Late in 1999, I instigated and stimulated an email thread amongst my online pen pals with a simple challenge: what substance created in the 20th Century has done humanity the most good without at the same time causing the most harm? After much debate over a host of possibilities (heavier-than-air flight, water purifying technology, birth control pills were just a few of the also-rans), we settled on two items: 10W40 motor oil and pantyhose.
At the time, I had never even heard of Container Shipping.
I think my long-term temping assignment at Xtra Corporation (now XTRA Lease, a Berkshire Hathaway company) didn’t happen until 2001. Aside from paying the bills, my tenure taught me a lot about one of the most important inventions of the 20th Century that most people don’t realize affects them every day. The ability to load up a container on the back of a flatbed in Bangalore, drive it to Chennai, hoist it onto a freighter to The Port of Oakland, hoist it from a freighter onto a railroad car to St. Louis, then hoist it onto an 18-wheeler that can carry it to shopping malls in the suburbs reduces costs and minimizes losses to an extent that most people don’t appreciate.
It also provides great urban landscapes for amateur photographers–and that’s what really matters, right?
I awoke at dawn this morning to take BART to West Oakland, a huge neighborhood given over to The Port of Oakland, one of the biggest on the American West Coast, fifth biggest in the United States, and the first on our Pacific Coast to develop facilities for containerization.
And home to layers upon layers of containers.
In the right light, and this was one of those occasions when The Magic Hour presented truly magic opportunities, the containers glow like hard candies and become much more picturesque than during the duller light of a dusty industrial noon. Aside from some cropping, I have done nothing to enhance the pictures at this time. Maybe later. I used my Nikon D40 DSLR for the above shots, but I couldn’t poke the lens through various fences for specific shots, so I resorted to my S9100 point-and-shoot for something like this:
The area becomes almost desolate at such an early hour on a weekend morning; in fact, for a period of about one hour, the only person I saw was a security guard, who was enjoying breakfast and coffee in his personal automobile when I walked past. Since I stayed on public property (i.e., I never saw even one “No Trespassing” sign), he did nothing but look astonished, put on his safety-yellow “SECURITY” vest, step out of his car and watch me work. Putting on his near-black sunglasses for an extra-toughness look was a nice touch.
When finished for the morning, I walked past him on my way back to BART and said good morning. He said good morning back with just the right touch of “you are so @#$%&^*& nuts” in his voice. But heck, I’m an amateur photographer. “@#$%&^*& nuts” is part of the job description.
A tiny sample of the 192 pictures from this morning’s haul, and then it’s off to do my chores.
Have fun with this week’s Challenge; I certainly did.
Vonn Scott Bair