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…
These photos are all from a trip I took last month.
1. Near Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
This was not a real trading post – a few authentic ones still exist, actually, but this is not one of them. This was a tourist trap chotchka joint, made up as a very bad imitation of a trading post. It was probably more than authentic enough for most tourists in the late 40’s or early 50’s, which is my guess as to when it must have been built. It’s been around so long that it has become an abandoned ruin in its own right. It sits just a mile above Carlsbad Caverns. Unlike other roadside attractions, such as South of the Border or The Thing, or the Cabezon Dinosaurs, this place just could not chug along successfully into the 21st Century. People now don’t have the required suspension of disbelief that they used to have.
2. North of Las Cruces, New Mexico
This is on old US 70, also known as the “Bataan Memorial Highway.” Every time I notice this name on a map, I cannot help but wonder how many people living or driving on this road even know what Bataan represents or why the highway was renamed in its honor. The Bataan Death March would be about 60 years old to a teenager now, kind of like the Russo-Japanese War of 1903 was to me as a teenager – ancient history. I won’t get started on what happened or what it meant. I’m glad it has been memorialized, but it makes me wonder what memorials truly mean and for whom they are truly directed – those who cut the ribbon and sign the proclamation – or future generations, those who drive to get their fast food or hit the flea market? Big Daddy’s, by the way, seems to be strictly a weekend concern. It was never open when I passed. I happened to be in Las Cruces for a while week. My transmission had died and I was waiting for the rebuilders to finish their work. I’ll save that story for another day.
3. Lordsburg, New Mexico
I always slow down and roll through Lordsburg when I pass by on my way West or East. Something always draws me in, whether it’s the need for gasoline or just another gander at the old strip. I must have passed the Nugget a dozen times, but either did not notice it or did not stop. I had stopped to shoot something else this time and, when i turned around to get back in the van, I noticed the Nugget. The sun was in the right place and I took a photo, reinforcing again one of my operating principles – that you need to travel the same routes many times if you really want to find things. The standing rule is, if it looks interesting, shoot it now. You may not get another chance. The wrecking ball can show up at any time. Of course, this applies to all things in life – motel signs, old buildings, transmissions and intimate relationships.
4. El Paso, Texas
While I was in Las Cruces, waiting on the transmission wizards to finish their work, I hit El Paso almost every day. I had always want to spend some time there and this was the perfect opportunity. I shot a lot of interesting stuff and ate a ton of great Mexican food. I could never have planned it that way, but it’s important to be flexible in this life, as I like to tell everybody else. It’s never easy listening to your own advice, of course, but I had no choice in this case. This was not an easy shot to get. That’s all I’m going to say about it.
5. South of Alamogordo, New Mexico
Rural mailboxes. A small community. I have always been drawn to big groups of mailboxes. When I see one, I’ll stop and see who they all belong to. It’s usually in a fairly remote area. It’s usually set up this way to make it easy for the mail carrier. Some rural mail carriers still have little jeeps with right-hand drive, so that they can drive along the road and stuff the mail in the box more easily. I wondered here if there were some method to the color scheme. I wanted to believe that it was some abstract variation on an American flag, but I doubt it. There might very well be a meaning to it all or, like all great art, the meaning could be different for every person who views it.
6. Phoenix, Arizona
The day after I left Las Cruces with a rebuilt transmission, I had a minor mechanical problem in Phoenix, Arizona. Nothing serious, although it involved the van not starting. Either way, I was heading into remote country and wanted to get it checked out, so stayed an extra night in Phoenix. I drove around that night and noticed this place. It was not easy to get the shot I wanted to get. In fact, I did not get the shot I initially wanted. I had to drive two miles and then circle around on some side streets, then guess which one might lead back to this place, which had a sign saying “Mariscos” out front. What I had visualized would have involved finding a place to park and standing in the middle of a busy road at night. I have done such things, but I didn’t want to do that here, so I circled through the parking lot. Of course, that is where I briefly glimpsed what would have been the money shot – an ancient woman sitting in an open patio behind the restaurant, in a big chair under a bare light bulb. She looked like a psychic, although she was probably just the owner or the owner’s mom. Either way, the lighting was perfect and the subject was fantastic. Sometimes, though, we just don’t make the shot. This would have felt too invasive, too creepy. So I drove on and tried to get what I had originally seen. Instead, I got a different shot that I had not seen before: the latticework over the windows and the full moon that was low in the sky. It’s just another place I’ll probably have to go back and look for one day. it’s always worth trying for another angle.
Copyright © Paul Vlachos 2016
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