My job requires me to take a lot of pictures. Luckily those pictures are usually of places and things, but very rarely people. I don’t seem to do well with people when it comes to my camera. Many times when I am walking around a neighborhood snapping photos of houses and historic markers someone will give me a suspicious, annoyed glance.

Sometimes they come right out and yell at me. I was taking photos of private schools in our area a while back, and when snapping a few shots at the Montessori school here in town a woman came running out of the offices asking what I was doing. I smiled and recited my usual line about taking pictures for the paper and rattled off my credentials. I never have a business card handy because nobody ever asks for them. I have a stack in my car and in my purse, but I rarely use them.

This woman was not mollified one bit about the fact that the photos were for a newspaper. She began to ball me out about just marching onto private property and taking pictures. I smile again, put the lens cap back on my camera and said, “That’s fine. We don’t need to run a photo of your school along with all the others. Have a nice day, and sorry to trouble you!”

This was when she realized that her privileged rich bitch Montessori School attitude was going to cost her some free publicity. She backpedaled faster than Lance Armstrong and offered to show me places that would offer me nice shots. I followed her, took my pictures, smiled and thanked her, and then ran the article without one single snapshot of her school.

You don’t want to fuck with the Art Director.

So last week I was out taking pictures of Gordonsville, VA – a nearby town that is jam-packed with adorable old homes, and I was really looking forward to exploring it a little. I turned down a street which has always caught my eye on previous trips through town, parked my car and started taking photos. Within 45 seconds, I was approached by an older gentleman in pants and a white tank top – I’d guess Fruit of the Loom. I immediately thought, “Here we go again.”

Boy, was I wrong. This man, upon hearing my spiel and credentials, perked up like freshly opened bottle of Dr. Pepper. He began to give me a tour of “his street” which was dotted with pristinely maintained old homes painted bright white and forest green each with a lush, green lawn meticulously mowed. I used the term “his street” because he proceeded to tell me how over the years he had purchased each and every home on the block.

I listened to this little history lesson with interest and amusement. He had been in the Marines, and moved to California for a while, but couldn’t stay away from his sweet little hometown in good old Virginia. He told me about each and every tenant in the three homes he owned on the street, all of which he rented to folks who were Gordonsville natives.

He then began to give me a lesson about his home. It sits smack on the railroad tracks which splits the town in two and is also painted bright white and forest green like the other homes on the block. His home was rich in history; I think he mentioned it used to be a hotel back in the day, and he spoke of hammock hooks that hang on two of the three balconies overlooking the railroad tracks where you could put an extra guest or two if the train were carrying more people than you had rooms for.

Suddenly he looks at me and says “Hey, the train is coming. You wanna get some shots of that?”

Would I! We trotted up a set of concrete steps and onto the rail bed. The train would appear around the curve – the sky was blue and filled with clouds, there was an old depot and coal tower in the background. It was going to be a great shot. As I was snapping away, he continued with his history lesson and as the train chugged past, he waved to the conductor and called him by name. Living that close to the tracks, it doesn’t surprise me that he’d know it.

After that I took a few more shots and thanked the gentleman for being so kind to me. I joked that I had gotten my cover shot thanks to him, and told him to look for my paper in the blue boxes next Thursday. He walked me to my car like a true Southern gentleman, and I drove away in search of other nooks in Gordonsville to take photos of.

But I thought about him the rest of the day. I thought about how people here and there step into your life for a brief time and make the tiniest bit of difference.  I was really hoping the photos I took of his house on the tracks came out nicely. I wanted to give back to him for his kindness to me.

The actual cover – Like I said, his house is “smack” on the tracks.

They did turn out well. I laid out the cover with his beautifully unique home on it and was relieved and thankful when I got the green light from both my publisher and my editor.

Yesterday at work I answered the phone, which is something I rarely do. I could tell immediately it was my Gordonsville history teacher, and as he said that his home was on the cover of our newspaper I have to admit I got a little scared. Maybe he wasn’t happy that I’d put his home on the cover for the entire Central Virginia region to see.

But he was thrilled. He spoke of the “affable young lady” who took the pictures, and I was happy to tell him that he was speaking to her right now. We chatted for a few minutes on the phone where he expressed his appreciation – he loved the photos both on the cover and inside the publication, and asked if he could get copies of them. He said he had scanned pages from the paper and posted them on facebook – they had received many positive comments from fellow towns people. Even the Mayor of Gordonsville weighed in.

It was a great way for me to end my day – hell my week. This man, who takes great pride in his home and his hometown, took time out of his day to help me do my job, and it was fun to thank him in my own way.

I like the idea that for this entire week, he gets to see his home every time he passes by one of our blue boxes. I like that I was able to bring him the tiniest bit of recognition.

See? It pays to be nice to the Art Director.

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