Ezel Presbyterian Church

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I was in a testosterone fog.

Like the tops of the eastern Kentucky hills hidden by the fog of this particular winter, rainy, day, my judgement was clouded by the current state of my machismo.  My bravado gauge seemed to be in sync with the RPM gauge on my Fiat X 1/9, both maintaining a level above what could be considered safe at the time.  You get the picture.

I had my new girlfriend, now my lovely wife of 29-plus years, sitting in the orange leather passenger seat of this Italian classic sports car (description may be an embellishment).  Our destination was Ezel, Ky.

I had invited her to come with me for her first trip to Morgan County, my home, to witness her new boyfriend perform the most manly of courtship rituals.  Amid all of the Animal Planet and Nature Channel shows that focus on the singing, dancing, spreading plumage, and so forth found in nature, there is one facet of the male-to-female attraction ritual that never seems to be shown…the male’s invitation to the female to travel a long distance to watch him play in a basketball tournament in a small rural gymnasium.

As if her femaleness wasn’t clicking on all cylinders in the anticipation of watching me display my prowess on the court of the old Ezel High School gym, added to her delight was riding in a car that barely had the weight to stay within the gravitational pull of the planet at 70 mph.  Not only that, but throw into her experience a driving rain and road spray coming onto a vehicle that wasn’t as tall as the semi trucks’ tires I kept passing.  The six-inch Italian wiperblades could not keep the amount of water cleared off the windshield long enough to see the small ponds formed on the rain-soaked Mountain Parkway.  I assumed each episode of hydroplaning that showcased my daring-do car handling ability would further add to her confidence in opting for my affections.

I was thinking none of her past beaus would have been able to deliver an unprecedented afternoon such as this.

Ezel is a beautiful section of rolling hills and farmland in western Morgan County.  Sitting atop one of these rolling hills is the Ezel Presbyterian Church.  It is one of my favorite sights in all of Morgan County.  This church building was built about ninety years ago.

Remarkably, my wife still continued to date me after this inglorious day.  Although since this day,  when we travel there is a constant update on weather changes and road conditions and speed monitoring coming from the passenger seat.

Also my team made it to the finals of the basketball tournament that day so my lucky new girlfriend was able to be impressed by my manliness for a whole day in that gym at Ezel.  We lost in that game, but not before I was able to keep my man from missing a shot and holding him to about thirty points.

I am happily married today because my wife never understood the fundamentals of a man-to-man defense.

 

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J. Geils

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I stood outside Wetherby Gymnasium feeling all grown up.   I could smell the excitement, the freedom, an occassional whiff of Smashburgers from the Dairy Cheer across the street and dirty denim.  There was also a strange smell, like burning rope, but not any kind of rope I had smelled burning before.  There was also the smell of what I remember Crosley Field smelling like when someone spilled a beer.

I was fourteen and it was the spring of 1972.  I was waiting  to see Rare Earth in concert.  This was to be my first true rock concert.  I rode to Morehead with a friend who was a junior in high school and was way too cool to be spending time with me, a lowly freshman. We came to the campus of Morehead State University to meet my brother.  He was a freshman at MSU and was living the dream, eating out three times a day, letting his hair grow out, going to rock concerts, and hanging out with college girls.

On this particular night, I was like my brother…living the dream or whatever you would call a 5 foot, 120 pound, near-sighted bantam standing amid a massive horde of college students.  Oh, and I did not have a ticket.  My brother, in his new  college wisdom, told me I would not need one.  He said when the doors open, the crowd moves so fast through the openings, the ticket takers don’t even try.

I felt the mass moving.  I looked up and all I saw was afros and beards and pony tails moving slowly against a cloudy sky.  Then a strange feeling came over me…I was floating.  I looked down and saw my feet were not attached to the earth anymore.  I was being carried by this throng toward the doors and all I could think about was staying upright.  This was my first experience with festival seating for rock concerts.

My feet never hit the ground until we were past the doors and inside.  At this point, it looked like a sprint for people with  no sense of direction.  We went everywhere.  My little group settled in the seats on the side, awaiting one of the hottest rock bands of the day.

There was rain in the forecast, but I don’t think cataclysmic gulley-washer was ever mentioned…for it came one…a big one.  Water filled the hallways of Wetherby Gymnasium so fast, I thought I was seeing animals coming in two by two.  But it was just the football team.

Some of the more chemically engineered students were body surfing out in the halls and concession areas.

There was some concern as to whether the band would go on due to all the water in the building.  Evidently the electrical engineering department was among those crossing over to chemical engineering that night  because there was going to be rock and roll as soon as the water receded enough to find the outlets.

All the water in the building activated my little bladder, so I had to go find the restroom before the band took the stage.  As I pushed through the men’s room door and headed past the urinals to the stall ( my bladder was not only small but also shy), I could see in my periphery there were other folks in the restroom.  I recognized the faces of Rare Earth from their album covers.  Their dressing room must have flooded because they were in the men’s room with all of their stuff.   And now Rare Earth was listening to me pee.

As I washed my hands, I kept waiting for some big security hoss to pick me up and gently urge me to through the door.   It never happened.  And as I took my time soaking up the moment and gazing in the mirror of the newly inhabited Rare Earth dressing room, I could see the images of the band watching this little imp at the sink who dared to interrupt their pre-show meditations.  Alas, no one said a word to me except the mass of black hair squatting against the wall.  As I made my way out, I recognized the conga player, Edward “Guz” Guzman and we made eye contact.  He said to me, and I’ll never forget, those important words,  “What’s happenin’ man?”  I surmised he did not want an answer.

I regaled my friend and brother with my latest escapade when I returned to my seat.  Rare Earth came on stage shortly and did not disappoint the water-logged throng.  Miraculously, no one was electrocuted…not by electricity anyway.

I took this photo of another concert I attended at Morehead State.  This time as a photographer for the university when I was a student.  The J. Geils Band came to Morehead and this shot of J. Geils is one of the better ones I snapped that night.  It was also lead singer Peter Wolf’s birthday and he brought out a bottle of champagne and poured into the waiting cups of the crowd near the stage.

There was a different type of mass movement that night.   The campus police moved to the stage but not because they were fans of the band.   At the time Morehead was a dry town and they did not appreciate the way Mr. Wolfe was passing out birthday wishes.

I think the electrical engineers were called into duty that night, because someone pulled the plug quickly.

If you like this photo, you can see more of my pictures here.

 

 

 

Old Mill Park Swinging Bridge

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I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas from West Liberty in Morgan County in eastern Kentucky in the United States of America on the North American continent of the planet Earth in the Solar System of the Milky Way Galaxy in the Universe of God’s Realm.   I don’t know how to use Google Earth or my car’s system for navigation, so I thought I would locate where I lived by actual words.

I wanted to use a picture that depicts serenity.   I like to think of Christmas as a peaceful and serene time in our lives.   In the midst of all that is Christmas in our society, there are usually a few moments of peace and serenity that can be found if we look for them.   I hope you find them this Christmas.

I took this photo a few years ago.   This swinging bridge was in West Liberty at the Old Mill Park.   It spanned the Licking River.  Unfortunately, it was one of the things lost in our town to the tornado in 2012.

I originally started to use this picture and use the bridge as a metaphor (or simile…I don’t the difference).  I was going to explain, in tired, overused terms how we are crossing the bridge in  various stages of our lives.  But as often happens when I couldn’t continue with what I started, I jumped off.

I love Christmas time but lately it seems more involved than I would like it to be.   As I was doing my pre-Christmas rant this morning in our kitchen, my lovely wife  happened to be in a direct line of spewn verbage that blew her hair back as if she sat too close to a space launch .   When she could again find enough replaced oxygen in the room to speak, she calmly asked, “Problem?”

I always enter into the Christmas season remembering my times as a wee lad.   I assume as most of you as well.   In my Beaver Cleaver- sort- of- fogged -recollection, Christmas was a wonderful time.   I wonder if my parents and grandparents were stressed with the responsibility of trying to make sure everyone in the family would have a wonderful experience.   I wonder if my rant this morning in the kitchen was any different from a million other rants by a million other parents and grandparents.

My wife has a wonderful way of dealing with the stresses of life.   After varying stages of worry from Defcon 5 to Defcon 1 (yes this is the correct sequence, I looked it up), she just takes care of it and I don’t ask questions.   I, on the other hand, start at Defcon 3 and stay there in a paralyzing cauldron of what-ifs until my lovely wife rips the key from my trembling fingers and pushes the launch button.

I have a wonderful family and I really enjoy spending time with them.    Like all families, as we grow things become more complicated.   Our children and their families amass other obligations  and soon they will have their own pre-Christmas rants.     We are all part of God’s family.   As His family has grown, look at how complicated it has become.

Somehow, I think He handles it a little better than I do.

If you like this photo, you can see more of my pictures here.

Morgan County Office Building

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This building is very familiar to most folks who grew up in Morgan County, Kentucky and have lived there anytime from the 1930’s til now.

Currently this building houses offices of the Morgan County government. Many of us Morgan Countians know this building has the “old” Morgan County High School. This school building was opened in 1937. It was built as part of the Works Progress Administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s tenure in the White House. His wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, actually came to West Liberty to dedicate the new school.

This school building stopped being used as a high school in 1974, my junior year. We moved to the “new” high school in August of 1974. I was part of the first graduating class of the “new” high school. Now those of you who are good at cipherin’ numbers should be able to calculate that the “new” high school has now been in use longer than the “old” high school. I think it’s time some of us should probably drop the “new” in our description of the current high school.

As was usually the case in years past in small towns in Kentucky and probably America, the school buildings that were built in this era of history housed more than the high school grades of the school system. This was the case at Morgan County.

I started in this building in the fifth grade. It was close enough that I could walk to school with my brother and some friends. This daily ritual changed over the years. My brother, who was four years older, graduated when I entered high school and for some reason my friends wanted to get to school on time so they stopped waiting on me. Evidently my punctuality gene stopped working at about fifteen years of age. I think I was late every day of high school. My leisurely walks to school turned into all-out sprints.

I “stayed back” in the eighth grade with two of my friends. Now for those of you who do not live in eastern Kentucky, this was a fairly common occurrence among boys who thought they had prominent athletic careers ahead of them. Staying back or repeating an early grade would give the young athlete another year to mature and thus be able to dominate those of the proper-aged-in-the-appropriate-grade athlete. It seems this premise only works if the said repeatee would actually grow to be larger than those he was supposed to dominate. In my case that, unfortunately, was not the case.

When I told my wife, who is a product of the parochial schools, that I “stayed back”, she thought a repeat of the eighth grade meant something else entirely so she started speaking slower to me. I knew I had to tell her why I added another year to my education experience so she would not question my intellectual capabilities. However, I was in a quandary. If I told her that I stayed back for an enhanced athletic superiority, she would think it foolish since I obviously had not had much of a career. So I told her the other reason, “that it was to make me more mature as a person.”

“Well”, she replied, “that did not work either.”

If you like this photo, you can see more of my photos here.

Basketball Goal Over Barn Door

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10…9…8…We were counting down to a new decade on New Year’s Eve in 1969. I was 13 years old and spending the night with my best friend.

As we watched the countdown on TV, I was cradling a basketball in high anticipation for the perfect execution of this brilliant display of athletic prowess that would occur in a few seconds.

7…6…5…My friend was oblivious as to what was about to unfold. Now the basketball started to feel as big and heavy as the lump in my throat. “I have to pull this off. I will only have one chance”, I thought to myself as I went over the plan again in my mind.

4…3…2…Arising nonchalantly with a fake yawn, I did not wish to arouse the suspicion of my friend who I knew would try to steal my plan and execute it himself. A quick glance over in his direction assured me that he was as clueless as Custer. He was laying there in a sloth-like state after ingesting a concoction of chips and Twinkies and HO-HO’s and Oreos and washing it down with Coca-Colas and chocolate milk. He had enough sugar in him to ferment if I could sprinkle a little yeast on him.

You see in my mind, I was going to be a basketball superstar. I would start my organized basketball career this year and I envisioned record-setting statistics as a point guard-extraordinaire throughout my junior high and high school days at Morgan County. Surely this 4 foot 11 inch, 95 pound body would grow to NBA proportions.

Tonight would be the ceremonial and symbolic beginning of that career…if I could pull this off.

As I made a subtle move toward the front door, I peered one more time at my friend to gauge his level of awareness. Much to my surprise, he had the look my dog gets when a pork chop bone materializes in
front of her. He was rising to his feet as I bolted.

1…0…Happy New Year 1970!!!!

I was in a full sprint toward the front door. “What tipped him?,” I wondered.

The Twinkies must have kicked in because he caught me as I grabbed the door knob. We elbowed and muscled our way through the door as two pre-adolescent sumos who were not big enough or strong enough to move each other off their chosen path. We both were small enough to fit through the door at the same time, so there was no use in trying to push one another out of the way.

He was putting up a fight, but I still had the basketball in my possession. As we hit the front stoop and then the sidewalk, my boosters kicked in and my PF Flyers were barely touching the ground as I was able to separate from my defender, giving me a clear path to the basketball goal in the drive-way. It was then I put down my first dribble (because it had to be a basketball move to count).

With my friend, who was now my adversary, a step behind, I dribbled up to the goal and with all of the strength in my spindly legs pushing me upward to my destiny, I laid in the perfect lay-up. My friend hammered me after the release and we both crashed onto the frozen, now-January turf. I did it! I just made the first basket in the eastern time zone of the decade of the 70’s…and also drew the first foul.

My basketball career was not too stellar. My career scoring average probably begins with a “point”, as in .7 per game. I am still waiting on that NBA body to materialize. Though it can’t be validated that I actually made the first basket of the seventies, which turned out to be the pinnacle of my basketball career, no one has yet to dispute the fact.

I took this photo of an old basketball goal in Maytown, KY in western Morgan County. Basketball goals over barn doors were very common when I was growing up. Unfortunately, they are fewer in number now.

I want to wish everyone a very happy and healthy and prosperous New Year in 2013.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.

Morgan County Courthouse at Christmas

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I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

As most everyone does at this time, I always look back on the current year and do some reflecting. It seems like this year has been a lot harder upon which to reflect.

I realize in all years there are difficulties, strife, and calamities. We lose people through the year that we are close to and remember them more at this time. We pray for those who are grieving and lonely and missing family members.

Now we as a nation mourn the loss of children, teachers, and one mother who tried to raise a tormented boy into adulthood and hoping, one day, he would be able to function in society. It seems as though they have replaced, in our thoughts, the previous senseless deaths at the hands of other demented souls in Oregon, Colorado, and places that don’t make the front pages and 24 hour news cycles. While it is hard, we should mourn for those who pulled the trigger, and somehow hoping, they had no idea what they were doing.

Here in West Liberty, Kentucky we are still feeling the effects of a tornado that devastated us and while we are making progress, we see reminders everywhere and think of the families that had ones they love taken away. The folks in the northeast also are going through a similar and more recent experience.

However, while we reflect on Christmases of the past, there is really only one Christmas that should be foremost on our mind and that is the first Christmas. A loving God entered into His creation He cherished so dearly. He did not wait for all of humanity to come to Him. He came to us.

I took this photo of the Morgan County Courthouse last Christmas. I know the courthouse will one day be just as beautiful as it was in this photo.

May your Christmas be filled with love and peace. May those who lost loved ones this year have fond memories and those memories will somehow give them comfort and joy. May we be filled with the wonder and awe of those Bethlehem shepherds. And may the world come to know the loving God who came in the form of a little baby and showed the world how much He loves us.

Merry Christmas.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.

Hay on a Hill

There are some things that are ingrained in my mind that remind me of eastern Kentucky in the fall.   We have beautiful autumn foliage that rivals anyplace in the country and beautiful blue skies most of the season.  I love the taste of sorghum cooking in the field.  I also love the smell of burning leaves on a late afternoon.

One of the things that says fall in eastern Kentucky is fresh-cut hay in the field.  I took this picture on a ridge in Carter County, Ky.  I was driving home from work one day and taking a shortcut along the back roads, I came upon this roll of hay beside the road.  I liked the formation of the clouds in the blue sky as a background.

One of my childhood memories of fall in Morgan County is going with my dad to gather hickory nuts.  I loved cracking them by the fireplace and eating what I could salvage.  Looking back on this, hickory nuts would be a great snack for weight control today.  You could eat them continuously while watching the teevee.  It takes so much energy to get the nut out and you can’t consume very much during a snack binge that seems to consume me way to often.

Autumn in eastern Kentucky is a wonderful time and for some reason, it seems to conjure memories of my childhood more than all the other seasons.  I wonder why that is?  I would love to hear what memories others have of autumn, not only in eastern Kentucky but other parts of the world.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.

Harry Chapin

I always think back to my days at Morehead State University whenever I look at this picture of Harry Chapin.  He did a benefit concert at Morehead State, a beautiful college campus in the hills of eastern Kentucky.  I was a freshman at the time.

My love for photography really began with this concert.  I was a photographer for the public relations department at Morehead State and I was assigned to shoot this event.  I liked Harry Chapin’s music,  so this was a real treat for me.  He did not bring a band, only his guitar.

My first concert to photograph was The Spinners.  I did not do very well.  They kept moving around too much.  Harry just sat there on a stool…so much easier.  I did manage to get some good shots and I realized the power of the camera  and how you could produce an image that evoked feeling.

After the concert, I walked with Harry Chapin, just he and I, out the door of Wetherby Gymnasium into the cold night air.  I remember thinking how cool this is and not because of the temperature.     We talked about the possibility of sending these photos to him (actually I talked about it, he seemed deeper in thought about something else, probably how to get rid of an annoying teen age photographer who thinks he is better than he really is).  Anyway, as we were standing beside his rented Plymouth Duster with him holding  his guitar, I knew then I would always remember this moment. Then he asked me that all important question  I will take to my grave, “How do I get back to the Cincinnati airport?”

Harry Chapin was actually very pleasant on that night after his show.  I was very saddened when I heard of his death.  I will always remember the night when a big-time singer/song writer was kind to a young man from eastern Kentucky.

It’s funny how some things always stand out in our memory.  I can still smell my freshman dorm room at 212 Alumni Tower, and no, not because of a stench of two eighteen year-olds living together in what could be a small walk-in closet.

I remember lying in my bed with a high fever wishing I was delirious instead of  listening to my roommate and another friend argue over my lifeless body as to which was the best remedy…freeze the fever out  or keep me warm.  It looked like a bad comedy routine with one friend opening the window to let in the frigid January air and the other closing it and piling another blanket on me…repeating this dance over and over again.

I remember turning in my first Comp 1 paper.

At the sacrifice of hours of carefree college life to write our papers, we strode collectively up to the instructor and laid our finished work upon the altar.  When I placed my paper on the pile, Mr. Morrow peered up at me over his glasses.   After seeing the title of my paper, “The Baseball Life of Hank Aaron”, he said to me in his very southern drawl,  “That is uh mighty schahluhly subject Mr. Nickell.”  (That word is scholarly for you Yankees that don’t understand Southernese.)

I walked out of the room and down the hall, feeling quite pleased with myself.  Then suddenly I felt the cold sting of higher education sarcasm.   As I opened the door of the Combs building, with the crisp autumn afternoon hitting me in the face, I looked up into that bright blue eastern Kentucky sky and felt the pride and satisfaction of eliminating my first career choice…writing.   After all, that is what college is about– finding out all of the things you ain’t good at.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.

Return to Friday Night Normalcy

In most small towns across America in the fall, Friday nights mean one thing — high school football.  This has been the norm in all places I have lived from California, Texas (especially Texas), northern Kentucky, and my hometown of West Liberty, Kentucky.

This is a picture of the first home football game after the tornado destroyed the field and the facility six months ago.  This has been quite an accomplishment I must say.   I had my camera set on a speed of 3200 ISO for the football action so the shot is a little grainy.  I know it won’t hang on the walls of many people as a masterpiece of photographic technique, but I liked the shot of the field with the sunset.  I just wanted a picture of the moment  that West Liberty and Morgan County, Kentucky took a big step in the return to normalcy.  Friday nights will once again be reserved for high school football, one more victory over the tornado.

Whenever I go to a high school football game, I never fail to reminisce about the one year of high school football I played in my senior year.  You see in my mind I was a touch football legend, catching passes in the pimply faced secondary across the few impromptu back yard playing fields of West Liberty.  I was always afraid to play high school football because I was rather small in stature.  So when my senior year came around, I figured 17 years of growth would be enough to inflict maximum  force.  My DNA worked overtime to produce a superior specimen at 5’9″ and 145 pounds…perfect for football I presumed.  Also, I was highly nearsighted and had to wear glasses under my helmet…another bonus.

There was one play that, surprisingly I remember, tells me my instincts may have been a little off.  In my first game, the coach sent me in with a play that would be a pass to be thrown to me.  Full of excitement and confidence and thinking about all of those passes I caught on the touch football fields, I relayed the play to my quarterback.  Now I had practiced this play numerous times without any calamities against my teammates and it seemed so simple.  I lined up at tight end (did I mention I was 5’9″ and 145 pounds?) and I was to take one step toward the defensive tackle and fake a block, then dash out to the flat for a five-yard pass to pick up the first down.

For some reason the defensive tackle, who was larger than some of the cars I’ve owned, wasn’t too receptive to my coming toward him.  I must have invaded his personal space because he hit me with a forearm shiver to the chin that snapped my head back like a Pez dispenser.  Fortunately, he knocked me in the general direction I was supposed to go.  Unfortunately, he also knocked my glasses down inside my helmet so I could not see the football coming.  As I was staggering out to the flat like a drunken sailor, our quarterback, who had not only an accurate arm but a strong one also, stuck the ball in my midsection so hard it knocked the breath out of me.   After making the catch, two linebackers pounced on me reminiscent of those nature films where the cheetahs devour the lonely straggler in the back of the pack.

We got the first down and I stammered off to the side lines with the strap of my glasses dangling out the back of my helmet like a ten year-old girl’s pony tail and proceeded to have the most fun I ever had playing a high school sport.

If you like this picture, you can see more here.

Doughboy

The Doughboy stood as a sentinel on the Morgan County Court House square for over eighty years.  Since the 1920’s when he came to West Liberty, KY and began his watch over our community he had witnessed many changes and through it all he remained steadfast….until March 2, 2012.

He had seen horse and buggies and A-models on mud streets through the depression. He witnessed young men, like himself, go off to war from the bus station across the street, knowing they were full of patriotism and a sense of duty mixed with a lot of anxiety and wondering if they would see their families again as they looked out the windows at the back of the bus.  He silently rejoiced as most returned, victorious in battle.  He also mourned for those families that experienced the loss and sacrifice of their sons.

He saw the jubilation and carefree times after  World War II and into the fifties  as the cars going by changed from bulkier sedans to sleeker, longer styles, some having fins. He never blinked when the muscle cars of the sixties and early seventies sped by and he wondered if they ever noticed him.  Recently he has seen helicopters fly in and out of the hospital on the hill across the Licking River.

He saw many sixteen year-olds learning to parallel park on Main Street.  He probably chuckled to himself as he saw one particular frustrated teen feebly attempt to perform this arduous task three weeks in a row in pursuit of his driver’s license.  That name shall remain off the pages of these scholarly ramblings.

I have taken many pictures of this World War I monument over the years.  For some reason I have always been drawn to his face, having been struck by the lifelike features and youthful appearance.  Whenever I would look at him, I thought of my grandfather who enlisted  in the Navy near the end of World War I.  He met my grandmother while in training at the Naval training center in Chicago.  She was fifteen and he was eighteen.  They eventually married and he brought her to West Liberty from Chicago.  I admired her courage and her adventurous spirit.

I like to think the Doughboy “fell on the grenade” that fateful night trying to protect the community he had watched over all those years.  As he absorbed the direct force of the tornado that toppled him from his post and severely wounded him, I hope he felt the love and respect of the community for those many from Morgan County who have served this great nation and for whom he stood in honor.

The Doughboy is being repaired and eventually will be back in the community he loves so dear.  Like that officer that has earned a cushy desk job, he will be performing his duties inside one of the court buildings. I will be glad to see him back in town.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.