By Grant McClure | South Carolina Wildlife magazine intern
I pulled my mom’s old Volvo wagon into a parking spot on Assembly Street across from the Rembert C. Dennis building in downtown Columbia. It was my first day working at South Carolina Wildlife magazine and my uncle, Ken Simmons, a law enforcement officer with the SCDNR, assured me that state employees were exempt from parking meter charges in front of the building. Around lunchtime, I received a first-day gift courtesy of the City of Columbia in the form of a small, white piece of receipt paper tucked under my windshield wiper — an eight-dollar parking ticket. The attendant, checking meters across the street, issued the ticket just moments before I could plead my innocence. I tracked the attendant down, sweating in my khakis and dress shirt, the midday sun beating down hard on the asphalt. I weaved my way back across three lanes of traffic, like a game of real-life Frogger. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” I said, out of breath. “It’s my first day working here. I just got my parking placard. Is there any way you can undo this ticket?” She shrugged, then said, “Sorry, sir. It’s already been issued.”
My first assignment was easy enough: package the May/June issues in manila envelopes, then tape on the shipping labels to send out to the magazine’s contributors. The packaging part came naturally, but the labels really threw my millennial-brain a wrench. Which corner did the return address go in again? It’d been years since I sent a letter through the mail. My fourth grade English teacher once gave a pop-quiz on how to label a letter. Let’s just say I failed at that, too. I am almost certain the last letter I sent out was to my high school girlfriend professing my undying love for the curvature of her mouth — or something gross and adolescent like that. Fast forward five years, and there I was, my first day working a real office job, fumbling around cluelessly while my boss, Joey Frazier, explained for the third time where to put the return address. That afternoon Olin, who helps to oversee the mail room, stopped by our office to introduce himself. When he asked how I was doing, all I could do was smile and say, “Well, they haven’t fired me yet.”
At the end of my first week I was handed a DSLR camera. Hanging by its Nikon strap, the camera’s weight felt intimidating around my neck. Once again, I fell victim to my millennial-ness. I was accustomed to taking photos with a cracked iPhone 5C, not a high-resolution Nikon DX. All the buttons and settings overwhelmed me as I practiced shooting photos around the office. Maria LaRocca, the magazine’s Art Director, worked me through the basics: the f-stop, shutter speed, the ISO. It all seemed easy enough until my first solo photo shoot. I’d traveled to West Ashley to interview sportsman’s artist Paul Puckett. As Paul showed me around his studio, I shot every one of my photographs in what appeared as a drunken, impressionistic blur. Only two of the photos turned out in focus.
About a month has passed since my first-day debacle at South Carolina Wildlife. I paid the parking ticket, and I am now well-versed in the art of the envelope label. My photos are sharper. I welcome the satisfying weight of the camera in my hands, the sound of the shutter opening and closing. In the past month, I have traveled with the magazine to take pictures of vintage side-by-side shotguns, their stocks and trigger-guards inscribed with detailed scenes of pointers flushing mid-flight quails from the underbrush. I waded into the cypress-knob-laden water of Lake Moultrie’s Russellville Flats to photograph bass fisherman hooked up to feisty blackwater largemouth.
Of course there are mundane days when I stare at my computer screen in my windowless office and think, “What am I doing here, again?” During those long days, the ones where I count the minutes on my desktop clock, I am thankful for the opportunity to work alongside the magazine’s talented professionals — Joey Frazier, Maria LaRocca and Cindy Thompson — who make the growing pains bearable.
On a rainy day in mid-June, I hear Olin’s familiar voice carry across the hall. Moments later he sticks his head through the door frame, then echoes his familiar, “How’s it going, Grant? Everything alright?” I smile, then say, “Well, they haven’t fired me yet.”