Midnight in the Museum District
What it's like to go viral in a very small way
A few weeks ago, my girlfriend Hannah and I went to a wedding. We somehow got through the entire evening without taking a single photo together.
It’s tempting to attribute the lack of photos to us, you know, just living in the moment too much, man, and that we aren’t in the business of pausing fun for the sake of a photo. But that’s not true. We’re just forgetful.
After the reception the whole wedding party went to a beloved, no-frills neighborhood bar in the Fan where we all A) had a whale of a time, and B) looked completely out of place.
Around midnight we started to run out of gas and decided to walk home. With a few blocks to go, after god-knows how many hours in Uncomfortable Shoes™, Han’s feet had had enough and she decided to finish the walk barefoot. Half a block after that she hopped on my back.
As we went through one of the last intersections before refuge, we crossed paths with a guy headed the other direction. We all chuckled at the situation, Han clinging to my back like Yoda on Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. The passerby reached over his shoulder for a retro-looking film camera.
He pulled the viewfinder to his eye and the flash went off. Neither of us thought much of it, perhaps we were too rapt with the idea of slippers and sweatpants awaiting us a few dozen feet away.
But a few weeks later I woke up to a pile of text messages. Some were from people I see daily, others from old friends I hadn’t talked to in years, but they all included a link to a thread on the Richmond subreddit.
The photographer posted the shot of us! The thread apparently was the most popular post that day on the /r/rva subreddit, and (thankfully) none of the comments about us got too weird.
Photography still feels like a form of magic to me, offering the ability to see things I’d otherwise never in this lifetime get to see with my own eyes. Being a subject of a photo that captured strangers’ imaginations, if even fleetingly, is kind of being on the other side of the glass at the zoo.
I haven’t been able to contact the photographer, but on the off-chance he sees this: Thank you, this is a photo I’ll cherish forever.
Last month I wrote about believing that something magical could happen each time you step outside. It’s hilarious to me that this photo was taken just days later, after I’d walked out of a bar.
This picture reminds me that we live in a town where your neighbors are into the good clean fun of archiving these moments for each other, and that they’ll go out of their way to try to make sure you see it.
It shows what those nights where the world feels alive and electric are like, and how lucky I am to even be dealing with this exceptionally weird situation: That I, of all people, have a life where a silly end to a night with my imperiously pretty girlfriend can become a moment that led a stranger to say, “As a guy who has given up on relationships, this photo made me smile and have a little renewed hope.”
A picture can’t show the years-long journeys through uncertainty and heartache we each took before finding each other, nor can it show all the fun we’ll have in the future together. But it can show what it’s like to be out, with the love of your life, having the time of your life.
There’s a lot of things I don’t have, and probably never will. But this picture reminds me of how little I need to feel like I live like a king.