I almost didn’t do it

I don’t know what draws me to this show.

Since my boss at my day job prefers that I don’t take every single Friday in the month of May, I thought I was unable to attend, but I had an idea…

I called Kris Gill, the director of the show. She understood my situation and granted me permission to skip the first day. She was fine with it as long as I was not setting up my booth during the hours of the show. (I agree, a construction zone is a bit of a distraction for the crowd.) It was easy to justify being absent that day since the show is open on Friday only from 4pm to 8pm.

I didn’t tell my boss that I would be unavailable this weekend. (Let’s hope I don’t get a phone call…)

A few days later, a couple of friends asked me to take photos of them at Graduate Commencement at OSU, and I couldn’t pass it up. It took me a few days to realize that the commencement date seemed familiar — it overlapped with the first day of the Lawton show, which I was already skipping! When do I need to be there? “7:00pm.” How long does it last? “About a couple hours.” Hrm.. Even if I leave immediately after the event, that puts me in Lawton around Midnight.

This seems familiar!

Setting up at Midnight -- Lawton in 2012
Lawton 2012 — Setting up at Midnight

Yeah, no problem! If I showed up at Midnight once, I can do it again!

Friday — my day-job dominates all

Noon: I spend my entire lunch break packing my van full of art booth.

1pm-5pm: Hurry through work.

5:00pm: Camera in hand, I head straight to Gallagher Iba Arena, where Commencement will commence.

The doors are locked, but I wait around to get a good seat.

6:00pm: The doors open, and I get situated. I take an empty seat: back center, down in front, hanging over the edge, as close as I can get.

When I graduated college, I skipped my Commencement.. I just wasn’t interested. So except for seeing graduation ceremonies in movies, I have no idea what is going to happen next. This is about as alien a concept to me as what happens in a Masonic Temple. Looking back on it, at least watching a previous Commencement ceremony would have proved useful right about now — I would then know what the traffic flow would be like. The room has four doors, the stage has two podiums, ramps on each side, and a ramp up the middle. Which door will they come in? Where in the room will they be seated? Who will speak first? second? third? Will the students be called to the stage in alphabetical order (which is how they appear in the little book that everyone received at the door), or by placement in the room? Which ramp will they take? When they arrive on the stage, which direction will they be facing when they shake hands / dance / do whatever it is they do at these things?

Looking back on it, now I know exactly what to ask for the next time I accept the invitation to be an event photographer — a detailed itinerary.

7:00pm: Finally, the students start filing in, and slowly my questions answer themselves.

(They’re coming in from the back through both the left and right set of doors.) I didn’t expect them to come from both sets of doors, so I missed the first few people coming in through the left side. But I look very carefully for my friends — nope, nope.. more people, even more, the room is almost full, maybe they’re at the very end.. nope. Hrm.

I move about, getting shots from all over the room. Once I get to the front, up behind the stage, I find my friends in the front row! “Why, hello there!” (They were the first 5-10 people who I missed when I was standing at the back!)


7:30pm: It begins! One person speaks, they’re on the left podium — okay, maybe the entire ceremony will be on the left. Head left.. But maybe they’ll have their back to me when they stand up there. So I walk to the other side of the room and try some shots from the right. Then another speaker comes up, and now they’re on the right side of the stage — head left. No, right! , then another speaker.. I soon realize that the little book that I received at the front door has nothing to do with the actual order of events. The events are unfolding according to some other order of importance that is not readily apparent.

7:48pm: It’s time for people to start walking, and I’m not ready at all.

Students are coming up the right side of the stage! Luckily I’m on the right side of the stage, so I should be able to get a decent shot.

Oh, crap! The folks on the left side of the audience are coming up stage-left! Since my friends are seated over there, THAT’S where I need to be! (..climb up through the crowd and try not to run across the room and get stopped by OSU Police, who are standing next to every exit.)

7:49pm: Almost immediately, I hear the name of the person I’m supposed to photograph! (They were in the front row, remember.)

I’m about 15 rows up, to about the two-o’clock position — leaving the right side of the stage, heading up behind it. I quickly turn around and try to dart down the steps to get a good shot.

The moment of truth! One of my friends (a college professor) is performing the Doctoral Hooding on our friend who is graduating.

Right now, I have to take whatever shot I have right now because the shot is happening right the hell now! This is like “the kiss” shot at a wedding…

7:50pm: Camera up, focus, ready to click — My hip starts vibrating… **click!**

Alright, whoever the hell is calling me has the most perfect timing… oh, WTF really. It’s a phone call from work.

…Here’s where I interrupt the story to tell you a little bit about my day job. I am on-call 24/7, just like a doctor. If I get a phone call from work, I have to answer it. I work with a half-dozen people in the IT Department, and we set up scripts to perform data processing on a zillion-dollar computer (directly descended from the computer they just installed on the latest episode of Mad Men) which processes data for the Bursar, Registrar, Financial Aid, Payroll, Human Resources, and Institutional Research departments for not only Oklahoma State University (one of the largest universities in the Big 12), but for seven other branch campuses around the state. If I make a typo at my job, that error could range from a simple inconvenience for the folks who monitor our nightly scripts (where they just have to fix it and resubmit our script), or it could result in errors propagating across the massive mountain of data for any one of those departments, causing a disruption that could adversely affect anything from someone’s paycheck, to this very Commencement ceremony that I am photographing right now.

I take the shot. I’m too far away, shooting over the back of the stage, from the wrong side of the room, and I am completely not surprised when I find that the photo is blurry.

Work leaves a voicemail and I immediately call back, “Yeah, what did I do wrong?”

“Do you know anything about the missing payroll file in script such-and-such?”

“What? Did I make a typo?”

“No, they just have a missing file.”

“…Did I forget to paste the name of it in the script?”

“Your JCL code is fine, they just forgot to upload the file to the system.”


“The dataset isn’t on the system.”

“Well then why the hell are you calling me?? It’s not my problem, it’s theirs! Call them instead!” Click.

What a wonderful start to the entire weekend. I missed the once-in-a-lifetime shot that I was assigned to get, and I received a phone call about a problem that wasn’t mine.

I took solace in the announcement, “Please do not rush the stage to take pictures. We have professional photographers on the stage who are documenting the entire event. Thank you for your cooperation.”

No, thank you! I’m out! (I wait until I get in my van and lock the door before screaming obscenities.)

8:00pm: Go home and pack a cooler for the trip.

Welcome to Lawton!

Rewind to a few weeks ago — Every artist gets an email from the director of the show: The Apache Casino Hotel is offering a 50% discount for artists. It’s even cheaper than the Comfort Inn where I stayed the last three times I did this show!

When I sign up, I double-check with them that it’s okay if I show up around midnight. Of course they’re fine with it — it’s a casino, people come and go 24/7.

Midnight: Arrive in Lawton.

For a moment while I was passing through OKC, I was actually considering setting up my booth at midnight before checking into the hotel. Heck with that, I’m exhausted.

I stumble into the hotel with my bags, and tell the nice folks behind the counter that I have a reservation. They hand me a couple keycards and wish me good night. I don’t remember exactly how I got to my room on the fifth floor, but I opened the door, set everything down, headed straight to the restroom and took a seat. For the first time since about 7:30 this morning, I relax. In this moment of reflection, I look up, and immediately recognize the artwork on the wall:

Yeah, that’s by who I think it is…

It’s a photo by none other than David Gill, not only one of Lawton’s most famous photographers, but also the husband of Kris Gill, the director of the show — who gave me permission to arrive this late!


This seems to be how Lawton reminds out-of-town artists whose turf we’re on — and don’t you forget it lol! :)

Sleep at 1am, wake at 5am

Nothing quite like a four hour nap to start a 16-hour day.

You don’t have to be on a low-carb diet to enjoy this, but I recently discovered that the REAL way to wake up is with a piping hot cup of bulletproof coffee! The official method for Bulletproof Coffee involves buying branded Bulletproof(TM) “low-toxin” beans, MCT oil, and unsalted butter from grass-fed cows. I don’t really have any of that, so I make the poor-man’s version: Whatever coffee you like (I happen to have a Kona Blend from the Java Dave’s in Edmond across from my booth last week) + coconut oil (virgin, unrefined — it tastes better) + unsalted butter (sourced from cows with undisclosed dietary habits).

coffee (french press FTW) + coconut oil + butter + blend until frothy = ENERGY

BAZIIING! I’m up, and ready to build a booth!!

6:07 am
6:19 am
6:31 am
7:22 am
(actually taken at 10:53am, but I was done by 9:30)

And I’m ready to go with 30 minutes to spare, still buzzing from the coffee!

I’m ready for you, Lawton! Bring it on!

Day 1 (or 2, if you showed up on time)

Lawton is a fine collection of West Coast Chopper shirts, well-crafted tattoos, state of the art vapor cigarettes, the finest multi-child baby carriages, and a small army of supercharged Ford Mustangs.

The crowd was there.. somewhere.

Day 2 (actually day 3)

Dust and wind and wind and dust. Dust, dust and wind. Wind and dust and wind and wind and dust.

wind and tie-down straps
wind and tie-down straps

Wind and dust and wind and wind, dust, wind and dust.

Tattooed baby carriages full of vapor cigarettes shaped like Ford Mustangs wearing West Coast Chopper shirts covered in dust and wind and dust.

dust and prints
dust and prints

Wind and dust in the shape of a Ford Mustang smoking vapor wearing West Coast Chopper tattoos on a baby carriage.

And more dust and wind and dust.

Sales: Dust.


Why haven’t I learned? This isn’t my market.

But this is where I get some of the best quotes from any show all year!

Quote From The Show

Saturday, mid-afternoon. I’m sitting on top of my podium next to my booth not only because part of my chair broke, but it keeps me eye-level with customers. I also have my camera in my lap.

My point of view

A couple walks up, and are quite impressed with my “Tulsa Electric” photo on the wall in front of me. They excitedly discuss it amongst themselves — the quality of light, the vivid color, everything is coming together. One of them looks over at me, looks down at my camera in my lap, looks back to my photo and asks me this utterly golden question (for accuracy, use the deepest, thickest southern accent you can):

“So, how do you get these paintin’s to look like pitchers?”

…Welp, I’m off to Italy. See y’all in June!