Paul Vlachos is a New Yorker who understands The West. And he is a New Yorker who understands New York. Wherever Paul goes, he finds signs of life…
1. Cars get dirty everywhere in different ways. This is a drive-through car wash in Coney Island, New York City. Coney Island is not just a waterfront amusement park, which is rapidly disappearing, by the way. It’s also a neighborhood on the Lower Bay of New York City. A lot of hardworking people live there, including many Russians. I believe that this place is run by Russians, but I’m not sure. Whoever owns it needs to hire a spellchecker. I’m also of the mind that, whenever you see a sign like this, it’s a reflection of every past possible disaster that could have happened, hence the liability list printed here AFTER you make the turn into it, but BEFORE you pay for your wash. I went through at night and paid what they refer to in another sign as “Night Prices.” A nice touch.
2. This is my kind of car wash. Self-serve. No muss, no fuss, nobody bothering me, nobody to talk with unless you want to take your chances and talk to the person in the next bay, at your own risk. I like the satisfaction of hosing down my own vehicle. I like the concept of a “foaming brush” and I like to wield it. I like the whole experience, except for one thing – I always seem to get my shoes wet. I must be too impulsive and sloppy in my technique. Before my faithful canine, Elko, died this past October, I’d always shut the windows and leave him in the truck while I washed it. I’d peep in and see him sitting in there, watching everything I did. I actually did not use this particular wash-it-yourself car wash, but I hope to the next time I happen to pass through Paso Robles, California.
3. This is a detail – a large one, but still a detail – from the sign for a diner near what used to be called the Yonkers Raceway, from my home town, just 14 miles and a billion light years north of Midtown Manhattan. I’m not into dog or pony races, so I never went there but, whenever I told someone I was from Yonkers, they would – without fail – say “Oh? The Raceway, right?” at which I would say “Yup” and move on, brushing off the psychic debris that always manages to linger in the creases of my wardrobe. Not a bad place to grow up, Yonkers, but I don’t often return to visit. Let’s just put it that way. anyway, I like this sign. What else, really, do you need in life? I could answer that, but I won’t right now.
4. West Texas two-lane road. A broken down drive-in liquor store. A car parked in front for what appears to have been decades, doing the majestic super-slow rust dance, and weeds, weeds, weeds. Tall Texas weeds to go with the rest of the tableau.
5. On the one side of this photo – the side I took this photo from, you have the edge of the Black Rock Desert playa, circa 1999. I have never gone to Burning Man, nor do I care to go, but I do like to visit the playa and commune with the unseen, buried mastodon bones which occasionally rise up from the playa muck during the wet season. I like getting that fine playa dust in my vehicle because it never leaves and then, 2 years later, sitting in New York City traffic, I’ll brush my pinky finger in the seam of a car seat and get a little bead of that white dust, then be mentally transported back to this, one of my favorite places on earth. Why I like it so much? Because of a few things. First, the playa, itself, in all it’s silent glory. Second, the promise of either going up towards Soldier Meadow or over the mountain to Denio, or possibly up to Cedarville, California and points north, in Eastern Oregon. The playa is a cosmic transportation hub if you’re into nature, history or hot springs. And finally, I’m into it for what’s on the other side of this busy freight line – a narrow, tire-busting road that leads to an abandoned town called Sulphur. But, more to the point, and about 300 years from the tracks, a ditch filled with bentonite clay and hot water, beautiful hot water that you can soak in and forget about the rest of the world. It’s a nice place.
6. We were actually heading for The Maze, Peggy and I but, given my spiritual bond to Hanksville, I could not pass up an opportunity to take a photo of this sign, along with The Mighty Wagoneer, which had a bent belt pulley at this point in our travels. I think I had more gas in the tank, also, at this point, than at any other time in my history. You could have stuck your finger in the filler tube and felt it. 30 miles down the track to Hans Flat, I dumped my 5 gallon reserve can down there. We were ready for an intergalactic hop to another dimension and we found it. This was Utah in 1998.
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