In the last twenty years I've never left town without a camera of some sort.
I broke with a long tradition and habit this past weekend. I traveled to Charlotte, NC and back without a camera. Unless you count the camera in my iPhone 4s, and I really don't. I meant to take a camera, or rather my habitual nature meant to take a camera, but my rational brain kept saying, "you're going to have your hands full and your schedule is tight. A camera will just get in the way." This time I listened to my rational brain which is also unusual.
I was traveling with my two parents who are in their late eighties. The both need to be in wheelchairs with Skycaps to make their way through big airports. My dad is becoming a bit forgetful and someone needs to be with them to make sure he doesn't leave his keys, wallet and passport behind at the security checkpoint like he did on last year's trip. My mother needs to be on oxygen and I've spent a good week learning the ins and outs of oxygen concentrating machines. The difference between pulse and constant, the stated battery endurance versus actual performance and the best way to breathe to make sure oxygen delivery is efficient.
Skycaps guide the parents while I guide the carry-on luggage and oxygen machine extras. It's the kind of operation that has lots of moving parts and a lot of "if = thens" involved. Very much guaranteed to crank up the anxiety levels of even a calm and easy-going person. On the plane I get to make sure my dad doesn't accept too much coffee because those bathrooms are far away and it's a slow procession down the crowded aisles of pre-holiday jets. I also need to use a fingertip oximeter to make sure we got the oxygen flow correctly done for my mom. That's always an interesting competing intersection between appropriate levels and battery life.... I just wasn't up for tossing a camera into the whole mix.
I didn't really miss the camera (my perennial safety blanket) on the flight to Charlotte. I certainly didn't miss the camera as I paid attention to both the conversation of the Bulgarian cab driver and the beeping, low battery alarm on the oxygen machines while we traveled through Charlotte in a cab, to my sister's house. My mind was running the calculus of time spent versus stated battery reserves. Didn't even think to stare out the window and calculate the correct exposures in my mind.
Where I missed my camera was my return the next day. I got dropped off at the airport by myself, carrying nothing but a small backpack with one change of clothes, a pen and a journal book. When I walked through the terminal I saw potential images everywhere. The sunlight was strong and clean outside the windows and it made the planes seem sculptural and somehow much more interesting. There were lines of architecture intersecting commerce that would have made wry, disassociated commentary, and at the very heart of the matter the camera is so wedded to my self-image that I felt somewhat naked and adrift without it.
I flew into San Antonio, retrieved my car, and headed up the road to Austin. Heavy gray clouds hung over the highway like a dowdy, lumpy comforter. Little glimpses of sunlight popped up here and there and wherever there was a break in the clouds there was also a most picturesque and laser-like beam of warm yellow sunlight coating everything within a small cone of brilliance. I saw one image of a majestic roadside tree perfectly spotlit and magical against a background of desaturated gray clouds and un-illuminated landscape. And still no camera.
When I got home I kissed the dog, kissed the wife and then went off into the studio to look for a camera to play with. The first one I came across was an old Alpa which had settled in next to an older Leica. They were both so comfortable. It was great to back home with my small family and a studio full of friends.
Epilogue: The parents were delivered to my sister's house, safe and sound, and are enjoying their visit very much. The cameras have had their batteries charged and are enjoying some downtime. I'm learning to let go a bit; I walked with Studio Dog and Wonder Spouse this morning and didn't even consider bringing along a camera. I guess that's healthy...