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“One Of The Kindest Persons I’ve Ever Met”

Near the end of my 30-year career in the Public Affairs Dept. at Indiana Michigan Power in Fort Wayne, the company sent me to a week-long photography workshop near Portland, Maine.

I arrived at the Portland International Airport late on a Sunday afternoon in anticipation of being picked up, as promised, by a van from the workshop. After waiting impatiently for an hour or so I called the workshop to sadly discover their phone mailbox was full and I was unable to leave a message.

I then asked a couple of airport officials if they had seen a van from the photo studio at the airport recently. Yes, the van had been there earlier in the afternoon, but no one could recall seeing the van recently.

What to do! One airport employee pointed out another van delivery service driver for passengers who had made prior reservations with his company. I asked the driver if he could help me out and take me to the photography workshop located several miles from Portland. He said he would, after delivering his passengers to their destinations. The fee would be $60. I was so relieved. I paid him immediately and would have paid twice that much if he had let me!

After traveling for a very long time, the driver finally dropped off his last passenger and then headed to the workshop location. En route he stopped at a house somewhere outside Portland to “pick something up,” he said, adding “I’ll just be a few minutes.”

He returned to the van with a sandwich, some fruit, and a soft drink for me, saying that I must be hungry after traveling all day. “You can’t get much more kind than that,” I thought. But I was wrong.

When we finally arrived at the location of the workshop, we found the gates closed, the lights out and the place locked down for the night. Part of the workshop package included lodging on the premises. I had no place to stay!

“No problem,” said the driver. “We’ll find you something,” he replied reassuringly. He must have been somewhat familiar with the area because he drove to several bed-and-breakfasts before finally finding one that had a vacancy. I thanked him profusely for his service and kindnesses, and again offered to pay him more money. He refused, of course. But you know what I regret to this day? I didn’t write down his name or that of his company so I could report to them what a wonderful employee they had. They probably knew that already!

The week of photography classes and taking pictures was well worth the initial inconvenience I had to endure. A small group of us from throughout the country had enrolled in a black-and-white photography course using something called film in our cameras. For you younger readers not familiar with the word, film is a thin flexible strip of plastic or other material coated with light-sensitive emulsion for exposure in a camera. The film later is developed with chemicals in a darkened lab to print pictures on paper coated with emulsion containing light-sensitive compounds. The result is pictures just like you see on a smart phone.

Several of my five classmates had a car and after class each morning we journeyed throughout Portland and the countryside looking for “photographic opportunities” to match up with the assignment from that day’s class.

As we were driving in the beautiful Maine countryside, we spotted a herd of cows. Not only were their markings in black-and-white, but each cow also had what looked like a bullseye formed on one side of its hide. We had to stop for a closer look and take some pictures.

The local farmer couldn’t have been more cooperative. After we told him who we were and what our assignment was for that day, he agreed to call his cows in for a closer look. He explained that hunters often shot at his unique breed of cows since the “bullseye” on their sides made a tempting target.

As you may notice in the accompanying photo, that’s me focused with a telephoto lens on a subject cow making her way to the barn. I hadn’t noticed that one cow literally was nearly in my face. That’s when a fellow student snapped the picture.

It was a wonderful week, and I learned a lot. Most enjoyable was the association with photographers from all over the world, specializing in cinematography, video production, color and black-and-white photos, portraits, fashion, studio work, sports, landscapes and much more.

At the end of the week there was a photo production show featuring works by most of the attendees. I was proud that three of my black and white pictures made the show!

And then as a final cap, we all were served a Maine lobster dinner with all the trimmings.

And I owe it all to that kind, nameless van driver who got me safely to the workshop! I wouldn’t say he was an “unsung hero,” but he certainly had some of a hero’s characteristics, namely. empathy, humility, and commitment.

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer