Sunday, July 19, 2015
I went exploring a bit yesterday. I've been meaning to. There is a little strip on Highway A1A that has as many old motels and restaurants as I've seen anywhere in the state. It is a bit of a goldmine. So after a day at the beach which consisted of a mimosa breakfast at a resort, a bike ride for miles on a semi-crowded beach, a dip in the ocean that is surprisingly cold, a look at the dolphins swimming just offshore, then a long walk, we came back to the house to shower outside and put on some fresh clothes. Storm clouds had been threatening all day and now they had seemingly surrounded us mid-afternoon. Iliana (that, I think, shall be her name) liked the storms and liked the clouds now.
"The light is right," I said. "Maybe I should go make some photographs of that little strip of highway."
"O.K." she said. "Do you want to go alone?"
"No. I need a driver."
And so I grabbed the Leica film camera and the Sony R digital and we took off driving toward the next beach town. As I settled into the passenger seat, I felt as if I would not really take any photographs and said that perhaps that was so.
"Let's just drive into town. I'll show you some things."
We were going somewhere she had never been.
As we drove through the little patch of highway, I commented, "You know, the more times you drive through a place, the less you see."
"Why is that?" she asked.
"Familiarity." The old hotels where transients and bikers now stayed were looking less exotic all the time. We looked at a sign for a park that was on a creek.
"What do you think that looks like?" she asked.
"Just like this," I said, pointing to the beautiful river estuary that was visible on our right.
"We should go see it sometime," she said.
"Sure," I said. "That would be swell."
I had given up on the idea of photography for the day content to walk about with Ili and to enjoy the day. But just then we were driving by the Shangri-La Motel which sat just next to an old Dairy Queen. It was too much to pass up.
"Turn around," I said. "I want to take a picture of that."
"I like that," she said. "I like a fellow who is not afraid to turn around."
She pulled into the large lot of the Dairy Queen and put the car in a shady spot.
"Are you O.K. here while I take these pictures?"
"Sure. I'm going to get a root beer float."
I grabbed the two cameras and walked through the parking lot looking at a large group of Japanese who were sitting at the outside tables. There were a bunch of them, and they were dancing and hopping around and having a crazy time. I wasn't ready to take photos of them, though, so I headed off to the Shangri-La.
I wasn't sure what I was doing, really. The place was a tropical mess. Seven or eight detached buildings were arranged around the office in the manner of motels from the forties and fifties, the office being where the manager or owner lived. It had a drive up window and a vacancy/no vacancy sign. The pool was next to the office.
Photographing signs and buildings can end up being just that. It is hard to capture any of the magic that drew you to the place originally, and I was feeling that as I walked around trying to frame up what I thought I was looking at. And after a few pictures, a door to one of the buildings opened and I heard a woman's rough voice saying hello. Here we go, I thought. She is going to tell me I can't take pictures here.
But that wasn't the case at all. A heavy-ish woman came out and said, "I saw you over at the Dairy Queen taking pictures. Come on up if you want."
"Thanks," I smiled. "This place is great."
"They just used it in the new George Clooney movie," she said. "Disney Studios contacted me and said they wanted to shoot here for two days. The only thing, they said, is that they didn't want me to clean anything up, especially the. . . ."
I didn't understand what she was saying at that point.
"How long have you owned this place?" I asked.
"Twelve years," she said. "Come here. You have to see the pool. It is the first pool of its kind."
She led me through the technical aspects of the thing which are lost on me now that I try to remember. She was quite a historian, though, telling me that scientist had tested the old sugar mill around here and were convinced that this location was settled before St. Augustine. She told me that these building were thought to be old slave quarters. That is when I began to realize that her history might be a little faulty. Still, she gave me run of the place and said I could come back and photograph here any time. It was a hell of a thing, I thought. . . a hell of a thing.
Walking back to the car, I saw the girls from the inside of the Dairy Queen looking at me, and again I thought I was going to get yelled at for having cameras.
"Hey," I said. Two girls looked out the service window at me.
"Hey," they giggled. They were high schoolers. "What are you taking pictures of?"
"If you let me take pictures of you, I'll make you famous." Their eyes twinkled. One of them was all for it, but the other was shy. I put the Leica to my eye and snapped a few frames.
"Why are you taking these?" one of them asked.
"Just because. This is a cool old place."
"What are they for?"
"Nothing much. Maybe I'll get some in an art gallery."
"Oh," they said suddenly losing interest but still smiling. Behind me a line had formed with people wanting to get some soft serve.
"O.K." I said. Thanks," and I turned to walk back to the car. Looking back over my shoulder, I could see them through the glass looking at each other, giggling. Jesus, I thought, I truly have walked back in time. Things should always be this way.
Back at the car, most of the float was gone. I enthusiastically told Ili about all that had just happened.
"Good," she said. "Aren't you glad you came back?"
But the way is always forward, I told her. Let's go on to the beach now. There are things I want you to see.