Donating to the Albany Museum of History and Art

I couldn’t believe that I had accumulated all this stuff over the years.

Every time I went to a local sports contest, I would buy a game program.  That’s a lot of programs, especially when I went to almost every Patroons game, River Rats contest, Albany-Colonie Yankees and Diamond Dogs matchup, etc., etc.  I saved these programs, treasured them, looked over them once in a while.

But now is the time to pare down my collection of stuff.  And instead of resigning this material to the garbage can, or trying to sell everything piecemeal on eBay, I made a conscious decision that the collection of Albany-based game programs had to find a home.

That home, as of today, is the Albany Institute of History and Art.

See, the Institute has a special collection on the history of the Capital Region, with boxes and books and photographs filled with the width and breadth and depth of Albany’s existence.  And better that the Institute have these old game programs, so that down the road someone can study the history of sports in the area, than they just sit in some personal collection, on a shelf, gathering dust.

And it’s not like I haven’t given collections like this to charitable organizations in the past.  My collection of Continental Basketball Association programs, jerseys, pennants and trading cards are now in the holdings of the Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum in Springfield, Mass.  I’ve sent boxes of group harmony 45’s and LP’s to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Museum in Sharon, Pa., for them to use in future exhibits.  And five years ago, as part of my 20th college reunion, I donated a rare Edison Diamond Disc phonograph and nearly 200 Edison Diamond Discs to the Hamilton College jazz and music library.

So yesterday, I made arrangements with the curators of the collection to drop off this box of sports history, which I will do later this afternoon.

For me, donating these items is part of a personal commitment.  I want to make sure that the history of these teams survives into the future, and that the sporting life of the Capital Region is recognized in its long history.

That, and it will clear some much-needed space off my shelves.

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Milton Horne and the Basketball Streakers

Milton Horne was a part of youth sports in the Capital Region for many decades.  A four-year basketball starter at Philip Schuyler and a graduate in 1969, he later attended New Mexico and played in the NCAA Division I Final Four.  He returned to Albany, and worked as a little league coach for the next two decades; one of the baseball fields at Krank Park is named in his memory.  He also operated a construction company that renovated houses in Arbor Hill and built day care centers and public safety buildings.  He passed away in 2001, and the community mourned the loss of “Old Man Coach.”

And when my high school, the Street Academy of Albany, actually had enough players to field a basketball team, Milton Horne was their coach.

A while back, I went through some of the old yearbooks for the Street Academy of Albany, and found several photographs of a school basketball team in action.  Their games were often played at the Arbor Hill Community Center, and the opponents were an eclectic mix of junior varsity squads and community teams.

Folks, let me introduce you to the Street Academy Streakers basketball team.  That was the team name, and any snickering about an alternative meaning of “Streaker” can go by the wayside (although by the time I was a student there, the team’s nickname was quietly tweaked to be the “Blue Streakers”).

In 1977, Milton Horne noted in the yearbook that the Streakers “were small in size but big in heart. They gave their all for a winning cause. The team played hard-nose man-to-man defense from baseline to baseline. The team was led by Harry Cain, Ray McGill and Skip Donley. Also starting were Twist Welcome and Brian Trotter. Other players on the team were John Jones, an outstanding jump-shooter with good moves; Lester Royal, a good rebounder with a nice, soft shot around the basket, and Jerry DeWitt. Our leading scorer was Harry Cain with 20 points a game. The top rebounder was “Big Brian” Trotter. The defensive ace all over the court was Edward ‘Twist’ Welcome.”

Okay, we’re not talking the second coming of Luther “Ticky” Burden or Sam Perkins, but then again the Streakers weren’t participating in Section II, either.  Very few records have survived to this day, but according to school yearbooks, the Streakers put together a respectable 9-3 record in 1974, taking victories over Hackett Jr. High, Philip Livingston Jr. High, Carver Community Center, the Albany High Annex, and a 71-37 trouncing of the Street Academy faculty.  In 1977, the school completed a 4-4 record, taking wins over the Albany Youth Corps, Camp Cass, and two different Albany Boys’ Club teams.

Street Academys Harvey Biggers (33) with a layup.
Street Academy's Harvey Biggers (33) with a layup.

By the time I was a senior at Street Academy, we still fielded a basketball team, although the schedule was essentially written in pencil.  That year, we were supposed to play six games against the other “alternative” school in the Albany area, School 21, with a final game against the Albany High junior varsity team.  We played two games against School 21, winning the first and losing the second on some very bad officiating and ticky-tack fouls.  By the time we were scheduled to play our third game, School 21’s basketball team had been disbanded for disciplinary reasons, and we never got to play another game that season.

Horne continued to offer physical education courses to Street Academy, even after the school was rebranded as Harriet Gibbons High School, named after one of the school’s former principals.  He stayed with the school until his passing in 2001.  The 2002 Gibbons High School yearbook honors the man and his legacy, as the words of student Kimberly Chestnut attest: “He made people laugh and smile.  He was a great guy to be around.  Milton gave you good grades and good comments on your report card.  But if you gave him a hard time, he would give you a hard time back.  But there was no reason to give him a hard time.  Milton had many people who cared about him and loved being around him.  He helped anyone who needed help.  This is what i Think about my dear friend Milton Horne.  God bless him.”

My 10 Favorite “Relax” TV Shows

There are TV shows where I will sit comfortably in my chair and watch all the excitement and action and suspense.  There are TV shows where I will throw stuffed animals at the TV screen because of the horrible acting or stupid plotlines or the like.

And then there are a special brand of TV shows – the ones where I will sit and watch – and watch – and watch all day and night.  Not because of any compelling or exciting plotlines, not because of any thrilling sports action – no, these shows are essentially the equivalent of televised comfort food.  These aren’t dramas or sports shows or comedies – these are the kinds of shows where I know what’s going to happen next, I know how the information will be presented, and yet I just sit and enjoy the program anyways.

Feel free to discuss and debate.

  1. How It’s Made (Science Channel HD) – This show describes how everything from fire hydrants to Swiss cheese is made.  You watch as the various items go through annealing furnaces and elevated conveyor belts and cutters and packaging, all synchronized to a funky dance beat.  A stentorian narrator, often played by Brooks Moore, describes how each item is created, whether the finished product is hand-tooled by skilled artisans, or popped out of a mass production line.
  2. Dogs 101 (Animal Planet) and…
  3. Cats 101 (Animal Planet).  Both these shows describe all the various histories  of dogs and cats – the breeds’ pecific needs for health and grooming, as well as how these breeds interact with their owners and masters.  Besides, it’s the only way I can vicariously own a cat any more, since my wife Vicki is allergic to cats and had me get rid of my King Orange tabby Vincent.
  4. Forensic Files (TruTV).  This show comes on anywhere from about 11:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m., and it describes, in grisly detail, a murder – the police work and forensic work that uncovered the murderer – and the murderer brought to justice.  Think “CSI” without all the glitz.  In these episodes of Forensic Files, you actually see that it takes more than 22 minutes to get a DNA test completed.  And sometimes on the show, the DNA results actually set a previously convicted man free.
  5. I Love Toy Trains (RFD-TV).  These episodes show the advanced hobbyist how to build a model railroad layout, as well as tricks and techniques on the model train hobby itself.  I watch this for a while – then I want to build a model railroad.  Then I realize that if I really wanted to build a model railroad, I should have started when I was five years old and maybe, by today, I would have a spectacular railroad that would have filled my basement from water meter to dehumidifer.
  6. Manswers (Spike TV)  Hoo boy.  This is the kind of program where you get information on topics you never thought anyone had an answer for.  Things like what to do if you take a bullet in the arm.  Or the common myths associated with trying to beat a drug test.  There’s some other “manswers” here, but I’m not listing them in a family newspaper.  Why else do you think the show airs on Spike TV in the wee wee hours?
  7. Modern Marvels (History Channel).  Like “How It’s Made,” Modern Marvels will spend an hour talking about everything from suspension bridges to butchery, from comic books to logging.  It’s fascinating to watch, and before each commercial break, the show gives you a small nugget of trivia.  Just in case some trivia host asks about the density of a fruitcake (it’s as dense as a piece of mahogany wood).
  8. New Yankee Workshop (PBS).  I don’t know how Norm Abram keeps coming up with these great woodworking projects.  He’ll find an old piece of furniture somewhere in an antique shop, and then he’ll replicate how to build it – along with the diagrams and the proper tools needed – and then build it in 30 minutes.   The show almost makes you want to drive out to wherever the New Yankee Workshop is, and have him build you something right then and there.
  9. Powerblock (Spike TV).  Ah, a Sunday morning where I get to watch all the gearheads and wrench-heads restore a car or a truck from a rusty hulk into a gleaming piece of super-hot machinery.  Granted, I wonder if half the stuff they put on those cars is street legal, but even so, it’s fun to watch them just take apart a car, right down to its nuts and bolts,and then put in new parts and new restorations – and next thing you know, it’s ready for the drag strip or the late night cruise.
  10. Hoarders (A&E).  I DVR this show on Monday nights and watch it Tuesday morning.  And then I want to go clean something up in my house.  This is the slobby-clean-your-house version of Scared Straight!.  Watch this and say to yourself, if you don’t get your stuff out of the house, a bunch of blue trucks will park in front of your lawn and the stuff will get cleared out whether you want it to or not.

There were a lot of shows I could have included on this list, including shows like Intervention, Pawn Stars, Ax Men, Ice Road Truckers, TCM’s The Essentials, the E! True Hollywood Story, and the like.  But then it would have been a Top 15 and this ain’t college football, where you can have eleven teams in the Big 10.

How Albany Almost Got Minor League Baseball in the 1970’s

Everybody knows the Albany Senators baseball team folded in 1959 and the Albany-Colonie A’s (later the A-C Yankees) came to the area in 1983.  This meant Albany went 24 years without minor league baseball – except for 1971, when some newspaper reporters, a beer distributor, a savvy minor league general manager, and a future Hall of Famer infielder, brought the Eastern League back to Albany.

The story actually begins in 1959, when the cash-strapped Albany Senators folded and their home park, Hawkins Stadium, was sold for back taxes and razed in 1960.  For thenext eleven years, those with a baseball fix watched Yankees and Mets games on television, or traveled to Bleecker Stadium to see Sons of Italy play the Oppenheim Post in the Twilight League.  During those eleven years, local businessmen and sportswriters tried desperately to build a new stadium and lure another team back to the Capital District; yet despite lots of optimism and some verbal promises from one party or another – some bureaucratic nightmare or other logistical screwup would keep the minor leagues away.  Fred Field’s Northway off-ramp diamond; Rose Lupe’s Schenectady baseball / hockey arena; all those proposals were dashed for lack of funds or lack of tenants.

In July 1971, Albany Times-Union sportswriter Al Hart fielded telephone calls to his radio show.  One of his listeners (also coincidentaly named Al Hart) asked about the dimensions of old Hawkins Stadium and the surrounding architecture.  Within minutes, the phones lit up with calls from Senators fans and former players.  For the next few days, every caller to Hart’s show wanted to talk about the Senators.  At the end of his broadcasts, Hart mused about how much support a minor league team could really have in Albany, based on the volume of calls he received from Senators fans that week.

Even though most Albany sports calendars listed the months as “June – July – Saratoga – September,” for some reason the August meet wasn’t the big topic of discussion that year.  Now, more than ever, after 11 years of mourning and wishing and hoping and praying, Albany could be back in the baseball business.  Times-Union writer Tom Cunningham took the next step, writing an eight-part series on the subject, asking sports fans, businessmen and other media reporters their opinion on baseball’s possible return.

During his series, Cunningham called Pat McKernan, the owner of the Eastern League’s Pittsfield Senators, for opionins and comments.  McKernan, ever mindful of turnstile-spinning publicity (he almost signed a top female softball player during the 1971 season), was so surprised that a city as large as Albany didn’t have any minor league baseball, he agreed to bring his Senators in for a regular season game.  And for the Capital Region, it would be a test to see if all the fans that said they wanted baseball actually did want baseball.

A few more phone cals, a little schedule juggling, and it was done – the Pittsfield Senators would “host” the Reading Phillies on August 19, 1971 at Albany’s Bleecker Stadium.  The Times-Union posted ticket forms in their newspaper, and a week before the game, more than 3,500 tikets were already sold!

Even though this was the first minor league game in the Capital District in a decade, it would be played at the only local diamond that was anywhere close to minor league standards – Bleecker Stadium, a former reservoir on Clinton Avenue that was converted into an athletic facility during the Great Depression.  Parking facilities were non-existent; and although seating on the baseball side of the field was comfy enough for the 200 fans of the Albany Twilight League, alternative measures were necessary for a crowd that at last report had grown to 5,000 paying customers.  “The rest room facilities at Bleecker,” wrote one newspaper at the time, “more than adequate for the average high school footballgame, will be quite strained with the expected large crowd.  Accordingly, you may want to make sure that everyone in your party has visited the household rest room directly before leaving for the game.  Know what we mean?’

And the average fan in 1971 might know Jim Palmer, Roberto Clemente or Rico Carty, but those were the major leagues.  In the days leading up to the contest, the Albany newspapers were flooded with minor league statistics and player profiles for the first time in ages.  “Pittsfield Senators’ catcher Bill Fahey, a youngster Washington Senators manager Ted Williams calls ‘a good candidate for the American League’s all-start catcher in a few years,’ will be behind the plate for Pittsfield tomorrow …” wrote one paper.

It seemed everyone involved with the “Trial Game” wanted it to work.  Since Bleecker was owned by the city, Albany mayor Erastus Corning quickly okayed the permit for the game.  Major sponsorship was arranged by the Schaefer Brewing Co., who through the succeses of its Albany bottling plant and its “Schaefer Circle of Sports” promotions, became a nationally known brewery.  Even though a liquor license couldn’t be secured in time for the game, Schaefer went along with its sponsorship anyway, buoyed by reports that more than 6,000 would show up at Bleecker.

“Come early to the game,” the newspapers and sportscasters said.  At 5:30 on August 19, 1971, more than 7,000 fans “came early,” spreading picnic blankets on the grass ande on the cinder running track as the Senators and the Reading Phillies took batting practice.  All four gates were opened, and lines snaked around each one.

As the pitchers warmed up for the game, there were introductions, awards and speeches from politicians, sponsors, and other dignitaries – Opening Day festivities in late August.  At one point Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd, with microphone in hand, addressed the growing phalanx of baseball fans.  “Do you people want professional baseball?” he asked.

The crowd, starved from eleven years without the local sport, responded, “Yeah!”

“Do you really want professional baseball?” Corning teased.

The crowd roared back, “YEAH!!”

“Will you work for it?” cajoled the mayor.

“YEAH!!!”

Smiling, Corning replied to the crowd, “Then I’ll help you work for it!”

Hands applauded and throats cheered.  Corning then sat down with the fans and ordered a hot dog.

Reading’s top pitching ace was lefthander Steve Cates, and he and Pittsfield pitcher Bill Kremmel nothced three straight shutout innings.  In the fourth, with a Phillie aboard and one out, Reading’s rookie shortstop stepped to the plate.  With a swing he would repeat 500 more times in the major leagues, Mike Schmidt sent a Kremmel fastball to deep center field.  Pittsfield’s Jerry Moates went back – back – back – but the ball went back farther, clearing the fence and putting the Phillies on the board.  Two innings later, Schmidt would add a second home run to the game, a towering blast to left-center that Moates didn’t even bother chasing.

Pittsfield ame back, as first basemen Al “Fat Albert” Thompson punched his EL-leeading 23rd home run over right-center field.  As he rounded the bases, he heard the cheers of “Hey, hey, hey!” from a slew of Bill Cosby impersonators in the stands.  “I’ll always remember that game in Albany,” he told the Knickerbocker News a year later.  “The reason is the crowd.  It’s real nice to have so many people come out and cheer for you.  With the kind of crowd that was there that night, you really want to do your best.”

Sure, any Twilight League cleanup hitter will tell you that Bleecker Stadium has a very shallow outfield – only 315 feet from home plate to home run.  But that didn’t bother the fans that night who saw four home runs in a 4-3 Reading victory – including two base-clearers from Mike Schmidt, who in 1995 would join the Baseball Hall of Fame.

By all accounts, the trial game was a complete success.  The final attendance was officially listed at 7,760 – but counting some gate crashers and kids who snuck in through open fence posts, the Bleecker Stadium grounds crew estimated over 10,000 people were at Bleecker that night.

A few days later, WTEN sportscaster Rip Rowan received a mysterious telephone call.  A “Robert Turner,” claiming to represent an unnamed major league baseball team, had heard about the success of the trial game, and wanted to set up a meeting.  Rowan agreed, and on September 27, 1971, a meeting of sponsors, newspapermen, sportscasters and Mr. Turner was held at the Capital Newspapers facility in Colonie.

Mr. Turner brought some guests with him – Jim Fanning, a general manager of the Montreal Expos, and John McHale, Vice-President of the National League.  1971 would be the last year the Expos would keep their International League farm team in Winnipeg, and wanted to arrange putting their IL farm team in Bleecker Stadium.  Fanning had already looked over Bleecker Stadium and felt that – with a little upgrade here and there – the park would be suitable for International League baseball, and Interstate 87 would be a perfect transportation conduit for players between Montreal and Albany.

Upgrading Bleecker didn’t seem to bother the Expos organization – they had already upgraded their home field, miniscule Parc Jarry, from a 2,000 seater into a 29,000 seat facility.  And if Albany began renovations before winter, they promised the Albany Expos would throw out the first pitch in April 1972.

Mayor Corning looked at the proposal for the Expos and was torn.  He saw the crowd that hot August night, and he had promised them he would bring baseball back to the area.  But Albany would need to cough up $100,000 to spruce up the stadium, and another $200,000 to build a suitable parking garage.  Five different Capital District schools would no longer have acces to the quarter-mile cinder track that ringed the stadium.  Nor would the high schools be ableto use the football / soccer field.  And amateur and semipro organizations like the Albany Twilight League and the Amerian League baseball league would have to find a new place to play.

And just before October ended, he made his decision.  “Due to a number of reasons,” he told the media, “I was forced to call Mr. James Fanning today and tell him that it would be impossible for their International League farm team to play in Bleecker Stadium next year.”

The media vilified Corning, with some arguing that the International League – with players only a fastball away from the major leagues – was more important than the Twilight League.  But Corning had received requests from Bleecker Stadium neighbors hwo did not want strange cars parked in front of their homes and traffic jams on gamenights.  And in 1972, the Eastern League returned to play games at Bleecker – Pat McKernan brought his Pittsfield team (now known as the Rangers) back for four regular-season games per year.

At first, the crowds at Bleecker averaged 2,000 a game, much larger than the 300-400 diehards who showed up at Pittsfield’s chilly Wahconah Park.  Over time, the rangers battled some tough teams in Albany, such as the Quebec City Carnivals, the Three Rivers Eagles, the Waterbury Dodgers and the Elmira Pioneers.  But the “Bleecker Rangers” neutral site series only lasted a couple of years, until the Clinton Avenue crowds dropped to approximately 700 paying customers per game and the novelty wore off.

After 11 years without baseball, 10,000 fans on a humid night showed that Albany could support minor league baseball.  Yet it would take another 11 years before the Eastern League finally returned to Albany on a permannt basis – with the Albany-Colonie A’s and Yankees, and later with the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs.

NOTE: This history of the 1971 “Trial Game” was originally published in the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs’ 1995 souvenir yearbook.

St. Joseph’s Church from I-787: or, how I spent my Christmas morning

I’ve driven over Interstate 787 countless times.  But this time, it was different.

Because this time, I wanted to get the one shot that I would never get at any other time of the year.

Normally if one were to photograph the magnificent structure known as St. Joseph’s Church, the former house of worship on Ten Broeck Street in Albany’s Arbor Hill, one would walk up Ten Broeck Street, angle the camera in such a way as to hopefully get the church from the ground all the way up to its very high steeple, and push the shutter button.  I’ve done that in the past.

But last week, while driving over I-787 in the morning, I happened to glance over to my right – and noticed that there was a perfect opportunity to not only get a photo of St. Joseph’s Church that would not only capture the building’s steeple, it would also capture the two smaller steeples at the back of the building.

Problem is – the best angle to get this photograph would have been to stop my car in the middle of single-lane rush hour traffic, possibly risking my own life and limb (and, at the very least, a visit from the Albany Police regarding parking on the highway without an emergency situation inherent thereto).

So I waited.  I waited until a day and time when I could be sure that traffic would be at a minimum.

Christmas morning.

I got out of the house at about 7am, while everybody else in the Capital District were either opening presents or slapping the alarm clock for an extra nine minutes of sleep.  Fifteen minutes later, I was in downtown Albany.  Christmas morning in downtown Albany looks like an episode of “Life After People.”  It was deserted.  No cars in the parking spots.  No lights on, except for the advertising signage along the Palace Theater.

I got to work.  I parked the car, grabbed my camera and my tripod, and sprinted up the off-ramp to I-787, taking care to avoid any oncoming cars.

St. Josephs Church, Albany, N.Y.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
St. Joseph's Church, Albany, N.Y. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Partway up the ramp, I found the spot.  The perfect opening.  The church was smack dab in front of me, with only a few stray tree branches and a smokestack blocking my view.  I quickly set up my camera and tripod, focused, and shot.

And shot.

And shot.  I spent 20 minutes composing several different exposures and apertures, hoping to get the “golden hour” of sunlight as the sun rose over the Hudson River, but the dense fog that morning prevented any chance of getting such a “golden hour” shot.

Then came the next challenge.  Getting off I-787 before anybody either ran me over or ticketed me.  Actually, at 7:45 a.m. on Christmas morning, there wasn’t a single car, truck, bus, taxi or otherwise on the off-ramp.  I was very lucky.

Plus, I got this great shot.  Which makes a nice Christmas present for me.  By the way, this shot was taken with my manual f/4.5 50-300mm Zoom-NIKKOR lens.

But after I looked at it a few more times, I realized that I could boost up the contrast on this picture.  And in that case, it was time to process the photo with HDR.

St. Josephs Church in HDR format.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
St. Joseph's Church in HDR format. Photo by Chuck Miller.

HDR, or “High Dynamic Range Imaging,” is when you use three or more shots of the same image, each shot with a different aperture.  Luckily, I had shot enough photographs at different exposures and apertures of St. Joseph’s Church, that I could attempt to bring out the church’s details and contrasts in an HDR photo.

I loaded three images into my HDR program, Photomatix Pro 3.11.  I adjusted some contrasts, and came up with this second shot that you see here.  I was still able to get all three steeples, but now the steeples have plenty of contrast against the early foggy sky.   It’s still not a perfect photo, you can see the smokestack in front of the leftmost steeple, and that red building on the right I probably should have digitally deleted – but you know what, who else is going to get up on Christmas morning and go out to get a photograph like this?  Especially of one of the icons of the Albany skyline?

My holiday wish to all

No matter what your faith is or what your ecumenical beliefs are, this is the one time of year when we all wish each other the happiest of holiays, the warmest of cheer, the true seasons’ greetings and peace on earth, good will toward all.

Personally, I have my own happy wishes to my wife Vicki and my daughter Cassaundra, as well as my wife’s family and my daughter’s girlfriend Kelsie.

This year, however, I want to take a moment while I’m sitting in front of the computer and blogging for the Times-Union, to wish holiday greetings to the following:

To Alan at Cameraworks in Latham, who always gets my camera sensors clean and helped tune up a couple of lenses that I previously received in “needs a little work to make them perfect” condition.

To Craig and Kathy and the staff at Ritz Camera in Crossgates Mall, where I get my photographs processed.

To the staff at Arlene’s on Fuller Road and the frame departments at Wal-Mart and Michael’s in Crossgates Commons, three places where I can acquire ready-made and build-them-yourself frames and glass.

To the staff at B&H Photo and Video in New York City, where I purchased my Nikon D700.  And to the guy behind the counter who told me, “The only thing you’re not going to like about this camera is that you’re going to want to buy more lenses – you won’t get rid of the ones you have, because this camera can handle them – but you’ll never stop buying new ones.”  He’s kind of right…

To the production crew of the motion picture Salt, where I worked as a “car extra” for a couple of weeks to help earn just enough money to finally get my D700.

To all the trivia hosts out there – Kevin Baker, General James, Paulie, Murray, Ryan West, Zach Hilton, Mark and Anthony at Revolution Hall, Allan Fish at TGI Friday’s, Charley at M. Barley’s, and everywhere else in the Capital Region.

To all the trivia teams I’ve played against – the ones I’ve beaten and the ones who have beaten me – including Lynch’s Mob, Tres Hombres, Surf Tulsa, the Big Red Machine, Stern Fans, A Few Cards Short of a Deck, Woo Hoo a Go Go, the Brown Van Experience, Clay Aiken’s Skid Marks, Blue Mooned, the Blue Barracudas, Granny’s One-Night Stand, Teaching Hung Over, Hellions of Troy, IDK, Team Ramrod, Two Fat Guys, and everyone else.

To the wait staff and bartenders at Pizzeria UNO, Brown’s Brewing, Revolution Hall, Elbo Room, Broaway Joe’s, McGeary’s, Legends, TGI Friday’s, Graney’s and every other place I’ve had my din-din before I win-win… sorry, couldn’t resist using that one…

To all the car maintenance places and filling stations and service centers for my 1991 Pontiac 6000, including DePaula Chevrolet, Valvoline on the corner of Central and Colvin Avenues, the Pep Boys in Manchester, New Hampshire where I had my Sylvania Silverstar headlights replaced, and the friendly staff at AAA who are always there when I need them…

To those who watch over us in time of need, and for those whom we watch over in time of care.

To those who have taken dogs out of horrible situations and granted them the chance to spend the rest of their life fetching a stick or curling up in front of a fireplace.

To those who have taken cats out of miserable living conditions and given them a chance to spend the rest of their life lapping up milk in a dish or purring on a lap.

To the basketball players, coaches, officials, owners and game day staff of the teams of the Premier Basketball League.

To Michael Huber, the person who brought me into the Times-Union family of bloggers – and to my fellow TU bloggers, including Rob “Albany Eye” Madeo, Naomi Seldin, Teri Conroy, Kristi Gustafson, Steve Barnes, Zan Strumfeld, Don Rittner, Susan Holland and all the rest.

To all those people and organizations, and to you, my dear reader, I wish all of you the happiest of holiday seasons, and a joyous and prosperous New Year.

Getting my camera equipment cleared by Homeland Security

We live in a much different time than years ago.  And because of these new times, one can’t just drive up to Canada, show a driver’s license, smile at the border guard and be on my way.

Last year, for the first time in my life, I actually applied for and received a passport.  I needed to get one due to my position as the Premier Basketball League’s action photographer, and the border between the United States and Canada was going to get a lot tighter.

And while I researched the new rules regarding travel across the border – things like currency exchanges and traffic rules and the like – I discovered that with regard to personal items, if you couldn’t prove that you actually owned this item before you crossed the border, the border patrol might assume that you purchased the item on your trip – and, going one step further – assess you any fees or taxes or duties or tariffs on that item.

Yikes.

So what did that mean for me?  Last year, before the PBL season started, I made sure that all my camera equipment – the Nikon D70 and several lenses – as well as my laptop computer, which I use on the road to process the photos and upload them to the PBL webmaster and to flickr – needed to be registered with the Department of Homeland Security.  They wrote down all the serial numbers, gave me a white printed form (CPB Form 4457) that indicated all the equipment, and stamped the form with DHS rubber stamps.  Those forms came in handy, in that I had to show the forms at least twice to the border guards as confirmation of my ownership of the items.

That was last year.  Inbetween the last time I went into Quebec to shoot a Kebs game (they lost to Halifax in a nail-biter) and today, I added several lenses and got my Nikon D700 camera.  Of course, my forms were still good for any equipment I still owned, but the D700 is not my old D70, and I needed to get that camera registered – as well as a couple of Russian lenses I acquired over the summer.

There are two places in the Capital District where you can register your items, whether they be iPods or camera equipment or the like.  You can go to the customs office at 445 Broadway, or you can go to the DHS annex at the airport.  Both places require an appointment.

So Tuesday night I drove up to the airport.  The DHS building is approachable from the road leading to the airport terminal, its only indication of its use as a federal building being a dark Department of Homeland Security logo on one of the blacked-out windows.

A DHS officer welcomed me in.  I told him I had an appointment.  He looked at my camera equipment.  “Didn’t you do this last year?” he asked me.

I was surprised.  It was the same officer who registered all my gear the first time I did this, which was down at the Broadway courthouse.

I explained that I had new gear, and that it was time to register those items.  We went through all the lenses in my camera bag and wrote down all the serial numbers and descriptions, we entered the serial number of the D700, he stamped the forms again, we wished each other happy holidays, and it was done and over in approximately 30 minutes.

So now I’m ready for the PBL season.  Six of the nine teams in the league are within driving distance from Albany – the Quebec Kebs, the Vermont Frost Heaves, the Manchester (N.H.) Millrats, the Buffalo Stampede, the Rochester Razorsharks, the Maryland GreenHawks – and as for the three other teams in the league – the Lawton-Fort Sill (Okla.) Cavalry, the Halifax Rainmen and the Capitanes de Puerto Rico – I’ll just have to wait until they come to those other six locations for me to photograph them in action.  I’ve already given my Pontiac 6000 an oil change (at 147,000 miles, it’s now on full synthetic) and paid up my AAA membership (you should always make sure your AAA is taken care of, you never know what might happen out there).

And in one week’s time, the PBL sesaon will begin.

And I’ll be ready.

And so will my camera equipment.