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One of the things about small towns in West Central Ohio is that they often have their own radio stations.  Sidney was no different, and had a little radio station that played an astonishing variety of what the people in that area needed.  You got the farm report, you got yard sale advertisements, you got the sports all the kids in the area did, and you got music.

It was a simple radio station, meaning it had exactly what it needed and no more.   In this case, at that time, that meant a mike, a transmitter, a couple of turntables, and a supply of records (yes, vinyl).  I’d already had one experience in shooting someone with turntables, and by now the car had aired itself out, which was very good.

Now one of the things I did in my job as a photojournalist was to be the eyes of the county I worked and lived in, and it pretty much gave me free rein to go anywhere I wanted, within reason.

One day I was driving past the radio station, which I had playing in the car, and figured, simply, “How hard can it be?”…to talk my way into a radio station and take pictures, in the studio, that was on the air at the time.

Questions like that have never stopped me, much less slowed me down.  I barely had time to put the blinker on before I pulled into the parking lot, where was only one other car.  I wandered in with my cameras clattering against each other and the camera bag slung over my right shoulder.

The speakers in what could have been considered the lobby were playing what the DJ was saying, and he waved me to come on in as he put on a song and swung the mike out of the way.

He stood up, leaned over the console and shook my hand as I introduced myself, and we chatted for a bit before he stole a quick glance at the clock and asked me to hang on a second, he had to do the weather report.

He glanced out the window, which was, mind you, open, and told all of Shelby County that the weather was clear and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen.  I’d never, ever heard such an accurate, and simple, weather report, but there wasn’t one thing wrong with it.  I’d been in studios before, but they were usually isolated beyond comprehension.  To have a window in this one, that opened, mind you, blew me away.

We talked for a bit, and I got another shot of someone with turntables (but better this time than in the other story) and he told me about how he’d almost gotten fired one time for playing In A Gadda Da Vida (the full length version) one evening just before going off the air, and how much fun the job could be when you just let it be fun.

He asked me if I had any favorite songs, and I had to admit that I really, really liked “Blue Moon” by the Marcels and Kodachrome, by Paul Simon.

After that, we’d run into each other every now and again, and I’d stop by the station between assignments just to say hi, often late at night when he wasn’t too busy, and he was always glad to see me, and was often the only one there.  I could sense that there was a loneliness inside that was covered up by a gregarious persona on the air, and the times I stopped by were times he could “let his hair down” so to speak.  We both had a lot of fun just chatting on those evenings.

And I noticed that Kodachrome and Blue Moon were played a little more often after that.

I’d be going off to shoot something in a nearby town, and while I was driving there, it was nice to hear a friendly voice from the radio, “and up next, for our photographer from the Sidney Daily News on his way to shoot another assignment you’ll see soon enough, is a song I’m sure he, and you, will appreciate.” – and out would waft “Kodachrome”.

And it got me thinking…

He and I both worked for and with the public, but we did it, for the most part, alone, and even though many other people heard it over the airwaves, when I heard that voice come out of the radio, it was one lonely person talking to another one, letting him know that somewhere, someone cared, and wanted to share a smile in a language both people understood.

And in that 1979 Ford Fairmont, driving alone on a dark country road to my next assignment, I did smile.


The other day my son and I had to make a quick stop on our way home from his class, and as we got out of the car, we smelled something a little foreign to the city we live in, and it reminded me of a time I’d smelled that smell before getting out of a car, but back then it was a little stronger.  I hadn’t thought about it in years, and it made me smile, so I told my son a story.

The story took me back to a time when I was much younger, on my first internship as a photojournalist, and I was assigned to shoot some Dee Jay named “Señor Frog” at some club I’d never heard of for an article someone was writing for the paper.

I had no idea what to expect, and to be honest a “club” and Sidney, Ohio, weren’t really two things I’d think about in the same sentence, but that’s what the assignment was, and as newspaper photo assignments go, it was pretty simple.

Go find pictures.

Come back with pictures that tell a story.

So as I was going, driving west down an arrow straight west Central Ohio road in the early evening, I was wondering what on earth I was supposed to do with this assignment.

And while I was wondering, and while my mind was wandering, kind of squinting into the sun but also driving on autopilot a little, for a split second I noticed a little black and white blur dart out in front of me, followed instantly by a couple of thumps…

…and in the briefest of moments that I could see after that, I checked the rear view mirror to see the black and white blur tumble to a stop in the middle of my lane.  I could swear it had a little green cloud wafting over it, because immediately after that, almost simultaneously, the most powerful, eye-watering, open-all-the-windows-RIGHT-NOW, smell of exploded skunk filled the car in ways it had never, ever been filled before.

I slowed down, wiped my eyes, and overshot my turn.  Somehow I managed to get the car turned around and headed in the right direction, but had to drive through my own wake.  It was like driving through teargas.

I found and made the turn, found the club, which thankfully had a large gravel parking lot, and parked as far away from the building as I could.   Downwind, so the “green haze” emanating from the car wafted over the fields away from the club, not toward it.

This was a good thing.

I got out as fast as I could, grabbed my cameras and gear, and headed into this “club”.  Turned out it was a bar with a dance floor, a big sound system, and a couple of turntables in an elevated booth kind of thing, where a middle aged balding fellow was flinging vinyl platters and playing music.

Loudly.

That, apparently, was Señor Frog.

Okay…

So I did what I could, literally shooting in the dark, and got as interesting a shot as I could of a guy playing records in a very dark room, and then, in a moment of quiet between songs, I realized that something had followed me into the club.

The green haze…

I realized that the space around me was not filled with people.  And while they were polite, they weren’t getting any closer to me than they had to. I only later concluded that the wide berth they were giving me wasn’t out of their respect for my photographic skills.  It was out of respect for their own olfactory senses.  It didn’t take long before I realized I wasn’t going to get any better pictures than what I had, and I wasn’t making Señor Frog’s life any easier by being that close to him, so I chose that time to make my exit.

About that time, a couple of attractive young ladies around my age did the same thing. They headed out just before me, and I, living and for the most part, working, alone, found myself thinking how nice it would be to have someone to just chat with that wasn’t in some way associated with the newspaper or photography.  I mean, my name was everywhere, every day.  My pictures were seen by thousands of people, every day, but while some thought of it as a glamorous profession, as a photographer, I was there pretty much by myself.  It was often pretty lonely, so when I saw a little chance for some possible conversation, I walked a little faster to try to catch up to the young ladies to say something, anything, really.

They didn’t see me and kept walking, and to my dismay, headed in the general direction of my car…

…which was when the wind shifted, the ‘green haze’ wafting toward the fields from the car started wafting toward the two young ladies.

Oh… No…

I stopped, and heard one of them almost gag. “WHAT is that awful smell?”

I walked in another direction…

Any other direction.

I tried to look as if I didn’t belong to the car with the cloud around it.

I tied my shoes.

I adjusted my cameras.

I killed time for what seemed like an eternity, and they left.

And then, I had to slice my way through the smell to get to the car, and actually get in the car.

On purpose.

I started it up, turned the fan on high – (realizing very quickly that that was a mistake) – shut it off, opened all the windows, and drove off, leaving the green cloud behind me, but still, it was awful.  I wondered if I’d have to wash the car in tomato juice to get rid of the smell, but I knew I couldn’t afford the gallons of it that I’d need, and the acid rain the car had already been subjected to made the paint as smooth as sandpaper to start with. The acid in the tomato juice would just make that worse.

I drove back to the paper, with my head out the driver’s window like a dog, barely able to see because my eyes were watering from both the smell and the wind, but I was able to breathe at least.

Later, as I took care of things in the darkroom, I wondered what might have happened had I not had that encounter with the skunk, but as it was, the only thing that developed that evening was film.

We were almost home when I got done telling my son that story, and we both laughed.  Me at the long buried memories a smell can bring back, and him at yet another of his dad’s adventures from before he was born…

© Tom Roush, 2012


I went through a pretty challenging time awhile back, and as I was coming out of it, I had a dream.  It took me months to figure out, but in the dream, I was hacking my way through a jungle with a huge machete.  It was like boring a hole through a wall of green, but doing it with a large knife.  Each hack would make it possible to clear out a little bit, then step forward into that cleared area.

It went like this for, in the case of this challenging time, months.

Hack… Slash… Step.

Hack… Slash… Step.

Sometimes it took a lot more hacking than stepping, but I did step.

Hack… Slash… Step.

Sometimes the ground was uneven, and treacherous.

Hack… Slash… Step.

Sometimes it was like mud, trying to suck me down, or suck my shoes off.

Hack… Splash… Step.

Sometimes the jungle had those “wait-a-minute” vines you might have heard about.  The ones with the sharp thorns you don’t see until you think you’re past them, then they reach out and snag you, and you’re stuck till you can rip them off or away.

And it hurts when you have to do that.

The thing is, for long stretches, one step didn’t look any different from the next one or the one that came before.  In spite of all the danger, there was almost a routine to it, and to be honest, there were times when it didn’t look like I was making any progress at all.

It felt, in this dream, like I’d been sentenced to a monotonous, yet terrifying lifetime of hacking and slashing.

I was able, at times, to stop, and it was then that I took a breather and looked back.  What was interesting is that when I stopped and looked back, I could see where I’d been, I could see what I’d hacked through.

I could see progress.

But I couldn’t see progress when I was hacking.  I could only see it when I took a breather and turned around.

But the day to day stuff, the hour to hour stuff, sometimes minute to minute stuff, was the same.

Hack… Slash… Step.

My world at the time consisted of nothing further away than what I could reach with the machete, and sometimes it got even smaller than that.

Hack… Slash… Step.

There were times when it felt like I couldn’t go on.

There were times when I wanted to just let go of the machete.

There were times when I just wanted to drop it, but it was the only thing I had to hold onto.  If I let go, the jungle would swallow me up, and besides, I had to find out what was on the other side of the next leaf.

This went on, in the dream, for a long, long time, until one day, I hacked my way out of what had become my little green hacking box and found myself in a clearing.

By this time words were totally inadequate to describe the weariness I was feeling.

Tired beyond reason, I collapsed against a tree, struggled to stand, and fought to comprehend what I was seeing.

In the middle of this clearing was a white helicopter.  It was so pure, so clean, and inside it was a silhouette of someone, beckoning me to come to it.

I pushed away from the tree and started walking, then stumbling as I ran toward this thing that made no sense.

The rotor was turning, and strong arms pulled me up and in.

The door slid closed, the engine whined to a crescendo and the rotor blades turned faster, becoming almost invisible.  The grass in the clearing flattened out as the  blades blasted a hurricane of air down.

As it did, it blew leaves away, and branches, and I could see, for a split second, people standing there in the jungle.  Cheering me on.  They’d been there, but I hadn’t seen how many of them there were because the jungle was so thick.

We didn’t seem to climb as much as the ground just seemed to fall away, and it was only then, as we got higher, as I started to see the jungle that I’d fought through for the entire dream (and in reality, for the last 10 months) that I began to comprehend the magnitude of the size of the jungle.

I’d only seen what I could hack and slash.

I hadn’t realized how big it was.

I hadn’t realized how much it had taken out of me.

On the other hand, I hadn’t realized how much I had grown as a result of facing, and overcoming that jungle.

As we flew, I was able to look down and see where certain events had happened, and see them from a totally different perspective.

I was able to understand a bit more.

What if I’d turned left there instead of right? Would I have seen the helicopter I was in?

And it got me thinking…

In having this dream, in putting these images in front of me, my mind was trying to process the whole thing I was going through.

I was trudging through a jungle in the dream, but I was plugging through the challenging realities in real life.  And the weird thing about the dream was that not only was the dream vivid, and clear, but it was also broad enough to fit any challenges someone might be facing.

Right now I know of an old friend who passed away recently.  The wife lost a husband, the children lost their father, the siblings lost a brother, and his parents lost a son.

And they’ve each either entered or are continuing through a jungle of their own.

Hack… Slash… Step…

I know of a number of families going through crises of a different sort, related to employment, lack thereof, and all the financial ramifications involved in that, to the point where even just making ends meet is a struggle.

Hack… Slash… Step…

I know of several families where an elderly parent is ill, in the hospital, or in a nursing home, and the children are making endless trips to try to help, to try to take care of those who took care of them, or simply to hold their mom or dad’s hand for all the times they did the same for them.

Hack… Slash… Step…

The challenges could be emotional, could be related to health or relationships or your parents, kids, or siblings, or all of the above… but bottom line, you get through it one step at a time.   Sometimes you get through it with the help of friends.  Sometimes you get through it with the help of strangers.

But you will get through it.

Hack… Slash… Step.

I didn’t know all that as I sat in the helicopter, lost in my thoughts, lost in seeing things so differently, finally, it seemed, able to see “the big picture” .

I allowed myself to relax, and in my dream, drifted off to sleep, not hearing the change in the pitch of the rotors that signaled we’d started to descend and would be landing soon, to start another journey, through another jungle…

But this time, I had the experience of the last journey to help me through.

© 2012 Tom Roush

Tom Roush

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