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Connecticut Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This is about all I saw of Connecticut this time around: I-84 near Middlebury.

One of the consequences of this whirlwind tour of the country is that I don't really get to see any of it. After dinner in New York on Saturday, I drove an hour and a half through a maze of freeways en route to Danbury, Conn.

Near the western edge of the state, Danbury is a small city that you've heard of but can't remember why. It turns out that, among other things, Danbury is the headquarters for a number of well-known companies: Scholastic Publishing, Praxair, and Ethan Allen Interiors.

Farooq Kathwari, president of Ethan Allen, was the honorary doctorate recipient at Western Connecticut State University's graduation last Sunday, which is what brought me to town.

For this particular event, the challenges thrown my way had nothing to do with travel, it was the event itself.

It should have been pretty straightforward: about 750 graduates in a single-line ceremony with two of us on hand to shoot pictures of them as they received their diplomas and a portrait just afterwards.

The night before the ceremony I checked the details and discovered that the ceremony would be held at WCSU's west campus, not the main campus as I had originally thought. This was actually more convenient for me as it was closer to the hotel.

I arrived at the event site at 8:30 a.m., the requisite two hours before the shoot was supposed to start, only to find that my paperwork was wrong, the ceremony would start at 10, not 10:30. No problem, we still had plenty of time. My partner wasn't there yet, but the hotel manager had indicated that she checked in, so I wasn't worried. I wondered if she might be headed to the other campus, but I didn't have her phone number so I just started getting ready for the ceremony.

I tried to get hold of the university's contact person, but she didn't answer her phone. I left a message, and talked to the alternate contact who was right at hand. He gave me the details of the ceremony--which direction the grads would be walking, where the presenter would stand, etc., and, as we were now within an hour of the ceremony I started preparing my partner's shot as well.

The clock continued to tick, and there was still no sign of my partner, so I started making phone calls. I looked at the job sheet for the ceremony: the regional manager's name was there, but no phone number. I looked in my kit for the company directory: it was missing. I looked at the other paperwork for some numbers: nothing. So I called the emergency 1-800 number listed on the job sheet ... no answer. I called the alternate emergency number ... no answer, not even an opportunity to leave a voice mail.

Hmmm... I have a ceremony coming up in about 30 minutes, and I'm the only one here. Realizing that it was about 6:30 a.m. on the west coast, I tried to call the Pacific Northwest regional manager--no answer. I called the only other name I had in my phone: a mid-west regional manager who had saved my butt the previous weekend when the airline lost my luggage. He didn't answer, so I left a message.

A couple minutes later, he called back, said he was shooting a race, and he'd be able to get me a phone number in a few minutes. With about 20 minutes to spare, I got another number I could call. With that number, I finally got hold of someone who knew what was going on.

It turns out that my partner for the event was sick. She'd called the regional manager and the university contact, but neither of those had bothered to pass that information along to me. An hour before the ceremony's start time the RM had dispatched one of the shooters another event to cover my shoot, but he was coming from somewhere in Massachusetts, 1.5 hours away.

The procession began, and Greg wasn't there. The provost's welcome, national anthem, president's congratulations, student speaker, honorary doctorate, and keynote speech all came and went without any sign of him. The grads started marching across the stage, and he still wasn't there.

I guess Greg arrived about 10 minutes after the grads started walking across the stage, and he jumped right in and started shooting. The university's coordinator cycled the ones he missed back into line, so he got everybody, although the order was completely messed up. I feel sorry for whoever it is back in Iowa that will have to sort them out. I won't bore you with details of the other technical issues that plagued the event.

Waterbury, Conn., locals hang out at Boru's Bar & Grill May 18. "What's the camera for?" they asked. "Taking pictures."

After the ceremony, Greg and I headed to Hartford for our flights home. Greg--who is also from Portland--had less than three hours to make the 1.5 hour drive, return his rental, check in, get through security and onto the plane. Lunch was out of the question, so we parted ways.

I, on the other hand, had a later flight and my empty stomach wouldn't be ignored. Halfway from Danbury to Hartford, I pulled off the highway in Waterbury to find a bite to eat.

Eschewing the fast food joints at the freeway exit, I drove towards the downtown area. It was pretty quiet at 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, but Boru's Bar & Grill was open. I was a bit out of place in my suit and tie, but I sat down at the bar anyway, as the half-dozen locals started throwing beer coasters at each other. I don't think there was any particular occasion, but they were pretty boisterous.

The menu described the hamburger as "so good it will change your life," so I ordered one of those and a coke. I'm not sure it was that good, but it was the best I've had in a while. Maybe if I'd ordered the cheeseburger.

Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) is a major hub for Northwest Airlines. I don't know when they started painting their fleet with the "nwa" logo, but that always meant something different to me.

After lunch I headed off to Bradley Airport for my return flight to Portland (via Minneapolis). Sure enough, there was Greg waiting at my gate. He'd missed his flight and spent the rest of the time trying to rearrange another way home.

We got back to Portland around 11:30 PDT and I went straight home to bed.