Thursday, July 26, 2012

S.A.S.S. vs Hurricane Alley Roller Derby

SASSvsHARD15If you read the previous blog post you would know that my wife Brooke and I were in Corpus Christi this last weekend. The main reason we were there is because San Angelo's original flat track roller derby league, the San Angelo Soul Sisters (I'm sure most of you know my wife is on the team), was going to go head-to-head with Hurricane Alley Roller Derby. I have to admit I was a little jealous of the Corpus team because they play in a city on the beach and because they have their own facility to practice and play in.

As exciting as a derby bout is, this was going to be a bittersweet event. The Soul Sisters were going to say goodbye to a long-time teammate Sarah "Paula Mean" Bartlett (pictured above) who was going to be skating in her last bout before moving to Colorado. There was a nice moment during a break in the action where Paula was recognized for her association with the sport of roller derby from both the Soul Sisters and Hurricane Alley.

SASSvsHARD17 SASSvsHARD13 SASSvsHARD09 SASSvsHARD12 Hurricane Alley is a league that has been around for six or seven years so there was some obvious nervousness coming from the Soul Sisters. But, those nerves quickly settled as soon as the first whistle blew to start the first jam. The Soul Sisters were putting some newly phased skaters on the track for the first time, so it was going to be cool to watch the newbies in competition outside of the inter-league scrimmages.

The new skater I was really impressed with was Erika "Scarlet Angst" Heffner. Brooke has been working with her specifically on jamming skills outside of regular practice times. Erika is a demon off the jammer line and skates without fear in the turns. At one point she was knocked off her skates and went head first into the audience shattering a glass beer bottle. Erika wasn't phased and got right back on the track and finished the jam. And of course I have to brag on my wife (pictured below) a little. I get such a thrill watching her zip around the track with her teammates, hip-check opponents to the floor and be an overall bad-ass of the sport.

SASSvsHARD04 SASSvsHARD01 SASSvsHARD02 SASSvsHARD16 I am in no way an expert on the sport of roller derby nor do I claim to understand most of the rules and regulations of the game, however, I do know a hometown referee when I see one. The Soul Sisters fans were more than a little frustrated by the end of the bout, but that's just because they're passionate about their team. But, a huge thank you should go out to the ladies of Hurricane Alley for their hospitality and for inviting all the Soul Sisters and fans to the after-party on the beach. We had a blast.

So another bout is in the books and next up for the Soul Sisters is a four-team tournament in San Angelo at the Foster Communications Coliseum on August 11th. This next bout is going to be awesome. There are teams coming from Denton, Abilene and Stephenville to participate. It's going to be something like five or six hours of roller derby so come prepared to support the Soul Sisters.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Dolphins, Stingrays, Jellyfish, Oh My!

Aquarium13 I love the days where I get to be a kid again. It's that feeling of knowing there is something great coming up on life's horizon and you can hardly contain your excitement. This last weekend I got to feel like a kid again while on a  mini vacation in Corpus Christi, Texas with my wife Brooke. We were on the coast because Brooke and the roller derby team she is a part of, the San Angelo Soul Sisters, were going to have a bout with one of the Corpus Christi teams (blog post and photos coming soon). But while we were there, we wanted to make sure we spent a little time exploring the city for ourselves. One of the highlights of the quick trip was the Texas State Aquarium.

I love aquariums. I've always been kind of a nature nerd anyway, so the chance to be a nerd in public and not have anyone care is an opportunity I never pass up. And what better place to be a nerd than an aquarium! And because aquariums focus on ecosystems of the water, I'm doubly enthusiastic. I've always felt at home on the water, whether it's a river, lake or ocean. Some of the best trips I have ever taken in life have something to do with being near or on the water.

Aquarium14 Aquarium16 Aquarium15 Aquarium12 On Sunday morning, after a relaxing cup of coffee and a muffin at a local Corpus Christi coffee shop, Brooke and I headed across the bridge to meet up with some of her derby team members to tour the aquarium. It's in a pretty cool location just north of downtown, though touristy, right next to the USS Lexington aircraft carrier museum. Once you find a parking space, the walk up to the main entrance kind of builds up your excitement with a view of the harbor and the large cargo ships coming in, the overview of the kids water park and knowing the fact that you're about to enter an air-conditioned building. Other than Cambodia, I don't know if I've ever been in a more humid location. After having lived in the desert for so long, any jump in humidity makes it hard for me to breathe. And to quote a Chris Farley skit from Saturday Night Live, "I have, what doctors call, a little bit of a weight problem." Be sure to drink a lot of water, folks.

 The first exhibit we walked through was called Living Shores. There are large tanks of fish and stingrays, shallow pools where you get to touch hermit crabs and pencil urchins as well as educational kiosks. It only gets better from there. As you make your way through the rest of the indoor facility you're guided by the glow of dancing colors and reflections of an underwater world. You pass by several species of jellyfish floating aimlessly and without care, watch aquarium divers interacting with cownose stingrays and angle fish in a 40,000-gallon tank made to replicate a coral reef environment found 200 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, and try to find tiny frogs clinging to branches in the Amazon exhibit. But, the best display is the Islands of Steel exhibit, a 125,000-gallon tank filled with fish that can be found living around the oil drilling platforms out in the gulf.

Aquarium11 Aquarium10 Aquarium09 Aquarium04 Aquarium06 Walking along with us in our little group was the son of one of the derby girls. His name is Elijah and he is 5-years-old. Watching Elijah's eyes light up at every new exhibit was an absolute joy to see. Of the 5-year-olds I've meet over my lifetime, Elijah is probably one of the smartest. He has a pretty healthy appreciation, some might call it obsession, with the natural world around him. Bugs and dinosaurs are particular points of interest. But after his visit to the aquarium, I wonder if the aquatic world might be a new focus. Hand-in-hand with his mom and dad, Elijah darted back and forth from having his face pressed against the glass of a jellyfish tank to hands submerged in the stingray petting pool to taking a seat on the fence to watch sea turtles glide effortlessly through their environment. Seeing kids at such a young age taking an interest in the world around them gives me hope that our future as human beings is not going to be reduced to prepackaged food eating, couch potato sitting, video game obsessed weenies. Elijah, you're my hero.

The outside exhibits were just as cool as the indoor ones with a show from two bottle-nosed dolphins and the aforementioned sea turtles (one of my favorite sea animals) and stingray petting pool. I was expecting the skin of a stingray to be very coarse, almost sandpaper-like, but in fact, it's very velvety and smooth. It's kind of creepy to watch these bizarre-looking animals glide up to your outstretched hands and rub their bodies across the pads of your fingertips. It's unnerving at first I'll admit, but it's so cool. We probably spent the better part of two hours soaking in all the amazing sites the aquarium had to offer before calling it a day. We still had a six-hour drive home to San Angelo ahead of us. The Texas State Aquarium is definitely one of the best attractions in Corpus Christi and if I get the chance, I'll be going back.

Aquarium07 Aquarium03 Aquarium02 Aquarium08 Aquarium05 Aquarium01

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Post About the Pops Concert

Pops03Sometimes there are things that you know you need to do, but for some reason you always find ways around them. They call that procrastination, right? Welcome to the blog of one of the biggest procrastinators on the planet. It's been almost two weeks since I was assigned to photograph the July 3rd Pops Concert here in San Angelo and I'm just now getting around to posting photos. The summer is notoriously slow as far as assignments go around here (last year being the exception, what with the drought, wildfires and the Jeffs trial) so I struggle to find interesting things to post. But, better late than never, I guess.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Pops concert. It's one of those things that can, unfortunately, take all day to shoot with not a lot happening for a large portion of the day. Hate. The music played during the event by the San Angelo Community Band and the San Angelo Symphony is awesome. Love. The concert is held at an outdoor stage with minimal shade from the Sun. Hate. Who doesn't enjoy a fireworks show to celebrate our nation's birthday? Love.

Pops04 Pops01 The real show starts later in the day with music first by the community band. They play a collection of music from well-known movies and famous American song writers followed by the symphony and the fireworks. About halfway through the symphony performance the fireworks start going off and is always a great show. Of course, you could hand me a box of sparklers and I would find a way to have a good time. It doesn't take much to keep me entertained if fire is involved.

Probably my favorite thing about the Pops concert is getting to see all the local active military personnel from Goodfellow Air Force Base and the veterans who call San Angelo home. As the symphony started to play, a group from Goodfellow unfurled a massive American flag from the Chadbourne Street bridge over the Concho River which always gets a good reception from the crowd. I was a bit nervous leading up to this because I didn't feel like I had my centerpiece photo in hand. But as the flag began to unfurl, members of the audience began to run up to the gate to get some pictures and that's when I spotted Marine Sgt. Alberto Rivera and his 4-year-old son Asael. They were laughing and cheering together as the flag flapped in the wind. I was able to get off 10 or 12 shots before the moment was over and I knew I had my front-page photo. The rest of the assignment was going to be a cakewalk. Seeing the two of them together having such a good time summed up the entire event.

Pops06 Pops02 I didn't get to see much of the fireworks display this year because I was busy trying to get the photos back to the office in time for deadline, but I managed to get a few shots in. Trying to get photos in a dark environment with sporadic bursts of light can be a challenge to find the right exposure, but if you work with it a bit, the reward is worth it. I don't think I've got it down quit yet, but there is always next year.

So now it's back to the grind of daily assignments and looking for opportunities to work on long-term projects. One of our reporters, Justin Zamudio, and I will be traveling to San Antonio at the end of the month for a few days to follow up on a project we've been working on for a while. I'm not sure if it will get the same treatment as the Cambodia trip, but I think we'll get some good play. More on that later.


Monday, July 9, 2012

John Rae Powell Ain't Done Yet

JohnPowell03 There are some days when my job is hard to get excited about. Sure, everyone has those days at work where you almost dread showing up at the office. But every so often there are those days that make up for all the tedious busy work that has to be done, and it almost always revolves around the people you meet. About a week ago I had such a day and I met a man that could brighten even the gloomiest attitude.

Technically, I was on the night shift, working 11:00am to 8:00pm, but it seemed like the only time I could get to any of my assignments that week was early in the morning. Not being a morning person, it usually takes me a little while to get moving so I was starting the day in a less than cheery mood. I had to be near Eldorado, about 40 miles south of San Angelo, around 9:00am. I was assigned to photograph a feature story on John Rae Powell, a local rancher who at the age of 87 was still competing as a professional calf roper. Powell's ranch was located about 15 miles outside of Eldorado, way out in the middle of nowhere. I already had visions of me wandering aimlessly down some long-forgotten dirt road hoping to find any sign of civilization or cell reception, so I called Powell a few days in advance to get directions. He answered the phone in his craggy 87-year-old voice and, while not verbatim, these are the directions he gave me:

"When you git down to Elderada (not Eldorado, mind you) go west on 190 fer 'bout 15 mile. Turn back south on 119, that'll be a blacktop, fer 'bout 5 mile 'til you get to a cattle guard. Cross the guard, you'll be on a dirt road now, and go 'nother 3 mile 'til you git to a second cattle guard. Take the road right behind a horse barn fer 'nother mile 'til you come upon a double gate. One side of the gate is automatic and should open right up fer ya, but if it don't, you'll have to open the other side by hand. Keep comin' down the road a piece 'til you git to a white gate, open it up and I'll be up by the barn."

Needless to say I left an hour and a half early and packed a cooler of food and water just in case I needed to go into survival mode.

JohnPowell01 JohnPowell06 JohnPowell07 Surprisingly, every little detail Powell laid out for me was easy to find: every road, cattle guard and gate. As I made my way up the drive to the barn I saw Powell milling about with two horses. From a distance you would never think that this was an 87-year-old man. I parked next to the barn, got out and was immediately greeted with a beaming smile and firm hand shake. I knew I would like him right away.

Powell began roping in the early 1940s in Sweetwater and took to it right away. Now he competes on the Texas Senior Pro Rodeo Association circuit, which holds about 25 events a year. "Head back down to the arena at the bottom of the hill and I'll meet you down there with my horses," he said. He came up riding one horse with the other in tow. He practices every morning on a roping dummy and then moves on to a live calf.

It was such a cool thing to see Powell move so gracefully around the arena with his horse. He had such a smooth rhythm with the rope and never missed as the calf tore across the arena floor. I couldn't believe how much energy Powell had and how physically fit he was. I'll count myself lucky if I have half the energy he does now when I'm 87-years-old.

JohnPowell02 JohnPowell05 JohnPowell04After about 30 or 40 minutes of workout, Powell and I headed back to the barn to put away his saddles and let the horses out. We talked for a bit about his love of the sport and how he has no plans of stopping anytime soon. "I guess I'll just keep goin' 'til I can't do it anymore," he said. He is the epitome of the classic West Texas rancher: hard working, land-loving, straight-talking and fiercely proud of where he's from and what he does. Whatever attitude I woke up with that morning was erased and replaced with a better outlook on life. Suddenly I didn't feel so tired, my knees didn't ache and I actually looked forward to what the day might become. I'm sure it was all due to Powell's influence.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Visual Scavenger Hunt: Food

Crabcakes eggs benedict with chipotle hollandaise sauce @ South Congress Cafe, Austin, TX 2012 © Patrick Dove

Think back to the last time you had that perfect meal. How long ago was it? Last week? Three years ago? Why do you remember that meal? Is it because you were with that special someone, or in some exotic location? Or was it because the food was just that good?

Perhaps you were dining on a heaping bowl of grits laced with a creamy gouda cheese, garnished with slow-cooked shredded pork and pickled red onions. And if that wasn't enough, two poached eggs were delicately placed on top so that when your fork pierces the skin the entire dish is saturated with that sinfully buttery yoke. - OR - Maybe you're dining on a crispy, yet, succulent crabcake eggs benedict dirzzled with a chipotle hollandaise sauce.

Two eggs over easy with hashbrowns and hotsauce @ Bo-Bo Kitchen, San Angelo, TX 2012 © Patrick Dove
Foot-long hand-dipped corndog with mustard @ the Tom Green County Fairgrounds, San Angelo, TX 2012 © Patrick Dove

Hello, my name is Patrick, and I'm a food-oholic.

I love food. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. My list of reasons for being a devout gastronome is extensive, but here are a few of the main ones:

1) Food brings people together. When was the last time you attended a backyard barbeque and didn't have a good time? It's a marvelous thing that a simple metal grate lined with sizzling meats in various forms could act as a siren's call to all within smelling distance. It's the backyard version of the office water cooler, without the office-appropriate attire, florescent lighting and the creepy guy in the next cubicle leaving messages on his own home answering machine for his cat Mr. Squiggles.

2) Food is the time machine to your childhood. Recently, my wife was out of town to visit her family in Indiana so I was left to fend for myself for about three weeks. Guys, the easiest way to feed yourself for an extended period of time is with the slow-cooker. I decided I would make a pot roast, my mom's recipe of course. All the ingredients go into the pot, close the lid and cook on low for 10 hours. I came home from work that evening, opened the door and was enveloped by the savory smells of the roast. It was like a love letter from my childhood, being immediately transported back 20 years to Sunday afternoons returning home from church with my family.

3) Food opens our eyes to other cultures. With a recent trip to Cambodia, I was introduced to a host of new and exotic flavors I have never tasted before. Everything from a fermented shrimp paste to spicy papaya salad to the endless variations made to a bowl of noodle soup, all of it was delicious and came with a story. Because of the years of dictatorship, famine and war, Cambodians had to learn to live off of almost anything they could find growing wild in the jungle. That practice is still observed today in the rural areas of the country. It would not be uncommon to stop and pick a hat-full of wild mushrooms going to and from the rice fields or to pick some local greens for a salad or soup while enjoying an afternoon swim in the river. Sitting on the floor around the day's catch (fish and snails) and harvest (mushrooms, papaya and chilies) I could get a real feel for the character of these people and the value of dining together.

Mom's German-style pot roast with carrots, onions and potatoes, San Angelo, Texas 2012 © Patrick Dove
Butternut squash ravioli with asiago cheese and crispy basil @ Taverna, Ft. Worth, Texas 2012 © Brooke Ann Dove
 It doesn't really matter if it's a snow cone in the park with your kids or a six-course meal at a restaurant touting three Michelin Stars... food matters. It's important to our physical and mental well-being, but also our emotional and spiritual wellness. Food conjures memories of past loves, transports us through a cultural kaleidoscope and comforts the aching heart and restless spirit.

Go, see, do, but above all... eat.

Duck egg rolls @ Club Soda, Ft. Wayne, Indiana 2012 © Brooke Ann Dove