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Category: Winkelman

At Another Crossroads

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The myth of Robert Johnson meeting the Devil and selling his soul in exchange for his remarkable musical talent is legendary. There are commemorative sign posts put up for tourists to see at several intersections purported to be where Johnson made this deal (the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi being the most believed to be credible). The truth of the matter is that we all come to crossroads wherever we turn. Maybe none seem as dramatic to us as Johnson’s, but we all must navigate our own way through life and accept the choices that we make and the fact that they are what take us to wherever we end up.

With the sun setting somewhere over the lost mining town of Christmas, AZ, the sky here looked as if it was suddenly set on fire. We’re at the intersection of Arizona Route 77 and Roundup Dr. – a dirt road. Dripping Springs Wash lies behind the dilapidated double-wide just off the highway. Multiple vehicles are parked out front – some with the hoods up, presumably being repaired. Behind the dark tangled trees, other double-wides, trailers and shacks seem to also be inhabited.

While stepping out to shoot these photos, I briefly thought about of the legend of Robert Johnson and his deal with the Devil. While everyone seems to hear the myth and think that Johnson’s music somehow made the deal worthwhile, I wonder. Would I want to be the best artist, photographer, writer or musician for the price of my soul? Hell no! Ability is no substitute for existence or feelings – it’s not about recognition. It’s not about mastering something. It’s not about what you can do. No activity or skill makes up for the emptiness or loneliness in life.

Like most roads in Arizona, Highway 77 is lined with roadside memorials to those whose have been killed along the way. Two lane highways are littered with the dead. People speed home or to the bar. Race off to where there think they need to be. Head on collisions happen so fast that you don’t see them coming – until it’s too late and lives are changed forever. Or lost.

Robert Johnson spent his life on the road. Probably the founding member of the “27 Club.” Many romanticize his death. The idea of burning the candle at both ends – live fast and dying young. The way to go. But in reality, death is never romantic. It’s just the end of life. The casualties are those left living – the ones left holding the bag of shit you leave behind.

While Johnson’s music lives on, his legend lives on. But the human life he lived was not a myth. We don’t know what that really was. What he thought at 2AM while lying in a strange bed and staring at the dark ceiling above him. We don’t know what he actually felt inside — just his story. But even there, the story itself is probably misleading or wrong. Instead of the happy-go-lucky Southern dandy who died in a flurry of romance and murder, he was more likely just the victim of bad moonshine and a case of untreated syphilis. He may have had many woman along the road, but you have to wonder if any of them was really the right woman. When Johnson’s first wife Virginia passed, he wasn’t there by her side, but was instead out drinking whiskey and playing his guitar in some distant roadhouse bar. Perhaps it’s divine justice that Johnson died alone himself.

We all make our own choices and ride with the luck of the road. On this night, at this particular crossroads, it seems from the number of vehicles parked outside the trailers and double-wides that everyone has made it home. Couples eat their dinners together. Turn on the TV and settle in for the night. Some of these dwelling are no doubt their own private little hells, but others, must provide a beautiful dirty refuge from the world outside. No one needs to know what anyone else shares behind their own closed doors, but the things that really matter in life often aren’t seen at all, but just experienced.

When we drove away from this particular crossroads, the stories that came to my mind were the romantic thoughts about couples that had found something between themselves that let them briefly escape the brutal life they had to endure each day in order to survive. How they could find the ability to transcend all the bullshit of the outside world together – even if only for this one Friday night. No roadside memorial makes up for the things you miss in life. Need to remember to stop and experience the things around us right now instead of trying to see what is farther down the road.

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Going Back For More

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It seems we always have to go back for the things we’ve forgotten. A pack of cigarettes, the mixer so we can drink the booze or the bits of candy that makes this life sweeter. Memories sit on dusty shelves in places we sometimes forget exist. The documents of life lie in piles on the floor, pouring out of boxes that were haphazardly packed away long ago. Sometime we forget that it’s us that gets to pick what we buy. What we pull off the self. So much in life we just do without recognizing the choices we have, even if they are limited.

This is the One Stop Market and Liquor Store located between Winkleman and Hayden. I photographed this abandoned convenience store several years ago and wrote an essay on the subject back then (Road to Ruin). We were passing by the site again recently and decided it’d be nice to just check out what had become of it. Just an informal visit – one lens, no tripod.

One of the side doors was unlocked and open. Things had changed. Things had been taken. The roof had fallen down. It was still the same place though. We thought of where we were at when we came the first time. All the things that had changed and had stayed the same. It’s amazing how we attach memories to things that are not ours. Things we pass through. Places we have been.

The One Stop Market is one of these. Sifting through the stuff left behind, looking for the things that have been lost and forgotten. Sometimes you find things you don’t want to find. It’s better to just keep moving. There are other things to see. Candy is better than booze and coffee better than cigarettes. It’s all there somewhere.

Little Storms and Their Aftermath

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In Arizona, when the time is right, little storms come right out of nowhere. It can be sunny and bright where you are standing, and then, Boom! You’re suddenly hit hard and can no longer see a single thing outside the storm around you.

These storms are as violent as they are sudden. Lightning and flash flooding occurs in minutes. Small wildfires start wherever there is enough fuel to burn. The desert is a tinderbox.

Roads are washed away and power lost. The poor soil often becomes unstable. All you can do is ride out these storms.

While driving toward Globe, just south of Mammoth, we stopped to take in the little storms forming over the landscapes around us. It was still peaceful and calm where we were standing.

 
When they’re done, the waters rush away and within moments, there is nothing left of the little storms other than the cooled air and the smell of fresh green growth. Small flowers burst from nowhere. The scars are transformed into beautiful new growth. After they pass, it’s hard to remember how bad the storms ever were.

Just past Winkelman, the remains of a wild fire were just visible from AZ Highway 77. We stopped and walked through the small valley that had been cut through the rugged mountains by the Gila River. The contrast between the burned forest and the new growth gave a feeling of hope to the hot damp air.

Storms come and go, but the beauty of nature always adapts and things continue on.

Road to Ruin

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There was One Stop between Winkleman and Hayden. It’s been gone for years and is slowly falling into ruin. It is still filled with the remains of what it once was and what it had been to those who stopped here. In some ways, it could have been anywhere. The people who shopped here were like people everywhere. We all have the same basic needs.

It’s forty degrees outside. The woman walks in with no shoes. She is missing teeth.

“You back already,” asks the girl behind the counter.

“It’s still Friday,” laughs the woman.

“Remember, you made me promise not to sell you anything till next Friday.”

“It’s not midnight yet! I meant starting tomorrow.”

Without speaking, the clerk grabs a pint of cheap bourbon, two travel sized bottles of Courvoisier and a pack of generic smokes. She puts them on the counter in front of the woman. The clerk knows exactly what she wants.

“Listen honey, I’m not going to be your babysitter. You came in and made me promise not to sell you any more booze until next Friday. Now you’re here buying more. You have to make up your mind.”

The woman seemed defeated.

“That starts at midnight.”

The woman is drunk and continues on with the argument that the whole world will be new tomorrow —  the lies we tell ourselves to get on with our lives the way they are. In reality, it was already 10:45 so she would probably still be up drinking her bourbon when the new day started.

* * *

The rise of the modern convenience store in America corresponds roughly with the post-depression post-WWII mobilization of the country. This, by extension, was the birth of the Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac completed his famous novel On The Road in 1951 and in 1952 the 7-Eleven chain opened its 100th store. Fast food chains were just starting to spread across the country at this time as well — McDonald’s started selling franchises in 1953. Ten years later, Bob Dylan would proclaim, “the times they are a changing.” Only, for Kerouac, he didn’t see it coming. Instead, he looked back at the old American landscape and tried to find something new in it. Perhaps all of us want to look back and find something we’ve missed in our youth. Kerouac lived on apple pie and ice cream as he crossed America.

Ginsberg once told Neal Cassady that he could do anything he wanted to, including living an open and honest existence and being the greatest poet since Rimbaud. Cassady spent his time working menial jobs, fucking women and going to the midget car races — watching little cars go around in circles never getting anywhere new. Cassady was always on a schedule. Drank, fucked, worked and watched the races all by the clock. The schedule was important to keep, maybe more important than what he did. We have to keep moving. We punctuate our time with the little things we do and the products we consume. One Stop offered all the basics.

As a young man living in Detroit — between colleges and jobs — I spent a period of my life working on a novel. Night became day and day night as I fed myself amphetamines and booze. I hammered out fucked up stream of consciousness prose on my dad’s old Smith Corona typewriter. When I could, I tried to sleep during the day.

On cool nights I’d throw on my dad’s old gray cable knit sweater and ride the Honda to one of the all night 7-Elevens to get cigarettes. When no one was around, I’d stay and talk with the cute girl working the graveyard shift. We talked about authors, writing and classic literature. She was taking courses at the local community college.

I should have asked her out — that’s what she wanted. I never figured out how to do it without it coming out like I was looking for a dumb date. What I really wanted to do was just ride around on the Honda with her on the back — her arms around me as we sped through the dark streets of Detroit. Then we could go back to her place and talk about music and literature. I should have just asked her if she wanted to take a ride. It never happened.

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During my move from LA to Tucson, I came across the yellowing unfinished manuscript. It was better than I thought it would be. The characters seemed real. The story was developing into something new and I cared what was going to happen to the characters. After so many years, the novel was as new to me as to anyone else who would have stumbled across it. Then it just ends — like a lot of things.

All the notes for the novel are gone and I can’t remember where the story was supposed to go. I don’t remember where the characters were going to end up — I probably never knew. I also don’t remember much about the girl at the 7-Eleven other than that she made me happy when I talked with her.

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Smoke Stacks and Slag Heap – Winkelman AZ

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My heart drifting off into a landscape of beautiful dreams . . . thinking of love.