Every day I write a digital journal entry about my day and attach a photo of one or both of my children, with very few exceptions. Sometimes I’ll be away on a business trip and will attach a photo of my day, unless my wife sends a photo of the kids. This day in 2015 was one of those exceptions, and even more of an exception coupled by the fact that I was at home that day and had taken plenty of photos of my kid (there was only 1 at the time).
There was a time where I used to read Twitter during the day and I kept up with it all the time. Now with limited free time and a non-stop day at work, I usually catch up with it late in the evening. So it happened that I didn’t catch up on Twitter until around 10pm on May 12, 2015.
There was a time before Twitter though, and during that time there was a thing called "photoblogs". Sure, they still exist now, but not in the way they did several years ago. I started mine toward the end of college. I was encouraged by someone on an indie music message board to put together a website after sharing some of my photos. After moving to Chicago I tried to connect with a couple local photobloggers, but at that time I only had a 2 megapixel point and shoot digital camera and and I wasn’t really in a place to talk about cameras or photography in depth with people. It happened by accident though that I met Michael Chu while taking photos at the Chicago Marathon in 2005. Mike was injured at the time and couldn’t race like he normally would have. Instead by chance we were both on the Randolph Street bridge over Columbus Drive (I snapped a photo of him there). I don’t recall how the conversation started, but I do remember knowing his website at the time. I followed another photoblog named Whateverland, run by Archie FlorCruz, and it happened that both Mike and Archie had been to the same art festival in Wicker Park at different times on the same day and had taken the same photo (Mike’s photo, Archie’s photo). Mike and I became friends after that, and I befriended a number of other local photobloggers as well, including Vallen Graham. The earliest email I can find from him dates back 10 years.
Then on December 16, 2007 I met Vallen for the first time. There was a fresh few inches of snow on the ground and as a result it took me forever to get downtown that morning (I drove to a CTA station and then took the blue line downtown from my home in the suburbs). We walked around the city for a couple hours, taking photos of snow and chatting, and then parted ways. I continued to meet up with Vallen regularly and we now communicate nearly daily. We never talk on the phone, and we only see each other in person once a year or so these days since we live 733 miles apart, but we communicate in some way nearly every day. The only other person I have that much communication with is my wife.
We were texting on May 11 of last year. Vallen was in Washington DC for the weekend with his girlfriend and was headed back to New York the following day. So when I caught up on Twitter the evening of the 12th and saw that there was an accident on an Amtrak train headed from DC to NYC my heart sank. I quickly texted him to see if he was on the train. Then I checked Find My Friends (yeah, we can follow each other’s every move). There he was, right where the crash had taken place. With no word from him, I spent the next hour comparing the location of his phone to photos and videos of the crash online. The best I could tell was that he was in car 3, but there’s only so accurate that it gets and at times it looked like maybe he was in car 1. I called 3 hospitals that victims were being sent to that night to see if he was ok, but none of them had admitted him. I cried. I didn’t sleep that night. The next morning the news added 2 more hospitals to the list. Thankfully one of them had admitted and released him. Waves of relief swept over; doomsday scenarios vanished. I was just hoping that he had fared well from the accident. He wrote his account of it all, and it’s very much worth a read. He certainly didn’t come away unscathed, though he made it out alive.
The photo from May 12, 2015 was a shot of the accident. I certainly didn’t have to face the accident, but one of my closest friends did. I haven’t had a close friend die yet, and I’m glad that’s still true. I couldn’t imagine losing my friend Vallen, but a year ago my mind was going wild with thoughts of never seeing or talking to him again. I’m overwhelmingly glad that didn’t come to pass.
The internet is weird. It was because of a message board that I expanded my photography hobby and started my photoblog in the first place. And it was because of that photoblog that I met some great friends. The internet is weird, and I like it.