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Edition #74, March 15, 2008

The OC

Photographer: Kevin Scanlon

                                                                                      Photo by Kevin Scanlon

The OC

The alarm clock slaps me awake with a raspy buzz at 5:00 am. I stand in the shower thinking, ďThis whole thing is a stupid idea.Ē 

I started doing this a couple years ago when I was working a job that started at 4:00 am. On my days off I would still get up early so I decided to try working on some photographs at dawn. It sounded like a nice project, but here in Pittsburgh the sun doesnít always come up. Itís something with the geographic location between the Great Lakes and the Allegheny Mountains; we donít get many sunny days. Seattle gets more sunny days than Pittsburgh. So photographing the sunrise is not always possible. Photographing a sunrise in Pittsburgh with a train in it during the few minutes when the sun is at the appropriate height in the sky is an exercise in frustration. About the second time out I realized that this could take years.

It is 6:15 am on Friday morning, three days after Christmas and Iím standing in the freezing darkness on top of a large hill / small mountain overlooking the city. Iím holding a cup of coffee, but it isnít helping. Up here the wind is steady and it is COLD. My scanner squawks occasionally but Iím not picking up any useful information. Mostly itís transmissions washing over onto the railroad frequencies, some female voice chattering endlessly about something and a recorded National Weather Service forecast for the region. An old lady walking a blind dog stops by for a brief chat. She tells me that the scene is much prettier in the afternoon. I tell her my name is Eugene Smith. The dog walks into my leg. I decide to move to another spot.

I'll try a spot along the Ohio River that I photographed a year ago. You can only shoot it in winter when the underbrush has died back. I park the car and walk down the path. A homeless man is walking up the path toward me. I give him a couple bucks and tell him coffee is on me today. Just ahead, out of site of the road and right on the Ohio riverbank is a dome tent set up in the trees, he must have been staying there. It has to be pretty cold right on the river. I step past a huge pile of empty Friskies cans (I hope he has a cat) and walk down the slight slope to my spot. I reach out to break off an offending branch and my feet skate out. I find myself sliding feet-first on my ass through icy mud right toward the river as if someone just broke the champagne across my bow and launched me. Luckily I can dig in a heel and grab a stump right before I go in.

After waiting a while it doesnít look like anything will be running and the cloudless sky makes for an uninteresting sunrise so I leave. While driving home I hear the Norfolk Southern dispatcher talking to a 25Z on the Mon Line. Good old 25Z, a morning westbound stack train that I often photograph. I go to a spot Iíve been working with to try a photograph. The sun has hidden itself behind some buildings and is just starting to peek out around the PPG headquarters. Over to the left the Highmark/Blue Cross HMO building is looking like a giant hypodermic needle. The Ohio Connecting Bridge stretches across the bottom of the frame. I love the OC Bridge. It was built when the Pennsylvania was building their railroad to last forever. It is huge, spanning two channels of the Ohio River and Brunots Island. Right where the OC crosses the island is the spot where the Lewis and Clark expedition landed in their brand new boat. It was the first stop on their great journey.

The train shows up and I press the shutter.

Kevin Scanlon

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