Friday, September 11, 2009

Hank Manuel

It was HOT, and I was shooting outside in the direct sunlight trying to grab some shots for my photography class assignment. Not the best lighting, but being a procrastinator I had no choice. I'm panning everything in sight with a 1% success rate. Hey, it's my first time! My skinny jeans have now become skin jeans and the cute gray shirt I decided to wear becomes a very bad, sweat-spotted idea. So I start to look for air conditioned refuge, and low and behold I stroll by the Hyatt on Embarcadero and decide to walk in. Ahhh, I love AC. As I cool down, I snap some neat pictures of the glowing elevators - again, a failed attempt at panning. I have about 10 minutes before I have to catch the next BART train to head to Berkeley for class, so as I'm going through the shots of the day I hear a voice approach me, "You should let me take a photo of you in front of the sculpture. One day when you're old like me you're gonna say, 'hey! that was the day that elderly man took a photo of me at the Hyatt!'"

I look up, and there standing a comfortable 10 feet away from me is a man who is old enough to be my grandfather. His sweater vest hugs his crisp collared shirt as he stands tall but slightly hunched over. He tells me he visits the Hyatt often to see what kind of tourists come into the city and likes to make friends with anyone who would give an old man their time of day. This is the beginning of our new friendship. We spend the next 20 minutes talking about EVERYTHING! I look at my watch and realize I'm running late for my BART, and he says if I don't mind he would like to take BART with me to Berkeley so we can continue our conversation. I admit, I was a little paranoid at first, but I didn't necessarily get a creepy vibe from him so I agreed to having a BART buddy. Before we board the train he asks me, "Who is the most important person in your life? I'll let you have some time to think about this."

We spend the next 40 minutes on our BART adventure talking about his beloved Filipina wife Estelle who passed away two years ago. "My, she was a beauty." We talk about his service in the United States Air Force. We talk about how I need to replace my "ya" with "yes" because "ya" is just a lazy way of saying "yes" and we don't want to come off as lazy. Yes, this is news to me, and yes, you can bet I slipped with a "ya" more than five times in our conversation where each time I would be met with raised eyebrows. He tells me my shirt is very unique and asks me where I bought it. I tell him I got it from H&M.

"Hank Manuel. That's my name. H&M. Now I bet every time you shop there now you will think of that elderly man who rode BART with me to class that one sunny day in San Francisco." I know he's right.

Next he asks me, "What are the most three important cities in the Philipines?" I'm confused with where this is going, but since Hank has changed the subject more times than I can count I entertain him and tell him, "Manila and..."

"Manila, Chocolate, and Strawberry." He chuckles at his own punchline, his shoulders shrug up and down as he continues to laugh at his own joke. "You know, that's just an old man's joke. What can I say? It keeps me alive these days." I, too, am laughing, not just at the punchline but at how happy I am having this conversation with Hank Manuel. I can tell he misses his wife dearly, but his resilience to live each day with such optimism and humor is inspiring.

The train stops at Downtown Berkeley, and our time is almost up. Hank asks me if I've thought about his question - who is the most important person in my life? I tell him, "I thought long and hard about this. I can say my husband because it sounds like the right answer or I can say my mom because to most people it's their mom or even their dad. But I really think the most important person to me right now is my little sister." He smiles, nods, and tells me, "Your sister is very lucky. But the most important person in your life is YOU. You are on this earth for a reason; you were uniquely created by God to make a difference in this world, and don't you forget that." His eyes become watery, "My wife told me that before she passed away, and I just want to pass that on to you because my wife was a very intelligent woman. Have a good time in your class, Connie."

I ask Hank if I can take his photograph. He surprisingly declines saying photos make him uneasy. I respect that. We hug him and part our separate ways.

Since I like visuals with my blog, here is a photo of a semi-successful panning shot.



  1. now THAT was a very well written short story! sounds like you had an awesome day! panning shots sure are really hard to get.. :( stupid shutter speeds and lighting haha!

  2. aww..reading the last line as you two parted ways made me tear up! :0( haha..H&M! :0)