Friday, August 31, 2007

It Stormed!!!!!!

Wednesday and Thursday of this week (Aug. 28-29), were fun days for me on the high desert.

It stormed!

Now that in and of itself may mean nothing to people in the parts of the world which get storms throughout the Spring, Summer and Fall, but the two recent days of storms here, were the first in a long time.

Another thing some folks might be wondering about is why am I blogging this fact. I'm only doing it because I love storms. And, on both days, I took out my camera and photographed lightning. It's a rare day when we have lightning that actually lights up the sky...and these storms produced some good lightning.

One of my favorite captures from the storms is this shot:

It was taken on Wednesday evening and was the last shot I got that evening before rain forced me and my non-weatherized digital camera inside.

But along with the lightning came some badly needed rain in the high desert. Thursday's afternoon storm produced wind gusts up to 50 mph and in a span of 20 minutes, dumped slightly more than two inches of rain. Needless to say, river ran down streets, yards were swamps and gardens got badly needed moisture.

But something else happened during that storm Thursday afternoon. A tree in front of the house I rent a room in, got so badly battered around, that it dumped three fledgling American Goldfinches onto the lawn. The young birds were soaked to the core, cold and wet, and were sitting ducks for any hungry stray cat which came by looking for dinner.

Beside which, my landlord loves finches and enjoys watching them feed on her feeders. So, when I noticed the birds in trouble, I went and told her there were three birds flopping around in her front yard and asked her if she wanted to help them survive. Her first thought was they were Starling chicks and wanted nothing to do with them until I told her what they really were.

Well, I captured the birds and brought them to her and she proceeded to dry them off, warm them and was even able to get the birds to eat through an eyedropper. Friday morning when I checked on the birds, they were drinking water, eating small seed and even chirping. It looks like they will survive.

Since the birds are well-feathered and do a lot of moving around the cage, I told my landlord that in less than a week we might be able to release the youngsters. When we do send the triplets into the world, I hope their natural instinct for survival will take over and give them a full life.

Of course, if we do release them now, I don't think we have to worry about them getting caught in another storm.

Numerous storms over a period of two days is probably all we will get this summer.

But if we do get any more storms, I'll have my camera ready for the lightning and I am sure my landlord will be looking out for several small birds hanging out in her yard.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ted Nugent Reads My Blog

Ted Nugent reads my blog...or so I would like to think.

Yesterday (Aug. 29), Nugent was on "The O'Reilly Factor" and was being interviewed by John Kasich regarding what he (Nugent) said at one of his concerts. Not to get off of the subject here, but I used to think Kasich had a level head on his shoulders. But after watching the replay of his guest host stint on O'Rielly's show, I would sooner listen to fingernails being scrapped along a blackboard than listen to him again. 'Nuff said on that...back to substance of this blog.

The program was being replayed on Fox News Channel at 1 a.m. when I, for whatever reason, I couldn't sleep and turned on the TV and the show was on. It's been a long time since I watched the "Factor," and decided I would read the runner at the bottom of the screen to see what was happening around the world, while I half-assed listened to what was going on in the program.

It wasn't long before the Nugent interview came up and I began paying a bit more attention to what was on the show. I like Ted Nugent. I have always liked his music, and his stand on a lot of things is very much in line with my stand. In every instance where I have seen him away from the Rock 'n' Roll world, he has impressed me with his thoughts and actions, which is something rare in the world of show business (not that my right-wing views mean anything to anyone).

Kasich began the "Unresolved Problem" segment with a clip from Nugent's recent concert in California. During the concert Nugent said some things about Obama and Clinton, the front running Democratic presidential candidates. When I heard what he said, I had to laugh and thought, "Right on, Ted."

After the clip, Kasich began the interview by asking Nugent, "Hey, Ted, why'd you do this?"

Nugent answered talking about it all being Rock 'n' Roll and fun and there is an intensity level at concerts. I have been to a number of rock concerts (not so many these days, but the 70s were full of concerts for me) and they are intense. Everyone just going with the flow and the flow is normally set by the performer on the stage. As Nugent continued his explanation, I began shaking my head in agreement.

Then he said something that caused me to sit up.

He said, "
You realize that when Mick Jagger rode a 40-foot inflated phallic symbol onto stage, he didn't explain anything to anyone."

Now this may have escaped a lot of people, but if you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I talked about a similar, and probably the actual, incident Nugent referred to in an earlier entry here.

As I said earlier, when Nugent mentioned that incident, I sat up in bed and smiled. I knew I had blogged that activity a month or so earlier. Prior to posting the blog entry, I searched the net for information regarding the Stones incident and couldn't find anything about it (I wanted the date of the concert for the blog). I figure the world of the rock star is a fairly close world. It's possible Nugent had heard about the incident from others in his world and always remembered it.

Or, Nugent could have been at the concert in San Antonio in the mid 70s. But I doubt that since he was performing 200 concert tours a year during that time. Maybe he was next in line to use that stadium and was there checking it out before hand, but I don't remember. I probably would have gone to that concert too, if he was performing soon after the Stones, but I don't remember going to a Nugent concert.

So, what's left? He read my blog titled "Cowtown memories" recently and that is why he mentioned it on the "Factor." And if that is how Ted Nugent heard about the incident...that's really cool...he reads my blog.

No matter how he heard about, Ted Nugent is still "the man!" He is a true American, not some pansy-assed, liberal idiot who thinks touchy-feely is the way to go. Kick ass, Ted! And rock on!

Oh...and if you also watched the show, what did you think of Remi Spencer? There is only word I can think of to refer to her...HOT!...even if she's a lawyer.

By the way, the entire interview with Nugent is

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Eclipse Time

Early this morning (Aug. 28), I watched the lunar eclipse. It's always cool to watch one of these, whether it be a partial or full eclipse like this one was.

One of the things I noticed about the eclipse was the speed at which light disappeared. Prior to the start of the eclipse, I went outside and the light from the full Moon was extremely bright. Outside of reading, there was much I would not have been able to do in that light.

However, as the eclipse progressed, I went outside before the darkest part of the shadow touched the moon and light had been drastically reduced. Then, as the dark shadow, known as the umbra began moving over the Moon, the light outside was barely casting a shadow at the halfway mark. Previous eclipses I have watched, there was still a bit more light to see by, but not during this eclipse.

The really strange site came as the entire moon was overtaken by the umbra. For a few minutes, a beautiful copper ball hung in the night sky. Then about 3 am PST, the Moon seemed to disappear. It really wasn't "gone," but very little light was being reflected back to it from Earth. It took a bit of an effort to locate it in the sky. This condition didn't last long, and soon, the familiar copper colored globe became easier to see.

I have never seen a Moon get that dark during an eclipse. The shadowed Moon stayed dark and coppery for slightly more than an hour, when the bright, white light began to glow in the upper left part of the globe. As more and more of the Moon's surface was reintroduced to the bright light of the sun, more and more of the shadows of night began to disappear. Then, towards 5 am, all was normal with the world again.

I tried to take some photos during the eclipse, but my gear wasn't up to the task. I was able to get some halfway shots at the beginning, but images of totality escaped me. So did images of halfway at the end. I got the shots, but the images are out of focus...badly out of focus. And I did get shots of totality, but my properly exposed images are blurred from lunar motion and my underexposed images are so noisy from pumping up the shadows, that the photos just ain't worth doing anything with.

But I did see the eclipse and plan to watch the next one on Feb. 21 of next year. And that will be the last one until Dec. 21, 2010.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Fantasy Football Time!

Tomorrow is draft day for the fantasy football league I joined a couple of seasons ago. It's something I enjoy doing, but not something that means that much to me.

It's like fantasy NASCAR racing. I belong to two leagues in that. In one league, I am either in last place or next to last. In the other, I am currently in first place. I really don't care where I am...I am having fun playing.

I know there are die-hards in all fantasy sports. I just ain't one of them. I'd rather do something I really enjoy, in place of watching a football game, and that includes the Superbowl.

So, tomorrow morning, 10 am PDT, I will be sitting in front of my computer drafting my 15-man team that I will use to play in my 12-team league of the TCBOO Fantasy Football League, instead of doing something else. But it will only last a couple of hours. Besides, the weather could cool off tomorrow by 15 degrees over what today should bring in the high desert of central Oregon.

I know several members of our league who probably got up this morning and began getting things ready for the draft. I did that a while ago. I pick seventh in the draft (last year I picked first and stupid me went with Larry Johnson instead of L.T.) and a week or so ago, listed what position I would be drafting in the various rounds of the draft. I also made a list of players I would like to get if they are available at the time their position comes up in my draft. I did that during last year's draft and ended up with a decent team. I did take my division title in only my second year of fantasy football. Whether that is good or ho-hum, I don't know, but at least I can say it...hehehe.

This morning I got up and instead of working on my draft plan, went out on photo safari at 7 am. I went to one of my favorite places to shoot and wasn't disappointed. I managed to get shots of one, maybe two new damselflies. I also photographed two new birds. And a photo of something I have wanted to get for a long time...a dragonfly in flight. It was a good morning.

It even started out good before I got to the lake to start shooting. I stopped by a store to get some water to drink and a snack and saw a friend of mine I hadn't talked to in a long time. When she worked at another place, I would stop in their for a bite to eat and if it was a slow time, she would come over and we would talk. I like talking with her, and really enjoy the sound of her voice. So, it was a real pleasure to start my safari today.

But it's all fun...fantasy sports...shooting photos...wandering around. It is what I like to do.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Behind The Iron Curtain, Part II

I had planned to continue a previous post last night, but I went out on a walking photo safari and, even though I drank plenty of water, still came down with a bit of heat exhaustion. In the end, I couldn't think straight and decided I'd to continue it this evening.

So, in the last amazing chapter of my time behind the Iron Curtain, myself and a friend had just returned from a rather interesting self-guided tour of East Berlin. Our first day in Berlin had turned into a really interesting time. But it wasn't to end with that first day.

For the next week or so, we attended conference activities and even put out the local newspaper for Templehof Airport when the regular editor went on leave. We also visited a variety of places in West Berlin, from the offices of the largest newspaper to the offices of magazines published in West Berlin. The tours were interesting and added a lot to our knowledge of the job we did.

But the day came when the group of editors from the southern reaches of the U.S. Air Force in Europe were to travel into East Berlin on a bus tour of the Soviet portion of the divided city. This time, instead of walking through the gate at Checkpoint Charlie, we rode through it in a blue bus. I don't remember the exact route we took, or the order in which we arrived at the places we went, but I am sure our first stop was at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Inside the tomb is a monument to the unknown soldiers who died fighting fascism. There was some really nice tile mosaics and an eternal flame inside the building. After we had looked it over, we went back outside to await the changing of the guard. At that time, the tomb had two East German soldiers standing on either side of the entrance. The soldiers held their weapons in the palm of their hands, with their hands placed against their side about two thirds of the way down from their shoulder to their waist. I knew it was a difficult way to hold the rifle.

Under the foot of each guard was a switch. When their arm tired, the pressed on the switch and a bell would ring. One second after the bell finished ringing, the guards would, in unison, switch the weapon to their other arm. A sensible way to do things to keep the guards from dropping their rifles.

Now, the guards faced outward towards the people in the street in front of them. Behind them was a walkway which was similar to a porch. When I left the inside part of the tomb, I walked along the porch area and stopped directly behind the guard who was on the left side of the building as you looked at it. I was several feet behind him, but still visible to those on the street. I soon realized people were taking our photo. For most, it was probably a "Good Guy, Bad Guy" photo with me being the bad guy. But I didn't care...I knew where I was.

Then the guard began to realize something was going on also, what with all these people taking his photo. As I stood behind this young man, I stood tall with a large smile and my chin held high. And then I noticed very slight movements in the head of the guard. I could only imagine him trying to glance behind his back to see what was so photogenic back there (not that I am photogenic, I was the bad guy remember?). So as his head made slight twitches to his right, I took one giant step forward and to my right, and into his peripheral vision.

Well, he lost it. His weapon started to waiver, his head shook, and his bell rang. Figuring he already blew it, he turned looking right at me and scowled, then switched the arm holding his weapon. I'm sure if it had been loaded, he probably would have emptied it into me. I walked off the walkway and joined my fellow editors in the crowds waiting to watch the changing of the guards. When it was finished, I am sure there was one East German glad he wasn't on duty anymore.

I got a kick out of that and figured I had gotten the troop in trouble. But I wasn't finished. As our bus moved along the roads of East Berlin, we came upon a four lane road. Not long after we got on that road, a military truck pulled up along side of us. I need to set the stage right now with a description of our bus load of people. All but one of us, were men. The woman was a stunning redhead named Deb. She was sitting several seats in front of me looking out the window on the side where the military truck pulled along of us. I was in the back of the bus.

This military truck was a Soviet truck. I could tell by the markings it belonged to the Russians. In the back of the truck, on both sides, sat Soviet troops, most likely conscripted soldiers of the USSR. In the middle, in the front of the back bed, sat a large, nasty looking NCO.

It didn't take the troops in the truck to notice Deb. They started stealing glances towards her and those whose backs were to our bus, began turning around to see for themselves. When I noticed Deb was the object of attention, I said, "Deb, start blowing them kisses or something." And she did. She no more than got started when the troops on the far side of the truck moved over to our side and those whose backs had been facing us were now turned around. They were reaching out for Deb's kisses and smiling and saying something in Russian I didn't understand.

But it all ended as soon as the NCO in the front of the truck bed barked something. They all immediately returned to their seats, their eyes staring straight ahead. Deb had stopped what she had been doing, but I was in the back of the bus laughing. And then I locked my gaze on the large NCO in the front of the truck bed. His gaze was directly on me. I guess he knew I instigated the performance and his stare on me was one that would have killed if it could have. I stared back and the two of us didn't break our stare until the truck turned off onto another street. Again, I felt good and I knew I showed that Soviet NCO that this particular US Air Force NCO wasn't afraid of him or his troops at all.

We continued on with our tour. At one point we passed Hitler's Bunker, or what was left of it. It sat in an open field surrounded by nothing, giving no indication what it was to anyone who didn't know. And then the tour continued.

Soon, we entered an area which looked important and moments later, our tour guide told us how important the area was. The building we were soon to pass on right was the equivalent to our White House. It was the home of the chancellor of East Germany. As I looked forward in the direction we were travelling I noticed the road we were on was a single lane, winding road which cut its way through what would have been a park setting anywhere else. In East Berlin, it was just one more open area surrounding a large, important building. As we passed the building, I looked towards it and saw a black sedan heading our way from the building. When it got to the road we were on, it turned left and headed towards us.

With me sitting in the back of the bus, I had a nice view of what happened next. The driver of the car sped up, got right on our tail and tried to go around us. The road being a single lane road also had curbing on it which was maybe 10 inches high. In the back of the car, I could see someone lean forward, look at me, say something to the driver and then lean back. At that point, the driver unsuccessfully tried to go over the curbing and around us. It was then I noticed the license plate on the car. It read, "DDR 1." It was the car of the chancellor and it was probably him the in the backseat. At this point, the driver started blowing his horn.

When our tour guide heard the racket, our he asked me what was going on back there and I told him some guy in a black sedan with plate number DDR 1 is trying to get around us. He laughed and said let him try. I then asked if he was who I thought he was and was told he probably was. I then looked back at the driver who now was trying to wave us to the side so him could get by.

If our bus driver had hugged either side of the road we were on, there may have been enough room for the car to pass, but our driver was hogging the road and as I watched the driver frantically wave, and the man in the back lean forward and look at me, I shrugged my shoulders and flipped them the bird. I then flashed a large smile and watched as the car began falling behind. By this time I was laughing so hard, I was rolling around in my seat. The look on the face of the driver said everything. Total confusion.

A few minutes later, we arrived at the Soviet Military Cemetery in East Berlin. It is a beautiful cemetery and in respect for the men and women who lost their life fighting Hitler's Germany, I showed proper respect for the fallen. I took a number of photos there, and even got into a conversation with a gentleman and his family from Romania.

When the tour was over, we headed for Checkpoint Charlie. We were heading back to West Berlin. I must admit I enjoyed our tour of East Berlin and I know there are a number of people who probably still wonder who that asshole American was on that day.

But what made all of what I did so special for me, was the fact the day we decided to tour East Berlin, was the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution and I am sure the troops I got in trouble in the back of that truck were going to do something for the celebration. And the chancellor guy I flipped off was probably trying to get to some celebration with his Soviet puppeteers, thinking they would never believe his excuse for being late. And that guard at the tomb probably still has nightmares about that split second moment he caught sight of me moving behind him.

Even today, I laugh at what I did that day. We were in the middle of the Cold War and what better way is there to fight a Cold War, than to confront the enemy on their home field. That, I am proud of.

But if anyone reading this remembers me from that day, today I say, "I am sorry if I caused you any trouble." And to the NCO in the back of that truck, I know you know what I was doing. I hope you didn't take it out on our troops too badly.

Berlin was a temporary assignment I will never forget. Those two weeks there were better than any three years I could have lived there had my assignment there gone through.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Perseid Meteor Shower in Central Oregon

Well, Sunday night I was out again watching the Perseid Meteor Shower. I was getting my viewing area ready for the vigil which I had planned to begin about 90 minutes later, but during the set up, I witnessed two beautiful and one okay meteor streak through the sky. So, I ran in the house, gathered the rest of my gear and brought it out.

I also brought out my camera...again. I set up near my lounge chair and after a few shots had been taken, decided to look at the composition. There were tree branches in it and near the top, a phone line, so I decided to relocate it. However, like the dumbass I can be sometimes, I picked up the entire rig and when I made a slight turn in the darkness, I whopped the camera against the side of an apple tree near my set up area.

Fearing the worst, I set the camera up and took a quick shot. The camera worked fine and when I looked at the image, I realized when the rig hit the tree, it moved my focus setting. A week or so ago, I remembered that the lens I was using didn't have a marked setting for Infinity focus, so I did a few shots, determined the correct way to set the manual focus of the lens to infinity and marked the position with two lines that I line up. So, I turned on my trusty red light flashlight, located to the lines and lined them up.

I then set the camera to shoot an image every 30 seconds, and I settled into my lounge chair and began a wonderful night of meteor viewing. I started at 11:30 pm (Pacific daylight time) and quit at 4:10am. During that time, I saw more than 100 meteors in the small section of sky I can see. Many were bright fireballs, but most were average everyday meteor. About 70 percent of them were Perseids, while the other 30 percent originated from radiants the north and south of the Perseids shower radiant. I know the southern radiant is from the Delta Aquids or something like that, but the northern radiant has me baffled.

While I watched the meteors blaze through the night sky, I saw several which may or may not have entered the camera's field of view. I was looking forward to checking the images later. Well, four and half hours later, I was cold (I live in a desert climate so it gets friggin cold at night, even in the summer) and tired, so I brought everything inside and collapsed on my bed.

After finishing my morning ritual, I stuck the CF card in my computer and ate breakfast while it transfered the 410 images I shot that night. When I looked at the first couple of images, everything was fine. They were the shots taken before the camera met the tree. But the images after that were blurred and distorted...every one of them.

And what was even more depressing was one image had what looked like a really nice meteor flashing through it.

Talk about wanting someone around to kick my ass (I can't do it myself). The lens took the beating and, like the 98 pound weakling, didn't survive. Now I have no wide angle least not until I can afford to replace the busted one.

I shall be a bit more careful with how I handle things around here. Of course, every time I screw something of mine up, I say the same thing, but what the hell at least I am trying.

Until I continue my interrupted blog of a couple of days ago, take care all you loyal readers...all of you...and watch out for those apple trees at night.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

It's Shower Time

Early this morning, I gathered together a few things and proceded to do something I do every year at this time: Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower.

It was predicted to be one of the best displays in a long time. Well, so far it hasn't lived up to its expectation. Normal peak times for the shower are on the night of Aug. 11-12 and I was prepared. I did see some good shots, three nice, bright meteors which left a trail behind them as they burned in, but for the most part, anything else from the Perseids was small and dim.

There were two sporadic meteors (sporadics are meteors not associated with the shower being viewed) and one of them was a rather nice gold color. But two sporadics and 10 Perseids don't a meteor shower make.

Nor do they satisfy a watcher like me.

One reason I like to watch meteor showers is that I live in an area which affords me the opportunity to lie down in my backyard and get a nice view of stars and meteors, even with the lights of the city. It's not as good as it was 10 years ago, but still better than the night sky in Chicago 30 years ago. Plus, if I got out away from town to view, the night sky becomes absolutely stunning...almost glowing what with so many stars shining.

But I also like to photograph the showers I watch, in the hopes I can capture a nice shot of a beautiful meteor streaking through the sky.

Last night, I had my camera with me. It's a Canon Digital Rebel. A fairly old camera as digital single lens reflex cameras go, but it does a good job for me in my normal photographic pursuits. But I have only one lens worth using for meteors...a 28-80mm zoom lens. Because my camera has a smaller imaging chip at the point of focus of lens attached to it, it captures a smaller part of the image being projected by the lens. In the case of my camera, the field of view of the lens is equal to a 35mm film camera's field of view with a 45mm lens attached...not the 28mm which is the widest the lens can see.

It's a smaller slice of the sky I see with my camera, but I figure if I ever catch a meteor in the frame, it should look pretty good. But last night wasn't that night. I fired off just under 300 images (30 seconds long) and not one single one of the dozen meteors I saw fell within the view of the camera.

I watched the show for three hours and every time I watched a meteor blaze across a different portion of the sky than that my camera was pointed at, I would think, "Maybe I should move the camera." And then I would think of the grocery know...the line you are NOT in always moves faster than your line until you move to that line. I figured if I moved my camera, nothing would show in that portion of the sky again and dozens of meteors would blaze through the area I just vacated.

I would have gotten one really nice meteor had I pointed the camera to shoot straight up. Two nice ones light up the night sky directly above me. But I didn't reposition the camera's view when the first one flew by and ended up with nothing. Oh, well...shit happens. .

I'll be out tonight pointed to a small slice of the night sky again...hoping to get that great meteor shot again.

Maybe I won't get skunked...again.

And if you tuned in at this time to catch up on the continuing story of my adventures behind The Wall, check back again. It got preempted.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Behind The Iron Curtain, Part I

Months ago, I debated with myself whether I should post certain photos to my Flickr Photostream. After doing a bit of research and weighing the good and bad reasons, I decided to go ahead and post those photos.

The photos weren't taken with the latest digital gear, nor were they taken with the finest 35mm color film. They were shot with Tri-X, a black and white Kodak film. And, they were shot 30 years ago. They were shot during another period of time when global tensions were strained, and two giants faced each other across the ring.

They were shot in the then cities of West Berlin and East Berlin.

Today, that beautiful city is known simply as Berlin. A wall, which split the city is no longer a barrier. In November of 1989, the single most oppressive object the world has known, fell. That object was known simply as The Wall. It went up in the early '60s and turned the western portion of Berlin into what was often called "an island of democracy in a sea of communism."

I went to Berlin because the Commander in Chief of US Air Forces, Europe wanted all of the newspaper editors under his command to go there, see what it was all about and tell the people who read their newspapers, what it is all about...why American troops were in Europe at that time. So a Newspaper Editor's Conference was set up for Berlin.

When I was stateside, I had gotten orders assigning me to Templehof Airport in Berlin, but during my processing for that assignment, I was told my assignment was being changed to Aviano AB, Italy. I was a bit disappointed, as Berlin was, in my mind, a magical place. Full of history, I was looking forward to my assignment there. But Italy had its good points and more. After a year and a half in Italy, I was loving the area of Italy I was in and the assignment.

However, when the opportunity came up to go to Berlin, I was very happy. When the date for my departure arrived, I took off in a train headed for Frankfort, West Germany. My train ride took about eight hours to get there and once I arrived, I was told I would have another 12-14 hours on the Troop Train, which would take us through East Germany and finally into West Berlin. It was a long ride, filled with lots of stops at train stations along the way. We were told to keep the curtains closed in our cabins while the train was at a stop.

At each stop, the train filled with Americans, was watched closely by the East German army, or maybe, police. I'm not sure which, but at one stop when I did lift the curtain and peer outside, I saw two uniformed individuals with AK-47s walking by the train car. When they saw me, they raised their weapons and headed towards the window. I dropped the curtain, closed my eyes, shook my head and knew I would soon be dragged out of the car by armed guards who would take me to a dark dungeon, lock me in and turn me into the latest pawn in the international game of the Cold War.

That didn't happen, because moments later, the train started to move. It didn't take me long to realize I was in Indian Country. Our train was riding through a part of the world where I was considered the bad guy. After "beating the system" (so to speak) at that one stop, I figured I knew the game and that I would play by my rules...or at least try. When we finally arrived in West Berlin, one of our first requests was to see Checkpoint Charlie.

While there, myself and another editor there for the conference, decided we were going into East Berlin on our own. Around 2 pm, we casually walked through the gates at Checkpoint Charlie, stopped at the currency exchange on the other side, got some East German marks and headed off for a makeshift tour of one of the most well-known, but secretive cities in the world at the time.

It wasn't long before I began to notice a couple of people following us. I decided I was going to let them know I knew they were there. So when we rounded a corner and were out of sight temporarily, I moved over to a wall of a building between us and waited. When the two came into sight, I smiled, waved at them and watched their reaction. There was a moment of confusion in the faces of the two which brought a bigger smile to my face. I shook my head and walked back to my friend.

Later on, when we became hungry, the two of us decided to get something to eat. As we walked along a row of buildings, the sounds of people enjoying themselves and the smell of food drew our attention and in we went. Prior to us going in the restaurant, we could hear people talking, laughing and having a good time. It was something we had not heard or experienced since crossing through Checkpoint Charlie early that day. But as soon as we went in, the place got so quiet, a person on side of the room could have heard a dropped feather hit the floor on the other side of the room.

When the shock of our appearance wore off, one of the people working in the eatery came over and asked us what we wanted. In our broken German, we managed to tell the person we wanted to eat and we were then escorted to raised table along the back wall of the room. Moments after we sat down, the door opened again, and two men entered the place and took seats near the front. I watched them, and when both were looking my way, I smiled and slowly dipped my head in acknowledgment of their presence. I knew they were probably East German Secret Police (Stasi) assigned to watch us, just like the earlier pair.

As we were being served our food, I saw the pair get up and leave. I figured they knew we had to come out sooner or later and that they would pick us up then. When we finally did finish our meal and walked outside, we realized it was dark and late and we had no idea of where we were. We had to be back at Checkpoint Charlie at midnight or all sorts of things were going to happen which wouldn't be good for us. So we started asking people walking along the sidewalk, the direction Checkpoint Charlie was. Everyone we asked, must have known we were being watched, as they would ignored us and quickly walk away. I was wishing those watching us would show up so I could ask them which direction Checkpoint Charlie was. But after asking a dozen or so people, a party of three came by and we asked them.

The threesome was an elderly gentleman, a young man and a gorgeous woman. When we started to ask in our lousy German, the older man said he spoke English. He then began to tell us how to get back and all involved public transportation of some type which we were not allowed to travel on. And for each mode of transportation he mentioned, I would say, "Can't use it." The first time, he asked me why, and I said, with a smile, "We aren't allowed to use government owned transportation because it supports a government we considered bogus." I guess this guy had gone through this before because he didn't blink an eye, but offered to take us there himself in his automobile. I figured we were safe in traveling that way, and since we had under an hour to go before the clock struck 12, I agreed go in his car.

We went to his house, along with the younger couple, and went inside where we were offered something to drink, which I declined, and where attempts to make small talk were made, which I discourage by asking when he was going to take us to the checkpoint. Finally he said we should go, so we got up and went outside. There, in front of his house was parked his car. In front of his car was also parked three East German green and white police cars and behind his car were another three green and whites of the local police. I began to wonder what was going to happen, but got in the older man's car, along with my friend, and the good looking East German gal and her companion. We then started to move as soon as the police cars started to move. We were getting a police escort to Checkpoint Charlie. I could only imagine what would happen when a small P.O.S. East German car pulled up along the gate at Checkpoint Charlie with six police cars and my friend and I got out and walked back into West Berlin.

Well, it never happened. We got a block away from Checkpoint Charlie and the police cars in front made a right hand turn and headed down a dark street. Now, one thing we were told was to not cross a meter wide white stripe which went around East Berlin, about 50 meters from The Wall. We were told it marked the kill zone. Enter that area, and you are fair game for the armed guards in the watch towers along The Wall. Earlier that day, my friend and I experience the fear the line brought in the face of a young child who accidentally kicked a soccer ball across it. He carefully, and slowly walked across the line, picked up his ball and joined his friends.

Now, were we in a car, surrounded by police, and that line was getting closer and closer in the front window. I was bracing for the bullet impacts the moment we flew across the line. None came. We stopped about 20 feet inside the kill-zone, and got out of the car. I watch the East German policemen get out of their cars and disappear into the shadows around us. When the driver came over to us, I asked where Checkpoint Charlie was. He pointed to a gap between two buildings and said "Right through there." I started to move in that direction when Ernst (that was his first name) began to make small talk. I figured since we weren't dead and since the police still hadn't dragged us off to some gulag somewhere, that he was connected in some way or another with the Stasi.

So with each question he asked, a smart remark of "Can't tell ya." came back from me and my friend. Finally, he said goodbye, pointed us towards the gap and wished us well. I said bye to him and the other two, and then said goodbye to the policemen around us. We then passed through the gap.

Waiting for us on the other side were East German border guards. Their AK-47s were held at their waist and the muzzles were pointed in our direction. I glanced over the barriers which blocked the roadway between the cities and saw we had the attention of the guards on the west side of The Wall. After a few moments, a Soviet officer, a major if I remember correctly, walked towards us. When he arrived, I saluted him sharply and asked him if his goons could let us go back "to the land of the free and the home of McDonalds." He barked something at them, to which they turned and disappeared into the shadows (the East Germans were good at that). He then escorted us to the pedestrian gate and started in with the small talk.

As we arrived at the gate which lead through The Wall and into West Berlin, he asked what we thought of our visit to East Berlin. I offered to tell him all about it at McDonalds (which was right up the road and visible from where we were standing) and even offered to pay for his meal, but wouldn't accept my offer. So, I turned to him and said, "It was fun here, but I will be glad to get back into the good side of The Wall." He nodded slightly, barked something to someone somewhere and a second later, the remote lock on the gate made some noise and it swung open.

My friend and I walked through, then over to the guard shack on the American side of Checkpoint Charlie where we answered a few questions, said we were okay and asked the best way to get to Templehof. Back at the airport, we were bombarded with questions from our fellow editors until the long day finally caught up with all of us and we turned in.

I was happy to be back in West Berlin and away from the oppression of East Berlin. I was also sad I wasn't going to be able to mess with people's minds for a while. But I knew we were going to get a tour of East Berlin and I would get another chance to become an international incident.

But I'll save that for another post in a couple of days.