Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Classic cars on black-and-white film


1963 Ford Galaxie 500

When I go to the Mecum Spring Classic every May, I always take my digital camera and a pocketful of extra batteries — I take upwards of a thousand digital photos there every year. But I usually take a film camera along too, loaded with black-and-white film. This year, I used my film camera to move in close and study styling details. Iconic details, like this tail light on a 1963 Ford Galaxie.

1970 Chevrolet Camaro

And the tail lights on this 1970 Chevy Camaro. Chevy’s round tail lights were always the height of cool, whether on a Camaro or a Malibu or an Impala.


I also have a thing for headlights. Their design is clean and pleasing on this 1965 Porsche 356C.

1956 Lincoln Continental

And who doesn’t love the delightful, delicate binnacle on this 1956 Continental?

1967 Pontiac Bonneville

Pontiac’s front-end treatment on its 1967 full-sizers took a different tack, dropping the then de rigueur round lenses into dramatic, sculpted pockets.

Ford headlight

And for 1939, Ford placed its headlights in an upside-down teardrop shape.

V8 Ford

Staying with that ’39 Ford for a minute, the prow promises V8 power.

Plymouth 8

But that Ford V8 badge whispers where this V8 badge from a 1955 Plymouth boasts at top volume.

Forward Look

I’m pretty sure I snapped this Forward Look badge on the flank of that same 1955 Plymouth. What a great design.


Badging remains a favorite subject for my camera lens. I make a cameo appearance in this photo of a 1960 Pontiac Catalina.


Bold serifed letters in the hub of this 1966 Ford Mustang say that this car means business.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette

Sometimes I step back a little bit to take in more of a car, without capturing it all. I wanted to study the lines of this 1963 Corvette from this angle.

1964 Chevrolet Corvette

Right next to it was this 1966 (I think) Corvette, with its one-piece backlight. I’m partial to the split window for looks, but I’m sure that if I drove one of these I’d prefer this car for its better rear visibility.


The light played deliciously off this 1960 Rambler’s snout, and my camera captured it beautifully.

Pentax ME

Here’s the camera I used to shoot all of these photos: my circa-1977 Pentax ME. I used a 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax lens with Kodak T-Max 400 film – a fast lens with fast film because I was shooting primarily inside in available light, and needed all the light-gathering ability I could get. The pictured, slower f/2 lens would have made some of these shots a lot harder to get, if they were possible at all.

People sometimes ask me how to get started in film photography, and I always tell them to pick up a Pentax SLR body and a SMC Pentax lens on eBay. You can pick up a kit like that right now for well under $100, and if you’re patient you can snag one for under $50. They’re unsung bargains – try pricing classic Nikon film SLRs and you’ll see what I mean. And the Pentax lenses are first rate.

A version of this post also appeared on Curbside Classic, an old-car blog, a couple weeks ago.

Marsh nee Sears

Downtown grocery store at golden hour
Apple iPhone 5

The butterfly effect: how we can’t always know the importance of our choices as we make them


My job search continues. I’m a week into a four-week part-time consulting job, and a couple opportunities for which I’ve interviewed look very promising. I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, but best case, I could be back to work in a few weeks. Meanwhile, here’s a rewrite of this post from 2009 that tells of an important choice I made that seems unrelated to my career, but was actually critical to it.

I almost didn’t sign up for that Speech class in high school. Just seeing the box for it on the enrollment form made my heart splash anxiously. If I had to choose between dancing with an angry bear and speaking in public, I would have put my dancing shoes on. But in the last two seconds before the forms were collected I impulsively marked the box for Speech, and then it was too late to turn back.

Argus A-Four

The Argus A-Four

I gave probably 20 speeches that year, although I remember only a “why I took this class” speech and a sales pitch. For that one, I dug out one of my old cameras, the Argus A-Four, and extolled its virtues. I even demonstrated it, opening the lens up wide and snapping a couple of shots. I’m lucky any of them turned out. I’m glad for them not because the school building is gone now, or because the kids have all grown up, or because they make me remember how the teacher (in the very back) sounded like a post-puberty Kermit the Frog. I’m glad for them because they remind me of how violently I shook and how much my voice trembled the first time I stood there — but how effortlessly I spoke from there at the end of the year.

I operate very comfortably in my introverted skin today, but I didn’t when I was 15. I wished to banter easily with everyone, but I always stumbled and bumbled. I felt embarrassed, and it hurt. It was easier to keep to myself. I avoided contact so much that I stared at my shoes when walking between classes so I wouldn’t catch anyone’s gaze.


Actual photo from the speech

All of us in Speech were there to overcome our fear of public speaking. It built great camaraderie among us. I became especially close with the girl in the sailor hat in this photo’s lower right corner. We passed sarcastic notes to each other all year as we listened to our classmates speak. The girl in the red with the ball cap got into the act sometimes, too. They both used to crack me up.

It’s a darn good thing I overcame my fear of public speaking. That year I taught myself to write computer programs. When my favorite math teacher heard that I had written a program that used a formula to draw any polygon on the screen, he asked to see it. It was a big deal in the computing technology of the time. When he saw my program draw any polygon lickety split, he said, “Oh my gosh, that’s really something” — and asked me to demonstrate my program to our Geometry class.

I did it. But without having first overcome my fear of public speaking in Speech class, I would have turned him down flat.

Another actual photo from that speech

Another actual photo from that speech

The math teacher then asked me to write programs that illustrated other geometrical concepts, and I demonstrated them all to the class. At first it just felt great that one of my silly hobbies earned me some good attention. But then the teacher suggested that I could study this in college and do it for a living.

This was a pivotal moment in my life. It may seem astonishing now that the idea hadn’t occurred to me, but in the early 1980s software development was still an unusual career choice. I had no idea people got paid to write programs!

I applied to engineering school, where I studied mathematics and computer science. Shortly after graduating, I got my first job working for a software company. More than a quarter century and seven software companies later, there’s no other path I’d rather have taken. I can’t believe I get to do this thing I dreamed of at 15.

Who knew that a Speech class would be such a pivot point in my life? It’s the butterfly effect, which says that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Congo today can cause a tornado next week in Kansas City.

Recommended reading


A hush falls across the land as I unveil this week’s favorite blog posts from around the web.

Nicholas Middleton writes a nice review of a small German viewfinder camera of the 1950s, the Voigtländer Vito CL. Read Voigtländer Vito CL

I’m not a motorcycle-ridin’, bass-fishin’, bear-huntin’, football-watchin’ kind of man. I’m a man who likes to stay quietly at home with his sons, take some photographs, write about things that matter. So I was glad to read Matt Appling‘s post this week about masculinity. Read I Don’t Want My Sons to Inherit This Culture’s Fragile Masculinity

Captured: Delicious evening light over the deck


Evening light over the back deck

One evening in May the setting sun cast a warm, brown light into my neighborhood. I grabbed my Canon PowerShot S95 and tried to capture it. I wish all of my cameras had a “capture this just like it is” setting. Frustratingly, the S95 kept wanting to auto-white-balance the light back to normal. I ended up shooting in program mode in RAW, with white balance deliberately set to capture the light as close to right as possible. And then I tweaked the image further in Photoshop trying to fully recapture that interesting, delicious light, and how it shifted the colors of everything it touched.

I love how my growing interest in photography has attuned me to the world. I used to live in such blindness and ignorance of the subtle, the beautiful, the interesting. Not too long ago, even if I had noticed this delicious evening light, I would have shrugged it off and turned back to what I was doing. I would have really missed out.


Bikes for rent
Olympus Stylus
Kodak Plus-X


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