Photographs

When I came home from my trip, I had about 2,300 photos between my two cameras. The sizable lot seemed promising, but after browsing through them all and then taking into consideration the 2 months that I was away, the 20 states that I drove through (the 14 that I stopped at for at least a night), and the nearly 8,000 miles that I traveled, I realized that I returned with a bit of sorry photo collection.

There are several places that I visited that were hardly photographed, if at all. There are no pictures of La Jolla (CA), Lake Tahoe (CA), Tucson (AZ), Denver (CO), Abilene (KS), Seaside (FL), De Leon Springs (FL), or Columbia (SC). Places like Altadena (CA), Venice Beach (CA), Fredericksburg (TX), Austin (TX), Ft. Lauderdale (FL), and Route 66 have no more than a handful of photos each. And I also managed to pass up photo ops of popular sites like Café Du Monde and Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Cardinals Stadium in St. Louis, the bat flight over the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, and Sloppy Joes, Duval Street, and the Mallory Square sunset in Key West.

There are very few photos of me on the trip–a couple of pics were taken by a friend in Venice, one I took myself while driving through Texas, and another was taken by a stranger in Arches National Park. I don’t have a single photo of me with family or friends. In fact the only family/friend photo that I took was of my two hosts in St. Louis (and I’m not in that picture either).  My family in De Leon Springs and Lexington (KY) are absent from my album, as are my Godfather and his family in Ft. Lauderdale. My friends, who I met up with in Altadena, La Jolla, Friendswood (TX), Key West, Charleston (SC), and Irmo (SC), aren’t pictured at all. And of course, if I didn’t take a photo of family or friends then I definitely didn’t take a photo of the kid I met in Cabazon (CA), or the couple from Alabama who I met in Panama City (FL), or the nice man who took a tour of the Hemingway House with me in Key West.

In some instances my minimal documenting was a result of exhaustion or laziness. Walking around Austin in the summer heat tired me too much. And by the time I got out of New Orleans and worked my way down to the Florida beaches of Seaside, Watercolor, and Grayton,  I couldn’t be bothered to stop and take a photo–I  just wanted to get to my motel. I figured I would settle on my memory. (And, at least as of now, I still remember the silver trailers parked on the side of the road in Seaside that sold hot dogs and ice cream to the people on their beach cruisers.)

In other instances, when I wanted to stop and take a photo, hoping to capture a beautiful view or beautiful back road, there wasn’t a (safe) place to pull over and park. The roads to the Salton Sea, Fredericksburg, New Orleans, and Lexington were stunning. The Rockies were amazing. And the bridges in Louisiana Florida, and Georgia were incredible. But there wasn’t a place to park. (Kudos to Utah for providing turnouts.)

Sometimes when I did find a place to park and would approach a subject, there would be too many people or cars or trash cans or other things in the way that made the picture cluttered, and no mattered how I positioned myself I couldn’t cut them out of the frame. Sometimes finding the right angle proved too challenging. Like in Lexington when I finally found a place to park my car, I walked towards one of their classic white fences with the hope of capturing the field and horses behind it, only to realize that the fence was as tall as me and blocking my entire view. (I even tried standing on my car to get up higher… not a good shot.) And because I’m not used to shooting with a digital SLR, I’m still in the habit of being picky with my shots (so not to waste film), and a cluttered and poorly angled photo still seemed like a waste of a shot, so I never attempted it.

Sometimes taking a photo didn’t feel right. Mainly in instances of photographing people who I didn’t know. Like along Route 66 when I pulled over to take photos of a disintegrating motel and I saw that there were a few people sitting in chairs on either side of its entrance. When I drove up they all looked my way, and I couldn’t bring myself to park the car, get out, and take a photograph. I didn’t even know how to ask for a photograph. In my mind it has always seemed okay to take pictures of neglected, abandoned structures. They had been left behind for anyone to do what they pleased. But if the structures weren’t abandoned—the motels, the houses, the trailers, the cars—then it felt wrong to take a photo, to freeze a person’s life only so I could call it art, or, worse, use it as evidence that I went somewhere and saw something.

But mainly it came down to the fact that some days I simply didn’t want to be a photographer. There had already been enough times where I forced myself (perhaps out of guilt) to take pictures. Pictures that turned out fine but were nothing worth bragging about, at least not past the basic declaration of “I was here.” So, when it came to the good walks around the town (like in Fredericksburg), the peaceful moments during a pit-stop (in the Rocky Mountains), or the good times and good conversations with people, I just didn’t have it in me to stop what I was doing, pull out my camera, and take a photo. It’s a little bit of a bummer not to have some of these photos, but I still managed to have good time. And I figure really the biggest bummer would be me losing my awesome memory, and having to take the trip all over again.

Advertisements

Conversations

Before I went on my trip, and was dragging my feet with researching where I would go or what I would do, I was telling a friend of mine how unenthusiastic I was to get in my car and drive around the country. (Did I ever mention I’m not the biggest fan of driving? That’s another story.) I told him, I knew from past trips that most things would turn out great, but I really wasn’t looking forward to the days of quiet. The days without any conversation beyond, “Thank you,” “Hello,” and “One please.” He told me that it would all work out, and that I would just make friends on my trip. I thought, that sounds nice, but I think Dean Moriarty is long gone.

It possibly breaks the romantic image of road tripping (and, trust me, many days I wish it were 1965 too), but in my small experience with roaming around U.S., making friends isn’t entirely easy. And sadly I don’t have a ton of meaty conversations with strangers while I’m on the road. It’s not for a lack of trying. I smile, make eye contact, give them a good “Hi,” maybe even ask for directions or something that I already know the answer to but am using as a reason to get the words flowing, but sometimes people aren’t in the talking mood. Or they simply don’t know what to say, I guess. Bartenders and servers are usually the best bet for a chat session, but even they sometimes are more loyal to their regulars, and they are still human and not always feeling up to the small-talk task.

Aside from restaurant and bar staff, I am rarely approached when sitting or walking around by myself. If I am approached, it’s usually by a man. I guess I get that. It hard enough for most women to find good women friends, so traveling and trying to meet another woman who you can just kind of put up with is a whole other challenge. A good woman really is hard to find. Mainly it’s men that come up and talk to me, but most of the men who do approach me (and there aren’t that many) are hoping for more than a nice conversation. The other few men who talk to me are either the friendly/bored restaurant staff or it’s them and their significant other. In the latter case they are usually older than me. I get a lot of fun older couples who talk to me. The kind that like to drink and enjoy retirement. I love these people. Unfortunately there’s not enough of them to go around to help keep my voice from going stale.

Groups of men don’t approach me. Men sitting by themselves (sometimes right next to me at the bar) don’t say a word. Even when I smile at them. I think if I were with a girlfriend, there’d be more attention, from lone men and small groups. If I were with a man, or just simply a lone male wander, I’d talk to other couples, small groups, and hippie travelers. And if I were a man and traveling with another man I’d probably get to talk to just about everyone. I could even pick up a hitchhiker perhaps.

But I’m not any of those. I’m a young woman. I don’t look like a traveler, I look like a twenty-three-year-old who is alone in a bar or a restaurant. My cell phone is away. My book is in my bag. I’m watching a muted ball game on T.V., eating my burger and drinking my beer, and no one is saying a word. They’re just looking my way.