We took the Volvo XC40 up to Big Bear for the weekend. Once we got up around 8200 feet, we turned up the Outlaw station, opened the sunroof, and did our best to ruin the paint job.
An artist’s representative resently told me she coudn’t see the point of a blog anymore. Choosing to believe people still have the attention span for visual storytelling, I hereby present you with Utah: Equal Amounts of Snow, Coffee, and Dogs.
“Where am I?”
“Mojave,” the cashier said, ringing up my Cheez-Its.
“How much further to Randsburg?”
“Who cares? Turn around and drive home,” he said (with his eyes).
Randsburg, like my last girlfriend, is something I found on the internet. While surfing Google maps one day, dreaming of a better life, I stumbled upon this unmoistened oasis half way between Los Angeles and Death Valley. What is there to do in Randsburg, you ask? Excellent question, I have no idea. In keeping with the outline set forth by the monster writing the novel that is my 2016, everything was closed except a bar called The Joint.
Parenthetically, but lacking parentheses, the Randsburg city planner clearly had a “gotta watch Wapner” policy when it came to antique stores because, other than bars, I’m not sure I saw anything else. So you can get loaded and pick up something old. And then visit the antique store.
Delusionally* incapable of letting my day be soured, I double checked my camera bag, and strolled into “The Joint”; a watering hole originally opened in the 1950’s by the most talked about kind of old lady: nice, and purchased by her children who own and operate it now.
Quick travel note: The trick to walking into any unfamiliar, definitely locals-only, bar is not taking too long with your initial order. Stride in. Know what you want and be confident. As I set my bag down, I saw the extra from Fury Road next to me was drinking a PBR.
“Gross,” I thought.
“What can I getcha?” the bartender barked.
“PBR! Can’t get enough of ‘em.”
Settling in and looking around, I did my best not to look like I was settling in and looking around, stowed my camera bag and slid a wrinkled 10 across the bar. The bartender returned with a perspiring bottle and my change. I subtracted a buck tip, and paper weighted the remainder with my sunglasses; the international sign for “I do bars.” I beamed with satisfaction. My ability to blend in as a local was uncanny. “Perhaps in another life I would’ve made a formidable spy,” I thought. “Sneaking assets across borders, avoiding the gazpacho...”
“You wanna sign the guest book?” the bartender cooed.
“What?!” I thought. “Me? A guest?” I’m in here all the time! Me and Sully and Mikey and Fitzy and....yeah I’ll sign the book.”
“Where you from?” she intruded.
“Los Angeles,” I replied.
Apropos of absolutely nothing, always say “Los Angeles.” If your goal is to make sure no one in the room would ever give you the Heimlich, go ahead and tell them you’re from “LA.”
Having established I wasn’t a townie, the bartender proceeded to give me a third grade book report on Randsburg. I learned that their chief export is the same as their average annual rainfall: no dice. I also learned that Randsburg was originally a mining town in the 1800’s. Gold, silver, and something used for making batteries. I don’t know if the mines are still operating, but in the same way you might not ask a waiter if he’s been on any great auditions lately, I took one look around at the burnt out houses that dotted the village and decided not to ask, “How’s business?”
In the corner, there sat a beautiful wooden upright piano; an underutilized instrument, bathed in silence, dreaming of once again being touched. One sympathizes. Now, it was a stand for a flat screen television. Samsung. “I’ll bet he did.” It was taco night, I assume. There were what one might identify as taco fixins on a long table in the center of the room. No one was hovering around it the way my ilk would’ve, so I suppose it could’ve been an art installation.
Two of the local women struck up a conversation with me, proving once again that what I have cannot be taught. They told stories of a neighboring tavern that had since been shut down after the authorities discovered it was a brothel. I smiled and nodded, and googled the term when I returned home. Incidentally, yikes. They went on to describe the proprietor, a woman whose name I can’t recall, so I’ll make up something dignified. Apparently, if you gave Old Beaver Jugs a single dollar, she’d climb a step ladder in an ill-fitting skirt, hoisting her business district skywards and presenting the patronage with a view of the second thing I had to google that night. Incidentally, yikes.
It was around this time that I decided to put Randsburg to my rudder. I had soaked up all the culture (read PBR) that I could. I packed up my bag, tipped the bartender, headed for the door, remembered I had to pee, turned back, peed, and headed for the door.
I took my time walking back down the road. All kidding aside, things look pretty bleak in Randsburg. Most of the houses are missing windows, and it clearly rains every time someone plays that piano. The abundance of antique stores makes you feel as though the town is selling off everything it has left. The locals seem to treat their conditions as most small towns treat a brothel. Everyone knows it’s there. Everyone knows what goes on inside, but what are you gonna do, bring it up?
On the way back to the car, I stopped to photograph the post office. As dusk placed it’s hand on the small of daylight’s back, I noticed a sun-bleached sign on the front of the building that read, “End of the trail.” No kidding.
*Delusionally is not a word.
An undisclosed number of years ago, I was working as a PA. On the totem pole of professional photography, a PA ranks slightly higher than an unpaid intern. Around sunrise, I found myself in the parking lot of Mel’s Diner on Sunset Boulevard amid a detachment of motor homes. Martin Schoeller was in Los Angeles to shoot Jordin Sparks for the cover of In Style magazine. Most of what we shot happened inside the diner, but Schoeller’s assistants had rolled out a 14 foot grey seamless in the parking lot for the cover. As Ms. Sparks grinned and twirled on the backdrop, I bobbed and weaved through the crew, seeing if anyone would like a bottle of water or coffee, or an up close look at the kind of servitude one can expect on the road to success. No takers.
I had rejoined my employer, a young, attractive producer, near the edge of set when a rustling in the tree tops above Sunset caught my attention. With pin point accuracy, a huge gust of wind blew through our makeshift studio and tore the seamless in half. It was all hands on deck as photo assistants, producers, and stylists ran to grab falling stands and lights. Jordin, trying to keep her skirt down in the breeze, giggled hysterically as the crew went about the business of not letting the youngest Idol winner in history become the youngest Idol winner in history who immediately died in the parking lot of Mel’s Diner, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For great food at reasonable prices, better make it Mel’s.
As a C stand fell into my hands, I looked over my shoulder and saw Schoeller. The set was falling apart, and the crew was in full disaster mode, but his eye never left the viewfinder. He didn’t see a disaster. He saw a beautiful woman laughing as a photo shoot came crashing down around her. So he shot it.