Sunday, February 22, 2004

Wherein The Author Spends Some Time Ruminating on The Equipment

God knows that the only way to do this project is with technology. So, far too late, let me offer thanks to:

The Safety Camera: It runs silently in the background, capturing still images every 5-10 seconds. It provides nearly all of the author photos that appear on this site, and provides me a backup in case the 35mm shots I do at the end of interviews turn out poorly. It's an old Epson Photo PC 3100Z, not made anymore, and only shoots at 3.2 megapixels. But it's sturdy and holds about 300 photos at a crack. Shown below solo and with its companion tripod, the indestructible and light Velbon CX300. I use a Jumpshot cable to download photos off of my Lexar CompactFlash card.

The Microcassette Recorder: This is one of two Sony microcassettes I've been using. This one (the M-560V), has the completely useless "voice operated recording" setting. The quality is terrible, and I've worn down the heads on both machines over the year because I'm always rewinding and re-listening to scratchy, almost inaudible burbling. Batteries burn up like a mother. Yet, it's never failed me. I always have something on tape. Even if I can't even begin to guess what it might be.

The Minidisc Recorder: When I first started to chat with a west coast NPR producer, we agreed that I should be recording these interviews in a higher quality. Thus entered the Sony MZ-B100, an amazing piece of machinery that records broadcast quality audio with ease. It has a stereo mic built in, but I added a nice Sony EMC-MS907 to increase the focal point of my recording, and I couldn't be happier. It's also proven effective when a dispute arises over how loud someone might be snoring. In that case, I think, the quality might have been too good, and certainly may have been doctored with some sort of post-production amplification.

The Old Camera: One of several Canon AE-1s I've owned. Like most of my gear, it's made to withstand the occasional (read: 'frequent') drop, mishandle, crunch, etc. This one is circa 1981, but like its many brothers and sisters I've had over the years, is clean and fast. I've got a nice 28-50mm zoom on it, also by Canon, that I found in October at a pawn shop in Maryland. I shoot this camera with some brand of yellow filter to heighten the contrast of the 35mm B&W film. It works pretty well in "SuperProgram" mode, but it's best when I've got some time to mess with the settings. (Note: "The settings" is intended to create the sense that I KNOW what the difference is in the "settings."

The New Camera: The Nikon N75 is a magical and inexpensive autofocus wonder. When the interview has stretched long and I need to get out of town, its autowinder allows me to fire off a half dozen shots in under 15 seconds. Sure, they're blurry. Sure I often shoot right into the sun. But man it's fast. Oh, and to save money, it's equipped with a nearly useless Quantaray 28-90mm zoom lens that will one day just be left on the side of the road, so dark and inflexible it's proven to be. Seriously, if I'd just get out the Visa and get a real Nikkor lens, I'd be in business and this camera would suit me forever. It stands out from other brands at this $300-400 range because its fittings and body are almost all metal, whereas other brands have gone for lighter plastics and composites.

The Computer: This Gateway laptop is a sort of middle of the road machine, but the SprintPCS wireless modem has allowed me to log in to the WWW from remote spots in South Dakota, Wyoming, Mississippi, etc. You can check your email at 70 mph. You can download rejection letters in the middle of the night. You can play Flight Simulator when you're so amazingly tired of transcribing interviews. Without it, this trip could not have happened. I keep in touch with all the poets via email - rarely picking up a phone. I peer into its soothing light looking for campgrounds, hotels, places that sell cheese. The comforting hum of its tiny fan keeps my company when I'm not fit to be around the other humans. I bang the bejeezus out of it occasionally.

The Assistant: Listen. I've never been much of a husband or a friend. And I'm an even worse boss. So I must give long-overdue thanks to the assistant on this trip, the kind, lovely, and patient Beth Mason. She, who drives endless circles in various vehicles (Winnie Cooper, a variety of rentals) while I make my way in and out of interviews in the mountains, the deserts, Hollywood, the Upper West Side, etc. She, who carries giant bags of tapes and negatives. She, who goes to sleep each night with the lights still on, the damn husband still typing. Here, in the photo below, she considers whether or not to take the small opening and bolt down the highway, leaving me behind in the dust. Why she did not, we do not know. And that's not to say it still isn't forthcoming. Stay tuned.