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This visit to the time machine was hard.
A number of years ago, just after our son was born, my parents came to visit and see the new member of the family. My dad wanted to see what we’d made. My wife handed our son to me, and as I put my dad’s grandson into his arms, I could feel how he’d held me when I was that age. I could sense the love, the care, the overwhelming urge to protect this little bundle of life with every fiber of his being – and see he knew that he would not be able to do that, all while he struggled, in that moment, to understand the balance of holding on and letting go.
And then – as if to put that to rest, just as that thought crossed dad’s mind, my son reached up and held onto dad’s finger, the one that still had the scar from the table saw incident a few years earlier.
And dad loved it, and let his grandson hold his finger at the beginning of his life, long before he taught him what pulling it did (and the giggles that followed)
And my memories flashed on another image tacked up on the scuffed walls of the time machine.
It was a similar situation, 9 years later – as I stood at my dad’s hospital bed, and saw my son again holding my father’s hand…
Well, actually – they were holding each others hands. In this case, my dad held onto his grandson’s hand one last time.
And I’m glad he had those 9 years – though that last year was so hard.
Tomorrow it’ll have been 16 years that he’s been gone, living on in our memories, in our laughter, in our tears.
And… and I still miss him…
Take care, folks – oh – just a reminder – love the folks you’ve got while you’ve got them.
I was going through some old photos awhile back from when I was in Sidney, Ohio, and my mind started wandering through the memories.
Going through this one set of negatives (yes, really, and they were black and white, too), I’d been shooting high school baseball – a tournament all the way down in Dayton, and the kids were out there playing, I had been by the field and had watched with everyone, as a storm came in. While the game was going on, I could see the officials huddled off to one side trying to decide when or if to call the game. They were paying close attention to the storm.
It turns out that thunderstorms in the Midwest are common, far more than they are here in the Pacific Northwest, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I did have the sense to climb down from the aluminum bleachers I was on as even I knew that lightning struck the highest object first. And, given that I’d been standing on the top bleacher, leaning against the rail at the back – yeah… it was time to come down where it was a little safer.
I’d just gotten to the ground and was standing near the first base line when I heard a loud “Tick” and looked out past the first baseman in time to see a lightning bolt blow a tree apart just past the right field fence.
It was close enough to other things that I could actually gauge the size of the bolt, at least 8 inches across, and the thunder was absolutely instant.
Needless to say, the game was cancelled. Enough kids get killed by lightning every year that they take it pretty seriously in Ohio, so the kids were running in full tilt before the bits and pieces of the tree even hit the ground. The parents hustled them to the cars when they got close, and then the rain came pouring down so fast the only thing missing was the Ark…
I got all my camera gear into the car, tossing it onto the passenger’s seat of my ’79 Ford Fairmont, and started the trip up Interstate 75 to the newspaper in Sidney where I’d process the film and get photos ready for the next day’s edition.
The rain, by now, was pretty brutal, and the lighting was constant, to the point where I got to wondering how bright it actually was, so while the traffic was stopped on the freeway, I rummaged around in the camera bag for my light meter that I used to adjust camera settings for Studio Strobe lights, and put it up on the dash.
And then I set it to wait for the next flash.
Which happened about 4 seconds later.
Which, when the light meter was set for ISO 400 film in the camera, registered an f/8.0 aperture.
Meaning if you set the lens to that aperture, the lightning would expose the film perfectly.
Which tied in to what they used to say in Grad School: the best way to get a shot was “f/8 and be there” – Because f/8 stopped down the lens enough (think of the lens as squinting) to sharpen things up if you didn’t have the lens completely in focus, but didn’t ‘squint’ so hard that it darkened things to the point you couldn’t see them.
And the lightning gave you enough light to take the picture.
Without either of them, neither of them worked.
f/8 and be there…
Even if it’s in the middle of a storm.
I pondered some more, but my curiosity satisfied, I put the light meter back in the camera bag and concentrated on traffic, driving, and just plain seeing the taillights in front of me. It was a pretty bad storm, honestly… Eventually I got back to the paper and developed the film in the darkroom and did indeed get something for the next day’s paper.
I’d have other experiences with lightning later on, at other newspapers, but it was during one moment that’s lost to time that I got to thinking about storms, and specifically thunderstorms, and the lessons they could teach us.
See, when I was little, we lived in Illinois, where the storms were similar to the ones in Ohio.
I knew other kids who were scared of storms, and like them, we’d all head into mom and dad’s bedroom when the thunder woke us up.
But mom didn’t feed the fear at all. We went there because that bedroom had the best view of the storms, and since dad worked nights, mom would always invite us up onto the bed or over to the window and say, “Ooh, let’s look at the lightning!”
And we did – and we were fascinated with how clear and sharp everything was in that brilliant flash, and how the darker the storm got, the clearer we could see when the lightning hit.
And it got me thinking.
Last December here in Seattle, we lived up to our reputation for rain and got enough of it here in the lowlands in three weeks to overcome a summer’s worth of drought. The mountains got eight feet of snow in one week. In fact, there was enough rain out on the Olympic Peninsula to put out a forest fire that had been burning all summer.
It was… a lot of rain.
And the storms in life sometimes come softly – like that snow – you don’t realize it’s an issue until you can’t get out of your driveway, or walk down the street.
Sometimes they come faster – like those rain storms in December where there were days where we had an inch or two of rain a day, for a long time… The land couldn’t soak it up fast enough, and there were consequences, the flooding that happened right away, and landslides that happened later.
But some of those consequences could come almost instantly – with very little or no warning. Like there would be if you were standing on the top of an aluminum set of bleachers and idly noticed clouds coming in a little faster than you were expecting.
I learned that sometimes, you can be out in the worst weather – and find yourself absolutely terrified by it – but then realize that the lightning in that dark storm gives you a clarity of vision that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
The lightning may be scary, but it’s also amazing in how it clears things up…
…the lightning has struck before, and I – we – we learned from it that time.
Well, those times.
And of course, it all got me thinking some more…
See, I’m going through a storm myself as I write this – and it’s close. It’s close enough to where the lightning and thunder happen at the same time – and it’s disorienting.
I don’t have the clarity that I’d like to have right now.
There are times when I am flummoxed at where God is during some of these storms. I’ve seen so many variations of answers in all of this that with the other things that have happened in my life I’m never sure whether to be upset when the answer to a prayer I have isn’t the one I’m expecting…
…or the one I want…
But the answer…
It will come.
I just need to remember the lessons I learned many years ago looking out mom’s bedroom window, and the lessons I learned standing on top of a bunch of aluminum bleachers, and lessons we’ve learned more recently, going through our own storms…
…I guess another way to look at it is you can either be terrified of the lightning or you can let the lightning bring you wisdom and clarity.
Deal with what you can.
When you can.
With the information you have.
And the resources you have.
I guess you could add to that:
Don’t worry about the stuff you can’t deal with. Just work with what you can…
Those of you who read the Bible might be familiar with this verse from Matthew 6:34 (NIV)
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
So very true.
So instead of focusing so much on the worries of tomorrow…
Be there today.
…instead of focusing on the regrets of yesterday…
Be there today.
It’s far easier to say it than it is to do it, but if you were a photographer, that’s another way of saying “f/8 and be there”
So… I guess the biggest thought in all of this is that I’m not so much waiting for the lightning as much as I’m searching for it.
And the clarity that comes from a bright flash of lightning in a dark storm.
Take care, folks…
Some time back we went over to our friends Tim and Mary’s for dinner, and the subject of weird injuries made its way into the conversation.
In fact, they started talking about someone they knew who knew of a guy who’d had his hand in a microwave when it turned on.
This got my attention just a little bit and so I started asking some questions…
“So, um, where did this happen?”
“The 7-11 down by SPU.”
“Any idea when?”
“Oh, years ago.”
I asked a few more questions – figured there couldn’t be TOO many of us who’d done that – and then I asked, “So, you wanna hear the rest of the story?”
They didn’t get it at first.
See, I’d graduated from SPU, having developed some skills in photography, and one of the important things was the ability to have a darkroom. Understand, this was back when film was made of plastic with silver Jello on it that was developed with several poisonous chemicals that came in powdered form that you mixed with water and then soaked the film in…
Which I did in my kitchen.
In the sink.
With no gloves.
(yeah, think about that for a bit – but that’s what we did back then)
So it became obvious to me very quickly that doing food and photography in the same kitchen, while possible, was not advisable to do simultaneously. As a result, I kept the kitchen pretty clean for the most part, so that if I needed to print some photos, I could:
- close the curtains (to change it from a kitchen to a dark room)
- hang up the safelight (an orange light that wouldn’t expose black and white photo paper like white light)
- hang up the fan (to suck out the chemical fumes)
- clip the plywood shades into the two windows
- attach the hose from the fan through the one plywood sheet to the outside
- turn off the white light
- turn on the safelight and the fan
- take the cover off the enlarger
- pour the chemicals
…and I was ready to go.
The building was red, not gray, when I lived there – but that’s the place I called home for a bit.
So the important thing to do here when printing photos for an assignment was simple: Do it quickly.
The reason for this was so I didn’t get hungry while I was printing – because then I had to make a decision between food and photos.
But – it turned out there was an alternative, namely God’s gift to college students, just a couple of blocks away.
And hey – it’s still there.
At the time, I’d done it often enough to where I could dig some money out from the couch cushions, walk down there, get a Big Gulp and a burrito for $1.38, nuke it, and eat it on the way back and then continue printing photos.
Hey – it worked on a bunch of levels. I got some fresh air. I moved around… I took a break, and I got some dinner.
What could possibly go wrong?
So one night, I’m printing a big assignment. Understand, photos were not done electronically back then, they were real live 8 x 10 photos… printed on very nice, rich, contrasty black and white paper so they could reproduce in the magazines they were being published in, the works… They had to be dusted and spotted with some watercolor/ink and a little camels hair brush so that dust that had made it onto the film and thus onto the print was taken care of. The photos then had to have my photo credit printed on the back with a rubber stamp, the file number of the negative, all of it had to be matched with the invoice, the whole bit.
It was a lot of work.
The burrito, and the Big Gulp, were essential.
But this time, I got to the 7-11, grabbed my beef and bean burrito, popped open the bottom of the two industrial microwaves that could take the burrito from frozen solid to beefy, beany deliciousness (remember, I was a college student) in 2 minutes flat.
And I discovered three things simultaneously.
1. There was a burrito on a paper plate in the microwave already.
2. The light inside the microwave had just turned on.
3. The fan was running.
The only time I’d seen that before was when the microwave was on.
But microwave ovens are designed to be off when the door is open.
And I was hungry.
And my burrito was cold.
I slammed the door shut and reopened it.
The light came on again.
So I figured, “Well, I’ll just yank it out of there” and reached in to a feeling that can only be likened to pouring 7-Up through my hand. It felt like little bubbles were popping inside my right hand. I yanked it out, hoping I’d misread what had just happened.
Hesitating, one more time I reached in real quick – and sure enough, same thing. I slammed it shut and called the guy behind the counter, who’d been there as long as I’d been a student,”Hey, your microwave just nuked my hand!”
A cop who was standing there getting a cup of coffee saw it all and said, simply, “I’d sue ‘em.”
That thought hadn’t crossed my mind, I just wanted my burrito so I could go home and finish the dang photo assignment I was working on.
But I got the cop’s badge number…nuked the burrito in the top oven, ate it on the way home as usual, and noticed something strange…
My right hand felt weird, and later, when I got home, it felt like the tendons in it were made of cold spaghetti, like they’d pop apart if I tried to grab something too hard.
It started to swell a bit on top of it all, so I bought some Tylenol and some fingerless leather gloves just to hold my hand together because it really felt like the only thing holding it together was the skin, and when it didn’t get better over the next couple of days, I called the doctor.
I learned that trying to find a doctor who was familiar with radiation burns at that time was a bit of a challenge and got you talking to some very interesting people. Eventually I ended up talking to a gal in the Burn Unit at Harborview, who, unlike everyone else I’d talked to, knew exactly what I was talking about. She’d been working a food booth at some kind of a fair that summer, where someone actually dropped the microwave they were using, and it cracked. It still worked, but if you stood at just a certain spot – you could feel the radiation from the outside.
Also turned out there wasn’t really anything I could do other than just wait it out and let it heal.
Another weirdity was that my right hand stopped sweating after that – which meant that little film of moisture you’re barely aware of on your hands (the one that helps you grip things) wasn’t there anymore. I had to grip the enlarger focusing knob tighter to use it – or my hand would slip off. I also dropped the camera a few times (which cost a goodly chunk of money to fix), so in the end, I did go to a lawyer to see what the deal could be, because by this time, the Big Gulp and the burrito had cost more than $1.38.
The lawyer said if I had any kind of injury that was visible, even a scratch, that’d make a huge difference, but for now, I didn’t have that. Eventually I noticed that my right hand was colder than my left, and found a place that would do what they called “Thermographs.” Basically photos that showed how hot each hand was, and the right one was definitely colder. This would have been good – had they not lost the thermographs before I could get them to the lawyer. Turns out he thought the case’d be worth about $65,000.00, which seemed like a lot of money, but would likely cost about that much to try because, he said both Litton (the maker of the microwave) and Southland corporation (parent of 7-11) were incorporated at the time in Delaware, and he figured they’d do what they could to make it hard for me, meaning after expenses, I’d walk away with having gained nothing and lost a bunch of time in the deal.
So, I ended up just letting it go. Really – at the time, there didn’t seem to be much of an option.
A year or so ago, I was telling the story to my friend Beth and her daughter who were in town, visiting, and figured, what the heck, why not go to that 7-11 and take a look, so we did, and (this may not come as a surprise) but the microwaves had been replaced (heck, it had been 30 years – even my Mom’s expensive microwave that dad had gotten her years ago had given up the ghost in that time). The new ones were much smaller. We thought of getting something to eat or drink – and then decided against it.
In fact, for the first time in decades, I walked out of that 7-11 without either a Big Gulp or a burrito.
And I was okay with that…
Oh – and as for Mary and Tim – they now knew The Rest of the Story.
Take care out there folks – and an unsolicited bit of advice?
Don’t stick your hands in rogue microwaves…
Trust me on this. 😉
I’m always amazed at the forms my time machine takes, often when I least expect it.
This time some film negatives I’d found and scanned into the computer several years ago just to see what they were, combined with a note I found on an archived CD made for a trip down memory lane to take me back to a simpler time. So, with very little editing, here’s a story from 1996…
I spent the weekend with the kids down at my folks’ place, and made apple cider with the apples from our trees in the back yard…
…on a cider press that’s probably 100 years old. It used to have a hand crank, but my Grandpa at one point put an old electric washing machine motor on it and ever since I knew of it, it ground the apples into pulp at the flick of a switch. You still had to squeeze the juice out by hand though.
After making the cider and cleaning up, and while Alyssa and Oma (German for Grandma – my mom) did only the kinds of things that granddaughters can do with their Omas, Michael and I went to what had always been my grandparent’s farm and went for a walk among the trees (douglas fir, cedar, oak), basically where I grew up. I went for many walks out there with our dogs and BB gun when I was a kid, and often went just to think and clear my mind.
My Grandpa had passed away some years earlier, and at the time, it seemed like my grandma was planning on selling the farm, so I felt I needed to take Michael out there and show him what I used to see and where I used to go exploring before that all changed. It was very strange, and I found myself quite disoriented sometimes. There were trees in places in the back of the farm that had been completely free of trees before. Areas that had been ponds no longer existed at all. What was reality simply didn’t match up with what I had in my memory.
We came to the front of the farm and saw that my grandma was boarding some horses on the land and they came up to us and just wanted some attention (and some Apples).
So we petted them, and Michael later stood up on a stump and scratched one of them while the other one nuzzled him… It was really neat. It’s one of those experiences I hope will stay with him for a long time…
Michael and I explored the swamp in the back, and watched several frogs try to jump away from him, one rather large one managed to escape just as his boot stepped down. He was as surprised as the frog was (but probably not as terrified). We kept wandering and exploring, and saw an area where the water was too deep to be a swamp, and became a large pond. We heard rushing water and went through a fence to find a beaver dam. Michael had on his black and yellow “fighter fighter” boots because he “might” want to go into some water, so when he did, naturally he went in just a little too deep, and the water flooded over the top into the boots…
At that moment I decided that I had a chance to either have some fun and make a memory with my little boy and get my feet wet, or gripe about the fact that his boots and pants were wet and — it was a no brainer…
I waded into the creek in my shoes — the water was COLD (it came from, as I recall, Sprofsky Springs), and went through the swamp and then hit the beaver dam. We later waded down the creek from right below the dam, just to explore, and got completely soaked. He loved it. Lost his balance, I caught him just as his bottom hit the water…
We came back, me squishing in my wet shoes, him sloshing in his wet boots, and saw this HUGE anthill and were both watching it intently when this fairly sizable spider walked into the picture.
Even though the ants were much, much smaller than the spider, they took it down. It was like watching “Nature” on PBS. Michael, who’d decided he was scared of spiders, suddenly found himself seriously rooting for this one, and was first interested, then incensed that the ants could do that to a spider. It was truly amazing. Michael first wanted to throw things at the ants, then thought better of it, and decided he wanted to know what ants REALLY liked to eat, and maybe he could get their attention away from the spider with that. I thought that was nice. He wanted to save the spider, but didn’t want to kill the ants.
Afterwards, he had a rock in his hand, and was wondering how the ants would react to it. I thought back about 20 years, and how I’d thrown rocks at the ancestors of those same anthills, and how typical that was of a young boy. He asked what would happen if he threw the rock, and then asked if they would attack him. (Given what he’d just seen, that was a pretty valid question). I didn’t say yes, but kind of let him make up his mind on his own. He ended up dropping the rock on the ground next to the anthill, feeling some vindication because he may have killed some of the ants that had killed his new found spider friend, but also feeling good that he hadn’t killed all of them…
We sloshed and squished back to Oma’s, and ended up having some of the cider we’d made that afternoon with dinner that evening.
Eventually I packed up some of that cider, a lot of memories, and headed back home as the kids drifted off to sleep in the back of the car.
It was truly a wonderful weekend, and I went back to work on Monday morning to a job I enjoyed, a job that allowed me to support my family, but away from the trees and forests where I grew up…
God has been good.
Take care, folks.
Every now and then I get this urge – no, not just an urge, almost a command, to write a story – a post, if you will, about something specific… What’s strange sometimes is that this one you’re reading now kind of popped up last night – and while I’m not sure why it’s important to post it now – it feels like I should. So come with me as I take another trip into my time machine – the one that looks like an old yellow Kodak photo paper box, and learn a lesson or two in a photo I took once, a long time ago.
First the photo:
I was in college, and was trying to photograph one of the parts of the Homecoming celebration for Seattle Pacific University, which included the men’s heavyweight eight man alumni crew racing each other down the Lake Washington Ship Canal right near the campus. I’d developed a friendship with the coach for the crew team, and because of that, I was the only photographer allowed to get on the boat he was coaching from. This gave me the chance to get into a position to get a much better shot than any other photographer out there as they were finishing the race. We talked (well, shouted to each other over the motor on the coach’s boat), and I was able to get him to position his boat to show how close the race was by crossing the finish line at the same time the lead boat was crossing it, the goal being to show the difference between first place, the winner, and second, the, well, the loser. However, it wasn’t the closest race in the world – the other boat is cropped just out of the frame at the bottom right, but something magical happened as I was setting up for that shot, something I wasn’t expecting at all.
As I was looking right to gauge where the second place boat was to try to figure out what to do next, I saw this duck, barreling down the canal as fast as it could. I checked the settings on the the camera – (a Nikon FM2 with a 100 mm Nikkor lens on it that I’d borrowed from a friend) I saw I was on frame 36 (yes, film, and yes, the last frame) that I was shooting at f/8 and 1/250th of a second – the film was Tri-X black and white film, pushed two stops to be shot at ASA 1600 because everything I was shooting that day was going to be either moving fast or in low light, or both. I realized I had precisely one chance to make this right, and focused on the far boat, wanting to get the expressions of the guys in the crew shell in focus more than the duck, I’d just let the depth of field cover that. As I was looking, I realized that with as much planning as had gone into getting the shot I wanted (the two boats finishing the race) – that wasn’t the shot I needed. In fact, the shot I needed was far better than the one I wanted, and I had to make a decision, instantly: Either take the shot of the boats and tell the story of the race, or take the shot of the duck, and tell the story of another race, that no one had planned for, that had been a surprise, a chance that would be there and gone in the blink of an eye. I chose the duck, and decided that as soon as I saw it appear in the right side of the viewfinder, I’d push the button, with the knowledge from experience that it would take about 1/10th of a second for all the mechanical things in the camera to actually do their thing to expose the film. In the meantime, the duck would be moving across the frame at about 30 mph. If I waited until the duck was where I wanted it to be before I took the picture, it would be gone by the time the camera had actually exposed the film, so I had to think on my feet, on a moving boat, and make decisions fast.
All the other sports I’d shot, there would often be a second chance, another basket, another goal, another… whatever.
This time, I had one duck, one boat, one shot.
I’d brought the camera to my eye, focused on the sharp point of the boat, and as I saw the duck enter the frame from the right, hit the shutter release, felt and heard the camera take the shot, then heard the motor drive whine and jam, telling me it was at the end of the roll. I wasn’t sure if I’d gotten the shot or not, but I’d done everything I could to get it. I automatically rewound the film, popping it out and putting it in a separate pocket from all the other exposed film, and loaded another roll, but the duck was gone.
I could hardly wait to get back to the darkroom to see what had happened and sure enough, when I got the film developed, I found the image, and it was indeed, the 36th and last shot of the roll.
And so what’s the big deal about the image?
Well – it’s a duck.
And a boat.
And the guys?
They look like they’re racing the duck which makes it fun, but they’re really looking for the finish line, which painted on both sides of the canal, is just out of the frame on the left on their side, and just to my left behind me.
But I only had the one chance, and I’m glad I took it.
And it got me thinking, this photo, and I learned that as much as we want to believe in second chances, there are times in life where you get one chance to do something, and that’s it. Life will go on, but it will be different, and you will never know “what if” something else had happened.
Think about it: Often, life is a lot like the GPS system you might have in your car or your phone, where if you make a wrong turn, you get this message that says ‘recalculating’ as it tries to get you to go back on course, and because it’s doing that, you’re being given a second chance to do something that somehow you muffed up. The muff up could have been simple human error, it could have been not being prepared for what you were facing, it could have been something completely out of your control, but the fact is, what you planned to happen, didn’t, and now you have to sit there while something literally tries to get you back on the track you’re supposed to be on.
Then there are the other times. Some of you know I spent a number of years as a photojournalist, and saw many, many things through my viewfinder as I was shooting. The thing about shooting with an SLR is that you never actually see the picture you take. You can see what happens immediately before the image, and what happened after, but it’s only your training, your eye, or your instinct that tell you when to take the shot. You have to trust that everything worked in that blink of an eye when everything, the event in front of your camera, the experience behind it, came together.
I kept thinking, and like many of you, found myself wondering what it all means. And I guess it’s this:
There will be times in your life when you have one chance, and one chance only, to make a difference in some way. It may be a life changing experience for you, or for someone else. It may be something that comes completely out of the blue, and goes against everything you ever planned for that moment, but (and I’m speaking to myself just as much as I’m speaking to you) I encourage you to take the chance. It’s possible, just slightly, that something magical will happen. It might be in your job, it might be in your family, it might be taking a chance on repairing a strained relationship, or giving someone a second (or third) chance because you know what it’s like to not have that option. It might be simply holding someone you know at the funeral of someone you barely know. It might be taking a chance at applying for a job you don’t think you’re completely qualified for, but that will fit you like a glove, or that you can grow into. It may be finishing that last, painful cancer treatment that takes so much courage to go to when you know what it will take out of you.
I don’t know. All of the things mentioned above have happened to friends of mine or me in the last few weeks.
Take the chance.
You might make a difference in someone’s life.
And it might be your own.
Or – you might get a cool picture of a duck that reminds you of every one of these things many years later.
So take care out there, folks.
Love each other while you can.
Be prepared for what you can be prepared for – and at the same time, be ready for when plans change, because they can, and will, with barely a moment’s notice.
Oh. One last thing. Here’s the photo I’ve been talking about.
I saw an article awhile back in the Sidney Daily News about expanding the airport there, and it made me think of the last time I’d been out there.
It was – wow – I just did the math and it was half my lifetime ago… I was working as a photojournalist intern for the Sidney Daily News at the time, and got a call on the pager we had from the Sheriff’s department that there had been a plane crash at the airport. That was definitely news. At that time, I hadn’t yet been to the airport, so wasn’t sure what to expect.
The only other situation I’d seen like that was about 9 years earlier (May of 1978) of an F-106 crash where the pilot had lost an engine on takeoff, (note: the F-106 only has one engine, so this was immediately an issue), tried to steer the plane away from populated areas, which is hard to do when you’re taking off north from McChord AFB, in Tacoma, Washington. There are no unpopulated areas there, and the pilot stayed with the plane until he was sure it wouldn’t hurt anyone on the ground, then ejected. The plane, now pilotless, turned around and crashed into a pond in the center of an apartment complex just off the base. The pilot’s parachute opened literally just before he landed in the middle of an intersection, and astonishingly, no one was hurt. I got there soon after it happened, had a camera with me, but the pictures I got weren’t really much to see. The plane was close to vaporized, so it was hard to tell what you were even looking at. Some of the fuel in the plane burned, but the pilot, as I said, had been able to get out, and none of the three hundred people in the complex were even hurt.
I was hoping for something similar as I raced toward the airport in Sidney; that is, no one being hurt. But, being a photojournalist, I was simultaneously hoping for some dramatic images.
I got there, and there was hardly any evidence of anything. No lights, no sirens, no flaming wreckage, no plume of smoke, no Hollywood stunt doubles, nothing. I wandered into the lobby they had there for passengers and identified myself and asked about the airplane crash. Someone pointed me out to the runway, where I could now see a rudder and tail sticking up at an odd angle.
No one stopped me or even asked me what I was doing, they just let me go, so I walked out there and saw the result of not so much a crash, but a pretty hard landing.
I’ve been through a few hard landings. I’ve heard that a landing is simply a mid-air collision with a planet. I can see that, but the goal is to be a little more gentle. In fact, the desired way to land is to get the plane to stop flying just a little bit above the runway. I was once in a DC-8 that made a stop in Iceland where we were told the landing might be rough because of winds gusting up to 50 mph. And sure enough, the pilot flew the approach perfectly, then stalled the plane about 20 feet off the runway so hard we thought we’d see the landing gear come through the wings. The wings bent down so far we thought the engines would hit, then flapped up, catapulting the plane back into the air three times before it finally stayed on the ground for good. Hard as that was on our backs, we were willing to forgive him for that because of the winds, even though it was more of a controlled crash than a landing, but when he did the same thing when we landed at Frankfurt, where the wind was about 44 mph slower, everyone but the chiropractors among the passengers were a bit annoyed. So hard landings are just that… Hard on the plane, hard on the passengers.
Well, it turned out the pilot in Sidney was a student, and had been on her final cross country flight. From what I was able to gather, this landing started out with a fine approach, but then ended up like that DC-8 landing, with the plane stalling out several feet above the runway, and then, instead of doing the desired gentle landing onto said runway, she smacked down into it, which, in the case of this plane, collapsed the nose gear, and the plane skidded on its nose and main gear off into the grass.
At one level I was very glad she was okay. At another level, I was trying to figure out what I could do with the picture. I’d walked around the crash site, gotten close enough to touch the plane, and had snapped a couple of the safe “I was there and had film in my camera” shots, just in case I could get nothing else. I learned early on that it’s important to get “the picture” that they can publish, and then get creative. That gave my editors a choice, depending on the other news of the day, which one to use, and which one might fit on the page. I wasn’t excited about the safe shot, I mean, I had it, which was good, but I decided to go a little further, and thought maybe contrasting this broken airplane with one that was functioning as expected would help bring things into a little better focus, so to speak.
So I checked with the FBO (Fixed Base Operator – the people running the airport) who had just heard over the radio that there were some investigators coming to, well, investigate the crash within about 20 minutes. Ideally, they’d be coming in that functioning airplane I was hoping for, and when I heard them on the radio on final approach, I went out to the runway to see what I could see and get into position for a shot that might be better than the other options.
I knew that by the time the plane landed and was taxiing toward me, its engine would be idling around 1,000 RPM or less, so chose 1/250th of a second for the shutter speed. That was enough to keep any camera shake that would be magnified by the long telephoto lens down, and at the same time, be open long enough to blur the propeller blades a bit, showing some motion.
Then I just found what should be the right spot and waited.
I saw them land, and saw I was in the right spot, and just waited as they came by. I knew I had the shot, and proudly developed the film, marking the negative by using a paper hole punch and putting a notch in the edge of the film you could feel it and find it easily in the darkroom later for printing.
I left that night, knowing I’d gotten both the safe shot, and the good shot, and hoped they’d pick my favorite, but other news got in the way, and the shape of the good shot wasn’t what they could use, so it was good that I’d taken the safe shot, which they used. The next afternoon, I saw my picture had made page one, which was good, here’s what it looked like:
But it wasn’t the shot I’d hoped they’d use. I was frustrated at the time, because I’d done something so much better, and they didn’t publish it. I didn’t know the big picture, I just knew I wasn’t seeing mine.
And it got me thinking…
I learned about a lot more than photojournalism that day. I learned, that sometimes, doing your job, and doing your best, may not be the same thing. Over time, I started to understand the bigger lesson there. You may do something at work, or something in your personal life that you really feel passionate about, and you think you’ve done a good job, but someone else is making decisions that affect you and whether your work gets recognized, or even seen. Sometimes you can’t change that, and it’s best to learn from it, let the frustration go, and move on.
The thing is, I still remember the days at the Sidney Daily News with fondness, full of lessons far more valuable than any tuition could ever cover, full of people I might see once, or who I might still keep in touch with years later, and full of adventures that still make me smile.
I mean, think about it – I was driving around and taking pictures that told stories, and the pictures were seen by thousands of people every day. I got to do things most people never get to do until they’re retired, which was the ability to go where I wanted to go, hang out and chat with interesting folks, and tell the stories of their lives.
And I was getting paid to do it!
How cool is that?
Oh – the picture that didn’t get published?
I printed a copy for myself.
Just to prove to myself that I was there, and that I had film in the camera…
So this is my 100th story, and it’s not so much a story, as it is a look back on the first 99…
I had no idea I had so many inside me, but they’re here.
For those of you who’ve commented on them and helped me get better at writing through your critiques, thank you.
For those of you who were unwitting characters in some of them, I thank you.
For my sister who created this blog in the first place and felt I needed to get my writing out there, thank you.
For my family who often saw nothing but the back of my laptop as I was writing – I’m working on that – and thank you – really.
And to some very special people who decided I was worth keeping around – thanks for your help in all of that. You know who you are.
As for the stories – I think the most fun stories for me to write were the ones where you, the reader, figure out whatever punchline was coming, just about the time your eyes hit it.
All of the stories are true. Some took an astonishing amount of research, ballooned into huge, huge stories, then were often allowed to simmer for some time until I could edit them down to whatever the essence of the story actually was. I have one unpublished one that has so much research it that it’s ballooned to 12 pages when there’s really only about 3 pages of story in there, but that’s how the writing process is… Find what you need. Distill it down to its very core, then take that and make it better.
I did a little looking through the stories and found some little snippets that made me think – and made me smile as I read through them all. They’re below – in the order they were published (not the order they were written in), so the subject matter and themes are pretty random, but there was a reason for each one of them. So, cue the music, and here’s a selection of quotes and thoughts from the stories (with links to the originals) that made me smile, or laugh, or think, or sometimes just cry.
1. From the story: “Cat Piss and Asphalt”
“Pop, is it possible for the memory of something to be better than the event itself?”
This was when my son went to Paris. In Springtime. And he had memories he needed to share. I listened, and smiled, and I wrote.
2. I wrote a story about a friend named Georgiana – who taught me so more about writing software code than any book I ever read, any class I ever took, and more than she could possibly have imagined.
3. Then there was the story “Have you ever been in a dangerous situation and had to drive out of it?” when I was trying to jack up a car with a flat tire, in a forest fire, next to a burning ravine, on a hill on a one lane road the water tanker trucks were using, “Most of the things that I would have used to brace the car to keep it from rolling were on fire, so that limited my options a bit. “
4. There’s the story I called “Point and Click” – which really isn’t about pointing, or clicking – but is very much about – well, it’s short – you’ll get it – and even if you don’t, that’s okay. I hope you don’t have to.
“This time, there’s a loud “click” of the hammer slamming down on an empty chamber.”
5. On managing to borrow a car, and within a couple of telephone calls finding myself taking pictures of an F-4 Phantom out of the back of a KC-135 tanker over Missouri.
The look on the face of a classmate as I was printing the pictures that evening was absolutely priceless.
6. Then there was the story called Salty Sea Dogs – just one of the weird little things that seems to happen to me when I go out for walks…
“Into this nautical environment walk two characters straight out of central casting for Moby Dick”
7. There was just a little snapshot of a conversation between two people, one of whom really understood what was going on, and the other who didn’t. And the funny thing is, I’m not sure which one was which. It’s just something that happened On the Bus…
8. Sometimes stories happen in the blink of an eye – or in the ever so slight smile of a spandex covered cyclist riding past.
9. I wrote about a lesson I learned about plumbing once, (water doesn’t ONLY flow downhill – and it’s not just water)- which my kids still laugh about.
10. There was the story where I wasn’t sure whether my daughter was complimenting me or insulting me – or a little of both, but it made it in here in the story Compliment? Insult? You decide…
11. And somehow, I managed to get phrases from the movies “The Lion King”, Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life”, and both the old and new Testaments of the Bible into the same story, combining them with a sermon I heard and an attitude from my boss that all ended up in the lesson you can find in the story The view from the Balcony… Forgiveness, Writing in the dirt, and “No Worries”
12. I learned, and wrote about, buried treasure – and it’s often not buried, and it’s not what you think it might be.
13. I had a story bouncing around in my head for years before I finally wrote it down, and was astonished when the right brained creative side of me finally let go of it and the logical left brain started analyzing it. if I’m wrong on the numbers, I’d be happy to have someone prove me wrong, but when you hit a certain set of railroad tracks at a certain speed in a 1967 Saab, you will catch air, and a lot of it. It was the first of many Saab Stories…
14. I remember a story that came out of a single sentence. This one is called, simply, “Stalingrad” – and is about – well, here’s the quote – it’s: “a story that boils down to six words, but at the same time, could not be told in a hundred lifetimes” – it was also one of the first stories that caused me to cry as I wrote it. I wasn’t expecting that, and I think it was interesting that people asked me to put “hankie warnings” on the stories I’d written from that one.
15. That one was hard to write – emotionally, so for the next one – I wanted to have a little fun – and this story, too, came from only a few sentences my dad told me, but it, too, required a surprising amount of research and I figured out the rest, and realized there were three stories inside this one, and I decided I’d try to braid them together in such a way that they came together – ideally, not in just one word, but the same syllable of that one word. You’ll find that story called “B-52’s, Karma, and Compromises…”.
16. I learned that one person can do something stupid, but if you get a few guys together, even without alcohol, not only does the quantity of the stupidity go up, but the quality is almost distilled to a concentration that you couldn’t make up… in the story Synergistic Stupidity, The Marshmallow Mobile, and the Little Tractor that Could… I learned that I could help people, I could do something stupid with a friend, then, while trying to figure out how to un-stupidify this thing, watch as several others got involved, ending up in exactly the same spot we’d gotten ourselves into, break the law, ‘borrow’ a tractor, and in the end, put everything back where I found it, and my grampa, whose tractor it was that I’d ‘borrowed’ – didn’t find out about it till years later. You’ll find that in the story, along with a map of where it happened. Really.
17. I often learned as I wrote – the story about The Prodigal Father took me back a few thousand years, to standing beside another dad, waiting for his son, and I suddenly understood a whole lot more about what he must have been feeling.
18. Some stories were just silly. I mean, Water Skiing in Jeans?
19. Or Jump Starting Bottle Rockets… ? With Jumper cables attached to a 40 year old car?
Yup… I did that.
20. But it’s not just my generation. I wrote a story about my mom, who – well, let’s say she has a healthy dislike for snakes. Not fear, mind you. Dislike. And when they started getting into the goldfish pond and eating her goldfish – well, she armed herself. First with a camera to prove it – and then with a pitchfork to dispatch it. And sure enough, 432 slipped disks later (Thank you Johnny Hart for that quote), that snake was no longer a threat, and mom, bless her, was quite satisfied…
21. I never think of my mom as a feisty little old lady, she’s my mom – but she’s awfully close in age (well, in the same decade) as another feisty little old lady named Cleo. I never thought I would get airborne trying to take a picture of an 88 year old woman emptying a mop bucket, but I did, and it made for a wonderful story, and a wonderful image.
22. I took a little break from writing actual stories and spent a little time explaining why in the “story” Scalpels, sutures, and staples, oh my… It was a hard “non-story” to write – but it was what was happening that week, and I was a little too busy living life in the moment to be able to write much about something that had happened in the past.
23. As some of you know, I spent a few years as a photojournalist, and as I was going through some of my old images in a box in the garage one day, I found they were a time machine – taking me back to when I was younger, and when there was so much of life still ahead of me. I remember sitting across a parking lot from a dad trying to teach his daughter how to rollerskate at Saltwater State Park between Seattle and Tacoma, just knowing she was going to fall, and as I sat there and waited to capture the image as she fell, her dad, unseen behind her, was there waiting to capture her. I had a little ‘aha’ moment about God right then. How many times things have looked like they were going the wrong way, and yet, He was in the background, orchestrating stuff to make it right in the end? (I don’t know the answer to that question, just know it’s worth asking)
24. Another “Proving Darwin Wrong” moment – as my son says – I was working for the Muskegon Chronicle in Michigan, and these thunderstorms would come in off the lake, and I wanted a lightning picture with a lighthouse in it. Now I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not the best lightning shot in the world out there, but there was, shall we say, a flash of inspiration that came rather suddenly as the film was exposed – the only frame, the 28th one (yes, shot on film), in Lightning bolts, metal tripods, and the (just in time) “Aha!” moment…
25. Sometimes the most profound bits of wisdom come from the simplest things. I was astonished to find out how many people read the story “Mowing dandelions at night…” – and what they thought about it. Some of those comments are on the blog – some were sent directly to me, but they were all fun to read, and to ponder.
26. I am constantly astonished at the amount of wisdom that can come from simple things. I remember – again – being in the garage, and finding an old, cracked cookie jar – and as I looked at it, and held it gently, I could almost feel the stories it held, and as I started writing – it gave me more and more detail for the stories that I was able to write and share.
27. The next story published was one I actually wrote in 1998, but happened in 1977, and it was then that the phrase, “Really, they don’t shoot on Sundays…” entered into my vocabulary. It was also the story that inspired my son to ask me the question, “How did you get old enough to breed?”
Hearing that from anyone is a little weird.
Hearing that from your own offspring is a little mind bending…
So should you be interested, the story involved a 1973 Pinto station wagon, a hot summer afternoon, some ducks, a cannon shell, and Elvis Presley.
Actually, in that order.
28. I then found myself writing about a cup of coffee, and the friends involved in making it. I’ve lost touch with Annie – but LaRae is now an amazing photographer, Stevie can still make an incredible cup of coffee, but is making a much better living in the transportation business.
29. I was trying to write a story a week around this time, and had no idea how much time it would take, and found myself staring at Father’s day on the calendar, and realizing how, as hard as our relationship often was (I think an awful lot of father-son relationships have their rocky moments, and I remembered back to the time I taught both of my kids to ride a bike. There was this moment, I realized, where you have to let go of the saddle – and as I talked to more and more dads about this, I realized that they all, instinctively held their right hand down by their hip, palm out, fingers curled, as though they were, indeed, Letting go of the saddle…. I have to warn you – this story took a turn toward the end that I wasn’t expecting, and it was very, very hard to finish. You’ll understand when you get there. I found this story crossed cultural barriers, age barriers, gender barriers, and I ended up putting a hankie warning on this one as well.
30. I needed a little levity, and a smile after that story (remember, they were coming out once a week, but they were taking more than a week to write – so I had spent quite a bit of time on this one, so I, writing, needed a break, and remembered a song we used to sing when I was growing up – and the dawning horror in my wife’s eyes as she realized what it actually meant. (Think German sense of humor (heard of Grimm’s Fairy Tales?) and leave it at that).
The thing about these stories is they just come. In fact, they’re all there – all I have to do is listen, and they’ll come…
31. The next story required listening for something that’s very hard to hear, and listening for about 20 years before it all came together. It ended up being two stories that morphed into one, and started out as a story about old Saabs, and ended up being a story about listening to God in the weirdest places. At the time, I had no idea that God talked to people in Junkyards, but, it turns out, He does. He talks to us everywhere – if we’re willing to listen. I have to say this one’s one of my favorites – it was fun to write, fun to search for the right words, fun to put the little vignettes together (there’s a bit about Harley Davidsons in there that I really like) and it was fun to see it all come together. I hope you enjoy it – even if you aren’t a fan of old Saabs, or maybe haven’t heard God in a junkyard. Believe me, I was just as blown away by that as you might expect. If you end up reading the story – let me know what you think, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
32. And we go back into the time machine (in the garage, looking suspiciously like an old box of black and white photos) where I found the picture behind the story “Fishing, Gorillas, and Cops with – well, just read on…” I like the story – love the picture – I think, because it’s just a normal day – nothing special about it except that – well, that it was so normal, and if you’re looking, you can find beauty everywhere, even if it’s an old guy fishing. (actually not far from where I took that lightning shot a few stories up)
33. My next story brought me a little closer to home, and my mom had just made some jelly. I always joked with her that the jars of Jelly were Time Capsules of Love…– and they were. It was neat to be able to finally write a story about them and what they meant to me. I even took a picture of one of those jars for the story.
34. I’d broken my leg that spring, and found myself in an amusing, cross cultural situation afterwards – which ended up in the story, “Knocking down walls with an old brown purse…” I still wonder how the fellow in the story’s doing. I did print out a copy there and leave it with people who could get it to him.
35. I’d written a few stories about my son, and decided that it was time to write a couple about my daughter – and the wisdom you can learn about yourself and your kids showed up in two stories, one ostensibly about greasy fingerprints (and Infinite Teenage Wisdom ®)
36. …and one about Pizza – and finances, and if you’re not careful in college (or in life), how prioritizing one over the other can affect things in a significant way…
37. I wrote about letting go – something hard to do – but with a smile in the story, and letting go in a location you might not expect.
38. I wrote about Veteran’s day – and memories of my dad, crossed with a scene I’d seen when I was a newspaper photographer years earlier, and I suddenly understood what the family whose privacy and grief I chose not to invade were feeling. There is a lot of pain in that story. Writing it down finally helped me to let some of it go.
39. And I needed a smile, so I wrote about Fifi…. This is one of my favorite stories, in which I simply chatted with folks and talked my way onto the only B-29 in the world, but at the same time, talked the photo editor of a paper I’d never seen into holding space on the front page for me because I was going to get a picture from the plane as I flew to the town where that paper was. it was an all or nothing thing from both sides, and was truly an incredible experience. I recently took a training class in “Win Win Negotiations” – and that one was held up as an example of how to do it.
40. There’s a story I wrote about rear view mirrors, and it actually has very little to do with mirrors.
41. and another I wrote about pouring a cup of coffee… which, surprisingly, has a lot to do with pouring a cup of coffee.
42. ….and my favorite prank of all, a story about (and yet not about) spinach.
43. My daughter got mad at me for the next one, called “Playing Digital Marco Polo in Seattle…” – which happened over lunch one day. “Why do these things keep happening to you? – I want things like this to happen to me, and they don’t – and yet here you go out for lunch and get… “ and she trailed off, not sure how to finish it. As it was happening – it had all the drama of a spy thriller – and I wasn’t sure what I’d walked into – but it was fun.
44. By this time it was near Christmas, and we as a family had worked our Boy Scout Troop’s Christmas tree lot for years, and something special happened this time that made both my wife and an old veteran cry. Tears of joy and gratitude – for having the privilege of being part of something special – but nonetheless tears. And I wrote…
45. We’d gone to Arizona that spring to tape me doing some presentations, and I realized there was a story that needed to be written about not that, but about a very special thing that happened down at the Pima Air Museum, as well as McChord Air Force Base many years earlier, so I shifted gears to write a story for the “Stupid things that Papa did when he was Little” series, it’s the story called “Can I help you, sir?”
46. There was a sad story about a fellow with hope, on the bus – made me realize that as bad as things were sometimes, they could always get worse, but this fellow wasn’t feeling sorry for himself, he was just taking things one day at a time. From the story: “He said he’d take anything for work, but right now there just wasn’t anything.”
47. I pondered electrons, and the monthly “Patch Tuesday” we have at work, and my thoughts wandered from very small things like electrons to the really, really big picture of Who made them., and what it all means.
48. Those of you who’ve been around me for some time have heard me use the term Butthead… and one day I decided to just write the story down about how and why that term came about, and what it means. (it’s usually a term of endearment, delivered with all the warmth of a cuff upside the head.)
49. At one point, my guardian angels were sharing pager duty, and all their pagers went off when I was miles from anything, no radio station in range, just, for a rare moment, bored out of my mind, crossing North Dakota one year in that old Ford I had. And I did something to pass the time that apparently set the pagers off. I still wonder, sometimes, how I survived some of these things – or whether they were as crazy as they seem when I write them, or if they were just me paying attention to things other folks just let slide.
50. Often the stories are just from oddities that happen in life. I never thought a broken TV would make a story – but sure enough, it did.
From the story: “Now Michael, because I have educated him in the ways of complex electronics repair, performed the first task one always does when troubleshooting and/or repairing electronics, which is to smack the living crap out of it.”
51. And then there was the story about my friend Betty… and I have to tell you, that was one hard, hard thing to write. It was her eulogy, and it took me a week to recover emotionally from writing it, much less giving it. I still miss her.
From the story: “I’d come into that room, with that pile of trampled masks outside the door…”
52. I wrote about my son’s and my time in Boy Scouts – with trips to Norwegian Memorial one year and Shi Shi beach the next year. The places aren’t much more than 15 miles apart, but the experiences were literally night and day. And after months of pondering I learned that while there was absolute joy in the trip to Norwegian, there was so much more in the way of life lessons from the trip to Shi Shi. They were completely different, but I wouldn’t trade either of them for anything.
The thing about these stories is they’re just out there in the order they come into my mind… Some get finished quickly, some slowly. Some are written in a couple of minutes – some take decades to live and weeks to write. Some I don’t even remember myself until I read them again, and at that point, they’re just as fun (or painful) for me to read as they were the very first time…
53. There was the story of Humpty Dumpty in Winter… – (because we all know he had a great fall) – and I think it’s safe to say that that particular story was the epitome of understatement. It’s just the absolute tip of the iceberg from when I broke my leg.
54. I didn’t write for awhile after that, and when I did, needed something to cheer me up a little, and wrote a story called What Heaven must be like… about an afternoon that was both planned and spontaneous, and I did something that I had never done before. I met new friends, I saw a smile from my son I wish I’d actually caught (there’s a picture in the story *after* he stopped smiling – I was trying to hold the camera steady while we were still coasting toward him at a good clip and missed how big that wonderful smile actually was. That story is very much in my top ten favorites – assuming I have a list like that…
55. And then… for a little fun, I wrote a story that was a combination “Saab Story” and a date with a young lass who shall remain nameless, but who – well, here’s the title: Old Saabs, Big puddles, and Bad dates. You’ll figure it out.
56. Not long after that, my friend Beth wanted me to go out and do something fun, and take pictures to prove it. It was also a time when my friend Greg wondered out loud whether I embellished my stories. I’d heard that question before, and given how weird some of the stories are, I understood the reason behind it. I told him no, I didn’t embellish them, and then, to Greg’s incredible shock, he walked right into one of the stories with me, literally as it happened. The look on his face when he realized what was happening is something that will live on with me for a long time. He insisted I write it down, and that I could most definitely put his name in it, so here it is… There were three main parts to the story – and they all made it into the title: Blackbirds, Blue Saabs, and Green Porta Potties
57. Some of my stories are what I guess you’d call a ‘profile’ of a person – and in this next case, it was of a fellow who was a stranger, was assigned to be my officemate, became a friend, I followed him to another company where he became my boss, and as we grew older and professionally went our separate ways, we still remained friends, and I still have a lot of fondness for the memory of that first meeting of my friend Jae…
58. Then there was the time when my mom used a phrase I’d never, ever heard her use – and I’d only heard used one other time in my life. But that time had a story wrapped around it so tight that you couldn’t hear the words without going into the story. And, as is often the case, the story spans a couple of generations, some youthful stupidity, global warming, and how difficult it can be to keep a straight face when being asked a simple question… You’ll find all that in An “Inconvenient Truth” – and how important asking the right questions is.
59. I went back several years on the next story, which was called, simply, Bathtime… I didn’t realize how – much that little activity with your kid could change your life, but it does, and the story still brings a smile. (yes, there are pictures, but no, they weren’t included in the story, for reasons that will become obvious as you read it)
60. I did quite a bit of thinking as I wrote Dirty Fingernails, Paint Covered Overalls, and True Friends – and liked the way it came out. Life lessons that took a number of years to happen actually came together in an ‘aha’ moment as I was writing this story – and it just made me smile. I opened up a bit more in this one than I had in others, I thought, but it was all true. I found myself happy with the result.
61. Amazing Grace simmered in my brain for several years before I felt it was ready. It was one that happened as it’s described in the story – but I spent quite a bit of time trying to be absolutely sure the images described in the story were written correctly so that whoever read it could not only see them, but feel them. It was an experience, on so many levels, physical, emotional, spiritual. I hope that feeling comes through. Let me know how it affects you.
62. I changed pace completely with the next story. Shock and Awwwwww… took place in the lobby of Building 25 on Microsoft’s main campus. It’s the classic story of “Boy Meets Girl” but there’s a twist… it’s not just a Boy… It’s a Nerd. And it’s not just a Girl, but a drop dead gorgeous girl in the eyes of said Nerd. Everything is going fine until the paperclip enters the picture, and then sparks literally fly.
63. Over the years I’ve found that chocolate has totally different effects on men than it does on women. I mean, if it’s chocolate from Germany, or Switzerland (both are kinds I had when I grew up) then it’s okay. Other than that, I generally don’t go out of my way to find it. I don’t have a reverence for it like you see in some ads, and simply didn’t understand the whole “oh, it’s so WONDERFUL” idea one mother’s day weekend when we went to Cannon Beach in Oregon – and there, I learned that strange things happen when you put Men, Women, Cannon Beach, and Chocolate in the same story.
64. And then I had a week in which – well, I couldn’t quite write a story.
65. There was so much going on, a little fun – but then so much teetering at the edge of life and death thing that it was hard to think of something fun or funny to write about. Life was happening, and I needed to deal with it. I didn’t realize how personal this would become in the next little bit. I was hoping to write a story about graduation for the young people I knew who were graduating, but a lot of the echoes of what had recently happened to me followed in the next few posts,
66. And I wrote a story about Graduation, dodging bullets, and other life lessons… that seemed to encompass all I needed to say, plus telling the young graduates something that might help them along their way.
67. And then, of course, there was the 4th of July – a holiday that carries with it many memories that would have my son convinced that Darwin was completely wrong. In this case, the story was about Rockets, Styrofoam airplanes, the Fourth of July, and Jimi
68. And an example of how some stories come from the weirdest places – all I can do is point you to this one: TEOTWAWKI* (if you’re an arachnid) – so if you’re a spider, you might not want to read this one.
69. And then, in a story about an event my mom found out about literally as she read my story about it, and, as she told me, had her heart beating a little because she didn’t remember it and wasn’t quite sure of the outcome. Again, proving Darwin wrong, we have what happens when you Take one teenager, add horsepower, and get… It’s entirely possible that that’s when my Guardian Angels were issued their first pagers.
70. After that, I found a couple of stories I’d asked my dad to write. He’d written four of them on the computer and printed them out – just before the computer was stolen. I wrote a ‘wrapper’ around the stories to put them in context, but otherwise, they are exactly as written. I did that with three of his stories, and they are One act of kindness that’s lasted more than a lifetime,
71. Puff balls and Pastries – in which – well, a little mishap caused a problem that had some surprising consequences.
72. …and Some things matter, and some things don’t. I was truly stunned at the world he was describing in this one, in large part because there was something in it that was considered by the people of that time and place to be “normal”. I often wonder about his friend there, what happened to him.
73. By this time it was summer – and it was time for the kids to visit the grandparents back east, and it got me thinking about that time many years ago when I had to do some Rat sitting while they were gone, so I wrote about that one, and smiled at the memory.
74. And then, a story that had been in my head for years, and I think by far the most read story on the blog, and it was a simple story about Tractors, Old Cars, and a Farmer named Harry
I checked with his family first, having a long conversation with his son before I published this, and got their approval. I heard from his friends, I heard from people who didn’t know him, and because of the story, felt they did or wished they had. I had no idea what an impact a story like that could make – but it clearly did, and I felt it was – and had been – a privilege to know Harry and his family.
75. The next story took place in church – where often children are supposed to be quiet – but one child made her presence known in a totally different way in
76. Writing the story about Harry made me think of Grad School, and I found myself humming the song “Try to remember the kind of September…” and wrote a story around that – my first couple of days in Athens Ohio – what a cultural shift it was, and simultaneously, what a neat and terrifying experience it was to do this (go 2500 miles from home, to a place where you knew no one, and see how much of a success you can make of yourself…)
77. That got me reminiscing a bit, and the next story was from when I was about 12, when I spent part of a summer Haying, growing up, and learning to drive a clutch… It was a fun summer – and both trucks, the ’66 Dodge and the ’54 Ford, the truck that could pull the curves in the Nisqually River straight in the story still exist. They were sold to a neighbor who still uses both of them. And my uncle’s back has completely healed.
78. “The only thing missing was an old Jeep and mugs of bad Army coffee.” I found myself thinking about how God reaches for us in some of the strangest places – and remembered thinking this as we were walking back from a Civil Air Patrol Search. It was our first real search instead of a practice one – and we were quite excited about actually being able to put our training to use… The combination of all of those things brought me to the story God, Searches, and ramming Aaron through the bushes
79. Lest anyone think I’m so incredible (you should know better) that God talks to me like He talked to Moses – there was a little story about – well, it fell squarely into the middle of the “Stupid things that Papa did when he was Little” series. I learned a lot about keeping the fire (and, come to think of it… starting the fire) in the stove.
80. If you’ve been reading the stories, you might remember that I took a trip down memory lane – on the Autobahn, to Munich, at 110 mph, in the story Octoberfests, Museums, and Bavarian Waitressess – it combined almost getting kicked out of one museum, getting locked out of a second, and trying to drown our sorrows in a very famous place, Munich’s Hofbräuhaus. …and – I wonder if the waitress (in the story) is still there… Whether she is or not, she made a memory that’s lasted over 30 years…
81. Taking risks…
“…there was nothing but air between me and the roof about 30 feet below, and had I slipped, I would have rolled down, then off the roof and fallen another 40 feet or so before becoming one with the pavement” Yeah, there’s a story that wouldn’t have happened if the scaffolding hadn’t held, if the receptionist hadn’t called the janitor, or if, simply, I hadn’t thought to ask if I could climb out on the roof of the courthouse to get a closer shot of the construction going on. Sometimes, to get what you want, you have to be bold, step out of your comfort zone, and ask for EXACTLY what you want. You’ll be astonished at how often you’ll actually get it. And sometimes, you might even have proof that you asked…
82. We go from the top of the courthouse to sitting in the shade on Mr. Carr’s front stoop. And I never thought that I would (or could) write a story about a sandwich, but this one was worth writing about. I still remember how cool that water was, how moist the – oh, I’d better stop, pretty soon you’ll want your own Mr. Carr’s Sandwich
83. A story about my friend Jill – including the only picture I was ever able to take of her, as well as the line, “WHAT have you DONE to my CAR?” – said in a way you might not expect.
84. The story behind my son’s famous quote, “Sometimes, things go wrong…” There’s a lesson there that we could all learn a lot from.
85. In the story A tale of Three Christmas Trees, and a little bit more… you’ll find the line,
“In fact, it’s safe to say, that in that year, God did not have Christmas trees falling out of the sky for us. Well, actually… I take that back. He did.”
And it’s true. But there’s much more to that story, involving things like how much character you get from being poor – and learning to not take things for granted, and making things on your own. All amazing stuff in and of itself, but together, wow.
86. Every now and then, a dream will show a startling reality in a way that simply can’t be explained in words. It was new year’s day – and I wrote of a dream I’d had – and the lesson in it in A New Year’s thought, of flashlights, warm hands, and a wish…
87. …and then – a story that had happened a decade earlier finally made it into print, and I wrote about Meeting Howard Carter in the back of the Garage… If you don’t know who Howard Carter is – read the story – you’ll find out. There are links to him there – but what’s interesting is the story has very little to do with Howard Carter, and much more to do with a dishwasher, and a ‘70’s era Plymouth that was big enough to put a small village in the trunk of.
88. Michael and I, in dire need of a break from everything, hit the road in the story Road Trip! (and Mermaids… and the Gates of Mordor) – and crammed just about as much as we could cram into one 24 hour period as we could, in two states. We combined Horses (a couple of brown ones and a mustang), and music, and too many spices, and old, fun music, and theatre, and sports, and an excellent impression of the Four Yorkshiremen, and it all melted into one afternoon/evening/morning/next afternoon that was a tremendous amount of fun.
89. Even as this next one was happening, and I was smelling a truckload of gasoline in a place I’d never thought I’d smell it, and blocking traffic in the last place I wanted to block traffic, I found myself wondering if this was going to make it into a story. It did. It’s here: Caffeine, Clean Engines, and Things that go Whoomp in the Night…
90. If you remember the story about “Transmissions from God”, you know that occasionally I hear God’s still, small voice telling me to do something. Sometimes I hear Him in a junk yard, sometimes I hear him in the balcony at church, and sometimes in Safeway parking lots in Ballard.
91. If you’re keeping track, this next story, in the order they were written, was Norwegian… – though it happened a year before the Shi Shi Beach story. It ranks as one of the top camping trips I’ve ever been on.
92. And this next story was literally a dream. If you’ve gotten this far, you know that occasionally I’ll remember one, and for whatever reason it will have something significant in it. I called this one Jungles, White Helicopters, and Long Journeys – because when I had that dream, I thought I was near the end of a long journey – but in reality, – well, if you’ve ever gone through a challenging time – and you can pick your challenge. The story fits. Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
93. And after I wrote that one, I got to wandering down memory lane a bit – sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a hankie – sometimes both. It’s funny how a certain smell rocketed me back to Sidney, Ohio and this story: Black and White, and Read all over… – and it’s written pretty much how I told it to my son on the way home one evening. It still brings a smile.
94. While I was in the neighborhood, so to speak – I remembered the time I wandered into a radio station just outside of Sidney, because no one told me I couldn’t – and making a new friend with the DJ there. I smile every time I think about that time, and the story Radio Stations, Paul Simon, and Blue Moons came out of it.
95. I’ve had stories take on a life of their own – and this next one was one of them. I started off just writing a story about me doing something that had unexpected results, and it suddenly turned into something more. Something much, much more. You’d never think that Carburetor Cleaner, Hot Water, and a Cold Sprite could be mentioned in the same sentence and have a common theme – but they were – they do, and I feel, honestly, honored to have been a part of the story.
I will miss Dan. He’s one of the best.
It took me awhile to figure out what to do next… the story about Dan was published, along with some of the other “Saab Stories” in the Saab Club Magazine – and I just had to let it simmer a little bit, as it was, if you read it – a hard story to finish.
96. The next story was one I’d written a year earlier, and was one of those things that my daughter would say just happens to me. I don’t know why, maybe because I pay attention? I’m not sure… In this case, I was out for a walk, and a little dog interrupted that walk and melted my heart for a good while. When I found out the dog’s name, I was stunned, and did lots of research into the name, just to understand it. I think it’s because of all the research I did that my mind was completely overwhelmed with the name and what it represented, and I didn’t like the story at all. But – a year went by, and I read it again, and sure enough it made me smile. It turns out that Fuzz Therapy with Rasputin is cheaper than any other kind of therapy.
97. Sometimes therapy comes in different packages. I remember one time, years ago, my son was sick, it had been an exhausting day, and I’d just gotten him to bed, but he wasn’t sleepy. I was sitting there, in the tired exhaustion felt by all parents of youngsters at the end of a long day, trying to figure out what I could do to make him comfortable enough so that he would go to sleep. Of course, if he went to sleep, that meant I could sleep, too. While I was pondering this, I heard his voice cut through the thoughts, “Papa? Tell me a story…”
A story. It was like I’d been in a dream, and he’d pulled me out of it. A story. I tried to think, and knowing he liked dragons, I figured I’d start somewhere and see where it took me. I’d had a class years ago where we wrote a story, one sentence at a time, but the professor wrote a word on the board, and we had to write a sentence around it. Then he’d write another word, we’d write another sentence. Eventually, we’d have a story, but we wouldn’t know, from one sentence to the next, where the story was taking us.
And that’s how I started… Blindly going where no story teller had gone before, I started off with my first sentence: “Fred was a Dragon.” – and I went on from there, the story slowly taking shape until it became the story you can read as: Of Dragons, Knights, and Little Boys… Let me know what you think when you can.
98. I put this next one out on Father’s day. It’s a Saab story, but it’s more than that… it was a trip my son and I took to visit my mom on the fourth of July – and an adventure that had a fun quote come out of him. It made me smile, and – wow – 6 years later, I finally wrote it down. It became the story called …if Will Smith drove a Saab 96
And – it’s still July as I write this… I’ve been going through a lot of these stories, trying to find my favorites – find the ones that made me smile – that still make me smile, and also find the ones that made me think, or helped me learn something…
Sometimes I learn things that people show me, or teach me, or from some mistake I made.
Sometimes I learn from things God puts in front of me and gives me the privilege of seeing, and learning from.
And sometimes I learn from stories that have made me cry, in living them, in writing them, and again in reading them.
There’s a little of every one of them in there. There’s tales of youthful stupidity, there’s the story in which my son says I’ve simply proved Darwin wrong – that it’s not survival of the fittest – it’s survival of the luckiest – and often there’s an element of truth to that. The phrase that sticks with me is the one he said after I told him one of my “Stupid Things that Papa did when he was Little” stories. I heard words I’d never, ever have thought to hear from my own offspring, “How did you get old enough to breed?”
99. So to finish that off – a tale that involves a uniquely American holiday, youthful stupidity, a good bit of luck, and the sound of Guardian Angel’s pagers going off yet again… It’s the memories of July 4th… When I was a kid…
Thanks for being with me through these first 99 – well, 100 stories. I hope you’ve enjoyed them as much as I have.
Take care & God bless,
Hey all – I’m back. I’ve been off, away from my writing – and away from a lot of other stuff – for a bit – learning some pretty important lessons about dodging bullets (or maybe, as my son says, angry meteors) – and have been learning about family, how important it is, and how important it is to take care of each other.
I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of that recently – and got to thinking about how much I’m looking forward to “graduating” from needing that. I’ll write more about some of those lessons – but it’ll take some time for them to simmer a bit, or bake a bit, or do whatever lessons do when they start roaming around in my noggin.
But back to that graduation thing…
Several friends, or children of friends, have just recently graduated from various parts of their lives – some from high school, some from college, a couple from Boy Scouts (they made Eagle) – and it got me thinking about when I graduated from college…
<play along with me here – fade to black – and then come back to a much younger and thinner me…>
When I went to college, I found, to my surprise, the little bit of photography I’d been dabbling in was something other people thought I was good at.
Also to my surprise, I did not know at the time that you could schedule classes in college to NOT start at the hour when God Himself hadn’t yet thought of making coffee, but sure enough, my very first class started at 7:30 in the morning. It was called “Media Production” – where we were to learn about making slide presentations…
(using real film – none of this fancy digital crap you have now– that we had to expose, and to develop the film, by hand, we had to walk two miles, uphill, in snow 10 feet deep, and – no, wait… wrong story… sorry – my “old codger” dial was set a little too high there… that’s been fixed, and we now return you to the regularly scheduled story, already in progress…)
…and the final project would be a presentation of both slides (images) and music that we’d made on our own. About half way through the course, the instructor interrupted our work on our presentations with a message from the editor of the yearbook. I was standing up front between two young ladies who also didn’t get that memo that you didn’t have to take classes before God finished grinding His coffee beans.
The message from the editor of the yearbook was simple: They were backed up with assignments, and desperately needed help in photography, and our instructor wanted to know if any of us wanted to volunteer to help them out.
At that moment, I felt one firm hand on each shoulder push me a step forward.
The two young ladies, bless their fuzzy little hearts, had “volunteered” me.
I asked about the requirements.
“You need to have a camera.”
“I don’t have one.”
I didn’t. I was borrowing the school’s old Nikon FE for this class.
“You need to have darkroom experience.”
“What’s a darkroom?”
My experience in dark rooms was limited to turning the lights off.
And thus started my ‘career’ in photography.
I spent an astonishing amount of time in the darkroom the first few weeks, learning how to mix chemicals, how to develop film properly (in large part because I developed it improperly first), how to print pictures well, (in large part because I printed some absolutely awful images). Lordy… talk about making mistakes – but I was learning, and learning things like to how to tell when the water was exactly 68 degrees (which is the temperature most developer had to be for film to be developed) – all the stuff you don’t even see anymore because it’s all digital, but it was magic, and I loved it.
So much of the learning how to do it right was learned by screwing it up first, and doing it wrong, first, and eventually developing (pardon the pun) the experience to build on over time so I wouldn’t make those mistakes again…
I shot for, and later became the photo editor for the yearbook “Cascade”, and did the same for the student newspaper, “The Falcon.”
By the time I graduated, I’d been shooting at SPU for two years, to the point where I’d gotten to know everyone from the president of the school to the head custodian. I learned what time the light was good on which buildings – and which season was best to shoot them in. I’d shot from the roofs of building you weren’t supposed to be able to get to (Knowing the president of the school does not get you onto roofs of buildings… Knowing the head custodian does – funny how that works) – and I went everywhere – and I mean *everywhere* with my camera bag and my two Nikons and assorted lenses.
I took my camera bag with me everywhere, except for one night, when I went up from the darkroom (in one building) to get something I’d forgotten in my dorm room (most of the way across campus and up a steep hill). I just left the bag in the darkroom, behind two locked doors, and walked up to the dorm quickly – but feeling very strange and off balance since my camera and bag had become such a part of me. In fact, it became clear to me that I wasn’t the only one used to seeing me with it. One person I passed that evening seemed totally startled by the fact that I was there and blurted out, “Tom? – is it really you? I didn’t recognize you without your camera bag!”
And that little comment followed me all the way to the day I graduated from Seattle Pacific University.
In fact, one day, while on the roof of one of the dorms, taking pictures from an angle no one else had thought to take pictures from, I saw a friend walk by below who’d complained about me being “everywhere” – popping out from behind bushes and the like, and the situation was just too ripe… I mean, if there was ever an example of low hanging fruit – this was fruit just ripe for the picking – even if I was doing it from the top of Marston Hall at SPU. I leaned over the edge, focused on him, took the picture, and then ducked back onto the roof, “leaving” the camera hanging over the edge just long enough for him to look up on hearing the sound of my motor drive and to see it being pulled back. I waited about 10 seconds, then peeked over the edge and waved. He was standing there, mouth open, staring at me, his suspicions confirmed, that I was indeed, “everywhere.”
The funny thing about that was that, like I said, everyone was used to seeing me with my camera bag, and conversely, people quite literally didn’t recognize me without it. But this meant that I became, for lack of a better way to say it, a fixture, with my cameras, all over the place. Most, if not all of the faculty had gotten to know me in one form or another, and so when it was clear that my time at SPU was coming to a close (in large part because I was graduating) a thought, nay, an idea started germinating in the dark, developer soaked recesses of my mind.
See, if everyone knew me with the camera bag, and I walked across the stage to get my diploma with it, there’d be a couple of laughs, or worse, no one would notice at all, it was just “oh, that’s Tom, with the camera bag” – and I’d be done.
If I just walked across the stage with nothing, that would have the same effect…
I’d just be an anonymous graduate who had 4 people in the audience cheering him on, and that would be that.
After all I’d done, after all the pictures I’d taken, the memories I’d captured, the treasures I’d seen and shared through my cameras, I wanted something *just* a touch bigger.
So I started thinking, and that idea started festering into thoughts like:
“What would the faculty *not* expect?”
“What would the students *not* expect?”
“What would the audience *not* expect?”
…and what could I do that would make them remember that it was me who walked across the stage, and not some other student?
And then, as if by magic, the day before graduation, I got a surprisingly big paycheck, and I bought a motor drive for my Nikon F-3, the best camera out there at the time. This motor drive would let me burn through a roll of film (36 frames) in about 8 seconds But I also bought myself what was then known as an SB-16 – or a “Speedlight” – think of it as a flash for the camera, on Tour de France levels of steroids. It would keep up with the motor drive for about 6 frames if you set it right, and I found myself pondering what I could do with that combination.
I didn’t have to ponder long.
If carrying the camera bag across the stage was out…
And carrying nothing across the stage was out…
…and so, I managed to conceal, under my gown, my Nikon F3, the MD-4 Motor Drive, and the SB-16 Speedlight. I put a set of fresh batteries in both the flash and the motor drive, threw my standard 50 mm lens on the camera, slung it over my shoulder, put the gown on over it, and set the whole thing “just so” so that it would hang without putting too many bulges in the wrong places.
One of the things I’d learned over the years was to hang the camera over my right shoulder, and hang it there with the lens facing my body. That way, the lens was protected, and if there was a shot I needed to take quickly, I could reach down with my right hand, grab the side of the camera that held the shutter release, whip it up, and have my left hand ready to hold the lens while the right held the camera body.
Having the SB-16 on there kind of nixed that idea, since the flash would have been rather uncomfortably in my armpit, even with the long camera strap I had. So I had to hang it with the lens facing out, then when I was ready to go, twist it around so I had my right hand on the camera where it needed to be. Given what I was doing, this had an unintended effect, namely that all the little blinky lights on the back of this new strobe were now facing outward.
None of the students could see this, but as I was standing there on stage, waiting to cross the stage, having handed the little card with my name on it to the Vice President of Academic Affairs (the guy who read my name for everyone to hear), the camera, the motor drive, and the strobe unit together made for a large, blackish object just under a foot and a half tall, bulging at my shoulder, with little blinking lights.
And several of the faculty, sitting on the stage, saw me reach for it and turn it around.
I saw their movement, and looked right to see tittering wave of comments and concern rippling as more and more of the faculty’s eyes focused on the blinky lights and the bulge under this one student’s gown.
Before I could react, and before anyone else could say anything, I heard my name called, and things simultaneously went into slow motion, tunnel vision, and I felt like I was hearing everything underwater.
When I looked back, I saw the school president, Dr. Dave LeShana smiling, saw the look of expectation in his eyes, the diploma in his hand. I saw the orchestra, and my friends in it, playing quietly, or watching, as their parts dictated. Past them a bit, I saw the photographer, waiting to take a picture as I shook the president’s hand, and I did what I’d just rehearsed in my mind a few seconds before: six steps out, pivot on the right foot, the seventh step, face the audience, bring the camera and flash out, (it did have film in it, for later) flip the top of the flash down (it was aimed straight up) – and then I fired the camera out at the audience until the flash stopped flashing.
A pin, dropped on a carpeted floor would have echoed in there.
I waved at the crowd, then looked over at president LeShana, who started laughing, and I shook his hand. I held on for a bit, waiting to see the flash of the photographer who was supposed to be shooting *my* picture, and saw nothing. I let go of the handshake, and looked down at the photographer, who was just staring, rather dumbfounded. I realized that I had significantly more – um – firepower – photographically speaking, than he did, and he was just shocked into silence and inaction.
Not wanting to hold up the ceremony any longer, I walked past him, got to the stairs that got me off the stage, and as I took my first step down, my ears seemed to start working again and I heard the crowd, the students, on their feet, cheering and screaming.
I high-fived a bunch of them as I walked past.
Yeah, that was better than just taking the camera bag across the stage.
Years later I heard from my sister, who’d been there. She’d talked to the fellow who was the student body president, who’d been sitting in the 4th balcony.
“Was that your brother who shot graduation?”
“He didn’t shoot it, he graduated.”
“No, I mean, he graduated – but he took pictures, from the stage, didn’t he?”
(Given that everyone else was taking pictures aiming toward the stage, this was notably different)
“Oh, yeah, that was him, why, did you see him?”
“Oh I saw him alright… I was watching him. Through binoculars. And every time that flash went off was like being hit in the eyes with a sledgehammer.”
Heh… yeah… it was different than the standard, run-of-the-mill trip across the stage.
…though I sure would have liked it had the photographer gotten a shot of Dr. LeShana and me.
So… gosh, do I have a message for those of you out there graduating?
I hadn’t planned on one – but hey, since we’re here, there’s actually quite a few of them…
You won’t have all the answers when you graduate.
You’ve barely learned to ask the questions.
I learned a lot more after that day, but the thing that had me thinking was this:
I took risks.
I made the best decisions I could make while working with incomplete information, and as much as you tend to look back and think thoughts like “if only I’d…” – those thoughts are useless without a time machine to go back and prove that your “if only…” would have been the right decision.
I climbed tall buildings (not in a single bound, mind you, and always with permission – though there’s a certain church roof I’ll never climb up again with or without permission, that was just scary high, and steep) –
I did things “just because” – and I had a blast doing it.
On the other hand, I was so poor afterwards as I was starting out that there were a lot of things I didn’t do. I learned to make a big can of oatmeal (that cost me $2.86) last a month. I remember inviting friends over for lunch – and it was boxed Mac and cheese that I’d gotten for a quarter.
And it was fun.
Would I put all that hard work into it again?
In a heartbeat.
Looking back on it all now…
Did life go the way I’d planned?
Nope. Not even close.
Would I change anything, looking back on it now?
That would involve that time machine again, proving that whatever decisions got me to this point were the absolute right or wrong ones to be made – and remember the bit about making the best decisions you can with the info you’ve got at the time?
Some parts that have happened were better than I could have possibly imagined in my wildest dreams.
Some parts that have happened were worse than I could have possibly imagined in my worst nightmares.
That’s called life…
Remember the good.
Learn from the bad.
Do the best you can, with what you’ve got, at that time, and you build on that.
When you look back, you’ll see you made mistakes.
Some of those mistakes will have been small, but as you look back, you’ll see you made some huge ones.
But look harder, and you’ll realize you’ve learned a lot of lessons from those mistakes…
And after you learned those lessons, I’ll bet you didn’t make those mistakes again – or as much (because you now had *new* and *exciting* and *bigger* mistakes to learn from!)
And sometimes, even when you think you finally have it all together, and you’ll have some sort of picture, symbolizing all the lessons you learned, something will invariably go wrong (like, say, photographers at graduation not taking pictures of the graduating students…) and the only thing you’ll have are the memories.
So… learn what you can.
Learn from those mistakes.
Forgive yourself for making them.
And move on, teaching those who come behind you as you can.
Take care folks…
“You ought to shoot the EAA airshow, you like planes so much!”
“Heh – did the Yakima airshow once. Flew over there in Fifi.”
And so of course, I had to explain.
I’m an airplane nut, and years ago was a photojournalist, and any time I could put the two together, I would.
There was a time when a B-17 and an LB-30 (non – combat version of the plane most people would recognize as a B-24) would show up at Seattle’s Boeing field, not much of an announcement, they’d just show up. I went down there with a friend and used up a good bit of the week’s grocery money buying a walk-through tour of the planes. It was a lot of fun… I got some nice pictures – and it was fun to watch and hear the Pratt & Whitneys on the one, and the Wright Cyclones on the other rumble to life.
My wife has said I could start a conversation with anyone, and in this case, I did just that, and ended up chatting with the pilot of the LB-30, who happened to be a United Airlines Pilot living just 30 miles south of Seattle. He gave me his business card.
The LB-30 came back two years later – but with a much bigger friend from Boeing, this being what was then the Confederate Air Force’s (now known as the Commemorative Air Force) mighty B-29, with the decidedly un-mighty name of “Fifi”
Since I’d already seen the LB-30, I figured I’d see what the inside of a B-29 looked like, and used up a bigger chunk of my weekly grocery budget than last time to pay for a walk-through tour of it.
The plane, while huge on the outside, wasn’t made for comfort inside, but utility. As I moved through it, I’d find hand-holds exactly where I reached for and needed them. Definite utility – but there wasn’t a lot cushioning of anything, after all, it was a military plane.
…and as I went forward I saw a leather bomber’s jacket on the map table on the left.
Not just any leather bomber’s jacket – but the one that had the name of the pilot I’d chatted with two years earlier.
And thus began one of my “Only you, Tom… Only you…” stories..
See, this plane had come up to Seattle from Salem, Oregon.
The local CBS affiliate, KIRO, had driven from Seattle to Salem.
They’d gotten on the plane in Salem and flown back to Seattle, videotaping the whole flight.
From inside the airplane.
It was considered a major coup at the time. They landed, they drove to the station, edited their stuff, and were on the air.
Needless to say, I was down there at the airport shortly after that.
And with that, a most evil and sneaky plan started festering – no – germinating (that sounds healthier) in my mind.
I found myself wondering what their plans were after Seattle -and it turned out they were going to be part of the airshow over in Yakima.
So the day they were heading over there I went down again, and found the pilot I’d talked to two years earlier…
“Hey, Dick, you got anyone from the Yakima paper covering this?”
(Note: Evil, festering germinating plan being: “I’m planning on doing what KIRO did.” – not because I was brilliant, not because I had permission, but because nobody had told me I couldn’t, and I didn’t know any better than to think I couldn’t just wander down to Boeing field and talk my way onto the only flying B-29 just because I had a camera…)
So I went to the pay phone inside the Museum of Flight, plunked in a few quarters, and called the Yakima Herald Republic, where my friend Jimi Lott had been the photo editor, and asked them if they were covering this. They said yes, they were. So I figured my chances were slim, to none. But about 15 minutes before scheduled takeoff, the photographer still hadn’t shown up, so I called them back and was a little more specific in my question.
“Do you have anyone in Seattle covering this? Someone who’s going to get on the plane and fly with it, shooting all the way?
Then I got all young and stupid and just about yelled at the photo editor there for not having a photographer ready to fly back there on the plane…
They didn’t have anyone in Seattle covering this?
They didn’t have anyone in Seattle covering this…
Gad… Didn’t they know what a piece of history this was?
Didn’t they realize they were missing a once in a lifetime event?
Didn’t they –
–the photo editor finally had enough of my attitude and said, “Now what did you say your name was again?”
“Tom Roush…. Jimi Lott’s a friend of mine.”
Jimi used to be his boss.
“Right, so what do you want me to do?”
The light went on…
THEY DIDN’T HAVE ANYONE IN SEATTLE COVERING THIS!
“Well, you don’t have anyone here, right? So here’s what I’m planning on doing… I’m gonna walk out there and see if I can talk my way onto the plane. If I can, I’ll be over there in about 45 minutes or so…. You want color or black and white?”
“Uh… Color, I guess…”
“Right. I’ll call you when I’m at the airport.”
I got off the phone with the photo editor, left the Museum of Flight, and walked out toward the plane, which was surrounded by this teeming throng of people, just in time to hear someone yell, “Okay, where’s the photographer?”
And I, Tom Roush…
…who’d driven down there on a whim, and had just convinced the photo editor of a newspaper I’d never seen to buy a picture I’d only be able to take if I could get onto a plane I’d promised the pilot I’d get onto the front page of a newspaper that…
(yeah, I still have to read that sentence a couple of times myself – still working out the catch:22ness of it all)
…called out, “HERE!”
Moses himself couldn’t have parted the crowd any better.
I waved my hand, and “Fwwwwooomp” – Instant walkway. I walked through, feeling simultaneously embarrassed at the attention, and elated beyond words that it was happening.
I tossed my itty bitty duffel bag onto the plane, swung the camera bag up, climbed up, and in 5 minutes we were gone.
They’d started up this noisy little air cooled V-4 Wisconsin motor like my Grampa had on his hay baler – but this was attached to a honking generator. (If you ever saw the NOVA: B-29 Frozen in Time special, it is this generator that broke free and started the fire.) They used the V-4’s generator to run the starter for the number 3 engine. Once that was running, they used the generator on that engine to start up the rest. I could see the tops of the cylinders vibrating a bit through the open cowl flaps as the propellers blew the smoke from starting those big radial engines away.
We taxied out to the runway, and I was treated to one of the smoothest flights I’ve ever been on.
But we didn’t just fly up to altitude, fly over, land… No, we played tag with the LB-30, buzzed a few airfields, and flew past – not over – Mt. Rainier. I hung out the side bubbles and shot up, down, left, right, directions you simply can’t see in a normal airplane.
There was a little stool that you could sit on that got your head up into another little bubble so you could see out the top of the plane. I sat on that and looked out there for a bit – until one of the crew members asked me to let another fellow up – who’d paid $300.00 for the privilege of this flight.
I’d completely forgotten that this might be something people would pay to do, much less be ABLE to pay to do. I got down and was just amazed at where I was and what all was happening. (remember, I’d gone on that $10.00 tour – which had used up a good chunk of my weekly grocery budget.)
As we came close to Mt. Rainier, I asked the crew back where I was if they could get the LB-30 between us and the mountain. They called up to the pilot, he called over to the other plane, and as he flew underneath us, I got some shots of the LB-30 beneath us with apple orchards beneath it
But then, then I got the shot of the only flying LB-30 in the world, taken from the only flying B-29 in the world in front of Washington’s tallest hunk of rock.
And… and it was kind of special…
The next thing I knew we were on approach to Yakima, and we buzzed the Yakima field once and then came in to land. I hurriedly said my goodbyes and explained I had to make a deadline. I found a huge bank of temporary pay phones (this was BC, before cellphones) and called the paper, got the photo department, and got the photo editor I’d gotten all stupid over less than an hour before.
“Hey, this is Tom, I’m here.”
“Here… Here? Where’s here?”
Billy Crystal couldn’t have said it better.
Which airport – what kind of a question was that? I mean, I’d just talked to him, I’d told him where I was going to be – where did he expect me to be?
“Well Yakima, of course.”
<more stunned silence… >
…and in a voice tinged with resignation, I heard, “I’ll have someone there to pick you up.”
Ten minutes later, a white Toyota, driven by the same photo editor I’d been talking to on the phone, arrived to take me to the paper, where while we chatted, the film was processed, edited, and then, with a press pass to the airshow, returned to me.
I didn’t really know what to do after the paper went to the printers – so I found a hotel, a Super 8, I think, for $35.00, had some dinner at a nearby restaurant, and went to bed.
The next morning I walked to a nearby Denny’s where I found a whole bunch of Air National Guard photojournalists who were covering the airshow sitting at a table looking at the front page of the local paper.
A picture of an LB-30 in front of Mt. Rainier.
The picture had made page 1.
We talked and laughed and told war stories to each other over coffee, and they, realizing that my car was about 150 miles away, kindly invited me to ride out to the airshow with them. They gave me a press pass, too. I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store. I could go anywhere I wanted. I could get photos of planes I’d never seen before, or since. I could watch the aerial demonstrations of the A-10 Warthog, I could watch things blow up, and I could do it all from in front of the front row.
There was NOTHING between me and the airplanes – in fact, anyone taking pictures of the planes got the back of my head in the bottom of their pictures.
How unutterably cool.
I shot and wandered, and wandered and shot, got sunburned, had a cheap hot dog and chatted with pilots and crew and just had the time of my life, and when they started firing up some of those big engines to leave, I knew it was time for me to head out, too, so I walked into the terminal, found the Horizon Airlines desk, called Jimi to see if he could pick me up at SeaTac, and then bought a ticket back to Seattle for $45.00.
As we flew back, I saw the same scenery as I’d seen coming over, but it was different, and I was different.
Jimi came to pick me up when I got to SeaTac, and we talked and laughed as he took me back to Boeing field and the Museum of Flight where I’d left the Saab the day before. In a few days the paper sent me a check for $35.00 (the same that the Super 8 motel charged me.)
For the price of a flight back and a couple of phone calls, I’d had a weekend to remember, and the experience of a lifetime.
My son has informed me that “to be old and wise, you first have to be young and stupid” – and with that in mind, we’ll start with a story – it’s from my childhood, when I, like most of us, was young and stupid.
Speaking of my son, as he was growing up, I told him “Stupid Things that Papa did when he was Little” stories, in hopes that he wouldn’t do those things. Now it’s said that tragedy plus time equals comedy, and when hearing these stories of my stupidity in my childhood, he would usually laugh at the tragedy I’d survived, mostly of my own doing. And somewhere in the story there’d be a lesson, and he’d remember it. Now since I was telling him the stories, it must have meant I’d survived, but still, stupid is stupid.
So, in this case, I was about 16 or so, and I was building a diorama – a model of a burned out, destroyed building that a model tank would be positioned as crashing through. It involved a bit of plaster, a few small pieces of plywood, and a whole bunch of little wood scraps and such – oh, and the model. I was trying to make it look like the building had burned, and needed that black smoky look to come out of the windows.
Black… Smoky… the kind of smoke that comes from… oh, what is that yellow/orange stuff?…
Fire, yeah… that’s where smoke comes from…
(insert ominous music here)
Now, was I doing this on a desk?
(that would have been smart, and I wouldn’t have this story to be telling you)
…a modeling table?
(that would have been smarter, as I’d have a place to put all the bits and pieces and let glue dry)
…someplace where I could safely light a match or candle and let the smoke do its thing?
(that would have been smartest, as – well – lighting matches… teenagers… in the house… need I say more?)
I was doing it on the carpet in my room.
Oh wait. It gets better.
See, I was trying to get a smokey effect…
A match would have been good.
A candle would have been great.
But for some reason, which I must attribute to my Infinite Teenage Wisdom ®, I decided that they weren’t quite good enough and decided to use a highway flare instead of a match.
Oh, just go back and read that again, you know you need to…
Yes, a highway flare...
In the house.
Over the carpet.
Well – it’s not so much that I really wanted to use the highway flare, but I had it in my hand, and had the cap off, and was idly wondering how much force it would take to get a spark – oh heck – like that would go over as an excuse…
…did you know that once lit, highway flares are, um, extremely hard to put out?
…and they drip red hot stuff when they’re burning?
…that melts carpets?
Doing the “Olympic torch” run through the house to get it outside just wasn’t going to happen. I mean, there’s that red hot stuff dripping, In this case, it was a carpet, but if I were running (and who can’t imagine running through the house with a flare like an Olympic torch, the crowds cheering, the – no wait – that was just SO not happening…) And that red hot stuff would have been dripping on my shoulder, and that would have been, oh, bad… yeah, we’ll just call it bad… (keeping in mind of course that dripping red hot burning stuff onto a carpet really isn’t on the “good” side of the spectrum).
The more I think about it, the more I realize we’re so far past the border between dumb and stupid that you can’t even see it in the rear view mirror. I’d had some plaster powder there for the diorama I was making – and out of pure instinct I shoved the flare into that – which, to my delight and surprise, put it out. But the thing that got me, I still can’t believe it to this day, was that mom smelled the smoke, came in, and wondered what was going on. And my guilty conscience went ballistic trying to defend myself. Understand, this is a teenage mind going off here – but here was my Infinite Teenage Wisdom ® reasoning:
“Just because you smell smoke, and
just because you walk into the room that you can barely see through because of that smoke, and
just because I’m the only one in it,and
you came in through the only door, and
just because I’m sitting there on the floor, with a hot flare sitting beside me and a smoldering hole in the carpet, you think I DID IT?”
We pause, reverently, hands over hearts for a moment, as the parents out there realize they’ve heard some variation of this before, both from their own mouths and from their children’s…
“Uh… Yeah… As a matter of fact, I do think you did do it.”
My mom, bless her, realized that she was not arguing with logic in the slightest, she was arguing with a guilty conscience and emotion, and no amount of logic was going to make it through that.
I have no idea why I was defending myself so much at that time – but I was. I’m sure I would have said that someone else was using my fingers and put my fingerprints on it had it gotten to that… Dumb, dumb, dumb…
Speaking of fingerprints…
…fast forward about 25 years – I was in my darkroom developing film for a client, and had some hanging up to dry. My daughter came down, eating some chicken. I put two and two together and said, “Don’t touch the film.” I then turned back to the enlarger. Something made me turn around.
One of the strips of film was moving.
The one with some greasy fingerprints that hadn’t been there a moment before.
There was also a very guilty looking 8 year old.
“Didn’t I tell you to not touch it?”
“I can see your fingerprints right there!”
“It wasn’t me”
“We’re the only two in the darkroom!”
It dawned on me…
I started thinking about fingerprints and realized that I wasn’t the only one who had a stranglehold on denial, and that my son was right…
To be old and wise, you have to be young and stupid first…
I just didn’t know it would be hereditary…