Return to the Road

First off, thanks for the kind words from everyone regarding yesterday’s post.  It really meant a lot to me through this horrible time.

In fact, I needed to get out of Albany.  So I loaded up all my camera gear, grabbed my laptop, and headed to Manchester, New Hampshire.

Maybe if it was summertime, I could spend the day at the Canobie Lake amusement park.  But instead, I chose to do something I hadn’t done in a month – photograph a Premier Basketball League matchup.  And I couldn’t have chosen a better one this weekend.

The Manchester Millrats and Vermont Frost Heaves have battled for three seasons through two basketball leagues.  Three years ago, one of their games turnd into a brawl – not a basketball defensive brawl, mind you,  but an all-out fistfight.  Last year, both teams made the playoffs, but not without seriously intensive on-court matchups between each other.  And both teams have claimed the Premier Basketball League’s “Champlain Cup,” a tournament featuring teams that border Lake Champlain – the Frost Heaves took it in 2009, the Millrats won it this year.

Last night, the Frost Heaves came into the Millrats’ home court, the Fieldhouse at Southern New Hampshire University, and despite both teams mired in the second division of the PBL’s season standings, they played each other like it was the 7th game of the NBA finals.  Guys were dropping 3-point shots on each other.  Vicious blocks, most of them by Manchester’s Stanley Ocitti.  Ross Demasi of Vermont passing out assists like a card dealer at a blackjack table.  Vermont’s hundreds of fans brought their cowbells and noisemakers, and cheered the Frost Heaves every time they tied the score.  Manchester’s contingent of fans also were loud and boisterous, and roared back with exaltation every time the Millrats took the lead.

In the final moments of the game, the score was tied 111-111.  Manchester had the ball, 3 seconds left.  Inbounds pass to Manchester’s Anthony Anderson, who just returned to the team after a failed overseas tryout.  Two or three Frost Heaves surrounded him, Anderson released the ball as the buzzer went off.

Right through the cylinder.

The Manchester bench – and the fieldhouse – exploded in cheers.  The players ran off the bench and dogpiled Anderson, as the clock ticked off the final score, Manchester 113, Vermont 111.  It’s the Premier Basketball League’s most intense rivalry between the two New England border states – think along the levels of the Yankees and Red Sox in terms of intensity.

Here’s some seleted photographs from the game.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

Of course, now that I had the game photographs, I needed to get them uploaded to the PBL website and to my flickr site.  Unfortunately, the available internet connection at Southern New Hampshire University has been limited to students-only, so I couldn’t piggy-back onto the available internet connection, and I wasn’t interested in paying the $8-per-day internet hookup charges at my motel (which last year was a free service provided by the motel).

Then I remembered that McDonald’s just changed their policies from offering a pay-as-you-go Internet connection to a free Internet hookup.  I quickly drove to the nearest McDonald’s, about two miles from the SNHU campus.

Decals on the McDonald’s door said “Free Wi-Fi.”  I was in luck.  I went in and looked for a table with an available power plug.

And looked.

And looked.

There was not a power plug to be had in the entire dining area.  And I couldn’t take a chance on my weak laptop battery petering out.

Back in the car.

Off to another McDonald’s, this time in Derry, NH.

Sure enough, another set of Wi-Fi decals on the door.

I went in and looked for an available power outlet.

And looked.

And looked.

No power plugs here, either!

Then I remembered that there was a McDonald’s in Salem NH, about two miles from my motel.

I got there and the first thing I saw, inside the door, was a power outlet.

I gleefully plugged in my laptop and looked for the available internet connection.

And looked.

And looked.

No available networks.

Apparently the internet connection at this particular McDonald’s doesn’t work.

Oh-for-three.

I gave up.  I’m now paying $8/day at my motel to deliver this early morning blog post.

But at least I got the photographs up on the flickr site.

And I’m back photographing PBL games.

So it’s not a total loss.

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The Tragedy of February 20, 1970

There are five children in this photograph, a still gleaned from a 1969 8mm home movie.  I am the tallest, and am standing on the far left.  My brother John Kennedy Miller, known at that time as “Jay,” stands next to me.  My younger brother Allen Michael Miller is in the middle, and my sister Brenda is fourth in line.  The fifth child, Diane Wood, is my cousin; she has taken her first baby steps.  The elderly gentleman arranging all of us in a row is my grandfather, Charles L. Bragg.

This was 1969, just before Christmas.  A few months later, there would be no more smiles.

Continue reading “The Tragedy of February 20, 1970”

Brown’s Brewing Gets Trivia Back!!

Well, I never thought I’d see the day.

A few months ago, Browns’ Brewing’s popular Wednesday night trivia moved out of the venerable taproom, and relocated to Monday nights down at Revolution Hall.  The challenging 60-question trivia game lasted for about six months, then it was cancelled; the hosts Marc and Anthony are now hosting trivia at the nearby Meka’s Lounge.

I wondered if Brown’s would completely disappear from the trivia scene.

Well, I was wrong.  Brown’s trivia is BACK!!!

Trivia will now return to the Taproom Monday nights, with first question at 8pm.  Steve Murray will host the game, Murray currently hosts games at McGeary’s Tuesday nights and Thursday nights at Junior’s.

I should let you know – you need to make sure to call for a reservation for a trivia table.  When Wednesday night trivia ruled at Brown’s, you often had to gather a reservation for next week’s game five seconds after this week’s game ended.

More information as it comes.  Best bet is to follow trivianightslive.com for updates on the Brown’s game and on other games throughout the Capital District.

Week 1 of the 2010 Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

Yeah, there was no way I was going to stay away from this.

While everyone else who posted responses on my blog about whether or not Mayhem cheated to win the most recent Elbo Room trivia tournament, or whether there was any impropriety in one of their members also working on the Elbo Room staff, let me state right now.

You’re all nuts.

Mayhem didn’t cheat.  Mayhem just has some smart guys on the squad, and on the game-changing question that they got right and both Street Academy and Woo Hoo a Go Go got wrong last time – what NFL team scored the most points in a 21st century Super Bowl game – Kramer (one of the guys on Mayhem) is a huge Oakland Raiders fan.  In fact, his back leg actually has the Raiders logo tattooed on it.  So sure, he’s going to remember that Tampa Bay scored on the Raiders almost at will, and he wrote down the correct answer – Tampa Bay – and that was it.

That being said, this week is the start of a brand new 16-week trivia tournament at Elbo Room, and I was ready for a new round of fun.  Returning teams included Mayhem (who for some reason rebranded themselves as “Wehrmacht”), the Wooks (who rebranded themselves as the “Super Winners”), as well as perennials Woo Hoo a Go Go and Clay Aiken’s Skid Marks. (NOTE: Due to a request from my higher-ups regarding their team name, from now on that team will be branded in this blog as the “Skid Marks,” and you can assume I refer to the rubber imprints left on the highway when someone slams on the brakes to avoid a crash).

Questions were decent, but I burned off my two skips in the early round – I had no idea what state produced snowboarder Shaun White (no idea it was California), and I second-guessed myself in not being sure that Reese Witherspoon provided the voice of the main character in Monsters vs. Aliens (she did).

But I did nail the correct answers on the newspaper cartoon with the adventures of high schoolers Jeremy and Hector (Zits), the state whose town gave its name to the sweet Vidalia onion (Georgia), and who flew the spaceship with the call sign Red Five (Luke Skywalker).

The triple bonus involved a three-part Baldwin Brothers question, as to which Baldwin brothers starred in The Usual Suspects, The Departed, and Trees Lounge.  No freakin’ clue.  I wrote Alec Baldwin, Alec Baldwin, Alec Baldwin and handed it in – figuring I’ll take the easy eight points for getting one right, and praying I didn’t pick the one Baldwin brother that wasn’t in any of those three films.  Stephen Baldwin was in The Usual Suspects, Alec Baldwin was in The Departed, and it was Daniel Baldwin in Trees Lounge.  So that was an easy and safe 8 points right there.

But without any skips left, I fumbled on the 19th question, as to what state produced skier Lindsey Vonn.  I don’t know, I’m looking at the TVs behind the bar at Elbo Room, and all they’re showing are snowboarders.  And look, there’s Hannah Teter doing serious snowboard flips and jumps.  Oh wait.  Lindsey Vonn.  The skier with the shin problem.   Out of skips.  1-in-50 chance.  I wrote Vermont and handed it in, knowing full well it was wrong.

Answer was Minnesota.

So at this point I’m in 5th place with 88 points, looking up at Wehrmacht (96), a team that plays Tuesday night at Bombers called The Nature of Play (104), Woo Hoo a Go Go (106) and the Skidmarks (116).  Final category was autobiographies, I had nothing to lose, I pushed in all my chips.

“What First Lady, while working as an editor for a publishing company, wrote the foreword to Michael Jackson’s book Moonwalker?”

I already was finishing the word “Onassis” before General James finished the question.  I now had to hope that the four teams above me would have some stumbles.

Skidmarks and Woo Hoo bet plenty, and they got Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

The Nature of Play, however, only bet 40 points, so even though they got the answer right (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), I was able to leapfrog them in the score.

As for Mayhem – er – Wehrmacht, they bet it all – but they said Laura Bush.

So that got Street Academy third place and one playoff point to start off the new tournament.  The Skidmarks picked up 5 points, while Woo Hoo a Go Go got their customary second place quota of 3 playoff points.

General James announced that the finals of the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament will be held on June 3, so I’m blocking out my calendar for that day.  He also said that due to teams not showing up for months and then appearing at the finals, as if they had enough points and were just waiting for the finals to arrive, he was instituting a 75% attendance rate for teams competing in the tournament.

So after one week, here are the standings.  There’s a new column called “attendance,” in which teams that show up each week receive a black star.  Twelve black stars earn you a white star, meaning you have fulfilled attendance requirements.  Just trying to make this easy for everybody.

Elbo Room Trivia Standings – Week 1
Trivia Team Points Totals Attendance
1 Skidmarks 5 5
2 Woo Hoo a Go Go 3 3
3 Street Academy 1 1
T-4 The Bears
T-4 The Super Winners
T-4 The Nature of Play
T-4 Team Liz
T-4 Wehrmacht

So another trivia tournament begins.

150,000

I remember when it happened last night.  I was driving to Troy to play trivia at Meka’s Lounge in Troy; it was the new game for Marc and Anthony’s trivia game since their Monday night contests at Revolution Hall were shuttered.

I was on I-90, heading toward I-787. I had just taken the off-ramp, and was merging onto I-787, headed towards Troy.  And it happened.

The odometer on my dark red 1991 Pontiac 6000 tripped to 150,000 miles.

Nice.  This car has now made it three-fifths of the way from the equivalent distance from the earth to the moon.

Chuck Miller with 1991 Pontiac 6000.

This Pontiac 6000 is the first car I’ve ever owned outright, as opposed to driving my wife’s cars for years (one car was so small I kept referring to it as a “clown car,” which didn’t make Vicki very happy, since it fit her 4’10” height perfectly, but not my 6’1″ frame).  I acquired it in 2004 from my grandmother; it was her car and I didn’t think that a 92-year-old woman with cataracts and a valid Massachusetts driver’s license should be on the roads any more.  She agreed, and I drove the car home from Boston to Albany, nursing it along the way.  At the time, it barely had 40,000 miles on the odometer.

In the six years I’ve owned this car, I’ve driven it almost everywhere.  I drove it to Virginia to interview a collector of coin-operated video games; the guy had everything from an original PONG game with a wood cabinet, to the classics like Space Invaders, Tempest and Defender.

I drove it to Ottawa and then Toronto, essentially spending a few days driving around the cities that border Lake Ontario.

I drove it to Cleveland, taking my daughter Cassaundra to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a record convention.

I drove it numerous times to Pennsylvania, where I gathered information in various libraries for a research project that restored the statistics of the first twelve seasons of the Continental Basketball Association.

I drove it to Rochester and Buffalo and Quebec and Manchester NH and Barre VT and Rockville MD and various other locales for Premier Basketball League home games.

I drove it as a background car in the upcoming Angelina Jolie film Salt.  It’ll probably appear in maybe 2/10ths of a second of actual film, but the studio still played me for my work.

I’ve jump-started at least three motorists’ cars whose batteries weren’t as strong as the Die-Hard I put into the “6” so many years ago.

The car has even saved my life on at least one occasion.  On a snowy day in 2006, I was at a red light on Western Avenue, just before the town line between Albany and Guilderland,when a Dodge Ram truck pulled up behind me – and didn’t stop.  CRASH into my rear fender, pulverizing my rear tail light.  The Dodge Ram truck (which, by the way, was driven by a cell-phone-using distracted-driving dumb-bell) had its front end nearly caved in.  My 6000, with its solid steel frame, only suffered a damaged tail light, which was quickly repaired by Mr. Mopar’s insurance check.

I’ve listened to at least 100,000 tunes in the 6000, dozens of episodes of Car Talk and Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! on NPR; I’ve driven down I-90 with Mike & Mike in the Morning on 104.5 FM; I’ve suffered through the painful broadcast tandem of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman on long road trips; and I’ve marveled at the AM radio stations I could pick up in the wee hours, stations from Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Boston and Cincinnati on clear dark nights.

Maybe at some point I’ll get another car.  Maybe at some point I’ll upgrade to maybe a Ford Crown Victoria at a police auction, or some little “beater with a heater” at Little Motors or Fuccillo or something.

But for now, I’ll stay with the Pontiac 6000.  It still runs, and it still runs well.

And the new goal is 200,000 miles.

Tuesday Night Trivia at “Best Damn Sports Bar in Albany”

Snow’s coming down all over the Capital District.  I’ve played for several Tuesday nights at Pizzeria UNO in Crossgates Mall, and later moved my game to Wolf’s 1-11 on Wolf Road.  But last night, all I wanted to do was get to a trivia game and play and win and go home.  In that order.

My choice eventually became The Best Damn Sports Bar in Albany, which is not a description of some other place, but is instead the name of a sports bar and grille on Broadway, just along the city line between Albany and Menands.

I figure, if they call themselves the Best Damn Sports Bar in Albany, if it really is so, I need to see something in this bar that I would not see in any other sports bar in the Capital District.  Something local.  Something that says “Albany” as much as “Sports Bar.”

Well, in addition to the television sets and framed jerseys and other memorabilia, were a copious amount of gear and memorabilia dedicated to one special football team.

The Albany Metro Mallers.

The first person who says “Who are the Metro Mallers?” can go jump in the lake.  The Albany Metro Mallers ARE semiprofessional football.  There was indeed a time when the Mallers would draw 6,000 people to Bleecker Stadium for a game against the Troy Uncle Sammies, and their battles against such teams as the Scranton Eagles, the Watertown Red & Black, the Marlboro Shamrocks and the Syracuse Salt City Aces are still retold among the devotees of semipro football.

That, and one of the quarterbacks from the Mallers is a co-owner of the bar.

Trivia started at 6pm, and was hosted by Charlie.  Not only does she host this trivia game, as well as the one at Professor M Barley’s on the corner of Quail Street and Western Avenue, she’s also an on-air personality for Jamz 96.3.  Fun stuff.

About the only other trivia team I recognized at the bar were members of Woo Hoo a Go Go, who played that night as “The Friends.”  There were other trivia teams at the bar – nobody I recognized from other games, but I don’t play everywhere, so I don’t often recognize every talent.

The questions began, and I was hitting them left and right.  I nailed questions about which President, before he took office, worked on what would become the Louisiana Purchase (James Monroe); I knew the company that was the subject of the film “Roger and Me” (General Motors), and I nailed the cartoon character who first appeared in the short film “Knock, Knock” (Woody Woodpecker).  I picked up a sizeable lead, and already one team in the bar – a team called “Three’s Company” that was about 24 points below zero after five questions – started trash talking me.

I had missed one question midway through the game, as I did not know which literary character had a brother named Mycroft (I don’t know why I said it was Holden Caulfield, somewhere in that dark night J.D. Salinger is banging his head against a wall in frustration), but when the answer was announced, one of the team members from “Three’s Company” said out loud, for all in the tavern to hear, “Did that over there at the end of the bar get that right?”

Uh-oh… forgot I still had that TU cursing blocker on my blog.  But you get the hint.

I should also note, just for the sake of honesty, that although there were plenty of televisions IN the bar, the televisions weren’t ON at the bar.  See, I get my television shows through Time Warner, so when a snowstorm blankets the Capital District, I don’t have to worry about my satellite receivers getting coated with white fluffy transmitter-inhibiting snow.  Oh well.  It happens.

Final question came up, and I held an 8-point lead over “The Friends,” and we were the only two teams with positive points.  Final question category was the Olympics.

I decided to see what would happen if I bet only enough that if “The Friends” bet it all, and we both got it right, that we would tie for the night.  Would we get duplicate gift certificates?  Would we have to split the gift certificate?  Would there be a tiebreaker question?

The final question was – “How many times has North America hosted a Winter Olympics?”

I counted them out.  Lake Placid, Lake Placid, Salt Lake City, Squaw Valley, that takes care of the USA, then Calgary and Vancouver, that makes six.  I wrote down six and handed in my slip.

The answer was correct – six times the Winter Olympic flame has burned in North America.  But the Friends only bet a few points, gambling that I might bet the farm and get the answer wrong.  You know what – sometimes a weenie bet doesn’t work as well as one would hope.

It was a decent game all around, Charlie runs a fast trivia game (I think she ran through 20 questions in 90 minutes), and maybe next time if the snow doesn’t cover the satellite dishes, I might see some more sports action on the bar’s televisions.

Or at least maybe some DVD’s of classic Metro Mallers championship games.

“Is that a fish frozen in the ice?!?”

Back around August or so, I had this idea of putting together a 360-degree panoramic photograph of the Lakehouse at Washington Park, from the perspective of someone in a boat in the middle of the lake.  Of course, I couldn’t pull that idea off – there’s no way to stabilize a boat to stay put against the waves unless it was anchored like an off-shore oil rig.

So I put the idea in the back of my mind and went on with other things.

Yesterday was a decent day out – a little cold, but not too chilly.  I thought to myself… what if I could go back out to Washington Park, go as far out on the lake as I dared until I heard the ice crack, get the panoramic photos and then get off the ice as fast as possible?

Well, one of two things would happen – I’d either have some decent photographs for a blog post, or this entry would be referenced in an obituary.

I drove over to Washington Park, parked the Pontiac 6000, and carried my Nikon D700, along with a couple of lenses, my cable release, and a tripod, down to the Lakehouse.  To my surprise, I saw what appeared to be a trio of ice skaters gliding along the frozen lake.  “Hey there,” I called out to one of the skaters.  “How thick is the ice?”

“At least a foot thick,” he shouted back.  “You could drive a car on it.”

“You sure it’s safe?”

“Sure it’s safe.  Don’t worry, if you fall in, I’ll rescue you.”

Sure enough, the lake was frozen solid.  I stepped gingerly onto the ice; it didn’t crackle or fracture.  I slowly walked toward the center of the lake, where it seemed the surface of the lake was like cold slippery concrete.

Washington Park Lakehouse. Photo by Chuck Miller.

First things first.  I popped on my Kiev MIR-21H full-frame fisheye lens, and got as close as I could to the Washington Park Lakehouse, and fired away.  This was great.  I was able to get plenty of detail – considering the closest shot I was ever able to get of this side of the Lakehouse was from the rock outcropping on the lakebed.

“Hey there!” the skating man called out to me, from the direction of the bridge that spans Washington Park Lake.

“What’s up?” I shouted back.

“You gotta see this.  Bring your camera.”

Well, running on a frozen lake was never my strong suit, so I simply carried the tripod-mounted camera with me, walking down the middle of Washington Park Lake.

As I reached the skating man, he pointed down to the ice.  “Look at that.”

I looked.

Frozen fish in Washington Park lake.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Frozen fish in Washington Park Lake. Photo by Chuck Miller.

“Is that a fish frozen in the ice?” I asked, realizing that it really was a fish that got caught where it shouldn’t have been.  I readjusted my camera and took some more shots.  By now, other people were walking onto the ice – some were curious about what we had found, others were more curious about how thick the lake ice really was.

Apparently little Billy Bass wasn’t going to be singing about getting some filet-o-fish at this point, but he could still draw a crowd.  Even a young couple with their dog came over to view the frozen fossil.  The dog, named Maddie, even brought a stick – apparently thinking it was time to play fetch.  In fact, during the day I witnessed several dog owners testing their dogs’ abilities to handle the ice by tossing a stick or a ball onto the frozen ice surface and expecting their dogs to go fetch.

I went back home and processed the morning photos.  They were decent, but the lighting was off (I wanted some sunshine, but there were nothing but clouds in the sky).  It would eventually take two more trips to Washington Park, where I witnessed everything from a family playing pond hockey to a couple of lovebirds smooching as they walked hand-in-hand on the frozen ice.  My second trip that day to Washington Park allowed me to assemble this photograph of Washington Park’s bridge, using seven different photographs into one wide-angle finish.

Washington Park Bridge.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Washington Park Bridge, photographed from the ice. Photo by Chuck Miller.

At about 4:00 p.m., the sun came out in full force.  I knew I had to go back to Washington Park and try to get the shot I dreamed of – a full 360-degree panorama shot.  Since I don’t own a dedicated panorama lens (and my Kenko 180-degree fisheye screw-on lens must have been built with dedicated chromatic aberrations), I snapped on my 55mm Kiev wide-angle f/2 manual lens.  Hey, this thing was built in Ukraine, it’s gotta be able to handle the cold weather, right?

I had to move fast.  Already the sun was starting to set behind the Madison Avenue rowhouses.  I planted and anchored the tripod.  Strapped on the cable shutter release.  Slapped a fresh battery into the D700.  In went a 4GB chip.  Camera set to take JPG’s and Nikon’s proprietary raw NEF format.

Off came the camera lens.

Snap. Snap.

Turn a few degrees to the right.

Snap. Snap.

Another few degrees to the right.

I made a full 360-degree revolution, taking at least two pictures at every interval.  Then I went home.  If I wasn’t going to get the panorama shot, after all this effort, I would never get it.

I went through several different online panorama stitching programs, and eventually settled on autostitch.net, a free program.  I put the 27 pictures into autostitch.net, and prayed for the best.

And this is what came out.


Washington Park Panorama.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Washington Park Panorama, February 15, 2010. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Granted, the picture is small in the blog viewer, but click on the picture and you can see the full effect of 27 photographs in a 360-degree panorama, with the Lakehouse at sunset.

My first full-360-degree panorama.  Wow.  I can’t believe it.