March 3rd 2016, I managed to inadvertently cram about a month's worth of adventure in a span of 24 hours. At times, the events in my life are like a movie that is too bizarre to be successful. Coincidentally, that could also be the title of a movie about my life.
I left my home in Vancouver BC late afternoon. Hopped in my 1973 VW and made a run south for the border. My ticket to see Suicidal Tendencies at The Showbox, camera gear, and warm clothes packed for a little Stateside excursion. Earlier that day I had touched base with the band 'The Hilltop Rats' who were opening for the show. I was going down as a spectator but since I was bringing my camera gear for an unrelated photo session the following day, I mentioned to the band that I would be 'in the area with my gear'.
After idling along through the lineup at Peace Arch border crossing, and explaining my life story to the border bagent, I accelerate into the USA....and then quickly decelerate about 400 metres in. (437 yards, USA.) My car stalled in the classic way this classic beast always does in the most inopportune circumstances. Being an air cooled 43 year old engine that requires minimum 94 octane fuel, it's always a gamble when I can't find a gas station that fits my requirements. Luckily (and I mean that in the most optimistically sarcastic sense) I can fix this issue and get rolling again and have all I need with me. I disassemble the air cleaner and all of the hoses and lines, pour gasoline into the carburetor, plug a vacuum line, and crank it until it starts. Of course, this process has to be done a few times until fuel starts reaching the fuel pump again, yadda yadda yadda, it's dirty and gross and time consuming. And when you are on the side of the Interstate, there is a stress and danger factor as well.
Back on track, I am ripping down the road and my phone starts ringing. Since I need to get somewhere to wash my filthy hands and get the fuel smell off, I pull into the next town and check my voicemail. It's Zac from The Hilltop Rats. At the last possible second, they wrangled a photo pass for me for the night. Holy shit!!!!! I am still over 2 hours away and need to get there fast to get the pass and get into the show. I get back in my car and I am going to have to make good time to make this dream come true. And my car stalls again. Same nightmare, same fix, and now I am really behind. But I am determined and running on adrenaline at this point. I spotted a big truck going just the right speed and drafted my way to Seattle behind it. Good thing that at this point I am a little familiar with the city and know the best way to get to The Showbox SODO and it looks like I am going to make it with not a moment to spare. The very second I pull into the parking lot, the same one I always park in when I come here to photograph GWAR, my phone rings and it's Zac with the news that they are on in 15 minutes and he is waiting at the front for me. I race through the oddly empty parking lot to the front of the closed venue... because there are TWO SHOWBOX VENUES in Seattle and I have the wrong one. I have literally less than 15 minutes to get my car up and through one of the busiest streets downtown, find this particular Showbox that I have never been to before, find a parkade, get my gear, get to the venue, get to the front of the line, get my photo pass, and get to the front of a sold out show. And now that I had shut my car off and restarted it, I am in that optimal window of fuel evaporation car failure. I don't give up easily. Not on the chance to photograph Suicidal Tendencies. Fingers crossed and brain screaming, I start my ascent up 1st Ave with one foot on the clutch, one heel on the gas, and toes on the brake because I will be damned if I let the rpm get low enough to cause even the slightest air bubble to stall this unit. Onward rusty steed! With the proper venue in sight I see a hotel parkade nearby. I pull into a stall, grab my gear and start running full bore up the hill. I am changing my shirt as I am dashing in a panic with a camera in my hand, looking like some kind of psychotic thief and, oh my god, I wish I was making this up. I get to the Showbox and since my mad dash and costume change was up the hill, everyone in the line up witnessed my spectacle of an approach from above and all eyes were on me. The front bouncer held the line, rolled his eyes and walked over to me. "You must be Cat". My reputation precedes me. "Come this way", he sighs with rolling eyes "Your paperwork is already filled out" and he leads me to the front counter ahead of the chuckling spectators. I get my photo pass in my sweaty little hand and sign the sheet. The very second I muscle my way to the front, Hilltop Rats approach the stage from the back. Zac runs over to me for a hug. No word of exaggeration, there was not a single second to spare.
I photograph the first three songs and was expelled from the photo pit, as per usual. I was finally able to catch my breath as I watched the rest of their energetic set. Then the moment I had dreamed about for years arrived and flanked only by 2 other photographers, I got to shoot one of my favorite bands of all time. Usually the pit for something like this is packed shoulder to shoulder with media, but since this whole night was some kind of gift from The Force, I had freedom and space to chase singer Mike Muir back and forth all over that stage. This was no easy task. Mr. Muir had possibly the most energy I had ever seen in a performer and getting him in my camera sights was a challenge. In fact, the whole band had the same energy and put on the most dynamic show. They were all over that stage and my brain was going a mile a minute. Three songs went by fast and I had to make my exit to the side for the rest of the show.
Now this is where a normal night of excitement would reach a conclusion. But I was only beginning my 24 hours of craziness.
I left the venue satisfied at this incredible experience and thankful for the wild ride that seemed to be a miraculous set of events. I was looking forward to an inevitable adrenaline crash and a solid sleep in the back of my car. In my haste and need for a place to park, I had overlooked the hours of access to the parkade. It was locked down with no entrance after certain hours. I circled the block looking for some kind of way in, to no avail. After running multiple theories and scoping the place, I spotted a vehicle leaving the parkade from a different gate. I ran full speed at the closing door and made it in like Indiana Jones. At the very least, I could sleep in my car in the temple of doom until morning. That is, if this was the right building. Which it was not. That different exit that was my sneaky entrance, was for the adjacent parking structure and not actually the same one where my car was. Thanks to the delirium of my exhaustion, my gratefulness for the night, my otherworldly optimism and determination, and a little knowledge in urban exploration, I set out to find a common service corridor. After trying many locked doors, I found one that was overlooked and into the concrete bowels I go. Like a homing pigeon, I had my car in my sights and had no logical explanation on my path of orientation through the tunnels and stair cases that eventually led to the right building. One more try at my luck and I could be scanning the city for a quiet residential road to catch a few winks before sunrise. My car started and I approached the exit, scanned my parkade ticket and was prompted for payment. Holy smokes, visa accepted and the door opened. At this point I was hysterical and literally laughed out loud until I pulled over for a nap.
The sun came up a few hours later and I set out on the interstate headed for my photo destination and the reason I had my gear with me in the first place. Hours later I arrived at the Abandoned Nuclear Power plant. This place and the massive cooling towers deserves it's own photo essay so stay tuned for that one. Just like the night before, my photo session with these concrete giants was an adrenaline fueled adventure and far exceeded my expectations. As I made my way back upstate and into Tacoma, I rounded off my final 24th hour of non stop adventure in a hotel room overlooking my tired VW for a hot shower and a solid sleep. For a finicky old car with no heat and a tiny back seat, it's no picnic but it fits my life quite well. Optimism and determination are a high octane fuel. It's easy to live life in the comfort zone but the real noteworthy experiences are outside of it.
(Too bizarre to be successful)
One of the reasons this night was so important to me was that the first time I saw ST live, I was a disaster. I used to drink at shows, and with my judgement already impaired, it was easy to consume myself out of control. I barely remember that night but through the lenses of some cell phone photos, Facebook told me I was up on stage for the last song. It might have been a cool moment to fondly look back on, if only I could. It was a lesson I tried to learn from before but really sunk in now. It could have been a once in a lifetime chance to see a band I loved, and I polluted the experience. I felt happy to get a second chance when they announced a Seattle show and I bought a ticket immediately. I wanted to eliminate the chance for regret in this instance and was thankful immediately for the opportunity. Right up until the final moment, I was content at just being there to see what I robbed from myself the last time. Getting a photo pass was the pearl in my oyster.
Live fast, shoot RAW. Cat Ashbee