SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 4: Fish Out Of Water Saved By Francis the Key Guy

Take one middle class Caucasian man, dressed like a college golfer; put him in a very diverse Spanish-speaking park; place a camera around his neck and paperwork in his hand. Then have him loiter around the teen center – at night mind you. Sound suspicious? Perhaps?

I was not really thinking too soundly on this one. The saving grace was my wife and daughter by my side. Gave me a bit of credibility. All except for the golf club my sweet little child kept swinging in the air (really she was just practicing her drive – golf industry look out!).

We spent a good hour approaching people. All very gracious, but none taking the offer to be photographed. I begin to notice a consistent through-line, a common tendency for people to slowly gain distance. Subtle things, like a tree between us, or a wall, and one of my favorites, a car. Bottom line, no one wants to come near me. In retrospect, I did look a little creepy.

“Wait!, the story gets better. It’s 8pm now, kids are slowly leaving the park, beginning to release the area for the rougher evening crowd. Lights are shutting down soon. And with my tail between my legs, and a commitment to return at a later date, dressed a bit more appropriately, I make the call to move my family to the solace of our car. We approach our assigned doors and look at each other no differently than usual. You know, that you have the keys look?!?

You got it! Keys safely secured, locked dangling behind the steering wheel, doors locked, safe and sound in the vehicle. We are just that kind of family… always planning ahead. And truly, I can see no better stop-gap to auto theft than to lock the keys, and of course my wallet, securely in the car.

Now here we are, no photos, no wallet (no better place than in the glove compartment) and 10K of camera equipment in my handy backpack. By the way, even the locals keep their eyes peeled around these parts, and being the only guy in the whole park wearing a bright blue beach shirt, I’m really starting to feel rather like a target, not at all like a park patron. As I’m standing in bewilderment at the fact my family and I are stranded out of our bright red Accord, Gary Larson’s Far Side comic series strangely comes into my mind; specifically the one of the two deers talking, one with a target on his chest. His buddy saying to him, “bummer of a birth mark Hal.” And that’s right, I’m Hal!?!

But no need to fear, my daughter steps up and boldly states, “Don’t worry Dad, I’ve got a golf club.” Wife does what wives do — brings the common sense back into play, grabs the cell phone and thirty minutes later Francis arrives, the Diamond Security man of the hour. He steps to the rescue, car door picking tools in hand and cell phone on shoulder. Literally 2 minutes and the door is open. He turns, and peels out a clip board. I numbly sign and begin to watch him fade away towards the driver’s side of his truck. My gut tells me he is my photo opportunity and I can not let him get away.

With the glooming possibility of failing to get a photo on day four of a one year challenge, and the clock rapidly ticking away, I rush this savior of a moment in a sprint of determination. He terminates his phone conversation and looks at me with a straight face of inquisition. I tell him what I’m up to, he thinks for a pause, much like the rest of those I’ve approached this evening. In this moment of quiet my mind starts to boot up in preparation for another failed attempt. Thinking of next possibilities, I visualize myself elsewhere. Maybe the pharmacy up the street, a polka club, Pizza Hut, or throwing myself into on-coming traffic and just photographing whatever happens. That way at least I’d have a good injury story to support the fact that I tanked out on day four.

It’s funny how many crazy thoughts can zip through the mind in a nanosecond, and right at the moment my mind was taking me to strange places. I force myself to shut the nutty thinking down and look back at my new friend Francis, who with an approving nod of acceptance redeems my efforts. I’m telling you, I owe this guy big time.

So, if you ever find yourself in Canoga Park, night falling and keys in the car, pick up the phone, call AAA and ask for Francis at Diamond Security. And remember, tip him well!

11:16pm now, made my deadline. Tomorrow is a new day!