Once a year, the Photo Club drives around singing Christmas Carols together. We will sing for about two hours total. Scott always sings impossibly low and I can never even hear Kevin. (“Kevin, sing!” “I am singing!”) I warble along missing every note above a middle G and have to change octaves in the chorus. Chelsea was new to our singing group this year. Mostly she did her best to disappear into the car seat and pretend she didn’t know any of the words to the songs.
At one point every radio station east of the Mississippi went to a commercial break at the exact same time, so I handed Chelsea a tape to pop in the tape deck. Yes, tape and tape deck.
She was fine with that, but when the tape was done, it took her a good three minutes to figure out how to open the tape case to put the tape away. She was muttering, “I’ve done this before…once…at a hands-on museum…” Chelsea is 15.
In between the first hour and second hour of singing, we stopped in Baltimore City to take a few pictures.
Every year there is a global one day event called Help Portrait. (Here’s their website.)
On Help Portrait day, photographers will gather in a location with people who probably can’t otherwise get a professional portrait of themselves. The photographers will set up a quick studio and take pictures for free. The pictures are taken, edited, printed, and handed to the client on the spot. Nobody gets any money for this. It’s simply about being a nice person for the day. Not that photographers aren’t nice other days, but they’re particularly nice on Help Portrait day.
We were the first to arrive:
But soon, the other photographers arrived as well and set up shop:
The location was Helping Up Mission. This is a gigantic facility and is simply gorgeous. (Check out this page on their website with quick facts about what they do.)
Everything is brand-spanking-new and shiny and clean. Not like last year. Last year, the Help Portrait location was in a tiny church in Baltimore that was so poor they couldn’t even keep the church mice fed. We know because we had to kick aside the dead rats in order to set up our photography booth. (Not kidding about that one.)
But this place was stunning. As soon as we walked in, I said to Chelsea, “Chelsea! No rats!” She was pretty relieved.
Here’s a nice shot of Kevin taking someone’s picture. At this Helping Up Mission, the men who live there have joined a 12 month program to get free of chemical addictions. I’m not clear on the privacy rules about such a situation, so I fuzzied out the subject’s face.
I didn’t want to take the portraits, so, while Kevin and Scott took portraits, Chelsea and I worked in hospitality. Our job was to talk to the people having their portraits done and make sure they were feeling cared for.
It was like coming full circle.
Twenty years ago, I used to volunteer anywhere from two to four times a week at a place much like Helping Up Mission, only smaller. Twenty years ago I was twenty years old and knew nothing about fighting addictions.
One day I was sitting at a cafeteria table with a few of the men. I’d been volunteering and eating with these guys for about six months, but as usual, I felt completely out of my depth to help them in any meaningful way. I muttered to myself, “I don’t even know why I’m here. I have nothing to offer.”
One of the guys, Brad, overheard me. Now, Brad was scary. He never, ever smiled and he always, always frowned. If you were unlucky enough for him to give you eye contact, you’d wish he didn’t. He looked mean and he was mean. Eventually, he got kicked out of the program for being in too many fights. But he happened to overhear what I said. He turned to me, frowning, and stared right at me with laser beams coming from his eyes. He snarled at me, “You smile at us. And we need that.” Then he turned back to his food and angrily finished eating it. What a sad and angry world Brad lived in, that a simple smile meant that much to him. Heartbreaking.
Anyway…so here it is twenty years later and I still don’t know a thing about fighting addictions, so I merely listened and offered no advice. (Because some of them will launch into their life story as soon as they have a listening ear.). We ate cookies, they showed me their pictures, and I asked a lot of questions.
Easiest question: What are you going to do with your portrait? 35 out of the 40 people I talked to answered, “Mom.” It brought home the heavy responsibility I have as mom to my own sons. Mom is important.
But, eventually, the day was done and we popped into the car, ready to sing carols again. Unfortunately, we didn’t get more than a mile or so down the road before the car died on LaFayette street. And we with tens of thousands of dollars of camera gear in the back. Ay yi yi!
I thought I had AAA, but apparently I only have A, (That’s not my joke. That was either Scott or Kevin’s joke.) because the lady on the phone said, “The first 3 miles of towing are free, but after that it’s $4 a mile, including the ride back to base for the tow truck.” That would be roughly $400 right there to get the car home.
Fortunately, Scott has AAA+ (and not lame A) and used his card and the car was towed the entire way to Pennsylvania for free.
However, you can’t spend the entire day chatting with people non-stop and asking them questions about themselves and turn it off just like that. So, I chatted with the tow-truck driver while we waited for Kevin’s dad to pick us up.
The tow-truck driver is Balil, from Pakistan, 10 years in the US, came with his family, migrated. He meant immigrated, but it was cute for him to say migrated, so I didn’t correct him. He was a friendly person. Very likeable.
Then, we squished into Kevin’s dad’s car for the hour and 10 minute drive home. I was still on a chit-chatting roll, so I started questioning Kevin’s dad. I suspected he had stories somewhere inside of him. When a man arrives to pick you up in December wearing sandals and his USAF hat, you get a feeling that he’s got stories. He was hesitant to answer at first, but with non-stop questioning and encouraging responses, we learned a lot about Kevin’s Dad. Whenever I’d run out of questions, Scott would jump in with one and between the two of us, Kevin’s dad talked the entire hour drive home.
Kevin didn’t want to break the spell and just listened. Later, Kevin told me over dinner that he’s never heard his dad talk so much ever, and that he was hearing most of the stories for the first time.
So, overall, it was a very good day.
But pity the poor mechanic who takes the call from Darling Husband tomorrow. The car was supposed to have been repaired on Thursday. Obviously it wasn’t. Darling Husband was pretty furious that his wife broke down in Baltimore city at night, especially after the mechanic blew off our concerns about the car.
Picture of Baltimore from the rooftop of Helping Up Mission.