“S.T.O.M.P.” is a new series for La Vue Atypique which essentially shares anecdotes from my career as a professional photographer. Aside from my family and a few close friends, questions about my experiences have never been posed by anybody. After 11 years of being in this business, I have decided to be proactive and tell some of these stories myself. The content of this series is 95% autobiographical and based on events that actually occurred. The remaining 5% is provided by my affinity for creative writing. All characters are real people whose names have been changed for the narrative. The stories featured in this series are snippets from my career with an objective to amuse, entertain and, occasionally, enlighten the reader. Enjoy.
Weekend at Boise’s
It was a fine summer day walking along the piers of Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle. Skies were blue. Clouds were a conference of stratocumulus. A tugboat or two sailed merrily along Salmon Bay as vehicles cruised north and south on Ballard Bridge, a very active drawbridge that opened and closed frequently as ships and boats with tall masts sailed in and out of the bay. Many relaxed seagulls were perched atop each lamppost dotting the drawbridge, while ravens flying nearby squawked at them in annoyance for not making any room for them. Seagulls and ravens squabbled so frequently in close quarters, but rarely when they were separated.
Meanwhile, T.J. Muddywater and his very good friend, Austin Montgomery, were chatting while walking along the pier closest to the drawbridge. They had been friends since high school. T.J. lived in Seattle and Austin lived in Boise, Idaho. The family of Austin’s wife, however, lived in Woodinville, a suburb of Seattle, so Austin came to visit his in-laws whenever he traveled to the Puget Sound region. Austin’s visits often gave him and T.J. the chance to catch up and talk about the ridiculousness and peculiarities of life and the people they encountered. The friendly banter also included stories about their travels, narcissistic co-workers who were complete jerks, and the hilarious, but indelible, campery of pop music from the 1990s.
Eventually, the topic changed to T.J.’s photography. Austin asked about whether T.J. enjoyed being the sole proprietor of his own photography business, and where he planned to travel next in order to expand his portfolio. T.J. typically had a few domestic locations in America in mind alongside some international destinations. At that moment in time, he had been considering several cities, including Miami, Las Vegas, London, and Paris.
“What about Boise?” Austin asked pointedly, who had stopped walking and looked at his friend.
T.J.’s eyes widened for a second, quickly averting Austin’s glance by looking towards the row of fishing boats at the next pier. He knew exactly where Austin was taking their discussion, but T.J. attempted to sidestep gracefully by acting as though he had been distracted. “Hmmm?” T.J. asked, feigning an innocuous innocence.
Austin gingerly shook his head. “No. There’s no ‘hmmm’. Why not add Boise to your portfolio? Have you thought about it?”
The blatant truth was T.J. had not thought about it — at all. Unfortunately, when the thought of Idaho came into his psyche, all T.J. could think about were subjects that he associated with Idaho: The Aryan Nations, Ruby Ridge, Sarah Palin (though she is often linked to Alaska, Palin was born and raised in Idaho), and the significant lack of melanin in that particular state’s populace. T.J. did not have any motivation to go to Idaho, and he would never imagine going there deliberately on his own without a high degree of concern for his own safety.
Austin sensed T.J.’s hesitation, and continued to make his pitch. “Idaho is a beautiful state. Boise is a pretty city. It’s not as big as the major cities you’ve been exploring, but think of this. If you can do what you’ve done with photography for Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, think about what you could do with Boise! Also, the Rockies are nearby, and remember, I’m a pilot and I could fly you over a lot of the landscape.”
Wow! Austin sure did know how to make a place sound attractive. Then again, the guy was a marketing major with years of professional experience, so T.J. wasn’t really surprised. Still, his friend’s proposal was genuine, and the fact that he was a certified pilot who had flown small planes to different destinations around the country was very impressive. It was also an enticing proposition given that Austin was offering to help T.J. with what he loved to do in life — photography of urban and natural landscapes, especially from the air.
“Why won’t you take advantage of this, T.J.?” Austin inquired.
T.J.’s friend had good reason to ask because this was probably Austin’s second or third visit to Seattle in which he often made the effort to spend a few hours with T.J. before returning to Boise. The plain truth of the matter was, in the sense of reciprocating gestures of goodwill between buddies, T.J. actually owed Austin a visit on his own turf in the Mountain time zone.
Alas, it was time for T.J. to level with his friend. They continued to walk towards the end of the pier by the bay. T.J. had known Austin for such a long time, and their friendship had always been solid and intact over the years. T.J. couldn’t remember when they ever quarreled (aside from their childish skirmishes in high school — they were both oil brats who had attended an international school in southwestern Norway during a remarkable era in world history). They had managed to remain in contact during their respective years in university in the States, and the years thereafter. Their friendship also had that nifty advantage in which they could easily resume where they had last left off whenever they met in person. Austin had a wife and son now. He was all grown up and mature.
Would he be able to understand if I told him? T.J. thought. Perhaps it was time to find out.
“Austin, it all sounds great. The way you described Idaho, but. . .are there any people there who look like me?” T.J. inquired, looking directly at his friend who now looked slightly apprehensive.
“No, not really,” he responded with a tone that was both knowing and slightly disappointed.
“That’s what I thought, and that’s part of the reason why I hesitate. You see, I’m a city guy. A big city guy. I fare well in Seattle overall, but I always have to be mindful of my surroundings. Even here at Fishermen’s Terminal, in broad daylight, I’m actually slightly more comfortable because you’re walking with me. If I was here by myself with my camera, or even without it, just walking around, half of these guys might think I was up to something nefarious. I don’t know what they’re assuming, but I have to be vigilant constantly. All the time. And that’s here in Seattle, where I live. To go down to Boise. . .” T.J.’s voice trailed off.
In his mind, the photographer momentarily recalled a previous time when he had traveled with two white friends to a small town named Neenah in eastern Wisconsin. T.J. was still a college student back then, and his friends had to coax him to go on a road trip to get out of Minneapolis, partially because T.J. was both physically and mentally stressed out during his senior year at the University of Minnesota. Although the outing went without incident, T.J. would always remember that particular weekend because he himself had become Neenah’s most popular attraction among the residents he met. His presence as a temporary tourist in town was of interest to the locals — too much interest. Even his friends noticed it. “Dude, you’re like a superstar here! Everyone keeps asking you if you like it here,” one of his college friends had remarked.
“I don’t want to be a superstar. I just want my peace of mind,” T.J. had responded. Even if the people were curious and friendly, treating him like an exotic exhibit as though the circus had just come to town was unappealing.
Back in the present, Austin looked across the bay and paused for a few moments. “I understand, and I get it, but I don’t think it’s that bad, which is easy for me to say because I’m white and I’ve lived there for some years. I don’t have the same concerns you have, and I’ve never had to consider my own safety the way you’ve described. Shit. This really sucks because I really think you’d like Boise for your photography.”
T.J. was heartened by Austin’s considerate and impartial response to T.J.’s reservations.
After pondering for a few more moments, Austin said, “But look. I’m there. My family is there. Why not come down for a weekend? Stay at my place. I can just show you around and give you the grand tour. It’s not a gigantic city so the job’s easy.”
“You realize, if I do come down, I’m never leaving your side throughout the entire time,” T.J. stated, smiling wryly.
“Well, I can’t help you if you need to use the restroom, but sure,” Austin said in his familiar, sardonic tone that he often used to poke fun at a situation, which was most situations. That tone had been notably absent during their discussion up to this point.
Both guys laughed heartily at themselves. The tense moment of truth had dissipated as quickly as it had materialized.
“Does this mean you’ll come to Boise?” Austin asked. “I think it will make a great addition to your portfolio.”
“Yes, my friend. I will come. I think I have to now,” T.J. replied, somewhat sheepishly.
Although T.J. made the promise that summer day at Fishermen’s Terminal, almost two years would pass before T.J. physically stepped foot in Boise. This wasn’t on account of T.J.’s initial trepidation. In fact, he had booked a flight a few months following his last meeting with Austin. However, T.J. had a family emergency that mandated the cancellation of the weekend trip. As a result, T.J. had to postpone travel to the City of Trees (a.k.a. Boise) until the following year.
The journey down there was akin to a comedy of errors in and of itself.
First of all, T.J. had neglected to give himself enough time between departing his residence and arriving at the airport. Because the duration of the flight from Seattle to Boise was approximately an hour, T.J. had diminished the importance of making the same preparations as he would do for one of his other photographic excursions in which the destination took more than an hour to reach. The result was a harried scuttle between his home and the airport which led T.J. to arrive at the gate literally 10 minutes before departure. He was the very last person to arrive for the flight. In fact, it was evident that T.J. would have missed his flight had he been any more careless. The thought of Austin’s disappointment and potential reprimand if T.J. had not arrived in Boise did not go over well in his imagination.
The antics were not over yet. When T.J. embarked the vessel, he looked down the aisle only to see a cabin full of Caucasians, most of whom were looking directly at him upon his entry. This particular scenario was not unusual to T.J. at all, especially with flights to Seattle. However, the dynamics were different because he was not traveling to a major city and he was entering the plane alone after everyone had already been seated. Once again, he was an exotic exhibit, and a very unexpected one given the circumstances. As T.J. made his way to his seat, he hummed the chorus of Janet Jackson’s “Escapade” to himself while avoiding direct eye contact with any of the passengers, many of whom were probably wondering who the heck this chocolate chip was and why he was last onboard within a sea of vanilla.
T.J.’s awkward drifting in the metaphoric seas lasted only for a few moments. He had a window seat (thank goodness) in his row. His neighbor was a younger fellow who, for whatever reason, seemed to have a constant smile on his face. When T.J. approached, he had stood up readily and made way for T.J. to enter without any fuss. He also greeted T.J. cheerfully. T.J. returned the pleasantry, sat down, buckled his safety belt, and sighed. He was still decompressing from the rush to catch his flight.
Unfortunately for T.J., his neighbor had the air of an animated, social butterfly. Because T.J. had been cordial with him in greeting, his neighbor had (mis)interpreted that as a sign of wanting to talk further. On most flights, T.J. just wanted to keep to himself, turn on his iPod, and listen to some tunes to relax. Even though the flight was short, T.J. wasn’t that crazy about most aspects of air travel. A few minutes later, the plane took off. Before T.J. could even attempt to don his earphones and switch on his iPod, his neighbor kicked into high gear with talkative conversation. “Hi, my name is Cody,” he introduced himself while extending his hand. T.J. also introduced himself and shook Cody’s hand.
During the conversation, T.J. learned that Cody was a first-year student at the University of Washington in Seattle, and his family lived near Boise, so he was visiting them for a brief break before his final exams. He talked about what he liked about Seattle and the people he had come to know. Gradually, T.J. eased into the banter, realizing there was nothing ulterior or superficial about Cody. He was just a friendly student who had a penchant for prattling at length. At one point, Cody realized he had been doing all the talking, and proceeded to ask: “So do you have family in Boise, T.J.?”
At that precise moment, T.J.’s tongue felt like it had involuntarily moved into his right cheek, but it was not involuntary. This was the moody photographer’s bodily mechanism in action when he struggled to stifle a fit of uproarious laughter. Do I look like I have family in Boise??? T.J. would never be sure if Cody noticed, but the student was so good-natured and unassuming, he probably didn’t notice. T.J. explained that he was on a photography mission to explore Boise and the vicinity which Cody, being Cody, thought was “So awesome!”
After about 50 minutes, both T.J. and Cody were chatting lively, with T.J. fully enjoying the dialogue. Of course, irony almost immediately intervened. “Please prepare for landing,” the captain announced abruptly via the airplane’s intercom. It was the first time T.J. had heard the captain’s voice, so he wasn’t sure if he had tuned it out previously.
“That was fast!” both T.J. and Cody said almost simultaneously. Alas, that’s how much they had been talking. It felt like only 15 minutes had passed.
A few minutes later, the plane landed. “Welcome to Boise,” said the captain. He proceeded to provide details about local time and weather.
Cody wished T.J. good luck with his photography and T.J. wished Cody the best with his final exams. The conversation had made T.J. temporarily forget everything that had been weighing his psyche down about this trip, which was refreshing.
Boise’s airport was smaller than Seattle’s with nowhere near the amount of people and hubbub. T.J. noticed his new surroundings immediately, admitting to himself that the slower pace was a pleasant shift from Sea-Tac International Airport. A few minutes later, Austin greeted him. “You finally made it,” he said in that humorously mocking tone.
“Yes, but I think I have to go back,” T.J. said, patting down the pockets of his jacket and trousers.
Austin’s expression was that of sheer astonishment. “What? What the hell? You just got here a millisecond ago!”
“No. No. No,” T.J. replied. “I can’t find my iPod anywhere. I carry it with me everywhere when I travel. I think I might have left it on the plane.”
The next 15 minutes were spent with Austin waiting near the baggage claim area while T.J. made his way back onto the plane which, to T.J.’s advantage, had significantly fewer hurdles to overcome compared to other airports. Sure enough, his iPod and earphones were in the pouch below the tray attached to the seat in front of where he had sat. T.J. recalled that he must have forgotten them there when Cody started talking. He sighed a breath of relief. That iPod had accompanied him on all his photography travels (and would do so for years to come). Plus, the gadget was extravagantly expensive. T.J. would have been infuriated if it had been stolen.
After rejoining Austin in baggage claim, his host asked, “Okay, T.J. Are you ready for the world of wilderness that is Boise?”
“Let’s do this!” T.J. exclaimed. “Call me Idaho Jones and the Temple of Potatoes!”
Austin smirked at the pop culture quip about the Indiana Jones movie franchise. “That’s terrible, man. Work on that.”
T.J.’s weekend in Boise turned out to be enjoyable, largely because of his hosts. Augustine, Austin’s young son, was as endearing as he was adorable. T.J. captured many candid portraits of the boy, and personally marveled at all the traits Augustine shared with his father. Austin’s wife, Anna, had informed T.J. that he had been mispronouncing the name “Boise” incorrectly all this time. Apparently, it was the sure-fire method that residents could apply to immediately discern whether someone was from Boise or elsewhere. (The city’s name is pronounced “Boy-cee” by the locals, not “Boy-zee”).
Austin spent the next 40 hours showing T.J. his city of residence. Camera in tow, T.J. started to document the new subject matter that would later become part of his professional photography portfolio. They went to Camel’s Back Park and Table Rock, both of which offered stunning views of the Boise skyline and Treasure Valley. Also, they visited one of Boise’s most popular landmarks, the historic Boise Depot, which also offered, perhaps, the signature perspective of Boise’s city center in most cityscapes featuring Idaho’s capital.
However, the highlight of the visit occurred when Austin got a chance to show off his skills as a pilot. In many ways, Austin was still the little kid T.J. remembered in high school, so it was amazing to observe him prepare his plane and get it ready for takeoff. The plan was to fly from Boise north to McCall, but weather conditions advised that the route be avoided if travel wasn’t mandatory. Instead, they ended up landing in a small town named Emmett, where they ate a meal at a local diner. Even with all his reservations about people’s idiosyncrasies in different locations, which were often unavoidable even if they were predictable, T.J. still loved the essence of travel and observing realities that were so different from his own. There was so much to appreciate from the experience, especially when a visitor wasn’t accosted by malice or hate-mongering.
Surprisingly for T.J., throughout the visit, there were no incidents of disrespect or offense, but he was convinced that was because he was with Austin. Neither of the friends touched on the topic because they were having a great time flying above Idaho’s natural landscapes. Truthfully, there really hadn’t been enough time to get entrenched within the myriad of societal issues. It would have spoiled the vibe of the entire trip. T.J. had arrived in Boise late on Friday evening and would be back in Seattle before the sun set on Sunday, so it was ideal for the weekend to be exclusively about photography and friendship.
When Austin dropped T.J. off at the airport, he said, sardonically, “So same time next year?”
T.J. snickered. “Tell you what, each time you come to Seattle, I’ll come to Boise. Like an exchange. Deal?”
“Deal!” Austin replied.
At that time, neither could predict that T.J. would, once again, inevitably be in arrears to Austin in terms of additional visits to Boise.
Well, that’s not true. Both predicted it and both were correct.
Tune in again to the S.T.O.M.P. series to learn if T.J. ever endeavors on another “Weekend at Boise’s.”
Anime avatar of T.J. Muddywater courtesy of: DollDivine.com