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...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

With apologies to The Wizard of Oz, I speak metaphorically about spring. There is no denying it's here. Sure took its own sweet time getting here but it's here whether I like it or not. And with the onset of spring is the ebbing of my season. I always feel a sense of urgency as the weather becomes more moderate. I know the warmer it gets the more things will grow, especially my nemesis, kudzu, among other things. Don't get me wrong. I love spring. I love not being cold. But I also love shooting old and forgotten things.

Well duh...

Pretty much the reason you're here and reading this. Some ask why I only shoot in winter. Because it's dark and gloomy. It enhances the abandonment...the forgotten loneliness of my subject matter. And yet I pretend there is still time. I still can gather a few more things. I will admit to being insatiable. When I was plotting out my journey last summer I, via the wonder of Google maps, managed to find around 2000 potential targets. Oh sure, a lot were old but not necessarily aesthetically significant. In other words, a 100 year old block building was still just a block building. It was suggested to me that I narrow my focus to the more interesting targets. Reducing 120 stops down to 20. Sometimes I could. Other times I would have to have 30. If you read my blog called 1412 miles in Three Days I mentioned I had 102 stops. That was out of over 300 I could have gone to. But being insatiable I always think I don't have enough.

And then spring had to show up. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

This place I didn't even know about. I was in Spring Garden up in Cherokee County. I always thought Cherokee was a cool name for a county but I digress. Anyway, I was looking for something else in this neck of the woods so I accosted this sweet lady at the Post Office. Not only did she take me to what I was looking for but also asked if I knew about Hurricane Mill. As it turned out I did not. So, even with fresh groceries in her car, she then took me to find this place. I wish I had caught her name because she was so helpful. I'll just say thanks anyway because she took time to help a stranger but I guess she figured I didn't look too dangerous.

I don't always see the little things that give a place character. But when I do I'm delighted to find them. This is still hanging on the front of the large building in Billingsley...the one with "Billing-sley (It didn't fit as a single word) proudly painted on the roof. This particular morning it was eleventy-leben degrees.

The old church south of Brent. As interesting places to shoot go this one was pure gold. In a funny sort of way I find it easier to accept decay as opposed to vandalism. Nature is much more methodical as it reclaims its victims. Even though it's sad to see a church in such disrepair the relentless yet gentle onslaught of nature will ultimately win.

To know me personally you would think I'm pretty easy going and perhaps a bit cynical. I must confess both would be accurate. But, I can also be a bit of a perfectionist. Not annoyingly least according to me. I remodeled a bathroom one time. I noticed after the mortar had dried on a bullnose tile on the edge of the sink it was slightly crooked. Almost nobody would have noticed but it drove me crazy. I say all this to say I am my own worse critic about my photography. I might really like one out of 100 shots I take. This picture of the old shrimp fishing boat Capt Chris was one of those shots. The clouds, the angle, the lighting among other things made this a photograph I was proud to call my own. Oh and so you know, it is abandoned so to speak. I was told a guy here buys old boats and resells them in South America. So it's service in the Gulf is long past.

I know the end is near and no I don't mean the upcoming blood moon. But the end of my season, for now, makes me realize now I have other things that require my attention.

Being an adult can be such a drag at times...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

To Quote Rod Argent, It's The Time Of The Season

What's left of the gym floor at Marengo County High School
Today is a pretty day. As I sit here writing this I glance out the window and see the reminders. The dogwood trees are starting to bud. Daffodils are everywhere. The weeds in my yard are tall enough that I cannot ignore them much longer. Yep, Spring is upon us. After this brutal winter (below 50 degrees is brutal to me) it looks like dawn is starting to break after the long dark night. While I embrace the onset of spring as much as Cato (my cat) embraces catnip I know it's the time of the season. Soon my journey will once again find safe harbor and weather the onslaught of kudzu. I always get melancholy at this time. I'm tired of being cold but since I only shoot in winter cold is my friend. Friend is not a good word. Evil accomplice is more appropriate.

When I set out to do my project my goal was to cover the entire state this winter. To have enough material to actually fill my impending book. Ambition and reality seldom share the same space. December is always a tough month to get anything done. My job, although freelance, still consumed much of my time. And then there was my Dad's health issues and his eventual passing. Even though I knew it was inevitable it was still a blow to me. It's all part of life and life happens on its schedule and not mine. 

As I have come to discover time and time again, I manage to find things I had missed previously. This house was not part of my itinerary. But I saw the beauty of it and turned around to get a picture of it. This is on Dallas County 45 between Marion and Marion Junction

As I was passing through Orrville on my way to something else I saw this bank. It's still pretty intact inside from what I could tell. Old banks used a lot of marble and I'm betting that marble came from Sylacauga.

I have no idea what this place was called other than "Motel". I don't think it's been abandoned that long but as you can tell from the sign the kudzu and other weeds are permanent residents now. US 11 north of Eutaw.

I had passed this church south of Moundville on AL 69 back in November while going from Mobile to Tuscaloosa. I found it odd to find these plastic flowers still sitting on a post near the front of the sanctuary. Kind of a sad reminder of what it had been at one time. Now they seem more to mourn its passing.

A moment of self-indulgence. Normally I consider selfies to be nothing more than narcissistic reminders that we exist. Add to that that I don't consider myself as particularly photogenic. But I saw myself in the mirror and in my element and realized that this actually looks pretty cool. Soooooo...forgive my rare foray into self-aggrandizement.

Life is short and I have so much left to do. Alabama is a veritable goldmine of abandoned and forgotten structures. I want to see them all.

I wonder if that's even possible....