Monday, June 11, 2012

Going without

It figures that Charleston would get a nice rainstorm/weakened thunderstorm within the first week of the vehicle burglary that left me without the cameras and lenses I've worked so hard to collect. Instead, I used my iPhone. Above, a shot of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in front of the storm's "whale's mouth."

This was shot from the rooftop of The Post and Courier as the storm approached. It was part of a line that produced some tornado warnings in Orangeburg County, which is north of the Charleston area. By the time it reached the coastline, it had significantly weakened, though.
I got out of work and went to the Ravenel Bridge, which is where I run several times a week. I grabbed my work-issued iPhone, which has a waterproof case, and started running up.

I looked toward the ocean and saw a core of rainfall off to the southeast. A cargo ship on the horizon was preparing to head into it.

I reached the top of the bridge just as I started feeling a few drops. Rain began enveloping me as the storm clouds came in from the north, the west and the south. I got soaked. It was kind of cool. But I still miss my cameras.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

All gone

One of the officers wrote some observations on a notepad.

The broken glass made a mess. And my things had been ransacked.

I stepped outside my Charleston apartment Friday, ready for a final day of work before the weekend. As usual, I was tired, and it was a warm morning. The humidity took my breath away.

I pressed a button on a remote to unlock my car doors, then I turned the corner around the rear of my vehicle.

Shards of tinted glass had accumulated on the ground. They sparkled in the sunlight.

I looked up. The back window on the driver's side wasn't where it should have been. Bits of jagged glass jutted from the frame. Two large scratches revealed the metal underneath the coat of black paint on my Ford.

Some "criminals in the night," as my favorite 5-year-old girl would later say, had violated my space.

This took my breath away, too.

I dropped the coffee mug from my hand, my bag of gym clothes, my laptop bag.

Frantic, I looked inside. The window had been shattered. Glass was everywhere. On the raincoat on the back seat. Inside the door the window once was attached to. Under the cushion. On the booster seat my girlfriend's daughter uses.

A cover over the back cargo area of my SUV had been removed. Underneath it, everything of value was gone.

A backpack full of tools. My Mag flashlights. A Harley-Davidson kit for my former motorcycle. All of my camera equipment and my employer-issued photographic tools.

In total, eight lenses, three cameras and two flashes were taken. My Manfrotto tripod wasn't there either. A professional camera/laptop bag, too. Other accessories, such as an automatic trigger used to take still images to make time-lapse videos, had been stolen as well.

Even my business cards. I hope no one is posing as Andrew Knapp, reporter.

Missing were all the things I worked for years to buy in support of a hobby that gave me happiness and a sense of accomplishment. The monetary value exceeded $10,000, but it meant more to me.

I telephoned the area's finest.

Three police officers from the Charleston Police Department showed up. One remarked that the scene seemed odd. Whoever broke in must have either known me or the things I had in my car, he said. Possibly, it's someone from my own apartment complex. No other vehicles in the parking lot had been broken into. Mine was the sole target.

The burglar must have had a car parked nearby or retreated into a nearby apartment. The amount of equipment taken would have been difficult for a single person to carry.

Another officer asked me if I were trying to defraud my insurance company, wondering if I had burglarized my own vehicle so I could file an insurance claim and sell my old equipment.

"What insurance?" I have none. Thanks, Officer, for taking this grand theft seriously!

A detective later took a complete list of the items I lost.

They thought the burglar had smashed the window and crawled through. The molding around the window frame was scuffed and astray. That's consistent with someone's body sliding and rolling over it.

They suggested that I buy a lock box from a police-surplus store and bolt it down. I could keep my valuables inside.

"What valuables?" They're all gone.

Admittedly, it was stupid of me to leave the stuff in my car. I shouldn't have trusted my own neighbors.

But it has happened to other photographers from the newspaper. Co-workers felt my pain and agreed it's a lot of equipment to lug in and out of the house every day.

And it's not my fault. The things were concealed inside a vehicle -- my vehicle, which was locked. Saying it's my fault is like blaming a woman for being raped; just because it's there doesn't mean you can have it.

If only I had caught the miscreants, they would have regretted breaking the law. You enter my domain, you pay the price.

But now, it's my price to pay, and my livelihood has taken a hit.

I still have an iPhone -- well, two iPhones, actually -- that I can take photos with. I still have my very first camera: a Pentax K1000, with which I snapped the best lightning photos of my life -- on film, of course.

But I don't have the capability to take the shots I have in recent years: of eagles snatching ducks, of bees lighting on flowers, of meteors piercing Earth's atmosphere.

After I moved to South Carolina, I finally was happy with the amount of photographic equipment I had. My previous employer never issued an SLR camera to me, though it expected me to somehow take pictures. My new employer provided me with professional-grade equipment.

And now it's gone. All gone.

And as if the morning weren't bad enough, I later learned that my father, the best photographer I know, was being hospitalized about the same time I discovered the break-in. He had suffered a heart attack.

But things could be worse.

If a burglar had stolen the many hard drives containing the photos I had taken with those cameras, I would be devastated. The cameras can be replaced; the images I've made with them cannot.

And my father weathered the episode relatively well.

It just shows that I can't take anything for granted. My safety, or my parents.