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Old Nov 30, 2009, 3:42 PM   #1
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Default Scranton

My wife and I went to Scranton, Pennsylvania on Saturday, November 28, 2009. We planned on going to a state park but never got to reach it. Because once we hit the historic district of Scranton, we were captivated by the Municipal Building’s gothic beauty. Before we knew it, we were snapping photos of other old buildings one after another.

I surmised tourists must be a novelty in the area. Besides us, I didn't see any. A city-worker woman who was removing ribbons from lampposts wanted to hurry so she can get out of my wife’s way who was taking pictures. Scranton, according to wikipedia, is long past its prosperous times. Coal and mining were what put Scranton on the map, and after natural gas superseded coal as the preferred energy source in the 1950s and a devastating flood wiped out its mines, Scranton went downhill and never recovered. One magazine described Scranton as "a contender for the 'armpit of America.'"

The city seems to have a penchant -- "obsession" might be the better word -- for statues and memorials. At just about every open space where a statue would fit, there would be one. The memorials might give an outsider the impression that the City of Scranton is stuck in the past.

But as old as the city’s architecture and memorials seem to suggest, one local coffee shop dares to differ. It seems to be a favorite hangout among the chic residents of the city as we saw people in trendy attires carrying messenger bags and rolled works of art they seemed like walk in and out of the place. Their youthful, unkempt, and rebellious outerwear were not unlike those you'd find in the artists' SoHo district in Manhattan.

Just as we were wrapping up our shoot, two homeless men saw me setting up my camera on my gorillapod in front of a Gothic-style building. Like two girls who accosted me earlier in another part of town with the question, "Are you taking pictures of that building?" one of the two homeless asked me the same exact question.

I replied, "Yeah."

"Take pictures of us," he said as they crossed the street towards me.

Not knowing what the rules of engagement were, I decided to be forthcoming and said, "Look, I only have a dollar or two for you guys."

Seeming to ignore my comment, he repeated, "Take pictures of us. The building will be in the background."

I said, "OK," and took pictures of them after counting a quick 1-2-3. I then fished some singles from my pocket and handed them to the talker of the two.

He accepted but never broke eye-contact with me.

"My name's Harry," the other guy said offering his hand.

I said, "My name's Billy," and we shook hands.

The talker said, "Publish it in the Times. So they can see how we homeless are being treated by the city."

I said, "Um, I'm not from around here." Silence followed as if I had just dropped a bomb. I added, "But I will post it on the Internet. And people will know it's Scranton."

"Yeah. Post it on the Internet."

Not long ago I have heard from acquaintances who work in the public services industry that the homeless are largely to blame for their predicament. The city erected shelters for them with beds, meals, showers, and everything they need, yet they still prefer to live miserably sometimes to the detriment of their health -- and the public's health -- out in the streets. It is of their own choosing that they are a burden to society. So instead of pity, I have since viewed them with some shame and blame.

Yet now, I'm beginning to see things a bit differently. The two homeless men in Scranton stood a few paces from me while we talked as if keeping in accordance with some unwritten rules of conduct. They were polite as far as I can tell and, as I remember jgredline saying, they seemed to be always on guard. The first thing you say to a homeless person, he said, is offer your name because "it gives them respect and a sense of belonging." And that is just what one of them did -- he offered me his name. When I offered my name back, I remember he looked at me as if stunned that I have uttered a magic word.

jgredline also said to keep eye-contact at all times. That way, "you will know who you are dealing with." I remember I thought it was odd that when I handed one the money, he never looked at it as he took it from my hand into his and never broke eye-contact with me. As they walked away I saw him count and hand half of it to his partner. It's not enough to buy them their next meal, but I hoped it was something.

I don't think the homeless are criminals. I don't think they have concealed weapons in their pockets ready to pounce on the next old woman. More likely, they are you and me who respond similarly to the same circumstances but took a wrong turn at life somewhere and since then may have lost the will to fight. jgredline said, "You will be surprised what a kind word and conversation will do for him." Looking at the sad faces of the two homeless men whose pictures I took in Scranton, I am beginning to see what he means. The homeless may rightfully or wrongfully be blamed for becoming the bane of society that they are, but then maybe -- just maybe -- that's for someone else to decide.

Sorry for the lengthy post. C&C are welcome. Some pictures are taken by my wife. Thank you for looking!

#1. Municipal Building. This is the reason why we never got to where we originally intended.

#2. Fire Headquarters.

#3. The most beautiful building I have ever seen to date. It’s a privately-owned, office building.

#4. Same building, different angle.

#5. Scranton has a penchant -- “obsession” might be a better word -- for statues and memorials. Its historic district is filled with statues of national greats such as Washington and Lincoln as well as local historical figures and unnamed Civil War soldiers.

#6.The City of Scranton is nicknamed “The Electric City” because it had “the nation's first successful, continuously-operating electrified streetcar (trolley) system” established in 1886. -- wikipedia.org

#7. Clock tower and “Soldiers and Sailors” Monument at Lackawanna County Courthouse.

#8. A privately-owned residential (looks like apartment) building.

#9. As with any major city, Scranton has its homeless.
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Old Nov 30, 2009, 8:43 PM   #2
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I like the sense of scale (large) that are conveyed in #s 1 & 4. Very impressive considering you used a point and shoot!
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Old Dec 1, 2009, 1:20 AM   #3
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Love the shots of the building with fire escapes. All are nicely done.
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Old Dec 1, 2009, 6:20 AM   #4
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Cant say which I like more, your great architectural shots or your opening story of your time in Scranton. Without a job its not very hard to go from a life most of us are accustomed to, to having no place to live and no prospects or possibility to get one. A lot of homeless refuse the shelters because they are dangerous. What few possessions they have, like socks and shoes or jacket quickly get stolen once they fall asleep. There are a lot of psychological issues which anyone would have being in that situation. Some are there because of the issues. So thanks again for the story and pics. By the way #3 looks like the former residence of Rapunzel. I can almost see her standing out on the balcony. One last thing -- did you ever get a chance to go inside one of those neat looking buildings? Im thinking HDR of the central foyer if there is one.

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Old Dec 1, 2009, 6:21 AM   #5
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Nicely captured!

RE: Homelessness -

After a nasty divorce some years ago, I was left homeless for over two years. Yeah... I *could* have done things a lot differently. Like quit drugs and alcohol (which contributed immensely to the divorce), seek counseling (both for my drug & alcohol problems and my marriage), and move on to a better life. I *chose* the course I took as do some other homeless folks -- not all. Although I was broke and broken, I miraculously always found money for drugs or booze. Food (and just about everything else) was secondary. I survived. It took a terrible toll on my body and my life. BUT, I learned from it and moved on. Another choice. Although I continued my alcohol abuse for another 10 years, I spent 15 years in the Navy (during which I got help with my alcoholism - haven't had a drink in about 20 years) after that, got out, became a systems engineer and am now retired... happily snapping photos with a wife of almost 30 years with whom I do prison ministry and share my story with inmates -- many of whom are/were in the same boat as I was. It gives them hope and tells them they don't have to live like that. My first two wives? #1 is still an alcoholic living on welfare as she has over the past 40 years. #2 is still an alcoholic married to an abusive man that is an alcoholic. I've learned NEVER to prejudge until you walk in another man's shoes, live life as if there is no tomorrow and live it for God.

Funny how life turns out, ain't it?
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Old Dec 1, 2009, 6:21 AM   #6
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Good picks -a couple of outstanding ones- and a great story too.
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Old Dec 1, 2009, 8:26 AM   #7
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Thanks, jelpee -- you picked my wife's photos! I am biased towards my shots but more and more with comments like yours (and friends who are not at steves) I'm beginning to see just how heavily biased I am. Maybe I should step aside and let her shine. After sitting beside her for hours teaching her how, she does her own pp now.

Thanks, Walter C! I wonder if -- and wish -- they still make buildings like that...

While typing I did something I never did before -- wonder why the homeless would prefer to be out in the streets instead of in the "comfy" confines of shelters. Now I have some very clear ideas. But I think the psychological issues would be heaviest. Thanks, Bynx, for sharing your thoughts.

Regarding going inside, we were so carried away just by the outer structures that we never got to enter any of the buildings. Because while walking towards one building, we could see the next one looming just ahead and can't wait to get there. Once we got home, I had the same thought as yours -- I wish I had gone in. I was wondering about St. Paul's Cathedral the most because churches tend to be as ornate inside (if not more) than outside.

Thanks, gjtoth. I don't really know how to respond to your story. Even with us who many view as a role model, we've had downturns where words were spilled that would break apart any family. Somehow we've managed to stay intact over the years. Your story about turnaround is very moving and inspiring.

Thanks, Ordo! Photography -- as my wife keeps telling our friends as if to goad them -- has built a much stronger bond between us.
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Old Dec 5, 2009, 7:02 AM   #8
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Hello again, the 2 vvcarpio's!

Another nice series of good photos and a well received story to go with it. It really widens my horizon to read about your experiences, Scranton the town and the meeting with the homeless. All together a refreshing report, I must say.

While all of the pictures are good in their own sense (except #8 perhaps, which is an somewhat unfinnished HDR...) there is #1 and 4 who appeal the most to me. Very good architectural shots, both # 1 and 4. The # 7 photo is a nice and new way of seeing and presenting a statue with that beautiful tower behind. Well composed.

I also like your shot of the two homeless, specially after reading your story about them. Makes you wonder where they are now and what they are doing....

Tank you for sharing, not only nice pictures, but also an interesting story!

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Old Dec 6, 2009, 8:17 PM   #9
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Nice shots. Did you see Dunder Mifflen Paper Company?

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Old Dec 7, 2009, 10:08 AM   #10
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My wife was thrilled at your comments because you picked all of hers .

I especially agree about your comment on #7. I, too, took a picture of the tower and monument but from a different angle. Mine lacked an interesting perspective -- just two straight lines jutting evenly up -- and therefore felt “square”.

I agree also about #8 being somewhat unfinished. The truck is actually white but perhaps sensing and not knowing how to remedy the photo’s incompleteness, my wife colored it black. I suggested making the shadow on the building a little brighter but she said she wanted to make the whole scene darker.

There’s actually a story, too, with #8. When we arrived, there was a police car parked in the middle of the parking lot. When the cop saw me angling to take photos, he drove off looking at me with a big -- I'd say ridiculous-looking and un-cop-like -- grin on his face saying something I didn’t make out. But obviously he was saying something like, “Let me get out of your way.” That added to our perception of the city of Scranton badly needing tourists. I remember I didn’t get that kind of reception from a Chicago cop when we went there not too long ago...

Thanks, Walter S, for your always-encouraging comments!
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