Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Recommended reading


A splash of blog posts, from my feed reader this week to you.

Ken Levine, who wrote for the TV shows Cheers and M*A*S*H and others, tells a fun story about how the tailfin on his Mercury wound up in an episode of The FBI back in the 70s. Read Hey, there’s a portion of my car on national TV

Marketing professor Nick Gerlich notices a trend among millenials: they don’t have credit cards, because they don’t like debt. Given that our consumer economy is based on personal debt, how will our economic engine survive? Read To Their Great Credit

I have a son on the very mild end of the autism spectrum, and I expect him to go on to full and meaningful employment when he’s grown. But not all kids on the spectrum will have that ability. Phillip Greenspun writes about discrimination against people on the spectrum. Read Jobs for people with autism spectrum disorders

Writing for the Signal vs. Noise blog, Nathan Kontny tells stories of people who made great success from few resources. Sometimes having little to work with is the key to our success. Read Constrained

The McOuat building


The McOuat (Mi-COO-it) building was a blight. Few buildings in downtown Indianapolis looked this bad.

Blighted, not blighted

But a renovation completed in 2010 brought this 1901 building back to life. It’s now stores and apartments.


This building stands on Washington Street and is on both the National and Michigan Roads. I took the first photo above when I toured the Michigan Road in 2008. Much of this block was blighted then. But in the years that followed, Washington Street resurged. Buildings were renovated, businesses moved in — and now it’s a destination again.


Canon PowerShot S95

Spring break at Mammoth Cave


My sons and I had decided to return to Washington, D.C., for Spring Break this year as it was our favorite past trip and we wanted to relive it. We resolved not to wreck the car on the way home this time. But then Saturday before we were to leave, the forecast called for solid rain all week everywhere east of the Mississippi. None of us wanted to walk the National Mall in the rain.

So we scuttled our D.C. plans and set our sights on Mammoth Cave. We first visited on the way home from our Tennessee trip four years ago. We couldn’t get a guided tour; those had to be booked in advance. So we vowed to return. This would be the year. Let it rain; we’d be dry underground.

Into Mammoth Cave

Caves have figured into our Spring Breaks before: Marengo Cave in 2007 and Meramec Caverns in 2013. This is tourist caving — walkways guide the way, and stairs help you descend the depths. But where Marengo and Meramec were tourist attractions with all the attendant kitsch, Mammoth Cave is a national park with uniformed park rangers leading the tours. Not only is Mammoth the finest of these caves, but we learned something useful about caves from our guides.

Inside Mammoth Cave

Our morning tour took us two miles in and 300 feet down. Behold, the power of water, eroding limestone for thousands of years. The ranger clarified that carbonic acid in the water did the work. That’s the same stuff that makes your soda fizzy, except it’s 500 times more powerful in your soda.

Inside Mammoth Cave

Our second tour featured more than 500 steps down to reach this room. As you can see, we were part of a large tour group. The ranger told us that Spring Break is always crazy busy, but come back a month later and we would be in a group of maybe 20.

Tour group

Caves are naturally utterly dark. The park service strung lights throughout so we could see, but even then the light was challenging for photography. Tripods were prohibited. So I set my Canon PowerShot S95 to ISO 1600 and shot RAW so I’d have plenty of flexibility to make something of my photos. I shot probably 50 photos down there and these five are the only ones worth sharing. Even at such a high ISO, exposures were long and camera shake was a problem.

Inside Mammoth Cave

Normally I come home elated (and tired) from a Spring Break trip, but even though we had a great time in the cave I couldn’t shake considerable sadness as we drove home. My older son graduates high school soon and heads off to college in the fall. I’ve loved our Spring Break vacations as a trio and will miss them.

Circle Tower

Circle Tower
Canon PowerShot S95

Canon EOS 650


The Canon EOS 650 is not that different from the EOS 630 I shot earlier this year. But it’s the first-ever Canon EOS camera, from 1987, making it historically significant. And I got the body for a trifle: a buck! (Plus $12 shipping.)

Canon EOS 650

I bought that EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens separately, though, for $45 used. Even though it’s least expensive prime Canon sells for its EOS cameras, it’s widely considered to be a great lens. I feel like I get to know a camera best when I shoot it with a 50mm prime. And I wasn’t very impressed with the 35-80mm lens that came with my 630.

Canon EOS 650

It’s weird to me that the 650, which preceded the 630 by two years, has a higher model number but fewer features. The 650 lacks some of the 630’s modes, and its motor drive is a little slower (3 fps vs. 5 fps). Also, the 650 doesn’t automatically rewind the film after the last frame as the 630 does. You have to flip down that little panel below the film door, and press the rewind button. I learned that the hard way — after shooting the roll, I opened the camera and ruined a bunch of photographs. Drat.

I dropped some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 into the 650 and took it along on a trip to St. Charles, Illinois. The Fox River flows through town. You’ll find fox statues all over town. These twin foxes guard the bridge that carries St. Charles’s main street over the river.

Foxes on the mighty Fox River

Fast film and a fast lens let me get these night shots of the art-moderne St. Charles Municipal Building. The dome changes color.

Municipal Building

The downside of using a 50mm lens was that I would have had to back up all the way into the river to get the entire building in the photo.

Municipal Building

Here’s a near-sunset shot of the main drag through St. Charles, also known as State Route 64.

Downtown St. Charles

And here’s a daylight shot of a footbridge over the Fox, south of downtown. As you can see, the 650 and this lens handles a bunch of lighting conditions with ease. But I’ll bet that if I’d brought one of my Pentax SLRs with a 50mm Pentax prime attached, I’d’ve gotten warmer, livelier color tones on the same film. These colors just don’t jazz me.

Piano Factory Bridge

Fast film and fast lens let me shoot indoors with available light, too. The in-focus patch was mighty thin, however.

Bumblebee glasses

The 650’s autofocus worked fine for the most part. It’s a little slow, but for what I was shooting it didn’t matter. Once in a while I was puzzled by its focusing choices, as in this shot. But this is my favorite photo from my test roll anyway. I like the light play and the rough surface of the desk my Kodak 35 was sitting on.

Kodak 35

To see more photos from my test roll, check out my Canon EOS 650 gallery.

I shot everything in straight program mode and let the camera focus for me. The EOS 650 handled just like the EOS 630, which is to say fine, which is also to say uninspiringly. Frame, press the button, zip-zap-click. I just don’t have as much fun with auto-everything SLRs. But as you can see, this one performed competently.

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


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