New Haven Residents Contribute Ideas For Health Improvements

Resident feedback was in high demand from six New Haven neighborhoods. The Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE), part of Yale School of Public Health, held a Community Forum Sat. May 7th., at Connecticut Center for Art and Technology at Science Park when the 2015 New Haven Health Survey was released.

The fall 2015 survey followed two previous surveys conducted in 2009 and 2012, for the purpose of tracking neighborhood health. CARE randomly selected 1,189 residents from New Haven’s low-income towns of Dixwell, Fair Haven, Hill North, NewHallville, West River/Dwight, and West Rock/West Hills. Local residents were hired and trained to collect the surveys of which included questions about health, diet, smoking habits, exercise and neighborhood safety. A 70% participation rate from all three surveys indicate the willingness of residents wanting improvements.

Deputy Director Alycia Santilli, MSW, of CARE discusses the work of CARE. The presentation served as fuel for residents to submit additional ideas neighborhood improvements.

Deputy Director Alycia Santilli, MSW, of CARE, discusses the work of CARE. The presentation served as fuel for residents to submit additional ideas neighborhood improvements.

CARE took their findings and compared them to DataHaven’s Community Wellbeing Survey in the report. DataHaven conducted phone surveys with nearly 17,000 randomly selected adults throughout Connecticut, including 800 in the City of New Haven, between April and October 2015. The combined results provide a wider perspective of local communities versus statewide feedback from Connecticut residents on their well-being.

Following the presentation of CARE survey, participants were divided into groups according to where they lived and volunteer facilitators recruited by Community Mediation Inc., of Hamden, worked with each community group. Residents were asked for ideas to make their neighborhoods healthier. Everyone was provided with key findings of their neighborhood for reference and to help facilitate consensus. Residents were then asked if they were or weren’t surprised by the findings and what specific issues would they be willing to work on, by making a commitment for improvement.

Dixwell and Newhallville residents give ideas.

(Pictured above: Dixwell and Newhallville residents contributed ideas during forum.)

It’s no secret residents living in underserved areas face challenges such as choosing between paying a bill or buying food. That decision is compounded by the fact that low-income areas lack access to fresh foods. Sometimes food pantries don’t have the healthiest food, but because of dependence on it for sustenance, there isn’t a choice.

Dixwell and Newhallville residents give ideas.

(Pictured above: Dixwell and Newhallville residents contributed ideas during forum.)

Following the breakout sessions, each group reported back to the forum to share findings. Issues raised from the Dixwell/NewHallville group were accountability of municipal leaders and how best to have your voice be heard, personal accountability and how to raise the bar of caring in the neighborhood for better cleanliness conditions, absentee landlords and safer streets: speed limit enforcement and sidewalk repair.

To help neighborhoods address health issues identified through this process, CARE is awarding $1,500 to each of the six participating neighborhoods. CARE seeks project proposals that, “Aim to improve health and that relate in some way to major risks for chronic disease by impacting access to healthy foods and healthy eating and physical activity. Projects may create a framework for a variety of activities, meaning projects do not need to be restricted to a single activity or focus solely on diet and exercise.”

CARE specifies this criteria for Neighborhood Health Projects:

  • The project focus must be related directly or indirectly to nutrition and/or physical activity.
  • There must be demonstration of community support for the program.
  • Ideally, the project should be led by neighborhood residents.
  • The project and its participants must take place in and benefit one of the six neighborhoods where CARE works: Dixwell, Fair Haven, the Hill, Newhallville, Dwight/West River, West Rock/West Hills.
  • The project must have the potential to be sustainable beyond support from CARE.

The grant application deadline is Friday May 27th, no later than 5 pm. Friday June 30th funding decisions will be finalized. To learn more about the grant and apply visit: http://tinyurl.com/jtpe27t.

Nurturing Volunteerism in Wallingford

Do you notice every day is a commemoration of some sort? Noteworthy days make for great social media posts, but more importantly, they raise awareness of a cause. The entire month of April serves to recognize volunteers and is referred to as National Volunteer Appreciation Month.

The tradition began in 1974 when President Richard Nixon established National Volunteer Week, April 6-12, through an executive order. The purpose was to prompt people to give their  time to community outreach organizations.

Giving time and resources to needy causes is something everyone should do when they’re able. CT Food Bank in Wallingford welcomes help from individuals and companies to assist them in the fight against hunger. According to CT Food Bank, one in seven people struggle with hunger in Connecticut.

There are several ways to give and many do through donations. However, on site volunteerism is also needed, as it defrays operating costs.

The Marlin Company, PPI Benefit Solutions, Arbella Insurance CT, and Edible Arrangements are just a few neighboring Wallingford companies that have stepped up to helping The Connecticut Food Bank.

Marlin employees recently gave their time and muscle for a morning shift that consisted of labelling frozen fish patties with ingredient stickers and repacking boxes for distribution to food pantries and programs throughout the state.

To learn how you can help year-round, visit http://www.ctfoodbank.org/ways-to-give/

Witnesses to Hunger CT Project Seeks Policy-Level Changes

The  exhibit ‘Witnesses To Hunger CT‘ opened Feb. 1, 2016 in the lower concourse of CT Legislative Office Building. The project is the second exhibit of its kind in the state, and follows after a 2014 New Haven exhibit Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro supported called Witness to Hungeran art and education project produced by the Drexel University Center for Hunger-Free Communities at the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health.

Fifteen individuals from Connecticut’s cities, suburbs and rural communities documented their firsthand experiences of trying to feed themselves and their families on limited resources. The communities represented include: Amston, Bridgeport, Hartford, Hebron, Manchester, New Haven, New London, Westport and Woodbridge.

Lucy Nolan, Executive Director of End Hunger CT! is hopeful moving into the next legislation session, that the exhibit and testimony of  15 participants will, “Serve as a reminder that many among us, often hidden, need the state’s support. The Witnesses recruited for this project have faced choices that are hard to fathom – whether to eat low cost foods that could be harmful to their medical conditions or not eat at all, whether to pay for prescriptions or put food on the table.” Hunger in Connecticut is a growing problem. While youngsters may be eligible for free or reduced price meals during the school year, not every town offers a breakfast or summer meal program.

Senator Marilyn Moore, Bridgeport, spoke of her appreciation for those who were brave enough to shine a light on their personal and difficult challenges. “The Witnesses to Hunger CT project shows daunting struggles to survive, from day-to-day.While programs such as Connecticut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides some relief, it simply isn’t enough to sustain individuals and families who don’t earn a livable wage.

CT Senator Marilyn Moore recognized four prevailing themes that emerged from project: health & wellness, food & nutrition, transportation and shelter.

CT Senator Marilyn Moore recognized prevailing themes that emerged from project: health & wellness, food & nutrition, transportation and shelter.

Anyone can become vulnerable to the challenge of making ends meet especially when health issues arise coupled with unemployment.

The photographs show compelling stories ranging from working hard to balance disease with basic necessity, empty refrigerator by month’s end, learning how to cook for healthier food choices, collecting cans and bottles for any extra income, rental living conditions in dire need of repairs, seeing eye dog with owner who forgoes breakfast when weather is too inclement for dog to walk, long lines at the food pantry, starting a garden and growing enough food to donate to local pantry, and choices between eating and not eating.

To see a town-by town percentage of those living in poverty perspective and what the available resources are for each respective area visit: http://www.endhungerct.org/#featured-page-4.

To have your voice be heard on the importance of funding programs that support CT’s neediest plan to attend ‘Talk Poverty’ Tuesday, February 9th at 9 a.m. to 11 a..m. at the Legislative Office Building, 300 Capitol Ave, 2nd Floor Atrium, Hartford, CT.:

Talk Poverty Feb. 9th, 2016 Event

Talk Poverty Feb. 9th, 2016 Event

 

For Many Veterans Wounds Still Hurt

On Veterans Day it’s hard to miss the recognition many deserving troops and individuals received. Social media played its part with Walmart’s Green Light A Vet campaign. A simple idea: replace a front porch light bulb with a green one, to signify support. Walmart provided what the symbolism represents: to “Greenlight” is to forward movement, and by showing with the first sign of a home, a lit green porch light, is (hopefully), ‘greenlighting’  and signifying veterans forward, as valued members of every community.

Every other week I anticipate seeing Dana (first name), a sergeant who served in the Vietnam War, (due to HIPPA last name is omitted). Dana, age 65, lives in a skilled nursing facility where he gets help for ongoing PTSD, COPD and other physical limitations.

The nursing facility planned special festivities for Veterans Day, as Dana wasn’t the only resident veteran. This was to be their day, beginning with a celebratory special breakfast followed by activities planned throughout the day. I envisioned Dana enjoying the commemorations, after all it is a day of thanks for those who served.

Dana shares his experiences of fighting and rescuing fellow soldiers during his service in the Vietnam War.

Dana shares his experiences of fighting in doing rescue missions during his service in the Vietnam War.

I’d become accustomed to hearing animated stories where I learned much about Dana. Besides sharing his terrific sense of humor, Dana shared war stories, some of which were quite gruesome. Sgt. Dana was part of  a specialized training group, called The Studies and Observations Group, or (SOG) and fought on Hamburger Hill. He’s one of the lucky few who lived to tell his story.

Dana enjoyed breakfast but insisted on steering clear from the music and socializing activities at The Summit. I asked why he preferred not to be recognized and he replied, “I don’t want to remember the bad things that happened.” Not meaning to be different, Dana’s response is one of self-preservation.

Reflecting back on being in the jungle, carrying out fallen soldiers while escaping the enemy is as fresh a memory as yesterday for Dana. He is proud of his service but broadcasting those tough times isn’t his style.

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Dana shares war stories and shows me a framed collection of medals he earned from serving in the Vietnam War.

While companies such as Walmart bring attention to veterans, some prefer to choose when and where to talk, not on any particular day or place. The results of the Green Light A Vet campaign recorded 3,433,638 clicks as of December 15th at 11:20 a.m., EST. According to the Walmart campaign site “Every click counts as a social act of support in honor of our veterans, and will be displayed on The Greenlight Beacon, a glowing installation symbolizing our united support for veterans.”

The American Legion Kiltonic Post 72 in Southington, CT promoted Green Light A Vet although I didn’t see too many home porch lights go from yellow to green, albeit one, who kept it up past November and into December where it can easily be mistaken as a Christmas decoration.

Dana's service cap from the Vietnam War.

Dana’s service cap from the Vietnam War.

I couldn’t be more thankful for Dana’s service and for meeting him through the Adopt-A-Veteran program at The Summit At Plantsville. Conversation, story sharing and spending time are ways to show others we care.

If you would like volunteer for this program, please call 860 628-0364. If Southington, CT isn’t convenient, reach out to a nursing home where you live. The experience is something you’ll wind up cherishing. What you give comes back bigger in heart and spirit.

Creative Generosity Builds Communities

Help-Portrait, an annual photography event, commemorated their eighth year December 5th, 2015. Though not an official Help-Portrait event, New Haven’s Mothers For Justice group members were invited to participate in a holiday portrait event the same day, organized by photojournalist volunteer, Margaret Wage, with the idea of giving back.

Help-Portrait was founded by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart and Kyle Chowning in 2008. Their mission is to empower photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists to use their skills, tools and expertise to give back to their local community.

The Mothers For Justice (MFJ) is a grass-roots women’s advocacy group that seeks to support one another and empower themselves and their families to improve their lives and their communities. MFJ was founded in 1933 and is dedicated to using their collective voice to change the systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice. Our issues and concerns are Welfare Reform, Prison Re-entry, Housing, Healthcare & Domestic Violence among many other things. A similarity MFJ shares with the Help-Portrait community is they both recognize giving back to the local community is one way to effect positive change.

There are great folks working with organizations year-round to make things better for those in need. Ginger Grant, a.k.a. Ginger Lee Originals, is a Connecticut art photographer and sees art as a way to enrich those living in Bristol, CT. Grant recently opened  The Studio, an art studio space where she hosts painting, stitching, stamping and numerous craft project classes. What’s the connection between creativity and hunger, you might ask. For Grant, the connection lies in building up an underserved community where residents might not have even considered taking a pencil or brush to paper to express feelings or life perspective. Grant advocates any growth must first come from willingness to try. It’s only then that a person can see possibility and from that, change can occur.

In October The Studio hosted a ‘Photo Feel Good’ event, inviting the public at large to have a photograph made, free of charge, and like Help-Portrait, a print was made and given to each participant. Nearby business neighbor Marisela Severino of Joamar Hair Salon volunteered her salon and services for the all day event. A photo session included  make-up by Dori Green and contributed to making each person ‘Feel Good’ for the occasion. Grant collected (business attire) clothing  donations and  in turn, participants selected  whatever they needed for a job interview. Sweaters, blouses, dresses, slacks, jackets and winter coats were made available free to take home. That generosity of spirit is what creativity is about.

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Many who attended were inspired as conversations began and people opened up about their situations. Some attendees were in transitional housing and the access to free clothing was appreciated as they took the time visit each table-full of gently used garments and racks of formal wear that were placed on hangers throughout The Studio. The clothing that remained was donated to Christian Fellowship Center on Prospect St. in Bristol.

Merryl Eaton, of MFJ, was gracious and allowed the use of the building space to do portraits. Eaton organizes monthly MFJ meetings and keeps members aware of legislative events for MFJ to attend and speak to issues they wish to impact.

Surprisingly, half the people who signed up didn’t come due to lack of transportation. The following images are of the members that came, some with their family. With hope and the strength that comes from support networks such as these, changes for the better can be made.

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Wanderlust Travel Observations

During a road trip I discovered places to consider for relocation. Drawn to the southeast, I visited North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina, all of which offered a different point of view for best semi-retired possibilities. I’m most interested in moderate temperatures, cultural offerings and tax friendly municipalities.

Lexington, Statesville and Mooresville in NC, all had great small town charm. Nice shops and restaurants lined each historic Main Streets. Also noticeable stood empty store fronts interspersed between businesses. Their vacancies were reminiscent of healthier economic times, but simultaneously represented future opportunities. Whenever my husband and I travel we, or should I say, I, become susceptible to daydreaming about what it would be like to live in a particular place.  Since location scouting was our purpose it seemed ok to entertain possibilities. Empty storefronts enticed dreams of opening a small gallery space where we could build an arts/ culinary community venue of sorts.

Spartanburg, South Carolina looked promising. Several side streets were lined with cobblestones with outdoor cafes and bicycle stands.  A jazz nightclub looked like the place to be for drinks and vibes. The main avenue was wide and large. I’m not sure if retail will recover in this area as online shopping has replaced what large department stores have to offer. What is large square footage best use? DQ headquarters is located in Spartanburg and has a high rise office space. A ground floor garden equipped with pagodas looked perfect for a portrait photography backdrop. I noticed a local photography business in town and I’m sure it does well for location shoots. As we approached a vine covered walkway, we spotted a homeless man sitting in the shade. He got up to move when he saw us. The encounter was a simple reminder that no matter how serene a place looks, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Perhaps those empty building might be well suited for housing usage.

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There isn’t a ‘perfect’ place. Relocating at any point in life presents a mixed bag. So much is contingent on what you have and what you have to look forward to. Finding as near to perfect a place as possible takes a lot more than locale. It’s more about striking a balance between a good working environment and that oh-so-important ratio of income to living expenses. Strive for reasonable goals and then work towards making them happen – that’s the plan! What goals are you striving for?

Southington Landscape in Transition

The Southington portion of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail is actively undergoing change. The”Rails to Trails” pathway is 4.1 miles in length and spans distance between the Cheshire/Southington town line north to Hart Street in Southington.

Asbestos was removed from Ideal Forging at High and  Center Streets May 4, 2015. According to the Record-Journal report, Weston Solutions Inc., supervised the initial 2013 cleanup when the bulk of hazardous materials such as oils, manufacturing chemicals, acids and florescent tubes were removed in 2013. Site cleanup required specific demolition permits from the state for asbestos removal.

Peck, Stow & Wilcox was located in Southington and employed over 1000 workers spanning decades dating back to 1785-1795 under iterations of the combined names, Roys & Wilcox, Solomon Stew and Seth Peck.

The development of the Linear Trail is such a positive addition to Southington. The flat trail is a great use of open space and provides a resource for exercise enthusiasts: a win-win for all. It seemed a natural fit to look at the surrounding areas and plan for the removal of vacant buildings such as Ideal Forging and nearby empty factories. The Hartford Courant reported New York developer Meridian Development Partners Southington purchased The Ideal Forging property in 2005. The recession delayed a retail-residential complex project slated for the 14-acre parcel. The wait is over and signs of change are seen throughout the landscape.

Piles of rock wait to be taken away while blocking the view from homes that line the trail. Rusted metal artifacts truly look the part of relic technology. That view will continue to evolve as debris is replaced by new construction. It will be interesting to see how the integrity and idyllic feeling of open space the trail currently offers will blend with that of a mixed use space site plan.

Another factor to consider is crowd logistics. Southington is best known for its annual Apple Harvest Festival with a 5K run, the yearly Italian-American street fair, weekly music on The Green concerts and big turn outs for parades.  With new housing situated so close to populated events – be prepared to get your maneuvering skills ready!

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Photography Tradition Endures Through Generations

There’s no time like the present to do what you love. Years ago that sentiment became a popular catch phrase following the book  publication, “Do what you love and the money will follow,” by Marsha Sinetar. The idea to pursue a life passion as a career choice seems a no brainer to finding job satisfaction.

Jay Misencik’s career choice was influenced by uncle Ed Brinsko (1927-1995,) a photojournalist and lifelong Bridgeport resident who worked for The Post Publishing Co., (CT Post).

In January 2015 Jay Misencik and partner Geralene Valentine, both self-employed photographers, and Brinsko’s son Ed Brinsko, assembled a month long Connecticut photo exhibit held at McLevy Hall in Bridgeport . The show titled, “ReVisit Bridgeport … Photographs by Ed Brinsko,” showcased Ed Brinsko’s work which spanned decades. Ed Brinsko and Misencik frequently accompanied Brinsko on assignment where they learned to develop film and print enlargements in the darkroom. Print and film processing is considered  a craft compared to digital photography with its ease of use and immediate results.

Ed Brinsko imagery for 'Revisit Bridgeport' exhibit. Photo courtesy by Jay Misencik

Ed Brinsko imagery for ‘Revisit Bridgeport’ exhibit.
Photo courtesy by Jay Misencik

The photos are stories unto themselves. Brinsko captured hard news, celebrities and street photography in a way that is both portrait and document. Michael Daly, Connecticut Post editorial page editor, presented a discussion on Brinsko’s work to a room at full capacity of retired news journalists and Bridgeport residents.

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January 2015 “ReVisit Bridgeport … Photographs by Ed Brinsko,” McLevy Hall in Bridgeport, CT

Analog photography is a longer process than digital photography. That’s what makes Brinsko’s images special. Brinsko didn’t have the luxury of seeing what the picture looked like immediately. His talent, his eye for capturing the right moment is evident in each image in the collection.

Standing room only at 'Revisit Bridgeport Photos by Ed Brinsko' talk during month long exhibit. © Margaret Waage Photography

Standing room only at ‘Revisit Bridgeport Photos by Ed Brinsko’ talk during month long exhibit. © Margaret Waage Photography

2014 Jay Misencik documents Bridgeport through photography projects. Miscenik and partner Geraline Valentine have spent twenty years photographing Bridegport in ‘Main Street Bridgeport’ and current ‘Bridgeport Portrait’ projects. © Margaret Waage Photography

Misencik and Valentine have documented Bridgeport for over twenty years beginning with ‘Main Street Bridgeport’ series and now, through their ‘Bridgeport Portrait Project’ series. Misencik like Brinsko, is interested in portraying those individuals who have spent time in Bridgeport. From office worker to outdoor laborer, Misencik says, “It’s the stories people tell that in turn, tell the story of a place.”

 

Misencik is interested in hearing from those who can share their memories of The Palace Theater, a cornerstone to culture in Bridgeport.

Misencik wishes to show something new by recounting recollections and in doing so, pay tribute to the idea of time and place in history. The Palace Theater remains a significant part of a changing neighborhood.

It’s the tradition of storytelling that Misencik and Valentine practice. “Whether shooting digital or analog photography, doesn’t matter as much as how one approaches an assignment,” said Misencik.

“Photography is more about practicing the craft of capturing a moment in time. Anticipating that is what makes a good photograph.” Ed Brinsko would have been proud.

Renovation Unearths Signs of The Past

Southington’s Gura Building was originally built in 1925 according to land records. Located at 93 Main St., the brick building was given the name Gura Building to honor the town’s late health director, Dr. George Gura.

The vacated historical site sits adjacent to the Town Green and was saved from the wrecking ball. In 2012 the building would either be sold to a developer, demolished or leased and used by a non-profit. Previously the building was used in a municipal capacity as a town hall annex housing services such as the Finance,  and Community Service departments. Over the course of history, the Gura Building also served as a police station.

A $1-a-year 20-year lease was approved by the town council in July 2014 after the Southington Community Cultural Arts (SCCA) fulfilled a condition set forth by the town to raise 80 percent of estimated renovation costs of $1.27 million. SCAA raised $1.1 million, helped in large part by a $500,000 contribution through the State Bond Commission.

Mary DeCroce, leader and spokeswoman for SCCA,cites the new community arts center will incorporate classrooms, studios and a performance space. Bookmark and visit SCCA’s site, and in particular the Project Update tab, to learn about the events leading up to the renovation and to see the progress underway.

Florian Properties LLC, a local development firm is supervising the project for SCCA, a non-profit arts group. The cold temperatures aren’t stopping the work. The facade front windows are boarded up but will be replaced by new picture windows.

The interior has been been completely gutted out and Thomas Damon-Smith, Project Foreman, has put aside artifacts he found within the building. A huge metal safe will be cleaned and preserved to serve as a keepsake to the building’s history.Other items such as wall calendars look as vibrant today as they must have looked when first rolled out.

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A crumpled cigarette package reminds us how far we’ve come where smoking is concerned – in 2015 smoking inside is banned from many office buildings. Did employees light up inside the Gura building in years past?

Stay tuned for more photos and if you have your own memorabilia and recollections from either working in the building or what you are looking forward to in its new art capacity, reach out to me at margaretwaage@hotmail.com to share your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you and capture your Southington experiences via video interview.

Stranger Fear: Is It Unfounded?

Watched ‘Blackish‘ a new ABC series last night where the episode focused on the father character, a hip and attractive Andre “Dre” Johnson, (played by Anthony Anderson,) tries to impress his nonchalant son Andre Johnson, Jr., (played by Marcus Scribner), on the significance of Martin Luther King Jr., holiday and in general on being, well, blackish.

He goes about trying to prove what he thinks is a blatantly racist world we live in. He provokes every situation they encounter loudly AND obnoxiously.

Fast forward to tonight’s sunset. It was a clear sky with a gradient hue developing as the sun made its way to the horizon. The last few days cold made today feel like spring, even though 31 degrees is still cool. After sitting indoors all day till 5:30 I was compelled to pull over on the approach ramp to 691 East. There’s a full view of Hubbard Mountain, and it appeared purplish as that sun was saying farewell. I set the hazard lights to flash and tucked the car inside the white line next to a metal divider separating me from a deep ravine to the right.

With the set to ISO to 12800 I leaned into the steering wheel for a 1/50 second exposure at f8. If the viewfinder where a canvas I’d be painting in orange and near-to-black colors.

IMG_6503I was so absorbed in what I saw through the viewfinder I didn’t notice a car had pulled behind me. A blue light flickered from inside the car and thinking it had to be a police vehicle, I got scared nonetheless as the officer approached my window. He asked if everything was ok and it was, but I couldn’t help but to blurt out, “You scared me for a minute!”

Why would I be scared? For not knowing what to expect? I wasn’t completely sure if this person was a cop, with nothing to identify the car as such, only a hint from its interior blinking light.  I feared it wasn’t a cop and why would anyone pull behind me and approach? I thought what profiling must feel like in that moment.

He was actually a young officer, perhaps four or five years older than my own son. He had a flashlight in hand, more like a small penlight, not unlike something I just purchased for my son so he could find his way around. Glad the officer didn’t use it … that would’ve felt weird him peering inside my car.  I said I’m taking photographs of the sunset, and wondered if he thought I was a loony! He smiled and said I’m fine to stay where I was, he was only checking.

Imagine if instead of an on ramp in a busy area of Meriden, CT,  I was in Fargo with no street lights? Too many movies and real life events of late that gets my imagination active.