Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Recommended reading

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Welcome to my Saturday-morning roundup of the blog posts I liked best all week.

My friend and colleague N. Scott Palmer wrote a gentle, cogent, and well-reasoned treatise this week on the nature of equality, and how it obliges us to behave. Read All People are Equal — Mostly

Gerald Greenwood visited a military cemetery in England, where he lives, and came away with some fine photographs. One photo captures a marker of an Indiana soldier who died during WW I. Read Brookwood Military Cemetery

Newspaper photographer John Harte wrote a great memoir of the day he covered Magic Johnson’s announcement that he was HIV positive and was retiring from basketball. It was one of the most important sports and cultural stories of the last 50 years. Read November 7, 1991: “Magic Johnson might have AIDS”

When I explored US 36 in western Indiana several years ago, I didn’t know about a great ca. 1875 Whipple truss iron bridge that carried the highway’s first alignment. It still stands, about 100 yards south of the modern highway, just west of Danville in Hendricks County. Dennis Wagoner stopped to photograph it and tell its story. Read U.S. 36 Bridge

Claire Lew, writing for Signal v. Noise, tells of a big mistake her company made, one that revealed private data to the users of the software they make — and how they handled it. It’s a model response. Check it out. Read What kind of company are you?

Another Olympus OM-1

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I’m happiest when I follow my nose, just doing whatever feels right at the moment. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I finally shot this Olympus OM-1 after owning it for four years: it felt like it was finally time.

This OM-1 is the backup body to a silver-topped OM-1 that my friend Alice gave me. I shot that other OM-1 almost immediately upon receiving it. In those days, my aim was to collect rangefinder cameras. This OM-1 donation changed my course: I discovered that I was born to shoot 35mm SLRs. I bought more and more of them; I lost count long ago of how many I own. I wondered how I’d experience the OM-1 now, as a fairly experienced 35mm SLR shooter. So I got out this black body and loaded some Fujicolor 200 to find out.

Olympus OM-1

It’s hard to overestimate what an impression this camera made upon its 1972 introduction. 35mm SLRs had always been big and heavy. Olympus decided to shrink the SLR, and the OM-1 was the result. It set the industry on its ear, and soon every other major SLR manufacturer introduced bodies as compact as the OM-1. Olympus milked its good thing for as long as it could, making OM-series cameras for 30 years.

The OM-1’s specs go toe to toe with any SLR of that time. Its shutter operates from 1 to 1/1000 second. The camera takes film from ISO 25 to 1600. Its center-weighted average light meter is coupled to a needle in the viewfinder; when it’s horizontal, perfectly between the + and – symbols, you’ve nailed exposure. There’s a self timer; there’s flash sync. There isn’t, however, a built-in flash shoe. You had to buy one separately.

Olympus OM-1

The OM-1 is all mechanical except for a coupled, battery-powered light meter. Unfortunately, that meter takes the dreaded, banned 625 mercury battery. I substituted an alkaline 625A cell despite its slightly higher voltage. People keep saying that this throws off exposure. I suppose it could. But I shoot negative films with good exposure latitude, which probably makes up for it.

The OM-1 has a few usage quirks. First, the shutter-speed control is on the lens mount. It’s supposed to make it easier to set shutter speed, and I’m sure that if I shot the OM-1 exclusively, I would agree. But so many cameras place that control on the top plate that I kept wanting it to be there. Second, the depth-of-field preview button is on the lens, not the camera. Third, when it comes time to rewind the film, don’t look for the rewind release button on the camera bottom. Instead, turn the “R” control on the camera face.

My son came to visit for a few days. It’s weird to write that. Post-divorce parenting-time rules don’t touch a young man after he turns 18; he can see his old dad whenever the mood strikes. Fortunately, the mood does strike. He came for the weekend not long ago, and we went Downtown for dinner and conversation, just the two of us. He loves the sandwiches at Potbelly’s, and there’s one in my favorite building on the Circle: the art-deco Circle Tower.

Circle Tower

Sandwiches aren’t a thing for me anymore because I follow a gluten-free diet. But Potbelly makes a great chili, so at least there’s something I can eat. We sat at a little table next to this wall.

Little lamps

We walked around Downtown and talked. Occasionally I stopped for a photograph. When my son was born, I worked a half block from what is now Chef Joseph’s. I can’t remember what was in this space then, but it was some other restaurant.

Chef Joseph's at the Connoisseur Room

There was something about being out and about together that was making conversation happen, and I wasn’t ready for it to end. So on the way home we stopped at Crown Hill Cemetery. We went up to James Whitcomb Riley’s gravesite, at the highest elevation in Indianapolis. The day was especially clear, giving a great view of the Downtown we had just left.

Indianapolis from the heights

I finished the roll by myself. I rode my 1986 Schwinn Collegiate one afternoon with the OM-1 slung across my back.

Schwinn Collegiate

My destination was the cemetery near my home. It’s a relatively young cemetery and lacks the style of the old cemeteries I prefer to shoot. I shoot it anyway because don’t need my car to reach this one. This replica of the Liberty Bell is inside. I’ve shot it a bunch of times this year.

Pass and Stow

These two statues had a spat and are currently not speaking to each other.

St. Luke

And finally, when at a loss for what to shoot, shoot the flowers in the yard. My coneflowers wilted away a couple weeks ago now, so this was probably the last photograph I got of them this year.

When in doubt, shoot the flowers in the yard

See more photos from my two Olympus OM-1s in my Olympus OM-1 gallery.

The only thing I wished were different about the OM-1 was the on-off switch. I kept forgetting to turn the camera off, which keeps the meter running and drains the battery. I wished for the on-demand metering of some of my other SLRs, such as by tapping the shutter button or pulling back the winding lever.

Everything else about using the Olympus OM-1 feels elegant and fine. It’s just a wonderful camera. The 50mm f/1.8 F.Zuiko Auto-S lens that came with mine is great; these results sing its praises. As SLRs go, this combo is light and easy to carry. When I finished this roll of film, I wanted to load another and keep going.


Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out all of my old-gear reviews!

1961 Volkswagen Beetle

1961 Volkswagen Beetle
Canon PowerShot S95
2015

Welcome to Wanamaker

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When you stand on the Michigan Road in downtown Wanamaker, you’d never guess you’re really in Indianapolis. When Indianapolis merged with Marion County in 1970, most of the little towns that dotted the county merged along with it. Officially, they ceased to exist. Poof! But while Wanamaker may have lost its legal identity, it never lost its soul.

MR Northbound

Wanamaker feels like typical small-town Indiana. It is a microcosm of everything that is wonderful about traveling the Michigan Road.

Allied Appliances Co.

Wanamaker is in Franklin Township, which is in the southeastern corner of the city. The Franklin Township Chamber of Commerce Economic Development District (say that three times fast!) meets at Wheatley’s once a month for breakfast. This organization has been one of the Historic Michigan Road Association’s best friends. They reached out to us when we were a fledgling, grass-roots group, to encourage and advise us. After we won byway status for the road and began the project to sign the route, not only did they put us in contact with the right players in the city to help us move our initiative along, they also donated funds for almost all of the signs in Marion County. So I visit this group’s morning meeting about once a year to give an update, and share breakfast with them. I recommend the biscuits and gravy.

Wheatley's

The FTCoCEDD bought a handful of signs to share with businesses in the Wanamaker area. One of them went up on the side of the New Bethel Ordinary, a restaurant just up the street from Wheatley’s. I hear that their pizza is out of this world. I wouldn’t know; I went gluten free a few years ago. Pizza and biscuits and gravy are but a distant memory for me now.

Privately owned MR sign at New Bethel Ordinary

I’m impressed with how determined and resourceful the people of Wanamaker are. They pressed hard for some infrastructure improvements to the Michigan Road through their town, and got them. I was told that drainage was poor on the road here, and that heavy rains would run right off into some of the town’s storefronts. The curbing and parallel parking you see in these photos was completed last year. Here’s what the road through Wanamaker looked like in 2008: no curbs with angle parking.

Wanamaker

Wanamaker in 2008

The changes give Wanamaker a much more “finished” feel. And I’m sure the shopkeepers are thrilled not to have to deal with minor flooding after it rains.

Wanamaker

Wheatley’s in 2008

Wanamaker is proud of its history, and many of its buildings have been reasonably well preserved. This porcelain-coated steel building was once a service station with gas pumps out front. Cars are still repaired here today. Buildings like this used to be enormously common, but few are left, at least in condition this good.

Porcelain steel service station

Cemeteries on both sides of the road on the south end of town. This is Founder’s Cemetery.

Founders Cemetery

The New Bethel Baptist Church is across the street. You see occasional references to New Bethel throughout Wanamaker, as that was the town’s original name.

New Bethel Baptist Church

Heading south from here, the Michigan Road takes on a rural feel. It keeps it up for but a few miles, as shortly the road merges with I-74 for several miles. I consider that one of the most unfortunate things to happen to this historic road.

MR southbound leaving Wanamaker

Fortunately, the Michigan Road emerges again just inside Shelby County and can be driven all the way to its end on the Ohio River.


The Michigan Road is a frequent subject at Down the Road. Read everything I’ve written about it here.

Coca-Cola plant

Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
Canon PowerShot S95
2015

I shed no tears for Amazon’s white-collar workers — but its blue-collar workers deserve better

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Some companies are just hard to work for. Amazon appears to be one of them. I shed no tears for its white-collar workers, but in many cases its blue-collar workers deserve better.

The big online retailer’s corporate culture has been in the news a lot lately after a damning article in the New York Times lambasted the company for unrelenting pace and pressure at its Seattle headquarters. It told stories of ridiculously long hours, of scoldings for midnight emails not immediately answered, of employees undermining each other using an anonymous feedback system, of a brutal annual performance rating system that ends in firing those ranked at the bottom even when the ratings are good, of grown men routinely crying in their offices.

The article smells like a hit piece to me. I wonder what axe the Times or the reporters have to grind. Indeed, people inside Amazon are calling the piece largely bunk, including this employee who tore the article apart piece by piece.

Largely bunk, though, because nobody denies that Amazon is an intensely demanding workplace that wants to attract and keep overachieving A players. Anyone who can’t hack it isn’t coddled — they leave, voluntarily or not.

Plenty of people thrive in such an environment. Plenty of people don’t. And for those who don’t, they all have skills and talents that transfer easily to other companies with cultures that fit them better. Plenty of companies are available for them to choose from. And that’s why I don’t cry for the workers at Amazon headquarters. They have good options.

Inside Amazon's Whitestown, Indiana warehouse. WRTV photo.

Inside Amazon’s Whitestown, Indiana, warehouse. WRTV photo.

But Amazon’s blue-collar workers have far fewer options, and many of those options are poor. Some stories of conditions inside Amazon’s many warehouses enrage me. One warehouse turned off the air conditioning in the summertime and sent the prostrated to the ER. They wouldn’t even open the warehouse doors to vent the heat, to prevent theft. Worries about theft also lead Amazon warehouses to make employees wait for up to 25 unpaid minutes at quitting time to go through a security check. Lawsuits followed. They went all the way to the Supreme Court, which validated the practice, unfortunately.

Even when Amazon warehouse workers avoid dangerous conditions, the warehouse is still far from a joyful place to work. I know someone who worked the last holiday season at the Amazon warehouse in nearby Whitestown, Indiana, and he complained of a deeply intense, almost impossible pace that left his feet aching. But, he added, for anyone who doesn’t like it there, five more people are waiting in line for the job. Few other viable employers are available for these workers.

Low-skill blue-collar workers do have options — they’re just enormously difficult. I think about my dad’s family in West Virginia’s hill country. Coal mining provides most of the employment, and it’s all dangerous work. Worker abuses used to be very common; even during my father’s childhood there, “I owe my soul to the company store” was real. But many in my family found deep courage and took big risks to find a better life. My great grandmother opened a tavern and boardinghouse in a little town where the railroad loaded the coal. It was a bold move for a woman in those years, but my great grandmother had guts (and was a deadly shot). And many of my family moved to northern Indiana in the 1950s to find safer, surer work in construction and manufacturing. That was not done lightly — West Virginians are fiercely dedicated to family togetherness.

Indeed, half my family still lives in West Virginia in or not far from that railroad town, and many of those who choose to work still go down into the dangerous mines. Other jobs are very hard to come by, even though Amazon does have a warehouse up the road in Huntington. This surprises me given how hard those hills are to navigate — this isn’t prime factory or warehouse territory.

I applaud anyone at this end of the worker spectrum who takes good risks to find a better life. But not everybody succeeds, and not everybody can do it. At some point, it becomes necessary to protect blue-collar workers from workplace abuses, simply because some number of them will have no options and can be terribly exploited. It reminds me of turn-of-the-20th-century stories about six day, sixty hour weeks, and about child labor, and about poverty-level wages, because the employers could get away with it. Federal labor law and labor unions ended up solving those problems. I’m no fan of government intervention and I deplore what labor unions have turned into. Yet I do think that working people with limited options deserve some protection, some guarantee of humane working conditions.

White-collar workers are much more likely to have good options; many of them can get another job in the same field near where they live. If any of the abuses in the New York Times article are true, I deplore them. But a software developer or a marketing specialist at Amazon headquarters can quit, and soon find other programming or marketing jobs right there in Seattle. A departing Amazon warehouse worker in Whitestown, however, is much more likely to face long unemployment and an uncertain future.

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