Unexpected Commute

Day 107Day 107 (April 17, 2014) – New York, NY

It’s Thursday evening and I’m on my way to Jersey….aka New Jeru aka Jerze’ aka the Garden State. My home state. Also, the best state in the union! There I said it! NJ, my birthplace is the best state in these united states! And that being said…I still live in Brooklyn! And probably wouldn’t move back to NJ unless you paid me a lot (A LOT) of money. :-) I just can’t help it….New York is in my blood…from skipping class and walking over the George Washington Bridge to Washington Heights for some arroz and some con pollo, to hanging on the streets of Harlem to getting my first fake ID on forty deuce. I’ve always loved the constant motion of the New York street.

So…why am I going to Jersey?  Mix up between me and boss. I had his bag, he had mine….and my camera! I figured I couldn’t make the best of the situation and take photos in Hoboken……but as I would find out after the exchange, I would actually need a memory card in my camera to do that.  Oh well….might as well snap an iphone pic… who knew the Path station to Hoboken was kinda funky! Definitely going to revisit this place.

21 Years Today

DAY 106 WEB_-2Day 106 (April 16, 2014) – Harlem, NY

I can’t believe it’s been 21 years since my brother and uncle were killed.  April 16th is always a hard day for me. I don’t know what to feel or how to act. I usually just keep quiet to myself. Sometimes I’ll talk to family, but for the most part I just get lost in my own mind and go numb.  I remember bits and pieces of that day like it was yesterday. I was in high school. I remember the phone ringing and the words “something happened at the store”. I saw instant tears in my mom’s eyes because she new whatever happened was bad.  I remember the adults rushing out the door frantic and determined to get to Harlem. We lived in New Jersey at the time, in Fort Lee only about 25-35 minutes away from 119th and 5th Ave. where my dad’s small corner store was located.  I’m sure they made it there in less than 15 minutes with traffic laws meaning nothing at this moment.  I wasn’t at the scene, but I’ve always been able to picture it.  Yellow police tape flailing in the wind. Detectives and cops milling around looking for clues and trying to keep a growing crowd at bay. My mom sobbing and crying uncontrollably and fighting everyone trying to hold her back from a gruesome crime scene.  I imagine my dad shaken but still remaining strong a stoic.  He had already experienced so much hardship in his life to this point, staying calm with a pointed internal anger could have been his only response. I’m at home scared for the next ring of the phone. I don’t want to know what happened at the store -in my stomach I already know it’s bad.  After all, what good things ever happen in Harlem in the 90s? Phone ring. In between sobs and screams the news is delivered. Dave, my brother, shot between 12-15 times pronounced dead at the scene. Mikey, my uncle. Shot multiple times thought dead, but still breathing.  Ruko’ Dave’s best friend also shot, but alive – he played dead as the “stick-up kids” robbed the store.  Uncle Mikey would later be diagnosed brain dead – family pulled the plug weeks later.

Everything was normal until it wasn’t. Life for me and everyone else changed forever. My uncle, the one who always gave me good advice – “Shawn, stay in school. Don’t run around these streets”, no longer here. Dave, my brother, the one who took me to the Apollo to see Public Enemy and got me backstage, gone.  Parents should never have to bury their children and brothers and sisters should never have to experience lost at a young age.  Everything is different now.

On this day I also remember the funeral and the wake and the tears.  I close my eyes and I’m right back there. Stevie Wonder “These Three Words” plays in my head in a constant loop.

“When was the last time
That they heard you say
Mother or father, I love you
And when was the last time
That they heard you say
Daughter or son, I love you

Ones you say you cherish everyday
Can instantly be taken away
Then you’d say I know this can’t be true
When you never took the time
To simply tell them “i love you”

When was the last time
That they heard you say
Sister or brother, I love you
And when was the last time
That they heard you say
Darling or best friend, I love you”

This hurts the most. I don’t remember what my last words were to Uncle Mikey or Dave. And I’ll always wish I had one more day with them.

Today the block looks very different. No more burnt out cars and broken windows. No more overrun empty lots. The constant cloud of hopelessness has been replaced with some semblance of sunshine and optimism. I stood in front of this building for what seemed like hours with “These Three Words” playing in my head.


Day 105 WEB 2Day 105 (April 15, 2014) New York,  NY

Back in NYC. I woke up this morning with the shakes.  Can’t believe it’s cold (again). I really thought while I was in Colombia for a week the long NY winter would finally end. But, it’s cold again this morning! And it’s raining. I’m staying underground today for my photos.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) the cold is not the reason for my morning  shakes. It’s Day 1 of arepa withdrawal. I think (I know) I developed a habit while I was in Medellin. Arepas came with just about every meal – sure why not have a cheeses filled warm arepa for breakfast or an afternoon snack. And of course you need an arepa with your pollo alaplancha. They were everywhere…..after a day or three I became dependent. And then there was that smooth sweat coffee to was it down – cafe con leche. Si! Yo quiero cafe con leche! Now I’m back in NY and I remembered that I kinda gave up most dairy products. My cafe con almond leche is just not the same. So….no leche and no arepas – It’s going to be a rough week.

En mi Camino a Casa

DAY 104 WEB_Day 104 (April 14, 2014) – Medellin, Colombia

It was fun while it lasted, but it’s time to go home.  Today, I will spend a good 8 hours (give or take 2 hours) in airports. First stop Medellin airport – kinda cool looking with “slinky-esque” design. Next up, Fort Lauderdale airport – there is nothing color or funky or new about this airport. It’s in desperate need of a facelift.  And last, JFK – aka HOME. The Jetblue terminal is definitely hip and funky, but I’ll just be passing through. Maybe I’ll stop and gets some Starbucks (na…. my and Juan Valdez are best friends now…definitely won’t be cheating). So, stopping…just gonna run and get my bags, hop in a cab and then hop in my bed. I’m tired and I’m home. :-)

Pueblo de Zócalos

DAY 103 WEB_-3Day 103 (April 13, 2014) - Guatapé, Colombia

It’s Sunday. My last day in Colombia and I decide to head out of town with some friends. The goal is to literally climb a big rock. Yea, Esco vs. a rock…and 740 steps! Before heading to my sure demise, might as well explore this town a bit. I’m a bit surprised at the bright colors and three dimensional designs that  adorn each house. There are decorative patterns and shapes and some even have pictures of products sold in the town or the trade of the owner. This is an interesting little town and it kinda feels like your in some surreal twilight zone type movie where you’re black and white and the rest of the world is in technicolor. Hell, this could even be a bad Skittles commercial – Feel the Rainbow! I’m a little out of place wandering through these cobbled stoned streets and of course I wonder what’s behind each closed door or shutter. I want to know if the interiors (and the residents) are as colorful as the exterior or is the party only on the outside. I guess I’ll just have to go back….and see if someone invites me in for some cafe con leche. Now, it’s time to climb a rock.

Acróbatas de Communo 13

Day 102_5 BW webDay 102 (April 12, 2014) – Medellin, Colombia

Kids sure do no have to fun. Walking around Communo 13 in Medellin a bunch of kids decided to show the foreigners what the got.  They smiled, giggled a little and then out of nowhere they broke into handstands and it became a contest about who could walk the furthest down a hill on their hands!! This reminds of the kids that flip down the sidewalks on Beale Street in Memphis or the kids who tap dance with bottle caps on their sneakers in New Orleans. Their boundless energy couldn’t be contained and it a smile to all of our faces as we watched in amazement. Communo 13 has their own team of acrobats. Nice!

Enganchar Un Paseo

DAY 101 WEB_b-2Day 101 (April 11, 2014) – Medellin, Colombia

So, on this spring day in Colombia I find myself in the Santo Domingo neighborhood of Medellin literally on top of a mountain. Seriously, I had to a take the metro and then a gondola lift (cable car) to get up here! I thought I was going skiing for a second and it brought back bad memories of me as a teenage attempting to go down the bunny slope (don’t judge me!) and instead falling down the mountain and hitting a few trees along the way. Luckily there was no snow or ski jocks involved in this trip, but instead a unique and hilly neighborhood of Medellin. Again, this is an area that is marginalized, physically isolated and mostly low income.  The cable car system was put in to increase accessibility and connect people to the rest of the city. A system that they probably never planned for was the ingenious way kids get up the numerous hills – they hitch a ride! The tie a rope to the back of buses and trucks and hold on for dear life as they steer their bikes with one hand while the other grips the pull line. Kids come up with the craziest things! And I know if I were a kid in this neighborhood I would do the same.

One image a day. Documenting life and growing as a photographer in the process.


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