It’s only half-past twelve, but I don’t care…

It’s five o’clock somewhere, according to Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett and probably this guy anchored out in front of the Oslo Opera House one sunny afternoon.  You may think, like I did, that the Jolly Roger he’s flying just below Norway’s flag is just another creation of Disney.  As it turns out, this is one case where Hollywood actually studied history rather than inventing it.  The “skull and crossbones on a black field” design actually dates as far back as 1687, and it was apparently widely used by pirates from that time forward to let their intended victims know that there was a new sheriff in town. The pirates hoped that by thus signaling their lawless intent they would bluff the hapless merchantmen into giving up without a fight.  If simply “showing the colors” didn’t work, they had another flag they would run up to reinforce the message…the red flag.  That second flag declared “…and we aren’t taking any prisoners if we have to fight you”.  The message must have been clearly understood in 1720 when a pirate sailed into harbor in Newfoundland flying the Jolly Roger, whereupon the crew of all 22 vessels at anchor abandoned ship in great haste!  Sometimes the simplest messages are the most effective.  (22 August, 2011 Oslo, Norway)

I got friends in low places…

Everyone’s been the new guy somewhere, so you know how much it can mean to be warmly welcomed.  When my good friend Don moved down to Tennessee from Ohio, he found a job working for a construction crew.  His first day on the job involved being on the road for hours with his new boss, whom he’d never met.  So Don shows up and introduces himself to Boss, who responds “Great.  Another chicken-eatin’ bastard from Ohio.  Get in the car”.  Don says there wasn’t a lot of talk in the car on the way to wherever, oddly enough.  Yep, setting the tone is so important for geting people off to a good start!  That’s Don in the photo below, standing on a bridge in Dublin wondering how long it’s going to take me to take a picture already…Christ!  We may have been over-served by an apprentice Irish bartender the night before, it can sap your patience.  (24 June, 2004  Dublin, Ireland)

Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard your call…

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has had a fine run, despite being based on a Disney theme park ride.  Opening in 1967, the ride was the last one overseen by Walt Disney himself, further evidence of the man’s Midas touch.  Johnny Depp modelled his pirate character on a mixture of Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards and the cartoon skunk Pepé Le Pew, and Disney executives were initially confused as to whether he was supposed to be drunk or gay…but didn’t care for the performance either way.  Pirates are real, of course.  The heyday of piracy in the Caribbean was between 1650 and 1730, when the heady combination of distracting wars in Europe, out-of-work sailors, and easy pickings on the open seas led to open season on merchant shipping.  Life could be nasty, brutal, and short in those days, so the prospects of quick paydays and high living drew many to the trade.  The average sailor’s life expectancy at the time was about four years, and he could count on ending life shot, hanged, stabbed to death or drowned.  I say “he”, though history records a few ladies among the crew as well.  The mighty sailing man in the photo below was riding his bike along the wharf in Oslo one day, and I envied his comfort in his own skin.  The boy may have a future in front of the camera!  (2 September, 2011 Oslo, Norway)

Twenty-one, twenty-two, Jordan, twenty-four…

Enough time has passed since his retirement that there is someone on this earth who has never heard of Michael Jordan, but I imagine they are in a lonely minority.  People probably remember him for different reasons: prolific scoring, insanely focused defense, the scoring and MVP and championships.  Or maybe they have an image in their mind: that last-second shot over poor Craig Ehlo, or his taking it to the rack against Sam Perkins only to switch the ball from right to left hand for a soft bank, or maybe even Jordan sobbing on the locker room floor clutching the game ball after winning his first championship since his father’s murder on Father’s Day.  What is fixed so firmly in my mind is not a record or an image…it is his indomitable will.  I have never seen before or hope to see again another person who could so throughly impose his will to win in a team sport, and do it with such regularity whether the game was meaningless or the close-out game of the championship.  When it was on the line, you knew, his team knew, and every guy on the other team knew what was about to happen.  Money.  And when gravity finally took over and he hit the floor for the last time in Miami on April 11, 2003, the Miami Heat officially retired the number 23 jersey even though Jordan had never played for their team.  Money.  (23 August, 2011  Oslo cruise terminal, Oslo, Norway)

B-double E-double Are You In?

Back where I come from, a beer run is something that gets done some ways through the party when you’ve run out of fuel but not out of the desire for it.  Garth Brooks and George Jones cut a song called Beer Run that got a lot of airplay, but there’s another version you probably haven’t heard by the great Todd Snider.  If you’re a fan of Americana, irreverence, and great wit, I think you may enjoy Todd’s version, and it’s a great introduction to his large and creative catalog.  If you like Garth’s music, you’re probably not going to want to bother with Todd.  The image below was shot on an island in the Oslofjord after a day of hiking, communing with nature, and discovering sunbathers au naturel…but that’s another story.  (22 August, 2010  Langøyene, Oslo, Norway)

What if your “higher purpose” in life is to serve as a cautionary tale?…

I guess most people at some point in their lives ask themselves “why am I here, what am I supposed to accomplish in my time on earth”?  Should you aspire to be a great son, a loving sister, maybe a soulmate for another?  Will you cure heart disease, or just get it?  Raise a bunch of great kids, or just a bunch of hell?  Like a lot of things in life it seems finding the question is a lot easier than finding the answer.  I shot the photo below in the infield of an auto race some years ago.  Normally just getting there is an expensive and difficult task requiring connections and luck, something that people dream of doing long before they find a way in.  Now, I doubt this guy got up that morning and said to himself “what I really need to complete my enjoyment of the day is to pound a sixer through a transmission funnel and then pass out”…but that’s the direction his day headed.  Everyone screws up sometimes, fails to listen to that little voice of reason whispering in their ear, and pays the consequences.  You pick yourself off, make your apologies and pay the piper, and then hopefully you learn from the experience and don’t have to do that again.   And who knows, maybe you help someone else by serving as an object lesson?  It could happen…  (13 April, 2008  Phoenix, Arizona)

Pickup Man…

If you grew up in the South, you probably spent a fair amount of time riding around in the back of a pickup truck.  That’s where we like to put dogs, tools, building supplies, and kids when we head out on the road.  I had the pleasure to see a significant chunk of Alaska roll by as I stared out of the bed of a pickup, because if you go anywhere in Alaska it’s going to take you a while to get there and you may need four-wheel-drive before it’s all over but the shoutin’.  Judging from the tools and the look on the face of my buddy here, it looks like there’s work involved where he’s headed.  Oh well, maybe they can go swimming afterwards.  (4 July, 2008  Smithville, Tennessee)

Pretty woman…

I don’t know whose idea it was to pose this lad with a smile on his face and a hand on his happy place, but I guess I’m responsible for recording the moment for posterity.  This was  a great night, strolling around a tropical paradise with kids getting to experience it for the first time.  Were it not for this photo, that funny, spontaneous, and ultimately fleeting moment in time would probably be long since forgotten, lost amid so many other fine memories of the trip.  That’s what a photo can mean when it works.  You can’t stop time, and who would want to, but sometimes with just a little help you can bring it back to life, if only for a little while.  (12 March, 2004  Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii)

Well let me just quote the late-great Colonel Sanders, who said…”I’m too drunk to taste this chicken.”

Talladega Nights probably won’t go down in history as a cultural high-water mark, but it had its moments.  And though I grew up in the South, I have to admit to thinking NASCAR was peopled with arcadian underachievers when the truth was quite different.  I didn’t come to comprehend my own ignorance until fate offered me a chance to work on the periphery of some of the races, and I saw firsthand the level of technological sophistication, dedication, and desire that goes into the sport.  I later got to climb into one of those racecars and slide around the track at a fraction of the speed of the boys on raceday, whereupon my heart traveled north of its usual location and I gained a new appreciation for the nerves it must take to do that every week in heavy traffic when you and everyone else is operating at all times on the ragged edge of control.  In the photo below, my friend Jughead gets stuffed in for his date with destiny.  If you ain’t first, you’re last…indeed.  (13 April, 2007  Lebanon, Tennessee)

Just when you thought your day couldn’t possibly get any worse…

Back in AD 79, the jumping little town of Pompeii sat on the Campanile coast of Italy, near Naples, in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius.  The town had experienced an earthquake in the recent past and the citizenry were in the midst of the laborius rebuilding process when the volcano erupted and their day got infinitely worse.  Whether they were killed by the immediate blast of superheated air, or by the poisonous gasses that flowed down the mountainside, or by the 75 feet of ash that rained down over the next six hours…the end result was the same.  Flash forward to rediscovery in 1748, when diggers first started coming across voids in the ash that contained human (and other) remains.  It wasn’t until the clever Giuseppe Fiorelli took charge of the excavation in 1860 that anyone thought to inject plaster into the voids to reveal…that long, last goodbye.  While plaster casts of people and even dogs are to be found in museums, this lonely guy was sitting under an open shed on the grounds, head in hands and forever frozen in a biorhythmic triple low.  (15 September, 2006  Pompeii, Italy)