scrapyard: november 2009

In November 2009, my brilliant compadre Ariel Federow and I drove out to her family’s old iron scrapyard in Springfield, MO to see what we could see there.  We made some art, learned to drive stick, and eventually wound up at Thanksgiving with my family.  It was a pretty fantastic trip.

We have a web site for the project here.  Below is a little piece of it.  More pictures from the road are here and from the scrapyard are here.  A cool interactive map of the route we took to get there is here.


curtains, springfield, mo

curtains, springfield, mo

(started 11.26.09, finished later)

Gray morning in Springfield. Maybe the skies are finally turning on us. We’ve been nothing but lucky so far – unseasonable sun, sweatshirt weather, cool enough that we can keep the car windows up and not have to deal with their off-track broken-ness.

The sun is behind a cloud this morning, but when it slips out momentarily the room fills with an uncommonly glow, red and golden through the curtains. We’re sleeping in Ariel’s dad’s childhood bedroom, on twin beds pushed into opposite corners, the space between stuffed with dirty boots and Wal-mart purchases and debris, more household clutter than you could possibly imagine. I’m playing a Grateful Dead bootleg from this week in 1971 as we disappear into our respective digital universes. Neither of us can sleep but it’s still too early to emerge. The scrapyard requires the full light of day.

pirate flag, scrapyard

pirate flag, scrapyard

At the old iron scrapyard I duct tape junk together on a wobbly cart Ariel made out of cast-off baby carriage wheels and clothes-hanger axles. Sift through the ground for bits of colored glass and sort them out by shade. Collect rubber gaskets for later. Gather faded plastic containers and car parts and arrange them by color on the ground. Set up a base camp with a black pirate flag flapping out of a bright blue barrel on a broomstick. Balance two dusty doors low to the ground on buckets to make a table with pieces of logs and discarded half-chairs providing executive seating. Imagine different make-believe scenarios, any of which could be played out on the grounds: capture the flag, pirates and Indians, scrapyard porn, hipster horror flicks. Moving and sorting the junk makes me feel like I’m taming this beast of a landscape, adding domestic touches like a discarded bud vase full of weeds as a centerpiece to the work table.

I get toxic dirt under my fingernails and it makes me feel clean.

On the road I take pictures, looking for lonely America. Super-grainy black and white film for graphic scenes and dark moods; color film for times when the light hits a tree branch in a way that makes the leaves glow yellow. Two cameras. How luxurious. Ariel is on Team Digital, taking millions of snapshots and tiny surveillance videos of unsuspecting couples eating. We notice different things and are equally excitable, which makes us a good team.

america

america

What does it mean to photograph America? To dip a toe into Mississippi or smoke a cig gazing upwards at the galaxies above Arkansas? What does it mean to drive through Virginia on a foggy night, with only ten feet of visibility in front of you? Heading forward into the mist of nothingness, you get lost in the images that already exist in your head. Small town cemeteries filled with generations of dead Indiana families, whose living heirs pay for fresh flowers to be placed on the graves each week. Steady lines of undulating hills through Pennsylvania, speeding quickly through unemployment statistics singing “Allentown” and feeling, in a truly pop music way, the distinct parallels.

Moving so fast made me forget about the war in Afghanistan for a minute. Distant troubles far afield. Nothing can touch you when you’re safe in your car, the heat fogging up the windshield, Led Zeppelin at full blast on the ipod, mile markers a temporary blur of road-sign green and cool reflected white.

pigeon forge, tn

pigeon forge, tn

An eight day road trip is a good time to master the art of manual transmission, as stressful as it can sometimes be to never be able to let go of the reins. We are transfixed in our learning curves; whoever is less tired gets the wheel. Stuck in stop-n-go traffic in Pigeon Forge, TN, we finally hit our collective wall and give up on our dream of souveniers from the Dollywood gift shoppe. We snap at each other, lightly, frustrated by hunger and disappointment and an endless stretch of miles ahead of us. Only in America can a roadside chain restaurant with free wireless internet and unlimited sweet tea provide salvation for two irritable drivers. We leave the Perkins two hours later, restored, sated, and with playlists to sing along with on the impending all-night drive.

Eight hours of mountainous fog later we reached my cousins’ house in Maryland, pulling in alongside the morning paper delivery guy. Michael opens the front door to let the dog out for her first pee of the day, and we grab our necessities and collapse onto the waiting air mattresses.

On Thanksgiving we are grateful for America.

america

america

something happened on the way to that place

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