Vlachos’ Views…Photos and Captions by Paul Vlachos.

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…

11. Hattiesburg, Mississippi, just as dawn is breaking and I’m starting the third day of a road trip. It is so difficult to break gravity usually, and get away from the comforts of home, the insidious comforts that lull and dull us. I am usually uneasy until I have actually crossed the Mississippi. In this case, I went far south before I crossed. I am usually drawn to the oasis of light from a nighttime gas station. In fact, I rue one from the end of this particular trip that I passed by because I was in such a rush to get home and it would have involved doubling back on a dicey piece of interstate. In this case, though, I was on the outbound leg and was a bit more introspective.

22. This is on US Highway 90, south west of New Orleans, in Cajun country. There are little signs that say “Fut 49” on an Interstate shield, meaning that the state or the federal government hopes to one day upgrade this already significant highway and have it join the Interstate system. I’m not sold on why, but it’s common. There have been signs on Route 17 in New York State saying  “Fut 86” for so long that the red and blue shields have faded. It also reminds me of poring over road atlases in the 60s and seeing the dotted lines of future interstate routes. Anyway, I like it down here. I did not sample the world-renowned Ponchatoula strawberries, but I may next time. It always feels like I have landed in another country when I’m in this part of Louisiana.
33. Erath, Louisiana. Another shot from the far south. I don’t usually shoot trees, but this one spoke to me. I was on the way to Erath, specifically, because I had really enjoyed this TV show that took place around there and it was as good an excuse as any to come down on this route. Just like I’ll take Highway 90 all through south Texas just so I can get huevos rancheros at Nora’s Tacos, in the town of Sabinal. I actually fixed my sextant on a course straight from Clifton, New Jersey straight to Erath, and pretty much followed a direct path from one point to the other, with a couple of minor detours due to events not totally in my control. How I began from Clifton is another story, altogether, but it’s not that interesting. It’s certainly not as interesting as this tree, which I saw coming, stared at, then passed by and could not shake. After two miles, I pulled a U-turn and hauled back to shoot it before heading into Erath proper.
44. Another early-dawn shot. I had just begun to pick up speed on my way from west Texas up into New Mexico. This trip was really an excuse to leave New York so that I could fall apart and then let the desert put me back together again. Along the way, I hoped to find some peace with my cameras and Elko, the desert dog. I had covered the ground I had wanted to cover in West Texas and was heading to Las Vegas, New Mexico to soak in a hot spring, via US Route 285, a venerable route goes straight up from Fort Stockton. I saw this old soldier and had to shoot it – who doesn’t like an ancient school bus? – but it was a little early. The sun was just peeking over the curvature of the horizon, and I waited a few minutes, but I should have waited longer. It would have been a much better shot. There was just enough light to paint it on the gray, fracked-out haze in the distance, but not enough to make it glow. I hope to pass by there again soon and I hope this bus is still there.
55. Malaga, New Mexico. A pretty small dot on the map, unless you happen to live there. This building appears to have been put together at a few different times – concrete on one side, cinder blocks on the other, and a door cut into it years after the walls had been painted.
66. After Malaga comes Loving, then Carlsbad, the Artesia and Roswell. I’m leaving some of the smaller, but no less important towns out. After Roswell is a long, beautiful stretch of land, punctuated by brush, sky and the blip by the road of Ramon, which no longer seems to be open for business. After you have traveled for another hour and a half past Roswell, you will come to Vaughn, which is a major crossroads, although it doesn’t seem to exist for much anymore beyond offering services to travelers. Because cars travel fast now than they once did, my guess is that people don’t stay at the old motels in Vaughn as much as they used to. They do stop for gas and to hit the mini mart, but that’s about it. Don’t get me wrong, Vaughn is one of my favorite places in that part of New Mexico. I even wrote a song, a long time ago, about always ending up in Vaughn. I will spare you the lyrics now, although I sometimes hum it when I pass through Vaughn. These places no longer appear to be open for business.
77. Artesia, New Mexico. I’m backtracking a town or two, but I’m allowed to do that, whether it’s in real life or simply in the pages of the Zephyr. I love handmade signs and like to just look at this photo and think about the maker’s initial plan, then the execution. How he or she cut out the plywood arrows, painted the words, and then fixed the three boards to the two upright pieces of galvanized steel pipe. I like how the “Sales” placard is NOT an arrow, although I’m not sure why it’s not. I might have made it an arrow had I been making the sign for Clyde. This is one issue over which Clyde and I would have had a friendly argument.
88. This is from California’s Central Valley, along Highway 99. I’m skipping a lot here, but I’ll summarize it here in a few lines. I soaked in Las Vegas, New Mexico, then I started to chug west in the SS Econoline. Somewhere in California, in the parking lot of a motel in Needles, to be exact, I lost the crown on a tooth and had to find a dentist, the next day, in Joshua Tree, to glue it back in. This lit a fire under my butt, for no good reason, to hit the coast as quickly as possible, where I meandered in the Pacific mist for a few days, had my oil changed, and postponed my Nevada soaking trip with my good friend, Paul S. I then headed south on 99, where I saw this sign. There are many motels and restaurants in this country with names and decor based on space. They were usually built in the late 50’s and the 60’s and, to modern eyes, may look idealistic and simplistic, but they make me happy. They remind me of a time when people had a little glint in their eyes and believe in something bigger than themselves, and not just the latest conspiracy theory.
99. I headed back through Pecos again, which is where I shot this old disco. I had been meaning to hit Pecos for years. From the viewpoint of someone who shoots old American ruins, you could see that Pecos was a potentially rich subject just by looking at a map – three highways intersected here, it’s more than a speck, meaning it’s a bigger dot on the map than most in West Texas and, significantly, it’s a little bit off of the Interstate. For whatever reason, that usually means a town has been better preserved than most. Or, from another angle, you could say it’s been able to decay more gracefully. Anyway, Pecos did not disappoint and I planned my return east around it. I was going to head another few hundred miles south after this so that I could get another meal at Nora’s Tacos, in Sabinal, but the tornado activity in the forecast made me ditch that plan and just head due east, trying to thread the needle between weather fronts. In retrospect, I should have gone south for the huevos rancheros.
1010. If I had gone to Nora’s, in Sabinal, I would never had passed through Abilene, Texas, a town I am fond of for no good reason at all. If I had not gone to Abilene, I would have never seen this grizzled old survivor, in the slightly seedier part of town. If I had not doubled back a few times to shoot this sign, I would have never gotten a coffee at some local caffeine oasis, and who knows where that could have led me? Luckily, I got the coffee and made it home. I was out there in the wilds of America for only two and a half weeks, a pretty quick trip for me. I had gotten homesick, though, for a few good and not-so-good reasons, and I came home. It was good to get home to my bed but, after a day back here, all I could do was wonder why I had rushed home. I then began to think about how I have been neglecting the Great Plains and the Northern Route lately. This led me to start obsessing about my next trip. You see, one thing in this life leads to the next and, if you don’t plan too strictly, you might find yourself somewhere unexpected.
vlachos-portrait2-150x150Copyright © Paul Vlachos 2013
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