  Every key member to my family tree, at least going back a few generations, had the same defining quality; the ability to be fearless and never look back.  This to me is a quality because I admire their courage and ambition, to pick up from their place of birth and independently find a new home in a new state, country, continent, etc.  And they did it alone.  They all did.

This is a blessing and a curse because combined; these adventurous ancestors gave me life.  Had they not, I don’t want to say “ran away”, but rather “looked for better opportunities”, I wouldn’t exist.  It’s a curse because, as a researcher, it’s very difficult to track them.  I run into possible distant connections and it appears my ancestor was always the black sheep who left and never wrote home.  There never seems to be hostility or a tragic story that I’m aware of based on family stories, they were just ok being independent.

That being said, I began frequently re-establishing myself early and being the “new kid” by changing schools throughout my youth.  Not by my choice, but my parents, due to transportation, tuition, educational factors and eventually a move just before high school.  I settled in well for the most part at each place and sought my own adventure to California after graduation.  I never truly felt like I fit in anywhere. Though I did find myself back in New Jersey a few years ago, close to family and old friends, I really don’t feel that I have a home.  The town I grew up in until I was 13 would probably be the closest thing to a “home” feeling but most of the people who lived there are gone or have passed away.  If you remember, I was friendly with the elderly people.  Sure I had friends that were my age, but they’ve since grown and moved too.

Today we live in a town close by, which feels like a neighborhood that people grew up in, finished school, started to grow their own family and then moved back in.  There is a sense of community, but not for me.  I am friendly with people here, but my roots weren’t here.  I think it is why I find the idea of moving anywhere that feels comfortable, so appealing, because I don’t need to stay anywhere out of obligation.  No one else in my family has.

My husband and I are the same way.  Having grown up in Iowa, and then joined the military, it caused his zip code to change more than a few times.  We come from heritages that we didn’t technically belong to.  My family has strong Irish and German tradition, but I don’t necessarily belong there.  My family for generations lived in Philadelphia and I was even born there, but then became the first to be raised in the suburbs of New Jersey.  Although it’s only minutes away, I didn’t grow up in a row home with a corner candy store or play baseball on the asphalt, so I can’t claim that as home either.  I grew up in a house where people had their own space and minded their business.  They were people looking to remove themselves from city culture; maybe culture altogether.  I don’t want to come off as ungrateful, I’ve had a fortune life with loving parents, but the circumstances have just left me feeling a little lost as an adult.

We aren’t tied to anywhere and maybe we’re not quite sure where home is yet.  I suppose we’ll have to find it together and make it that way ourselves.  We can be the “new kids” together.