Sunday, March 22, 2020

CPAC 2020...

Well, suffice it to say, the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, was a blast.
 



While I'm probably a bit more conservative in my views than liberal, my excitement at having been hired for this gig wasn't at all based on that. Instead, it was based on just being able to photograph those who make policy and determine the direction of our country. It's not unlike when I attended a Trump rally during the 2016 campaign. The fact that it was Trump was actually secondary. The overriding factor was the opportunity to listen to someone who could well end up being the most powerful person on the planet. Honestly, back then, I would've attended a Hillary Clinton rally with the same level of excitement.

Anyway, CPAC. Wow.

I drove from St. Augustine to Maryland, where I stayed with my buddy Mark and his family. I graduated high school with Mark. We joined the Navy on the same day. He's a lifelong friend and I never pass up the opportunity to spend time with him and his family. He's also an amazing chef, so I know I'm not going hungry when I visit:




After two nights at Mark's, it was time to head to National Harbor and the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. 

Let me tell you, this place is absolutely huge. It has 2,000 guest rooms, over 500,000 square feet of meeting space and seven restaurants. Many of the hotel's rooms have balconies which look out into the glass atrium, which is 19 stories high:


The atrium of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center...
  
A panoramic view of the atrium at night...

After arriving on Wednesday afternoon, we all met up (there were six photographers) and walked the convention area. Despite opening in less than 24 hours, there was a lot of preparation still taking place for the conference.

When the conference finally got underway, it was a non-stop juggernaut of speakers.  Senators and Congressmen, talk show hosts and celebrities. They were all there to share their stories and insights into why we are where we are at this particular moment in time.

My job was pretty simple. I was to be backstage for the duration of the conference, photographing each speaker before they took to the stage. It offered me an opportunity I never would've imagined I would have.

Here are some photos from the three days of CPAC:


Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck. He's the one who requested the selfie...

Rick Harrison of the History Channel's "Pawn Stars"...

Senator Ted Cruz...

Brian Kilmeade, of Fox News Channel, looks over some notes prior to his presentation...

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo waits to go on stage...

Mike Pompeo walks to the lectern...

Donald Trump Jr. backstage at CPAC...

Congressman Devin Nunes and Fox News analyst Dan Bongino...

Author John Batchelor reviews his remarks before speaking to the CPAC audience...

Congressmen Mark Meadows(L) and Jim Jordan (C) speak with Matt Schalpp, the
chairman of the American Conservative Union...

Vice President Mike Pence. He walked up to me and introduced himself,. as if I might not know who he was otherwise..
 
The photo crew for CPAC, left to right: Nic, Mike (who actually left before it started), Kage, Chris and Bob...
  
Ivanka Trump backstage...

Tammy Bruce of Fox News Channel...

After commenting on his watch (I used to have the same one), Dr. Sebastian Gorka insisted I take a photo of him for the Omega Watch Owners Group on Facebook. Dr. Gorka is the former Deputy Assistant to the President...

Of course, though, the highlight of the conference was having the opportunity to photograph the President of the United States. Whether you agree with a President's politics or not, the fact of the matter is that getting to photograph the most powerful man on the planet is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Here are some random shots from the literally hundreds I took during his speech:




Eye contact, big wave. Billy Gibbsons of ZZ Top once did the same thing...

 






















 

And, after the speeches had all been given and the crowd had left the ballroom, it's customary for the staff to take pictures on the stage.

This is only part of the staff. There are literally hundreds of people who make the conference run smoothly...

Even the security team got into the act, although during the actual conference these guys were absolutely "no nonsense" and, well, a bit scary. I'm not sure who the lady in the middle is...

Just proof that I was there!

I'm a big proponent of a just reward after a hard day's work...

Chris Kennedy and I enjoying Martinis in Belvedere Lobby Bar after the conclusion of the conference...


To say the experience was surreal would be a bit of an understatement. To have the Vice President approach me, sticking out his hand and introducing himself to me, thanking me for being there to take pictures, was surreal. Having Sebastian Gorka ask for my phone number so he could text me about getting photos was surreal. Having Glenn Beck ask for a selfie was surreal. To have Tammy Bruce smile and wink at me was surreal. Wearing a pin (the one on my lapel in the above photo) which basically said the only people who could keep me from going where I wanted to go was the Secret Service was surreal.

And it was all great.

I'd like to hope I made enough of an impression to where I'm asked back next year. It was an absolute blast and I'd love for it to become part of my annual routine...


.



Saturday, February 22, 2020

And We're Off...

Well, suffice it to say, I've been somewhat remiss in my posting. Once the holidays came charging around things got a bit hectic and, well, life took over for a while.

It'll do that now and again, you know.

Next week, though, is going to be a pretty big deal.

Every year, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is held in National Harbor, Maryland, which is only a mere 12 miles south of Washington, DC. Now, while I am known to hold some positions which are probably considered to be traditionally "liberal", I think I certainly fall closer to the conservative side of the fence on as many, if not more, issues. So, needless to say, I was honored and humbled when I was asked to join a group of rather high-level pro photographers to photograph this annual event.

My assignment will be to be backstage, taking candid photographs of all of the speakers before they take the stage. This will include Senators, Congressmen (and women!), celebrities and athletes. And, while I thought it would include President Trump and Vice President Pence, it would appear as though I'll be photographing them from the main room, along with everyone else. It's an "all hands on deck" approach to ensure we get superior coverage of them.

And the venue is pretty classy, too. Gaze upon the The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor: Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. The place is freaking ridiculous.





 Thankfully, rooms and meals are provided to us by CPAC. According to the guy who hired me, "Everything is paid for but the booze."

Sounds good to me...

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Big Apple - The Final Day...

The one thing I wanted to do in New York City was visit B&H Photo on 9th Avenue. They've gotten more than just a little bit of my money over the years, mainly through their website, but I always like to go into the store and make a purchase while I'm there. his trip I decided I would buy a brown leather case for the Fuji.

So, from our hotel on 44th and 7th we walked down to 34th and 9th to visit B&H. If you've never been there, and you're a photographer of any level, you need to visit once in your life. The way they do business is amazing, and the amount of stock they have on hand boggles the mind.

B&H Photo in New York City (photo courtesy of Mapquest)...

Anyway, I got the case I wanted in pretty short order, and it wasn't long before we were out the door, turning the corner and making our way to the subway at Penn Station:

Many people are intimidated by the New York City subway. This one, though, was a natural...

We probably could've taken the subway couple of more stops to get to where we wanted to go (New York City Harley Davidson), but got off not far from Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park is one of those places you've seen in movies or on television and just didn't know what you were looking at. About ten acres in size, it's located in Greenwich Village and is accessible 24 hours a day. The iconic Washington Square Arch is located at the north entrance to the park, and is reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, albeit much smaller:


Washington Square Park...

Most of the building surrounding the park are now part of New York University, but once served as hotels, homes and businesses. The park itself is a favorite among street performers, artists, and just about anyone who just wants to kick their shoes off and relax for a bit.

We finally made our way to New York City Harley Davidson (hey, had to get the shirt!) and did some other shopping along the way. We finally decided it was time to take the subway back up to Times Square so we could drop off what we'd bought at the hotel before continuing on with our afternoon.

After getting done at the hotel, we started making our way up towards Central Park. It was a good walk (about 14 blocks) but the weather was great. The idea was to take a carriage ride through the park and get a guided tour of some of the more interesting sites throughout the park. Once we got to the park, though, we were approached by a young man who successfully wooed us away from a horse and carriage and into his pedicab.

Originally from Ghana, his name was Abadou, but he said everyone called him "Smiley". I could see why. The guy was one of the happiest people I'd ever seen in New York. I'd be willing to bet that he knew more about New York than most New Yorkers, and definitely more about Central Park than anyone I've ever met:


Abadou, aka "Smiley"...


Smiley considers this the most beautiful area of the park...

This is Abadou's friend Alvin. He comes right up to the pedicab when called and waits for a treat or an ear scratch...


Abadou and Ruthie. This guy was an absolute pleasure to be around...

Unfortunately, every tour through Central Park includes a stop here, at the Dakota. On December 8, 1980, former Beatle John Lennon was gunned down in the entrance of the building after he and Yoko Ono returned home from a recording session.

Interesting note: The flag on the right peak of the building is hoisted whenever Yoko Ono, who is rumored to own more than 30% of the Dakota, is in the building.


The Dakota...
 
Across from the Dakota, along Central Park West, is an area in Central Park known as Strawberry Fields, and it's dedicated to Lennon. You might think, as I did, that the name is derived from the Beatles song of the same name. Well, you would be, as I was, wrong.

Strawberry Field was actually a Salvation Army children's home in Liverpool, not far from where John grew up. He would often ditch school, climb the fence surrounding the grounds and play with the orphans. The song is based on Lennon's memories of that place.

This mosaic, the centerpiece of Strawberry Fields in Central Park, was donated by the city of Naples in Italy...
We got back in the pedicab and continued on our way. We finally came up to what's known as the Sheep Meadow, one of the main expansive grassy areas on Central Park (the Great Lawn being the other). Abadou obliged our request to get out here for a few minutes, and another "must do" got taken off the list:




Barefoot in the park...

As we started to make our way back to our drop-off point, we came across this character. A friend of Abadou's, Aldo apparently dresses up like this every day and walks around Central Park, kicking his soccer ball along.

Nice work if you can get it...


This is Aldo...

Abadou dropped us off and thanked us profusely for hiring him. Well, the pleasure was all ours and, if you ever find yourself looking to get a tour of Central Park, seek him out.

It was getting somewhat late in the day and, to be completely honest, we didn't feel like walking 14 blocks back to the hotel. So, we got an Uber and got back quickly. We weren't there long, though, before it dawned on us that we hadn't really eaten all day long. And, seeing as I was pretty disappointed with Ray's Pizza on Thursday night, we set off in search of better pizza.

And that's exactly what we found.

Lazzarra's Pizza is located on the second floor of a rather nondescript building on 38th Street. We were not prepared for what awaited us up these stairs:

Go on up...


While not cut like a traditional triangular slice of pizza, this was absolutely amazing. God knows I like a good piece of pizza, so I don't say this lightly: this may be the best pizza I've ever had; cheese, meatballs, Italian sausage and pepperoni on a very thin crust. Normally, I don't like a really thin crust, but this was utter perfection:



Ridiculously good pizza at Lazzarra's...


They don't sell slices at Lazzarra's but you can buy a whole pie or a half pie. We opted for the half pie for $12, and Ruthie also got a "small" salad:


This "small" was huge. The large salad was downright obscene (photo courtesy of Ruthie Soto)...


With dinner finished, we knew we had to get back to the hotel to start packing. We wouldn't be leaving that early, though, so we decided to make one last stop at our new favorite "out of town bar", O'Donoghue's. We stayed away from the Martinis and Mango Fusions this time around and, instead, went back to our tried and true:


Beers and shots; a great way to say goodbye to New York! (photo courtesy of Ruthie Soto)...

We had our final breakfast in New York, once again, at the Europa Cafe in Times Square. Bagels all around, and I knew I'd miss them (and I do!). But it's not like New York bagels are going anywhere, so I guess we'll just have to come back.

This trip was an absolute blast on so many levels. I know I spoke of how excited I was that it was my first time going to New York with someone who'd never been to New York, and that held true through the entire trip.

I can't wait to go back...

















CPAC 2020...

Well, suffice it to say, the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, was a blast.   While I'm probably a bit...