Photo opportunity

I was recently invited to appear in a book for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. They’re featuring people who played an important role in creating the museum, famous people who enjoyed the museum, and for some reason, me.

This project involved making photos of the people in scenes with museum artifacts. In my case, that was to be antique telescopes. It’s not hard to find antiques, since even the new ones from my day are now over half a century old. The photography was to take place in Austin.

My photo shoot went OK in the end, but was a near disaster in many ways. Skipping over several minor problems, which made me a few minutes late, I arrived at what I thought was the site, the J. J. Pickle Research Campus, only to be told that I had come to the wrong place. Michael O’Brien, the photographer, did not have any office there, but could definitely be found at CMA (?) on the main University of Texas (UT) campus. *All* I had to do was drive down Burnet Rd to 183, take IH 35, get off at 24th St, and find my way to his office. That was a white knuckles drive in the Austin traffic, in an unfamiliar car, especially when I don’t see well while I’m waiting for new contact lenses.

Anyway, I eventually got to the main campus, but at the opposite corner from CMA. I was given a map, but it didn’t show construction. So, I’d drive ten blocks down a narrow street, with cars on both sides, people on bicycles, pedestrians walking haphazardly, while searching for a street sign I could read. Then I’d come to a construction barrier, which meant I had to back up and go a different way. I eventually reached what I thought was CMA.

There were of course no parking spaces, save for one with large signs declaring how your car would be towed within seconds and crushed to a pinpoint of dense matter for use in a cosmology department experiment if you even thought of using it. It was my mother’s car, but she wasn’t there, so, deciding for her, I took the chance. Inside CMA, which by now I’d decided was a top secret agency, known only to a few others with three-letter acronyms, I asked for Michael O’Brien. No one would admit knowing him, and he wasn’t in the directory.

I kept pressing on, meeting people in the special needs communications department (obviously some kind of intelligence agency function), radio-television-film (propaganda department), and eventually journalism. Under relentless pressure, I finally got someone to claim him.

Unidentified But Helpful Person: Would you like his phone number?
Me: Thanks, no, I have that and already called it, leaving a message.
UBHP: He has a cell number.
Me: Oh, can you give me that?
UBHP: No, but I could call it for you.
Me: Please do.

To my surprise, we reached Michael. Almost immediately another call came in, undoubtedly from some little-known war region, so we went on hold, I had to move to another room, needed to, but couldn’t find the other phone, had trouble reconnecting, and so on. Eventually, we were able to talk, most certainly being recorded by CMA operatives. I apologized; he apologized.

Then, I learned where he was, at the J. J. Pickle Campus: “All you need to do is get across the campus, head north on that same IH 35, take 183 north to Burnet Rd. Just come in the main gate [exactly where I’d been before].” We’re in building 6.

So, I retraced my previous harrowing drive, finally making it the photo shoot. I was sweaty, dehydrated, frazzled, rumpled, everything one needs to be ready for an expensive, high-stakes photo op.

Building 6 turned out to be Vertebrate Paleontology. It’s filled with fossils of creatures who blessedly never had to deal with Austin traffic, construction, vicious tow operators (I got away this time), or  gigantic campuses. I wanted to explore the building, but we (the photo crew of three and I) were after all now an hour late.

So, we moved directly into photos. Poor Michael and team must needed to take several hundred, searching for one in which I didn’t look like the after photo from the evil tow company’s crushing operation. Eventually he succeeded.

But I’m almost certain that when he said he’d gotten a good one, that he’d focused on the telescope alone, and I was out of the frame. As Dewey’s idea of end-in-view tells us, standards for success need to accommodate to changing reality. The sharks managed to stay away.

Anyway, we were done. I hope the book is a success in spite of me.

One bonus of the adventure was that I got to meet Wann Langston, a famous UT paleontologist (above left). He’ll be featured in the book because of his research on fossils in Texas, which played an important role in the Museum’s early development, including my own experiences in the “Rocks and Fossils” classes.

Langston shared some of his current work on fossilized giant crocodiles from the Big Bend area. I think they were Deinosuchus. He showed us several models made from creatures with jaws big enough to swallow a man whole, especially one who by then was exhausted from his photo shoot (harder than you may think) and his explorations of the UT campus(es).

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