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The Hung-over Photographer (Lake Tahoe, New Year’s 2012)
By: Michael Keel
It is New Year’s morning and I woke up feeling as if I had been walking the desert plains for twelve months. Spinning and swaying, I tilted my head underneath the spout drinking vigorously as if I were about to die. It was excruciatingly hot in the cabin that morning, someone had turned the heater up to over eighty degrees and it didn’t help that the place had not been cleaned or remodeled since 1962. I stumbled upstairs to find everyone else in roughly the same spirit, but talking, chatting, and conversing. Something I do not do in the morning; especially after a bottle of Jameson.
First things first, espresso, coffee, orange juice, whatever, give it to me. Now, I could have gone the night before and picked up some good coffee beans at the grocery store, but when I asked certain friends the day before, I was told, “Yeah we have coffee; we have everything.” I was ready to throw the grounds into the coffee maker in the kitchen that morning. To my dismay, it was instant coffee (yes, I am a coffee snob) and not only that, I was feeling claustrophobic with seven people inside this dark sauna cave; spinning, I needed to get the hell out of there. Don’t get me wrong though, all of them are my good friends, one being a best friend visiting from Minnesota, who is probably the only one who really understands my “vanishing act.” But one hung-over Negative Nancy can only take so much, and dust in a jar holding absolutely no caffeine cure whatsoever. I slowly turned to everyone:
“I’ll be back; going down the street.”
I grabbed my camera, took Vito—my dog—hopped into the car, and drove to the nearest coffee provider where I wouldn’t see any human-beings that would bother me with conversation. Where would this oasis be, you ask? The gas station; always a winner. They carry a lifetime supply of emergency snacks like beef jerky to cure a stomach with acidic hunger, a few health bars maybe, medical needs and so forth. This is my kind of morning folk, simple folk and clerks that minimize morning conversation to:
“I’ll take that Tylenol behind you and a pack of Parliament Lights please, oh here; I forgot the bottle water and my coffee.”
“Ah the morning essentials sir, good combination, happy New Year.”
I walked outside to a picnic bench, breathing in the Lake Tahoe crisp clean air and ironically, I lit up a smoke. Ah, now we’re talking; the caffeine filled my veins and I could hear Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks in my head, “Now that, is a damn fine cup of coffee.” Yes, I do have a kick ass espresso machine at home and have drank some of the best coffee around in Europe, but I still believe some of the best cups of coffee, are found at your local gas station.
I sat there, thinking of nothing, and was staring at a corner of Lake Tahoe peaking from across the street through a pine branch just above the Waffle House. I got in my car, turned on a David Bowie mix and drove across the street literally one block. Remember, walking is not permitted on these types of mornings. I rubbed my eyes and to my pleasure was the most beautiful New Year’s morning I have ever seen. From being in a dark sauna cave cabin, filled with dust, to a sight of a deep blue sky mapped across a lake to infinity. The sky was endless. I grabbed my camera and noticed another photographer putting his equipment away. I walked down to the beach with my coffee and sat down on the cool sand with Vito. As the sun’s warm rays were dancing on our faces, off in the distance, I could hear a flock of geese chatting away about where they are headed or maybe talking about all the good fish they could eat in Tahoe. The geese were flying over me now and I started shooting, taking shots continuously as they flew over, Canadian Geese, they are a surreal site.
The water was clear, the color blue seemed to swallow us and the other photographer was cussing off in the distance that he missed the shot. The moment was completely unplanned, an actual moment of clarity. After I took my shots I flipped through them with a huge smile. I knew friends were back at the cave, but this was a magical moment of relaxation; so I decided to just sit there. I was thinking: why the hell did I get lazy with my photography for the past three years? I have been making photographs since I was thirteen years old. Some people have New Year’s resolutions and I realized I have never made one before, ever in my life. But what the hell is a New Year’s resolution anyhow? And I can honestly say I don’t know one person who has followed through with a New Year’s resolution they made. So I decided, I’m not making a resolution, I’m continuing my goal of what I have done since I was thirteen years old through the eyes of my grandfather. Writing and photography, stay on the path as I have always done, and never veer from it and to always push forward no matter what happens.
This is what I saw on the morning of January 1st 2012, and if you, my friend, ever feel the need to escape for a few minutes, an hour or a week, do it. You never know what might happen and always expect the unexpected and hang on to its beauty. Who cares what people say when you go off and feel the urge to just “go.” I find the people who say, “How can you like being alone?” are the ones who are scared of what life might throw them. They are the ones who expect everything to happen step by step, numbered one through ten.
It is visions like these that make me happy to be alive and thankful to do what I do. Although I feel certain images I capture are mere ghosts, they will always be with me forever. What started as a hung-over, boiling morning in a cave, turned out to be an awesomely beautiful New Year’s Day. Nature put on a show for me and I would have been greatly disappointed if I missed that moment. So, in a strange way, I have a hangover and a bottle of Jameson to be grateful for.