At a time not that long ago, I would probably be on the ground in a war-torn land with my cameras and a satellite modem to send my photos back to a wire service or other media outlet for instant publication.
But that was then and, as the cliche goes, this is now and a 74-year-old man with hobbled knees, bad hips, and COPD cannot do the job he once did with enthusiasm and an overwhelming abundance of adrenaline addiction.
Do I miss it? Damn right I do. A wristband I wear calls for freedom for Austin Tice, who was a young Marine I met on the ground in Afghanistan in 2002, covering his unit’s service in response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and America o Sept. 11, 2001.
Tice had enlisted to serve his country to fight back against the terrorism that killed more than 3,000 on that day, but he wanted to talk more about what I did as a photojournalist who had covered violent actions around the world.
“When I get out, I want to do that you do,” he said. When he did leave the Marines, he contacted me and others who cover conflicts and we collectively helped him get started in doing what we do.
He was doing his job on Aug. 13, 2012, in Darayya, Syria when he was kidnapped, an event that occurred just three days after his 31st birthday. I had sent him a Happy Birthday email for that birthday. I had received an offer to go to Syria later that year but a near-fatal motorcycle accident, put down any thoughts of ever reassuming the coverage of such events.
“You are 65, can’t run, and have difficulty even walking,” my wife said. “Time to accept the inevitable.”
I knew that. We decided to leave the Washington, DC, area in 2004 after I declined an offer to join the troops set to invade Iraq. For the first time in our marriage, Amy asked me not to accept an assignment.
“I don’t have a good feeling about this one,” she said. Too often, her “bad feelings” had become accurate predictions. The friend who went in my place died there when the Humvee was traveling in hit a buried mortar and plunged into the river. While will never know if I would have been in the same place at the time as him, it was another of Amy’s accurate “bad feelings.”
In Floyd County and much of the surrounding areas, I fulfilled my adrenaline junkie needs in the seat of my Harley-Davidson Dyna Super Glide, slicing through twisty turns and enjoying the wind in my face. While I was injured more than once over the years in my job, the crash involving a black steer on dark U.S. 221 near the bottom of Bent Mountain on Nov. 9, 2021, still has me taking Tramadol synthetic opiates like aspirin to handle the lingering pain, along with other medications.
My right leg is three-quarters of an inch shorter than my left, thanks to extensive surgery to keep enough of the leg to walk (sort of), my face slants to the right after a plastic surgeon had to build a new socket for my right eye.
Yes, I still ride a motorcycle, although not as much at night as before. And, of yes, I was returning from an assignment to cover the beginning of state tournament football play at a field south of Staunton. It was a warner than normal November night and I has just reached 100,000 miles on the Dyna the day before.
I no longer cover wars but I still have dodge high school football players trying to tackle runners near the sidelines or basketball players who chase balls into the out-of-bounds areas of courts where we shoot out sports photos. I’ve been knocked to the ground a few times at games, beaned by a baseball one Spring, and knocked dizzy by a spiked volleyball that still carried a lot of force when it veers out of bounds.
I fell from a high position while shooting a concert at FloydFest one summer. That put me in a walking cast for three months.
These things happen and will continue to happen to me as long as I keep doing what I do for a living and, more importantly, a way of life I love and enjoy.