Category Archives: Photography

Writing Again

I Picked up my novel in progress the other day after setting it aside two years ago. I read through the 22,000+ words I’ve thus far laid down on this piece, keeping the temptation to revise the unfinished work along the way at bay while plotting how to re-establish a connection with my words and pick up where I left off so long ago. I’ve located the extensive notes I compiled and, realizing the need to reduce the number of supporting characters in the story, I now feel I can get some forward momentum going on it.

Stay tuned, friends. I should have an excerpt for you next we visit this topic…

GPS Running App Error 2.0

You ever have that déjà vu feeling? You know, like a particular event has happened in the same way, or a moment in time seems so familiar that you would swear that you were reliving it again? Like the movie Groundhog day, when Dan Aykroyd keeps reliving the same nightmare of a day over and over again; awakened by the same Carpenters song and then being denied breakfast at the local fast-food restaurant because he was one minute past the end of the breakfast menu serving time?

This is similar, just not quite as entertaining. I’m referring to the inaccuracy of my GPS running app; namely MapMyRun. We’ve had this discussion before, have we not? Don’t answer that, because I KNOW we have, in fact, it was on a blog post of mine dated October 3, 2014 in which my app had me running some ridiculously insane 2 minute mile pace, and teleporting me several city blocks in the matter of seconds. Yeah, you remember, this one.

9-23 7.01 mile error map

Well, it’s happened again, only this time my autonomously thinking unit of twentieth century technological advancement had me not only instantaneously moving several hundred yards like some iconic comic book hero (Flash!—Ahhhh!), but also running right across the Sacramento River, like, on the top of the water. Quite a feat, I must say. However, while I may be loved my many and revered by fewer yet, I am not Him.

OK, I probably dated myself with the Flash Gordon reference, but you get the point. It is what it is, and I am what I am… a middle aged man, but alas, merely a mortal man. I cannot leap from city block to city block, nor can I walk on water, so either GPS technology needs to catch up with the times, or I need to live up to the unreasonable physiological standards set by GPS cell phone running apps and the notoriously misguided “pinging” of their allied cellular towers. Ok, people. If we can disguise a cellular transmission tower to look like redwood tree, we can surely develop technology worthy of its camouflaging as one of God’s miraculous creations.

4-16-15 Map1

Remember the pager? You know, back before everyone had a cell phone clipped to their belt, or stashed sleekly into their hip pocket? It beeped when someone called you and displayed their telephone number on a tiny LCD screen so you could call them back to find out why they were calling you.  Yeah, OK, I had one too back in the day. The one I had was one of those early big square gray models with one big white button on the top. Only paid $10 for it. The “pager store” (yes, before cell phone stores, there were pager stores) I bought it from sold it to me for cheap because they were doing away with that particularly obnoxious design and were about to chuck the lot of what remained of their stock. The thing was a beast, the size of a TV remote and only had two settings; a succession of four LOUD dual beeps, and a vibrate mode powerful enough to keep a lonely person entertained for hours calling themselves.

I only bought it to communicate with a young woman that I met on the city bus a few days earlier so that we could coordinate the occasional rendezvous. Anyway, as the dinosaur giant pager contraption went away in the ‘90’s, so will this GPS thingy at some point, replaced with a hologram of a 3D virtual environment hovering over our head while we run, like the rings of Saturn encircling our cranium with a constant stream of data (current pace—average pace—time—miles—calories burned, etc.) like the perpetually rotating ticker on the New York Times building in Times Square. But, until that happens, c’mon techies! Let’s pick up the technological pace here with these inaccurate and increasingly frustrating gadgets once and for all. Some IT tweeker out there needs to put down the pipe and come up with a GPS app that actually works in a manner for which it is designed, before I’m too old to run anymore and all I’ll need it for is to guide my wheelchair to and from the bathroom.

May your motion be perpetual and your integrity held high, my friends.

Breaking the Nocturnal Running Cycle

MapMyRun 3-28-15, 8.1 Miles
My apologies, I say in advance to some of you. To those of you who thought that, after a burst of three or four running themed blog posts in short succession, you had finally escaped the sometimes excessively descriptive glimpses into this aspect of my life—my addiction to this particular fitness regimen… your assumed reprieve at best.
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I typically run this loop at night. During the week I make an effort to run three days (nights) per week with the goal of simply maintaining a relatively consistent distance level and pace. This practice is the most feasible way for me to put in mileage with my work schedule, and it has been working for me quite well for the past three years. The cover of darkness has its advantages. There is less auto traffic to deal with when crossing heavily traveled downtown intersections. Fewer gawking onlookers staring, mouths agape with bright-eyed wonderment at this gray-haired old man—pores wide open like the air intake valves protruding from the hood of a top fuel dragster as it leaves the starting line—sweating out the four cups of coffee that he consumed during the work day, and his less than sufficient H2O intake glaring from his white, but mostly red face.
001 003  005While maintaining this regimental nocturnal running cycle for all those nights—for weeks, months, years, under the intermittent glow of the moon and the dim radiance of the sparsely lit Sacramento skyline, does have its rewards, look what I’ve been missing!

On this particular occasion, mysteriously, I woke up early. Seeking to not let this beautiful new spring morning go to waste, I threw on my running gear and bolted out the door and into the Downtown Sacramento radiance. No breakfast. No shower. No running music pumping through my Bose ear-buds. Just a double shot of C4 and out the door. My pace suffered (evident in the reported pace) as I had to slow down to take each of these photos, but I think it was well worth it.
004 012 You can take the runner out of the photographer, but, taking the photographer out of the runner… well, that’s a little more challenging. Perhaps this is why—subconsciously—I run at night. At least at night, I do less sightseeing and actually put in work.

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May your momentum be perpetual, and your integrity held high, my friends!

J. L. Johnston

A Prayer for Jessica

cathedral sepia_8x12_grunge

I saw her on my way to work this morning. Jessica was her name… Jessica is her name. Walking past the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, as I have each morning for nearly eight years, I saw her. A petite young woman—tomboyish presence and a somewhat gruff demeanor—she was likely in her late teens or early twenties. She was crying. I walked a few more steps past as I processed the scene, and then I turned back. She was standing before one of the three heavy doors that front the Cathedral, her upturned face gazing skyward with tears running freely down her soiled face, creating narrow rivulets of lighter colored flesh as her tears progressed down her cheeks.

thre doors

I ascended the Cathedral steps and cautiously approached. She wore dirty tennis shoes, thin cotton pants and a grimy sweatshirt. A large duffel bag and a paper coffee cup lay at her feet. “Hey, are you OK?” I asked, knowing that I would probably not get an honest answer. It was apparent that something was going terribly wrong in her young life at that moment, but I had to ask.

“I’m OK… really.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“I’m Jessica,” she said, wiping away tears with the heel of her hand, and offering me the other.

“Jeff,” I replied, gently shaking her hand.   “I’ve been where you are, Jessica. It’s scary, I know.

“You have?  Really? I’m OK. I just need to quit drinking, that’s all.” She said.

It was rather presumptuous of me to assume that I had in fact been where she was at that moment, in her moment of utter despair. I couldn’t possibly have known what was going on in this girl’s life, what had brought her to tears on the steps of the church with a duffel bag and soiled clothing—not really anyway. But this sad, troubled scene somehow looked very familiar. Felt familiar.  I saw myself in this distraught soul.

I offered to buy her breakfast, but she emphatically declined.

Cross Reflection5

“I have money. I’ll be going home soon. Thank you, though,” she said, wiping away a fresh flow of tears from her cheek with the sleeve of her soiled sweatshirt. “It’s just so fucked up, ya know?” she said, and started to cry again.

“Please believe me when I tell you, Jessica that it will get better.   You’re in the right place.” I told her. “This door will be opening soon. Never lose faith that things will get better for you.” She thanked me and I went on to work.  I had to.  I was already late.

cruscifix

While hanging up my coat at work, I glanced across the entryway to my cubicle where, several months earlier I had pinned up a business card given to me by a man who runs a residential recovery center in the area. Koinonia Homes for Teens, it’s called. They did a presentation at our office for the United Way charitable campaign last year, and for some reason, Instead of shoving it into a drawer, or tossing it, I pinned it up, along with their facilities brochure at eye level on my cubicle wall. I’m still not sure why I felt compelled to do that at the time, but that’s what I did.

I took the business card down and went back to the Cathedral in hope that Jessica would still be there… She was.

I ascended the steps again. She greeted me with a smile and took a few steps toward me. I handed her the card.

“When this door opens later this morning, ask someone inside if you can use the phone in the rectory. Call these people. They do wonderful work with kids and young adults in your same situation. I’ve met and heard the testimony from of a pair of young people who were once where you are now, whose lives were spared. Through this organization they were led from the pathway of despair that they were on. They can help you. Keep the faith, Jessica. Keep praying,” I told her, and went back to my office.

Koinonia

Once back in the office and in the privacy of the gray fabric walls that make up my 8-5 existence, I took a moment and said a prayer for this young woman… a prayer for Jessica.

I know now why I didn’t stuff the United Way and Koinonia Homes information into a drawer several months earlier, to be forgotten… Jessica needed it today.

8x10 Mary's Hands

A ride along the American River

Among my many passions in life-activities that I spend my free time doing and, frankly, wish I could make more time for, is cycling.  Unlike the road bike rider that truly owns the classification of “cyclist”, I ride a mountain bike because, well… I like to play in the dirt.  I always have.  While I do love to leap off of the paved trail and tear down a fire trail or horse track on occasion, as I documented in an earlier blog post in which I posted a video of me tearing down a trail in Auburn (my GoPro camera’s maiden voyage) most of my bike riding time is spent on paved bike trails, much of it along the scenic Sacramento and American river trails.

Come along as I take a leisurely ride along the American River Trail at dusk via historic Old Town Sacramento, across SF Golden Gate replica which connects the American River trail to Sacramento State University, then beneath the up lit Tower Bridge, culminating in a short ride down K Street at night.

Stay tuned, loyal followers.   There will be more of these to come, perhaps with music and/or commentary next time.

J. Johnston

Running, GPS, and Honesty

Lies, lies I tell you! My GPS running app is telling lies!  Forgive me for posting another running related blog entry, but it seems that that is all I am filling my spare time with of late (that and writing these posts) and my experiences the past few times out have proven worthy of discussion. Or perhaps I am just venting… No matter. I’m maintaining a healthy balance of regular physical activity and sitting on my duff writing, so it’s all good, right?

Ok, now I am all for giving credit where credit is due, and when my GPS app decided to spoon feed me back some of the precious minutes and miles that it systematically robbed me of over the past two years, it was tempting to just say, OK, sweet; I’ll claim that as my own. I mean, who’s going to know, right? Well, that’s just not how I roll for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I am an honest person and I don’t claim that which is not mine. It’s like if someone visited my photography web site (jeffreyjohnstonphotography.com), and decided, hey… that picture’s purdy. I think I’ll save it to my computer and use it as my new wallpaper and I’ll tell people that I took it. No… that is NOT OK.

bridge and pyramid2_frame1

OK, OK. I’m stepping down from my soap box now, but the point that I am trying to make here is that it is not OK to claim that which is not yours, even if it is something as rudimentarily trivial as un-earned mileage, time, and corresponding pace while running. Yes, who’s going to know? Me, that’s who, and we all know the saying “oh what a tangled web we weave, when once we practice to deceive.” The bottom line is, who are we fooling most? Ourselves. So I keep it honest. Momma told me this was best.

That is not to stay that I haven’t over my lifetime lost my way, trekked a few miles down the road to the dark side, we all have at some point in our lives. In fact, one time in particular still resonates with me because it caused me so much shame, yet I never took corrective action to see to it that the truth be known. When I was in pre-school. I know, you’re probably saying: “Dude, really? Preschool?” Yes. We lived in Chico California and my father was attending college. I was in preschool and there was an art project assigned to us in which we each were to draw a picture of a Christmas Tree, decorated with bulbs, lights and whatever else we thought a Christmas tree should look like in pre-freedom of religious expression sensitivity 1968. At the age of four, my artistic abilities were rather limited and were obviously far inferior to that of the girl to my immediate right of me at the table we were working on. So, in effort to secure the highest accolades and win over my teacher, I swapped out my crummy tree with my neighbors when she got up to get more paste to eat. She was always eating paste… loved the stuff, and her addiction to the tasty mixture of flour and water was clearly to my benefit on that particular day. An acquired taste, this paste; one which I could never quite wrap my young mind around.

gotta run_frame1

So, anyway, I claimed my neighbor’s artwork as my own, slapped my name on the back in a scarcely legible four-year-olds crayon scrawl, and turned it in. How this fraudulent crime was not discovered is beyond me, perhaps the rightful owner was so stoned on paste that she just didn’t notice that her once Rembrandt caliber work of art had vanished and was replaced with my barely recognizable work of crap.

That work of art, immorally attained as it was, still adorns my late grandmothers scrap book. Shameful, I know. I did confess to this act of blatant thievery and dishonesty to my mother thirty or forty years later, though. At least I think I did. Confession or not, it was wrong. I knew it then, but just didn’t have the courage to do anything about it at the time. Whew…I feel so much better now that that is off my chest. Sorry, Grandma. I never came clean with that while you were here.

Bridge tower_frame1

Sure, I think that many of us have embellished on the truth a bit in order to tilt the scales of achievement in our favor for one reason or another. However, for me, the days of dishonesty, no matter how seemingly insignificant are over. Oh yeah… if anyone looks closely enough at the splits on this particular run (pictured below) it will become quite evident that at one point around mile #2 my trajectory magically leapt from 13th & N to 9th & E in the matter of seconds, and then deposited me briefly at 11th & J before magically circumventing about a half mile of my route and continuing on my original course. One will also notice that my pace for mile #2 was a lightning-fast 1:13 minute mile. What! That’s just crazy! I have never run that fast, even on a good day with plenty of Starbucks and C4 coursing through my veins, this middle aged novice runner is just not that fast, nor do I aspire to be. For if I were, I fear that I would surely be found on the pages of a comic book, hanging among the ranks of Flash, or recruited by local law enforcement to chase down bad guys, or perhaps become the next celebrity star of the Olympic track team earning well deserved gold for our country. Ahh, yes. I can see it now. Fame, fortune, celebrity status. Uh… No. Alas I am just some old guy trying not to die prematurely because he sat in front of the TV watching re-runs of shows that he already saw thirty years earlier instead of getting outside moving around a little each day.

9-23 7.01 mile error map

As I post these little running route screenshots, I have to believe that some of my keen-eyed blog followers, whether skeptical of my claims or honestly interested in my fitness aspirations, are clicking on the actual route on MapMyRun.com and examining my splits for both accuracy and my correlating scrupulousness. Yeah, that’s the other reason for the honesty… it’s traceable, and no one wants to earn the objectionable reputation of reporting falsehoods as it pertains to performance in fitness achievements or anything else, for that matter. With that said, GPS is not a perfect science, as is evident with the errors which are the basis of this particular post, but there are limits to that which is deemed a feasible margin for error, the apparent teleportation over several city blocks and logging an implausible 1:13 minute mile pace during an evening run, notwithstanding.

I embarked upon this run in full faith that my consistency-lacking GPS running app, coupled with my circa 2005 smart phone, its actual intelligence rightfully disputable, would, at least start at the same time that I started running and at least provide me with a relatively accurate reporting of distance, time and pace. I don’t know what happened. Alien interference, perhaps? Solar flare? Who really knows for sure? I know what distance I ran that night, as it is a route I have run before and shaving about 1.5 miles off of my distance, and adding a couple of minutes to my pace, is a relatively fair representation of my actual performance on this night fueled by mystery and intrigue… and apparently, my newly-acquired supernatural powers.

May your momentum be perpetual, and your integrity held high, my friends!

Polyester: its not for running anymore

Being that I try to get out and put in work three days per week (or nights, as it were) I tend to get bored with a route after navigating the monotony for three or four consecutive runs, so I have several that I use, each out-and-back or loop with a varying mileage associated to it.

Tonight, I headed out in a direction that I had before, but instead of heading left across the bridge into Discovery Park and doing an out-and-back course, I stayed on the south side of the American River and headed east. I knew that the new development near North 7th Street was in the works—some of it actually completed, and by the looks of things, parts of the new residential projects were already occupied. I had been down this way before, on my bike, and I knew that North 7th street culminated at a turn-about a few yards away from the bike trail. With that in mind, I decided to see how long of a loop it would be if I ran along the river to there, and back home by way of 7th Street. It turned out to be exactly 5 miles. Nice, huh? Another viable loop of relative effort to add to my arsenal of distances, and just what I needed on this particular day to break the monotony.

The decision to run this particular route was made because I was embarking on my evening run a little early, leaving at a time that would ensure plenty of daylight for the duration of the run, well into the time that I arrived back home. The stretch of North 7th between the river and, say… Capitol Mall is, well… not the safest environment, and I surely would not want to be out there after dark. That stretch can be a bit spooky at night. With that said, I will make a point of only running this new loop while there is plenty of light to guide me.

This route has a little bit of everything: The river Promenade near Tower Bridge, the history of historic Old Town Sacramento, the majestic confluence of the Sacramento and American river at Discovery Park, the new development near the Rail Yards, providing both a glimpse into Sacramento’s history with the historic old brick buildings that are still standing in the rail yards, as well as the new residential developments that have been constructed there. A little bit of everything to stimulate the mind with a plethora of visual stimuli.

5 mile loop though old sac

One thing that did bother me while during this run, though, and it became noticeable quite early. I was hot. The weather on this day was a rather mild 80 degrees, and it wasn’t the regular hot that plagues me early, when I just get started. What was the cause of my discomfort, you ask. Polyester. Yes, you heard me. Polyester. I own several sets of running clothes—shorts with matching shirts, made from differing breathable materials, and apparently, unbeknownst to me when I bought them a couple of years ago, some of them ( many of the shirts anyway) are made of 100% polyester. What! What genius decided that polyester would be a good fabric to make running gear out of? What was at the nucleus  bright idea was that? Ok, perhaps it is more breathable, and less likely to become completely saturated within a mile into a run than say, cotton, but really? I either did not know any better, or was so focused on color coordinating my shorts to my shirt, that I didn’t notice what some of these shirts were constructed of, or, which is more like it, I just didn’t care. Whatever the root of my lapse in judgment, I now resolutely will not wear polyester when I run. Never again. I have broken up three color coordinated sets of running outfits and have thrown the piece constructed of the offending material in the trash.  I must not suffer the agony of not being color coordinated while putting my mind and body through the agony of running for an hour or so three times a week.

I volunteered at the mile 25 water and snack station for the California International Marathon one year, passing out water, Gatorade, and Twizzler red licorice. This particular year there was a torrential rain storm in Folsom, CA where the race began. Most of these poor souls, wrapped up in plastic trash bags, with plastic sheets duct taped to them here and there, were a wreck by the time they reached us. Some were limping, others were hunched over to one side, a grimace of sheer agony frozen on their face as they enthusiastically (I am theorizing at the enthusiasm as, evidence of this was absent from the faces of most) grabbed a water and a Twizzer as they crept by. We cheered them on with our constant mantra of “keep going. Just one more mile to go, you can do it!”

eat-sleep-run

Ok, back on the subject of polyester, I noticed that one man on the approach to our last mile water station, had red streaks running down his shirt, emanating from where his nipples should be and running down to his waist. Then I saw another, and another. The friction of their polyester or polyester blend running shirts had worn the top layer of skin off of each nipple, and they were freekin bleeding! Yes, bleeding!

I had never seen anything like it. I turned to my friend and said “Hey, is that guy bleeding?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Probably wearing polyester.  He should have worn nipple guards.” Nipple guards? Is there such a thing? Wow… who knew. Well, a lot of people, apparently, because a product with this unambiguous name is hanging on a retail hook at the cash register at fleet feet. I own some myself now, too. I learned of their value when, while training for the Shamrock’n Half Marathon a couple of years ago, I was wearing one of my now disposed of polyester running shirts during an 11 mile training run, and, although they did not bleed, they sure were sore by the end of the day.

I guess in all fairness, the moisture wicking material that the remaining of my running shirts are made of would probably have a similar effect on that particular part of the male anatomy, but it has been my experience, that the polyester, is like a 40 grit sandpaper, and the newer, lighter and more breathable tech fabric is like a fine 120 grit. Without protection, the tech fabric will likely do the same thing on a long run like a full marathon such as the CIM, but I have never experienced discomfort with them, only with the polyester. Yes, this is a male dominated phenomenon, for obvious reasons… women are, or at least should be, protected by a sports bra, leaving the need for this type of protective product strictly marketed to men.

Runners, do what you want. I encourage anyone reading my words whether in this blog post or anywhere else, to assess their own situation carefully, and make their own decisions based on what is best for them.  For this runner, polyester is out. I have alleviated my closet of any running clothes—shorts or shirts—made of polyester. For me, this particular fabric is hot, its rough and it just has no place in my closet.

Until next time, keep the forward momentum, people.

J. Johnston