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[ From the Archives of 365 ]

Slava, 61 – Professional Chauffeur

I ask him to share a hobby, after a moment of thought he said in a deep dialect, “guitar.”

I ask him to tell me his favorite tune, he laughs and is silent.

A few uncomfortable moments pass, I ask him what kind of music, he pauses, inhales, then says, “A Russian song.” 

I ask, what kind of Russian song, no response, so I let it go at that.

30 minute later, I find myself sitting in the back of his parked car, and after a silent excursion to the end of an industrial area (and feeling quite nervous as to why he stopped in such an unpopulated area in route to dropping me at the airport) he leans over the seat and says, “Song about friends, shall we take a photo outside the car.”  In perfect irony, my camera battery dies, so I get only a couple of frames. But his words and the experience (especially after the painful day I’ve had) have opened my heart beyond photos.

SO BEGINS THE 365 JOURNEY.

September 9, 2011, now hours later and looking back at the day, I sit at thirty thousand feet or thereabouts. Courtesy of US Airways flight 711, Philly to LA, and on such a patriotic and emotional day with it being so close to the 10th anniversary of 911, I’m forced to truly look at life’s priorities and my regard for the world around me.

There is something about flying that is meditative, and surely being crammed into a plane is a powerful motivation to understanding fellowman. Sitting across the aisle is the smelly sock traveler (sans shoes). I force myself to think beyond the nasal discomfort; and, digging deep into my compassion, I choose to re-examine the humanity of the situation.

My findings… the stranger across the row from me is just as uncomfortable as I am about the situation. My ruling (partially derived from the, I’m guessing, Swedish language he yells in doing his best to communicate with a woman seated several rows in front of him), is that she is probably his exhausted wife. So pausing to put myself in his contaminated shoes, I ask myself. Could it be that they’ve been traveling for many hours, and in a moment of fatigue, and having not been seated next to each other on a very crowded flight, are unintentionally disregarding the other passengers? To top it off, I’m sure he is aware of the smell of his feet, but perhaps the pain of being in tight shoes for endless hours has gotten to him (I’m guessing they are on the last leg transfer from an international flight).

Now, this whole exchange occurs in nanoseconds, and my frustration has hit its highest beat. But, being the self-disciplined man who I am (or think I am) I force myself to slow my thoughts. To redirect my pointing finger away from unleashing cabin attendant furry and temptation to push the red call button. Instead to simply redirect my actions toward twisting open the air vent above my seat. “No harm, no foul,” I chant to myself. So what, a little re-circulated foot funk never hurt anyone… right?

The watering in my eyes subsides. The rising toe vapors dissipate. But more beautifully, my mind clears in self-examination. Looking ahead to the next five hours of air time that I must spend with not only the unknown man now reclining to my right. But the entire company of strangers I am sharing airspace with.

My beverage arrives, I take a sip, wash down the salted almonds, wipe some ice on my forehead, and refocus my consideration per all the other strangers who have no choice but to co-exist within the confines of the five-hundred-mile-per-hour airspace we were sharing.

Then it. like a ton of bricks, it hit me! “We are all in this existence together.”

From that point, it takes only a moment for me to realize that it’s time for me to procrastinate no longer in committing to a grand blog commitment; one that has been rolling around in my head for years, and one that I have been slightly frightened to begin, for it is a gigantic undertaking. Yet empowered I am, and with clarity the likes of a man awakened under the influence of smelling salt, I boldly pledge to complete… it’s time for 365 strangers in 365 days.

The goal, every day for the next year, I’ll approach strangers, photograph them, and promptly blog the experience.

Rain or shine, hot or cold, healthy or ill, I promise to not miss a day.

I’ll do my best to create interesting photos, and for the sake of entertainment, work to get myself into a sticky situation from time to time. It’s a huge undertaking, I know, and I’m sure there will be some hero photos and some not so magnificent ones.

But Let’s just see what happens!

A little more about Slava: He migrated with his family from Ukraine to the United States in 1989 in pursuit of a new life. A mechanical engineer by trade he is now a very kind and entertaining chauffeur in Philadelphia. I asked him a few questions. A very reserved man, I did not want to force him too deeply into telling his full life story, but he told me enough to give me a pretty good feeling for who he is. Plus, we were both on tight schedules, he having other fares, and I with a plane to catch. The photos are taken on a dead-end road just to the side of Philadelphia airport. Shot only four frames due to limited time and camera battery.

Nice to meet you Slava. Thanks for pushing me to start 365!

Every moment of every day… your individual impact truly does matter to someone else in the world.

Every moment of every day… your individual impact truly does matter to someone
else in the world.

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