I stepped into the coffee shop, Pastry Art, to get a cup of Joe prior to stranger hunting. Pastry Art has had some employee turnover, so there are a few new faces behind the counter. One young fellow commented on my camera – the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (it took me a long time to learn that by heart). What kind of camera is that? is it film? etc. So I explained the camera and said, “Guess what I like to photograph?” So a minute later he was obliging me by standing in the doorway while I clicked away.
His name is Nolan.
“Is there a 'D' on the end?”
“No, it is not like Roland.”
Nolan is from Chattanooga and says that the weather there is more mild than you might think. He and a friend took a trip to Oregon, but Nolan would up staying for two years. He worked at a Starbucks at an airport.
“Oh, so it was the same kind of work as here.”
“Yeah, it's that the coffee cost twice as much there.”
He has been in Sarasota for a month and a half, working at Pastry Art the whole time. There is a sign on the door, “Baristas wanted.” Nature of the business I guess.
After several clicks, I showed him the images. For some reason, he likes keeping his mouth open; in most images his mouth was open wider than this. He laughed and said, “Oh Jeez, I look stoned.”
I saw Nicole at the Farmer's Market, in direct sunlight. I waited a bit as she ambled along and then chose my spot to meet her. There are so many interesting people at the Market, but the backgrounds are all busy and contrasty. There is no good place nearby. So I try to pick a location with acceptable light and be resigned to more post processing than I like.
Nicole was rather surprised when I approached her, but became a 100 Strangers fan over the next couple of minutes. She is from Utica, NY, and did her schooling there. Now she is a Child Protection Officer. She lives in Orlando and commutes to work in Kissimmee.
“Isn't that a rather long commute?”
“I just live with it, the job is worth it.
She often goes to a Farmer's Market in Winter Park, an immediate Orlando neighbor. Nicole likes the Sarasota one better and was glad that she visited for the weekend. She took my card and is interested in getting a copy of the photos.
Louise and Jerry are Brits. They lived in London and moved to Tampa seven years ago. Louise is retired, a retired housewife. I'm not sure what that means for Jerry. He works for a factory that manufactures “soda pop.” I was not aware that any major soda brands were produced in Tampa. Turns out they aren't. He makes soda for store brands, like Publix. I never knew that store brand soda was produced in separate factories from Coke, Pepsi, etc. Isn't 100 Strangers a great learning experience?
I have been impressed by the number of local residents with British accents.
Me: “How do so many Brits find Southwest Florida?”
Jerry: “It begins with Disney. People from overseas go to Disney and later tour the rest of Florida.”
Me: “But after a Disney vacation, who can afford to travel anymore?”
Jerry: “Well, you come back 20 years later when the kids are grown.”
Louise: “Once here, you just cannot return to the constantly gloomy days of England.”
Makes sense to me.
While I was interacting with yesterday's stranger, David, Phil walked up to inspect the action. So I immediately recruited him. No Problem. For a while, Phil, David, Katy (the reporter) and I had a round robin conversation.
But he told me that he likes to say “No.” “It gets a reaction.” Phil drove a bus in Manhattan for 30 years, and has seen a lot. Like when a rider said, “I'd like to get off here', Phil would say “No” and watch his startled reaction. Then Phil would pull the bus over a block later and say, “Sir, I have found a safe place for you to step off. Have a nice day.” I guess that those are the games you play when you have a lot of time on your hands.
I asked Phil how he was able to maintain any kind of schedule, driving in New York traffic. “Simple, you drive like a maniac.”
Phil was very outgoing, and could not understand why anyone would have a tough time talking to strangers. He should have the camera.
OK, Katy (the Sarasota Herald Tribune reporter) and I walked along, her small Canon camera was on a tripod that was folded, effectively a monopod. As David came out of a door, he immediately sidestepped us and fell behind. Then he quickly passed us and said “I thought that was a crutch. If I had known it was that thing, I wouldn't have stepped aside for you.” I didn't quite know how to take that, but when in doubt, ask for a portrait. I said, “Do you know why she has that? I ask strangers for a photograph and she is making a video of me doing it. Can I meet you and take your photograph?” He looked at me sideways, kept walking, and said “OK.”
He stopped at an outdoor piano, sat, and began to play – and intermittently sing. His piano skills were considerable, the singing, not so much.
He has worked with a person at Fogartyville, a community media and art center. For the next several minutes, while playing, he had a stream of consciousness monolog that bordered on a rant. All topics music and local politics were covered. I was overwhelmed by material and couldn't write most of it down. Basically he was put off at the world for not being more recognized for his talents. I kept asking for a pause so that I could photograph. Daniel gave me nanosecond opportunities. For the first time, my Olympus autofocus let me down. He did play with feeling, and I think that the posted image reflects that.
This was the second stop, being followed by a Sarasota Herald Tribune reporter. We began to walk by the Whole Foods outdoor eating area when I saw Kasia and made an immediate about-face. As I explained our mission, she began smiling – she 'got it.' I asked if anyone ever misspelled her name - “Oh yeah. Some people confuse it with the cereal.”
It's Polish. Kasia was born in Krakow and moved to the U.S. At age six. She has no accent. Her parents also live in the U.S. And have plenty of accent. Most of the rest of her family is in Poland. She visits occasionally and misses the homeland. Still, she likes Sarasota except for the heat. Join the club.
Kasia works in sales for ATT.
“Oh, are you the one who spams my e-mail, or the one who cold calls me at suppertime?”
“No, I don't do those things. I am in direct customer sales.”
At least she didn't get offended.
I showed her this shot on the camera LCD and asked if she'd prefer one without the cigarette. “No, I'm a smoker. That's who I am.” We are now Facebook friends.
The next four strangers will be a little different. A reporter, Katy, from the Sarasota Herald Tribune interviewed me, and then followed me around with video equipment. So when I introduced myself to a stranger and made 'the ask', Katy quickly explained that I was being followed for a website video. Katy met me a few weeks ago – I photographed her, of course (#607).
As Katy and I passed Smokin' Joe's Bar, Dan was having a cigar break al fresco. He had lived in Seattle. I noted that most people around here were from Ohio/Michigan, or New York/New Jersey. Seattle to Sarasota is not a common migration path. Many years ago Dan moved here to be close to his ailing dad. They were together for 20 years.
Dan loves Pastry Art, my favorite haunt. A few months ago he was in an auto accident and had one arm in a sling. So he learned to hold a bag with pastries and a cup of coffee in one hand – a useful skill.
He lit up his cigar and told me not to photograph him with it. His wife would be upset.
“Do you think that she cannot smell it on your breath?”
“I brush my teeth before she sees me.”
They have been married for 10 years. Two years ago they opened up a salon salon in the nearby Rosemary District. That is an up and coming neighborhood that had been neglected for decades.
Thomas is Hungarian. He likes Sarasota, but thinks that there should be more cultural activities for young people. I told him that I used to live in Venice. He rolled his eyes and said, "You would be young there (67), I would REALLY be young." Thomas is well acquainted with Cafe Clasico, where we were; he met Lucy there. And he remembers when it was the Palm Cafe, and before that, Sarasota Bookstore. Thomas reminisced about the "Mom and Pop" bookstore, and private bookstores in general. Their future does not appear bright.
He is a realtor. I said, "Oh, do you sell these condos( waving my arm by new highrises under construction)." he said yes, but that most of them had already been sold, for up to $2,000,000 each where there is a bay view.
Lucy said that I had never heard of her birthplace, Cape Verde. I said that of course I had, a group of islands off Africa. She seemed surprised. I told her that she was the first female from Cape Verde that I had met that was not a hurricane. In Florida we are very cognizant of the "Cape Verde Season", where tropical depressions form off of Africa and sweep across the Atlantic, strengthening into hurricanes.
Lucy used to work at Cafe Clasico, but now she works at Brian's Seafood, north of town. She is my second stranger who works there. Lucy wanted to keep sunglasses on. She had partied hard the night before and was concerned about the appearance of her eyes. They look fine.
Kelsey and Alex walked my way and I was ready. But they suddenly turned into a spice store and I had to bide my time. A fellow tied his bulldog to a pole right next to me and disappeared into a restaurant. The beautiful dog was rather ambitious and I had to move – I almost lost interest. But when they walked out and I explained the project, they were more than happy to be a part.
Kelsey and Alex are from Tampa, visiting the area for a day. So far, they are impressed. Kelsey teaches English as a second language. She speaks some Russian, but is not allowed to speak it in class. If the primary language is used at all, students end up 'translating' everything, and never learn how to 'think' in English. Actually, I'm not sure that I can think in English. She likes this challenge, but doesn't look at this as her calling.
Alex works in finance. Not for a brokerage house, but at an electrical supply company. Among other things, he does collections.
“Oh, are you the 'enforcer' for delinquent accounts?”
Kelsey, “Yeah, that's why he has these guns (squeezes Alex's bicep).”
Alex, “No, I haven't had to resort to violence yet (rolls eyes).”
They both seemed to enjoy the encounter and took my card.
Jess and Tucker had the audacity to sip cups of Java in front of MY coffee shop. So I did my thing, and they were happy to be photographed.
Jess (Jessica) graduated from local Booker High School, the one partially devoted to visual and performing arts. Since 2009 she has performed with the Modern Ethos dance troupe. http://movingethos.org/index.html
The group will be performing in Sarasota this July. The venue will be the tiny Urbanite theater, which will be modified to seat 35 (thirty five!) for the performances. Jess agrees that dancers not colliding will be a challenge. I immediately bought a ticket for the first performance.
Tucker owns her own landscaping business. I was intrigued by the intricate tattoo on her left arm. She got it in New Zealand for the equivalent of $300. It is art of the Mauri, the indigenous people of new Zealand. Each line represents an event in Tucker's life.
Mike was sitting with a young lady who shook her head “no.” Mike shook his head “yes” at that, I guess she was really having a bad day. But Mike was not, and was glad to participate. Both of them are musicians in a band called 'Pleasures.' She is a guitar player and vocalist, Mike plays drums. When I showed him my Photostream, he pointed to Greg (yesterday's stranger) and said that Greg was in the same band. Quite a coincidence as these were on different days.
Mike was born in Sarasota and graduated from Sarasota High School. After getting a degree in Music, he taught for two years at SHS and one year at Booker High. But teaching was not for Mike, so he quit to join this band. They are arranging their second tour, 5,000 miles in a month. Their first tour was over 8,000 miles. It was modestly successful, they came home with a little money after expenses. The financial uncertainty doesn't seem to bother him.
I told him about a book that I just read – it seems germane: The Crossroads of Should and Must.” Should is what other people and society suggest you do, vs must, what your heart says to do.
Greg is originally from Philadelphia, he rolled his eyes as he said it. "Oh, you don't like Philadelphia?" "It's OK." (eyes rolling again). He moved here many years ago and graduated from Sarasota High School.
He is now a musician that travels a lot, with a group. Gigs seem better out of town.
"Do you play the piano?"
"Well, what do you play in the group?"
"Well, I like Synthesizer and stuff." (Greg tends toward the taciturn).
"Oh, you play a computer."
"No, Synthesizers were around in the 70s."
Actually, his name is Hipolito (ee POE lee toe). Polo was in an alleyway, on his haunches, photographing. He was right in front of a bicycle that was standing in front of some complex plumbing, probably sewer pipes. I asked what he saw to photograph. Polo stood and showed me the LCD and pointed out the lines formed by the elements, how the lines formed a rough circle, and how that circle would hold the viewers eyes.
Polo has a degree in fine arts. He is from Puerto Rico, having moved to Florida 1 ½ years ago. He is working on his English. The camera was a Canon 7D and he asked me to clone out the amateurish “EOS” in the strap. The kit lens is OK, but he cannot afford pro lenses at the moment, lenses that would be necessary to photograph weddings and other money making projects.
For the time being, he works at the Yellowfin boat building facility. www.yellowfin.com The job is problematic in that he has difficulty with fumes involved in production. Polo pulled out his phone and showed me showed me images of him at the factory. He wears a hazmat-like suit with a mask. But he has to shave very closely so that the mask can form a tight fit. Even with that, fumes get in and effect his breathing.
I recently had an interview (my first) for a local website. Yippee!