Comedy of Errors
Backstories About the Images - Blue Ridge Mishaps
In this edition of Backstories, it's not so much about the photograph itself but the comedy of errors involved in getting to this location.
I made this photograph shortly after daybreak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That much is straightforward. The adventure of getting to the park was a tiny bit more interesting, and stressful.
The trip was planned just a few weeks ahead of time. It had been a lackluster autumn in New England (in terms of color), which prompted me to think about how I might extend the season. The Smokies, of course!
Somewhat surprisingly, I was able to snag an 11th hour room reservation in Asheville in spite of it being peak foliage season. I only had time to pop down for a long weekend, so it was going to be a fast in-and-out, though I'd planned my arrival for early enough on a Friday that I'd have time to get to the park and shoot that late afternoon and through sunset.
The flight from Boston was non-eventful. I arrived at Charlotte and hopped on the rental car shuttle, which was jam packed with people. The driver probably let too many people on board, as even the standing room only space was overly snug.
Upon arrival at the lot, a substantial number of passengers exited the shuttle at the first stop. Since I didn't have any sort of status with this particular rental company, I had to wait until the final stop to go into the counter to complete my rental. And that's where the situation went south.
My bag, which I'd loaded when boarding, was no longer there. It was obvious someone who exited the bus before me had taken it.
I flagged the driver and asked him to radio the gate and ask them to hold people who were leaving so they could check to make sure they had the correct bags. He declined to do so.
I had my camera backpack with me, thankfully. But not my tripod. That was in the other bag, along with my clothing. I could limp by with no change of clothing, but no tripod, no photo shoot.
The people at the counter were just as unhelpful as had been the driver. There was no point remaining in North Carolina if I couldn't work, so I began searching for return flights. Smartphones still being relatively new, I didn't yet have one - so I enlisted the help of one of my nephews by telephone to check inventory. He found a seat, but it would only get me as far as New York and was quite expensive.
While sitting there, mulling over what in the world I was going to do, I noticed a suitcase over in the corner, unclaimed. I looked at the tag, then went to the counter and asked if that person had rented a car. Why yes, he had. I asked them to phone him, which initially they were unwilling to do. Finally, they relented.
At first, this man vehemently denied that he'd picked up anyone else's bag. He had his luggage. Period. Ultimately, when they told him a suitcase bearing his identification was sitting in the office, he was persuaded to pull over and check the trunk of his rental. I'll bet you know what was inside.
By this time, he and his wife had traveled some distance and were already in South Carolina. He did not offer to turn around, or to meet me somewhere halfway. Instead, he demanded that I drive down to where he was, bringing his bag with me, and there we would swap. The two of them would stop and have a leisurely meal while waiting.
In the end I got my bag. It cost me three hours to drive to South Carolina and back. The day's shoot was lost; I didn't get to Asheville until after sunset. An already abbreviated photo shoot got shorter still - but at least I was able to accomplish something.
(And no, the man did not offer an apology. This did not surprise me.)
Ever since then, if a car rental shuttle is so overcrowded that I can't be within close physical proximity to my bag, I wait for the next one. And I never take my eyes off my luggage.
In all my years of traveling extensively for business, that is the only time I've had a mishap such as this. Thankfully.
The image of the Blue Ridge Mountains was used in a service appreciation design. It's been one of the store's best-sellers over the years. It was also a beautiful morning and lovely to witness, so you can see there were a few silver linings. No small thing.
Here's what it looks like:
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