He approached me in the middle of a crowd. Hundreds of Bernie Sanders supporters were exiting the San Diego Convention Center, gleefully chanting "Feel the Bern!" as they flooded into the Gaslamp Quarter.
The convention centre was on the other side of a set of tracks: one set, for commercial freight trains; the other, for San Diego's light rail. Traffic was brought to a standstill as the barriers came down and a commuter train stopped to let passengers depart and enter. I set up my camera on its tripod and held the remote, waiting for the doors to close and the train to start moving. As the doors closed, I started my 30-second exposure by pressing the remote button.
"Excuse me, sir, how are you this evening," said the voice next to me.
The uniformed officer was young and, surprisingly, shorter than me. Short, dark hair and a thin face with piercing eyes.
"Fine," I said, "it's a beautiful night, isn't it?" Indeed, it was a lovely evening. The stars were out: it was cool, but not cold. My hoodie kept me warm, and there was no need for gloves as I took my night shots.
"Do you have a permit to be taking photos?" the officer asked.
"No, do I need one?" I knew that you do need a permit to use a tripod to take photos in Paris, and in some areas of New York City. I never thought that I needed one for San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter.
The commuter train had passed, but the barriers remained down. On the other set of tracks, a freight train was coming through, its horn sounding its arrival.
"Taking photographs of our transit line is prohibited without a permit," he explained in a gentle voice. "We allow photographs with cell phones, but not with professional cameras."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know," I said, my voice raised to compete with the train. I knew that ignorance of the law was no defence. "My camera isn't professional. I'm just a tourist, taking shots of your beautiful city." The 30-second exposure ended, but the officer didn't hear the mirror fall back into place. He was standing such that he couldn't see the image appear on the display at the back of the camera. In five seconds, it was gone.
"Yeah, well that kind of camera on a tripod is not allowed. You can't take any photos."
I picked up the tripod and slung it over my shoulder. "Very well, I won't. Again, sorry, officer." I turned to walk away, and he seemed satisfied.
"Where are you from?" he asked as I started moving.
I turned back to him and smiled. "Ottawa, Canada."
"Enjoy the rest of your stay," he said, and let me go.
I didn't see the shot until I returned to the hotel. It's okay, but I would have taken another, when the next light-rail train had come along, had I not been stopped. I might have fired my flash, while the train was stationary, to expose it more.
It wasn't the last photo I had taken that night, but I stuck to the buildings and streets of the Gaslamp Quarter. They were the last photos that I would take on the trip. The next day, early in the morning, we were leaving San Diego, driving back to Phoenix, where we would return the car, make our way to the airport (thanks again, bro'!), and fly back home.
It was a great trip. Ten days in Arizona, four days in California, and two days of travel. We were met in Toronto with an ice storm that cancelled our first flight to Ottawa, then delayed the second flight—twice—before it was cancelled and then rescheduled again. Twelve hours after we arrived in Canada, 33 hours after waking in San Diego, we were home.
And making plans for our next vacation.
All of my vacation photos are available on my Flickr album.