Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve Memories (Then and Now)

Two years ago tonight I was in Michigan, celebrating the holidays with family and friends. I had flow back to Michigan after three months at my new job in Oregon to reunite with those I had left. I spent the three days after Christmas in Grand Rapids with good friends, an alternative to driving through the thick snow to the Upper Peninsula; family illnesses (my grandmother was in hospice and my friend's uncle was in the hospital) made us think twice about the long trip. Instead of white outs, frozen lake races, whiskey, cribbage, and chili, my friends and I settled for the three latter festivities.

My flight back to Oregon was supposed to be on December 30th. I was to be routed from Grand Rapids to Chicago to Boise. There was a problem: weather. Planes were getting in late to Chicago, which meant I would be delayed to Boise. Rather than spend the night in the airport in Grand Rapids, I elected to go back with my friends for a final, impromptu night.

This meant that I arrived in Boise not on the 30th, with time to travel home (Oregon) for New Year's festivities, but on the 31st. After a brief bomb scare  in the Boise Airport, I paid close to attention to Trip Check  and airport monitors that showed the weather. I-84, my main route to get home, was open, but was in poor conditions. Rather than risk injury, crashing my car into the side of a mountain on New Year's Eve, I formulated a plan.

The Fairfield Suites courtesy van picked me up around 10pm to take me to my car and the hotel. The shuttle driver was a younger guy, so I asked him what he recommended a stranger in Boise do to ring in the new year.

"Tell you what," the guy said to me after I explained my situation. "Book your room for tonight and tell the front desk I said I'd take you downtown. They'll page me and I'll come pick you up."

I trusted this Cory Feldman-type character was as good a person to trust as any in Boise, Idaho's largest city, so I obliged. He picked me up in the shuttle around 10:45pm and we headed towards downtown.

Cory explained to me my options: there was a strip of bars on the main drag, and for a cover fee of something like $25, you could get into all of them if you wanted. I told him I wanted free. He told me my best option was a place called Mulligans, on Main between 9th and 10th street.

Having just left Grand Rapids, Michigan, which happens to have a doppelgänger business called Mulligan's, I figured I couldn't go wrong.

I showed up to find a packed bar, your typical college town bar, with televisions showing Rihanna singing her latest single. After a few minutes, I made my way through the crowd and grabbed a drink at the bar.

Standing in line at Mulligans, a bar 170 miles from where I lived, I figured I had two options. The first was to finish my beer just after midnight, let out a small yelp as the ball dropped, and grab a cab a few minutes later to sleep before my three-hour trip home the next day, New Year's Day.

The second option, and the more unlikely and unappealing one, was to lower my inhibitions and make some new friends. Sort of like cold calling for jobs in the phone book, I figured now was as good a time as any to meet some new people in a "faraway" town.

While grabbing beer, I noticed a particularly cheerful-looking group of people at a table near the bar. Some of them reminded me of the people I had left behind in Michigan. What was the worst that could happen? Was New Year's Eve, with Carson Daly on TV, the night I was most likely to be accosted or murdered by some strangers in downtown Boise?

Of course not.

So, after grabbing my pint of Moose Drool, I moseyed over to this table of twentysomethings and sort of stood there like some lame-o until the conversation dwindled to a din.

And this is what I said (really).

"Hi. My name is Mike. I'm from Oregon and I'm stuck in Boise tonight for New Year's Eve because my planes were delayed and I-84 is in crappy condition. Can I be your friend for tonight?"

As pathetic and ridiculous as that sounds, and as it sounded then, since I fully expected them to laugh at me simply because of how stupid and out of place I looked, there was a resounding "SURE!" from the table.

It was so silly it felt like I was in the middle of some Richard Curtis movie. I had the most absurdly fun New Year's of my life, simply because I had no idea who any of the people I was with were.

There was something really special about spending such a celebratory evening with complete strangers.

I sit here now, with this party about to start, and every New Year's Eve I think about the people whose names I can't remember who might be at Mulligans tonight, or any night for that matter. I don't care what they're up to; I only hope they're doing well.

So much of my life recently has been about strangers. This past summer's photo project  was entirely dependent upon strangers. How that project mirrored my evening with strangers in Boise in 2009 isn't lost on me as I write this. If people who are strangers weren't, at their cores, nice people, then the photo project and my night in Boise would have been complete letdowns.

And every day I interact with people that I've never met. And those that I've met, whether it's through where I live, what I do, or the work I've made, I barely know. Even moving to a new neighborhood has brought new people into my life.

That's what I reflect upon as we all enter 2012. New Year's Eve can be a great time whether you're with strangers or those closest to you. And I hope to have a bit of both tonight as 2011 draws to a close.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

wazzoo & Danner - 3/20/11

Oh, it was so long ago....

It's been almost nine months since I ventured into the greater Seattle area to begin the UFCK photo project. And it's been too long since posting about anything on this blog. And with applications in for both funding to continue the project and a potential exhibition of this work, it's high time I start recounting the stories that accompany these images. Both of these shots took place on the same day during spring break.

I met up with wazzoo (top photo) at his home. My notes describe the house as "a box house." I nearly died making a left turn onto a nearby street, as I had to venture into one of Seattle's hillier areas. (It was an almost completely blind left turn.)

Wazzoo was very quiet and subdued. No music. No noises. I set up my equipment and we made very basic small talk: studies in college, job-related stuff, the photo project.

It wasn't until I - for one reason or another - brought up basketball that wazzoo really piped up. Huge Seattle Sonics fan. Like many people from the area, wazzoo's sentimental streak nearly begins and ends with the loss of the Sonics and their move to Oklahoma City.

From there, the conversation moved to the city and what I had done since I arrived. Wazzoo was full of recommendations for places to visit, from good dinners to nightlife hotspots, which, admittedly, I never followed through on because my quick trip (4 photo shoots) was enough to wear me out by the end of each day.

After a quick late lunch it was out to Woodinville, a suburb in the Seattle/Redmond area. Danner (left) came out onto his balcony to welcome me. After offering me a beer - Danner is a bit of a beer nut - I set up my camera.

Danner was talkative and easily excited. He donned Liverpool gear and we chatted soccer for quite a bit. Liverpool FC is Danner's club of choice, and part of his extensive traveling résumé includes a trip to England to take in a match. UFCK's soccer thread is his sort of home away from home; we never really had crossed paths that often on the boards; his email regarding a potential photo shoot was the most surprising one I received.

Soccer and NCAA basketball were on the television as we talked quite a bit about Danner's journey to the Pacific Northwest. He interned in Dallas for the PGA Tour and has traveled to Spain, Liverpool (twice), and London. He showed a bit of interest in my 4x5 camera and recounted the story of losing his nearly-new Canon Rebel xSi on a plane to Chicago; he left it in the overhead bin and never heard about it again.

Sometimes stuff like that happens.

That long weekend in Seattle in March was the start of this whole project. It would be five months until I stepped behind the camera again for another UFCK photo shoot.