A number of years ago I was shooting in Muskegon, Michigan, for the Muskegon Chronicle, and over time discovered that one of the favorite things for local folks to do was to just go down to the lake (Lake Michigan) and watch the sun set.  It was a tradition, it was peaceful, it was pretty.

The clouds in Michigan, or at least that part of Michigan always amazed me, and I realize now that subconsciously, when I had the chance, I shot images that emphasized them…

This one day I went down there, and – oh, you need to know that I was driving a 1979 Ford Fairmont I’d bought in Ohio – with a paint job courtesy of Earl Scheib and Acid Rain, Incorporated.  This thing was as smooth as sandpaper.  My mom tried to wax and polish a little corner of the trunk once after I’d brought it back to Washington and it was like trying to wax a gravel driveway…

She said, “Oh, look, I can see my shadow!” (as opposed to reflection).

I gently cuffed her one…

The reason the car comes into the picture is that it had Ohio plates on it.

I was in Michigan.

The plates had expired.

Put that on the back burner for just a little bit.

I got down to the lake – and – oh, another important thing.  I’d found that shooting with ‘normal’ lenses just didn’t work for me – and found myself shooting with an 18 mm super wide angle lens on one camera body, and a 300 mm telephoto on the other.  You don’t get much more of a spread than that.  I figured that if I was close enough to shoot something up close, I wanted to be right in its face, hence the 18… if I couldn’t be in its face, I needed to reach out and touch it – with the 300.

In this case, I saw a bunch of guys fishing at the edge of the lake – and figured I sure didn’t need the 300 – so the 18 it was.  I was thinking the shot through as I walked closer, and to get him in the shot, along with the sky and the sunset and everything, I’d end up kneeling on the ground and shooting up at him – so I went over and chatted for a bit, then got into position to shoot.

And a police car pulled up.

And Tom, with expired, out of state plates, suddenly got really, REALLY nervous.

I didn’t know what he could/would do – but if there were some problems, they’d have been bigger ones than I was capable of dealing with right then.  So I did the only thing I could think of, and ignored him, figuring he might not think that the car was mine – or something like that.  (note: this would be an example of the application of the Infinite Wisdom of Youth®).

I shot away, and chatted with the fellow, making some nice images with the sky, the clouds, the sunset, the water, his fishing pole, and the silhouette of him…

…and the cop kind of faded from my consciousness.

Until I felt a huge, hairy, gorilla’s hand land on my shoulder from about ten feet up, and a firm voice saying, “Hah! I’ve got you now…”

If I hadn’t already been kneeling, I would have been very quickly.

I was petrified, was it worse than I thought? Had he run the plate to find out that it was registered to me?  What were the ramifications of driving out of state with expired tags?  The fine? The penalty?  A confused, scared storm of thoughts tore through my mind as I tried to figure out how to get out of this one that I wasn’t even sure I was in…

I slowly turned around, to see, much to my horror, that the image my terrified mind had conjured up was right.  The hand on my shoulder wasn’t attached to a gorilla, it was worse.

It was attached to an arm in a policeman’s uniform.

I don’t know what my face looked like but as my eyes worked their way up that sleeve, I saw that the face on the policeman attached to it was smiling.

Was this an evil smile? An “I have you now” smile? I wasn’t anywhere near calmed down by that smile – and I saw he was raising his other hand.  That didn’t make sense, the gun would be in his right hand, and he was raising his left one…

(I cringed)

…which had a little disposable camera in it.

The cop’s smile got even bigger.

“I got you!  I got a picture of you getting a picture of him!”

If I hadn’t been kneeling already (you know…)

The relief that was pouring through my body was like cold water on a dry lakebed.  Cooling, sizzling as it hit the hot surface, it soaked in to cool it to the core.

(Luckily, that’s the only fluid we’ll need to talk about in this story.)

I laughed with the policeman, joked with him a bit about how his lens very likely outclassed mine, and so on.  He promised to have a copy of the print at the paper as soon as it was developed, and true to his word, he did.

As soon as I find that shot – it’s in a box ‘somewhere’, I’ll put it in here.  However, failing that, here’s the “Fishing by the lake” shot…

Oh – one more thing… he never mentioned the license plate….

Fishing at Lake Michigan – and… you never know when you’re being watched.