Courtyard’s Courtyard

The Complete Lack Of [Explored]

It’s amazing: if you build a community place, a community will form, even if it’s a transient one.

Over the summer, we stayed at a Courtyard hotel – nice place, pool, convenient location, etc. And, as the name says, it had a courtyard in the middle of the hotel with picnic tables and trees and little walkways. Our hotel room had a porch that looked out on the courtyard.

The whole thing caught me off guard. Hotels, as I had experience them, were private places, where noise was kept down and you rarely saw the people in other rooms. But a courtyard? Where you could see people? Whoa.

And what do you know, people gathered there. A family brought a six pack of beer outside and sat on the picnic table to chat. People strolled by on their way to the pool. Kids ran around and played kickball. It was like being back in college, only with a more diverse crowd. It was great. We sat on the porch and watched the whole evening take shape.

If you build it, they will come, the saying goes. In this case, it was true. The evidence was gathering in front of us.

That made me think of the “courtyards” I’ve encountered in my online life: Twitter, my old Apple Newton blog, photography groups.I would still rather chat with someone in person about their (or my own) weird hobby. The nice thing about the Web is, you can have both in-person courtyards and online meeting places to talk about what interests you.

Make a gathering place, and like-minded people make a community. If you’re generous and open, those communities become stronger and closer.

Especially if you bring a six pack.

Travel Season

Lobster Landing - Connecticut

Taking a vacation is a good excuse to make some photos. You’re in a new place, with new sights and people to see. Everything is fresh and wonderful (especially when they have lobster rolls along the Atlantic Ocean, as above).

But most of us can’t take a vacation all the time.

So what if you took little trips, around your hometown, or to the cities you’re next to?

I started a little project based on small towns around Michigan a few summers back – little towns that I had never visited, or had only traveled through. I’d take a lunch hour and prowl around main street, and shoot what I see.

You don’t have to go far to see a new place. Chances are, there’s something to see within a few miles of where you are right now. This idea is not new.

August is travel season for a lot of people. Now, challenge yourself to travel a little more local for a new perspective.

About every year, I need a mountain fix. To fly away from our flat-ish peninsula state and land somewhere above sea level.

Luckily, I’ve kept to that pretty consistently. I’ve used mountain states to escape, to reflect – and to drive.

Rocky Mountain National Park 565

The driving is therapeutic, too. I take in the countryside by mostly driving through it – with little stops along the way to get out and explore.

Rocky Mountain National Park 550

It’s not my style to stay in any one place for very long while traveling. I hit the highlights and move on to the next thing in fairly rapid succession.

Hiking Colorado: Dense Pathway

But it’s important to absorb the highlights. Especially with mountain scenery. Soak it all up.

Michigan is a fantastic state. I love living here and traveling here. Seeing the lakes and the woods and the wilderness. Michigan, though, doesn’t have mountains.

Rocky Mountain National Park 552

Colorado has mountains. Virtually a whole state full of them.

And every once in a while, I get the itch to see them.

(Photos edited with VSCO Film 04.)

‘We Work for Tips’

And so it went last weekend in Las Vegas with three of my good friends: Andrew Krukowski, Chris Driver, and Keith Coates.

My experience with Vegas before last weekend was more like sticking my toe in the pool. I stopped there during a rush-hour traffic jam along I-15 coming home from the Route 66 trip. Then there was last summer, when I flew in and out of Vegas during my driving tour of the western national parks.

But I had never done Vegas righteously. Last weekend I finally got the chance, and did it as it should be done: with good friends to enjoy the spectacle.

The entire weekend was like one long-running comedy routine, with new in-jokes appearing from the sights, sounds, and people of this city. We took our accommodations and had a lot of fun with it, both with the people that we saw and the location of the hotel. Staying off-Strip means you get to see that other Vegas you always hear about – the one we saw, in full color, along Fremont Street.

Ah, Fremont Street. You take the old Vegas that appears in movies, the Vegas that Sinatra and Martin knew, you put a roof over it, and you turn it into an amusement park. It was still my favorite part of the trip. The Strip seemed like a giant themed shopping mall. But Fremont Street was the Vegas that I always pictured in my head: lights, mutants, cheap booze, the whole works. If I ever go back, I’ll be sure to spend more time on Fremont Street.

No one in our little group struck it rich, nor did anything too crazy happen. The trip was four guys who know each other so well taking this spaceship of a city as it is. We walked, and took in a ball game, and saw a show, and took a trip to the Hoover Dam. And then there was karaoke. Lots of that in a bar called Ellis Island, where tourists and locals both meet for cheap (but good) beer and lots of fun.

My role in these types of trips is usually the documentarian – a role I relish. Between photos and the video above, I feel like I captured some of the best parts of the trip while still leaving those fun parts – the ones only us four guys would get – locked away in memory. That’s as it should be.

The title of the video comes from a brief snippet of Fremont Street. The showgirls, the ones on either side of the gentlemen where one whispers something in his ear, walk around ready to pose for pictures. When I stood there to get my own picture taken, the one whispered “We do work for tips, okay?” into my ear.

Nothing is free in Vegas. Not really. And that’s okay.

Jump the Fence

Call me a railing jumper. I wear it as a point of pride.

That photo of the waterfall above? I had another one from the viewing station, probably 20 to 30 feet above where I took the above shot. Then I glanced over the wooden railing that surrounded the viewing station, saw a root-studded path down to the rocks below, and jumped.

It happens often enough, especially on trips and photo assignments, that I automatically look for a way to hop the fence and find a path to get closer. It happened on that trip Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I only hesitated because there were a mom and a dad, with their two kids, standing next to me, and I didn’t want to be a bad influence on the kids.

But then I thought, “Well, why not?” Maybe the kids will get yelled at now, but isn’t it better to show them that a little rebellion will do you good?

Sure, jumping the fence could get you hurt (the rocks were slippery from the waterfall spray) or arrested (though I didn’t see a sign – but more often I do). But getting a closer view of that waterfall was worth it.

Now this kind of thing gets me in trouble. I’ve had enough run-ins with the authorities that keeps me at least pragmatically cautious. My first instinct, though, is to jump the fence – always has been.

Don't slip.

While in Yellowstone, it wasn’t enough that I saw pretty waterfalls from the park roadway. No, I had to slide down the ravine, step into the river, scramble up the rocks, and get a closer view. Tasting the river is more memorable than seeing it from the side window.

Grand Canyon - My little rock ledge

At the north rim of the Grand Canyon I noticed, just next to the lot where middle-aged insurance salesmen parked their Buicks, a little outcropping of rock. It was dozens of yards away from the main viewing area, the one encircled by metal railing. This little ledge off to the side? The one partially covered by ragged desert brush and boulders? No one was there. It was all mine.

So I climbed it. And as my legs dangled from the edge and the tourists screamed in horror, I felt like I was getting a view that few people saw. There’s something to be said about experiencing the Grand Canyon all by yourself, with no one around, and with nothing holding you back from the void. There was no railing here.

And so it is with life. That’s pretty obvious, but the more I travel, the more I realize people are content with staying within some prescribed boundary.

This philosophy is largely situational. Rules aren’t there simply to be broken. As Dr. Renner, my journalism professor and mentor always said, “Rules are made for smart people to break.” In other words: learn the rules, pay attention, and break them when it makes sense.

If everyone broke the rules willy-nilly, there might not be waterfalls to photograph. But if breaking the rules means harming nothing or nobody but yourself, I say go for it.

Jump the fence.

On the edge.

Maybe it says something about my compulsion to hang there on the edge of nothing. Maybe I just need medication. I don’t know.

But while I have legs to carry me and a lack of the kind of common sense that says “stay within the boundaries,” I’ll keep doing it.

In fact, I’d recommend it to anyone.