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. El Paso, Texas – 2016
There was a lot of signage painted on the side of this building. I wanted to shoot it all, but I could not and did not. I shot what I could and moved on. There was no place to park for more than a minute, so I got what I could get. As is often the case, I did not notice details until months later, sitting here in New York City, staring at the photos. In this case, I just noticed that it had cost four dollars to fix a flat, but that somebody had painted over it. They painted over it in a different color, I might add, and they did not paint a new price. It’s easier that way on a lot of levels. First, if you were to paint the whole building – or wall – you would have to paint all the signs again. Second, if you were to paint a new price, you would have to charge that price again and again. Why bother? I think about these things. At the time, though, I was probably thinking about something else. Most likely, I was thinking about the transmission place in Las Cruces that was repairing my van’s transmission. Or I may have been thinking about Mexican food, which was on my mind often during that five-day enforced stay in Las Cruces.
2. Lordsburg, New Mexico – 2016
Another sign that’s been modified. If I were to have a theme for this series – and I am resisting saying I have one, at least officially – it might be titled “Real Life Wite Out.” This may have been a real “7-11” or it may have been an unofficial one. I don’t know. I prefer “Quik Shop,” anyway, so it doesn’t matter much, and I doubt it would matter to anybody in need of cigarettes, toilet paper, beer, soda, pretzels, band-aids or any of the million and one other items that mini marts carry. Or “mini markets,” if you prefer. I don’t think the country could survive without mini marts. They have been replaced in much of Manhattan, New York City, by national chain discount pharmacies, but that’s only because of economics and geography. Many communities cannot sustain a Duane Reade or a Rite-Aid. Many people need something close by, and they might need to buy gasoline, as well. The spirit of small business ownership lives on these places and the mini mart is there to meet the needs of the community. That still doesn’t explain why the “7-11” was painted over. And again, as with the tire place, why didn’t they put something else on the sign where they had covered up something? And why doesn’t Pepsi Cola want to spruce up their logo on this sign? There’s a lot here that we don’t know and may never know. I’ll try to remember to ask these questions if I ever stop here on my next pass through Lordsburg. Don’t hold your breath, though. Life is full of mysteries.
3. El Paso, Texas – 2016
A bit of a mixed message here, isn’t there? I am a big fan of “Drive Up” arrows painted on walls, even if they no longer lead to a working drive-up window. I like examining the setup – the driveway, the lines painted on the ground, the actual window, itself. Are there any handy garbage cans nearby, ones that you can use without leaving your vehicle? Some businesses, including a drive-up window at a dry cleaner in Fort Stockton, Texas, are just a window that you pull up next to and little else. Others are elaborate affairs, with vehicle height alarms, intercoms, and multiple windows. Anyway, this one is telling you to drive up, but then you realize it’s saying “Stay Away.” I know, I know. The place is closed and I am having a laugh at their expense. I guess it’s my way of diffusing the small bit of sadness I feel whenever I encounter an abandoned drive-in window. They could have painted over the whole sign. Then again, maybe the owner is planning to sell the building to somebody who would start their own drive-up business. You could think of it as advertising, this lonely sign.
4. Southern Louisiana – 2016
This stand is on US 90, south and west of New Orleans. It may not be the prettiest photo, but I like all of the stuff. I like all the different fruits and vegetables on offer, even if they haven’t all been put on display. I like the paper signs that are duct taped onto the more permanent signs. I like the concept of “Creole Tomatoes” and will have to poke around and see what the hell that means. Because, you know, it MUST mean something to people down there. I look at this photo and imagine what kind of a spread you could put together with just the ingredients you bought here. It might be light on the protein, but it would still be pretty tasty. Luckily, they sell potatoes. You can base any meal around a bunch of potatoes, if you think about it. In the background, at the top of the photo, you see a standard gas station sign, the kind where somebody has to manually change those numbers whenever the price of gas changes. Just like movie theater signs, somebody has to climb up there and move those characters around. That’s part of the job description for a bunch of people in this country. So, the next time you see a sign as you’re speeding by, think about the people who keep that sign up-to-date.
5. El Paso, Texas – 2016
Has this business shut down? The one thing you definitely do not want – for many reasons – is for your personal number to be plastered on that building for anybody to see. That’s just my guess, but I’ll bet that’s why someone hurriedly painted over the number here. All things change, and it’s the rare establishment or sign that remains constant for more than one generation. So, why is it that change can often make me sad? Why do I dwell on the past, on what happened, rather than on the possibilities for the future? Could it be that, in my own neighborhood, I have seen all change point in the direction of gentrification and the death of the individual, the end of the small business? Could it be that I’m a hopeless romantic? Could it be that I like to take something and invent a narrative around the evidence, ignoring all reality? Isn’t it more fun that way? Could it be that I enjoy a bit of forensic photographic whimsy? Could it be all of the above? I’ll think about it a while and get back to you.