With the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station flying across the sky in mind, I grabbed my camera and tripod and hoofed it over to the Hudson River to take pictures of the sunset and get ready for the fly-by.
People were fishing, others were staring off down the river idling the night away. Kids dressed in their little league outfits played ball on a field just a stone's throw away, and off in the distance a car stereo played salsa music.
I watched fishermen impale worms on ugly metal hooks then cast their lines far out into the river, weighted by diamond shaped blobs of lead, with murmurs of catfish. Bells anchored to the end of their poles tinkled every now and then when some fish decided to take a nibble, but nothing was reeled in while I watched. And though I don’t speak Spanish, I now understand that the look ‘My fish got away!’ is universal.
I set-up my tripod and started taking pictures of the sunset and its reflection across the water, then as the colors faded, I turned my camera south, toward the George Washington Bridge, happy that the bridge lights were on and that there was still a bit of color on the horizon.
Long after the sun had set and the soft yellows had begun to turn into the muted grays of night, a single engine prop plane flew up the river. With one of its lights out, it looked oddly asymmetrical as it flew overhead. It wings wobbled back and forth as it made a U-turn over the river and headed back to the Jersey shore and lower Manhattan.
The guy next to me spoke the first and almost the only English I heard that night. “That’s illegal you know.” The Spanish accent fit with the music quietly drifting over the cove.
“What?” I said.
“They’re not allowed to turn right here, they’re supposed to fly further up the river.” He turned to point north, up the Hudson to where the sky had dimmed to dusky purple and the river narrowed.
I nodded my head and said, “Oh.”
“Did you see how it was wobbling in the sky?”
“Yeah, maybe he was saying hello to someone.”
He looked at me like I was crazy and shook his head.
I explained. “My grandpa was a pilot, he used to wiggle his wings when he flew over his house to say hello.” We talked a little more, but I could tell he was unconvinced by my story. I had to admit I agreed with him. In hindsight, it was probably some inexperienced pilot bending the rules to hurry and land his plane before full dark.
By this time, I had taken roughly three hundred shots of the bridge, varying the length of time for each exposure, while hoping I would stumble upon the best one for the moment. Lacking technical experience, I had covered my bases by taking multiple shots with different exposures throughout the evening. Once I review the photos, and discard the ones that don’t work, I’ll learn what works best.
About forty minutes after the sun had set and the last bit of yellow and orange had disappeared from the horizon, I turned my camera to face north-west eyes strained and watching. The lap of water against wooden beams and the shore soothed as I waited for two lights to appear that would stream across the sky like shooting stars.
Every thirty seconds or so, I would check the time on my cell phone, five minutes to go until 9:20. I took a couple pictures of the moon and set my camera to manual focus.
I checked my phone again. It was only 9:16.
I attempted to take a shot pointing upriver, framing the river, and a person leaning against a railing looking over to the cliffs across the river. It most likely didn’t turn out. I checked the time again, 9:17.
It was a long five minutes.
9:20 finally arrived, and I renewed my watching. I looked in the direction of where the sun had set, west north-west. And watched, and watched, and waited, and nothing appeared.
Just about the time I gave up, a man nearby pointed to the sky in the east. His Russian accent lay heavy on his words, but I understood his meaning completely. I followed his pointing finger and found the space shuttle Atlantis and International Space Station streaking across the sky at a fast clip. I held my fist to the sky, they really were a fist width apart, a thrill of excitement raced through me.
And then reality hit, I’d missed my photo op and the entire arc across the sky. I should have been looking more to the north. I hurriedly pivoted my camera around and snapped three shots just before they hit the tree line. Of the three, one worked out.
For those of you who missed it. Here you go.
Shortly thereafter, I packed up my tripod and schlepped my stuff home. Happy that at least I’d spent a pleasant evening near the water, gotten to see what I’d waited for, and managed to get a shot of the moment. Not the best shot, nor the one I’d planned, but a shot none-the-less.