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…
West Texas. I’m a sucker for signs, especially if they show a little life – or a little death, depending on your point of view. Signs that have been around a while. Let’s put it that way. Old signs tend to persist more in the West and Midwest than they do back East. People just don’t seem to see the need to tear them down. This one was next to a whole off-ramp of deserted stuff – gas station, restaurant, tire repair. Spruce the place up and you could easily do a post-apocalypse movie scene there.
Las Vegas, New Mexico. A town that I first frequented, as with so many others, because there’s a hot spring there. I’m not saying where, even though it’s public knowledge. You have to find it for yourself. It’s that horrible conundrum of wanting to share the cool stuff, but destroying it by doing so. I had not really explored the town much before, just blew in, soaked, and then moved on to the next hot spring. This time, though I slowed it down a bit and, as always when I slow it down, I started to see more and more stuff. This was next to one of those ancient drive-through banks that, at one time, were considered the height of modernity and convenience. Someone stopped, as always, and gratuitously commented on my van, which has a lot of crap bolted on to it. I was polite – I think – and then turned my head and saw La Casita. I like a good lounge. I wonder if it’s still operation.
I snapped this in the outer reaches of Brooklyn during a century bike tour. I love the NY Century tour as it shows me stuff I never knew existed before. Brooklyn, for those who have never been there, has a remarkably varied geography and architectural diversity, as well, from oceanfront to Superfund canals to ghetto to super-rich neighborhoods. This was just a random driveway with a clever hinge made of chains and spelling that may not be correct in the King’s English, but sure as hell gets the message across. Then again, it could be a message. Then again, it might be Queens and not Brooklyn.
I was heading to visit a sound guy for a film I was working on in another lifetime. He lived in an old building on Ocean Parkway, in Brooklyn, that might be termed a “super tenement,” a tenement that had more amenities and wider hallways than the usual type. Some thoughtful builder had once thought to plaster this face into the wall about 80 to 100 years ago and there it sat, waiting for me to come along. I like the guy and often try to divine what’s on his mind.
That’s my friend Peggy Jordan, with whom I have explored much of the west. We once got lost in The Maze at Canyonlands and have more flat tires on bad roads than I care to remember. This was a few years ago, when I was trying to use up the last of my Kodachrome film before they stopped developing it. The last chemical line – at Dwayne’s Photo, in Kansas City – had announced that they were finished and you had to get it in by a certain date. It made me sad, but it was kind of good to have a deadline to finish shooting all of this glorious, slow, old film, an emulsion which had been with us far longer than I had been alive. This happened to coincide with Peggy visiting from Hawaii, where she owns the Electric Paradise Tattoo shop. We met in California and I snapped this shot in the Mojave, somewhere near the old Kelso Junction station. I think she was celebrating the western breeze by shaking her head violently. I snapped and the Kodachrome did its magic. I’ll miss that stuff.
This was kind of a whim. Spotted this window display on Lower Broadway, in Manhattan. New York has some amazing window displays, but I really prefer the ones that look more like they were arranged by someone with an OCD mind than a strictly aesthetic sense. Kind of like “Let me put the pink ones together, then the red…” Anyway, I am babbling here. I just thought this was kind of a fun grouping.
Alamagordo, NM. Another town where I often come upon interesting stuff. I have a kind of horrible story from this town. At the far end of town is a shop that sells ristras – those picturesque strings of hot chile peppers that you can hang on the wall for show or, even better, use as seasoning in your food. Years ago, the mid 90’s, I was traveling through Alamagordo on a job – an early online writing gig that could actually be the subject of a short, strange book. Anyway, we were about to start the long drive back east and I thought it would be really cool to buy a ristra, which I did, hanging it carefully in the back of the car in a paper bag so as not to let it get destroyed over the next 2200 miles. We then went into a restaurant. The guy I was working for got a seat – he was miserable over some girlfriend situation in Memphis – and I went to use the rest room. I got back and, shortly into my delicious enchiladas, I suddenly had the most intense burning in my crotch. God knows I had no reason to suspect it, but I became instantly convinced that I had a case of instant gonorrhea, so horrible was this burning. I ran to back to the restroom in this restaurant in Alamagordo to, uh, check things out. When I got there, it struck me that I had used the urinal before eating, but AFTER having handled the ristra. Yes, you guessed it, the oils from the chile peppers had done their work. Never was I so relieved to have a burning sensation in my groin. Anyway, I digress. This photo was taken recently in Alamagordo. I had just had a minor disagreement with my lovely girlfriend, an incredibly rare occurrence, but there you have it – it happened AND it happened in Alamagordo. Not only that, but she had retreated to the back of the van, leaving me to ponder the error of my barbaric ways and try to come up with a way to make things up. In the meantime, though, I was angry because she missed out on seeing the world’s largest pistachio sculpture, among other things. I stopped and stomped around, finding this lonely store – which had an illuminated cross in the window, as well, and snapped this shot while trying to figure out how to get in her good graces again. I hope to have a photo of her in here soon.
Copyright © Paul Vlachos 2012
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