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A couple of days in Phoenix Sunday, May 25, 2008

My grandparents, Ken and Magda Davey, walk hand-in-hand May 21 across a parking lot in Phoenix, Ariz.

After last week's trip to the east coast, I had about 36 hours at home to get caught up and prepare for the next tour. This one promised to be a lot easier, if only because it was out west: shorter, direct flights, all in the same time zone.

Better yet, I got to leave a day early to visit my uncle and cousins in Phoenix, and my grandparents from Toronto who happened to be there visiting them.

My Tuesday afternoon flight to the Grand Canyon state was only a few minutes late. My checked bags arrived promptly, I picked up my rental car, and found light traffic on the Phoenix freeways, even though I arrived at the peak of rush hour.

I spent Tuesday evening and Wednesday with my family, not really doing anything in particular, just catching up. We were happy to stay indoors as it was well over 100°F there. Wednesday evening I went out on Mill Ave. in Tempe with my cousins, giving them an evening away from their daughters. That was fun, especially since I only get to see them once a year or so.

[right] An angelic Lila Schwier sleeps on her mother Audrey's lap. [below] Later, Lila was less of an angel.

Thursday it was back to work again. Rain had moved into the desert, and the temperature had dropped by 30°. I was supposed to be at the Maricopa County Events Center in Sun City West—northwest of Phoenix, a full 50 miles from my uncle's place in Mesa—at 12:30 to shoot two high school ceremonies. That morning I got a call that one of the other shooters, Ken, had missed his flight from Los Angeles, and could I pick him up at the airport at 11:30? No problem. Oh, and by the way, instead of shooting two ceremonies back-to-back in Sun City West, we need you to go to a different ceremony after the first grad. We'll have directions for you there. OK.

We got to the Events Center right on time, and that ceremony went pretty smoothly, at least for me. The second ceremony turned out to be in Casa Grande, southeast of Phoenix, 75 miles away. We had two hours, but knowing that we would have to drive through rush hour traffic, we figured it would be best to get in the neighborhood first, then find something to eat.

It turns out that Casa Grande, or at least the part we were in, is one of those instant bedroom communities that bloom in the desert like wildflowers after a rainfall. As we drove into town, there were helpful direction-finding signs at every intersection, each identifying eight to 10 residential developments being built. We didn't have much time, and without seeing any indication of a retail area, we settled for a gas station convenience store. Ken bought a burrito, I settled for a Coke.

[right] Only in Phoenix can this be considered "A Traditional Irish Pub and Restaurant."

Back at the school, the ceremony that had been planned for the football stadium was hastily being transferred indoors due to the steady rain. Chairs for the grads filled the gymnasium floor, the band was packed into a small space at the back of the gym, and there were some risers for the choir beside the 8-by-16 temporary stage. The gym's grandstands only fit about a third of the expected crowd. A closed-circuit TV system set up in the school's lobby area for the disgruntled remainder of the students' relatives.

Ken and I started getting set up, struggling to figure out how to photograph a two-line ceremony on the
crowded, microscopic stage without getting the way of the grads or the video cameras broadcasting the ceremony to those outside the gym. Meanwhile, the other two photographers for the ceremony—who had the job bag with the event details, flash cards, and other things we needed—had missed the exit by about 20 miles. They arrived at the ceremony about 15 minutes before it began, and we scrambled to get them set up for their shots.

I don't know whether it was the weather, the crowded gymnasium, or just the school itself, but it was easily the loudest, most raucous graduation ceremony I've seen to date. There were at least a dozen beach balls and other inflatables bouncing around the sea of mortarboards, and there were tremendous cheers at every possible applause point.

Under normal circumstances, the 8 p.m. ceremony would have wrapped up around 10 but, mercifully, the fire marshal decided that there were too many people in the building, so the administration dispensed with all of the remaining speeches and went straight to the presentation of diplomas.

We were back to the hotel a bit before 11. We delivered our job bag to the war room, had some pizza and went to bed.

[left] Audrey and Julia read Letters Home May 21 in Phoenix.