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Golub Photo Blog bio picture

Welcome to my blog!

Hello!  My name is Al Golub and I am based near Yosemite National Park.  I have been a working photographer for 50 years.  As a dedicated photojournalist, I spent most of my career at newspapers.  I also consulted for Eastman Kodak for 10 years and did commercial photography as well.  Now, I teach photojournalism at the local junior college, assist and mentor up-and-coming photographers, and do as much freelance photography as I can.

The blog is a way to share my images and the stories behind each of them.  I hope you find that my photographs speak to you.  I also hope to hear from you so please feel free to leave comments!

You can see more of my portfolio here.

You can see my ever-growing archive here, where images are available for purchase and licensing.

Photo by Adm Golub

Bracebridge Dinner

Singers entertain the Squire and the Bracebridge diners.

Forty-eight years as a photojournalist with forty-seven of those covering Yosemite National Park, and I had never photographed the Bracebridge Dinner.  Not because the event hasn’t been around – it’s over 80 years old.  More because when I think about Yosemite the images in my mind’s eye are Half Dome and El Capitan erupting from the earth, icy streams cutting across sharp-grassed meadows, sugar pines, white fir, and giant sequoias soaring into pristine skies.  I don’t think about the already magnificent Ahwahnee decked out as a 17th century English manor, a seven-course feast of crab, duck, angus beef with-all-the-trimmings-and-then-some, lute players and ladies-in-waiting, jugglers and jesters, and enough yuletide spirit to fill the place to its 34-foot-high beamed ceiling.

At least I didn’t before December 18, 2009.  But I do now.  On that memorable evening, I covered The Bracebridge Dinner for the first time.  While the diners partook of music, merrymaking, and mountains of food, I photographed everything I could get my lens on.  I immersed myself and my camera in the images of the celebration just as the diners immersed themselves in the spirit of a Renaissance Yule.  The scents of the meats, pastries, and sauces, the sounds of the trumpets, trombones, and tubas, the textures of the velvets, satins, and furs-all had to be captured in my images.  I worked intensely, not wanting to miss anything, not knowing what might happen next.  I had to move around constantly, with hardly a place to pause because the dining tables consumed most of the room and the wait staff and performers filled the rest.   I held my breath and did a bunch of slower shutter speeds at wide open.

Over 900 images later, the event was over.  As the last wine was quaffed and the last mignardise were nibbled, I loaded my equipment into my four-wheel drive and headed for home through the deep snow.  A long evening followed by a long night – the life of the freelance photographer.

Editing was challenging.  The event is one richly colored, highly textured vignette after another, but the technical difficulty is at least a 9 (scale of 0-10).  I set my Nikon D3 at 6400 ISO for the entire evening because the giant room was so dark.  The shadow-to-highlight ratios were extreme because the high ceilings were lighted by candles and the performers by theatrical spots.  I used my 300 mm f2.8 Nikkor, 70-200 mm f2.8 Nikkor zoom, and 17-35 mm f2.8 Nikkor zoom.

Initially, I edited down to 200 images even though all turned out to be technically acceptable, most even excellent.  The best of these, 51 images, can be seen on Photoshelter.  Twelve of the final group are posted here.  They are only a tiny representation of the images I photographed.  But I think you’ll notice that the problem presented by the darkness of the room has been entirely eliminated.  It was a terrific night!  I had such a great time that I intend to do it again.

View of guests in Great Lounge enjoying cocktails and singing carols accompanied by grand piano.

Men in formal attire swap war stories.

Dining room with large beam ceiling is full of guests as entertainment begins.

Squire Bracebridge makes Jester King for the day.

Jester makes merry.

The Fish, the third course of the feast, is brought in by four servants.

The fifth course, Baron of Beef and Boar's Head, is carried past a magnificent stone fireplace into the dining hall.

The Housekeeper, played by Andrea Fulton a central figure in every aspect of The Dinner, and the French Chef sing a duet.

The Widow entertains diners with stories between songs, dances, and other performances.

The more-than-100 actors, singers, and musicians fill the central aisle as they leave the stage between courses.

The French Chef sings a plea to the Housekeeper about the menu and invites praise for his magnificent cooking.

George Wallace 1967

As part of former Alabama Governor George Wallace’s bid for the U.S. Presidency in 1968, he attempted to get on the California ballot as the candidate of the recently formed American Independent Party.  His campaign included an appearance in Modesto on November 22, 1967.  With this blog I will add George Wallace to my PhotoShelter Famous Faces folder.

In 1963, George Wallace was the guy who literally and symbolically blocked the schoolhouse door in adamant opposition to desegregation.  It took federal marshals and the Deputy Attorney General of the United States to get him to move aside.  I learned at an early age my family was opposed to segregation and all other forms of discrimination, but I wanted to make an image that showed the true character of Wallace without my personal feelings clouding the issue.  The minute Wallace started saying things like “the government needs to quit pussyfooting around” and referring to “pointy-headed intellectuals” my camera started clicking.  Here are the results.

The Governor’s entourage was 25 or so people.  Thirteen of his staff were Alabama State Police and the others were campaign workers including several lawyers and one judge.

The news conference was held just before the public meet and greet at the Sandpiper Steak House on McHenry Ave.

There wasn’t any TV coverage.  The only other media present were the Modesto Junior College communications department students.  They had lots of questions for Wallace but he responded with one-liners and moved through the crowd with his state troopers surrounding him.

Just before I left, my eye caught some friends of mine who had more liberal leanings than Wallace.  They told me they were there to listen and learn.  In the middle with the cigarette in his mouth is Alan Arnopole, great singer, guitarist, and musical talent.  I mention him now because later I will do a blog on his great band California Zephyr.

 

Motor Fire Near Yosemite Entrance, August 25, 2011

 

Last Thursday I was working on a blog about my first season photographing the NFL, when I got an email from my friend Wes Schultz.  Wes sent me a URL from Wildlanfire.com that said there was a fire near El Portal and they were requesting recourses.  I could see a big column of smoke from my balcony.  So, I started getting my camera equipment ready and pulled all of my fire gear together.  They named the fire the Motor Fire because a motor home caught fire on highway 140 starting fires on both sides of the Merced River.

Before I left the house about 3:30 pm, I photographed this column of smoke.  We are looking east from my house.  The smoke blocks the view of Yosemite National Park.

After driving nearly 60 miles I was on Highway 140 close to the fire.  With my 400mm and a 1.4 extender, I could photograph the Helicopters dropping water directly on the fire.  If you have been there before, it is between Savages Trading Post and the Cedar Lodge.

I continued up river where I found helicopter 404 from the Columbia Helitack base scooping water out of the Merced River.

404 has a new paint job because CDF, California Department of Forestry is now called Cal Fire.

The Cal Fire helicopter pilots are amazing.

Cal Fire 404 put water down in drainage to slow progress of the fire.

On the way out to make deadline, I could see the fire had reached Trumbull Peak.  That gave me an idea where the fire was going.  The next day I planed to got to Trumbull Peak from the old Coulterville to Yosemite stagecoach toll road.  This would be my last change to photograph the fire because Saturday and Sunday I was covering NFL football game.

I got a late start but I could see there was still smoke rising.  To say the road was a little rougher that I remember is an understatement.  My new rattle loose and I have to use Duck-Tape of keep it from falling off.  I had to ride up on the bank of the road along with a little brush smashing.  My Truck has the scars to prove it made the trip.  The next day the Forest Service closed the road for safety reasons.  By the time I got to just below the Peak, I met the Fulton Hot Shots come down the road.  The fire came up over the Trumbull Peak Lookout and they decided to fall back to where I took this image of the Motor fire jumping the Peak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buzzard Visit, August 10, 2011

Last Wednesday about ten in the morning, my wife called to me from outside our house.  She said the turkey vultures were flying very low and I should get my camera.  We live near the top of Greeley Hill where the up-slope winds allow big birds to soar for hours.  I already had my boots on and headed outside to see for myself.  She was right.  The buzzards were gliding just above the treetops.  I looked toward our driveway and saw a couple birds landing in a big sugar pine.  By my count, there were about ten or twelve vultures altogether, so I grabbed my camera.  My Nikon D3 and 200-400mm zoom were just what I needed.

This immature turkey vulture is coming in for a landing on a big bare limb of a sugar pine.  You can tell it is immature because of its black head.  Mature birds have a red head.

Gliding low over our property frightened the chickens and guineas.  I think vultures are the best flyers.  The adult birds’ wingspans average about six feet.

In October 1975, I photographed this vulture near LaGrange drying its wings in the morning sun.  This image was part of a feature I did for Associated Press Features, published in January 1976.  I learned while photographing this group of about 30 birds not to approach them in a threatening manner because they vomit.  Whether this reaction is due to stress or to lighten their load for a quick takeoff, it is gross when you’re at the receiving end.  Remember, they eat mostly carrion, so the smell is bad to say the least.

Here, five of the buzzards roost on one of our sugar pines.

This vulture has just landed and his wings are still expanded.

A mature bird and a youngster have a minor territorial squabble.

 

 


 

 

 

 

Senator Sam Ervin (D- North Carolina) 1975

Famous Faces is a new gallery I just started on PhotoShelter.  I needed a place to organize the images of famous and infamous people I have photographed during my career: George McGovern, George Wallace, OJ Simpson, Joe Louis, and Ronald Reagan to mention a few.

In 1975, recently retired US Senator Sam Ervin was on a speaking tour.  Sponsored by The Modesto Bee and Modesto Junior College, he spoke in the MJC auditorium Wednesday night, November 19, 1975.  I wanted to photograph Senator Ervin because he was a major player in the Watergate hearings.  While I was in high school, my parents referred to Ervin as a Dixiecrat, I guess because he was a Democrat who defended the Jim Crow laws and racial segregation.  I was taught that everybody was equal and watched my parents live that example.  So my plan was to focus on the Senator’s investigation of the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Wednesday afternoon, a press conference was held for Senator Sam in the MJC student lounge.  I got the assignment, but the editor told me on the way out the door that the main picture was going to be of him speaking that night.  I guess it didn’t occur to them how much closer I could get to the subject at the press conference and what an outstanding opportunity it was to make great images.  I was only three to ten feet away from Ervin, whereas the MJC auditorium kept photographers forty feet away and on a lower plane due to the elevated stage.  Several times, I jumped up onto the stage and photographed right on top of the subject.  This approach has two drawbacks.  First, you irritate the audience and second, you need a good helping of intestinal fortitude even to have the courage to risk it.  Oh yea, in 1975 I could jump onto the stage.

At 79 years old, Sam Ervin was loaded with charm and wit.  Using my trusty 105mm, I photographed him right, left and center.  The three-light setup by the TV guys working together made for classic lighting.  It is common for TV and still photographers to discuss lighting before a press conference.

With his country lawyer Southern drawl, Ervin delivered lines like “Unfortunately in this tragedy, the President failed to perform his constitutional duties to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.  But the wisdom of the division of powers in government, made manifest by the Congress and the courts remaining faithful to their constitutional trust, enabled our country to weather one of the greatest storms any nation could have had.”

The Senator listened carefully to a reporter’s question about freedom of the press and answered, “It’s absolutely essential.  The men who wrote our Constitution put that guarantee in the First Amendment because they knew the full, free flow of information is essential to make government effective and to prevent tyranny over people’s minds.  It’s not to benefit the press, but to give Americans the information they need.”

Senator Sam Ervin impressed me.  He looked directly into to my eyes, acknowledging I was a real person not merely a fixture in the room, which many politicians appear to think.  To photograph him, I used a Nikon F2 with 105mm f 2.5 lens and Kodak Tri-X rated at 400 ISO and processed by hand in Ethol UFG film developer.  I used moderate agitation to control the contrast because of the harsh quartz halogen lights.

 

 

 

Cowboy Photography Workshop July 2011

Two weeks ago, the Erickson Cattle Company held a Cowboy Photography Workshop in Ackerson Meadow near Yosemite National Park.  Here is my record of what I saw during the workshop.  Photographers were treated to lots of real cattle ranch activity.  A late rainy season kept the wildflowers and grass alive and colorful until this mid-July date.  Normally the grass is brown and the flowers are gone.

With the help of Tim Hansen and Will Bennett, Dan Erickson moves cattle across Stone Meadow.  Cabin in background is the original ranch house built by Dan’s great-great grandfather in 1892.

Dan saddles up a second horse to give his first horse a rest.

Dan and Andra Erickson move cattle from back corral.

William Henderson and Julie Kitzenberger photograph morning mist on Stone Meadow.

Horses run through muddy bog.

William Henderson photographs dew on wire fence.

At day’s end, Dan moves horses back to corral.

During the day, Andra Erickson photographs her husband with son Logan close by.

At sunrise, Dan takes a moment to give his horse a rest.

Julie Kitzenberger photographs Tim Hansen near sunset.

Andra Erickson leads horse from upper meadow.

Photographer gets a chance to capture early light.

Wyatt Hansen ropes calf.

William Henderson in foreground, Julie Kitzenberger standing at left, Charlie Phillips standing on right, Wes Schultz on far right.

Group of cowboys and cowgirl move cattle from back of corral.

Dan Erickson slips reins around neck of horse to change mounts.

Andra Erickson

Tim Hansen uses rope to move cattle.

Wyatt Hansen takes a break during morning activities.

Dan and Tim walk horse into corral.

Will Bennett and Dan Erickson take calf down after Wyatt Hansen roped it.

Wes Schultz decided to photograph me.

Wes’s photograph of me.

 

 

Riot Training 1967

Less than two months after the infamous Detroit riot of July 1967 in which the Michigan National Guard was called out, I was assigned to photograph California National Guard riot training for the Modesto Bee.  At the time, I was still learning how to be a professional photojournalist, dealing with law enforcement and government agencies on a daily basis, listening to their view of events, and keeping the interests of the reading public first and foremost.  Now I would be working with an arm of the military during a turbulent, conflict-filled time.

I had strong feelings about the Detroit riot, which lasted five days with 43 people killed.  I also had strong feelings about the 1965 Watts Riots during which 34 people had been killed and over a thousand injured.  I was in the Air Force at the time.  Because I grew up in the Los Angeles area, the Watts Riots were close to home and I wanted to get down there to check things out.  But that was impossible.

While I was in the Air Force, more than three of my four years were dedicated to the Castle Air Force Base Valley Bomber.  As the Valley Bomber’s photographer, I got tons of experience making visual images to tell stories.  It was easy for me to listen as the story subjects explained their job or department, its functions and operations.  As they talked, visual ideas would instantly pop into my mind about how to tell their story.  The process was uncomplicated, uncontroversial, and simple.

Now that I was in the world of photojournalism, I worked very hard to make the truth my mantra.  Most subjects are controversial to one degree or another.  Objectivity is essential.  Achieving objectivity is an internal struggle that requires understanding my personal feelings while truly remaining open to the reality and facts I see.

The Modesto Bee provided me with some great mentors.  Both Chuck Rodgers and Forrest Jackson instilled in me that we owed it to our readers to be truthful.  They would kid me a lot, saying, “Don’t worry.  Only a couple hundred thousand people will see your work.  If you make a mistake there will be phone calls.”

On my way to the assignment, a load of issues were going through my head.  Most of my family has been in the military, so it was common knowledge in the family that using soldiers as riot control is dangerous.  I didn’t want to glamorize the lethal approach to riot control, but I didn’t want to make the guardsmen look bad in any way.  I knew that they were young men just doing their duty.  At the same time, my military training told me that these infantrymen would be battle-trained and not prepared for civilian riot control.  I concluded that my approach would be to show the training as seriously and accurately as I could.  The images would tell the story and readers could draw their own conclusions.

Lucky for me, I had learned from my dad to be straightforward with everyone.  When I got to the Armory I talked to the 1st sergeant.  He gave me full access to the training (after hitting me up about how I could join the National Guard and make some extra cash).  Out on the field, there were troops with fixed bayonets moving forward on a skirmish line.  Purple smoke grenades were being shot from M14 grenade launchers to simulate tear gas.  So I took off running to the center of the skirmish line.  The troops kept coming and I kept shooting, using my Nikon high-speed thumb motor drive system.  Everything came together in a few moments and then it was over.  I photographed some other images including a practice interaction with a crowd of civilian-dressed guardsmen, but I knew that the skirmish line shot would tell the reader how dangerous it is to use lethally-equipped, battle-trained troops against our own citizens.

Back at the paper, the page one editor decided to use my single shot of PFC David Dean pointing his bayonet at me.  As I shot, PFC Dean stopped and held his bayonet toward me.  I only got a couple of clicks before he lowered his weapon as the Spec4 gave the “at ease” command.  Then, being a good photojournalist, I asked him his name and rank.

In those years the Modesto Bee used “Bee Photo” for most bylines rather than the photographer’s name.  On rare occasions when the editors felt images warranted a personal byline, the photographer’s name was used.  PFC Dean ended up on A-1 and they gave me the personal byline with three more images on A-4.  The next day instead of being happy about the personal byline, I complained about the inaccurate caption, which stated that the soldier was walking through tear gas.  I asked Chuck, “How stupid do they think I am to say I would walk into tear gas to take a picture?”  He calmly told me, as I also learned to do in later years, that he would talk to the caption writer.  Without a pause, he handed me a couple of new assignments.  And like the good photojournalist I was becoming, I immediately took off to do them.

As expected, I caught plenty of flack about being so macho that I would walk through tear gas to get a picture.  The friendly harassment was not unwelcome, but even more important was my satisfaction that I had made an image that told the story.  Reader response was positive.  Some were scared.  And that was just as it should have been.

 

 

Jess Tharp — Fourth of July, 36 Years Ago

In the middle of June 1975, Laurelei Mullens, Modesto Bee features editor, sent me to south Modesto to photograph Jess Tharp, an 80-year-old cowboy saddle maker.  Mullens was doing an advance story for the big Modesto Independence Day Parade.  She wanted to do the story about Tharp because he would be the oldest rider in the parade and had been making and repairing saddles for over half a century.

When Tharp returned home in 1919 after serving our country in World War I, he changed careers.  Before the war, he had been a full time cowboy.  After the war he was offered $35 and beans for breaking horses, a job that had paid twice as much before the war.  He said, “Forgit it.”  From 1922 on, he would be a saddle maker.  He got his start in a saddletree shop in Utah.

Jess’s saddle shop in Modesto was full of smells that were familiar to me.  I grew up in my father’s shoe repair business.  Golub’s Shoe Repair smelled of freshly tanned leather just like this saddle shop.  There was a heavy coat of dust that came from shaving leather and the tools were similar to those I played with as a kid.  To see Jess’s images on Photoshelter click here.

Jess took cheerful pride in the saddle he was going to use in the 4th of July parade.  He used a saddletree that was older than he was, made in 1882.  He restored the saddle the year before, but this would be the first time he used it since the restoration.

He told me he would be the oldest rider in the parade and would wear his 60-year-old spurs, saying “I’ve rode many broncs with those spurs since 1915.”

Jess gave me a quick lesson in hand tooling.  He let me practice making an acorn pattern on a scrap of leather.

He hand tooled the Main & Winchester trademark on the fender of the saddle. The Main & Winchester Saddlery was one of the best known among the Old West Saddleries.  They were a San Francisco based business that started up during the Gold Rush of 1849.

When asked why he kept on working into his later years he said, “If I’d just sit down and do nothing. I’d be a mess.”

“Sure, I worked as a cowboy for three years steady, getting $70 a month for breaking horses, but that was before the war.”

Jess works a hand-operated cutting machine for making leather strips to be used as reins and other rigging.

Special sewing machine is used to groove and stitch leather reins together.  Being in Jess’s saddle shop was like going back in time.  Jess told me about his days in Colorado when he carried a .32-20 Colt in his chaps pocket.  “It was one of the long barreled jobs.”

On the cantle of the saddle was the original trademark.  Jess’s pride and craftsmanship reminded me of my father and the shoemakers that worked with him.  I know my craftsmanship and sense of pride for my photography comes from what I learned from my father.

 

 

Acorn Fire with the Stanislaus Hotshots 1987

The Acorn Fire was well on its way to burning out 26 homes near Markleeville when I got a phone call from a forest service dispatcher telling me that the Stanislaus Hotshots had left Mi-Wuk Village on their way to the fire.  It was about 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 30, 1987.  By the time I got reporter Michael Winters it was dark as we headed up Highway 4 toward Markleeville.  In addition to the darkness, I didn’t have the correct radio frequency so we headed to fire camp in Minden, Nevada to locate the crew.  After some confusing exchanges with the incident command team, we found out the Stan Shot crew had been doing some freelance burnouts and were coming back in to eat and get an assignment for the next day.

The next morning, we went with the crew into the Toiyabe National Forest.  We were at about 5,800 feet elevation when we got out of the crew buggy.  This is where Sup 20 Greg “Rax” Overacker took over.  Rax took command of a strike team of shot crews and instructed us to climb up a 1700 foot ridge to start cutting fire line.  I got my best image of sawyer Kevin Wallin hiking up the ridge at about 6,500 feet.

It all started with this photograph I took the year before.  Early June 1986, Bob White, the Sonora Bureau reporter for The Bee, and I did a story on the Stanislaus Hotshots getting ready for the fire season.  The Stan Shots were based at Mi-Wuk Village.  In his office, I asked Overacker what was the difference between his crew and a regular crew.  He said it was how much fire line they could cut per hour.  So we headed to a very steep hillside near Tuolumne City and they started cutting a firebreak.  I ran uphill on the other side of the road and shot this image with my 300mm lens.  Then I ran up and down the firebreak while the crew was cutting.  I didn’t know that Racks and the crew were impressed that I hustled around to make a good image.  To me this was normal.

After my promotion to Chief Photographer in 1980, I inherited the intern program.  As part of briefing interns I would require them to a make a list of assignment ideas that they might want to make a special project during their internship.  I would always offer the idea of spending time with a wildland fire crew and going with the crew to a fire.  Fast forward to 1987 and Bob White is an assistant metro editor.  Bob talked the Forest Service and Greg Overacker into the great idea of me doing a story on the Stanislaus Hotshots.

Half way up the ridge firefighter Turpin from Coulterville takes a moment out of the smoke and blaze before hiking to the top of the 7,600 foot ridge.

I witnessed the Incident Command System (ICS) first hand.  By the time we reached the location to cut fire line, Rax was supervising the air attack.  One of the Stanislaus Hotshot fire captains was the Division chief and the other was the Strike Team leader.  The squad bosses were running the crew.  Each promotion earned the firefighter an increase in pay and was noted on their time cards.

Sup 20 talked to an air tanker and the next thing I knew we had pink dots all over us.

Firefighters cutting a fire line before the active head of the fire got to their position.

The first night we ate at fire camp in Minden, Nevada, and slept in sleeping bags on the open ground.

Members of the Hotshot crew listen to what Overacker had planned for the next day.

Rax observing fire while he was Air Attack Chief. The ICS is lined out in the Fireline Handbook.  I learned so much from this experience.  Unknowable at the time was the fact that there would be another fire in 1987 during which I would put my newly acquired knowledge to use.

I was surprised that after breathing smoke all day a crewmember would want to smoke a cigar.

Crew picture before we headed out for dinner.

Sacramento Bee photographer Dick Schmidt photographed me at the bottom of the hill before we headed up.  He was surprised to see me and had tons of questions, but I had to go.  Thanks, Dick, for sending me this transparency.

 

 

 

 

 

Muhammad Ali visits Modesto, California 1971

 

When I heard that Muhammad Ali was going to speak in Modesto, I immediately started asking Darell Phillips, the Modesto Bee’s Sports Editor, to give me the assignment.  It wasn’t until the next day that I checked the photo schedule and saw I was on nights that week, so the assignment would be mine anyway.  Lesson learned; check schedule before asking about any assignment.   Photoshelter

I identified with Ali as a peer, not only because he is only eight months older than I am, but also because his controversial, witty, and wild statements were compatible with my own outspokenness.  I loved his bodaciousness.

My father loved boxing.  I learned to love it too, not quite at his knee, but when I was pretty young.  Dad and I both liked Ali from his early years when he was still known as Cassius Clay.  My dad had some doubts about him when he renamed himself Muhammad Ali, but his enthusiasm for Ali’s boxing style never waned.

As for my own attitude, I admired Ali’s courage and determination in sticking to his convictions.  When he joined Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, I was a little concerned, so it was reassuring to me when he joined a Sunni Muslim mosque in 1975.  I respected his stance on the Vietnam War and the use of the draft during those years, even though I had served four years (and eight days) in the U.S. Air Force and would have served in Vietnam if called.

To say Ali was entertaining during the press conference would be an understatement.  He disarmed the more conservative and critical reporters with quick, clever answers.  When asked about fighting George Foreman, the reigning heavyweight champ, Ali responded, “He ain’t in my class.  Foreman fighting me would be like putting him in Vietnam with a B-B gun.”

Darell and I got to spend some down time with Ali in a motor home when he was a little more laid back.  In that more private setting, he was straightforward and honest without any hype.  He talked a lot about being a role model for others and working to get his career back on track.

When we arrived at the SOS, Tom Mellis gave Ali a whirlwind tour of the Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club.  While they were looking at the Olympic-sized swimming pool, Ali said to Tom, “this place is so nice, I think I will build me one.”  I chuckled under my breath, but I don’t think Tom got the joke.

Ali listened carefully to the reporters’ questions, but didn’t always answer them in a serious way.  He put on his bigger-than-life persona just like putting up his guard in a fight.  In this image, he appears to drop his guard just as he would do in the ring to see if someone would take a wild swing or, in this setting, ask an easy question, so he could counterpunch with a quoteworthy response.

During the tour, he checked out the piano and the pool table.  He seemed really familiar with the pool table.  During a receiving line with bigwigs like Julio Gallo, he just changed the subject every time something serious was asked.

On the subject of his March 1971 boxing opponent, Joe Frazier, to whom he had lost one fight by decision Ali said, “Man he hits hard, so hard.  He hit me so hard in the fifteenth, my kinfolk back in Africa felt it.”  A few years later, Ali would turn the tables, beating Frazier in two fights in two years.

Mel Williams, a community leader, contacted Ali and got him to visit the Modesto African-American community.  Mel got the word out with only a couple hours notice.  As Ali walked into the King-Kennedy Community Center, several hundred people swarmed around him.

In the Center’s multipurpose room he signed autographs and hugged babies.  Young and old alike, everybody wanted to touch the champ.  He didn’t have to say much, just his presence made the crowd happy.

Rev. Monroe Taylor, Director of the King-Kennedy Community Center, watches as Ali signs an autograph.  Mel Williams is standing in the back.  The Center, built with funds from the city and a federal antipoverty program, was barely two years old at the time.    Photoshelter