Matt Gray

A Nighttime Jolt

Feb 28, 2006

I met my mother for dinner tonight at the Longfellow Grill. Instead of my usual burger, I gave the chicken enchiladas a try—nothing special, and certainly no La Cucaracha. Following dinner, I bid farewell and started down the west river road towards my home in downtown Minneapolis.

The river roads are wonderful; I take them whenever it is practical. The slow, winding view soothes me as I plod towards my destination, driving slowly. It is also a great route for spotting photographic opportunities, and tonight was no exception. The Weisman, Washington Ave Bridge, and the Mississippi had wonderful lighting and reflections at the hour, and the air was cold and clear. I had to pull over.

There aren’t many parking spots where I was (just before the Washington Bridge, heading north-ish), so I continued to the parking area below the University of Minnesota’s West Bank. I parked next to the sole car in the lot, loaded up, and headed off into the weeds, aiming for the river.

Before I reached the river, I found a flock of birds roosting in the trees (including the shoe tree, I believe). I snapped a few pictures, and watched as my motions roused them into a fluttering mass in the dark sky, cawing madly. It seemed surreal.

I continued towards the river. A word about my nighttime photo shoots: I am paranoid. Every minute (as I am usually exposing for ~ 25 seconds) I scan the horizon, looking for unexpected visitors. It’s also something to do while waiting for my camera. Tonight I was very focused on the camera itself, impatient for the exposures. There was so much I had to shoot! That’s when I heard the branches snapping behind me.

Turning quickly, I spotted a man in a dark jacket and baseball cap emerging from the same dry, frozen weeds I had tramped through. He proceeded to walk towards a spot about five feet from where I was set up, angled towards me.

At 9 o’clock, alone under Washington Ave. Bridge, this came as somewhat of a bad jolt. It is indeed a rare few that decide to wander around the riverside parks after closing, especially alone. I’m one of those few, but I carry a very obvious tripod and camera. This man had none of these reassuring things.

I simply watched his approach with what I hope was a friendly, unworried smile on my face. He came within five feet of me and began to walk parallel from the river. I managed, “Hi!” as he passed, to which I received a very mumbled “How are you doing?” He walked past.

Of course, I followed his progress along the river. He reached a point directly underneath the bridge and rested on the railing, considering the water. In many ways, this moment was far more tense than our confrontation. If the man turned around and headed towards me, I was fairly certain that it was time to run, good intentions or no. For all I know he was admiring the view I was attempting to capture, but my paranoid mind believed his thoughts were on me.

As the camera’s shutter clicked off another exposure, he left the railing and walked away from me.

Needless to say, I was on edge for the rest of my nighttime shoot. Curiously, during my moment of surprise I was calm. Camera, tripod, money—all these things are readily replaceable and would have been tendered immediately, sans resistance.

Perhaps it is time to exercise a little more caution when shooting at night, and find a night photography buddy. Even if my nighttime interloper was only admiring a fine, cold evening. that felt a little too close.

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