Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Freight Train Engineer For The Union Pacific Railroad

My short visual reportage about Mark V–single dad by day, freight train operator by night, and tuba player everywhere in between won the second prize in the Sketching Work Design Project put together by the University of Western Australia. I am very honored to be selected, especially after reviewing the exceptional caliber of other entries. 

Check out the online exhibition here.  

Mark's Story 

Mark has worked as a train operator for the last 39 years. He is planning to retire in the next 18 months. He loves railroads and feels like he is a twelve year old boy going on 65 when he climbs into a locomotive. He says that running trains in the Pacific Northwest allows him to enjoy some of the most breath-taking scenery. He even derives simple pleasure from warming his breakfast sandwich on a little metal space heater by his feet, worn and gritty from years of usage.

In order to become a train engineer one has to go through 6 months of intense training, plus some long hours in a simulator. Train operators need to be in tune with multiple forces of physics when they run a giant freight train pulling or pushing multiple cars. A lot of times these trains deliver some of the most poisonous materials known to human kind, and an accident could lead to an ecological destruction and loss of life on a catastrophic scale.

Another aspect of this job that comes up in training is the tragic fact that people use freight trains as tools of suicide without thinking about the consequences for the operator. “In training they tell us that on average you could expect to have up to seven incidents involving suicides or death in the course of your railroad career” says Mark with a heavy sigh. “You have no steering, and the train like this is impossible to stop in time, so you just close your eyes and wait for a thump”

An accident involving a drunk man climbing over the train that Mark operated in July of 2003 lead to Mark’s long struggle with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The man accidentally fell under the train when it started moving and lost his leg. Fortunately, Mark noticed it and was able to save the man’s life.

Otherwise, Mark loves all aspects of his job, including crazy night shifts. He said that working nights allowed him to spend more time with his daughter when she was little. Mark’s wife died when their daughter was only 3 years old. Mark would play tuba gigs in the evenings, take three hour naps before reporting for his night shift at midnight. He would sleep another three and a half hours in the morning after finishing his shift and would help out in his daughter’s school and spend afternoons with her. He says that none of the stay-at-home moms would believe that he was a single dad working two jobs.

Mark is also a full time tuba player, playing with over 20 different orchestras and ensembles around Portland area. He has such a unique combination of occupations that following him around is an adventure in itself. I made a separate concertina about his tuba playing life.

He feels that being a tuba player and a train engineer are semantically connected by a button on his locomotive that sounds the horn alerting people of an approaching train. Tubas are sometimes also called horns and, similar to freight trains, are capable of making low loud sounds.

Mark feels that both of his occupations are perfect for his intensely romantic nature, and he considers himself very lucky to be paid for doing something he would love to do as a hobby.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Short Rendez-vous with the Red Cliffs of Arizona

By the time the month of March rolls into the Pacific Northwest we all feel rusty from the endless rain and moisture in the air, deficient in vitamin D, and depressed from the constant gloom and grey. That's why a trip to a sunny place like Arizona could serve as a much needed psychological bandaid to recover some sanity. 

As we arrive to Sedona and first spot the majestic red cliffs we are greeted by a strong spring storm that is immediately followed by an intense double rainbow. 

15 minute sketch as the rain is starting to fall over the spectacular red rocks. The light is changing minute by minute and rainbows are starting to form

The sweet Polish woman who is hosting us at her Bed and Breakfast outside of Sedona recommends that we go see the sunset from the hill behind the airport. The view doesn't disappoint.

Next day we are off early to accomplish a lot of hiking and sketching. Hike # 1 is an easy mostly flat walk along the Fay's Creek Canyon. There is an option to climb the smooth warm rocks at the end of the walk for an incredible view of the canyon, the valley and the mountains in the distance. 

Fay's Creek Canyon
The second hike for the day turned out to be a lot more serious, nevertheless rewarding us with some amazing views on both sides of the ridge. 

Sitting on a little shelf, smelling Jeffrey pines around us. Unfortunately, the view directly opposite of me is backlit to fully capture all of the details 

Next morning we are up at 3:30am to experience the highlight of the whole trip and something that I have been meaning to do for a while now–sketch from a Hot Air Balloon. I watch and quickly sketch the preparations. Our captain says once you see the flames shoot up in the air–it is your boarding call. We need to quickly climb into the basket and take off. 

The first few seconds of being air born were especially magical as the precise manipulation of laws of physics allowed us to rise up with ease of a feather picked up by a gentle puff of wind.

The fun challenge about sketching from a hot air balloon is the constant rotation, so the drawing ends up being a synthesis of a 360 degree view.

The town of Jerome–Arizona's classic Ghost Town

Jerome became a ghost town after the massive copper mine located here closed in 1950s leaving behind piles of tailings and partially collapsed houses. Fortunately, this town enjoyed some rebirth after a community of artists and hippies moved in attracted by the scenic views of the Verde Valley from the 5000 feet elevation of the town clinging on to one side of the Cleopatra hill. Now the Wild West aesthetic of the town with its former brothels, haunted hospital turned Grand Hotel, and steep winding streets attracts a lot of visitors attention. 

View of Jerome, Arizona from the bottom of the hill

Closeup of the panorama above

Historic photo of Jerome from its copper mining boom days
We climb all the way to the top of the hill to take in the view and enjoy a cup of coffee followed by a glass of wine on the terrace of Wes Andersonesque Grand Hotel. It is sitting like a cherry on top of the cascading rows of houses. What is now a hotel restaurant called Asylum used to serve as a general hospital where all patients with tuberculosis and mental illness were sent away. A very old fashioned waiter greets us “Hello and welcome to the asylum!” 

View of Jerome from the top of the hill

The closeup of the panorama above

More from the streets of Jerome

Arizona cacti collection

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Trial by Jury in the United States

Day 3 of the Trial

We have all seen it in movies and on TV–lawyers yelling "Objection!" eccentric judges, stone-faced jurors, tearful witness... The experience of serving as a juror is an experience that changed my perspective on many things, educated and moved me and allowed me to file this visual reportage. Serving as a juror is a front row ticket to a real life theatre, complete with pomp, decor, and tradition, except for the play is real and the outcome depends on you.

Multnomah County Courthouse

Last week I headed to the Multnomah county courthouse where I was summoned to serve as a juror. It is hard to describe the annoyance most of us feel on those occasions. We have to rearrange our whole life, take time away from work, families, and the normal course of activities. The jury selection process needs to be random in order to serve justice, which means that some people end up standing in a long line to pass the court house security, fill out paper work, and sit in a big windowless room with hundreds of other citizens waiting and waiting for many hours. Many of us never end up being called to sit on a trial, just serving our role as part of the random selection pool.

The Voir Dire Process

If you do end up being called you will have to go through something called a voir dire process by which a larger group of about 50 jurors gets paired down to 13 or less. Attorneys observe your non-verbal behavior and ask you questions that help them determine whether you could potentially harbor biases or prejudices against situations or a type of person that they represent. It is a fascinating process and you could be asked to voice your opinion publicly on things like whether you think prostitution should be legal or whether you have anything against Californians.

Voir Dire Process during a Civil Trial

The first trial I got called for was a civil trial involving a tenant-landlord dispute. The issue at heart revolved around some pet damage to a rental home. United States is unique in that civil trials could also be decided by jurors. I started feeling the annoyance creeping in at the fact that I had to spend my time potentially listening to hours of details about what someone’s dog did to a carpet. So when during the voir-dire one of the lawyers asked whether anyone in the room felt the US system was too litigious my hand enthusiastically went up in the air. I could see the counsel representing the plaintiff circle my name as a “problem” juror to my delight, as I fumbled through the answer explaining my feelings.

Aiko Ramen House

Having been kicked out of the civil trial that I deemed not worthy of my time I headed to the nearest ramen joint to celebrate.

Human trafficking case

Immediately after lunch I got called once again. This time I felt like I knew the ropes of the selection process. My only hope that it would be some fascinating criminal trial. I got more than I asked for as a trial was about human trafficking and involved lots of gruesome detail, emotional drain and took up an entire week.

Voir Dire Process during the Criminal Case

The Judge

The judge on the case has presided over 500 trials and commanded a lot of respect, but also some fear. During the selection process if a potential juror was trying to wiggle herself out of sitting on the case under various excuses the judge would turn to them with an angry face of a school principle addressing a group of hooligans and raise his voice: “I am not asking you if it is convenient. Can you  follow my instructions and fulfill your duty as a juror?”  The excuses ranged from "I do not believe that prostitution should be illegal" to "I had nothing but negative experiences with the law enforcement" to "I have two kids and just and just do not feel comfortable sitting through days of explicit sex details. To the latter the judge would reply with a stern face: "You are not here to be comfortable!”

Day of 4 of the Proceedings

He inspired us with a history lesson about the trial by jury in the United States. Under the colonial rule Americans were not allowed to practice juried trials, causing great distress among the citizenry. The judge also mentioned that jury duty is the only duty we have as citizens of this county, since the military draft was eliminated in 1973. We were moved, inspired, scared, and curious, and not allowed to talk to anyone or each other about what went on until we reached the verdict.

The Trial

The trial took five days–lasting one more day than anticipated. The State of Oregon has presented its charges against the accused and called on 6 witnesses. The accused represented by two of his public defenders had no witnesses and was himself briefly called to the witness stand.  The jury was subjected to a lot of gruesome and emotional testimony as the trial unfolded. The hardest part was the inability to process it by discussing it with the fellow juror or anyone else outside of the courtroom. 

Cross Examination of Expert Witnesses on Day 3
At some point when an expert witness was testifying in terrifying details about the world of sex trafficking including the particular language that traffickers use, the menu of services, the specific tattoos, and the rules–all of which were incredibly demeaning to women. Just then a whole group of middle school students walked in. They were probably on a field trip to the court house. Needless to say, the timing was very unfortunate, but we were unable to stop the barrage of offensive details coming out during the testimony. 

Day 2 of the Trial

Jury Deliberation Process

After a whole week of listening and observing we were finally allowed to talk about the case in a stuffy room with very basic furnishings. We huddled up together around an old wooden table with a pile of evidence. It was 1 pm on Friday–we weren't sure what would happen if we hadn't reached our verdict by the end of the day, as at least two of the jurors needed to leave town. We had four hours and 21 charges ahead of us.

Jurors 1-5

At least ten out of twelve jurors had to agree on every single charge. Only in Oregon and Louisiana it is sufficient to have ten jurors agree, all other states require all twelve. On at least five charges we barely had ten, although all of us agreed that the accused should go to jail for what he did.

Jurors 6-10

We finished our deliberations with 15 minutes to spare and called the judicial clerk–a charismatic guy Joe with his colorful collection of ties. We walked back into the courtroom. I carried the verdict and got to reply "Yes, your honor" when the judge asked me: "Miss Sabler, has the jury reached its verdict?" It felt epic at the time. The emotions quickly changed as the judge started reading our conclusion on all 21 charges, finding the accused guilty on all but one charge. With every count read we sank lower and lower into our chair with the full understanding of the implications.

Jurors 11-12 and the Clerk

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween 2017!

Last Saturday Andrea Matthews and I went in search of costumed people to sketch. We got a little more than we asked for when we happened upon the Crystal Ballroom Halloween Erotic Ball. I guess it has been happening in Portland for over 15 years. Who knew, although the line of people waiting to get their inner freak on outside of the Crystal ballroom is an iconic Portland’s sight. We ended up sketching for three hours mostly from the Ringlers pub quickly capturing a colorful character or a group swimming up to he window like some bizarre tropical fish. We also did some sketching from the sidewalk looking at people in line to enter.

"I am transgender, trans-species, trans-everything and I will pose with you for a drink...."
A line of costumed people waiting to get in

The glorious hostess of the Ball–Sasha Scarlett 
A cop, a fallen angel, and a unicorn were some of the most common costumes. The bar tender Craig has seen it all over the years 

People coming out for a smoke and a breath of fresh air

Some people have had enough erotica by midnight

"This is the best kept secret in Portland!" This group was very enthusiastic. They told us they have been coming and sitting at this table for many years taking photos and meeting the attendees of the ball. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

8th Urban Sketcher's Symposium in Chicago

The end of July brought one of the events that I usually look forward to all year long. As usual, after all of the anticipation it is over way too soon. Yet, sketching along some of my favorite artists, being surrounded by all of this creative energy, exploring a new urban place is something that I am so grateful for in my life.

Love this mural and many others in the city of Chicago 
This time the location of this symposium was in Chicago . I have never been to the Windy city, and was very impressed with its architecture, rich culture, and diversity. I brought my folding bike which allowed me to travel longer distances and explore some of the precious spots along the Lake Michigan which has surprisingly turquoise water.

Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan. Drew this for the Silent Auction to benefit the Urban Sketchers but at the end decided it wasn't good enough. Simo C. also wasn't happy with her sketch, so we just swapped instead.
I also managed to miss some of the most obvious landmarks. For example, seems like every sketcher was determined to draw their version of the famous Bean. There are literally hundreds of those sketches floating in the cybersphere–in all different styles. I somehow managed to miss it completely.
Sunrise from my rented apartment in the Presidential Towers 

Looking at my sketches from Chicago I realize that the density and the height of most of the buildings I saw sort of dictated the vertical layout, something I almost never use. Here are a couple of sketches from the 36th floor of the Presidential tower where I was staying. It was fun waking up with sunrise, even if it wasn't intentional–I was still fighting jet lag after coming here from Europe–and then watch the streets gradually fill with pedestrians and cars, peaking around lunch hour. Everyone rushing along carrying their Starbucks cups.

Madison ave. from the 36th floor 
The main reason for me to be in Chicago was to present a lecture on Documenting Resistance Movement in Sketches–the work I have been doing for the last 9 months since the election that shows various protests, rallies, and demonstrations taking place in Portland. The lecture was really well received even as it was scheduled for 6pm on Friday evening.
Presenting for the sketchers you have the luxury to be immortalized in sketches. Here is one of my favorites by Lapin

Certainly the most pleasant aspect of Urban Sketching symposium is being in the company of fantastic people from all over the world and all of the socializing that goes along with it.

Beautiful Nathalia and her boy-friend Rafael from Brazil at dinner in a Thai restaurant with Hose Louro to my left

Late dinner with Lapin, Wiltfried and Tapas Mitra on Thursday night

Live music at the closing night of the Symposium

Such a treat to see my friend Manuel. We were studying together in Barcelona and now he lives in Chicago

Ran into Peter Armstrong who took sketching classes from me in Portland in the airport, and we chatted over a glass of wine since our flight was delayed

Thursday, June 15, 2017

June 4th Portland's Pro-Trump Free Speech Rally and Counter-protests

Antifa and Anarchists filled the Chapman square. Portland Labor in construction helmets in the foreground

As I stood sketching the Chapman square an old man walked to the corner of Madison and 4th Ave in downtown Portland, looked at several thousand people gathered there with signs, banners, and face masks and asked no one in particular: “So, which ones here are the Nazis?” Indeed, for the uninitiated, the question seemed appropriate – for all of the angry faces, chants, and raised fists it was not always to tell who was on whose side.

A lot of tension filled the air leading up to the June 4th rally in Downtown Portland where pro-Trump Free Speech Rally was organized by a group called Patriot Prayer. Its organizer Joey Gibson who lives in Vancouver, WA has put together similar rallies in other places in his effort to take West Coast back by conservatives.

This event was scheduled to take place only a week after the fatal stabbing tragedy on a Max train in NE Portland. The rally drew some of the right-wing out-of-town celebrities but came at a time when Portland was still grieving and coming to terms with the tragic incident. Portland's mayor Ted Wheeler tried to cancel the rally, unsuccessfully–the permit for the pro-Trump rally was issued by the federal government.

Sketching the June 4th rallies

Not one but three simultaneous counter-protests were scheduled to take place at the same time. Emotions spiked by online comments and threats were running so rampant that hundreds of police on anti-riot gear were called in to form a thick physical barrier between the opposing sides.

So much was happening all at once –I tried to take it all in. First things first, a bike cop in full anti-riot gear. I asked him all he was carrying with him. "50 pounds of grenade launchers, FN303, a giant pack of disposable handcuffs, tear gas, pepper spray… "
When I arrived in the late morning the Chapman square was already filled with antifa and anarchists in their signature black hoodies, with faces covered by black handkerchiefs. They were holding anti-nazi signs, drumming and chanting anti-fascist, anti-police slogans.

Pro-Trump rally was scheduled to take place at the Terry Schrunk plaza starting at 2pm–almost directly across from the Multnomah county jail where Jeremy Christian–the alleged Trimet stabber is held on murder charges. He was known to hang out at the events organized by Joey Gibson before. For that reason the Free Speech rally organizers tried hard to emphasize that he was not part of their cause.

Portland Stands United Against Hate is facing off with the Trump crowd in the background. Police is in the middle separating the two sides. One of the signs reads: "Whose Useful Idiot are You?"

Immediately to the West of Terry Schrunk and next to the City Hall a rally called “Portland Stands United Against Hate” took place. It featured speeches and banners dedicated to Black Lives Matter, LGBT and Latino communities, among others.

One of the counter-protestor groups–Portland Stands United Against Hate–in front of the City Hall

Finally, to the East of the square Portland Labor movement organized its own rally. Their people dressed in construction workers' helmets and vests read the names of black men killed by the police and  projected anti-nazi, pro-immigrant slogans into the megaphones.

Police in heavy anti-riot gear encircled the site of the free speech rally, which was also taped off with yellow hazard tape. Over the loud speakers the protestors heard the following message over and over again: “This is Portland Police Bureau. If there is any violence on either side it will be treated as a criminal act.”

In the center of it all, in the sunlit Terry Schunck plaza gathered the supporters of the current president. Some of them were wearing super-hero or gladiator style costumes and helmets, holding "Made America Great Again" campaign style signs and signature red MAGA baseball hats, and flying many kinds of flags–the traditional stars and stripes, a purple Trump flag, a yellow "Don't Tread on me" Gadsden flag, and at least one green Pepe flag.

Police standing as a barrier between the pro-Trump rally (pictured on top right) and the counter protestors

Heavily armed police in special vehicles created a war zone impression, whereas people dressed in super-hero costumes and helmets contributed to an impression of some crazy comicon convention gone wrong.

There was a heavy dose of Portlandia in all of it as well. Some of the anti-riot police carrying FN33 and flash grenade launchers were on bikes. Some protestors distributed ice-cream and fresh strawberries out of giant tupperware containers. At one point I saw a man dressed in red spandex with butterfly antennas fluttering among angry protestors with his magic wand singing: “de-escalation is the key.” On the corner of 4th and Madison, a fixture at many of Portland's protests, the band "Unpresidented" was cheering the crowd with their fantastic music. 

As time went on the intensity of chants from all sides grew in volume. A screaming match here and there would get out of hand. Police periodically confiscated a stick and detain, typically someone from the Antifa side. The counter-protestors started to voice concerns that the police was siding with the pro-Trump rally, unfairly targeting the counter-protestors. 

Around 3:30 we heard the first flash grenades shake the ground and fill the Champman square where Antifa was protesting with gas and smoke. People started running–some closer to the site of the explosions. The Chapman square was cleared and counter-protestors were pushed further south. Some of them were temporarily detained, while the police searched their bags for weapons. I later learned that 14 arrests were made. Fortunately, no one suffered any injuries. 

The man who seemed most approachable was this guy standing in the crowd and holding a bright flower. He introduced himself as Ibrahim Mubarak. He represented the homeless and was there to talk about decriminalization of homeless in Portland