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…
This may not be my first piece for the Zephyr on Florida. You’ll have to check with Zephyr’s “Office of Records and Historical Archives,” located in Laguna Beach, California. If you can’t get to them, I’m sure that the Library of Congress can help find the information. It may not be my last column on Florida, either. It’s a rich place for photographs. Something about the light, like the light in New Mexico, inspires. That light, combined with the skies, clouds and endless low buildings, gets my photo juices running.
I am there now and, usually, if the Zephyr deadline falls while I’m on the road, I like to use photos that are fresh. At home, I like to let photos marinate for a while before I even look at them, let alone show them to other people. On the road, though, it’s important to look at the photos every day to make sure that you’re not messing things up. It also can inspire me in other ways. Last night, I discovered something new and fascinating to me while looking at some throwaway photos. I had not even considered this subject before, even though I have photographed it. It’s making me excited just to think about it. It’s so special, though, that I’m not going to reveal it. That may come in a future issue.
I had a few ideas for themes. I was going to include a rant about a laundromat. I may include it in a future issue, but not this one. I have another hot topic that I’m afraid to mention. I decided against that, as well. In fact, there were a few. Nix on all of them or, if this were an old gangster movie and they were speaking what used to be called “Pig Latin,” it would be “ix-nay” instead of “nix.” Have I put you to sleep yet?
I either could not decide or would not decide, so I was leaning heavily in favor of “Grab Bag” as a theme. Then I got mugged. Kind of. Apparently, there are distinctions, and I think they are going to classify it as “attempted robbery” instead of “assault.” I’m staying – for the first time – at an AirBnb in a very nice suburb of Fort Lauderdale. I never usually stay in one place on the road. I like to roam around, but I came here to work on a book and it has been going well.
I write during the day, interspersed with dog walks, then I drive around South Florida and shoot photos at night. It has been fruitful and I have been happy. So, today, I was walking young Santo on the very block where I have been staying. We had been all over the neighborhood and were returning. Some teenager approached me awkwardly and pretended to ask about the dog. It instantly felt wrong and I’m not sure if it’s because he was an amateur or it was my paranoid New Yorker radar kicking in, but I started to back away. At that moment, he tried to grab the cellphone from my denim jacket breast pocket.
I believe he and his partner may have seen me walk these blocks before and today they followed and intercepted me. I’ll probably never know because our conversation ceased immediately. I knocked his hand away and then promptly fell on my butt in the melee. He leaned over me and I kicked him in the crotch while shouting “POLICE” at the top of my lungs. I got up and unwittingly yanked Santo into the air as I tried to swipe at the guy, forgetting that the hound was attached to my wrist.
I moved towards him and he crouched, at which moment I realized I should not have done that. In that instant, he turned and ran. Some old guy who had been parked on the grass ten feet away, oddly, in a place where nobody ever parks, had gotten out of his car with a crowbar. The young criminal decided not to take on two decrepit guys, so he fled to the corner, where his partner awaited in their late model, black Chevy Impala. I had been on the phone the whole time – via my bluetooth earbuds – and the person I was talking with was really upset, but I told her I would have to call her back.
I spent the next hour giving a police report, first to the local cop but, once he found out it had happened on the opposite sidewalk, ten feet away, he told me it was not his jurisdiction and that he would call the Sheriff for me. I then had to go through it with the Sheriff. I spent the rest of the day a little freaked out and not wanting to walk the dog. We did walk, but I’m still kind of spooked, so much so that I don’t feel like writing long captions. I don’t even feel like writing short captions. I clearly don’t have any compunction about blabbing on about my day, though.
And, honestly, any day above ground is a good day. It could have been worse. So, with that I’ll shut up and show you some of what I’ve been shooting down here.
1. Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This was just a few days after the New Year. Lots of houses around here keep the decorations up well past the holidays. This house was particularly interesting, but also difficult to shoot. It’s the combination of a pulsating bright light in the window, combined with the little figurines, the floodlights they keep on the tree and the bright clouds that night that make it hard to figure out. I should have used a tripod, but I am lazy. I tried over a few nights and never got it exactly how I saw it, but this is relatively close. Not really. I’m lying, but it’s as good as I could get. Usually, I don’t like to show anybody a photo unless it’s what I saw. What I saw may NOT always be exactly what I shot, but that’s a discussion for another time and place.
2. Tampa, Florida. What’s Christmas without some Spanish Moss hanging from the tree? I just liked the way this looked. And this IS what I saw.
3. The Miccosukee Service Plaza, right at the edge of the Big Cypress National Preserve and not far from the rapidly disappearing Everglades. I always stop here. It’s the only game in town, so to speak, and I don’t mind giving my gasoline business to the tribe in exchange for clean bathrooms. This also illustrates that you don’t have to be in Nevada or Montana to see a big sky. In fact, when everything is flat, all you have to do is add clouds and you have a big sky. Am I still in Kindergarten? Florida is pretty flat. It has its charms, but elevation is not among them. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for some pretty amazing bugs, lizards, alligators, black vultures and snakes, step right up.
4. Belle Glade, Florida. The town has some hardscrabble sections, but this store is not one of them. In the grand tradition of “Paint it yellow and they will shop here,” this place is only a year old and bright canary. I can look at it all day, trying to figure out if the various sections were tacked on separately or planned out all at once.
5. This is a run-down motel office. I’m not even sure if it’s a motel or housing now. What I like is that almost nothing places it in this century, except for possibly the garbage can, and even that could conceivably have been there in the 1990s. The office, itself, I would guess dates from the 1960s. I would have said earlier, but the door is probably no older. Possibly the late 1950s. How does one know these things? Do you just become a walking encyclopedia of trim and design history by getting older and living through it? I feel that way about cars. Show me any car from before 2000 and I can probably date it to within a year or two, just on the basis of shape and trim. And the doodads along the grill. Don’t forget those doodads. I’m going to bed. Good night, all.
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*Note: The Cartoonist screwed up. In a subconscious attempt to escape the world’s news, he changed one of our Backbone Member’s names from “Michael” to “Richard” Cohen. Sorry, Michael. We know you’re a way better guy than that infamous Michael Cohen and we beg your forgiveness.