The Legends of Domino Park and a shoot gone awry.
The story begins simply enough…
I flew to Miami recently to produce a few images for an annual report I’m working on. As previously arranged I contacted my subject Tuesday evening to lay out the plans for the following day’s shoot. Something was amiss- her voice was strained, distant – distracted… Of course she remembered me, but she’d ‘forgotten’ about the shoot – she couldn’t meet that night after all. And now a week after volunteering to take time off of work, she’s saying that she didn’t realize the photography would take so much time. Uh Oh! I spend the next fifteen minutes reassuring her that the photography would be a fun and unique experience. She understands and agrees to call me the following morning. I hang up, but an inner voice says- you’re in trouble on this one bubba. I e-mail the client explaining the circumstances and suggest they might want to search for a replacement just in case. Wednesday morning’s appointed time comes and goes without a peep from my phone. I leave four messages throughout the day – she’s bailed. It’s the first time in my 20+ year’s of freelancing this has ever happened, I suppose it was inevitable.
It’s late Wednesday afternoon, the client is working hard to line up another subject. I do some editing on the laptop, while waiting to hear if I stay or go. Silence can be deafening when everything comes to a standstill. I head to the beach for a hard walk in wet sand to work the legs and clear the mind.
Thursday midmorning, faint signs emerge a new subject is on board. By 3pm I have the green light and phone number for contact. I call – thankfully he answers… Victor, a Cuban immigrant in his mid 30’s, his English is just good enough that we can communicate. I think – why didn’t I take more than one year of Spanish? We arrange to meet that evening at a restaurant in the LIttle Havana section of Miami. I arrive 15 minutes early – Victor rushes in 30 minutes late, but at least he’s here – I breathe a sigh of relief. We chat as I pull out the laptop showing samples of pictures I’ve done so far and the layout for the annual report. He understands, but something has come up… do we have to shoot tomorrow, what about Saturday or Sunday? Victor explains that he’s just gotten a last minute moving job and really needs the work. I think maybe the moving scenario will yield some nice images – I close my eyes and envision a few possibilities. Adaptation is the mark of versatility, right? We eat dinner and arrange to meet at 6am Friday morning.
I’m there at a quarter til 6 – the crew rolls in at 6:10. I’m introduced to the two associates, both of whom speak excellent English – this is good. I follow them to the outskirts of Miami. The driver, Juan Carlos doesn’t want me to shoot any identifiable pictures of the truck or him for that matter – no problem, I assure him I’m only there to photograph Victor… still I sense a storm brewing. About five minutes into the shoot – Juan, a.k.a. “the boss man” pulls me aside telling me that I’ll have to stop shooting pictures – “it’s just not very professional for you to be here.” I look at Juan, I look at the truck – I look back at Juan and think to myself – dude, I’m the only professional part of this group! No worries- I’ll back off for awhile. As they finish up I shoot a little more and return to my car, waiting to follow them to Naples for the unload. Victor gets out of the truck and walks in my direction – head down. I know what’s coming. Sure enough, Juan has given him the ultimatum – either I go or he goes. I acquiesce, not wanting Victor to lose the opportunity of making a few extra dollars. He assures me that he’ll be back by 1 or 2 that afternoon and will call right away, so we can shoot later in the afternoon. It’s 4pm and not a word (I’ve already done the beach walk 2x today) – so I call his cell, it goes to voice mail – I leave a polite message. Fifteen minutes pass – he calls. The truck overheated and broke down on the way to Naples… Juan’s karma for the day. Victor’s not home and I can’t get a good handle on just where he is. I explain we need to shoot today – he says 9 tonight?…. no, we must start no later than 6pm – he’ll call me back in 5 minutes. I choose not to wait, grab my gear and ask the valet for the car… 30 minutes and still no car. I go ask the valet what’s up… they can’t find the keys. You’re kidding, right? No, they really can’t find my car keys – great. I head to the GM office in the hotel, explain the situation – immediately a locksmith is called and actually shows up fairly promptly. The car finally arrives (it’s now been an hour and no call from Victor) – I jump in and see the original rental key in the ignition and realize the valet had locked the keys in the car – I shake my head and laugh.
I’m on my way to Victor’s apartment in Little Havana, when he calls. He’s home – I ask him to wait and I’ll be there within 20 minutes. When I arrive he’s freshly showered and still willing to shoot. We head off in search of a suitable location – my brain is frazzled… any idea’s I had are gone or simply not doable – I’m grasping at air. We arrive at a nearby park and begin walking, less than a hundred yards away is a group of gang bangers looking for trouble – this is not the situation I was looking for. We continue walking to the other side of the park where a group of kids are in the middle of baseball practice. We settle into the dugout and watch – I shoot a few frames and soon enough Victor begins chatting with one player and his coach – it seems quite natural for all of them. Amazingly- the pictures get better and I know I have a few frames that work well. Still – I’m not satisfied, but we’ve run out of time tonight as Victor needs to pick up a relative at the airport. There’s a chance that we’ll be able to shoot more in the morning if the moving truck isn’t repaired. I ask Victor to call me at any hour and let me know.
Saturday morning 6:30am the phone rings – it’s Victor, but I have a hard time figuring out where he is… he’s definitely not at his house. I finally understand his location, I ask him to wait and I’ll come to him… I’ll be there in an hour. I grab all my gear, check out of the hotel, car keys safe n sound in the valet’s hand and head off in search of Victor. Sure enough he’s there waiting for me. He looks tired and a bit drawn, he says he couldn’t sleep last night. We go in search of coffee – both of us need it. A couple of Cuban espresso’s later, all is good. I have an idea, there is a domino park in Little Havana – does Victor play? Yes. Awesome. We head that way. As we near the park, we see men are lined up waiting for the gates to open… it’s 8am. This group of Cuban ex-patriots gather almost every day to play some pretty wicked domino’s. They agree to let Victor sit in for a few games while I shoot pictures… normally no one under the age of 55 is allowed to play! We are honored guests. The pictures of Victor come easily – one can see that he enjoys the camaraderie of his countrymen and he seems to have a flare for the game. I finish up by shooting a few frames of the “legends” of Domino Park… these are great men playing a great game.
Victor and I exchange our goodbye’s and I head to the airport. One delayed flight and three airlines later – I am home in bed at midnight.
What a week, eh? It was brilliant.