I have always loved photobooths. Something about stuffing yourself into a tiny space with loved ones and taking away a strip of instant memorabilia makes the romantic in me swoon. Growing up, my parents had some old photobooth pictures scattered throughout their many albums, and I loved looking at them. Four individual images, all connected, all pieces of the same moment captured in time. They seemed so much better than regular pictures... so much more magical.
One of the many sweet surprises of getting to know Jeff was learning that he also loves photobooths. We never happened upon one in the first few years of dating, but when we got engaged, we decided to use a photobooth to announce our impending wedding. We went to Lakeside Lounge, a bar on Avenue B in Manhattan, and nailed it on the first try.
I didn't have a "theme" for the wedding at the time (except for "fucking awesome," obviously), and one day while perusing a bridal magazine I learned that it was possible to rent photobooths for events. And oh, it was on. The photobooth was a huge hit and we got a rockin' album with snapshots of all of our family and friends from the reception.
Since then, every time time we've stumbled upon a photobooth we've dutifully jumped at the opportunity to make this our "thing."
A month or two after we got married we found one at a bar in Williamsburgh (which we have since forgotten the name and location of):
And then in October of 2008, in California for the wedding weekend of my best friend Anna, we passed by an arcade at the Santa Monica pier and saw one:
We haven't accidentally found another one since, which brings us to the present day. A week ago, Jeff hatched a brilliant plan: in honor of Valentine's Day, we would embark on a bar crawl, hitting as many photobooths as possible. This, of course, made my heart leap up and do a Gene Kelly dance number, probably wearing a sailor suit. Jeff looked up photobooth sites online and made a list of eight locations. He picked me up at 8 in Hell's Kitchen, where I had been covering a fashion show, looking dapper in a suit and tie. I had not planned ahead; because I spent the day going to Fashion Week events and blogging, I was A) wearing incredibly uncomfortable stack-heeled boots (in an attempt to fit in with the fabulous people) and B) carrying my laptop, which over the course of the day seemed to get heavier and heavier until it weighed approximately 40 pounds. Nevertheless, we soldiered on.
Our first stop was for dinner at Trailer Park, which is, as its name suggests, a fun and trashy little diner that serves things like Tater Tots and mac n' cheese. It has a photobooth but Jeff had heard that it was no longer working. Sadly the rumor was true. We ordered beers (for Jeff) and vodka cranberries (for me) and feasted on Taters until we were sated. Seriously, look at the size of this "side order":
Fuck roses. This right here? This is love.
So destination #1 was a bust for photobooths but a win for delicious Tots. Doggie bag in hand, we headed to location #2, the lobby of the Ace Hotel on 29th Street. On the way we had the following conversation:
ME: I'm so glad I took the Tater Tots with me. I feel they're going to come in handy later, like when in a movie there's a gun somewhere and it seems like no big deal but then later the hero has to shoot someone.
JEFF: Are you going to fight someone with Tots?
ME: No, but later when I'm drunk I'll get pukey and then I'll be like, Oh! Tater Tots! And it will be the best thing ever.
JEFF: And then you'll get more pukey.
ME: But it will be worth it.
By the time we arrived at the hotel I was hobbling in pain (and being kind of a pain in the ass about it, though my darling husband took it in stride). Sadly, as soon as we opened the front door we were confronted by a woman with a clipboard who asked us if we were here for "the party." "Uh, no," Jeff said. "Are you guests at the hotel?" she asked. We said no. "Sorry, the entire hotel is closed for a party," she told us. "Even the lobby?" Jeff asked. Apparently, yes. In the words of Cher Horowitz, we were brutally rebuffed! 0 for 2, we hailed a cab to the Lower East Side hoping we would have better luck.
And we did! Our first stop, Otto's Shrunken Head on 14th Street, had a working photobooth (that was, when we arrived, occupied by drunk hipsters, but that was OK by us). Jeff got us drinks and a token for the photobooth, and we discussed potential poses. Should we vogue? Make faces? Make out? "Let's just be natural for this one," I suggested. "We can get creative with the others." We couldn't wait to finish our drinks, so we took them in with us.
Our success (and the vodka) gave us the energy to carry on. Just around the corner was Lakeside Lounge, the site of our engagement photobooth session. Jeff worried that since it was three years later it might not be there anymore...
But it totally was! Two hits in a row! We celebrated with a shared beer.
For our second strip we decided to do some stupid hand-on-face poses, the kind of which are so often seen in Sears portraits.
I wasn't ready for the first flash, so I look super drunk. Awesome. (I was so proud of myself that I ate some of the Tots, which had fallen out of their styrofoam container and into the plastic bag. Yum!)
After this photo was taken, Jeff tried to take a strip by himself, for his website, but they never came out. We decided that maybe it was bad juju to take photos that weren't of both of us.
We walked three blocks to what would have been destination #5, 7B, but it wasn't there. It had been replaced by something called Horseshoe Bar. We went in but found no photobooth, and so hopped in a cab to destination #6, The Smith on 3rd Avenue.
The Smith is an actual restaurant and not a dive bar, and when we first walked in there was nary a photobooth in sight. My intrepid husband went exploring, leaving me at the bar, and returned moments later victorious. It was downstairs, outside of the bathroom, lonely and empty and waiting for us. We decided to go with stupid faces:
My "stupid faces" are, from top to bottom: Lisa Rinna, Cross-Eyed Stroke Victim, Lemon-Sucking Hand Puppet, and Uncontrollable Giggles. Jeff's are Troll Under the Bridge, Humpback of Notre Dame, Lecherous Subway Man, and Arnie Grape.
Jeff got a beer and I sat resting my feet for awhile. "Is it weird that we're just hanging out by the bathroom?" Jeff asked as toilets flushed around us. We decided to continue our pilgrimage over to the Living Room on Ludlow Street. (I threw out the Tots at this point. I was getting cranky and couldn't carry them anymore. I totally regret it. I could be eating them right now.)
The Living Room turned out to be our 4th success of the night. The photobooth was tucked into a crowded corner, but we shoved our way in. By this time it was midnight and we were tipsy and tired. Which, as we all know, is conducive to the relatively low-difficulty "make out" pose:
I know. You're kind of puking right now. Also, I have no idea why Jeff held up money in the last shot. It kind of makes me look like a ho, baby. But I still love you.
We were all the way across town from destination #8 and my feet were in such pain that I could barely walk, so we decided to cheat a little bit and do multiple strips at the Living Room. After all, we had been to no fewer than 7 bars in the span of three hours, 4 of which had working photobooths. And also we were very drunk.
For our next pose we chose the theme "accessories." The plan was for me and Jeff to switch off our hats, earmuffs, and sunglasses in every frame. We did pretty well, we thought, but the booth thought otherwise, spitting out a warped strip with only one clear picture:
The negative image at the bottom is actually pretty cool, plus we got a refund on our $3, which we used for our final pose of the night, the extremely advanced "Simon and Garfunkel":
Hello, darkness my old friend... man, I am amazed that we were able to keep straight faces after six drinks. I almost cracked up in the nose-to-nose photo but I pulled it together. Because obviously I am a total pro at posing, if not at walking or dressing myself or eating without getting sauce in my hair.
So that's it for Valentine's Day 2010. Next year we've decided to carry on the tradition and hit all of the places we missed on this go-round, including bars in Brooklyn and the outer boroughs. It'll be what we give each other, instead of chocolates or flowers or jewelry. Each year we'll collect strips of memories to tuck into albums; someday we'll show our kids. Maybe when we're old we'll frame them all side by side, dozens--maybe hundreds--of moments we spent loving each other. For me, that beats roses any day of the week. It beats Tater Tots, too, which is really saying a lot.
I love you, baby. Happy Valentine's Day.