Saturday, June 19, 2010
Ronnie Lee Gardner is an easy man to hate. He murdered two men. One in a robbery and the other in an escape attempt after a woman slipped him a gun. He was shot and wounded on the courthouse lawn and after the trial, was sentenced to death......25 years ago.
Ronnie Lee was sentenced so long ago that a firing squad option was still available and that's what he chose as the method of his execution. This past week all the appeals that could have been applied for had been denied and his execution for this morning just after midnight was set.
As a photographer I realized I had a rare chance to shoot one of the vigils that occur outside of a prison when an execution is carried out. I got excited for the opportunity to document something rare in Utah. I knew I would have to stay up late on a work night to do it but how often will I get the chance. Then it hit me, I was going to do something I love, photography, while a man was being executed. Was I exploiting this man's death? Was I a photojournalist like those who photograph starving children and homeless people? Yes, I was, but I knew a story must be told. I'm a proponent of the death penalty and here was a chance to stand up for what I believed.
At 10:30 I approached a gate at the Utah State Prison and I saw two vans parked by a building and was approached by guards in SWAT gear. I saw no vigil but I instantly knew, THIS was the building where it would happen. I asked about a vigil and they directed me to the other side of the prison and the guards at that gate directed me to a place across I-15 where the protesters were gathering.
I approached the group as they mingled and wrote notes on helium filled balloons. It was then that I found out that Ronnie Lee had a daughter and that she was there. People held candles and balloons and there were a couple of signs and members of the clergy. People would laugh and then fight back tears as the time approached. I watched Ronnie's daughter, Brandie as she mingled with the crowd and some independent media who had also gathered. I spoke with a reporter from Australia and of course I took photos.
It was hard not to get emotional even though this man had brutally taken two lives. All I could see at this moment was a daughter waiting to get the news that four bullets had torn into her father's chest. Ronnie Lee Gardner is an easy man to hate but his daughter was about to be added to the victims of his actions.
At midnight one of the group went to a car parked near the group and turned on the stereo. The group who had shortly before offered prayers to Ronnie Lee and his victims and their families now sang along to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird.
I tried to guess at what point of the song the order was given to fire. I will never be able to hear the song again without wondering at what point the shots rang out across the highway. Maybe I'll even hear them in my head some time. When confirmation that the execution had been carried out was received, the balloons were released into the night sky. I had contemplated grabbing a sharpie and writing on one of the balloons but I could not muster up the nerve. I only wanted to write two words.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
$41 room with a view
I walked by the Flamingo looking for a Dunkin Donuts. I saw the 8 story high pictures of Donny and Marie Osmond on the building and a mental picture of what they were doing at that very moment popped into my head. Birds were singing outside of Marie's sunny kitchen while she served pancakes to her kids. They spoke about Sunday School lessons. Meanwhile Donny held the fridge door open at his house with the same hand that held a lit Marlboro while he searched for the half bottle of bloody mary mix.
I did not find the Dunkin Donuts. It isn't in the Imperial palace anymore.
The day before I stood in line to check in at Bally's behind a woman who complained that the line at The Excalibur had been shorter. We had something in common me and her, we're both schmucks. We're both after cheap rooms. But unlike her, I know I'm a schmuck so I hold no illusion that I'm anything better in Vegas. And I, unlike her, don't mind.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
We spent our last evening in Bolivia having dinner with our very good friends Oscar and Daniela Castro. Oscar is a founding member of the Bolivian Folkloric Music group, Savia Andina. Two of the other founding members live in the U.S. and Oscar told us of plans for the 4 original members to reunite and tour the U.S. and possibly Toronto and Montreal in August or so. It would be the first time the 4 had performed together in over 20 years. Savia Andina has been performing and recording since the 70's.
We enjoyed the evening with the Castro's and they dropped us off at our house after midnight.
I was beginning to finally acclimatize to the altitude and was doing okay in the last days as we hit the tourist market to gather gifts for people back home. I took my wife, sister-in-law, and neice (all mothers) out to lunch on Mother's Day. (always May 27th in Bolivia) We also went to the cemetery and paid respects to my mother-in-law. My next planned trip down is Oct, 2012 when it will be time to move her remains. That is quite a common practice in Bolivia but I won't go into why. We will move her to a permanent spot in Cochabamba where my sister-in-law and husband have their permanent plots purchased.
At 3:30 AM on the day of our departure taxi driver #42 pulled up to the house. 42 (that's all I know of his identity) had been the guy who drove my wife, brother-in-law, and niece up to the airport the day I arrived. He waited, and then drove us all down to the house. When we got to the house, my wife paid the fare and I tipped him $20. This is my traditional tip when I arrive, and is 3 times the fare. As I explained to the Castros, "the gringo has arrived, someone's gotta party". Of course when I tipped him, he asked when I was leaving and told us he'd drive us back up to the airport. "Make sure when you call you ask for #42". He called the house 2 days prior to us leaving to ask what time to be there. At the airport I gave him the fare and the $20 tip (but in Bolivian Pesos) and he asked, "when will you be back?"
(originally posted 5/22 on my facebook)
So I arrived in La Paz and ate Salteñas the first day. Met a grand nephew for the first time and generally relaxed. The next day we went downtown and bought our ailine tix from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz. We also checked out a contemporary art museum and I paid extra so I could take photos. Look forward to seeing some very nice Bolivian artwork when I get back. I walked down to the University Mayor de San Andes where the have put up some wonderful murals in the underpass in front of the U. I was surprised to see that the main building itself was clean of any murals. This University was closed for years at a time by past military dictatorships and many activists students were tortured and murdered during those years. It is still a center of activism but thankfully the students now voice their opinions openly. Tuition is FREE by the way.
So Thursday (I believe) we took the bus from La Paz to Cochabamba. It´s an 8-9-10-12 hour ride. We made it in about 9 1/2. At the lunch stop a young man came up and asked if I was Canadian (I had a roots hoody on). He and a friend were Israeli and had just gotten out of the military. I have come across many Israelis who, once the get out of the military, get the hell out of Israel and travel for a year. That´s gotta be a stress filled gig. They were headed to La Paz so I gave him some tips on good places to see, eat, and where to stay.
In Cochabamba I met another grand nephew, kissed my sister-in-law, and niece and then immediately hopped into a taxi down to my brother-in-law´s shoe store where he was waiting for me to go to the soccer game. His team, Wilstermann, was playing "Bolivia´s team", The Strongest. Club Wilstermann is named for a famous Bolvian Aviator and The Strongest is named for what some rich club founder thought was a good name. "Wilster" won 2-1 in what was a great game. Lots of fouls, yellow cards, a red card, a broken leg. and referees escorted off the field by a SWAT team armed with riot shields all to the loving chants of "hijos de PUTAS" (sons of WHORES). And that´s what happens when the local team WINS.
Saturday morning we flew to Santa Cruz for another brother-in-law´s wedding. I have heard so many nice things about Santa Cruz but let me say this, I will never go back to that pile of shit city. There was garbage in the streets, we were denied service at 2 restaurants after we had ordered, and I felt more secure the time I walked through the red light district in Tijuana at night than I did walking down the street from our hotel to the soccer stadium at 4 in the afternoon. And we were in what is considered the nice area. The wedding was great, the food was awesome, but I was glad to get the hell outta there. We took the 10-12-18-2 day bus ride back to Cochabamba and that was a great ride. Got lots of photos and THAT I would definately do again. So I could see myself flying into Santa Cruz to have access to the countryside.
Back in Cochabamba (8,000 ft above sea level) I was fine for a few days until I hit the "altitude wall". At the insistance of all around me, I went to a clinic. Turns out my blood pressure had shot up a bit (140 over 90). The doc gave me a prescription for a B Complex and something to bring my blood pressure down and now I feel back to my normal outta shape 51 year-old self.
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