SCHENECTADY — To demonstrate how Albany Patroons coach Phil Jackson was driving for an interview with a cup of coffee in one hand and a pen and the New York Times crossword puzzle in the other, Marc Schultz swerved back and forth for a moment on Thursday.
To illustrate how Marc’s father showed him the way to hustle up a highway, Marc switched lanes so he could pull close to the back of an 18-wheeler on the Northway.
“I never got a speeding ticket. Never even got pulled over.”
He was behind the wheel of his white Honda Civic for one last spin as a full-time photographer for The Daily Gazette.
I was along for the ride.
Officially, Marc started in 1983, but in reality, he has been a Gazetteer for much longer. One of his track and field photos was published in 1966, when he was 16, and he started printing shots for his father, longtime Gazette photographer Ed Schultz, as early as 1960, from their own darkroom at home.
On Thursday, Marc unpacked his career for me like a mechanic disassembling a vintage car engine, carefully working his way through some of the difficult parts and lovingly buffing up the chrome on others.
He’s retiring at the age of 65, and what The Gazette loses is not only the wonderful, compelling images Marc has produced over the years, but a community liaison connecting the paper with its customers and story subjects alike, equally comfortable with members of Congress, senior citizens enjoying a picnic lunch and rain-soaked golfers walking off the 18th green, as he did on his final day.
“I just like the independence and doing my own thing,” Marc said. “And I like deadlines. For 30 years, we were printing hard copy, and then we went to scanning negatives. I’ve gone through the whole technological gamut of newspapers and getting stuff out. But man, there was nothing like it, going to a basketball game, driving down the Thruway and thinking, ‘Do I have it or don’t I?’ You couldn’t look at the back of your [digital] camera and see, ‘Yeah, it’s there.’
“Sid [Brown] and Ed always said, ‘Man, all you need is one.’ And generally I would always have one. And getting back in time to get it in. I just liked the deadline, the adrenaline surge. It was the excitement. I was never a guy that could sit at a desk. I had to be out there.
“And I just like the people.”
On Thursday, Marc’s final assignments included a picnic at the Saratoga County Office of the Aging in Ballston Spa, some shots of the 911 memorial in High Rock Park in Saratoga Springs and live shots from the Schenectady Classic golf tournament at Schenectady Municipal.
That gave us plenty of time to cover some ground, including Marc’s various introductions to aspects of his chosen profession.
‘Lit a match’
It started in the home darkroom and continued at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School, where he was heavily into yearbook production for four years, among other jobs.
His father often brought Marc along on jobs, including Mohawk Airlines Flight 405 in 1972, which resulted in 17 fatalities when it crashed into a house in Colonie on its approach to Albany International Airport.
“My father would grab me and say, ‘C’mon, you gotta go see this,’ ” Marc said. “When the Mohawk Airlines crashed, I was 16, 17, we get in his car, and he says, ‘You got your seat belt on? Alright, hang on, relax.’ He pulled up on the Thruway and goes into the back of this tractor-trailer and gets within 3 inches of the back. Now, with the wind coming down from the tractor-trailer, he never put his foot on the gas. We were there in less than three minutes.
“So we get to the crash scene and he says, ‘Hey, man, you stay by the car, because I can’t get you in there.’ But I had a camera with me and I was on top of a knoll, and shot some from there and they came out really well. The plane went right into a house.
“It kind of lit a match into photography and wanting to get into this business.”
After high school, Marc worked for nine years at General Electric as a crane mechanic, got laid off and was hired by Mohawk Honda in 1982 while working part time shooting nighttime sports for The Gazette.
He filled his father’s spot when Ed retired in 1987.
“At GE, I met a lot of old-timers there, because I had my own truck and I’d be driving around the whole campus there, get lost, fall asleep on top of a crane,” Marc said. “Then I went to Mohawk Honda and met so many people that had Hondas. I got to meet a lot of Schenectadians.
“It’s kind of melancholy. I’m something of a history buff, and it’s [Schenectady] changed and evolved. In the last few years it evolved to the better, but I kind of like the old places. Everybody in Schenectady knew my old man and he was a character. People loved him.”
Some of the events and spot news assignments that stick out for Schultz are the Schoharie Creek Thruway bridge collapse in 1987; covering reaction to the 9/11 attacks alongside reporter Jeff Wilkin in Albany in 2001; and another horrific 1987 catastrophe he witnessed firsthand on his way back from shooting a football practice, a tandem-trailer truck that flipped on its side, pinning a car driven by an elderly couple underneath.
“Both trailers started on fire and it looked like Hiroshima,” Schultz recalled. “Killed the two people in the car.
“[Editor] Bob Van Brocklin was on the desk and I came back like a nervous wreck. I was a mess. He took me in the office and said, ‘Marc, this is going to happen all the time.’ He helped me out of the whole situation that day.
“The picture ran in the paper the next day. I shot a long shot and there was this huge plume, Aug. 28, 1987. Certain things like that can really bother you.”
Others can be remembered warmly, though, like when he got actor Chazz Palminteri to crack up at a joke as they crossed State Street on their way into Proctors.
Or another time at Proctors, when Marc popped in for a morning rehearsal by legendary comedian George Burns, onstage alone under one light in an otherwise darkened theater.
“He must’ve heard the camera, because all of a sudden he said, ‘Hey, kid, get me a glass of water,’ ” Marc said with a laugh. “He shot the breeze with me for half an hour.”
His white-knuckle ride with Jackson happened when the future basketball Hall of Famer was coaching the Patroons in the 1980s.
“He’s got a coffee in his hand, he’s got a pen in his other hand with the New York Times crossword puzzle and he’s going like this [swerving] and talking and writing stuff down,” Marc said. “And we’re doing 45 miles an hour down Central Avenue. He was nuts. He’s going on about practices, and the mind and Zen and all that.”
Besides time at his camp on Sacandaga Lake, cars will be central to Marc’s retirement activities.
He and his wife Claudine share their Rotterdam home with two Porsche 356s from the 1960s and a 1951 MG TD.
Marc has owned one of the Porsches since he was in 10th grade at Bishop Gibbons, taking it off the hands of a friend for $2,000. It remains a substantial reclamation project, since the engine caught fire shortly after he graduated.
I can’t wait to see what it looks like, Marc’s final composition. And maybe get a spin in it.
“The car has followed me,” he said. “This is my retirement. This is what I do.”