Thursday, July 9, 2020

R.C & me

This is a blog called R.C. & me. This blog is about my journey with photography. The journey started in an unusual way that led to more unusual events that are still continuing to this day.

This blog is called R.C. & me because the first picture I ever took was of a hitchhiker named R.C. It wasn't really the first picture I ever took but it was the first one that meant anything to me. It was the picture that started my journey.

*Posts are in totally random order. Dates are unimportant.  I know most blogs are meant to be up to date with the latest post in front. I wanted the genesis of this blog to always be in the front: R.C. The rest of the posts are mixed up in no particular order of date or place. Anything you read took place some time in the last eight years. All pictures and poetry were written and shot in that same time frame.

**This is a blog for people who like to read. Some of these essays are not short at all. Some of these stories are very long by blog standards. Just letting you know.**

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Picking Up a Stranger




RC Lee started my journey.



There was a very long desert road. It wasn't really desert. The road to the Sierra Nevada's is paved with some weird stuff...old broken houses with old broken memories. Diners with nobody to eat in them and nobody to live around the food..and the tables and the waitresses with pencils in their hair and grease stains on their pink skirts. It's a strange sort of desolate beauty that draws on your silence and forces you inside for a while as the road slips beneath your tires and your mind slips into itself.

There are stretches of road that you see in the movies. The kind that are straight and long and stretch into the horizon or the mountains or someplace infinitely far away but close enough that you can see where they fade away into nothing. It was exactly this sort of road that I found a beginning. Journeys begin somewhere always. Even if you don't know where they began. I know where this one began.

He was walking into the horizon. He was walking into nothing really. All alone. Nothing but a bottle of water. And the water was dirty...taken from a rest stop bathroom faucet 4 miles before. His skin was burned with sun and time walking away from where he started. Salt and pepper scrubbed his face in an unshaven bristle with deep sun creased lines in his face that exposed his character to anyone who cared to notice. No arm was held out. No thumb extended. But he walked into the horizon with confidence that can only be gained by owning nothing but himself.

My van sped past him without a pause and the silence within increased until it was deafening. He was going nowhere. He was walking into twenty miles of nothing. Twenty miles of road stretching into nothing and yet he was walking. I know I turned the wheel but it was something else that made the van turn back. I went back three miles and pulled over to pick up the man who was alone walking into nothing.

He got into my van and didn't say anything. “It's hot out there. Have a seat.” I pushed the AC vents to the passenger seat and he slumped back and closed his eyes for minute. The silence was perfect. I didn't need to talk very much and neither did he. As the miles slid by, I did most of the talking...but it was always met with short precise answers. And the answers were exactly what they needed to be.

Memories have a way of shading themselves with lessons learned after the memory has been burned into the proper creases in your brain. These are no different.

“What's your name?”

“R.C.” And the formal response followed...”R.C. Lee”

“Here, have something to drink R.C. Lee” A large can of peach mango tea sat unopened in the pop out cup holder. I handed it to him as he put down his old plastic bottle of water.

“What are you going to drink?” He asked this with a sincerity that was unexpected from a man in his heavy black boots.

“Brother, what am I going to drink..who cares...drink up.” He had no teeth but his faint smile was beautiful to me. Here's a man walking through the desert with a dirty bottle of water and he was worried about what I was going to drink. He drank most of the can in 2 miles while I rummaged around behind my seat to get at whatever road food I could reach. Pringles and a Milky Way. He would eventually gum his way through most of both. “Why are you walking on this road? What brought you here?” These are questions that I think everyone should ask themselves at the right moment in their lives.

“Well, I started walking across the country from Florida about 8 weeks ago.”

“OK Forest Gump!” I got a full smile in exchange for that comment. “Why would you do that? Where are you walking to?”

“I'm going to see my Brother in Carson City.”

“And you couldn't drive..or take a bus?”

“I don't have any money. I'm going to work with him in Carson City.”

“What kind of work?”

“Laying flooring.”

“How old are you?”

“59” A senior citizen by some standards.

“You weren't even holding out your thumb. How is anyone supposed to pick you up? You're just walking. Why wasn't your arm out?”

“Somewhere in Texas, my arm just got too tired to hold out anymore.” The simple honesty of this statement took a few seconds to sink in. But it sank deep. A weary man content to be weary for a while. Not sad about it...not a victim of circumstance...but OK with not reaching out to anyone. OK with walking alone and asking for nothing. Needing nothing.

“That's it? How do you get rides? How do you eat? What kind of people pick you up?”

“I get picked up by cars full of women mostly.” This surprised me but he did look a sad sight walking by the road that I'm sure pulled on a few of the gentler heart strings that came upon him.

“What's the furthest anyone has taken you in your travels?”

“80 miles.” In a walk across the country that had to be less than pleasant, 80 miles wasn't very far.

“What's does R.C. Stand for?”

“Rosy Cruz.”

I slapped his knee and said, “You're a good man Rosy Cruz Lee. I bet I can take you further than that.” His expression was clearly one of a man who had not been called by his full name in a very long time. It was a slightly surprised expression tinted with a pleasant look that was welcome on such a road worn face.

We ate our road food and talked in brief little spurts. I asked most of the questions and he gave what answers he could. His father was woodworker and he always wanted to be as good as his daddy with the tools. His brother died of a fever when he was just a boy.

Sitting beside me was a man who had nothing at all. “So...do you have a wallet..anything other than the clothes on your back?”

“No.” His voice was always soft and sounded like he needed to drink some water.

“You have no money, no ID, and nothing but what you can carry?” Which was really only his clothes and boots.

“Nope.”

“Cool.” This was not said with pretense or some false sense of glory in being destitute. I said it from my heart. From a place that sensed the strength in standing on your own...naked as you came into the world...or as close as one can get while walking by the road.

His wallet had been stolen at some point and he continued on his journey with no way to place himself into the world he walked through. And he was good with it for the moment. And the world didn't seem to notice.

A Burger King called to my hunger and we pulled off the highway and into the drive through. A large glossy poster stuck to the window next to the drive through...a perfectly massive breakfast monstrosity with finely folded fluffy eggs and slightly smoking bacon...the corners of the cheese melting down onto the freshly baked biscuit bottom. He stared at the poster while we waited to order. “I wonder if that tastes as good as it looks on that window.” We found out exactly how good it tasted...along with hash brown tots and orange juice. Hunger can get past a mouth full of gums when it needs to.


-->
Burger King was behind us as we drove through more flat grassy fields with the Sierras moving closer by the mile. We drove towards the great Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains...to Bishop. From Bishop I was meeting a friend and traveling up to the ancient bristle cone pines. Trees that started growing when the great pyramids were a design in Pharaohs head.

There was a camera in in my van. I had never used it more than casually in the two years I had owned it. Leaving on this trip had a been a journey in itself and my camera was part of that journey. I felt something begin to change for me in the week leading up to this trip. I knew my camera was going with me. I knew I was going to use it. And I knew that I would take a picture of someone special. Premonitions are so often overstated and even more often under recognized...by ourselves and those around us.

“R.C., can I take some pictures of you when we get to Bishop?”

“Why?”

“Because you're my friend and I want to get a picture of you before we go our ways.”

“OK, sure. You gave me a ride all this way, I can let you do that.”

We got to Bishop and parked in front of a gallery of fine art photography. I had intended to visit the gallery and my plans had not changed because of R.C. “Hey, do you want to come look at some pictures with me and wait for my friend to get here? I want her to meet you.”

It was a gallery like many devoted to great artists....the finest prints on the walls, and proper sales people devoted to praising and selling the work of their master. The gallery was filled with beautiful prints of nature and glaciers and flowers and perfect scenes of serenity. Each picture was well lit and some of the best ones were tucked away in little alcoves or set further aside on the wall to add emphasis. The sales people were all women who obviously sat in an air conditioned gallery a lot...the kind of women with tight buns in their hair and the perfect amount of accessories to accent the colors in the outfit they had chosen the night before. Her face was perplexed at the sight of me and R.C. Standing by the front entrance. She walked over and stared at us for as second before speaking. “Hi, can I help you?”

“I'm here to look at the art!” Regardless of her less than warm nature, I was smiling when I spoke.

She looked at R.C. And you could see his stained clothing and sunburned face in her eyes. “Are you here to look around too?”

Before R.C. Could even reply, I put my arm around him and looked at her. “This is my uncle R.C. And he's here to look with me.” She looked slightly defeated and walked away to allow the dirty homeless man to look at some fine art.

The gallery was ice cold compared to the 100 degrees outside. My friend was going to be a while before meeting up with me, so we took our time. There were a lot of beautiful pictures hanging on the walls. There were Tibetan prayer flags, and Arctic glaciers, but there were mostly pictures from the surrounding Sierra Nevada's. And they were stunning...mountains capped with snow and fresh spring flowers in first bloom after a harsh Sierra Winter. After several minutes I noticed R.C. standing in front of a picture hanging in one corner. He stood still with his arms by his side just looking into the picture. I walked over and stood next to him and stared at the picture too. It was a large vertical print of a crumbling glacial ice shelf. The blue in the exposed glacial wall was nothing short of spectacular the hue of which was so deep that I thought it had to be unreal. Of course it wasn't. We stood in silence for a minute looking into the exposed icy wall. R.C. didn't say a word.

“That's a nice picture huh?”

He paused a while before answering. “I like it a lot.”

Here was a worn man who had been beaten down by the desert sun. A man who had to be taken by an ambulance the week before to a remote hospital for severe dehydration. They stuck water into his veins for a few hours and then sent him back out to walk into the sun. And when he got two days away from the hospital, they had to take him back again. And now he had escaped the little piece of desert with the caring police and noble ambulance drivers and clean transient hospital beds. He made it past the rest stop with the dirty water and sleeping travelers. Here he stood in the corner of an icy gallery staring at the crumbling ice of a far away glacier. “I like it a lot too R.C.”

Bishop is a small town filled with a few locals and a lot of tourists during the busy months. We left the gallery and I grabbed my camera so that we could walk around and take picture among the little shops and back alleys. He didn't say much as we walked around and that was OK. Silence usually makes me awkward with others, but I was content to just walk around with him and take random pictures. He was so patient. I knew nothing about how my camera worked but I just kept taking pictures of him. And he just kept letting me. I loved R.C. for letting me do that. It was the first time I ever saw someone through the lens. Truly saw them. I used a wide angle lens so I had to get very close to take the pictures I wanted. And he let me. And it was OK. A few times he even smiled when I asked him to. He was beautiful. He was my friend and there were some perfect moments during that hour. Some would contend that all moments are perfect but I think that perfection is only realized when you see the moment for what it is right then...not through the lens of memory, or nostalgia, or over a cup of coffee the next day...but you see it as perfect while you are living it. Those had never happened often for me. My life had always been a stream of momentary denial to bring me to some future place where I could enjoy the memory of what had happened more than I enjoyed the actual experience. But that day, there was no denial. I would have enjoyed that day regardless of any memory to relive in my head or retell to my friends. I was living with R.C. and life was sweet. We walked through empty alleys and behind a church. We looked through books at a book store and strolled past shops with antiques and bits of local jewelry craft.

My van was parked in front of the gallery and I put my camera away as my friend pulled up to meet me. There was a new backpack in my van that my dad had given me. It was a large black canvas bag with a bottom that looked like a road worn rubber tire. We stood by my van and I grabbed the bag from the cluttered mess in the back. “Would this bag help? Would it be too heavy for you to carry?” The bag was meant to be a luggage bag for a motorcycle but it was designed with built in backpack straps. Even empty, the thick rubber bottom made it heavier than a normal backpack. He put it on and adjusted the straps to fit his small frame. The bag looked huge hanging on his back.

“I can carry this. It's not too heavy.” It occurred to me when I looked at him with this huge bag on his back that the bag was empty. It was just a bag.

My friend Kathy approached the car where we stood fitting him with his new backpack. Introductions were made and I spent a minute explaining to her how my path had crossed with his. We decided to go over to Target to buy some basic supplies for the empty pack on his back. We all talked as we drove around town and Kathy asked some of the same questions of R.C. that I had – all of the whys and a few of the wheres. And R.C. answered them in the same quiet fashion he had answered mine. We bought him a fresh shirt and socks along with some basic toiletries. We didn't have a lot of money between us but we bought what we could. There was some applesauce and water and a few other dried goods but we didn't want to buy too much or the load would be too heavy for him to shoulder. There was enough for him to have a clean shirt, clean water, and a cleanly shaved face.

I didn't want to drop him off. We sat in the Target parking lot and I wasn't sure how to let him go. The afternoon was wearing on, and Kathy suggested that we try to find a place for him to stay for the night before he left Baker to continue on to his brother in Carson City. There was a campsite several miles back on the highway so we drove back to see if we could pay for a night there, or if they even would allow one person to camp alone...with nothing to sleep with. They wouldn't. There was a large shade tree in front of the campgrounds under which RC and I waited while Kathy talked to someone in the office. The shade was cool and I took a few pictures of RC in the warm summer wind. When Kathy came back I handed her my camera and put my arm around RC. "Take our picture together Kathy. I want a picture of me and my friend." When I looked at the picture later I thought...We were happier in that picture than either of us had been in a long time.

We drove back to Bishop wondering where we could take R.C. and somehow came across a laundromat that had pay showers in the back. The laundromat was air conditioned and empty. We paid for a shower and got several dollars worth of quarters. Kathy looked at R.C. and said, “When you are done with your shower, put your fresh shirt on and come out here and wash your shirt. Then do a load of laundry and wash your socks. Then do another load with your pants.” If this was a place for paying customers only, then he had enough quarters to keep him in A/C all day long doing his laundry. She hugged him.

Before he walked into the shower room, I looked at him and I started to cry. “I love you R.C.” I gave him a big hug.
“Thank you.” was all he said. He was crying too.

We walked out of that laundromat and I couldn't stop thinking about R.C. I knew that I would never see him again. I got no address. I didn't ask him to call me. We didn't keep in touch. And it felt right. Our time together was done. We had each given each other something. I'm not sure what he took away from our time together but I know what I took away. I met a total stranger and shared my life with him with no fear. We connected as people and he let me take his picture. It was a simple sort of magic. Two paths crossed for a moment and my camera happened to be there when they did. Somehow, my camera snuck up on the universe and stole a few moments as they were happening. I didn't plan anything. I didn't really ask for anything. I lived my life and took a few good pictures by doing so.

What did R.C. get? Every time I look at the pictures from that trip I would like to think that he was happy. I would like to think that he considers me a friend. I would like to think a lot of things but only R.C. really knows.



R.C. & Me - Friends



Delicate Sunset

So fragile and delicate
The arch of life
Where we climb
And climb
In the brutal sun
Burning our skin
And draining our life
With so little rest
Along the way
Facing the sun always.
A delicate climb
Building up life
And the rest looms
Ahead at the peak
Where the way ends
And the sun sets
As we lay down
Our burdens released.

Samuel & Slab City

He sat at home working. Slaving for his family over a stack of law books and a PC. A lawyer doing what lawyers do...billing people in 6 minute increments....while taking breaks every now and then to look for random shit online. Slab City. Homeless people in the middle of a wasteland full of dead fish and Salton Sea. Call Lon.

Friends are in your life for many reasons. Today, Brian's reason for being my friend came in the form of a tired friendly call between massive amounts of work.

The phone rang at 8:32 PM on Saturday night. Brian had the weirdness of thought to call me after finding a Google satellite image of slab city. I'm good with having friends like that. I'm also good with the fact that Brian found this on his own while looking around Salton Sea on Google satellite...for no other reason than curiosity.

“Sammy, come here.” Samuel popped into the bedroom...almost literally. His brother was gone for a sleepover and they both needed separate time this weekend. Two brothers, born 320 days apart, together all day...they bug each other a lot. The day apart was good.

“Dad, what's Slab City?”

“It's this place in the desert where anyone can go and just squat...live for free. The government doesn't bother them and they don't bother anyone else....looks cool.”

“Yeah it does.” Which was followed by a subtly excited face.

The words came out, “Sam, do you want to go to Slab City?” And once you let that cat out of the bag...it ain't going back in. Some cats grin for a reason and some just grin because that's the how they are.

They grabbed a pan of crumb cake. Yes, an actual pan of warm crumb cake that was baked in the oven only hours before. The following food was also added: A family sized bag of Doritos, two cold fast food chicken sandwiches, a plastic bag of apples, and some gum. Also to be added, was a bunch of blankets and pillows in the back of a mini-van...on top of a Swedish foam mattress. Provisions and a hearty vessel...with two bald tires and a front seat that's broken in half...Hearty but skids easily and gives driver sore upper back.

The drive was an interesting thing. Samuel was 13 and in the first year of acne and awkward. What do most kids do during that year...they think about sex. More in particular...most boys do...and they do it a lot.

They talked about sex as two friends would...casually. More in particular...as two boys would. He got to talk to his son as a friend while still interjecting all the good fatherly bits when needed; he got to have his dad cake and eat the friend part too. This conversation included inches and curves and sweaty girls and magazines under the bed and two girls doing awful things with a single cup...which both boys in this silver van found to be equally disgusting. They laughed about the douchey guys at school and talked about the girls who fell for such douchbaggery...and how to avoid both of these types of people at all costs.

There was a discussion about lubricant.

There is a beach on the Salton Sea called Bombay Beach. There is a little bar near Bombay beach. It's the kind of bar with dollars stapled to the walls and a middle age mother of three tending bar. It was windy and warm and the door to the bar was open wide. Samuel sat in the car while his dad found out that they were right on “the beach” and that photographers loved going to a spot right up the street. A stranger taking a break from his beer pointed the way.

They camped .8 miles from that bar...on the water surrounded by chunks of rusted concrete encrusted iron re bar. And half destroyed homes built in 1955. With pillars of piers, long broken down, extending from the lifeless water. They would sleep in the van after exploring with a flashlight and finding 17 dead fish, lots of broken wood, and a nice place to take pictures in the dark.

The moon set on the water and my camera sat nested on a pillow on top of a rock. . While Brian had the wisdom to call me, he didn't have the wisdom to remember what he did with my tripod. Taking pictures at night can be hard even with a tripod but without one there was no choice but to improvise. Take a large plastic metal detector case and place it on top of pillow...place all this on some damp dirt covered rocks...in the wind. Balance camera, hit the shutter and be still. We talked.

We talked about things while Sam walked around poking in the dirt with a flashlight and a stick...at dead fish. And it was good while I took pictures. He came and sat next to me in the dark with my camera sitting on it's little balanced pile. He put his legs up to his chest and just sat there next to me looking at the reflection of the moon on the water. He didn't move when he said it, “This is neat.” And when the camera lens closed on the long exposure I thought...yeah...this is pretty neat.

There was a compulsion to drive the second he opened his eyes. The van was very comfortable to sleep in but the second he woke up he wanted to get out of the warm bed and start driving. Samuel sat on a car sized chunk of concrete eating an apple and looking a the sad remains of a moonlight view. Daylight was hard on this place. They both wanted to start driving.

24 miles to Slab City. 24 of the most depressing miles you will ever drive. Straight as an arrow, with lots of gentle ups and downs through a wasteland of power lines, train tracks, dead fish, salty mud, and the occasional dirt farm. And they talked about how funky this place looked...and lifeless. And how fast they were driving through this funky place to get to another, even funkier, place.

Lost. On a straight road that goes directly to an abandoned military base....we couldn't find it.
There are still gas stations that have solid metal cut outs of 7-Up bottles hanging from the awning and half paved gravel where you stop to fill up your tank. They parked at one of these sorts of stations to talk to someone who would work at this sort of station. In particular, to ask this person where Slab City may be...and to go potty.

The small convenience store that was attached to this old gas station was manned by a lady that can only be described as stoic. “Hi. How are you this morning?”

“....” stoic stare.

“Umm..Do you have a bathroom?”

“...” same stare with a move to walk past me outside and go to the rear of the building. She points and walks back in.

“Thank You!”
The gas station bathroom contained 3 empty 40 Ounce bottles of something, a broken toilet seat, and no toilet paper.

“Excuse me, Um, do you have any toilet paper.”

“....” as she opens the door to get a large roll of TP, her balding husband looked at me between watching the store security monitors and eating a frozen burrito...at 9am.

Without a word, she walked out to the bathroom and installed the mammoth roll of toilet paper. As she walked past him, she didn't look at him at all.

Finishing his business, he came back to the front door. “Can you tell me where Slab City is?” She was forced to speak.

“Four miles up the road and make a right on Main street. Cross over the railroad tracks and follow the bend in the road for about 3 miles. You can't miss it.”

We missed it. Four miles back up the road was nothing but wheat as far as the eye could see. We pulled off the main road and onto a bumpy dirt path. Sam didn't want to have his picture taken but the wheat called to me and I wanted to see him standing among the golden stalks. I took the picture and we went back to the car to figure out where Slab City was hiding. Right before we pulled away I noticed a farm hand working and figured I would ask him where it was. No English. No Habla. Just hard work under a hard sun. He pointed back down the road we had just come from and then went back to his labor. Before I walked away I knew enough hand gestures to ask him for a picture. And the proud American farm hand stood still for me before going back to digging a ditch for the foreign wheat farmer who worked the land.




My Sammy Outside Slab City Somewhere


The American Dream

 And We Talked


A Guitar Playing Slabber

Cowboy




Srong.
Bold.
Alone.
Lonely.
A campfire at night.
The hard desert floor.
A thin blanket.
Stars shine on him
Sleeping rough
Like men did
In the days before
Men became more
Than just men
They rode alone
Until the prairies ended
And the cattle roamed free
While the cowboys’ road
Into the sunset
Still wearing their hats
And finding their place

In another world

Monday, July 6, 2020

Cold Fire






Alone, cold fire burning
In the heat of the day light
Burning solitary; singular
Resting in the cast light
Breathing in window beams
Alight on a still surface              
Waiting for the warmth
A cold fire burns
Across an aging hearth

__Bodie Ghost Town, CA__

The Calm in You






Calm
Painted Color Respite
From the storm
Windy warm wanderer
Breathless
Watching
Colors drip and swirl
Real life
You.
It’s always You


The Tower


Far away
A tower stood
Straight in the distance
It stood.
And the Sun pierced the clouds
And the Sun shown down
Upon the tower
Light resplendent;
Divine
Upon the tower
Light bathed;
Holy
Upon the tower
Light washed;
Darkness
Cast away

A Grand Fifteen Hours

Time with my camera is a very weird thing. I go to take pictures of something...get a wild hair to shoot a particular place or thing....and I am on fire to get there and shoot it. And when it's time to stop, it's time to stop. The energy just goes flat and the pictures feel forced. It has taken me a while to get a feel for this. Many are the times when I over shoot a situation....most of the time actually. I am a chronic over shooter in all situations. Sometimes, taking a single picture and walking away is exactly what I need to do. And sometimes driving all the way to the Grand Canyon, staying for 15 hours, and leaving...is exactly what I needed to do.

My mommy packed my lunch for me. Lunch being left over pizza in a giant zip-lock bag. After two days with my mom in Arizona, I drove the other four hours north to finally see how Grand the canyon was. I left at the time I did for the soul purpose of making it there by sunset. And the drive was wonderful. I did what I normally do on long drives with my camera...loaded up on fast food, junk food, whatever songs my radio would pick up. The older I get the more I enjoy quiet time on the road. I love driving places I have never been before. There are strange plants growing by the roadside and casinos run by tribes I have never heard of . There are small places to stop with only one gas station and a garage full of old tires and car parts. In Arizona there are lot's of cactus and rocks and desert terrain that looks hot even when it's freezing outside. The road to Northern Arizona is cut through rocky mountains and vast deserts full of light greens shrubs and animals that hiss and don't drink very much water at all. And the gas stations sell Subway sandwiches and turquoise jewelry made by the native American casino owners. The sign said "Made by the local Native Americans" I didn't buy any of their hand crafted goods. There was an accident on the highway as I drove North to the Canyon of all Canyons. The road stopped up and the man on the radio kept talking about the economic crisis in Greece and who was responsible for the financial bloodbath that was happening there. The traffic was dead still and NPR talked on while I wondered if I would make it to the Canyon in time to watch the sun set over the massive chasm. My van inched forward and decided to get off at the exit where the local native Americans built their hand crafted casino. The sign said..."Operated by local Native Americans" I pulled into the little gas station next to the authentic gambling establishment. Someone was died on the road ahead. The road was closed because there was a fatality....death in the desert beneath the shadow of a native billboard..."3 dollar breakfast special – 2 dollar blackjack" I waited for a short time and the traffic began to move and I moved with it. I crawled back onto the highway and a man and his walker stood next to a broken down red truck...assessing just how broken it really was. He didn't need any help but he sure looked like he did. A body. A simple thing really. Nothing to see here people...move along. It's strange to me that for all the lookers and rubber neckers of the world that stop and gawk at every little fender bender....it's strange that when a body is just laying there next to a smashed up car with a thin white blanket over it...people don't slow down at all. Nobody actually wants to see the body. Nobody wants to know that someone really did just die. Nobody wants to be reminded that someone who was just drinking Coke and munching french fries an hour and a half ago and is now a traffic delay under a sheet. I sped past the body like everyone else...happy that it wasn't me. It's a twisted logic but it's true. Northern Arizona become greener and greener and turns from desert into forest and trees. It's a neat little transformation you get in one four hour drive. And snow. Snow falls in Arizona and it's pretty like snow is pretty when it's white and coating green things underneath. So after driving by the body I spent the remainder of my drive speeding over snowy terrain to catch a sunset that I wasn't even sure would be very good. It was.
The last 40 miles to the grand Canyon is pretty much a straight line across some bleak looking land that some brave folks call home. As a photographer I would love to live this close to the Grand Canyon. As anyone else....not so much. I stopped at a gas station with a giant grizzly bear statue in front. I paid twenty five dollars for a park pass and fifteen more dollars for a gallon of water, a large can of beef stew, two cans of chef boyardi gunk, and some chewy sweet tarts. In addition to my pizza, these were my hearty provisions. The cans were even pop top so I could just pull and eat. On the last few miles of forest road I saw these beautiful clouds hanging in the air. Having no idea where the Grand Canyon was, all I could do was hope that these clouds were nearby. I like clouds.

I showed the ranger my park ticket and she let me in. There was a half hour of light left and I was grateful to have made it in time. I pulled up and jumped out of my van anxious to grab my gear and find the canyon. The Canyon was a five minute walk from my car and it was a humbling thing to witness. Even if you don't believe in God you will believe in the Grand Canyon. It is an overwhelming reminder of how small we really are. We can gaze at the stars and ponder the universe and realized how tiny our planet is...how small we are...how vast the universe is. But standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon is different. You are faced with vastness and space and an overwhelmingly large area unlike any other place on earth. Earth...not space or the universe...but right here on earth. Standing there, you realize that even if you never looked to the heavens for a cosmic size comparison....you can still feel small right here on earth. You can still feel that we live on a very, VERY large planet full of things that have been here for billions of years. Forget the universe. Standing there and seeing the Grand Canyon...the earth blew my mind. I know that our planet is small compared to most others...but compared to just me....it's monstrously huge...and I am nothing.

The first major overlook is the best one. After stopping at dozen different overlooks around the park I can tell you this. It is also the best one because when I walked down the stairs and out onto the gated platform there were clouds hanging low over the canyon. Big fat juicy bastards that can do nothing but add to a picture. Because taking your camera and pointing it down into the canyon is a great way to get a shot that I'm pretty sure everyone has taken. I did this with a lot of the overlooks and the pictures were all boring and flat. That's why clouds are fun...they are one of a kind backdrop material that you get lucky to find...or you don't. I went into total and complete over shoot mode. I didn't want to miss anything as the sun was setting behind me. The sun was casting a gold glow across the canyon that slowly turned red and pink over the next twenty minutes. There are only so many angles you can find on an overlook point filled with 20 other people trying to take pictures too. The clouds looked so cool I didn't know whether to frame the shots with more canyon or cloud. It's the Grand Canyon for petes sake...but the clouds were grand too. And the German people were stoic in their pictures while the Chinese kids laughed and teased each other, each with their own tiny point and shoot camera...pointing and shooting the earth at her finest....while the girl with the purple hair and piercings stood at the edge and let me in close when I wanted a pictures from her angle. I left the main overlook and tried to make it to the next one over before the sun fully set. It was empty when I saw it across the way but the overlook was full of people by the time I got there. I loved listening to the Chinese tourists laugh. They sounded like they were having a lot of fun with each other and laughing about stupid jokes you make up on long trips. The jokes that you never laugh about again later...you just laugh about the fact you thought they were funny while you were tired and traveling.

The sun left to shed light on others people and it became very cold as the snow turned into ice and my pizza called to me from the ice chest behind the drivers seat. I stuffed myself with pizza and thought of my mom and the nice visit with her that I just ended. I love my mom. I also love my van. My van contains all that I need for any trip...a nice Swedish foam bead, lots of blankets and pillow, my gear, and as much junky food as I can afford. There is a scenic drive in the park that has several stops along the way. It was mid-week and winter so there wasn't many people in the park at all. I decided to find a stop and camp there all night to catch the sun rising in the morning. I picked a stop and pulled in to sleep. The moon was almost full which made shooting the starts impossible. During a long exposure the moon washes out the entire sky making the shot look like someone turned on the lights. I was restless and wanted to shoot some pictures but there was nothing to shoot. I wandered around for a while taking pictures of the snow banks under the moonlight. But the pictures were flat and the energy was wrong so I went to my van and tried to sleep. Tried is the operative word here. I was exhausted and yet I could not sleep at all. Hours passed and I lay warm and comfortable in my van parked just feet from the Grand Canyon...and sleep would not come. I finally drifted a little but I never really slept deeply. And then something happened that has happened to me before. It's like someone poking me or suddenly screaming. I just wake up and look around as though something urgent was happening. I sat up and looked out my window to see that big fat moon sinking towards the horizon. It was beautiful.

I got my tripod and quickly put my clothes on. On the little walkway out to the overlook I could see the big moon sinking into the dark canyon below. There is a quiet that is only to be found when the world is dampened with snow. If you have lived in snow, then you know what I'm talking about. It was that kind of quiet as I stood there with my tripod set up and the moon beaming down on me with her beautiful gold light. The light was gold because the moon was behind some thin clouds. Shooting the moon is not technically a very wise thing to undertake as a photographer. Most photographers who want the moon in their pictures to look good, cut and paste it in from another pictures. The problem is that either the moon is properly exposed and foreground is totally dark...or the moon is a blown out star burst and the foreground is lit. If you use nothing but a single shot on a setting moon there is a very...VERY...tiny little window of time when there is a balance and the setting moon looks normal and the foreground is lit by the moon. I have found that balance once before on a beach in California and I have shot for it ever since. I stood seeking balance on the edge of Gods greatest creation. I slowly walked along the path and stared at the sinking moon trying to frame it over the snow and next to the trees. It was going down fast and getting more dusty colored behind the thinly veiled clouds. As it set over the edge of the canyon I laughed a little as I took the pictures. Nobody who ever saw the pictures would have any idea that the moon was setting right into the Grandest thing they would ever see. The last pictures I took were of a single tree growing right on the edge of a one mile drop straight down into the canyon. The light was fading and allowing the stars overhead to show up on film rather than wash them out. It was amazing to me. There was such a perfect balance between the moon and the stars. And the dusty orange moonlight set into the canyon while the stars shown bright and pure. I cried. The moon was gone and the sun was going to rise exactly behind me in about fifteen minutes. That meant I had fifteen minutes to take pictures of stars.

Shooting the stars requires much equipment that I do not have. It also requires experience, which I have little of. But I do have a camera. And I do love trying to push my camera to the limit and grabbing some star shots when I am in very dark places like the Grand Canyon...or the Sierra Mountains. As with the moon, star shots are not easy for two reasons....you can't see them through the view finder so focusing is hard....and they are pretty boring to most people. How can you shoot the stars with something interesting in the picture other than just ..the stars. I turned around from the exact spot where I took the final moon set picture and started to shoot. It was cold and beautiful and serene to me. I was doing nothing but looking to the heavens and framing tiny little pieces of sky with my tiny little camera. The exposures were long like they have to be for star shots...but not so long that the stars in the pictures streaked. I took several shots that were beautiful when the very first blush of sunlight lit the horizon. When I say very first...I mean it....you could hardly see it with your naked eye at all. As I took the pictures something strange happened and nature showed me another lesson in balance. With just a tiny bit of light on the horizon it wasn't enough to wash out the stars. It wasn't enough to make the exposure too bright. It was just enough to actually catch a sunrise and the milky way together. My little camera sat on the tripod and I stood with it while the sun and stars were in perfect balance. It only stayed like that for about 3 or 4 minutes until the sun was too bright and washing out the sky in the long exposures I was doing. It was strange how fast the balance shifts between day and night. You notice it nowhere more precisely than through the lens. Of all the shots I took that night of the moon and the stars and the blushing sun...only a few came out. Only a few had the stars in focus and the moon the same as my eyes were seeing it. Only a few looked the same as they did when I was taking them. There was those magic tipping points. Those points when the heavenly lights were in perfect harmony and neither was brighter than the other. The earth turned that night and it was lovely and beautiful and good. I turned with the earth and for a small window of time the earth was mine and the heavens were too. We were all together that night standing on the edge of magnificence and dancing together in natures sweet balance. As the sun crept up and hid the stars a tourist pulled up with his camera to catch the sunrise. As he walked up I said, "You just missed a very cool moon set."

My trip was done. I felt it. The sun was rising off to one side of the canyon and I wanted to find something cool to frame it with. I drove along the scenic route trying to find something to shoot with the sunrise but feeling compelled to shoot nothing. I would love to say I took some other great shots...but I didn't. I drove around for two hours stopping at all the overlooks pointing my camera down and shooting. Blah. No clouds, no stars, no moon, no cool light....but a canyon. As Grand as it was, and amazing it is...you still need something more in the picture than just the canyon. Even the Grand Canyon needs perspective. Especially the Grand Canyon. I arrived and was shown how tiny I am on this planet...how old and majestic nature is on this earth. And then I spent the night being shown true majesty by the eternal heavens and the balance of God's creations beyond this tiny little canyon. After poking around for a few hours I got in my car and left. The Grand Canyon gave me what I needed. I was there for exactly fifteen hours and I left with an altered sense of perspective that was truly humbling and some pictures that I am grateful to have. Next time I'll stay for a whole day.


Grand Canyon Rain


The Last Of The Day Light



The Last Of The Moon Light


The First Light Of A New Day


Man & Wife

Is it fated?
In the heavens,
A union of two
Who cleave
And bind
To each other
Intertwined eternally
In a heavenly dance
Forever in love
As one.
In a cosmic play
For two
Alone together on a stage
Of infinite stars
And majesty surrounding
These two
Whose love was born
In mortal hearts
Seeking the divine
Through the eyes of each other


__Springville, UT__

The People in Hollywod

I went to lunch with a friend in Hollywood. I finished my lunch and drove down to a busy part of Hollywood to do some street photography. I got there and was balless. With street photography you have to take pictures first and ask questions later....you just take peoples pictures without asking. It's a little weird at first. I was afraid people would get mad or say something. I missed a couple very VERY good shots because I was too afraid to just take the shot. You cannot hesitate at all or you lose the moment. It was very cool. Stuff happens all over the street. Every day stuff. Stuff that we all do. Most is mundane and some is not at all. If you look at people and what is going on as pictures...or potential pictures....you find some really neat moments. I just got my feet wet during those few hours and realized how much I liked doing that. It's very different from regular photography. More honest I think. I didn't have to approach people and pretend that I know them or something. That sounds bad but it's true. Usually when I want a picture...I want a picture..I'm in that head space...not the sociable I want to be friends space as much as the....you look interesting and I think you would make a beautiful picture head space. It's random people art. So I feel crappy many times asking people for a picture and talking with them...for really...just a picture. I know I will never see them again. But there are so many interesting looking people. With street photography you take the picture and they see you take the picture. If they want to say something they will. Otherwise....no harm no foul. And it really surprised me how few people said anything at all. Almost none. Even when they saw me take their picture. I loved it. I was walking around smiling like a little kid in a candy store. Because even barring the most everyday situations....you know...that with camera in hand you could get lucky and find a priceless moment like some of the great ones in museums. One in a millions for sure...but I love feeling like I could hit the photographers lottery at any moment. You don't know when a moment will cross your path and get captured by your camera. I talked to a man who looked a lot like Jesus and thought he was Jesus too. His beard and his hair...very much like JC. He says..."six billion people are watching you right now...I can't let you take my picture with everyone watching" As though I am now supposed to feel all weird that I am being watched. I said to him "Brother, nobody is watching us right now but God." And he said..."You sound sure of that." I said, "I am sure of that. You know and I know there is nobody watching us right now but God." And while I had already taken his picture while he was walking by...without asking...he would not let me take a portrait with permission. What a shame because it would have been a lovely picture. He was trying to tell me that if I believed him...about the people watching us that I could take his picture. I couldn't lie to him and say that I believed him because I didn't and he wouldn't explain any further how that was possible...all those people watching...so there was no picture to be had. He said if he let me take his picture lots of people would be mad...for whatever reason. Somehow my weight came up..I made a comment about losing weight and he says...don't lose weight..that's why we love you...you remind me of John Candy...don't lose the weight. I am always so tossed on the John Candy comparisons...he was big but he was a nice guy so I can never be to miffed at the reference. Jesus just kept eluding to the fact that I should believe what he said....even if he said black was white and white was black...just believe it. And I could not do that either. His hands were very dirty and when I went to shake them he said no....my hands are really dirty. I said that I didn't care and he actually embraced my hands with his and kissed them. It was a slightly strange thing to have happen on a street corner in Hollywood. His real name was Mike. And I walked by a homeless man and raised my camera to shoot....he raised his head a moment before the shutter clicked and stared into my lens. I wondered what he was thinking. He looked lost. And there were little dogs and big dogs and leashes with masters on them who sipped Starbucks and ate lunch on little patios overlooking the sidewalks of the famous. There were expensive cars parked in front of trendy cafes with washed up movies stars who ran from my camera...even though they were washed up and nobody cared at all about their cup of coffee with a friend. That really happened. It was a street full of people who sit and people watch everyone else while typing important things on their laptops while wondering if anyone important will walk by...all the while forgetting...or maybe they never got it to begin with...that nobody is really important. We are all important. So if we are all important then really we are all equal and that means that nobody is more special than anyone else...hence...nobody is important. I was leaving this street full of places to sit...and a little black doggy stared at me from a big black car while the master was inside drinking and talking and planning the next big thing with her protege and a laptop. I loved the little doggy and took her picture as she stared into my lens for a moment. She didn't bark at all from her Mercedes cage. And I didn't bark either. One little street in Hollywood full of people that wanted to see and be seen. Right next to my car was a Starbucks with tables outside. I had walked by it three times and on each walk by the same guy was sitting outside drinking coffee. He sat self importantly...if that's possible. Whether he was or was not famous...he sat as though he were. At one walk by I thought that maybe he was someone famous that I didn't recognize. Whatever the case, he oozed pretense and pose. I really wanted to get his picture but I felt a little intimidated walking up to his table and just doing it. And so I did. He sat in repose outside the Starbucks being and doing all that was wrong with being or doing anything in Hollywood. I walked right up and took his pictures and walked right away without saying a word. I think he liked having his pictures taken. Which almost made me want to erase it. I got in my van across the street to go to the place of ultimate disgust...the place where people value money and things over all else...Beverly Hills. Of course...with how I drive I had no idea where Beverly Hills was...but I found it somehow. Rodeo Drive. I wanted to throw up when I drove by looking for a parking spot. Especially with how the economy is right now. Here is a massive street full of shops that carry thousand dollar handbags and shoes that could feed a village. The kind of stores that only have a few dozen items in the whole showroom. There were more tourists there than shoppers. I parked and walked onto Rodeo drive feeling dirty for having done so. No drama. I know it's just a street. I know I love going to anyplace new to feel the vibe and observe and see what people are doing at that particular place. I know all these things. But I still felt slightly dirty being there in the heart of the monetary Mecca of the West. The place were the chique go to look more chique. The last street I had been on was full of rather ordinary people....ok we are all ordinary...but full of ordinary people trying to be extraordinary. The last street was full of people looking at other people...people writing books and trying to be more like someone else. On Rodeo drive there was a different vibe all together. Remove the tourists and the gawkers and there was a group of people that absolutely knew that they didn't want to be anyone else at all. These were the people that knew that people wanted to be like them. Rodeo drive had the people watchers and the laptop coffee drinkers...but Rodeo drive also had the people to be watched....the beautiful ones....the people worthy of emulations and adoration. I just had to swallow some vomit as I typed that. Rodeo Drive where life is juicy...whatever the hell that means. There was a homeless man sitting on a bench in front of a juicy store. He was reading a small book that turned out to be a dictionary. I took his picture from afar and one up close. It was the one that got away. I shot from the chest and it was not in focus...but I can still look at the picture and see his furrowed brow of concentration sitting on that bench among the elite of society. His name was Fred and he played the guitar and he thought it was getting too cold for his jacket. We talked about balance. We talked about the weather. And we talked about his jacket. The street was pristine and swept and the bench he sat on was solid faux marble. And he continued to read his dictionary as I walked away wondering about entertainers on stages and the fine balance to be had....according to Fred. There was a girl standing outside a fancy restaurant. How did I know it was fancy...she was wearing one of those long black table cloth aprons that says....our waiters are highly trained to kiss your ass....they will serve you and love you long time while you eat our overpriced food and drink our bottled water from imported glass bottles. I stopped as I was walking by and said..."Look at you in your fancy waiter outfit." I smiled when I said it to avoid being a smart ass....she took the smile for what it was...she says..."You're saying that because I have this long black apron on right?" She smiled too...thus avoiding any confusion as to who was being a smart ass. I laughed when she said it and she asked me if I wanted to come in and eat. I had to swallow a little more vomit before saying no thanks and heading on down Rodeo Drive. The end of the drive has a little faux Euro street with cobblestones and everything...it even has the faux EuroTrash....well they are not so faux....they were from Europe...visiting America...to see a fake version of where they live...a fake version that is WAY more expensive and believe it or not....WAY more pretentious than where they are from. The little cluster of Europeans walked around having fun and feeling at home in this distorted version of their homeland. At the end of the cobblestones was a small outdoor cafe where more people drank coffee and ate from little plates while watching tourists walk by...mingled with a few of those crusty mothers than knew they were being watched and emulated. Knew that their shoes were on next weeks issue of whatever fashion McCrap magazine was at the check stand. Knew that they were worthy of being the ones walking by....not the ones drinking the overpriced coffee. And knew that for all the Rodeo Drive adoration that accompanied their daily walk....that they were miserable inside and wanted to go home. I was glad to leave the cobblestone Europe and walk back down to Rodeo Drive. The meeter was ticking and my time was short to see if I could snap some pictures of real life happening. The longer I was on this street the less confidence I had in finding anything real. Even the tourists were posing. Asian men...Asian business men hate having their pictures taken. Why the hell would I know that? Vegas. Ten years of blackjack dealing. When the suit is on they are very private about their business. On a street corner stood a few Asian men and I did the unthinkable...I walked right up, raised my camera and took a shot. They were fast....as I focused and right before I actually hit the shutter button...they had time to see me and start to react. Those shots are good too. While they know you are shooting...it's a very instant first reaction with no thought...I have always liked those. You get a reaction that is very genuine and unplanned to the camera. Whatever the reaction is....its always good because it's genuine. I stopped, snapped the picture and walked on...leaving the business man to literally run sideways out of the camera range and talk loudly to his friends in Mandarin about my rudeness. How do know it's Mandarin? Vegas. Ten years of blackjack dealing. I had walked this street twice and both times seen this store called Juicy Couture. Oh how stores like this bother me. Oh how this type of spending and marketing gets my back up like no other. OK...first of all...what the hell is Couture. Do I know kind of? Yes. Am I going to go look it up....for sake of this writing....yes. OK, I looked it up. Haute Couture means high dress making. It carries with it certain standards which must be met to be called Haute Couture. Most of the really high end shops in Paris that have this label don't even sell the clothes...they just want the fancy label. It's custom dressmaking from custom fabrics and accessories.....essentially, really fancy pants clothes. And here we have an updated version for this generation...Juicy Couture. I walked by twice and was simply taken in by the advertising...."Is life really this juicy?" What on gods good green earth is juicy? Twice I walked by and twice I wondered if not only life was juicy but was my life juicy? How juicy was I? Was I dripping with juice or merely just an orange waiting to be squeezed. It was the only store that I walked into on all of Rodeo drive. All the rest of them just threw up high priced merchandise in the windows or had staff lingering at the door waiting to find a non tourist...or a really wealthy one....to jump on. And yet here was a shop that rose above the consumerism and the greed...here was a shop that asked important questions of me as I walked by...."Hey man, Is life really this juicy?" I wasn't really sure. I walked in through the high square archway made of faux Greek columns. Notice the appropriately judicious use of the word faux. Within a few seconds I had to...for the third time on that day...choke down some vomit. I don't think anyone noticed. I was discreet about it. My cheeks plumped up a little when it came up and I made a slightly sour face when I had to swallow it back down. The store was an explosion of color and splashy advertising on the walls. So when you walk into a store to find out just what juicy is, it really doesn't help that the following is on the walls...."It's not easy being this juicy." Oh really. Am I to get the vibe that being juicy is cool or sexy somehow. ...like it's not easy being Cheesy from Chester Cheetah? Or it's not easy being this good looking...from some lame ass bumper sticker? On the other other wall was painted...Juicy Couture...for girls who like stuff. I realize that everyone is different and some people buy this crap...but this was just shameless promotions of an ambiguous concept meant to glorify clothing for no other reason than it was juicy...whatever that meant. It was slightly maddening to me and yet the store was abuzz with skinny little girls shopping for skinny little outfits that would enhance their juiciness. I walked over to an employee and said..."I came in here because I wanted to know....Is life really this juicy?" He laughed a little and said yes it is. I laughed a little back and asked him what the hell juicy meant...as in...um hello indoctrinated store worker....what does it mean to say that my life is juicy?" He laughed again...a little....and sort of hemmed and hawed....well...it could mean lots of things....but he quickly backed off from his ambiguity and said...it means fun...life is fun...it's all about the fun. Well, I had to agree that fun was good...and that is what I did..."Well, fun is good." I knew what he meant as he looked at me for a moment longer before he walked off to have fun being juicy with a tiny 17 year old from Kansas. Was life really this much fun? It's not easy being this fun. I suppose he could get half credit for an answer that was at least the proper part of speech. And the people moved around quickly and tried on clothes and listened to music from girl band whose lead singers weren't old enough to drink yet. Fun couture...fun clothes...fun fashion...fun to spend money on overpriced shit. I was glad to leave such a fun place before my lunch decided to come up for a visit again. So I was driving home. I was leaving this place of Haute people watchers and famous couture. And there was a small park. There are several of them down near Rodeo drive. Each one has a sculpture in it or some art work. I saw these bright tulips....massive flowers ...three of them together in the park and I couldn't resist taking some shots of them as the sun went down. I had spent the day looking at people and things and possessions and now I had a quiet moment to myself to shoot some flowers. As I was walking towards the flowers there was a homeless woman sitting in the park and I asked if I could take her picture. She said no and I was OK with it ....I walked on. The sculptures were beautiful and brightly colored and the tulips stood tall with the sun behind them. I framed up the shots with the sun behind the huge sculpted flowers and spent about twenty minutes walking around the flowers thinking how lovely they looked and.....quite frankly....wishing I had a wide angle lens. I thought to myself that of all the shots I took today....these were my favorite....regardless of if they were very good ones....they were mine alone....no other person was in them...I didn't invade anyone's space....no wondering if they did or did not want their picture taken....no hoping for a good angle. Here, my camera was on a little tripod and I sat in the grass in no hurry at all. I sat in the grass and carefully framed each shot until it looked like I wanted...and I took the pictures of bright cement tulips growing in a park in Beverly Hills. It was still and solitary just like each tulip before me. I took a picture of the three tulips together from three different angles...each angle with the sun directly behind a different flower. Because each flower was alone and beautiful and deserved to have the sun shine down on it as it stood isolated among it's friends. I loved seeing the sun burst behind each flower. They looked heavenly like flowers do when they grow so tall and bright. Who knew that Beverly Hills could have a redeeming trait....artwork in the parks. Now these tulips in a quiet park...this tripod and me on the green grass....this park with kids and joggers and people sitting among the late afternoon sun beams falling onto them...the same sun bathing the fancy walkers on Rodeo drive....this was Juicy. And the tulips stood still for my camera. I walked away from the flowers and smiled and breathed and felt easy. I got what I came down here for...whatever that was...I got it. The homeless woman was still there and I stopped to talk to her about the pictures I had just taken. She talked to me for a while about some various places to go take pictures. She told me lots of things and while she was talking to me something interesting occurred. I looked at her and I loved her. I didn't just listen or stand there and look at her...I really loved her. I felt as though I was hugging her with my mind. I looked into her eyes and truly loved her. I didn't know her. I listened to her while all the while truly loving her...whoever she was/is. And she felt it. I knew it and she knew it. No doubt. I saw it when she felt it. And she knew that I loved her.

I didn't expect that at all.

                                                        
                                                               
His Thoughts


Master


Self Important



Jesus & Pal

Rodeo Reading


Asian Business


My Tulips