I have always wanted to go to a certain photography conference in Arizona. I’ve heard nothing but excellent reviews, and those reviews were validated by my experience. The shooting bays with models were exquisite and the lectures built on each other day after day. Every high-end photography vendor had a booth. World renowned portrait photographers stopped and chatted with anyone who needed advice. But there was one problem: the heat.
I didn’t know when I flew to Arizona that I would be flying to the top of the sun. My whole life I have hated hot weather. Even as a thin 21 year old, I couldn’t tolerate it. And the heat on the sun planet, Arizona, is specularly blistering. It sticks to you hair, your clothes, your teeth. There is NO escape.
The conference took place in a resort. In a normal weather situation, walking from place to place wouldn’t be a problem. In the heat, I could manage walking from my room to the building where the lectures and expos were taking place. Any further than that, and I had to call a golf cart to pick me up. I felt trapped by the heat. Even after walking the short distance from my room to the expo buildings, the sweat poured off down my forehead and my clothes were soaked.
Once at the expo, you chose the model you wanted to photograph and stood in line to get 3 minutes with them. So I stood in line, sweat pouring into my eyes, people bumping into me. Then I got up close enough to the lights to check my settings. I got 3 minutes to photograph and took off to find my next model. I could only shoot 2-3 models before I had to sit and drink water, my head pounding. Then I would go again. The shooting took place from 1-6. Around 3, I would go back to my room, turn the AC down as low as it would go, and wipe my arms and face with a wet cloth. Once I cooled off, I started again.
After the first day I was so miserable I almost went home. I didn’t care what it cost. But I made the decision to stay; I came to learn from the best so I did everything humanly possible to make that happen. For three days it went on like this, but I pushed through. In order to photograph all day, I didn’t get to shop at any of the vendor’s booths or go to any parties. I had to conserve my strength.
The morning I left the conference I felt relived. I'd made it. I was so proud of myself. I had my photos. I heard the best talks on photography and had tons of ideas to take home to my business. The cab came to pick me up, a lovely man named William whose parents were from Southwest Virginia. He dropped me off at the airport and I grinned as I walked into the AC. I checked in with United, went through security, and realized my phone was missing. MISSING.
I knew it was in the cab. But what could I do? My only hope was that the cab company would find it and mail it back to me. As I was thinking about this, I thought maybe if I called my phone, the cab driver would find it. So I approached a nice couple and told them my situation. The man didn’t hesitate and gave me his phone. I called my number but only got my voicemail message. I figured either it had been stolen or William had not found it yet.
I thanked the man, gave him his phone back and started to walk through the airport. What burned me the most about losing my phone was losing all the video I had taken of the models. Video so hard fought for through the heat. It would just be gone. After a couple of minutes I heard yelling, “It’s your cab driver!” The man who let me borrow his phone was running after me. I took the phone and William, the cab driver, said he had it. He asked me when my flight was and said he would come BACK TO THE AIRPORT EVEN THOUGH HE WAS 30 MINUTES AWAY. He told me to meet him where he had dropped me off. I thanked William profusely. Then gave the man his phone back, thanked him and took off running toward the exit signs.
The door to the outside opened and the heat of the sun blasted me - again. I found a seat right where I was dropped off and sat there waiting. I could wait on him 20 minutes before I had to run back through the airport into security and find my gate. A woman sat down next to me and literally said,
“I’m from Wisconsin. Are you OK?”
I told her my situation. If the driver didn’t get back in time, she offered to pick up my phone and mail it back to me. She said she worked for the state and started pulling up official looking emails to prove who she was.
“I trust you,” I said.
“I wouldn’t trust me. I just want you to know who I am,” as she showed me the logo on the email again.
I had 5 minutes before I had to run back into the airport. I asked her if I could use her phone. I called William who said he had driven by the entrance where I was sitting 3 times but they wouldn't let him pull over. I figured he would pull up to the curb but there was an odd system in place I couldn’t figure out. I told him to come by again and I would find him.
This time I stood at the very edge of the traffic, some cars stopping, some whizzing by. I saw him coming, white car with turquoise blue "VIP" logo. I literally ran out into traffic like in the movies. William couldn’t stop. He slowed down and handed me my phone and I handed him a generous tip. He waved one last goodbye and was gone.
The lady who let me use her phone had been watching my precious bag with my precious Cannon. Upon seeing I had the phone, she jumped up and hugged me. I grabbed my bag, went back through security, and got to the gate just as my plane was boarding.
The most valuable lesson from the conference wasn’t marketing, how to set up lights, or what kind of wings to buy for a boudoir shoot. It was to never give up. If you have a goal you have to keep pursuing it no matter what. Yes. You are going to be physically and emotionally uncomfortable. Yes. You are going to have to ask for help from people sometimes. It is very hard shucking off an old skin and becoming a new creature that sweats, runs through airports, and asks strangers for help. I think the universe decided I had not totally learned my lesson from the conference and threw in the phone incident just to hammer the message home: when you set a goal, go all the way across the bridge. Nobody can do it but you. Even if the bridge is burning from the heat of the sun, run across it!