In the land of the funny flag
When I was a gangly elementary school kid in the 70’s, I was jealous as hell of kids who “got to move.” My parents had the little brick pillbox of a house I grew up in custom built for them when I was 3. And I lived there until I moved out — all the way out — as in halfway across the country, when I was 21. Since then, I’ve honestly lost count how many times I’ve been caught up in the damnable activity. I know it’s been at least a dozen. But the move that was most emotionally meaningful, was when I left the rugged and beautiful state of Michigan for New Jersey.
It was the dead of winter. 1999.
How I wish I hadn’t had that camera-less period between Kansas and Michigan. So much that should have been archived. And how the camera, or rather, the discipline of seeing, helps to center and ground a philosophical artist.
I landed a quiet 1 bedroom unit above a little retiree woman who never, ever left her apartment. In fact, last summer, when motorcycling from my Princeton-area home to visit the shore, I saw her turquoise Honda, still sitting in it’s usual driveway spot. This tiny flat was located around the corner from Monmouth Park, a horse racing track, and across the street from a pizza restaurant. It was a gentler environment than what my Jersey imagination would have believed, and for that, I was glad. At my new gig, I would ultimately work my way from Senior Art Director to Creative Director for that little shop. I’d be instrumental in changing the way they did business. We’d win creative awards under my leadership for the first time in their history. And I hired significant new talent.
Last week, I was kindly bid farewell by my two favorite hires from my Jersey Shore adventure. John, known as JJ, is a tall, lanky surfer who now sports a professorial beard and glasses. He would leave the agency shortly before I did for a sweet position at one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. His fellow Art Director partner, Dawn, would not stick around long after I left. Dawn, who is known for her beauty as much as her design skill, added to her charm since leaving the agency where we met: three gorgeous sons and a marriage to her high school sweetheart and firefighter husband.
Sunset came early I left the Princeton area early before meeting JJ and Dawn, in the hopes of snapping some farewell images of the shore, but thanks to my pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey sense of direction, I found myself instead wandering around familiar landmarks as the sun went racing for the horizon.
My primary goal was the Twin Lights of Navesink, the largest lighthouse assembly in the country. In it’s glory, it was said that nearby dairy farmers would complain of the brightness of the lights. Supposedly the cows were kept awake by the glare, and wouldn’t give milk in the morning.
With the advent of modern navigational aids, only one of lights look out over Raritan bay, and it is a far-downsized version of the original. I would cycle here, climbing its very steep hillside drive after riding down Ocean Avenue, often against the wind. The Twin Lights is now a state park, and a sign flatly stated in the twilight: “Gate Closes at 4:30. Do Not Proceed Up the Hill.”
Dejected, and not a little melancholy due to the upcoming relocation, I began to drive north along the shoreline drive towards the restaurant where I’d be meeting my former direct reports.
Ocean Avenue was cold and in mothballs. The shore nightspots and swim clubs were dark and silent. The marina’s displayed their yachts under the glow of amber street lights. Sleeping and dreaming of warm waves, they were swaddled in white plastic and equally shrouded in snow. No skateboards. No smells of cotton candy and steaming clams. No sounds of dance music pulsing out of convertibles cruising up and down the avenue, or over the Rumson bridge.
It was as snowy and still as the weekend I arrived, eleven years ago.
But Jersey didn’t stay still very long after that January, of 2000. Eleven tumultuous years later, I’ve chosen to take my accumulation of gritty stories, and put it to real work elsewhere.
As I write this, my tires have cooled. My lil’ red GTI, who I’ve named Freya, is dreaming her teutonic dreams in a Cincinnati garage just a few yards away from where I’m warming my toes by the fire. The photo loft is above and behind me. Lightstands, umbrellas, power packs, and bounce-fills are laying in wait of light.
In two days of driving, the terrain kept opening up and out as the Atlantic receded further and further behind me. The congestion of Philadelphia traffic gave way to long-haul truckers and farmland. And the salt and grit of the highway reminded me of the challenges that lay ahead.
Despite the grunge of the road, I have my many, many relocation memories to steer me towards a different flavor of outcome this time around. Corporately, I’m eager to lead a more willing group of people than I’ve encountered in the recent past, and excited to find a more partnership-oriented bunch surrounding me. I didn’t “fail” in New Jersey. I simply gathered experience amongst those who had very strong opinions, and who were comparatively knee jerk in expressing them. That was never a favorable recipe for me. Express your opinions forthrightly, but keep your ears open while you talk. You may very well find that the person who is across from you is helping seed even greater thinking in your own mind.
Photographically, I’m going to encounter a more earthy culture. There’s a pragmatic and less fussy manner out here that needs to be explored, and perhaps for me, rediscovered. There’s a fine line between “refined” and “elitist,” and I hope to spend more time on the positive side of that aisle with my camera while based out of Ohio.
I’m certain that my Jersey-fueled edge will lose a great deal of it’s bite, but I’m committed to contrasting that darker view before it’s too tempered. For example, I still owe my Twitter “Dark Side” contest winner, @Schmope, her winning photo poster shot, an image dealing with the taboo reality of cutter-culture. Who knew that I’d be recruiting a model for such a photo in the Midwest?
Well. That’s what my account at Model Mayhem is for.
Time for bed. Full day of work tomorrow. Movers are scheduled to arrive with all the rest of the house on Wednesday. Unpacking will commence. Then, far from “settling in,” it’ll be time to start sending out the Nikon-wielding re-con.
I’ll share with you what I find.