“Westward Ho” was a phrase I’d heard way back when I was just a boy growing up in a small California town. My youthful curiosity led me, of course, to seek truth and answers that were readily available to me in comic books at the barber shop. I concluded that “Westward Ho” was proof positive that a kid could grow up to fight pirates on the high seas. I wanted to do that! I also felt a deep attraction to the profession of storytelling using text and images. Seeing and enjoying those comic books such as “Westward Ho” at the barber shop as a young boy motivated me to grow up and create those kinds of stories to share with others.
I was 6 years old when I saw a Walt Disney movie called Westward Ho the Wagons. That movie along with other Walt Disney media content in those days completely changed my outlook on life. I grew up believing that “Westward Ho” affirmed how even a small-town kid from California could grow up to be a cowboy if that’s what he aimed for. I wanted that for myself!
Well, I never became a cowboy. I managed instead to grow up to become a storyteller. First, however, I needed to realize that a guy certainly can put on a cowboy hat and cowboy boots at any point in his life if he so chooses, but being a cowboy is not the most simple way for a man to make a living in the adult world. Since I already lived in the West, I did not feel any need to make a life journey there, whether I became a cowboy or something else.
Life changes and people often do not stay around where they were born. I attended graduate school starting in 1974 in Arcata, California (Humboldt State University) and went on to earn a doctorate in 1978 from Indiana University at Bloomington. While I was living in Indiana I met a woman whom I married in 1978. Big mistake. I divorced her in 1990 and relocated back to the West. I lived in Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada for several years before I accepting a job-of-a-lifetime opportunity in 1995 in Washington, DC.
By 2012 I had lived and worked in the Washington, DC area for nearly 20 years. That was the year that I recognized how I felt a very strong “call of the West” tugging at me to return home.
The space shuttle Discovery was decommissioned that year and flown by NASA on the back of a 747 to become a permanent exhibit at a federal air and space museum near where I lived at that time with my partner, Sam. He was born in Washington, DC in 1960. We met in our nation’s capital in 1996 and started a relationship that has continued ever since. On April 17, 2012 the Washington, DC television channels interrupted their normal programming. It was a rare and pure moment for me. The news coverage that day happily was not about terrorism or death or partisan political wrangling on Capitol Hill. For me, that day turned into a very childlike celebration of something odd. Flying overhead that day was an aircraft that none of us on this planet would ever see again in our entire lives. I felt a deep thrill to photograph that decommissioned shuttle atop a jumbo jet low in the air over Tysons Corner, VA on its final flight.
I seized upon that obvious “flying West” metaphor and decided in 2012 that I Sam and I needed to leave the Washington, DC area so that we could relocate westward and restart our lives in a different place.
I’m sure it is blatantly immature for a grown person to become motivated by bad weather to make life-changing decisions. But, it was real easy for Sam and me to imagine the warmth of the desert sun when our apartment parking lot was clogged with deep, thick snow.
The West was the best. That’s what I thought. Where else in this whole wide world could you walk down an alley in your small California hometown and photograph your partner shooting pictures of buggle gum stuck to the bricks?
Las Vegas, Nevada was the choice we made for a western venue where we would live starting in the Summer of 2012. We got married in Las Vegas a few years later.
You can choose to ignore the sudden thrill of winning at a Las Vegas casino slot machine. However, when you become a local living in Las Vegas, you enter a world of experiences that you otherwise would never find anywhere else in your entire life—such as learning how not to live in a flood zone.
You just need to glance casually out the window while riding a crosstown bus in Las Vegas to catch a glance of most unique architecture. When you do as local do and visit the downtown Las Vegas “First Friday” festival of food and drink, just pretend not to pay any attention whatsoever to that big sign advertising nude daily strippers across the street.
If you know where to look, you can discover readily that there can be “sinfully good” food for you in Las Vegas.
You probably can photograph just about anywhere in Las Vegas and have the shot turn out looking like you knew what you were doing with that camera.
If nothing else is true, Las Vegas is one of the most visually and emotionally stimulating places in the entire United States. Once you have lived in Las Vegas you will learn the truth that you can make a life for yourself here if you use your wise and deliberate choices and maintain a purposeful outlook on your life.