As San Francisco finalized its preparations for Super Bowl 50 celebrations, I hopped on a flight to Madrid for a two week work trip. Escaping the Super Bowl madness was an opportunity I welcomed, despite my Denver Broncos competing for – and eventually winning – the national title. While photography was not the primary motivation for my trip, I found about ten hours to get lost in the streets of old Madrid behind the viewfinder of my camera. Below is the color and burst I stumbled across.
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After teaching for three years, I began driving creative communications for Rocketship Education, an innovative public charter school network. Rocketship opens and operates high quality, free elementary schools in underserved communities across the county. By developing excellent teachers & leaders, personalizing learning for each child and engaging parents, Rocketship is rethinking elementary school to eliminate the achievement gap in our lifetime.
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Six days after my arrival to Cuba, my amazing travel companions (Leta, Bert , Aisha and Renzo) and I learned President Obama announced the United States and Cuba were officially establishing diplomatic relations. A US embassy was weeks away from re-opening in Havana after over five decades of a Cold War bout between our country's leaders.
A trojan horse for the US to reclaim power in Cuba?
The US's acceptance of communism?
The end of Castro's regime?
Whatever the motivation and political foreplay behind the "normalization" of relations between the US a Cuba, the page has turned.
"I didn't think this would happen in my lifetime," said a kind-faced Viñales tour guide.
She shook her head in disbelief and looked across the room at her colleague, also in her mid-30s.
The second woman's lips perked dimples into her cheeks as she looked down to her arm. Pointing to a rumble of goose bumps, she fell speechless.
We had stopped by a tour center to inquire about hiking trails and the, who-knows-because-it's-Cuba, possible availability of rental hogs to scoot across the Viñales countryside. Still unclear of the hog situation, we ventured out for a hike to a cave, which, we were told may be hard to find because there, "aren't many signs in Cuba."
Before we strolled into the tour office, a breaking news alert informed us of Obama's upcoming announcement. In an internet center - run by the Cuban government, like most establishments in communism – where foreigners and locals (well, not really locals) can purchase internet for anywhere between CUC$2 and $8 an hour. The prices seem to change at random...because it's Cuba. A passport or Cuban ID is required to purchase internet. Whether the Cuban government has the technology and resources to monitor internet use is up for debate, but every site I visited theoretically could be tracked back to me.
Our iPhones worked the same as they do with a wifi connection in the states – minus streaming content – but the computers provided by the internet center appeared to block a lot of content through invasive and seemingly senseless cookie errors. Oh Cuba.
A cuc (or Cuban convertible peso), or 30 minutes of Cuban wifi, is worth about one American dollar and 25 cuban pesos. The cuc actually replaced the American dollar in Cuba late in 2004. Foreigners use the cuc, locals use the peso, which, though among the highest value for a peso, is worth very little. One cuc is 25 pesos. Fifty cucs buys you a thee hour cab ride, which is just 20 cucs shy of what Cuban doctors make in a month. Thus, everything foreigners could access like restaurants, wifi and bottled water are more or less inaccessible to the Cuban people. Even items like shampoo and basic drugs like Advil are tough to come by.
Disparity thrives in Cuba. Yet streams of colorful Cubans bustle through the streets – hawking bread, fixing cars or resting on their stoops with the backdrop of buildings in vibrant disappear, paining a beautiful tapestry. Kids play soccer or marbles in the streets at dusk as their parents smoke cigarettes on their stoop.
From my experience, Cuban people on the whole are incredibly kind and appear to be deeply connected to their families, neighbors, community and country. Eyes deepened by pride, frustration, love and cautious optimism glow through many Cuban's sun soaked skin.
Things have been slowly changing for Cubans in recent years. More liberties and freedoms drizzle the Cuban people. Opportunities have thus become increasingly available. Though, like the hog rentals, the consistency and clarity of opportunity is who-knows-because-it's-Cuba.
"Everything is illegal here!" said a Havana wheeler and dealer named Juan-Carlos.
"They arrested me yesterday for talking to you," he continued. "As soon as you left, they started accusing me of harassing you. Five hours I have sat in a tiny cell."
We had walked around with Juan-Carlos the day before. He's a savvy Cuban who had defected from his island to play professional baseball in Canada and the US before "blowing it" when he married a stripper and ended up back in his Communist-run country. Juan-Carlos most certainly hoped he was suave his way into something advantageous when he struck up a conversation with us the day before.
But he wasn't trying to hustle us. A big voice fueled by fluency in both slang-filled American English and rapid Cuban Spanish is his ride through interwoven dialogue between the locals, the cops and foreigners.
"The cops like to harass me for all kinds of shit. But they know my people know me and are behind me. I make noise and they let me go," he explained. According to Juan-Carlos, at one time, he had been locked up for seven months for saying bad things about Castro. He stripped down naked and hunger striked until they let him go, he claimed.
I appreciated his rebellious and tenacious spirit.
The American embassy reopening in Cuba is huge. But I don't think Cuba will change fast. The island is stuck in a 1950s time-warp with smoking classic American cars and grocery stores stocked worse than a college dorm room. Cubans know they want change. But change is a skill and mindset. It takes a certain mentality and know-how. The way my colleagues, neighbors and friends view change in Silicon Valley differs drastically from the understanding of change in Cuba. Words like disruption and innovation seemed nonexistent in Cuban prose.
Nonetheless, the Cuban people, who are generally well-educated, seem to have the will and desire to explore the world, if they were only allowed, and improve their country. Perhaps a Cuban grass-roots wave will swell or new government relations between our countries will push change into gear.
"The Cuban people need change now," Juan-Carlos said to me. "But, no."
"Twenty? Thirty years? Maybe. But we need our freedom now."
Click to jump to Cuba album. Scroll for full immersion.
FOGG is a fantastic San Francisco theatre company.
FOGG stands for "Focus On Golden Gate" and is a collaborative venture driven to build a locally based, self-reliant theatre system—one in which the creation of work, the production of work, and the consumption of work enhances the economic, environmental and social health of the San Francisco Bay Area. By telling locally relevant stories, and by using Bay Area artists, FOGG is creating a theatre system that gives its audience a personalized, consequential and vital entertainment alternative. Telling Bay Area stories is important. Stories are how we process our past, how we examine our present, and how we imagine our future. They're how we grieve our losses, and how we celebrate our triumphs. Our stories matter.
Cable Car Nymphomaniac is FOGGs first musical. I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with the Cable Car team and talent to produce a series of press shots.
Desigual's downtown San Francisco store hosted an undie party to kick off the holiday season. First 100 people to line up outside the store — in their underwear — were rewarded with a free top and a free bottom of their choosing from the store. My job was the capture the experience for Desigual's blog and social media.
Mid April of 2014, I experienced Latin America for the first time. My partner Leta and I flew to Quito, Ecuador where we met my friend Patrick, a current residence of this small country. With only nine days on the ground, we ventured from north to south, skipping in and out of the Amazon and Andes climates of Ecuador.
Even miles by seven miles of a diverse, rolling city landscape. One of the few places I've been where the people are just as eclectic as the architecture.
Home of Oakland and Berkley, the East Bay meets San Fransisco via the Bay Bridge and hosts residential, university, and city-living.
Plenty of California to explore: the ocean landscapes of Big Sur to gasping cities like la la land LA.
Technically the Bay Area is considered Northern California, but there is plenty North of wondrous San Francisco.
Where technology went boom and where the sun burns brighter, the South Bay is a nice breath of hot air away from the cities of San Fran, Oakland, and Berkley.
Three days before PRIDE weekend began, the US Supreme Court overturned Prop 8 and ruled same-sex couples deserved equal federal rights.
The Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge frames the Nashville skyline.
Ricky Ficarelli, David Michael Frank, and Jose Mostajo of King The Kid stopped into San Francisco during their Dandiest Lion Tour, promoting their debut album Start Something. We wandered Bernal Hill and the Mission so the band could explore the city and snag some shots. Below are the top 25. These guys have serious talent and creativity. Check them out: kingthekid.com