As I traveled around the country, covering all those miles I traveled before, there was one thing–well actually more than one but one is all I will cover for now—that became clear pretty quickly. You can’t do certain things over! Now, I don’t mean that there is anything wrong going to the same places again, that is how you start to get under the surface. It is just that if you think you can replicate a specific experience or photograph, it just isn’t going to happen. Forget the physical changes or whatever, I think it is just that there are certain energies, creative and otherwise, that come together in a unique way at one unique time. So, no, I am not going to get all metaphysical on you right now, but the saving grace of trying to do such foolish things is that they can at least open up doors to new experiences.
A week into my trip, I came across a town that I remembered because of a singular landmark, a painted ad for the old Victor phonograph, with the dog and all. When I had been here in 2006, it was hot, hazy, humid and mid-day, mid summer. I actually took a few photos but none were of much consequence and my assistant and I moved our attention back to the job.
This time, the light was much better and so I thought I would stop. I just like old painted signs/ads like this and have to fight not to stop when I see them. Of course, there was a car parked right under it. But, hey, I just wanted to get a shot of it, one that was better than my earlier attempts.
It was Sunday and the town was pretty empty. Well, actually, there really isn’t much of a town here in any case. Just a few buildings that don’t speak to much commercial activity. But, of course, there was a bar. That was one of those other things that became clear early on, that if there was nothing else in these little towns, there was at least a bar or three!
As I was shooting the sign, I heard a little voice coming from the bar behind me: “want me to move that?” referring to the car under the sign.. I turned around to see Pam standing there. “That would be awesome!” I responded with a big smile. “I think the keys are probably in it…it’s not mine…but I know whose it is.” She got in, moved the car and I thanked her and introduced myself as she moved back towards the bar. Of course, she was going to be photographed. Everyone I met was going to be photographed, my rule. Like many, she balked while she got ready for me to photograph her and, in the process, invited me in for a beer. I hesitated because I was running so late, but a beer sounded good and I really wanted to go inside anyway. As I started to lock my car, I stopped and looked sheepishly at Pam, “I don’t need to lock my car around here, do I?”. She looked at me, “Nope, not around here”.
As I walked in, the screen door slammed behind me with a sound that just seemed right. Pam announced my name loudly to all those who were inside. Apparently, I had been the topic of conversation before Pam came out. I think she had been teased that if she went outside, I would probably want to take her picture. Across the bar, Biff asked me my name again and just as I said it, he said “I met you before!”. He went on to tell me it had to do with me shooting the train, he thought maybe 15 years ago. I told him I was through here 3 years ago shooting trains and he insisted that we had met. I pulled up a stool at the old wooden bar next to Pam, who had just moved back to her seat beside Mitch. Biff continued to describe the possibilities of where we met.
My beer came and as we were talking, Mitch mentioned that it was too bad I hadn’t been there a couple of hours earlier. Apparently, he had his tractors out, 3 restored John Deere tractors from the 50’s. Then, he thought about it and said he still had the shop open and we could go over and pull them out if I wanted. You know, the reality was that if I had been there two hours earlier, I would have missed them, as his shop was not there on Main Street. As we were talking, I remembered that I hadn’t even taken my photograph of the sign. I excused myself for a minute and ran outside and got off a few shots. I don’t think Pam would have cared, but it just somehow seemed rude to not have done it after she had been so nice and moved the car. When I came back in, we finished up our beers at a leisurely pace, continuing to talk and laugh about this and that. Then we all, Biff, Mitch, Pam and I, headed over to see the tractors. As I tried to settle my tab, I was told Pam had taken care of it.
Mitch’s shop had apparently been a “sewing factory” at one time, probably back when the town was in its prime. As I walked in, there were the tractors all backed in against the far wall. Two were old “standards” while one was a “row crop” (I sound like I know what I am talking about, don’t I!). Mitch pulled out the ’56 that he and his son had restored. There is really such a wonderful sound that comes from these old tractor engines, not like anything else and in some strange way, very soothing. Although he was willing to pull out the other two, I said I needed to get on the road. It was getting late, and I needed to find a place to stay for the night. Motels aren’t really that easy to find out here and it might be several towns before one appeared.
As I was leaving, Mitch showed a massive amount of courage and offered a Texan homemade Illinois salsa! I packed it away in the car for when I got home. Surprisingly, it was really pretty good, but my wife just couldn’t bring herself to eat “Illinois Salsa?”—well, she finally decided to when there was just one dip left!