The Man ate my photos

Time in transit again. I ride, digest the events of the journey so far, and lose myself in translation as the odometer spins steadily.

A rusty bridge with vines interlaced through the latticed steel beams stirs me from my reveries and off track. Further investigation leads me to discover the Wild Turkey Distillery, and as usual Lost proves herself a more than capable trespasser – barriers made for four wheels mean little to her two.

Some clambering and and wild turkeys later (yeah they actually have wild turkeys wandering around the distillery. In case anyone comes to challenge their cred?) I also found this cool looking thing.

So much to know.

The ride down through the Natchez Trace is dreamlike, the hills roll and the road curves endlessly repeating for 444 miles. I make it a fair way down, but the sun sets on the Trace and I set up the hammock at one of the many nature trails. On one detour I saw a lady selling fresh produce and decided to spice up my menu; for a dollar she gave me a basket of okra, a sweet potato and an onion. Add some of my trusty chile de Coban and dinner is delicious. Fireflies burn crazy neon lines across my vision in the dark, hundreds of them calling out for mates with their bioluminescent dance. I decide not to put up the tarp so I can watch them; the trees will cover me from rain long enough to set it up should I need to.

More of the same beautiful riding takes me down to Natchez, and then I’m riding interstates through Baton Rouge. At one point I notice what appears to be a vine covered mansion through an overgrown drive right off the highway. A U turn later I’m riding through a badly deteriorated estate; dilapidated towers watch my trespass impassively from either side. Pulling in front of what turns out to actually be a rather small property and an old Caddy that clearly hasn’t moved in years I look for signs of habitation. Nothing indicates anyone is taking care of the place, but the windows are suspiciously clear. I can’t see through into the darkness within. I listen for a reaction to my presence. Nothing. I leave the keys in the igition, on, as I cautiously begin to explore.

The light through the overgrown canopy is just taking on that golden evening hue, and I hunt for the right angle to capture the car and greenery. I can just barely make out someone calling out as I ready the camera. Shit.

I think they’re just yelling “hello”, so I decide to try the Stupid Tourist routine. “Sorry, I thought this place was abandoned, I just wanted to take some photos, I’ll get off your property”.

Clearly this place does not belong to whoever is inside. But I’m still not sure I want to meet the current tenants. A small dog comes racing out, yapping furiously. The voice yells “That’s fine, take all the photos you want”.

What’s happening behind those inscrutable windows? Calling for backup? Loading the shotgun? Masturbating furiously?
I decide to risk it. This place is cool, the voice sounded feeble. Real gangstas live in cities with people to push around, we’re directly off the highway in the middle of nowhere, and this fellow won’t even show himself. I turn off the ignition, but leave the keys in and stay close to the bike just in case. The dog quickly submits to me after I throw him a piece of jerky. Some rapidly composed shots later, I get the hell out of dodge, marvelling at the oppressive presence of an encroaching wilderness that almost seems to say, “Humanity is lost here; soon this place will be alive again”. I try again farther down the road, this time there’s nothing but golden orb weaver spiders (massive, evil looking demons as big as your face; webs strong enough to catch birds).

I ride on towards New Orleans.

Night falls, I’m riding down the highway, and these strange spindly citadels covered in diamond lights beckon off in the distance. I finally pass one up close. The sign says polyethylene processing plant. It’s gorgeous, noctilucent clouds pumping out from tower stacks by the delicate looking structures. It looks like something out of Blade Runner. So I take some shots from the highway, but this deserves more detail. I pull in, ask at the front gate – sure, no problem they tell me.

I’ve got the tripod set up and am two shots in to a pano when a security car pulls up. I’m asked if I have any weapons, and patted down with my hands behind my head. “Welcome to Louisiana, eh?” I remark.
The guy is actually pretty decent about it, and I’m cooperating. My stuff is too dispersed to make a run for it, and besides what’s the worst that could happen. He explains that this is an oil refinery. Oops.
It’s when he tells me I’m going to have to wait for the police to come by and look at my camera that the warning bells sound. Okay, so I can delete the shots of the refinery… but what if he browses back a couple? I have barely taken any shots since the nuclear plant. This guy has been throwing around the Homeland security card, like that justifies his treating me like a terrorist. But I can see how things might start to look bad, and remember I also have a bunch of shots of a generating station in Kentucky…

Now, I realize these people are trained, and have procedures, and in all fairness he is being pretty nice. But lets just look at the facts here. I took a bunch of great shots of the facility by standing on their sign by the road, crews rolled right on past me in trucks as I snapped away before coming up and announcing myself. So first of all, anyone could have taken these shots from the highway and just rolled off. And secondly, I am clearly not trying to be discreet here. Making me wait for the cops is a dick move. These are just the kinds of automata I despise – those who prefer to squander their human potential by sleepwalking through templates rather than examining their actions. Such a waste of free will.

Nothing I can do but wait at this point, I don’t know the laws here. It’s decision time. I’ve heard you can recover deleted photos from a card… so I erase the whole thing. “Oh, you wanted me to wait until the police showed up? Sorry, I already deleted everything.” We’ve gone through the procedure, and the fellow is joined by another security officer. With no template to follow, a more human conversation unfolds as I tell them what I am doing and where I am going. They have no mixed feelings towards New Orleans. The fellow who stopped me is a cop there also, and their unthinking bias is clear as they tell me to watch out for the blacks, the fellows who hold their guns sideways to shoot, the grifters who will get their big buddies to roll you right on the main streets in public. The cop arrives and it’s a straightforward release, I have no information to give him security didn’t already get – I’m a vagabond, no phone, no address. I don’t get a hard time about it, though he does insist on getting my dad’s number so he can confirm my identity.

He chips in his two cents – “There’s a bad part of town you should avoid. It’s from the ‘Welcome to New Orleans’ sign to the ‘Leaving New Orleans’ sign;” the security folks tell me four of his fellow officers just got shot to death yesterday so I can understand how opinions in their circles may be polarized on the subject of crime in the city. I’m sent off on my way, with a warning not to try again as I’m now in their system.

Well, dear homeland security, Fuck You.


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