Jimmy Stephans Stories - Photographer Tales

Jimmy Didn't Retire

Posted: 2014-08-14

I continue to get questions about how I ended up back on the blogs and forums and not down on St. Thomas with a margarita in each hand as I had planned.

The short answer is that too many details of that perfect master plan didn't unfold as expected and I simply changed my mind for the time being.

I first visited St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands, back in 1987 when a former partner of mine was looking into buying a photo processing lab there. It was located in the Bakery Square area, not too far from the cruise ship docks, and had a unique business method.

The lab itself was tiny. Customers couldn't walk in and look around, but there a simple drop-off window on the front like the side of a food truck. They made most of their sales from portable kiosks, like a street hot dog vendor, they would set-up near the docks where cruise ship tourists would come ashore for the day.

The customers would drop the film at the kiosk, guys on roller skates would run it to the lab, and it would be back at the dockside kiosk before the tourists returned from their day on island. Slick, very profitable, little operation back in the days before digital photography.

For me the trip left a different impression. I'd started listening to Jimmy Buffett and his crazy musical escapism a few years earlier, and had visited places such as Key West that he mentioned in his songs, but the feeling down on St. Thomas for me was different. It felt foreign, like a travel adventure, but also like home because the people seemed so friendly.

I could sit at the local waterfront bar for the very first time, looking pale like a tourist that had never seen the sun, and the guy next to me would say "Hello youngster, just where are you visiting from?" And, that would start an hour or two of dockside friendship I had never seen in any of my other travels.

I promised myself that some day I would be back there as a resident and maybe even be the one calling somebody else "youngster". My wild mind was combining Norman Paperman from Herman Wouk's "Don't Stop The Carnival" with Billy Clyde from Jimmy Buffett's "The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful" and had me thinking I'd learn to sail a boat, run a bar or deep sea fish.

"The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful" / Good studio version from YouTube. Listen close to the first verse here.

My ambitious - also known as unreasonable - plan was to do it by age 40. That age was picked based on another Jimmy Buffett song titled "A Pirate Looks at Forty" about a guy in Key West that worked bars and smuggled marijuana until somewhere around age 40 when he realized he didn't know anything else and didn't know what he would do the rest of his life.

A Pirate Looks at Forty / Good studio version from YouTube here and live version recorded right down on a Caribbean island here.

Of course, thinking it could be done by that age was foolish and it didn't come to be. I didn't forget about ST. Thomas, or drop the idea, I just didn't come close to making it happen by age 40.

I visited ST. Thomas and St. Croix a couple of times in the 90s and the odd yearning was still there but I wasn't in a position to act on it.

It's actually kind of odd. I'm not that much of a boat person, don't swim great, don't scuba, have limited snorkeling experience, only did the deep sea fishing thing once as a tourist. Not sure what draws me there. It just feels like I'd rather be there once I'm not busy with business.

I started getting the urge on a more serious level in 1998 when Jimmy Buffett released a book titled "A Pirate Looks at Fifty". Similar title, but not related to his 1973 song, this was about a weeks long adventure he took through the Caribbean, Central and South America to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. Just reading it, and others like it, made me think I belonged somewhere else.

Fast forward another 10 years to spring 2008. I'm sitting at Woody's Waterfront bar in St. Pete Beach, Florida with Jessica Jamison and explain to her that I know another place just like it down on ST. Thomas. She had no idea what I was talking about. She had never heard of the Virgin Islands, much less knew that half of them were United States territory, and of course had no fucking idea where they are found on a map.

Three days later her and I are there and enjoying all the crazy stuff I had described to her. Driving on the left freaks her out, even though I was doing the driving. The drinking age being 18 was a cool deal, and the crazy nightlife in the parking lot bar known as Duffy's Love Shack was worth the trip all on it's own.

While there we talked about how fun photoshoot projects would be there.

Feeling inspired I planned the first TrueTeenBabes / TrueBabes trip there for 2009 with Kandace, Libby, Ashley, Kara and Danielle and I've visited there yearly through 2013 for more photoshoots and fun. Might be better places to take pictures. Might be places with less wind to mess with the models, the props and the lights. But, as far as taking teen girls and fun is concerned it's the best bet. No passport required.

Duffy's Love Shack 2009 with Danielle, Kaylynne, Libby, Ashley Nicole and Kara.

Of course, being back down there made me want to stay. I'm a pretty simple old guy and just hanging out seemed like such a good idea if I had something and somebody to keep me busy (when I wasn't sleeping off a wild night).

In 2011 a waterfront bar / restaurant I loved down there was set to close. The owners had reached an age where they had other plans and wanted to move on. They had started the place, ran it 12 years, sold it and left to sail the world, returned to St. Thomas and bought the place back and ran it 5 more years, but here it was time for them to retire and move along. Unfortunately, money being tight in the world at the time, they couldn't find a buyer and decided to simply shut it down.

If I would have known about the impending closure I may have jumped in and purchased the place. I don't know jack shit about running a bar. I don't even make a great margarita without looking at a drink guide. But, I really love that bar and the iguanas that hang out nearby. I think I'd be good as an owner or partner if I had a good "bar person" running the place while I greet guests, hold up the end of the bar or take out the trash.

Unfortunately, I didn't know anything about the place closing. I was there several times in April and July that year and nobody mentioned it. When I was back in December I find out the place had closed in September and was about to be reopened by two local gals.

I'd missed my chance.

As I was leaving the island that trip I left a note on the backdoor to the place early one morning telling them that if they needed a partner they should call me because I hoped to retire to the island someday. Nothing happened. Never heard a word from them.

Spring 2012 I was planning a trip there and came across a travel blog that mentioned the new owners had it going again but hadn't been able to do the upgrades they originally promised. I visited their website and sent email to just check-in and again mentioned that I hope to retire there someday and maybe I could be a partner. They replied back within an hour by asking "Are you the same guy that left a note on our door a few months ago?"

I was, and that started a series of emails back and forth. They had plans and ideas but had yet to execute them. I had the feeling it was a money issue but couldn't get them to discuss it and things dropped.

When I visited in person a few months later we shared a few beers and conversation but there wasn't much talk of them wanting a partner. I was sort of bummed but it didn't matter much. I wasn't thinking retirement, moving down, or any of that at the time.

Six months later, January 2013, brings an entirely different frame of mind.

Those that have followed my sites, and the Photographer's Corner writings or news pages within them, as well as forum posts, know that over the last few years I had become increasingly frustrated by two main issues.

The first I'll call "dumb shit" related to teenage girls, and in particular teenage girls that want to be some sort of model now, or in the future. Their choice in loser boyfriends, and what they do with or for those loser boyfriends, or how they let those loser boyfriends dictate what they can or can't do. Their choice to talk all big about wanting to be a Victoria Secrets model when they get older, but two days later getting a gross ugly ass tattoo of some boy's name they met 10 days ago that ruins them photographically. It makes no sense at all.

The rage is building as I type this and think about the girls that are in jail at this very minute due to loser boyfriends. The girls that have had children taken away by state officials due to the acts of their boyfriends. The girl that miscarried a baby due to the boyfriend attacking her that now writes me wanting to help him bond out of jail.

The issue isn't the girls personal life. It's how the girl's personal life affects the business, website, modeling.

The second major frustration myself, and all other webmasters, face is piracy / copyright infringement / outright theft. Today isn't the day to discuss it, start an argument about it, start naming names, post documents about it or cause a debate. Just know that it is much more damaging than you can imagine and is the number one thing keeping current teen sites from growing, adding features, doing more updates. It also, just plain and simple, takes all the incentive out of running a pretty girl website. It's no fun having to defend yourself 24/7/365 against people that claim to be "big fans".

A third issue that I was disappointed in, but keep a bit more silent about, is my personal life. Frankly, it's been very limited during the TrueTeenBabes years. Just no time to do all the things I wanted to do with all the people I wanted to do them with. There appeared to be no way out of that situation if I continued to try doing all the work for these websites. Even cutting back TrueBabes in 2011 hadn't helped much because other issues (see above) continued to get worse.

At the peak of those frustrations in January 2013 I announce plans to close TrueTeenBabes and retire. I fully expected it to be the one thing that would settle those three issues. It seemed like a great plan and as the date got closer and closer things seemed to be falling into place perfectly.

Those reading the news pages in TrueTeenBabes those last few weeks will recall me heading to ST. Thomas in July of 2013 a full 10 days before my last shoot there to view real estate and make other arrangements. During that trip I was a bit torn between buying or leasing (in case I didn't like being there full time), but otherwise things looked good - and in fact, great.

Remember that waterfront bar I was talking about? I'd been back in touch by email a few days before this 2013 trip for the first time in almost a year. Soon as I arrived that was my first stop. I let them know my move there was six months away and we started talking about me getting involved and helping them do the upgrades they had been wanting to do for almost 3 years.

Now, suddenly, they did want a partner but one on island that would be around to help here and there, maybe take care of changing a few things they couldn't without help. It seemed perfect for me and I promised to be in close touch over the next several months as my retirement and move got closer and closer.

I felt like a little kid and was ready to fly to Colorado and start packing right that minute.

The real estate part of the trip also went well. I looked at both properties for sale and others for long term lease. I didn't settle on anything but got a very clear idea in my head how it would all work and what amenities in some I liked better than others.

Most of you know the photoshoot part of that trip also went well. We had Jaclynn and Dallas. We did a fun "Live Photoshoot" webcam event as best we could on slow internet connection, and had plenty of fun when the work was done with those two, plus Kandace and Spring.

By August 1st I'm back in Colorado and taking all the steps I think I need to take. TrueTeenBabes closes. The .TV video archive and .NET photo archive are running smoothly and on a reliable server, as is TeenGlamourGirls.

We went from using 4 servers and the Amazon Cloudfront CDN to one server. From a max of 9 employees in 2011 to just one (Alex) that will stay on a year to watch over the two archives and TeenGlamourGirls. I bought my way out of the last 11 months of a lease and plan to go from 2000 square feet of office space to just 600 where Alex will work and I'll be storing files. I gave away one of the minivans we kept around. I moved myself for the last 6 months of the year so I wouldn't have to sign a full year lease at my current place.

While all this was being planned I was also in touch by email and phone with the people on ST Thomas. The bar partnership was set to take place January 1, the real estate people had deals available that fit my needs. I had even been visiting a car dealership and furniture place online reviewing my needs for transportion and furniture.

No need for 1000 tiny details, just know everything was in place for the plan that was to go something like this:

The lady friend Sarah and I would head down December first for 2 weeks to nail down the condo deal, doing paperwork for the tiny bar investment, buy a Jeep, and receive the first of many boxes I was shipping down. Those that didn't join TrueTeenBabes prior to the last year might not know her as she never modeled with us. Fans from previous years have seen her in behind the scenes photos from Jimmy Buffett Party 2010, St. Thomas photoshoot trip 2012 and Hawaii photoshoot trip 2012.

Alex would watch over things in Colorado by updating Jaclynn's the last two times, and TeenGlamourGirls. When I arrived back December 18th he would take off a couple of weeks for a vacation.

The large office lease would end on January 30th but I had to hire guys to fix the place back up to original condition and move everything next door to the smaller unit or storage.

If the plan went perfect that office move / remodel / packing deal would all be done by January 20th and I'd be on my way back to ST. Thomas and settling into my new place with Sarah, and hanging out at the bar, playing on the waverunner, and hoping to do all the things I had dreamed about.

It didn't happen that way. In fact, it didn't unfold at all like I planned or hoped.

First, Sarah decides she isn't going along on the December 1st two week trip and eventually reveals she is having second thoughts about her promise to move there with me. This was a shocker to me, but not to my friends. She previously had a change of mind about moving far away from home. Danielle, Alia, Rachel, Spring and Kandace all thought she wouldn't make the St. Thomas move and they ended up being right.

Strike one against Jimmy boy.

I arrive on island alone and get settled into a place I had rented for two weeks. The real estate people meet me first thing the next day and have some cool places to show me. Just takes me another day to decide on a place. It's a waterfront condo with awesome view of the marina. It's just been completely remodeled and expanded by combining two units into one larger space, making it the biggest in the complex. Not giant size, but far from tiny. Not the newest building, but right above the marina, 100 yards from the beach, 75 feet from the pool, and all brand new on the inside. And, right in the area I wanted to be and only five minutes by car or waverunner to the waterfront bar.

Score one for Jimmy Boy.

I hit the bar at the planned meeting time and nobody is there to meet me. I look around, chat with the few regulars and the bartender, introducing myself and trying to fit in. It's before noon and it's not at all busy. The place is more of a local's bar as compared to a dockside tourist place so I'm trying to meet the regular customer that are there. A couple of times I see the bartender gal chatting on the phone while looking across the tables towards me. Eventually she calls me to the bar and hands me the phone.

The guy on the other end of the phone doesn't introduce himself and his voice didn't sound familiar. He simply says something like "I appreciate you coming down and all but we think we're going in a different direction and we're not ready for a partner or to sell just yet".

That was it. Not another word. No news from the gals running the place or the husband I had been chatting with. Just this new voice and that one statement, by telephone, as I stood at the bar looking foolish after shaking hands with the bartender and others like I was soon to be one of them - a local friend they would see around often.

I tried to email the gals and get some answers but they never replied again. It had been around 50-60 emails and a dozen calls over the previous 6 months. Suddenly it was over.

I was deflated - like the air being sucked out of a tire after hitting a giant nail. Poof... it was over.

Strike two against Jimmy boy.

It didn't take a third strike for me to begin thinking maybe this whole damn thing was falling apart. I spent the next two days just hanging out, eating and drinking at other places, watching clouds roll by the balcony.

It hit me that I could very easily be bored down there without Sarah, or some lady friend, to hang out and explore with or the bar to occupy some of my time and keep the brain dreaming.

The whole run off to the islands and sleep in, drink a bit on the beach, not worry about deadlines, escapism style fantasy was done. It was over, popped like a balloon hitting a sharp tack.

The boxes arrive from Colorado and I weave around the chickens to pick them up from the Post Office backdoor but never open them.

I left everything there and took the next available flight to Florida to see if I could work things out with Sarah and change her mind. That didn't work.

It was official, all the enthusiasm and energy I had when I left Colorado on December 1st had been sucked out of me and I had some choices to make.

Yes, I could go with the plan minus the girl and the bar, but it just didn't feel exciting or daring or fun. Good, but not great might be a way to express it. I wanted great.

Sort of like a great rib-eye steak. I have a grill and can buy a nice piece of meat at Lavaca Meat Company right in my neighborhood, but they never taste as good as when friends and I hit Dukes or steakhouse 10.

I'm shy and not the type to just be jumping out there introducing myself and making new friends without some sort of opening. Being part of the bar crew/ownership would take care of that because I would have a reason to talk to people. Maybe checking at their table, maybe just waving from the corner of the bar, things like that. Without it, maybe not so much.

Suddenly the plan didn't seem so good. Didn't seem so fun. I felt like I better start this over again.

Yes, there are other bars, sandwich shops and ice cream places for sale down there but none of them interest me. I was never interested in running a place because I have no such experience. Just being a background partner and hanging out was the plan.

If you watched the Super Bowl this year you watched the high hopes and dreams of the Denver Broncos get flattened within the first half of the game. It just all went bad right from that start. They head home sad, but determined to try again as they roll into the next season.

That would be me. Disappointed in myself for making a few mistakes and assumptions and running down there without being fully prepared. But, not giving up... just pushing the dream back another 2 years to regroup and prepare better. Like the Denver Broncos are trying to do right now as the new season closes in.

Back to Colorado I went.

And that, my readers, is when even more shit started to clog up my brain.

One issue was that I would soon not have a place to live.

What about the office? If I was going to be in Colorado maybe I didn't want to give up the extra office space.

I've often told people stories about how in Littleton things seem to just unfold the way I want, need or hope. Need a part-time helper, place an ad and the right person will walk in the door. Need a jacket dry cleaned the afternoon before a court date and the local place will be having a slow day and give me extra fast service. Feel like a margarita fueled steak fajita feast, a text message will magically come in from Alia asking if I want to meet for lunch.

Except locating new models in the past few years (see previous blog The Four Fs) that's just how it's worked for me the last ten years or so in the Littleton area.

After I get back from St. Thomas just a few days before Christmas I'm sitting in the lawyers office waiting for some checks (copyright settlement payments go there) and I overhear a conversation about a large house that's on the market after a sudden death that needs to be taken care of quickly.

I raised my hand like a kid in class and asked for more information.

Just like that, by January 10th, I'm in a house that's way too big for a single old bald guy like me. One in which I have slept in 5 rooms without covering them all. One that makes me think that awesome dog I bought Sarah two years ago would quickly abandon her to live in. It's right at a golf course but I don't golf. The best part is that's it's 5 easy minutes by bike from my favorite local hangout The Platte River Bar & Grill.

Speaking of Sarah... We never saw each other again. We spoke by phone and text for months but it was the second time she had made a huge plans with me only to break them at the last minute. It just couldn't be worked out. I didn't want to be there, she didn't want to be away from grandparents and friends, no middle ground could be found.

I went ahead and let the office change happen so now we are down to the smaller space. Alex is working a very limited schedule for now. The Condo and all those boxes are sitting on ST. Thomas waiting for me and I go back down for a couple of weeks soon, and will be there all of December. For now, Littleton, Colorado it is.

I skied more often this past winter than I have since the early eighties. As the weather got warm I've spent more time on the bike than I have in many years. I've shot less photos than I have since I got my first camera in late 1982. I've attended more local events, like car races, moto-cross, hockey games, concerts and car shows than I had in many years.

I now consider myself "semi-retired" because I'm back at the computer and doing some business work related to photography, teen models, and websites. After so many years of being super busy that term might as well be "semi-distracted". I have plenty to do, like this blog post that took me weeks to finish, but nothing that maintains my focus for extended periods of time.

I type a few emails, get bored so go out and sit on the deck. I start some other blog post, lose my thoughts, and leave for a ride and don't get back to the desk for 2 days. I tried some cooking lessons and have two burn scares on my arm to prove it.

Life, for me right now, is good. Comfortable, low on the worries scale. Not exciting or what I thought it would be when I first announced the retirement 18 months ago. The Virgin Islands plan isn't gone. It's just on hold until the time feels more "just right".

That's brings up two things. What to do next and who to do it with?

I've already started a blog post about that... but I don't feel inspired to finish it right now. Maybe I'll go daydream about some far away island with a margarita on my deck and some tunes from RadioMargaritaville because my deck is a bar they can't chase me away from, and heck... It's just a hundred yards or so from the river, so it's almost a waterfront bar!

Jimmy Stephans
August 13th, 2014
Littleton, Colorado. USA