Monday, January 17, 2011

Bomb dog serenade

I hadn't planned on going to the inauguration of Tennessee's new Governor. I had wanted to shoot it but having not been asked, I figured I needed to get Stella out for a long walk after the snowy week we had. I knew there was a parade planned downtown after the inauguration so we headed down to the Bicentennial Mall for the walk and later, once the inauguration was underway, we headed up the hill to the Capitol. Although several roads were blocked off things were strangely quiet. I don't know why but I expected hordes of people all around town on the order of say- a hockey game. I told myself that it was because they were all listening attentively, as our new Governor was being sworn in, a couple of blocks away.

When Stella and I came around the back side of the Capitol, there were two Highway Patrolmen standing on the corner. One of them said, "Nice dog." I smiled and thanked him. I could see something that looked like a big partition there in front of the building with people sitting on risers, facing the public library and I asked him if the new Governor was being inaugurated. He said "Yes," and pointing toward the red, white and blue wall, added that he had just walked up onto the stage moments ago. The fact that there were risers positioned there with people on them completely threw me as far as how the crowd (which I still couldn't see) was oriented. The street was empty except for security people and I then asked the State Trooper if it was alright for me to pass through. Looking back on it, I don't know what possessed him to say yes. All I can say is that he must have been blinded by the dog that was now standing there batting her eyelashes at him.

I've worked (photographing) hundreds of such events and am pretty clear on exactly how little stimulus it sometimes takes to divert the attention of an entire crowd. We moved forward with caution. Just about fifteen yards in I noticed the motorcade and realized that though the crowd itself couldn't see me, I was now officially backstage at the Governor's Inauguration; with a pit bull in my left hand and a bag of dog poop in my right. My feet kind of started sticking to the pavement then. Stella and I were suddenly being eyeballed by all manner of armed state and Homeland Security personnel (naturally, on red alert) when someone walked up to the microphone and started to pray. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I told Stella to sit.

I did not pray for all of America or for the state of Tennessee. I did not pray for democracy or bipartisan politics or low taxes. I did not (sadly) pray for the troops or for people who are needy or grief-stricken, sick or homeless. I rather selfishly prayed for a job; a very specific job that I applied for in November, interviewed for six weeks ago and have done my best to procure ever since.

This my friends, is where things began to get weird.

When I opened my eyes and looked up, the actual person who interviewed me for the job - was standing ten feet away. Our eyes locked for one bone-crushing second and he was gone. I felt like I'd been catapulted into outer space on a bungee cord and now the Earth, in all of its glory was racing back at me like a bullet train. Convinced that this man might never hire me now, might never know that I was there purely by accident, might think that I had intentionally orchestrated our meeting at this very crucial moment, I somehow managed to suppress the scream from Psycho long enough to collect myself and find a trash can. I held onto the side of it with one hand and considered throwing up. "Stella", I said quietly, "Watch this. It's a perfect metaphor for your mama's career." We both watched as the bag dropped down into the bottom of the empty can. "Now" I said, "we're going to walk through here, this time without stopping and I don't want to see any big tears rolling down those cheeks of yours, you understand me?"

My thin hope was that despite the camera around my neck, this man whom I had come to admire and respect, hadn't actually recognized me. I was after all, wearing sunglasses and hiking boots. And really bad hair. I wasn't sure things could get any worse but determined to make the best of it, we moved on. We made it all the way across the back side of the stage this time and thankfully, our soon-to-be Governor was still waiting to be introduced. We came to the opposite corner where I could finally see the crowd that painted Legislative Plaza. It was a good sized crowd, though maybe not as large as I'd expected. We were directly behind the Army Band as they struck the first notes of some beautiful tune, probably the Tennessee Waltz, and just the moment, the very moment, I started to relax - the bomb dog spotted Stella and launched a serenade of his own. Neither of us looked back at them or at the crowd who could now see us from the front rows, but those who were already lined up on Sixth Ave. for the parade, were thoroughly entertained by the moment. I covered my eyes. Two people clapped.

I wish I could tell you that I did not sacrifice our future that day. The fact is it's too soon to tell. As for our new Governor and the people of Tennessee, it was a pretty spectacular day for an inauguration. The temperature was mild compared to a week ago when there was four inches of snow on the ground. We ended up sitting on the front lawn of the capitol to watch what turned out to be one of the best parades I've seen in a long time. Stella isn't that keen on marching bands or cannon fire but I have to give her credit. When it really counts, when the big guns are aimed in her direction, she always appears graceful and dignified whether her best friend does or not.

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