Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Back Towards - Christmas in Mexico (part 4)

The white rock shown under the moonlight. Only several hours before I had taken a picture of this rock and the cross on top...with the sunlight overhead. I pulled over and sat in the same spot I had earlier in the day. The moon was far overhead and casting a beautiful glow over the rock. I took my tripod and pushed all the legs up to make it as small as possible. I sat with the tripod legs over my knees and framed the pictures. There was no sun to create a glow and no shadow to sit in. I sat beneath that rock, still, while my camera took a real picture under the moon light. My mind was busy with the new answers that I had been given. They were simple truths that I needed. My camera sat inches in front of me taking in a long exposure under the crescent moon. When the shutter finally closed on that exposure I was still and I was happy. Moon light can cast it's own special light on a scene, it just takes longer to get the right picture.

I left the rock and headed home. I drove for a couple hours in silence just thinking about my life. It was clear thought. And it was still thought. I know who I am. Before too long my mind returned to photography. Night photography is my favorite and here I was driving down the highway past all kinds of old buildings and churches in Mexico...at night. My radar turned on and soon enough I found this old garage sitting alone with a fluorescent lamp hanging over the spare tires and beat up lounge chair on the greasy pavement. It was interesting and I think the picture looked like something from an old episode of Taxi...if it was shot outside at night. I was about to leave when I looked over beside the garage and set back off the highway was this white picket fence with a gate in the middle. There was a white bird sitting on top of the gate. It looked like a seagull but I suppose with the mood I was in a dove could be another guess. I walked closer to the gate and noticed something odd...the angle I had set up my camera at...with one light on the garage behind...created my shadow that stretched across the ground towards the gate. Even at night I couldn't escape my own shadow. I was wearing an overcoat and decided to play around a little with my shadow. My sister has taken a few pictures where angels have been seen in the bark of a tree or the shadow of a blurred picture. My sister sees angels all over the place. I love her for that. I, on the other hand, do not. I can see them when she points them out but the skeptic in me always wins. My shadow stood long across the dirt with my head at the gate. Even if I don't believe in angels I could try to make one with my shadow. No pretense about it...self created for the picture...white gate...dove overhead...not too far of a stretch. The exposures were almost two minutes and I couldn't flap my arms for that long to create the wings so for the last shot I stood there still with my arms extended fluttering my hands...I wasn't sure whether it would look like a cross or an angel. Either way, on this day, they both seemed apropos. It ended up looking more like a cross over the gate. I found my shadow at night and played with it for a while.

The long drive home continued in silence. I found nothing beside the highway interesting enough to stop for except a liquor store with cigarettes. The silence was golden and my mind dusted itself off and thought of things clean and new. After driving for almost three hours away from the moonlit white rock there was a split in Hwy 1. Rather than guess which way led to California I stopped at a gas station to ask. After a few minutes of drawing roads on the back of old receipts and pointing to the highway, the girl had her friend take me over to the wall map and show me that, in fact, I had been driving south for the last three hours. Even with a clear head I had somehow gone back down this road the wrong way. I laughed. Usually this kind of thing would have driven me nuts and I would have fumed over the lost time and lost gas. Of course I was bugged but it was easy to get back on the highway towards home.

Three hours back over the road I had just traveled. I was tired and ready to finally pull over to sleep. Speeding back north I realized that I had passed all the populated areas and was left with a long stretch of dark highway. The only thing showing was the crescent moon and it was beautiful and almost setting. My heart jumped.

To catch a setting moon is not as easy as you may think. Taking a picture of one presents several problems. The moon only sets in full darkness...when you can shoot it...several days per month. A few of those days it will set at three or four in the morning when it's nearly impossible to stay up with your gear at a good location. You can but you usually don't. Add to this that most places that you see a moon setting are pretty mundane and not worth taking a picture of anyway. Then consider that if you do find a nice view, the moon needs to set at the proper place on the horizon to illuminate the picture properly and give you something interestingly illuminated. Also, you must have your camera on a tripod, framed right, with all of your setting ready for the final golden 15 minutes of moon drop...and the settings are not easy to get right. Top this all off with the fact that you have to be looking for the right shot all the frigging time to finally shoot the moon. If you don't look for it you would never find it.

There was the moon setting to my left and I knew that there were a few roads that split off towards the ocean somewhere on this highway. I looked at the moon and thought of the water and pressed down on the gas pedal. I had a picture to take.

I could tell that the moon was going to set within about thirty minutes. My van sped at an inappropriate speed along twisty Mexican roads in search of a road to the water. I knew that I was going to get this shot. I felt it. I had driven hours in the wrong direction...stopped to take pictures along the way...almost stopped to go to bed...and here I was awake, near some water, in Mexico, looking for pictures, with the moon about to set in total darkness....my mind raced faster than my van with camera settings and adjustments that I would have to make for this picture. An old wood sign sat next to the highway with splintered wood and bright paint that had cracked and faded under the Mexican sun: Hostel ----> 12 miles to the water. The gas pedal sunk further to the floor as my van shot towards the water, and my picture, that was slowly sinking 12 miles ahead.

Twelve miles of the worst driving conditions you could imagine. The road was one long twist of unlit potholes that were seriously large enough to trash the suspension of a Hummer. I was not going to miss my picture. I deserved it...the universe owed me this one. With only minutes left before the moon set I pressed my van and decided to play dodge the potholes while speeding at sixty mph towards my picture. Classical music filled the car as I managed to light two cigarettes in twelve miles, dodging holes and whispering over and over to the moon...please don't set...please don't set until I get there...I need this picture. And the smoke drifted through my whispering lips to the sound of violins and the cold wind rushing through the window.

The hostel was nothing more than several beat up little buildings set along a dirt road with speed bumps...and some taco stands. I sped over the speed bumps and through the little cluster of buildings searching ahead for the water...where was the water? There were more little homes and some paved sections of road with giants speed bumps and cracks in the cement. Where the hell was the water. I was about to scream out into the night about the total unfairness of the situation....moon almost setting...near water...right time...right place...and somehow I couldn't seem find the damn ocean! Well, before I could do that, the ocean found me. Another wood sign with cracking paint and signs of age and time...Cliff. Stop. Danger. Beyond the cliff was the ocean and a rust colored moon that was minutes away from setting. It was beautiful and the van opened and my camera got out to sit on the cliffs edge and watch the bleeding moon dip into the watery horizon.

I would only have time for a few shots. I already knew the settings I wanted to try. My heart was racing and all I could think about was my camera. I didn't even have time to watch the moon set or enjoy it's beauty at that moment...I only had time to frantically snap some pictures before it was gone. Did I get my pictures...yes I did. Are they beautiful...yes. Did I actually see much of that moon setting...no...but my camera did. I stood next to my van looking at the pictures in my camera. I finally caught one. I was finally at the right place to get my picture. The moment was gone and the moon was in my camera. I left my car parked several feet back from the cliff and climbed in to sleep and wonder if the cliffs edge would crumble in the night. I left my leather sandals outside the van sitting alone between the road and the cliffs edge. By sunrise my van was parked a hundred yards back from the cliff and my sandals were gone. The cliff had not crumbled and an old Mexican fisherman with size twelve feet had a new pair of leather sandals purchased at Wal-Mart in Orange County. His feet were propped up on the edge of his boat with the morning sun shining down on his weathered face. He didn't know much English but he could read the little white tab sewn onto the side of one his new sandals: Made in Mexico. And he smiled under the Mexican sunrise while catching nothing but his breath.

There were no more pictures to be taken on this trip. I wanted out of Mexico and off this hwy. There was a stop for the Federalis who carried oversized guns and inspected my car for things smuggled out of their country. A taco stand called to me with four tacos with hot sauce that made my lips burn for and hour. Then a gas station needed my pesos to give me my last Mexican gas. A pharmacy in Ensenda looked at me with big blue diamond shaped eyes selling me cheap pills. The green sign overhead read: Tiujuan – San Die o - 100 miles. I knew what it meant. It was a quiet hundred miles along the edge of the ocean with the sun shining down on the tourists buying things from vendors and surfers riding Christmas waves and fishermen catching things out in the water.

At the last toll booth before the border I reached out to pay the toll and dropped my last two Mexican coins on the pavement below...they were two peso coins worth about twenty cents. I looked down at them on the greasy cement and wanted to keep them. I wanted a souvenir of some sort. My last little bit of Mexico. Cars were waiting behind me but I got out anyway to pick up the coins. As I reached for the coins the woman attending the toll booth said, “No, no...for me...leave them for me.” I smiled and picked up the coins and told her that I wanted a souvenir. Her smile got bigger and she held out her hand and said, “Give them to me...for me.” I gave her my last pesos and smiled just a little when I placed them into her palm. I had all the souvenirs I needed.

I have always found the Mexican border to be a tawdry affair. It's cheap and artificial and filled with slow cars pushing forward with tired tourists and thick exhaust fumes mingled with the smell of greasy sweet churros and bad perfume, with kids selling cigarettes and men with carts full of frozen coconut Popsicles and teenagers staring into your windows carrying newspaper and window cleaner...all of them asking for the last of your money to buy Jesus on black velvet and the last supper cheaply cast in plaster and painted gold...and Mary in all of her forms: plastic and wood and plaster and glass, printed on candles and velvet and blankets. Jesus and Mary are on sale daily at the Mexican border while the people sit spent in their cars waiting to leave this place behind.

The final booth had arrived with a border patrol officer waiting to talk to me about where I was and where I was going.

“Why did you come to Mexico?”

“I came to take some pictures.”

“On Christmas?”

“Yes, I droves south into the country side and took some pictures of farmers and their cactus fields and stuff.”

“Do you have family in California?”

“Yes, my dad and sister live near me.”

“And you didn't want to spend Christmas with your family?”

“No, not this year.”

He handed me back my passport and waved me through to San Diego.

So there is the ending to a story that you have not heard. The ending contained its own journey. I think that Humpty would have wanted it this way.

On The Way Home

Me & My Shadow


Almost Missed Moonset

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