After getting only four and a half hours of sleep early Saturday morning, I realized I am ready to retire. The trip home from Mississippi to find tennis, volleyball, soccer and swimming and diving team photos still awaiting me has taken its toll. I simply can’t do this anymore. I am getting too old. I am tired and worn out. I have given my all and tried to do my best. It just is time to put the cameras and long lens away. I really feel the time has come to focus on other matters of life beyond photography.
I hate going out with a loss. but everyone has to retire at some point. Flying home with the KU football team after the game against Southern Mississippi, I took a long look back at my time in the deep south. That reflection made me realize the time is right. Let me take you through that short trip. I think you’ll understand why this decision has been made.
As the jet carrying us south on Thursday dropped down to the runway quite “hot,” we raced down the runway so rapidly that I didn’t even have time to point out the small Hattiesburg air terminal to Laura. We shot past it at a speed that made me feel I was seeing my life and career whisk by me in a flash of light.
Our usual “hit the ground running” style immediately took hold. Within 30 minutes we had checked into the Hattiesburg hotel and taken off running the miles to the local Avis location to rent a car. We only wanted a small compact. We picked out a nice little Ford Focus and seemed to be set until the rental manager realized the front bumper was hanging raggedly and almost dragging on the ground. Our only other option was a free upgrade to a MINIVAN.
I’ve spent my life avoiding a minivan. Stuffing my kids into a cramped back seat of a car to avoid owning one didn’t scar either of my girls that much I swear. Now, I found myself sliding into the front seat of a Chrysler minivan. Adjusting the mirrors and straining to see what was behind me through the great abyss from front seat to back window was symbolic of the chasm tearing at me. The fact that I actually enjoyed magically opening the multiple sliding doors by remote control or finding hidden storage bins in the floor was a sure sign I was losing it.
There were still signs I was fighting to hang on against the time ticking off my clock. The satellite radio in the van was immediately turned to my music of choice on Alt Nation. But my daughter Kelly pointed out to Laura that was surely an oxymoron. The channels of my life had already been set when I turned on the radio. It just took me a while to realize those channels of twangy bluegrass stations and the NASCAR channel were signs from the satellite in the sky to embrace a new life.
We passed on the barbecue at “famed” Leatha’s, and instead enjoyed the highly recommended Crescent City Grill. As good as the seafood was inside, the gorgeous red Ferrari sitting outside was a bigger thrill. There really is no car that can stop traffic quite like a Ferrari. We stood around the car just like many others in wonder. However the minivan was calling us and hauling us home to the Holiday Inn. No rush from the sound of that Ferrari firing up – only thoughts of what it would have been like to scream into the back of the Chrysler for my kids to be quiet, or I was pulling the minivan over and climbing into the back. Now, that’s sad.
If we are what we eat, then what does it say when I found myself Saturday morning looking up from my nut and grain pancakes and artificial scrambled eggs to the two pork chop, three egg, three pancake special with the choice of grits or hash browns the three women at the next table were consuming. Lunch wasn’t much better. At Mugshots where their hamburger was voted the best in Mississippi for the last four years, I had to take off the top bun just to keep the calories at a reasonable level. It was as good as two members of the Southern Mississippi volleyball team had promised – just way more than either one of us could eat.
Then there was Laura’s revelation that we ordered exactly the same breakfast and lunch. Before we could even begin to ponder all the implications of growing old together in all the scary ways, the owner of Mugshots cried out that he was looking for the owner of the silver Chrysler minivan parked outside. How fun was that to raise my hand and see every eye turn to check out the loser? Flashes of the rental’s side all scraped and dented raced to mind.
Fortunately, it was only a request to move the van to make room for their game day catering truck. The owner turned out to be a great guy as was everyone we met during our travels around town. He came to our table to tell us the defensive line coach at KU had also eaten lunch in the sports bar earlier. We quickly figured out the owner had been fed a good story even if the guy was sporting an Orange Bowl ring for authenticity. The give away had to be either the fact the coach drove all the way to Hattiesburg since he was tired of air travel or the fact he also owned a landscape business. The owner wondered what assistant coaches were paid at KU.
We know who it was, and the guy certainly is big enough to pull of the rouse. I have my share of championship rings too. I just can’t wear them on my stubby little fingers and would be way too embarrassed to ever try to convince anyone I really deserved them.
So finally after another good run that afternoon, we were finally ready for some football. If you watched the game on ESPN you don’t need any recap. It didn’t go well for KU, but I will say to all the KU faithful that the freshman running backs and quarterback need only an improved line in the coming years to make some stunning progress. I just won’t be around to photograph them.
What I will say is that no football game anywhere needs over 75 cheerleaders and dancers standing on the sidelines. Yes, I did count them, and no, that doesn’t even include KU’s Spirit Squad. That would run the number to over 100. Those numbers might have been the little bit of insanity that shoved me right over the edge. Or, was it the 60 plus minutes it took for security to check an entire team’s luggage in such detail that I swear we were going to find Bin Laden living inside some lineman’s luggage?
Clearly there isn’t one or even two events that have led me to this decision, but I do know it is time to retire.
Wait a minute. What am I saying? I can’t retire. I have a kid still in college. I still love taking photographs as does Laura. What is wrong with me. Is this daze more than just a lack of sleep haze? I mean why do I suddenly have this desire to let my gray stubble grow out and buy a pair of relaxed fit Wranglers?
I’ll tell you. I stood Friday night on hallowed ground. Some say haunted ground? It’s the same ground that Brett Favre once roamed in college. No wonder I have been filled with doubt and indecision. Forget all that. Can’t a man change his mind? I’m not ready to retire. I’M BACK!