Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Random Pics, Random Thoughts

Not everything I do has a defined theme. I can drive for miles and see nothing of note. It's like a treasure hunt but my treasure is a little different. As the line man's junk is another man's treasure. I worry sometimes I am not finding enough or a good variety. So I drive. If I had one decent photo for every mile I have added to the old Dodge I could fill a book easily. Maybe two. One thing I have learned is that to expect nothing and a lot of times you won't be disappointed. Alabama is very agrarian and one of the nation's largest timber producers. Which means you will see a lot of trees. Having lived in Alabama most of my life I have also discovered that a rural road in Coosa County can look exactly like a rural road in Macon County. Towns that are so many miles down County Road whatever. That do not exist except as a mention on a state sign placed there many years prior. Places you never heard of.

But then neither did I.

Oh I find things. I'll always find something to shoot. The images I added today are the result of that. This passing truck speeds by the island which once held gas pumps in Six Mile. I remember being sent to Six Mile when I worked in TV. No clue what the story was now but the assignment manager was surprised I knew where it was. He really needs to get out more often.

That plantation in Chilton County. It was also one of my inspirations to do my journey. I know nothing about it. Well save for the obvious no trespassing signs. All I know is I had seen it many times in the course of my travels. I was always impressed by its grandeur. This was a magnificent structure and quite enormous. Had to be 15 rooms or more. It begs for more research which will happen when I put my book together.

 The next three images were the result of "Finally I found something to shoot!" I'm sure I had gone 50 miles when I saw this patch of land. It was clear cut of any significant trees and apparently there were many pines. Made me think of the TV show "Swamp Loggers" Now it was mostly wasteland except for the remnants of an old shack and that ancient Ford truck.
All that remained was the Chimney, standing like the last soldier on the field of battle. The truck? I actually didn't see the truck at first but I love shooting anything automotive. They make for excellent pictures and beg to be photographed. This one was obviously abandoned many years ago. The tree resting on its roof was not what did it in. Perhaps it just gave up and it was easier to park it. The rusting words of the state motto, "Heart of Dixie", the only reminder it was registered here. Ole' Henry's been gone a long time but the monuments to him will go on possibly forever.

This truck is one you just don't see anymore. Guess that was not the best choice of words as this whole mission was to find things you just don't see anymore. It's a Diamond T. Probably mid-1950's vintage. Started by a shoe salesman's son who started off building only cars and ended up only making trucks. It was known as the Cadillac of Trucks. I always laugh when I see something that is the "Cadillac" of whatever. I suppose I could say my blog is, ain't gonna do it. I did find this old girl totally by accident hiding in some weeds. I can only imagine the hard life she must have led. Time will deal with her as it does all things. Ashes to ashes...rust to rust.

The journey plods on. I have been many miles and yet I feel I have not been anywhere. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. Tell me things you have seen and where they are. I welcome that because I can't possibly find everything. Thanks for giving me a moment of your time!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is "Gone With the Wind" too obvious?

One of the many things I like about my passion is I meet the most random people who, in turn, give me a tip about something I had no idea about. I was hungry and wanted something substantial and substantial does not have a drive-thru. I was close to Pell City and knew they had some choices there. I eventually settled on Cracker Barrel because you can cover a lot of tastes without spending too much. It was pretty slow for a Tuesday. Not really knowing what a normal Tuesday is like I was assuming this. The manager came and found me quickly. Gosh I wish I could remember his name. Jack? Steve? This is why I write things down because I'll forget otherwise. Anyway, he was quite friendly in the normal fashion of somebody making small talk and wanting to sell food. His recommendation was the special of the night, the butter baked chicken. He asked if I was passing through and I explained that no, I actually lived reasonably close to there but was working on a project. Yeah I baited him but he seemed genuinely interested. I told him all about "Forgotten Alabama" and things I was looking for. Well, wouldn't you know it, he told me of something I might find intriguing.

Naturally, being the curious sort that I am, I was excited to hear what he knew. It was in Piedmont. Now back in 1994, on Palm Sunday, a deadly tornado struck the town of Piedmont and killed several people. I only mention this for context as it was a tragic day for the people who lost their lives at the Goshen United Methodist Church among others. I had no real reason to go to Piedmont but like so many other places, you just never know what you will find. The manager told me of being lost in Piedmont which I thought amusing since he lived in a town probably a good twenty miles away. But in his effort to find his way back (reference the previous post about guys and directions) he happened upon the remnants of the old drive-in movie theatre that had fallen victim to that same tornado. Now, in my world, this is solid gold. He wasn't sure where it was (guys, directions....don't ask) but told me anybody there would know. The next morning I was off to Calhoun County and quite anxious to find this gem for my collection. I pulled into town, drove through the downtown and made it to what appeared to be a bypass.
Hmmm. Left or right? I have this tendency to choose the incorrect of two choices and today I managed to keep that streak more or less intact. I must have gone five miles before I came to realize that even in a small town anyone looking for a movie isn't going to drive forever. Then I did a rather unmanly thing. I stopped in a small store and asked. Even now I feel a little ashamed that I violated the guy code. But I also have to be pragmatic. I have only so much time and gas ain't cheap.

The nice gentleman in the Alabama jacket knew exactly what I was looking for. He must have felt bad for me in my Auburn cap but let me know it was about five miles away in the other direction. Thank goodness my choose either/or was consistent. I thanked him and set off. When I first drove by it I almost missed it. I drove on for a bit and realized what I had thought I saw was indeed what I was looking for. The screen was long gone. All that was left was the ticket booth, the marquee and a couple of signs pointing in or out. Oh, and the numbered posts marking the individual parking lanes. But it was enough. I could feel my pulse race a little thinking about angles and composition.
I laughed at my last line. I love what I do but seeing that in print made me wonder if I'm really getting that old. Yes, I suppose so. I do tend to get introspective. I knew I was growing up when I started to choose the Lowe's ads over the Long's Electronics ads. But I digress. The drive-in had no name and I didn't think to ask. I suspect nobody would remember anyway but when I do my book I will try and find out. And it would seem from the sign posted inside the ticket booth, the one telling patrons to tune to an FM frequency on their car radio to hear the movie, that that would explain the lack of posts that held the familiar speakers you hung on the inside of your window to listen to low-fidelity mono. I remember those days fondly when what was playing was important when I was a kid but a distraction when I was a teenager. I'll leave that last line to your respective imaginations. Life was great as a kid. We could be very entertained by the simplest things and we hoped Summer would never end.

Oh, one last thing. The Butter Baked Chicken is pretty dang good...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Last Picture Show

My journey can best be described as circuitous. I choose some random place and hope for the best. It's not chaotic but it could best be described as...well...random. I started in Calhoun County and worked my way south on Hwy 431. I started my ascent up the north side of Mount Cheaha (the highest point in Alabama at 2411') but it then levels out more or less to the gentle rolling hills of eastern Alabama. Not a lot to see really. Mostly countryside with the occasional house. But there's always a little bit of wheat in that chaffe if you pay attention. This was a good find as things of this nature go. A tiny little gas station in a hollow. Just a quite ordinary block structure with nothing that one could call adornments. But it had these two lovely gas pumps. They seemed quite well preserved considering how old they are. I suspect someone chose to preserve this as it was because they were in a bit pristine, if that's the appropriate word, condition. The elements, being the never ending masters of anything outdoors, were doing their best and I was happy to capture this tiny little monument to our transportation history. Further down the road was another example of an oasis in an agrarian wilderness.

The structure was more dilapidated than the Gulf station was. Mostly because it was made of wood. But this one had something special. Something I have not seen since I was a child. Back in the day few rural service stations had hydraulic lifts. You know what I'm talking about. The wide elevators for your car. The ones where some guy named "Charlie" or "Jack" or any other of a hundred names emblazoned on a patch on his uniform would walk under it and go "Hmmm" while you fretted how much this was going to cost. But back in the day there was a much cheaper alternative to the hydraulic lift. It was a steel structure standing about four feet tall with ramps and you drove up on it. It served the purpose but I can only imagine how many mechanics went home every night with an aching back. It was a neat find and I was happy to see one still existed.
As the day was drawing to a close I was, well, I don't want to say lost because guys don't get lost. We just drive till we find something that looks familiar. So I'll say unsure of my exact location. The road widened a bit and rolled into a little bit of civilization. But, being the impatient sort that I am, I saw the older part of town to my right. As good a place as any to venture to. As I made my way down the street I waved to the gentleman in overalls because he waved first. No clue who he was but suffice it to say he was from Alabama. We don't need a reason. Perhaps welcoming me to the little town of Roanoke. The downtown was small and most of the shops had since changed owners and specialties. Variety stores or a lawyer's office. A lot were abandoned. The highway had bypassed the town and as is usually the case the downtown had suffered. To their credit they had tried to spruce things up with some new sidewalks and streetlamps. I was going to pass on through until I saw it as I went by it. "Theatre". Yep. Theatre.
I asked a passing gentleman if it had a name and he just said they called it the "theatre". Alrighty then. Eventually I found out from the junk store two doors down that it was called the "Old Star Theatre". Don't hold me to that as that was what they remembered. But as you can see from the pictures I can understand why nobody remembered. Seems it burned in 1981 and now nothing but a hollow reminder of going to the movies in a grand scale movie house.
I don't know how old it originally was. From the looks of the brick on the inside it seemed quite old. There were the remnants of a massive balcony between me and the sky. I walked a ways into the shell of its former glory. This was one huge place. From the front of the building to the back wall had to be close to three hundred feet. I wondered what was showing the night it became a smoldering memory. So hence today's title "The Last Picture Show" as my images were the last.

I always feel a little melancholy when I see some of the majestic things we built and are no longer around. And I know time will not be kind to any of them. Especially the crumbling remains of what used to be. I love what I'm doing and grateful I can capture them while there's still time. Thank you for giving me a few moments of your time. I appreciate it more than you know. As always comments and suggestions of things I need to check out are always welcome.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Journey Begins....sort of

The process, such as it is, is now in motion. I have been out several times in the past couple of weeks or so collecting my story. I started in Walker County. That wasn't by design really. I had an errand and you know that saying about killing two rocks with one bird. Something like that. I saw that bridge many times from the new Interstate. Just a lonely structure. A monument of steel. But still, even after the ravages of time have taken their toll, quite the magnificent reminder of our transportation past. I parked near its edge in front of what appeared to be a storage building. Turns out that the nice lady living there was curious what i was doing especially since I had parked in her front yard. Talk about an awkward moment. She was lovely. She was once a truck driver. A breast cancer survivor. All full of stories about many a passing traveler who saw that bridge as I saw it. I laughed when I realized I was not unique in my passion. I thanked her for her graciousness to a stranger wanting to take a few pictures. To say it was scary being out on this rickety structure was an understatement. Not that I'm afraid of adventure but I'm also not stupid. My steps were carefully chosen. The dead kudzu vines made things interesting because they were not necessarily covering steel.

It was a lovely day. Bright and sunny and around 50. But it was a special day. My first day out doing what I want to do. To capture those vanishing reminders of our past. Of Alabama's past.

Today it snowed. It doesn't snow much in Alabama. I remember my days in television news. To the rest of the our world snow was the ultimate respite from the boring day to day weather. But to us in the media it was a pain in the rear. Sheer pandemonium broke out over the viewing area and no loaf of bread nor gallon of milk was safe. And there we are covering this as if it was the end of the world as we knew it. We Alabamian's don't do snow well and today was no exception. I went to Bessemer because I remembered many things that would make excellent pictures for my quest. I will say I had my doubts about how the snow would affect things but I'll let you be the judge. I wanted stark and desolate images and they were there to be had. Getting around was interesting because everybody wants to drive in the snow I guess. For a Southerner I never had any issues but that's where my days on the road with my job came in handy. You don't miss a deadline so you don't get in a situation you can't get out of.

My next stop was Pratt City. It's no longer a city as it got merged into Birmingham years ago. But at one time it had a thriving downtown. Not so much anymore. Oh an enterprising individual will try their hand at a small grocery store or a barber shop but mostly just ghosts of brick now.I got several images there but don't want to give away everything I did yet. Suffice it to say I see many sad things in an odd sort of way. What I mean by sad is that this is what I'm looking for but I also realize progress is a cruel mistress and is not selective in whom it chooses and does not choose.

More to come obviously. I have a short Winter and much to collect. Please feel free to comment or suggest things I may not be aware of. I welcome any and all your thoughts and thank you for sharing a part of my world.