Well, you asked for it, so here goes!
Some things you just kinda do backwards. Ordinarily, if one were foolish
enough to drive a
25-year old British sports car across four states and 2,000 miles of
hills, plains, and desert in a period of three days, you might assume the
driver is at least somewhat familiar with the mechanical condition and
capabilities of the car. The same might be said if the trip was also
supposed to include capturing a photo essay of the Southwestern landscape
_ using a 25-year old camera.
But the being is in the doing, so I flew to Houston to take possession of
a 1969 MGB and drive home to Northern California. I was already in
possession of a Canon F-1 of similar vintage. One car, one camera, and
one certifiably insane human.
British cars _ and cars in general _ weren't new to me as a genre. From
the time I blew up my 1976 Mazda RX-4 at age 17, few weeks have gone by
that have not involved my fettling something under the hood of a car _
that is when I wasn't building motorcycle engines and blowing them up
too. My most recent project was a '67 MG Midget. The Smidgin and I went
through a lot together to turn it into a reliable daily driver and the
world's greatest go-and-get-bagels-on-Sunday scoot. Jenifer and I had
our first date in the Smidgin, one of many reasons MGs are special to me.
But I wanted a B. I wanted to go faster, carry more stuff, drive longer
distances. I nearly bought a '64 B from a woman in Southern California.
She got sentimental and decided not to sell the car, though I could
hardly blame her. It was then I had my next really bad idea.
I received e-mail that a car was available in Texas. Mechanically sound,
a good runner. Ugly and in need of restoration, this car was being sold
at a very reasonable price. I would buy the car in Texas and drive it
home. Nah, nobody's that stupid. After all, it's an MG. I'd have to
carry half the car's weight in spare parts just to make the journey, and
even still, the odds weren't very good.
I tried like hell for days to talk myself out of it. Even the seller had
some doubts about my intentions. I also discovered, that I can sometimes
be a stupid, pigheaded, ass. I HAD to have the car. Then things got
really weird. If I was going to drive across the desert Southwest, I HAD
to have a good camera too. And if I HAD to have a good camera, I HAD to
be a good photographer to use it. Doing things backwards was becoming a
way of life.
So while I waited for my scheduled time off from work, I read books with
titles like Modern SLR Photography, The Art of Photography, Travel
Photography, and The Photographer's Handbook. Until then, I didn't know
an f-stop from a TTL. But I was determined to get some great shots,
maybe have a few enlarged to hang on the wall. Yeah, that'd be kinda
neat. And maybe I'll fly to Houston and drive home in a '69 MGB I know
next to nothing about. Yeah, that'd be kinda stupid.
I began shopping for a camera. Jenifer _ who I love more than anything
_ offered to lend me her camera, a Minolta X700. My dad _ who I also
love _ offered to lend me his Canon AE-1 Program, complete with an array
of lenses, doublers and other paraphernalia. I politely refused both,
insisting I needed to find my own perfect tool for this job. That was
the pigheaded thing again.
If you're in the market for used equipment, avoid San Jose Camera at all
costs. The guy who runs the used department is a rude, obnoxious and
sleazy individual. My experience there was so bad, in fact, that I
nearly gave in and asked to borrow my dad's gear. After all, if I ruin
my dad's gear while traveling, he's still obliged to be my dad.
Conversely, taking Jenifer's camera was clearly out of the question.
In the meantime, Jenifer _ who is also infinitely wiser than I _ pleaded
with me to simply take her camera out and go shoot some damn pictures.
Get a feel for it. Never mind the results. It's the only way you can
"No," said the pigheaded ass.
Keeble and Schuchat is what I'd call an enthusiast's and professional's
store located less than a mile from my house in Palo Alto. What Keeble
and Schuchat has is the most intimidating array of photographic equipment
I've ever seen. What they don't have are reasonable store hours for
shopping after work. I finally made it in one Saturday and assaulted
Paul who runs the used department. After looking at seemingly dozens of
used mounts, asking dozens of dumb questions, and making Paul's life as
difficult as possible, he pulled down a well-worn Canon F-1.
"That's a real photographer's camera," Paul explained. He didn't have to
say another word. The mount felt heavy, well, not really heavy, but
substantial in my hands. The solid metal black case had worn edges where
the brass casting showed through. The metering system was so simple that
even a pigheaded ass like myself could grasp its functions. It was old
and it was cooler than any other device of its kind I had ever seen. I
had to have it. After all, it was consistent with the motif of the old
Paul was nice enough to include a strap, a skylight filter and a free
roll of film _ a whopping 10 exposures of Agfa 100 ASA color print film.
Between the camera, a 50 mm Canon lens, case and all the accessories to
get started, my cost was still under $250. Try doing that with a new SLR
of even half the F-1's caliber! I shot my first roll. I used all the
good technique I learned about in the books. I set depth of field. I
framed my shots. I sought rhythm, balance, texture, meaning, contrast,
juxtaposition, counterpoint. I even focused the lens once or twice.
Jenifer, more enthusiastic than I, took the roll to be developed the
same day. Apparently, the guy at Fox Photo, located inside the
illustrious Menlo Park Safeway, was awestruck by the quality of the
pictures. Not that the Fox Photo guy qualifies as an expert, but I
wasn't too disappointed either. In fact, a few of 'em came out kinda
good. Maybe, just maybe, I could pull the photography thing off. Now if
I could make a totally unfamiliar, 25-year old MG last for 2,000 miles, I
So what exactly do you bring on a trip across the desert in an MG? I
brought points, condenser, plugs, belts, hoses, wires, cap, rotor,
thermostat, insta-gasket, fuses, electrical wire, bullet connectors, all
the tools I could stuff into my old metal Craftsman box, and a Lucas fuel
pump that looks as near to a pipe bomb as any car part in existence. I'd
be lucky just to get on the plane. I also brought a Walkman and a
handheld CB radio. Clothes, maps, money.... and the
To Be continued.....