Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Stuff We Carry With Us

Stopped, 2010

I’m told that Californians are encouraged to keep a stash of emergency supplies—clothing, medications, copies of important papers, etc.—in their cars in case an earthquake makes a hasty evacuation necessary. We don’t have earthquakes where I live. We have hurricanes, but hurricanes usually give you enough notice to get a few things packs.

Around here, it’s the day-to-day traffic that gets you and requires its own set of supplies.

When my daughter attended the College of William & Mary, her dorm was 62 miles from our house. Not far, you say. But depending on the traffic, it could take an hour to get there or more than five hours. Such is our local traffic.

This is not a post about traffic, though. Enough hot air has been expended on that topic elsewhere. Rather, this is a post about the supplies we carry with us.

My wife’s pocketbook is a veritable Fibber McGee’s closet of things she carries “just in case.” I dare say that if we were out driving somewhere and suddenly needed to do, say, a root canal or dress a deer she’d have all the necessary tools. I like to look upon my wallet as a more efficiently organized collection. But deep in its folds are membership cards to museums and clubs I haven’t belonged to in years, all sorts of travel affinity cards that I’m sure I haven’t taken out of the wallet since the Reagan Administration and at least one “emergency” travelers check that dates from at least the early 1980s.

Getting around our area requires a variety of water crossings. There are five major bridge-tunnel facilities and countless other bridges of all lengths and shapes. On most any day at most any time of the day, there’ll be a stoppage or bottleneck condition at one or more of these facilities causing traffic to back up for many miles and taking many hours to get flowing again. Add to this a lot of regular highways that haven’t been substantially improved since the 1970s and you’ll understand when I say that it’s easy to spend a lot of time sitting in traffic around here.

Whenever I have to travel across our metropolitan area by car, there are at least three things I try to have with me: something good to read; a camera and at least one legal pad and a glove box full of pencils and pens. (You never know when or where inspiration will strike.) Yesterday I drove up to Williamsburg for lunch. Theoretically this is a one-hour drive. But you have to allow two “”just in case.” Yesterday I needed both hours, and ironically when traffic came to a standstill on the westbound approach to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel I spent about thirty minutes reading a fascinating New Yorker magazine article about the traffic in Moscow.

Much has been written and recommended about what kind of supplies photographers “should” carry with them when they out to take pictures. There’s always a tripod in the back of my car, but I rarely use it. If I don’t know what I’m going to be photographing, I try to carry a backpack that carries an alternate camera body and a variety of lenses, filters and such. That gives me more technical flexibility. But sometimes the backpack, however compact, is just one more hassle to deal with and ends up getting left at home. When all else fails, I’ll take one camera with a middling zoom lens on it and let that be it.

By the way, in case you want a tip on how to beat the traffic between here and Williamsburg, it is this: take the state ferry from Jamestown across the James River to Scotland Neck and work your way back home through the two-lane countryside; it’s longer, but the ferry’s free and what journey isn’t made better by a boat ride?

On the Pocahantas, 2003


  1. Amen to that--I'll take a boatride any old day. That's great! I'm not caught up on my New Yorkers, so thanks for the tip--I will have to watch for that article. I just read a good article by William Styron's daughter about her dad. I have no idea if this is an old or new New Yorker I picked up--they'll go with me on the road...

    Love these traffic photos--my son was just in CA telling me he hated the traffic there, but I told him my traffic nightmare is Boston. I have no clue where I'm going and the GPS never likes all those one-way streets.

    Your wife's bag sounds like mine--it's a veritable black hole, and goes with me everywhere, "just in case." In traffic, I usually give thanks for NPR and my iPod, too. Great post.

  2. ah, yes yes yes. I know. As you know! You have great fortitude, but you must! How brilliant to use your down time as reading time! As long as the AC in your car is working properly...
    The Scotland Wharf ferry is a delight! Was just on it 2 weeks ago!

  3. If there's one thing I don't miss about home it's the traffic gridlock. In the early 80s I worked 2nd shift (4-midnight)at Newport News Shipbuilding and quickly learned to leave for work at least an hour early of Fridays because every Friday afternoon there is a wreck in the westbound tube of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

    Now that we live in rural Southwest Virginia, I keep a ruck sack of emergency supplies in the back of both SUVs, mainly for winter weather when sliding on an icy mountain road could turn into a survival situation very quickly.

    Being on a tight budget, all of my camera gear fits in one large bag that I take everywhere I go....except for the rarely used tripod in the cargo compartment next to my survival gear.

  4. Hooray for boat rides! Time doesn't count when you're on a boat. Chris, your wife's "just in case" mindset reminded me of Mrs. Potato Head in the "Toy Story" films: She was helping her husband pack for his trip to rescue Woody, and she was cramming all sorts of ears, noses, teeth, etc., into the little compartment on his backside, reciting a litany of reminders and admonitions for his safety and well-being in a strong, "Jewish-mother" kind of voice. As she was putting in a pair of scowling eyes with formidable eyebrows attached, she said, "I packed your mad eyes, just in case."

  5. Last weekend I was in North Carolina visiting the Caseylowry's. I usually pack every camera-related item I own and lug a heavy camera bag through the airports with me. Most visits I never get the chace to take the first photograph and wonder why I brought all of those lenses and extra body with me. This trip, however, I carried one camera body with a 50mm lens--I didn't even carry a camera bag, I just carried it slung over my shoulder. I felt naked, but free.