Black & White Street Photography, USA

Sitting on a Bench

Sitting on the bench in Walmart. Listening to people talking, coughing, shuffling by. Michael Jackson is belting out “Oh baby give me one more chance,” and I’m posted up on the end of lane 13. People in colorful outfits, pink and yellow shorts with matching socks and hat, a white jogging suit. Clusters of humans pushing carts. Basking in the glow of a thousand fluorescent lights, and getting the feeling Walmart is reading this over my shoulder as I type. There are an overwhelming amount of cameras. I just realized that you never see the smiley face anymore, it’s like a Walmart sun logo or something, a circular pattern; six yellow lines arranged like the sun. Keys jingle from someone’s belt hook as they pass, managers letting cashiers off their shift. The guy that just walked by said he lost a friend because he refuses to play Black Ops 3. The main cashier rings up bananas in the robot line.

The beeping sound of profit, each beep seems to have a slightly different tone, a concert of dollars, a symphony of profit. The rolling wheels in carts, squeaking by in their own rhythm, the rustling of plastic bags being filled with goods. It feels like I’ve been sitting here forever. I’m sure the girls will come out of the bathroom soon. How long have I been here anyway? Ominous sounding wheels approach, getting louder and louder, and then they were gone, and I’m still not sure what it was. Defective cart maybe. I try to close my ears to the onslaught, but it’s hard to tune out. Phones ringing, conversations going on, the salon just closed, and some perfume just invaded my nostrils as a heavily scented woman walked by, it wasn’t horrible, but it did take me aback for a moment. “Always something there to remind me” floats down from the ceiling and the doors whoosh open as I run to catch up with the girls.

The night is odd. It’s beautiful, a crescent moon hangs above us in a dark purple sky, the fringe of light on the horizon is orange with shades of pink. Low flying helicopters are circling directly overhead. It feels like I’m that guy in Good Fellas suddenly noticing the helicopter following him everywhere. They shake the ground as they fly by, exhibiting strength. They’ve flown over at least five times in the past five minutes.

My water boils, tea waits. I need to relax. My daughter is fighting sleep even though she’s exhausted which is exhausting in and of itself.

We lay down to sleep. The helicopters continue their relentless circle, directly above our heads. I can see them through the back window as I lay here. Blinking lights, a dark shadowy helicopter shape. No where to hide.

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Travelogue

Living Simply, Saving Money

This is the routine. We pull in to one of three Walmart locations in the Denver area. We actually have it narrowed down to two, as something about the Hampden Street location feels weird. So we pull in to our spot, we turn the chairs around, and I move my bag of computer and camera gear to behind the front side passenger seat. We swivel the drivers seat in, and the passenger seat to face the rear cabin. We get out of the van and clean up our area if it needs it. I can’t stand living in someone elses filth, and I sure as hell don’t want anyone thinking the 50 or so cigarette butts outside my window are actually mine. So we sweep up that mess.

Today we had to throw away soggy old bags of food that were left behind, a pizza box with mushy, moldy pizza slices in it, two coke cans and a spray bottle of axe for men. I can just imagine the jerkoff spraying his nuts with it, as if that’s going to somehow help. The mess had been there for days, and I didn’t park in this spot once because of it, but the location is prime, one of the darkest spots, away from the overhead parking lights.

Out here on the outer edge of the Walmart parking lot, it’s kind of a no man’s land. The carts out here don’t get retrieved for weeks. The same plastic bag and old banana peel have been sitting in that spot three spots down every day we’ve slept in this lot. So we’ll clean it up, that’s the least we can do. As I type this a Toyota Tundra rolls by, with a bro on a cell phone, gunning the accelerator to hear that muscle car sounding engine, a Walmart superstar. After we get settled in, we might eat something if we’re hungry. We’ll close the curtains all the way around, the entire van engulfed in green polyester. It keeps the light out, and no one can see in if we don’t want them to. I turn on the propane and make some tea to get over the urban camping adventure jitters. We had to fight our way through a crowded mall today to get Maizy her glasses. There was a Lego extravaganza (The Lego Americana Roadshow) going on, and the kids were lined up by the hundreds getting free lego sets, and snapping selfies, and making videos, and instagramming all the amazing lego sculptures.

So we need that tea. Have you ever been in a lego store that is packed to the gills? It’s crazy. The smell off dirty diapers in the air, the feeling of complete strangers rubbing up against your body as you walk through the store, because there is no choice, it’s that crowded. It was a living nightmare, and I had to coax Penny out very carefully. I decided to do it quick, because today was not a day to lollygag in the Lego store, it was just completely too much. We still ended up staying about twenty or thirty minutes, because Penny loves legos, and she loves people and crowds, so I guess we play a little give and take so we don’t all make each other completely miserable.

It’s a dynamic we are still navigating. Every day is a challenge, teaching a 5-year-old how to live is hard work. It takes perseverance, patience and persistence. You have to repeat yourself infinitely, until one day it just clicks. And then you breathe a sigh of relief, and you celebrate this little victory and you steel yourself for the next lesson.

We do this every night, setting up beds, making bathroom runs, eating lunches made from grocery store delis, or heating up soup on the stove. Some nights we’ve been pretty cold, but nothing that we haven’t been able to endure. When it starts feeling extreme, we light up the buddy heater and it warms us all right up. We drink some hot cocoa or some tea, eat some hot food, bundle up, and settle down to sleep, side by side by side, just enough room.

Once we leave the city, and the need to be discreet is no longer necessary, we will pop up the roof, and we will all feel like we have just been granted entry to a giant palace. The ability to stand up without bending over will be much appreciated.

It hasn’t been all bad at Walmart, but it hasn’t been all butterflies and rainbows the whole time either. Last night a guy was racing his muscle car around the opposite corner of the lot, doing donuts and other daredevil type stuff. Drag racing the parking lanes. I imagine whoever was driving must have just gotten out of the midnight showing of Furious 7 and was having a Vin Diesel moment. Either way, the driver of that car made me nervous. I had visions of dying a fiery death as some guy did a donut right into my van.

The night before that, an old couple ran their generator of their RV all night long. For them I imagine they need a CPAP machine overnight or something, because otherwise why would you put up with that racket in your own place if your life didn’t depend on it? It must be loud to them too. So we say WTF and we move on. #Vanlife.

Right now Penny is playing with some legos she got for her birthday, and it’s quiet and calm. The lot is busy, but you get used to the cars going by so often, they are barely perceptible in the background, unless your tuning into them.

These are our days, people watching at Walmart by night, setting up our little stealth camp, surviving and learning how to get by. We make our bed every night, and put it away every morning, we sweep out the van every day, we are constantly doing laundry, but the extra space of having less clothes is worth it.

We frequent the library often, and I’m here right this moment, charging my laptop so we can have the three hours of battery life tonight. We have 18 days left before we finally hit the road. Then we will become traveling houseless people, instead of just Walmart dwellers. I can’t wait.

 

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Life, Travelogue

Twenty Days In. 

I’m sitting in the van, it’s dark inside. The afternoon light is just barely illuminating the van through green curtains. It’s peaceful. The tables are out, the stove is open, there is a pot on the burner. I made tea earlier. Penny’s Legos are strewn across a table, along with a sparkle pony.  I think it’s pink. And glittery. 

There’s a robot dog and several miniature dolls and another fifties looking robot windup toy. I guess she’s into robots. That pink one is an oldie in terms of the lifespan of Penny’s toys. It survived the great purge so it must be special. It’s amazing. You can be with a kid every day and you still miss stuff. 

And here we live, in our little van like hobbits in a tree. Bustling out every now and again to do our family goings ons, swimming practices and birthday parties, running errands. 

We find the darkest corner, the most discreet and available place we can find, and we settle in and we blend. We frequent the establishment. We respect the rules. We keep to ourselves mostly, which is what everybody does, by default, and that’s sad. 

We’ll see if it holds true the rest of the way, but so far a smile and a wave are the most we get. People are cautiously friendly. I’d say most of us are probably loners by nature. Stating the obvious  I guess. 

For now we hunker down, draw the shades, collect our thoughts. Maizy shuffles cards and Penny hums a made up tune and plays with her toys. And we rest. 

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The Family Circle, Travelogue

My Nomadic Family

Even though we are stuck in Denver till May 8th, we are transitioning to a nomadic lifestyle. We say goodbye to my hometown, and head to Maizy’s place of childhood, St. Joseph, Missouri. Then we’ll head out into the great wide open in search of everything. My daughter celebrated her fifth birthday today, and this is her the day before helping us pick out school supplies for the road. Let the Road Kindergarten commence.

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America, Life, Photography

Remembering East Colfax

I met a girl who lived in the Blue Spruce Hotel when I was still in elementary school. She was Asian and I had a crush on her. I grew up in Aurora and I lived two blocks from East Colfax. I didn’t find out that the Mon Chalet was a nude orgy hotel until I met the girl I was dating in the early 2000’s. I used to walk these streets as a young boy, oblivious to the seediness that was going on around me. I walked to the Gas-Rite with my sisters, and we bought candy cigarettes and slushies and just hung out doing nothing but eating candy and goofing off.

I used to walk this street in my teens in the wee hours of the morning after I finished my closing shift at Taco Bell. It’s a miracle I never got jumped, with my Sony Walkman with the digital readout, playing Digital Underground or the Beastie Boys or Iron Maiden, I never would have seen them coming. Maybe that’s why they didn’t bother. I just blended in I guess. I would walk that mile or so to my house at like 2:30 in the morning, let myself in the house, still smelling like I took a bath in tacos and burritos and I would fall asleep to nightmares of that night’s shift. My mom would tell me that I was talking Taco Bell lingo in my sleep. I made $2.85 an hour.

I worked at a car dealership as a customer relations guy for a few years, back when I wasn’t completely socially inept. Something happened between the late 90’s and now that soured me on social interaction and I’m still recovering. Being on the road is going to change that. I’ve already been befriended by a woman named Han. She made my daughter sandwiches and seems to enjoy having conversations with me. So we’re making strides. Little by little. So it’s the late 90’s and East Colfax is the place I go every day for work. I learned that “coolo” means asshole in Spanish here, I learned how a prostitute and a John make a transaction here. I learned that car dealerships are a sleazy place to work.

East Colfax is home to me. My Grandmother, Joan, died on this street, on a hospital floor, at Fitzsimmons Hospital, from a stroke. They didn’t even give her a room to die in peace. She had a curtain for privacy in a row of three or four beds. I held my grandmother’s hand on her deathbed, listening to strangers conversations on either side of us. I visited her every night until she passed, and lamented her lack of privacy. It really bothered me. The family has never been the same since she left.

I watched Unwritten Law play the Bluebird, and walked up and down these streets time and again, something about this street just pulls me in. So much of my life has been spent exploring its alleys and bars and hotels and places of employment. Many people would tell you to avoid these streets, and probably with good reason, but Colfax is a part of me and if I died there it would be appropriate. To my mind, Colfax is Denver. And even though I’m leaving, this city will ALWAYS hold a special place in my heart, and if you asked me where I’m from I’ll always say Denver, and I’ll say it with pride. There is no other place like it.

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Everyday America, Life, USA

Gazing 


A woman in a blue blazer with her jet-black hair fashioned in a bob, walks through the parking lot to join her friends at the tavern for happy hour. The power steering from a Toyota RAV4 whines. The crowd gurgles off in the distance from the unseen outdoor patio. A man walks out of his car, head buried in phone, clueless to his surroundings. 

A couple of guys walk by, the man on the left is big, muscular with thick thighs and bulging biceps. His company is the opposite. Skinny legs and arms that pale in comparison. A bald man and his brunette companion put take out dinners on the roof of their sedan, a Super High Output Ford Taurus, white. The smell of steak on the grill permeates the air, the sound of traffic forever in the background, never resting. 

Motorcycles scream, big trucks let out their guttural sounds from tricked out mufflers, and I write. Only it isn’t writing as much as it is tapping on a piece of glass. A black bird flies through the frame of the vanagon windshield just as a surly face behind the wheel of a gold Toyota truck comes barreling around the corner. He’s lucky no kids are wandering around as he would smash whatever unlucky soul stepped out in front of him, the kind of guy who runs over squirrels and bunnies on purpose, your basic asshole. 

A man with fancy sunglasses perched on his head rifles through the dumpster looking for boxes. He is wearing a grey golf shirt. The asphalt lot is surrounded by chain restaurants and other strip mall fare. Lil’ Ricci’s Pizza, Cuba Cuba Sandwiches, Floyd’s Barber Shop, Espresso Americano, Bam Bu, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Scotttrade, Half Hour Power and Lyons Den Liquors.

This is the Denver Tech Center, the belly of the corporate beast and these people are the employees who work for it. 

A couple sit in a car behind me laughing into their phones. A girl in baby blue shorts strides through the lot, her pony tail bouncing behind her, scantily clad in a tank top.

I wonder if she’s freezing because it’s cool and windy and I’m sitting here in a hoodie. Watching the world go by, waiting impatiently to get on the road. Waiting for the eighth of May, the day when this family leaves the Mile High City. 

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The Family Circle, Travelogue

Thoughts from the Parking Lot

April 14, 2015

I remember as a kid how much I loved being in a car when it rained. That feeling of being protected, but just barely. Being so close to the elements is equal parts scary and exhilarating. Tonight the wind is powerful, I can feel it pushing the van around, nudging us ever so slightly, almost like being rocked to sleep. Just powerful enough to make you wary of it, any stronger and the romanticism of the whole thing goes away and turns to terror. I imagine myself saying “Oh shit, we just did a 360 we’re about to die!” Or maybe we’d live through it. Who knows? 

As I write this, Maizy is talking to me about writing. Giving me words of encouragement. Tonight the sky was ominous, silvery orange-red, filled with low-hanging clouds. It looked like it was raining in the sky, the raindrops falling just short of the ground. I spent the rush hour watching men and women running their after work errands. Middle-aged white people in pant suits hitting the liquor stores, yoga girls and dog walkers, the drinkers on the patio of a place simply called The Tavern. I distinctly heard someone say the word “orgasm” from the upper deck patio of that bar across the parking lot. Drunk people are loud. I know I am when I drink.

The girls got a haircut today. I heard and saw all that as I was waiting for them in the van. We ate some dinner in a grocery store parking lot, took showers and then hit up Walmart to replenish our water supply. Now I’m sitting in the van, using the limited amount of battery time that I have. The ThinkPad says I have more than 4 hours and 38 minutes of available battery life, which we both know is bullshit.

We have an old iPhone 4 filled with Grateful Dead songs exclusively, it’s playing “Death Don’t Have no Mercy” as I type this. The girls are giggling in the background waiting for me to finish. The last thought I’ll leave you with is this: Tonight we noticed that the same guy that pulled up to us so late in the night and had me all paranoid, is parked in exactly the same spot this evening. We wondered, is there a territorial battle going on here that we aren’t privy too? I hadn’t thought that we would be encroaching on anyone’s territory. So we thought, maybe him pulling up so close to us was his way of sort of claiming his territory, like he was there first so it should be his. Just one of many lessons left to learn. Goodnight world.

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