Two years ago today, this is the scene I spent hours photographing. Luckily, my work has improved since then, however, I did win a 2014 Virginia Press Association Award for Best Breaking News photo in a non-daily paper for one of my shots.
Having said that, this was the final straw that broke the camel’s back of Colonial Beach Elementary School on Douglas Avenue here in town.
Not long after the fire began, or more correctly was started by four young men who grew up here in town, I was called by my best friend, Tracey. I raised to the site and spent all night and most of the day taking thousands of pictures as the building burned.
Firefighters from 16 agencies responded to the fire from all over Virginia and Maryland. A pump boat from Maryland pumped water to the crews who were trying to control the blaze.
For hours and hours I watched more than 100-year-old building burn. A building that meant so much to this town, to me, to all the people who grew up here, was being destroyed before our eyes.
As daylight dawned, more and more local people showed up to watch the fire. Former students, teachers, people who had no connection to the school, even.
The worst moment for me was watching one retired coach, PE teacher, and Athletic Director stand on the blacktop facing the building that he had spent so many years teaching in. You could see the grief of the loss of the building weigh on him, immediately.
In October of 2015 the building was completely demolished, all of the brick building and the gymnasium attached to it. I was there for that, for days on end, taking thousands of pictures of the demolition.
Again, I watched as so many people showed up to say goodbye to Colonial Beach Elementary School as the bricks came down and the sight line to the river was cleared.
While my heart was torn in two while I watched it come down, it was even worse to see former teachers, students, friends, classmates stand there and see all the memories come tumbling down.
Grief weighs on you. Right now my grief feels like two elephants are sitting on my shoulders.
I have cried a lot today over a man I had only known a couple of years, but who had become my friend. Gig was so amazing and so many people loved him that his Facebook page is full of love and praise and thousands and thousands of people missing him.
The loss of this one day shy of 52-year-old man is more immense than the world realizes. Such a huge voice and an amazing songwriter silenced so young.
You don’t think about people dying of pneumonia in today’s world. You take some antibiotics or go into the hospital for some IV antibiotics and you get better.
You don’t die, the day before your birthday, from it.
Yet, at 8:03 PM January 3rd, Gig’s light went out. He left this earthly plane to whatever it is that follows us after.
I hope he’s sitting on a comfortable as hell bar stool, a tall glass of Crown in front of him, his clear acrylic mic stand in front of him. All six and half feet of him, long blond hair, and beard singing to the gathered crowd.
You left a huge impression on the world, Gig. I’m glad I got to meet you. I’m immensely humbled that I got to photograph you. And, I am extremely glad that I was able to call you friend.
Today, January 3rd, the world got a bit dimmer. Gig Michaels, lead singer of the band Swamp Da Wamp, passed away.
Gig wasn’t just an amazing singer, but a comedian, a smart ass, and just generally incredible person. He worked to help fight bullying between kids and had a fantastic song, “Fat Boy Can Jam” about his growing up with bullying and how he overcame that.
His star went out way too early as he, and SDW, were on the way up as a band.
I met Gig in 2014 when they performed at the first annual Colonial Beach Bike Fest. He and I became friends then.
He was good to talk to, awesome to photograph, and larger than life.
Rest in peace, Gig Michaels. You will be missed by so very many people.
(Photo taken during the 2nd Annual CB Bike Fest as they performed on the boardwalk stage. Do you see why I loved photographing him? Huge personality and very photogenic.)