Category Archives: Photo Essay

Arizona Ghost Towns

Life seems such an unlikely combination of luck and choice and circumstance…I think it hits me most when facing choices that will send my life down vastly different trajectories. Or is even that assuming too much? It’s interesting to think of life curling back to an original line no matter which direction you go, or this moment as a hub from which extend multiple lines into the future like rays from the sun. In geologic time, I suppose life looks like a tiny pin prick, with no trajectory whatsoever. Or it could be one circle or a series of them or a combination of metaphysical loops and linear time…I like to imagine it as a spyrograph drawing but that doesn’t really mean anything metaphorically without a great deal of mental stretching. And choice itself is something of a luxury…

What if I had been born here?

Gleeson, a mining town that is almost dead, population down from 2,500 to 100, and people leaving via the cemetery. It sits to the west of a town full of adobe ruins and shattered timbers, only a few miles from Tombstone (that has survived only by becoming its own spectacle, a real town turned into Hollywood set complete with fake gunmen in long black coats and tours by stagecoach). Gleeson is only one of so many towns built upon the mineral riches of southwest hills. And I know the myths, the level of violence. I also know Nana and Tata, the parents of my old soccer coach from Dos Cabezas, and they are beautiful people. On Nana’s wedding day she was sitting on the porch with her suegra and when they saw some rabbits, she got the rifle from inside and shot one dead for dinner. I’ve driven past there, and always wondered which of the foundations and shattered walls belonged to them…I know Frank  born and raised in Tombstone, he’s beautiful too, and his dry sense of humor is made up of puns and spanglish wordplay and he tells truly terrible jokes that I love. It’s why in spite of my love of noir, I’ve never liked authors like Camilo Jose Cela where there is nothing to redeem these dusty violent towns. And much as I love Sergio Leone’s westerns, still, I wish they showed some of the warmth and humor that allowed people to survive in these places.

Gleeson still has those 100 people. But there are far more in the cemetary. Most of the graves are unmarked, it appears almost empty from the road, but when you get closer you can see the remnants of plastic flowers, the splinters of broken crosses, crumbled headstones. The grass here is full of such things, hidden from view.

Maximo Rueda, died 1927, who was he and what was his life like? I know it is too far away for me to even imagine properly, though it does not stop me from trying.

Ed Ramirez, who died in 2000 yet his grave appears almost as old as the others, though with flowers remaining intact. Some graves have iron railings to rescue them from being swallowed by time, but even so, most of the names have long gone. For those that remain, you can see the families buried in groups, World War Two veterans, the Mexicans in one area and the whites in another, attempts by family members to rescue the graves of their loved ones from obscurity. One almost fresh grave.

I wonder if they are people who never left, or people who only returned to be buried?

The whole place was eerily silent, broken only by the wind over dry grass and the occasional clear sounding of two different bells, almost like windchimes, too musical to belong to livestock. I didn’t find the grave they belonged to. I’m not usually spooked by graveyards, and the hot sun and blue skies kept fear at bay, but images like this send chills

as I walked across the graves of the unknown to rescue some from total obscurity, to search for signs that they were there at all, to take pictures of their forlorn brokenness, I hope I did not simply take advantage of the picturesque. Seems like you owe something, even to those who are dead.

Gleeson is the third stop on the back roads between Wilcox and Tombstone, the first is Pearse. I read that it had a reputation worse than Tombstone back in the day, but find that hard to believe, especially of a town so tiny. Tombstone is a metropolis by comparison, though perhaps more foundations lie lost to view in the grass along the road. There are two buildings still standing. One belongs to the only residents of the town, though this was the only living thing to greet us

Some kind of miniature donkey? he was as musical as his larger cousins. And there is a beautiful old general store of adobe with a painted metal facade, if you arrange a tour in advance, and pay for it, you can go inside. But we hadn’t…

From Pearse you drive down through hills filled with the multicolored landslides of mine tailings. They are more than familiar to me from my youth, my family spent so much time going over them looking for cool rocks, bits of azurite, turquoise, silver, copper, gold, molybdenum. There was one only a couple of miles from my old home, we’d hike there and eat lunch in the cool shadows of the mine tunnel, which ended in a deep pit twenty or thirty feet back.

Down the road is Courtland, of which I know nothing but the name. There are clear signs that mining is about to begin again, but apart from recently graded roads and white survey flags, nothing is there but more scattered remnants of abandoned buildings and bored youth

Though shooting up street signs, generally while drinking and driving, is to my certain knowledge, not at all restricted to youth. One of my old coworkers used to enjoy such a pass-time. He was my old assistant manager too.

It was a stunning day all round, even before we arrived in Tombstone and Bisbee. The country is extraordinarily stark and reluctant to support human life, but also extraordinarily beautiful. Here is the recently graded road leading into the back streets of Tombstone

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Alleys of East downtown Los Angeles

Every now and then people ask me what I do for fun…I enjoy life quite thoroughly and I could knock out a long list, but today I’ll just look at one…riding my bike through the garbage-filled alleys of downtown L.A. and taking pictures. And writing about it. I believe I am allllmost alone in this, which is why Jose is one of my favourite friends.

Riding through this sort of place is not so fun on your own. I don’t mind the smells, or the rats of course (though I do sometimes worry about the bubonic plague, people still die of it every year in Arizona)…the east side of downtown is industrial, it holds the remnants of skid row and  sweatshops. Its alleys are the city’s margins where everything is swept to keep it out of sight and out of mind, to me they are a strange beauty curled around a dangerous sliver, they are all that is fucked under urban capitalism and the bright face of rebellion against it. They are full of rats, syringes, deals, desperation, drunkenness, art like you’ve never seen it before.

Don’t get me wrong, I like nature too. But there is something about it here…

We went down an alley alongside a burned out garment factory, stark brick and charcoal against the sky

As I was taking pictures two men came up to us, one white and one black, the same hollowed cheeks, dull eyes, brittle frames. They were arguing, voices rasp-edged and angry. They came closer, voices smoothing into friendly calm, they said that the fire had started in the blanket warehouse and spread, an electrical problem. They said they did not beg, they would sing. And they did. And it was beautiful, perfect harmony, perfect rhythm, clearly the fruit of long practice. We gave them some money, Jose mocked me for enjoying it too obviously, and then we passed them again on our way out, their voices rough with edges anew.

We passed rottng fruit, and a shrine to la virgen in a triangular parking garage hung with last years Christmas decorations, we passed shops full of cheap clothes, vendors selling hotdogs wrapped in bacon and tiny live turtles. We passed people hurrying home. We passed a sweatshop awning for a label once called Affluence…but the Affluence had been scraped off and it’s ghost painted over with Shanna K. Beside it was the label Felicity and the alley in front strewn with trash. We passed L.A. Babe…

We passed the extraordinary row of shops that sell everything you could possibly need for a Mexican fiesta

There are fashions in pinatas, superheroes come in and out of style, barbie is replaced by bratz, seasonal variations mean Frankentein and green faced witches are followed by santa claus, there are usually huge corona bottles that can only be for adults…I would admit I would have a great deal of fun swinging blindfolded at a pinata once again.

We found an alley guarded by its own figurehead, or screaming a warning

I suppose if Jose hadn’t been there this just might have scared me a very little bit. From here we reached a couple alleys full of the most extraordinary graffitti art I’ve seen in some time, worth stepping into rotting garbage with my flipflopped foot, and fending off the advances of a very drunk Indian (see what I mean about the importance of traveling companions!).

and this

and this

And it got darker and darker and so we went faster and faster. We passed more solitary walkers in the dusk, more working girls, we passed this place

There are some dive bars even I won’t go into, and this is right up there with el Chubasco. We ended up at Olvera Street and hung out and looked around and ate, and then back home. I made Jose come back through the Terminator tunnel because I wanted to take pictures of that, but all of the damn lights were working! I don’t believe I have ever seen that. Ever. Perhaps that alone was worth taking a picture. But I love it when all the lights are off, when the tiles shine with the reflections from the white of headlights, the red of brakelights, the green of the semaforos. But not tonight. So we rode past the long line of homeless folks already sleeping.

And two last images to finish, this of amazing skill and art and terror

and this:

A face of suffering or sleep or resignation somehow emerging unbidden from a painted-over, tagged-up street sign. This world is full of such awful, terrible, beautiful things.

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street art graffiti art and art etc.

I’ve gotten over myself finally and am almost back to sunniness…and I’m sitting here pleasantly tired, think I biked over 10 miles today, almost bit it too, made me happy about the small things in life like a face, and no broken bones of course. Some stupid city official felt it necessary to cut a square out of the road about 1X3 feet and I’d say a good 6 inches deep…hitting that at high speed on a road bike almost brought on a strong attack of religion. As I flew I swear I prayed, but I hit the ground safely though my front wheel isn’t so happy…That was in South Central off course.

Anyways, I’m back to things I love about LA because I’m leaving I’m leaving I’m leaving (I’m singing this, I’d like to write a ska tune about it, with lots of horns and a mellow reggae section in the middle). I believe this is graffitti, though I could be wrong, somehow, though, I don’t belive it is a city comissioned art piece though it’s kept up…

I like it though, it’s just around the corner from the Morrison Hotel on Pico. I suppose when the building finally sells it will get painted over. These two are from Pico Union, but Selena has definitely seen much better days

She used to be directly opposite from a mural of Princess Diana…I always wondered what exactly Lady Di was doing in the heart of the largest Central American population outside of Central America…she did get painted over years ago, and I still regret that I never got a shot of her. But they have painted this mural which is beautiful

I shan’t get started on the war or who exactly are the Americans fighting it, they’re all recruited from this neighborhood though, fucking recruitment centers in high schools, immoral is what it is.

And art etc? Check this thing out

What is it?? I have no idea…it looks like one of the forts I built with my brothers back in the day…much nicer though, we didn’t have access to that kind of material. I like building forts, how long has it been since I built a blanket fort in the middle of the living room? Might be fun to do, I’d take in a bottle of wine, lots of pillows and a couple of good novels and just chill…

Anyways, here’s my contribution, a little still life

Bet that kid is sad he ever forgot his toys and let me get my hands on them! Hope he comes back to collect them, nothing sadder than toys ownerless and unplayed with!

The Doors 40th

It was Wednesday, imagine, the Doors at the Whisky A Go Go again! I had my special VIP pass…here’s what the spot looks like, Sunset and San Vicente at the heart of the strip:

Tafarai and I waltzed past the people in the line, right up to the very large bouncer who looked up our names on the list, gave us wrstbands and opened up the red velvet rope…it was magic. We strolled in fashionably late, and grabbed some of the free booze being passed around by the waitresses. And there was Ray Manzarek keyboard genious, Robby Krieger on Guitar, John Densmore on the drums…John called us over, we’ve met a couple of times before and he came to our big action at the Morrison Hotel when we were forcing our way into the building. That day gave me a high I shall never forget! We met the band, they thanked us for the amazing job we were doing making Los Angeles a better place and preserving the rights of working folks to live in the center city, and they they went on stage and played and the place just irrupted…

No, wait, that was just what i wanted to happen! Except for having met John Densmore before…like Dougal from father Ted I sometimes have a hard time separating dreams from reality I’m afraid. We arrived late, really really late which generally isn’t a problem where you’re out on the strip but we missed the program. Partly due to lateness, but mostly because we were in the damn vip line for an hour and a half…in the words of the guy behind me, “a fucking vip line just ain’t what it used to be!” I lost a bit more of my innocence that day I’m afraid. It was good for people watching though I never recognize anyone having never had mtv in the 80’s. Here’s some faded rockstars, they were on the corner while I was taking the above picture so I got a surreptitious shot in, the guy on the left was going on and on about his friend the drummer from the Runaways, but I particularly liked the guy in the skinny pants, black and white tiger stripe top and rockstar mullet, they were about to head off to the Rainbow Room…all my stereotypes come to life:

The line was made up of industry folks all going on about famous people they had worked with, skinny girls in short skirts and too much makeup were cruising up and down trying to make friends, people who thought they were more important than the rest of us were trying to talk their way past the bouncer and making phone calls, two guys got arrested by the cops and were dragged off, Tafarai was checking the scores from the Clipper game and the progress of his fantasy teams, the real vip’s were getting let right in, a few more rockstars from back in the day wandered by in leather and/or spandex. Gilby Clarke, guitarist from Guns N Roses rolled up in his black mercedes…wouldn’t have recognized him but for the talkative guy in front of us who knew who people were, but sadly his wife was a real vip and he got in far before us. While at the very front I saw the white light guy married to Piper in Charmed, he couldn’t get his friends in which made me feel better, Robbie Krieger’s wife took about 5 minutes to get past the barrier even…but finally, we were in!

It’s a small place, must have been amazing back in the day! The vip’s were on the top level, clusters of very stylish folks talking importantly…that wasn’t so fun so we headed downstairs to be with the proletariat, here’s a view from the stairs:

You can see there’s no one playing :-(, but some classic doors was blasting over the sound system, and everyone downstairs was singing along and dancing…it was a very cool mix of people, Mexican families and punk kids and old hippies, Roadhouse blues came on and the place just went nuts. Here’s one of my favourite characters:

I could not tell you the whys and wherefores of the wizard costume, but it was very cool all the same. So it was Tafarai and I; he was my ride and sadly had to leave early to get the car back to his girlfriend. Why didn’t I drive damn it! I’ll tell you, it’s a small matter of a warrant I belive I have, a question of a small unpaid ticket but that’s a long story…anyways, since the Doors now all hate each other they were playing in different venues, so we decided to go down to Book Soup to catch Densmore but that was over, and the Cat Club where Ray was playing had another fucking long ass line in the face of which our vip wristbands were worthless so…we headed on home. So disappointing, I was so disappointed, but I suppose you can’t recpture the magic that was once the Doors…Jim Morrison dead and 40 years and a long acrimonious lawsuit later…seeing domingosiete the next night and being able to dance the night away was miles better, and I think perhaps I shall just forget about seeing my favourite bands from back in the day and let them live larger than life in my imagination…much the best place for them really as the current reality is a bit sad.

Mexico hurts my soul

Terrible day!  Mexico, god!  I swear Marquez was possessed by evil spirits!  He needs a limpia (traditional and ritual Mexican cleansing for the uninitiated), and I for one, would be more than happy to break eggs over his head and whip him with bunches of ruda (rue), though he’s not worth sacrificing a chicken for.

Davin is sick so I wandered the conference alone most of the day…I mustered up the courage to walk up to and talk to my first complete stranger however!  Davin has been doing the heavy lifting in that department because he actually likes talking to strangers, but I actually approached the swedish head of the international tenant union and engaged him in engaging conversation and it went over well, with me being half invited to a swedish reception later in the afternoon celebrating the returning of a stolen indigenous totem pole…the greatest threat to affable swedish-canadian relations for the past 10 years apparently! I didn’t go.  I almost repeated the experiment, high on my first success, with a guy on the street who looked exactly like Clark Kent, but proceeded to trip over a crack in the sidewalk and so quickly changed my mind.

So I also wandered downtown, here are some truly touristy photos but with artisitic merit I think though I might be delusional.

The above is from the financial district, as is the fountain below:

and the waterfront is lovely…ther are sea planes!  How cool are they?  I want to fly one…

And from the walk back in search of food…

And this very cool graffiti, I’m impressed, i though LA had a corner on the street art department…

Apple Valley

Just got back from a little staff retreat at Highland Springs in Apple Valley…how much do I love the people I work with??  Thursday late morning we drove up and did a lot of work, then we swam, lay by the pool, relaxed in the sauna, ate a dinner we didn’t have to cook, played a little soccer, drank beers and margaritas and told a lot of very funny and very innapropriate stories (which I cannot relate here in mixed company) until really late.

I got up early in spite of the late night, the fact that I was still a little drunk probably helped with that, and went for a hike, it is such a beautiful place!  The path initially went straight up…here is one of the views:

And I believe this is what I would look like if I could ever find the courage to get up onto a pair of stilts…

Walked and ran back down, had breakfast, did some more work, swam, laid by the pool, relaxed in the sauna…mmm….lovely.

We had seen the signs for a cherry festival in Beaumont, so we decided to stop on the way back home and pick up some cherries, and some pies, and some funnel cake and who knew what else?  There was a little carnival but the first thing that met our eyes was this shining example of carnie culture…

And guess who else was there?

Yep…God.  We were pretty excited until we found out that not only was it $5 to get in, but that with all of our crazy weather, and possibly global warming, there were in fact no cherries.  Although tempted to pay $5 just to ask God how he could allow a tragedy like this to happen and possibly hit him in the eye, I sadly piled back into the car and Bev drove off.  At the edge of Beaumont we passed El Rancho restaurant and cocktails,

But  no one else was feeling the same uncontrollable urge to stop there and fill up on MGD so we continued on, back to home sweet home…

Disgusting que no?  Just imagine what the inside of my lungs looks like breathing in all of this crap!  Everytime I come back to LA I ask myself, why oh why do I live here?  Soon, soon I’ll be gone.  That little white flash of light middle left is Gehry’s Disney Hall by the way, isn’t it shiny?  I live about 10 blocks from there, in the heart of the smoggy darkness…

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