Thursday, April 27, 2017

It's Been A While

It's been over a year since I made an entry here. I could offer myriad reasons as to why or why not but the truth is a bit less glamorous. Motivation. Yep. Being motivated takes, well, motivation. And, what with putting two books together in a year's span and then the endless road to sell said books, it's hard to just sit and write.

I'm not sure why today was that day. I suppose because I wasn't doing anything else at this moment. Not exactly inspiring words but honest. So allow me to bring y'all up to speed. My first book, Forgotten Alabama, was released in early March of 2016. March was not my intended date. That was three months prior. Suffice to say, doing a book is not a journey for the weak hearted. Everything I did on this road to published existence was the first time I had done it. To say it's a steep learning curve is an understatement. I managed to find a publisher to take a chance on me in the summer of 2015. That began the process. First the ideas about what I wanted to do. Then how I wanted to lay it out. Then working on the preface. Then came the cover design followed by the dust jacket design. Then, months later, ultimately laying it out. My publisher had started with the first ten pages and had done it in Microsoft Word. Since time was of the essence, and Christmas was no longer months but mere weeks away, I finished the layout on my own. For 27 straight hours, I dragged and dropped. Wrote cut-lines for each and every photo. And crashed and crashed and crashed. Not me. The software of satan...Microsoft Word. Turns out it's not an ideal platform for what I was wanting to do. I figured by the time it was done, Word had crashed around 200 times. But it was finally ready. Convert to PDF and send it off to the printer. However, by this time, having a book for Christmas was not to be. It's not liking taking it to Staples and make some copies. Nope, this is a months-long journey as well. All told, seven months had elapsed from inception to an actual book.

And the funny thing? That was the easy part. As I said earlier, everything I did on this journey was the first time I did it. Who knew that selling the book would be the worst yet to come. Yep, just because you think you have an awesome book does not exactly sway others. It's endless promotion. It's promotion that borders on shameless because, well, I'd like to recoup my investment. Or at least break even. It's finding small bookstores that would be willing to carry it. Festivals. Arts & Craft shows. I even did City Fest in Alabaster (not my niche as it turns out) and Liberty Day in Columbiana (better choice but then the rain came. Not just rain. More like a deluge) and 1st Friday in Helena (super nice people to deal with by the way). But, experience being the cruel mistress she can be, I learned. Then I finally found something that worked. I didn't find it actually. I was asked to come do a presentation at the Albert Scott Library in Alabaster by a lovely lady named Carol Smith. I had never done anything like this before. I needed to learn Powerpoint. I needed choose the best photos and talk about them. I needed people to see what I saw and feel what I felt. I managed to put something together and see what happened. I was nervous. So nervous that I was there over an hour before I was scheduled. In fact, the library wasn't even open yet.

Many of y'all may not know this but I used to operate satellite trucks for sports and TV news. I even freelanced in it. I was doing live shots for NBC news and the Weather Channel. There ain't no room for error and a deadline is not flexible. Talk about high stress. At first, I was terrified. But eventually, I got comfortable with it and did my job with little effort. But this was a whole new frontier.

The time came. I welcomed everyone and began my story. As it turns out, I did ok.

And sold a few books. Carol, I am forever in your debt. Thank you.

Just a passing thought really. From time to time, someone will approach me and talk about the book they always wanted to publish. I just smile. I don't have the heart to ask them, "Are you sure?"

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On to Volume II

You might ask "Volume II?"

Let's just say that that is my intent. My first book is in transit and I should have it in hand and ready to ship in a couple of weeks. Be that as it may, Forgotten Alabama is in my blood. After all the miles I have logged (around 25,000) and the 10,000 or so photographs I've taken, I have come to the realization that I have barely scratched the surface of the massive landscape that is Alabama. Yesterday was another all-day excursion collecting new images for what I hope to be my second volume of many. 

I think a lot while on the road. For the most part, I have little human contact but, this being Alabama and all, I'm never really alone. As I wandered through rural Cullman County I saw several people nod or wave going the other direction. It made me smile because we're all friendly folk here and waving to the oncoming car is considered normal out in the sticks. Now the older gentleman up in Morgan County by the Tennessee River...he was not quite so friendly. I was standing by a fence shooting something when he rolls up. The first words out of his mouth were "Can I help you?" but the look on his face was not one anxious to help me in any way. I debated asking him for a cheeseburger and fries but decided that was not wise as he probably wouldn't get my sense of humor. I explained what I was doing and that I was not trespassing. He eventually accepted. albeit begrudgingly, that I was not a Viking plunderer and left me alone. Later on I stopped at the Three Way Grocery in Asbury to get some Broasted chicken. The staff was friendly and the chicken was good. The potato wedges weren't bad either. The fried okra was so-so but they had Milo's tea which was a plus. 

I shot this last March. It's what appears to be an old sharecroppers house in western Madison County. It kinda sticks out because the rest of the area is cleared and you wouldn't even see the house were it not for the camouflage. That is what I call ironic. 


Kinda in the middle of nowhere is this little gas station in rural Tuscaloosa County. The trees now seem to have the upper hand.

One of the most beautiful cars to have ever been made...well, in my opinion, this classic 1957 Chevy Bel Air spends it final days soaking in the sunshine in Montgomery County.

This...I have no clue was this was. It's about halfway between Morgan City (half of which is, ironically, in Marshall County) and Union Grove. I thought maybe a small store but there is a huge ditch between me and it. So we will go with your guess is as good as mine.

I had ambitious plans to cover a lot of ground in a single day. Normally my days run 14 hours and cover around 500 miles. Unfortunately I hit a snag around 2pm. I was way up in northeast Alabama on the road to the now closed Sequoyah Caverns. I thought the ground I parked on was solid but I was sadly mistaken. For the very first time I actually got stuck. I spent the next 45 minutes trying to dig my way out to no avail. Fortunately help came in the form or the Valley Head Water Department. They had four wheel drive and a chain and pulled me out of my dilemma. I wish I had thought to get their names but I would like to extend my gratitude to the town of Valley Head and those two gentlemen who freed me from the bonds of nature. However, by now it was 3pm and my next stop was 65 miles away. Ms. Garmin estimated I would get there by 4:47. 

In winter, 4:47 is what I call the end of my day so, for now, my next target will have to wait for another day. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Little Things

By now you have become acquainted with my journey. The miles I drive. The things I see. The problems I encounter. They all play a role in some form or fashion.

But then there's the little things.

My Garmin GPS is a great tool. I would be "lost" without it. The downside is that it has its shortcomings. It would amaze you how much it mangles street names. Pineville Road becomes Pennyville. Pulaski becomes Pull-loss-sky. Any American Indian name like Chattahoochee or Eufaula is doomed. Once when I was in Union Springs I was told to turn right on Chunnenuggee Avenue. Ms. Garmin so mangled that that I started laughing. It's also a less than perfect directional technology. When choosing routes I can pick faster time or shortest route. Most times, once I'm in the flow of my premade maps, I will choose shortest route. The reason being I might luck out and find something I might have missed otherwise. That means it will take me over whatever it thinks is a road. That includes roads that do not exist. Shorter route also takes it so literally that it will send me down a dirt road to save 100yds.

Things look different when you see them in reality. I spent the summer of 2013 mapping out the entire state via Google maps and Streetview. I would scan mile after mile and if I spotted something I would drop down to Streetview and see if it was worth stopping. When I eventually make it to that place I originally mapped out it's different and the same all at once. The road looked flatter on the map or there's no place to park. I've also come to recognize where I am by things I've already seen. I will pass an old house and think "Oooo...I need to get that!". Then, once the slipping clutch that is my brain slips into gear, I realize I was heading southbound the last time I saw that house and had already shot it.

Gas station chicken. Don't knock it till you've tried it! Some of the best chicken I've ever had came from a small deli in a gas station. The Shell station in Dadeville, The BP on Lee County 240 and a Pure station in Marengo County all have great chicken. The chicken at the Chevron in Wilton, Alabama gets four stars!

I took this at dusk. The old Seaboard Airlines depot in Ft Davis. I was in a frenzy to get here before dark. It is much darker than it appears in the photo and the picture is too grainy for my taste. It still looks ok so thought I would share it but will probably have to revisit this soon.

This great old house is in north Montgomery on Goldthwaite St. It appears somebody was trying to save it but apparently has not been touched in a while. It looks beautiful and yet kind of ominous against the dark cloudy sky.

I live for things like this. Ok...perhaps a bit of hyperbole but, in my particular hobby, this is considered a clue in a modern archeological sense. An old Birmingham Post from June 1949 I found in an abandoned house just outside of Wadley. As it turns out this was huge national news about Alger Hiss and stolen atomic secrets.

I've passed this small building on US 231 north of Troy many times but never had time to shoot it. You can make it out better in the winter but in the summer it's a building-shaped kudzu masterpiece.

I shot this because I thought it was funny. Keep in mind I see humor in the strangest things at times. I just thought it was ironic that Alabama native Bobby Bowden, two-time winner of the National Championship in football, gets honored with a 50' bridge on Cobb's Ford Rd east of Prattville. To the best of my knowledge he has no connection to this area at all. Must be quite the honor! 

Then again it may be another Bobby Bowden entirely....

Saturday, January 31, 2015

My Story So Far

So where am I and what is my story at this point? The good answer would be getting close to where I need to be. And where is that? be perfectly vague I don't have a good answer. Guess that wasn't vague after all. As I have stated in the past I'm working on a book about my photos. I want as many as I can get so I'll have a pool of halfway decent photos that I can be proud of and showcase in a book. Much to my chagrin, I have this perfectionist streak that gets in the way. And that becomes a significant problem. You see, I'll go back and look at photos I shot two years ago and think they're not that good now. I will actually go past places I've been before and reshoot something all over again. It's kinda funny how much my opinion changes from one year to the next. No. Not funny. More annoying. I'm such a perfectionist that I'll do something repeatedly till I'm happy with it. The ironic part? Next year I'll think what I shot last year was mediocre at best.

I go into many places and see what there is to find. So you know, it's an unwritten rule among those of us who shoot in this genre that we only take pictures and only leave footprints. But some idiots (like me) go into places that make you think. Not about the history of where you are. Nope. I'm thinking if this collapses will I get hurt or worse? This place, named the (something) View Milling in Gallion, Alabama is fine example. I seriously debated the wisdom of entering this place. Now I look back and really can be stupid.

I do not know the name of this old school in Uniontown. Needless to say bad condition does not begin to describe it. It appears that there was an effort to tear it down and then all worked stopped. The main part looks like a skeleton of what it was. The old gym still stands but the floor is beyond repair. I shot this through the window of the gym of what appears to have been a snack bar.

I see a lot of things when I'm on the road. Some that make me laugh. Some that make me think. And then there's this. 

In the writing business this would be called a paradox.

I shared this while I was on the road a couple of weeks ago. To be honest I wasn't finding much to see in Boaz. I was a little ahead of schedule so I figured why not see if there's anything I could use at the outlet mall. The last time I was here was 1987. We went to the Black & Decker store and I got a toaster oven. Since I'm not much of an outlet mall person I never really had much reason to stop at ones I see when on the road. Turns out a lot has changed in Boaz in the last 28 years. It seems online shopping has not been kind to this place. I was a bit stunned when I saw how it is now. Oh, and I later found a better toaster oven at Walmart for $5 less.

I had previously found several things in Cleveland that I wanted to see. Turns out most no longer existed. But I did manage to find this old tractor. Minus wheels of course. 

I find it a little hard to believe I've already logged nearly 3000 miles this season. So far the only casualty was the radiator in my truck. But it's an old truck. A 1997 Dodge. It's been good to me and, as it turns out, radiators are cheap. 

Ok, radiators for an old Dodge truck are cheap. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I Was Here And Then I Was There

For some unexplainable reason I look forward to the grind. Checking over my carefully laid out maps. Saving them as one format and then converting them to another so my Garmin will show them properly. Looking around my old truck to make sure I have the tools required for the task at hand. Then, of course, figuring out what time the sun comes up and how long it will take to get to the first of around thirty specific stops on any given day. It's all laid out and regimented. I debate where the most easily accessible McDonald's is along my route. A large sweet tea and a sausage burrito will be what gets me through the first few hours. These are the early morning rituals I do many times over the course of my abbreviated season. But then the typical opposing forces will begin to do battle. The warm bed that beckons me to stay just a while longer. The hunting around for appropriate attire. The fact that getting up at 4:30 AM just ain't as fun as it used to be. Who am I kidding? Getting up at 4:30 was never fun. Being a night person I could never understand morning people. I still don't. That's just crazy talk. My utmost respect to those of you who get up that early most days of the week to keep the engines of our economy running. I will never understand you but I appreciate those of you who can do that and not give it a second thought.

I spotted this house in northern Dallas County as I was headed further south and west. I was hoping for one of two things. Fog or a pretty sunrise. I got neither. It's actually darker out than the picture shows. The focus was a bit soft's too dark. The upside is the f-stop on this particular lens goes down to 2.8 so the auto focus is gonna lock on something somewhere. Unfortunately it was not this house but it's still a cool old house.

I run into some odd things in my travels. Obviously the quite old. But then there's the not so old but you don't see them anymore either. There is a closed school in Coxheath (Marengo County) on AL 10. There's nothing remarkable about the school. Just an ordinary closed school with little in the way of architectural significance. Then I found this. A complete Apple//e with optional floppy drive. Codenamed Diana, it was introduced in 1983 and had expandable memory of up to a whopping one megabyte! Needless to say it has had a hard life since it's creation some thirty years ago.

Down US 31 a few miles north of Greenville is old general store. Again there was nothing remarkable about it. Fairly typical frame construction. There was, however, a sort of enclosed bench out in front of it. I happened to notice some bottles inside and took a closer look. There were dozens of returnable soft drink bottles. Mostly Pepsi but I haven't seen this particular logo since the 1970s. And yet, here they remain untouched for at least the last 40 years.

I see more than my share of gas stations when I'm on the road. Countless gas stations. Most are old stores that added pumps at a later time. So, to find an original Pan-Am was well worth the stop. This one, about a mile south of Oak Hill (Wilcox County), still shows the outlines of the name Pan-Am above the door. Pan-Am was known for their art-deco style buildings. I did a cursory search for Pan-Am gas station photos to see if this one was listed. As it turns out I could not find a single picture (granted it was hardly what you would call an exhaustive search) of this particular one. It was a good find for sure!

Up in Cherokee County is the Jordan Gin. Apparently it has been closed for a while and little remains besides the normal buildings you see associated with gins across Alabama and I'm sure across the south as well. There are a few large cotton trailers slowly rusting away and I thought this one best represented the abandoned and forgotten aspect of a once vibrant part of Alabama's economy. To be sure, Alabama, being the Cotton State and all, still grows a lot of cotton but not like it did around the turn of the 20th Century. But then, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, the state also grows significantly more cotton on fewer acres and is still its largest crop.

I am starting to see the light at the end of the analogical (yes, that is a word and I wanted something sexier than "proverbial". I could have also used axiomatic ;-) tunnel. My problem is I'm insatiable. I'm constantly asking myself:

"Do I have enough good examples of this or that?"

"Did I get enough pictures in (any given) County?"

Followed by the more mundane:

"Do I have enough gas to make it to the next town?"

"I wonder if that gas station has fried chicken?"

"Why did I make this map this way? I've doubled back on this same road twice now."

It's always an adventure...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

'Tis The Season...

'Tis the season! Get it? OK, it's a bit lame but it is, indeed, the start of my season again. The fact that it coincides with Christmas is purely accidental since they both share winter. Besides, if I was doing a Forgotten Australia, it wouldn't work and I'd have to come up with a catchier title. But I digress. For eight months out of the year I await the onset of winter. Not that I like cold weather. I detest it with a passion so much so that mere words fail me. But, for those of you who are reading my witty reparte' for the first time, winter is my season to shoot. My reasons are varied but to summarize, the leaves have fallen from the trees, the kudzu has gone dormant and the winter skies are stark and gloomy. All these create a significant part of my canvas and are necessary evils.

So far I've managed to get two days in which is not too shabby considering December is a month fraught with distraction. My first outing, Saturday the 13th, started at 4:40 AM. I had previously found a house in east Alabama that sits in a field. There are no trees. There's pretty much nothing except the house. I wanted to get there at sunrise because the dawn sun would make an awesome backdrop to this otherwise lonely structure. Unfortunately I got caught by a stopped train that cost me a good 15 minutes. Then there was the requisite distractions I encounter along the way. One was this house north of Alexander City on AL 22. As you can imagine, things like this are my shiny object. My reasoning is always "Will I ever pass this way again?" and the short answer is probably not. Carpe Rustium I always say and stop to get a few shots. As you might imagine this will, of course, throw me off my timetable. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make to create my masterpiece.

(Insert winky face here to denote not taking myself too seriously)

As I mentioned at the beginning, tis the season which means chances are I'm going to find a Christmas parade in some small town in Alabama. This was the end of the one in Hollis Crossroads. Merry Christmas by the way. 

Any trip that does not include the famous Elephant gas station in Roanoke is a trip wasted don't you think? But, as it turns out, according to the site, it was built as rocky cliffs and a lighthouse to catch tourists heading to Florida. According to the story, as told by a descendant of the original owner, the lighthouse made the roof leak and it was removed. The structure was later modified to accommodate a used car lot. The remaining structure resembled an elephant and a subsequent owner added the eye.

This past Saturday, the 21st, I was further north. Mostly Cleburne and Cherokee Counties. I had stopped at an old cotton gin when I was accosted by a Cherokee County Sheriff's deputy (my third time to be queried by law enforcement btw). He was passing by and saw my truck and wanted to know what I was doing. I held up my camera and then asked if I needed to get lost. He just shook his head and said nope. As long as I wasn't out stealing scrap metal he didn't care. We struck up a conversation and then he started giving me ideas of places I might like to see. Even gave me his fold-up map of Cherokee County. I went to one of the places he told me and he caught up with me. We chatted for a good 15 mins more. This little store was one of the places he suggested. I can assure you that nobody here would have found this place because of how remote it was but he described in detail its exact location. Corporal Gene Knowles was his name. He doesn't do Facebook so he'll never even know I mentioned him but a good guy nonetheless.

As I was passing through Anniston on Greenbrier Dear Road I just happen to spot this on the side of the road. An abandoned miniature golf course named Putters. Instant goldmine in my particular view of things! I whupped (yes, whupped is a word. Any true Southerner knows this word and not always for good reasons) around and parked. This place was kind of odd in that there were no bright colors so to speak. While it followed the normal designs of things of this nature there was nothing to suggest this was meant to be a fun place for the whole family. I'm thinking it was meant for golfers to practice their putting skills even though there were some odd twists and turns like the normal putt-putt golf places have. Needless to say, another cool thing to see if you like abandoned and forgotten things.

I wanted to try something new on my blog. I bought a cheap dash cam and carry it with me everywhere. I decided to document my day so y'all would have a clue of what happens. So you know, a normal day is about 14 hours and around 400+ miles. This past Saturday started at 4:30 AM and ended about 7:00 PM that night. By the time I made it home I had added another 488 miles to my old Dodge. A few notes about the video. For some odd reason it did not record my first three hours. It picks up at just shy of 8:00 AM. I banged it out with Windows Movie Maker and it's not the best (it glitches at every edit even though it looks ok in preview. (editing video can be an arduous task when you don't have stellar software) but it gives you a good idea of what happens on a typical day with me. Most of the places I go I knew about from mapping them out during the summer of 2013. There are plenty of extra stops for things I see that I missed on Google Streetview. Just a couple of side notes. It's cool to watch for a while but don't feel obligated to watch the entire thing as it does get a bit tedious. I will say, however, it is kinda cool watching it get dark as I wind my way back home.

I'm pretty sure this winter is all I need to finish gathering material for my book. I certainly hope so. 14 hour days take their toll and I'm not as young as I used to be. 

But on the plus side I still have my natural good looks and unwavering modesty...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Where I Go From Here (Alternate Title: Now What?)

To be perfectly honest I don't have a good answer. It is now May. I have not finished. I'm a lot further ahead than I was but that's like saying I'm 300 miles closer to the Moon than I was last November. My season is over for now. This past December I could look out my window and see my neighbor raking leaves in his yard. Now that winter has passed and spring is taking a firm hold I cannot even see their house anymore. 

I'm torn about whether I have enough material for a book. Finding a publisher is a bit of a task in itself. Then, of course, the realities of life are there to remind me I have responsibilities that are not even remotely related to my dreams. 

Why we were in such a hurry to be adults I will forever ponder.

I've gone back through my pictures from last couple of seasons. I found this Texaco sign by accident down in LA somewhere between Enterprise and Ozark. To be honest when you drive thousands of miles two things happen. One, you begin to lose track of where you've been. Keeping good notes was what I gleaned from that. And two, you tend to go over the same roads at times which, while seemingly contradictory to One it's not really. I won't remember an exact location but I'll sure remember I've been here before. I say this to say the next time I passed through here this sign was gone.

The old drive-in north of Clanton. I can only imagine how popular this place was back in its day. Small town America is a great place to grow up but we all needed distractions.

Movies were our window to the world. And I'm sure many a romance started with a date to the drive-in.

The former US 31 bridge just south of Garden City. It's a little difficult to get to by design but well worth my effort to get here. It's a fairly long bridge (100 yds or more) for bridges of this nature. I noticed that its clearance is only 12'-9". Too low for today's truck traffic. In fact it would make the truck I drive for my job a convertible.

Believe it or not this is a motel. At least 12 rooms or more. I have no clue what its name was but Pineview seems appropriate. Just north of Camden at the intersection of AL 28 and AL 221, this motel seems very out of place now. Motels took advantage of busy highways to lure guests in. When looking at where this is on a map I have no clue why folks would have been going this way. It's close to nothing.

A big safe is all that remains inside this building in Saint Clair (not to be confused with St Clair). I'm guessing it was too heavy to move but then I wonder how the door came to be laying on the ground next to it. 

My intent, as many of you well know, is to publish a book of my photos. To the handful of publishers I have talked to they all seemed to like my work but they don't deal in my genre. That's not exactly true. A couple seemed interested but they had requirements I could not meet. I don't fault them for this. Publishing, like a lot of things, is a gamble. They want to sell books and there's a lot of people out there who think they have the next 50 Shades of Grey. While I have no clue what somebody else thinks is literary genius, the bottom line is you have to convince any publisher to take a risk on you. I'm not Ansel Adams. I'm just me. And I would wager they are plenty of better photographers than me out there who can't get a book either. To that end, I will most likely end up going the self-published route. I've made some good contacts who will guide me through the process and I will most likely do this through Amazon. 

Good Lord willing, maybe I can put something together before Christmas. 

That's a qualified maybe by the way.

Maybe no one will notice I neglected to mention a year either...