About three months into the year I had no idea of what changes and challenges would lie ahead.
Everything had been normal to start the year with the usual mix of news and sports stories to cover. The last “normal assignment” I would cover for some time was a festival of cultures at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts on March 11.
Standing at the back of the theater as dancers swirled in colors on the stage, I overheard people whispering about the changes to come under the threat of the new COVID-19 pandemic.
A week later I was standing in a nearly-empty Tracy City Council chamber, as a shelter-in-place directive was issued for the city. Pieces of paper taped to the back of seats designated where people could sit as the first measures of social distancing were introduced.
Covering assignments shifted early into the pandemic. It seemed like I was taking more photos of empty rooms and barren streets than anything else.
It was eerie at times — taking pictures of locked storefronts, closed signs and computer screens that everyone was now funneled toward to communicate with each other.
Drive-thru events became the rage, and I photographed more cars driving past me than any other time in my career.
A mask became a staple in my camera bag, next to spare batteries and notebooks.
Breaking news events didn’t stop with the pandemic. Protest marches, house fires and homicides kept us moving through the year, with the only change being the addition of masks in the crowd.
The massive wildland fires that burned across California, scorching millions of acres sent an apocalyptic cast over the city.
Even election day photos were socially distanced, as poll workers received ballots while wearing face shields and rubber gloves.
Late in the year more people came out and were in photos — but masked — and most people didn’t want to be photographed standing close to anyone else so they could be seen following social distancing rules.
Looking back at the year’s photos, you can almost see the see the day that everything changed, as all the crowds in the background had disappeared.
But looking back at the year in photos, it is the things that didn’t get covered I think about the most.
There was no shivering on the sidelines as I covered football games in December. No streets lined with people to watch Halloween, homecoming or holiday parades.
Gone were the sunrise balloon launches on the Fourth of July and the crazy high school skits at night homecoming rallies.
I missed photographing a sea of purple as cancer survivors marched in the Relay for Life and the solemn tribute of a trumpeter playing taps at a Memorial Day service.
So much was different as much as we fought to keep it the same. It’s the average everyday things I missed — that we missed — that just doesn’t seem right.
Heading into 2021, much of the assignments will be the same as we continue with stay-at-home orders and day to day life slowly turns back to normal.
It will be a welcome change when a city full of people in their everyday adventures return in front of the camera lens.
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