Saturday, November 10, 2018

Do not cross this line

Tape for bees
Mississauga, ON
November 2018
This photo originally shared on Instagram
Fun in an airport - the latest in an ongoing series.

The scene: Pearson International Airport, Toronto, Ontario. Early Saturday morning, domestic departures gate area. I left my hotel a few thousand kilometres thataway just over 24 hours ago, only to be stopped 200 km from home by a cancelled late-night flight.

I nasty-tweeted the airline - which makes me feel a bit guilty, because I'm supposed to be a kindly Canadian - and eventually got everything sorted out. They gave me a hotel and food voucher, and after a 2-hour power nap in a room overlooking the garbage bins, I'm back at the airport waiting for the first flight home.

So I thought I'd have a little fun with photography. Unfortunately, the yellow and black tape you see here was placed uncomfortably close to a lovely middle-aged couple. But I really wanted the shot. So I wandered over, anyway, sat myself down cross-legged on the floor, and started working the angles with my smartphone.

I could see the woman was looking at me like I was slightly altered, but the man seemed genuinely intrigued, with a half-smile to match. So I eventually turned to them and said, "Please don't mind me. I do this weird stuff all the time." The guy says in a friendly Aussie drawl, "No worries, mate, looks like you got the shot."

Nice to know there are still good-hearted strangers out there who appreciate the small things. And nice to know there's enough random kindness in the world that we can still share fun little moments like this when we're far from home.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Staring out the window at the airport

Planes at rest at sunrise
Las Vegas, NV
November 2018
This photo originally shared on Instagram
I'm running way ahead of schedule this morning, so I've been slowly making my way to my gate at the airport, slowly drinking in the architecture of this place, slowly thinking about how I want to remember this particular journey, and how I want to share it with my family after I get home.

I may be here alone, but I never lose sight of the fact that being away ripples out through my wife and kids. It throws everyone's schedule off as I disappear, and Debbie takes on even more than she already does to keep everything together in my absence. They wake up earlier, run around more, get less sleep, all because I'm not there.

It's been a fabulous week here. The conference was an incredible experience. I dug deep with my team and we did amazing work that sets the stage for lots of good things ahead. But it's time to come home. And as I set off on this journey with no one to talk to but myself, I realize I'm never really alone, that I carry a small group of remarkable people - my family, my life - with me wherever I go.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Fun in a hotel bathtub

Artful plumbing
Las Vegas, NV
November 2018
Photo originally shared on Instagram
I can already predict what my kids will say when I get home: “Our dad went to Las Vegas, and all he did was take stupid pictures of hotel room bathtub fixtures.”

They wouldn’t be wrong. And it wouldn’t be the first time I turned the lens inward while I was away.

That’s largely because when you’re away for work instead of vacation, you don’t have tons of time to explore. I’ve been trying to take quick walks outside, but I’ve been “on” from before dawn until late at night, then back at it early again the next day. So it’s been hard to squeeze in the time to get away.

To compensate, I’ve been looking inward, stealing snippets of the oddball facets of my hotel room, the hallways, the views out the windows, whatever happens to be under my nose at any given moment as I move from my room to the conference venue and back.

It’s the kind of photography we just don’t do when we have the luxury of time. And it means the weird factor gets cranked up a notch or two.

Which largely explains why I found myself exploring my hotel room - including the bathtub - with my smartphone camera before I tucked in for the night. Is it strange? Of course. Trivial? Indeed!

But looking back at the photo, and thinking of how it ended up being created, makes me realize just how lucky I am to be who I am. If a sign of a life well lived is a tub fixture photography fixation, I’m okay with that.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Shooting glass in an empty hotel corridor

Artfully melted sand, closeup
Las Vegas, NV
November 2018
This photo originally shared on Instagram
I have a love-hate relationship with travel. On the one hand, it lets you explore new places with your mind - and your lens - and it forces you to be way more in-the-moment than if you were lying on the couch at home, eating a bowl of Cool Ranch Doritos while binge-watching Riverdale on Netflix.

On the other hand, I find it occasionally frightening. I don’t do well in crowds. Or with sleeping alone far from home in a strange hotel room filled with strange smells and sounds. I miss my wife and kids, and I miss my alarm-clock dog sticking her nose into my ear an hour before dawn. Travel focuses a lot of change on you in a short amount of time, and it makes me a little queasy at first - at least until I settle into something of a groove once I get there.

So I use my camera as a bit of a crutch, and spend an inordinate amount of time composing and shooting as a means of easing my overactive, non-traveller’s mind.

Consider this as today's Exhibit A. I was meeting a colleague before our next scheduled event, and had arrived in the open area outside the conference rooms a bit early. I noticed the bar was unstaffed because it was late in the day, and since there was no one around to ask for permission, I walked behind the bar and had some optical fun with their nicely stored glasses. I’m badass that way.

I got some stares from passers-by, along with two smiles and a thumbs-up, and as far as I can tell, the hotel hasn't booted me out yet. More importantly, in addition to getting a pretty memorable shot with a fun back-story, I gave myself 5 minutes where I felt a little more normal than I had felt in a while. That's why I shoot, no matter where I might be at the moment.

Your turn: What should I shoot next?

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

When dogs meet cats

Will you please be my new friend?
London, ON
November 2018
This photo originally shared on Instagram
Some days, it's tempting to walk the dog as quickly as possible. But then I'd miss moments like this one, where she dances on her hind legs like a circus dog as I struggle to keep her from pouncing on her newest enemy. On this day, it was the lovely orange/white domestic shorthair cat on the upper-right.

Since this is how Schnauzers are built, I don't worry about it all that much. Simply put, she's bonkers, and her hind-leg dance amuses strangers. And our experience with our last Schnauzer, Frasier, suggests this isn't some puppy-ish behavior that'll she'll eventually outgrow. She'll be like this forever.

Which makes me smile. Because we didn't get a dog because we wanted her to be perfect. We got a dog because we hoped she would complement the admittedly imperfect family that we already are. She's a Levy, warts and all. We can count on her to bark at the wrong time - or constantly - to chew things she shouldn't, and to nip ankles when we go upstairs.

I've accepted she'll never win Best of Show, even if I make up my own competition and hold it in our basement on a Sunday afternoon (I'd give the trophy to that cat, frankly.) I've also come to grips with how she terrorizes the groomers: She's the only dog I know who DOESN'T get featured on their Facebook page. I'm just glad they haven't banned her yet, but part of me expects to eventually get that call.

But I couldn't love her more if I tried, and the same goes for everyone in my fam. We all adore this crazy little ball of fur precisely because of her shortcomings. And accepting her as one of us despite it all is one of the hallmarks of our little family, and a validation that our kids are turning out just fine. Maybe we've been defining "perfection" all wrong, anyway. Maybe it has nothing to do with tricks, or being quiet, or not destroying the house. Maybe it has everything to do with the ripples you leave on the people around you. On that front, she's beyond perfect.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Vegas-bound

Gear down and locked
Mississauga, ON
November 2018
This photo originally shared on Instagram
Our little family has been on the move a lot lately, so it's only fitting that I start the work week on a plane. I'm heading to a work thing, in a place I've never been before, and the next few days will hold lots of cool challenge and opportunity before my team and I can declare success and head home just in time for the weekend.

As I do every time I travel, I try to tell the story in pixels. When I travel alone, away from my family, the pictures take on a different role. Because we can't be together, I want to tell the story for them, to show them where I am, what I'm up to, and what it feels like. I miss my wife and kids from the moment I kiss them goodbye, but as I shoot and share, I feel like we're perhaps a little closer than Google Maps might suggest. Whatever works, right?

At this moment, our Q-400 had dropped out of the predawn clouds over Mississauga on the way into Toronto Pearson International Airport. The gear was down and locked, the flaps were down, and the sturdy twin-turboprop aircraft was being buffeted by the wind as rain streaked diagonally across the scratched plastic windows.

Add in muddy low light and it was hardly a recipe for photographic goodness. But as soon as I saw this shot, I knew it would rather nicely tell the story of the opening moments of this long trip. My photographer-daughter would, with a smile, call it a lousy picture. But she's learned so well that lousy pics sometimes tell the most important stories both of and for the family lucky enough to share them.

And, yes, I count myself lucky indeed.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Staring out a hospital window

Mount Royal, then and now
Montreal, QC
October 2018
This photo originally shared on Instagram
This is the late-afternoon view, looking south out of the 8th floor of the Jewish General Hospital. Spend enough time in this place and eventually your soul needs to look outside. I'm not sure why, but heading to the windows always brightens the moment.

This is much the same view I had as a kid when I was a frequent flyer in the now-closed pediatrics ward two storeys down. St. Joseph's Oratory is on the left. St. Mary's Hospital - where our eldest son was born - sits to the right. The Snowdon/Cote-des-Neiges neighborhood spills down the Mount Royal slope.

Except I didn't have a camera back then, and my only option was to remember the scene in my mind. I watched this vista so often, from first light to sunset, and often through the night when the sounds of the hospital kept me awake. It eventually became a scene impossible to forget.

Which is why when I happened upon it again, it seemed so familiar. The photo in my camera perfectly matched the one I'd been carrying around in my head all these years. I didn't necessarily want to be back here - indeed, no one ever does - but at least it felt somewhat like home.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Wet green leaf in a parking lot

Not yet forgotten
London, ON
November 2018
This photo originally shared on Instagram
I found this one rainy morning in the parking lot beside our office, and decided to quickly shoot it before heading inside to start the day. A reminder that all sorts of interesting stuff is happening quite literally at our feet, and we'll never know what we're missing if we keep on walking.

Is a wet leaf on an otherwise unremarkable stretch of asphalt going to change the world? Probably not. Is it a trivial thing? Of course.

But as I finished shooting this temporary, mundane scene, a co-worker called me over and asked what I was shooting. She and I have had this conversation before, and she knows about my little addiction to the everyday. So I showed her the photo, and we chatted for a few minutes about why seemingly small stuff like this matters as much as it does.

Because life is lived well when we slow down enough to appreciate the quiet, in-the-margin moments for what they are. And we lose out on all that color, texture, magic, warmth, whatever you want to call it, when we choose to keep walking.

I'm especially glad I didn't keep walking on this wet, grey day. Not only did it make me happy. It made someone else happy, too. Those ripples. It's up to us to start them on their journey.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Reflecting on life by the giant orange

OJ, reflectively
Montreal, QC
October 2018
Photo originally shared on Instagram
Normally, trips home to Montreal are a treat - we reconnect with forever-friends, spend time with family, and visit the places that defined our lives growing up here.

But these aren’t normal times, and returning here with my wife to spend time with her hospitalized dad was, frankly, hard. The days were long and unsettled, sleeping fitfully in an apartment far from home, leaving for the hospital before dawn, spending the day and night there, then heading “home” into the darkness, only to repeat the process the next day.

At times like this, you look for normalcy wherever you can. One night as we left the hospital, I realized we weren’t far from the iconic Orange Julep.

Officially, it’s Gibeau Orange Julep, but everyone just calls it “OJ”. This giant orange, plopped unceremoniously beside an expressway off-ramp, has been here forever. As kids the ultimate treat was for our parents to take us here. Back then, servers on roller skates delivered the food on trays that hung precariously off the side of your car. The servers are long gone, and everyone lines up at the front counter. It’s old, kitschy, and ohmygod it’s perfection.

This was where we drove when we wanted to show off our newly minted drivers’ licenses. We kept coming back to show off our cars, our clothes, or even our newest significant others. We’d park in the circular-ish lot, and hang out for hours over slowly-sipped OJ drinks and greasy-spoon-ish hot dogs, grilled cheeses and fries, talking about both everything and nothing at all.

Little did we know it at the time, but we were all writing an indelible chapter in the stories of our lives. So when I came back here with my wife on this dark, sad night, it felt right to linger a bit longer and chat under the fluorescent lights pooling in the puddle-stained parking lot. As it was when we were first dating, it felt like home. Only this time I didn’t have to work so hard to impress her.

Your turn: What place from your childhood have you returned to? What was it like?