When Ryan called me and explained that he wanted to propose on a Westerly beach, my heart stopped a little because when I heard Westerly, in my mind, I heard Watch Hill, which is logistically challenging. Upon further discussion, Ryan wanted to propose at East Beach, which I did not know. Ryan sent me a Google map image, and East Beach is between Watch Hill and the Misquamicut state beach, with the only access being on foot, hence why I did not know this beach.
As we chatted, my only concern was parking; could I park and get to the surprise engagement spot 30 minutes before Ryan and Julia? The parking issue is crucial because I must have easy parking, or I could be late for the event. Ryan was confident that I would not have a problem, and then I realized that one of my cycling buddies lived in Misquamicut during the summer. I reached out to Armon, explained the plan, and asked if he knew if I could park at the state beach parking lot because the website was unclear. He said I would get back to you on Tuesday.
Like a trooper, Armon called me on Tuesday after he had popped in to chat with the parking lot attendants and gave me the green light.
Ryan and I chatted the day before the proposal and finalized the details. I would park in the state beach parking lot and walk to East Beach. I would be carrying my primary camera in a yellow sports bag, which he would be able to recognize at a distance. Our basic plan was that he and Julia would arrive at the beach and walk along the water’s edge (on the nice firm sand); I would walk towards them but about 15 yards inland from the water. When they were about 20 yards from me, he would drop to his knee and propose, and because I was using a long lens, I figured that would work. The only fly in the ointment would be if he stopped too far from me, but if that were the case, I would have to run with the camera in hand.
I asked that Ryan share his location with me and I with him; and that he send me a photo of them both on the day of the surprise engagement so I could recognize them by their clothes. I have found that I can recognize my clients at a distance by the color of their hair and clothing rather than their facial features.
On the day of the proposal, the weather was gorgeous, and I opted to drive my 20-year-old TJ Wrangler to the beach; it was a great day to drive the Jeep.
I arrived at the state beach at 5:40, early; excellent! I had sent Ryan a text telling him I was en route. When I pulled in, the parking attendant sheepishly asked me for $10 – the lot closed in 20 minutes – I told her I understood, we both smiled, and I drove to the most Northernly spot in the lot. I sent Ryan a second text informing him I was parked; I began my walk to East Beach, approximately 1 mile from the lot.
This was the first time I had walked the length of Atlantic Avenue instead of either driving or cycling, allowing me to absorb the energy this beach community had to offer. It is not something that I desire, but it is pretty cool.
I arrived at the beach at about 6:05; Ryan and Julia were still at the family Misquamicut home. The beach was deserted; there was not a cloud in the sky, and the golden hour light was developing. There was nowhere for me to hide or people to mingle amongst, so I opted, as I had originally planned, to walk down the beach, turnaround then walk toward my clients, ignoring them, while looking at my iPhone; it should work! I am just an old guy with a yellow bag – nothing to see here! I was tracking Ryan on my phone, and I could see that he was approaching the beach entrance. I was the only person on the beach. I set my camera up for the evening light, hid it in bag, and began walking toward the couple who would soon be on the beach. It was just them and me. As they approached, Ryan sent me a text as he walked towards me asking if it was me?; it was. A few seconds later, Ryan dropped to his knee, and Julia offered an emphatic yes.
To quote John “Hannibal” Smith, from a couple of generations away from my clients, ” I love it when a plan comes together.”