Don Corleone and Vlad The Impaler Live at Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Tucker Auto at Francis For Coppola Winery

A thing about wine tasting: you can only do so much of it. You won’t find me trailing up and down some viney valley imbibing at one winery after another. After the first stop I feel the urge to do a face plant on the lawn.

Wineries have to offer more than tastings to hold their audiences these days and few do it better than showbiz master Francis Ford Coppola.

I spent a couple of hours at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery without sipping a drop. But there were other things to do.


Not So Noir Anymore: The New Downtown LA

Downtown LA from the pool at the FigeuoraI hear it fluttering above: chucka, chucka, chucka. Officially, the California State Bird is the gentle Valley Quail. The exception is in Los Angeles where that honor goes to the helicopter: following bad men, televising traffic tie ups and car chases. We are in Downtown LA, it is 2AM and my wife and I are rudely awakened: chucka, chucka, chucka, woop, woop.

Next morning I check the police blotter: A bar fight. But not in one of the sleazy Open-At-6AM dives that I associated with this once LA Noir neighborhood, but a at club inhabited by high-strung twenty-somethings.

Welcome to a Downtown Los Angeles of mixed messages: a storied, sometimes tawdry history now burnished with gleaming glass and steel, including a Ritz Carlton monolith looming, chopper level, above me. I am at ground-level, poolside at the not-so-ritzy Figueroa Hotel peering up at the top one-percent, watching searchlights scanning the skies, LA-style, for nothing in particular.


Grand Central at 100: Its a “Toyminal” Not a Station

Grand Central Terminal Birthday CakePhoto Credit: Jason G. Lewis

I didn’t make Grand Central Terminal’s grand birthday party Saturday but I did pay homage last week, as one of the 750 thousand who visit daily.

And I did take some pictures, one of which I projected to a crowd at the New York Times Travel Show where I moderated a panel on digital photography.

And I did get into trouble.


A Week Without Instagram: Travel Photography the Old Way

ROCKPORT, MAINE – (c)  Russell JohnsonA Week at the Maine Media Workshops

To someone who shoots pictures while traveling, a week without a mobile phone cam, Instagram or Photoshop is like crossing the River Styxx. I admit to a certain amount of dependence on Photoshop’s “content aware tool,” which can magically erase power poles and tourists in paisley pants. And as much as I gripe about a feature called HDR (high dynamic range), which can turn normal landscapes into surreal scenes from Lord of the Rings, I still sometimes use it when my Mother Nature doesn’t oblige with the right light.

Will I survive five days without these digital wonders? Just me and my camera?