The Tri-Cities’ biggest event of the year has come and gone. And while the extent of our visual coverage has changed drastically in the three years I’ve been covering it, my weekend tasks have not. Since summer 2007, when I was an intern and my hair only reached my lower back, I’ve covered Art in the Park and hunted for features up and down the Pasco and Kennewick riverbanks.
As I waited in a long line of cars, lamenting what I had previously thought was a great parking spot, the radio D.J. exclaimed, "Everbody’s got some stories from boat race weekend, and we can’t wait to hear yours."
Although we covered quite a few stories, like how 2009 was Jeff Goldsbury of Kennewick’s 44th consecutive year attending the races, only coming close to missing it in 1987 when he had to escape a hospital after appendix surgery and drive from Livermore, Calif., to attend:
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and the makeshift memorial for longtime race fan Pat Austin, who died of pancreatic cancer in December, but I have a few personal leftovers I’d like to share.
The first is a goofy photo from a private tent Saturday in Kennewick:
Maybe it was my Friday at Art in the Park, where I spent a couple hours shooting reflections:
And the obligatory person as seen through something transparent/translucent:
but as soon as I saw that cutout I knew what I had to do. I remember being quite pleased with myself at the time, but as I look at it now, I can’t help but think I should’ve waited and worked the scene a bit longer to get those elements lined up a little better.
Aside from that pseudo-creative shot, however, Saturday was mostly filled with typical shots of kids in the water peppered with some snaps of the air demonstrations and activity in the pits. However, there was a ride in the Air National Guard’s flight simulator with reporter Dalina Castellanos:
and chatting with people in the beer garden — both fun escapes from stomping my way up and down the shore:
And at the end of the day, I had one of those perspective-putting reminders that times aren’t only tough at newspapers:
Sunday in Pasco started off with Tom and Christian Lebold teaching me that, yes, there are crawfish in the river:
And I picked up a strong feature candidate early in the day, taking the edge off a sweaty, tiring day:
Ethan Wetterling, 4, of Kennewick, slips and slides Sunday at Story Group's private tent in Pasco. After the slide ripped, Ryan McMenamin drilled holes in a bucket and routed the hose through it to keep the water flowing for the kids.
Being the feature guy, I wasn’t terribly focused on the races until the end of the day, but I try to get to a decent spot and keep an eye out for crashes each time the boats hit the water. All that effort had been for naught until Heat 2A, when J. Michael Kelly flipped the U-7 Graham Trucking, which Paul T. Erickson captured much more dramatically from his spot in the pits than I did from across the river:
which looks so crappy because it’s been cropped in from this full frame behind some big blurry heads:
The driver was OK, thankfully, but after talking with Paul, it was interesting to hear how different the reactions were on his (much closer) end. He described gasps and a breathless slow-mo sensation whereas "Flip! Flip! Flip! Flip! Flip! Flip!" was all I heard as I bobbed and weaved to try and get a shot around those big heads.
I wandered to the far west end after seeing a patrol boat docked at Wade Park and decided to try my luck at hopping aboard. It took some finagling by Paul, but once I joined the Andersons of Selah on Patrol Boat 25, it was a relaxing contrast to the hot shoreline:
It was nice to see things from out on the water as well since I spent most of my energy on shore trying to shoot around the patrol boats. I watched with envy as the Andersons took refreshing dips in the water in-between races:
And wondered how I had never really noticed the level of interaction between patrol boats and the crowd, like when Eddie scooped a runaway inner tube:
As great as it was, I started to worry. I had gotten the shots I wanted, but realized that I hadn’t asked how long this patrol would last. My job as the rover also included any breaking news, and the fear of being stuck overpowered the joy of being on a boat. As I was mentally wording a polite way to find out how long we were going to be out there, 6-year-old Braden bailed me out.
"Dad, can I poop in the water?" he asked after the vintage boat race when they went for another dip.
"No, you can’t poop in the water,” said dad Eddie, laughing, "but thanks for asking. Do you need to go?"
Braden paused on the ladder, uncertain.
But Eddie and wife Leana were suddenly certain that we needed to get back to shore.
At this point, I had all I needed for print and the photo gallery, but had to stay for the final race. I met up with reporter Dalina Castellanos again and we decided to head to the Pasco beer garden and see what the drinkers were up to.
It was a slow, meandering trip there, and the flip popped back into my head during a very irritating conversation with a leathery spectator who called out to me as I stepped into the water to cool my feet.
"You gotta take off your shoes and get out on the water to get the really good shots!" he yelled.
I turned around in shin-deep water with my shoes still on. "Whassup?" I asked him.
“This is the best spot to get shots from,” he said with obnoxious authority. I wanted to ask him how he liked it when people told him the best way to cook meth. I told him that we had a photographer around the corner covering this turn already, and that it was my job to get crowd shots.
"Oh! You guys are actually covering it this year! That’s great!" he said, removing all doubt in my mind that I was talking to an idiot.
"We cover it every year," I said, leaving out the detail that we had two fewer photographers than we did two years ago. Still, it’s undeniably the biggest local event of the year and an annual vacation blackout date for the photo staff.
He then went on to claim that we had missed a shot last year of a boat clipping a buoy and knocking it in the air. I told him I was pretty sure Molly Van Wagner caught it, but he maintained his antagonistic tone and said with an astounding confidence that is only ever born of ignorance, "Only me and one other guy got it."
I wasn’t sure what was harder to believe — that out of the hundreds of amateur and professional photographers and videographers who shoot the races every year, only two had caught that frame, or that I hadn’t had the sense to end this conversation yet.
"And I did it with a $300 camera," he taunted. "You gotta pay attention."
I bristled and wanted to ask him if he’d captured the U-7 flip. I knew my shot wasn’t great, but if he was bragging about a year-old non-event, I was pretty sure he didn’t catch the flip at all. I decided I had given him enough of my time already and instead forced a smile.
When we arrived at Margaritaville, it didn’t provide the same quotable conversations as Kennewick had on Saturday, but I had fun shooting the dancers and the other, uh, stuff I witnessed:
The second shot didn’t make the gallery edit, even with my often questionable judgment, but it did earn me a high five from the guy in the background.
All in all, not a bad gig.
Just don’t tell that to the brain-dead zombie Kai that emerged Sunday night and Monday in the office.
And if this hasn’t been enough of a Water Follies photo overload for you, check out:
Rich’s Columbia Cup Day One
Bob’s Water Follies Day One
Paul’s Day in the Pits
Paul, Rich and Bob’s Water Follies Day Two
Paul’s Sunday morning hydro action
Bob’s Water Follies Finale 2009
and a boatload of other galleries produced by our interactive media staff.