It was early, around seven a.m., when I stood on the motel balcony in Jackson, Tennessee. The coffee I made in the bathroom tasted foul, as if the beans were ground and brewed in dish soap. The light drew smudged peach lines through the sky congested with billboards advertising the best of American mediocre fare—Waffle House, Cracker Barrel, Taco Bell. I scanned the horizon for something more, a small diner or breakfast joint. A place for locals, with counter service, bottomless coffee, and fresh doughnuts.
There was a place like that where I grew up in Indiana. It was downtown near the library where I biked to on many summer days. The waitresses wore matching pinstriped uniforms, wrote orders on guests checks, called you Sugar, and made you feel famous for being a regular kid. I sat at the counter, listening to strangers talk about the intimate details of their lives as I buried my head in a new Nancy Drew book and ate slow savoring bites of an iced cheese filled danish or a honey-glazed doughnut or whatever I could buy with the loose change I found around the house. Rode my bike there whenever I found loose change in my pocket. A stack of books and a stop at the diner.
That’s the sort of place I wanted to find in Jackson as I studied the skyline and watched a guy walk in and out of his room with a stack of towels. The heat was already on the rise, even at that hour. I was surprised to find the outdoor pool to be empty. It was the middle of summer after all and the weather had been in the low hundreds for days.
I went back into the room, found my camera and snapped a few photos of the pool. I’m not sure why I felt compelled to photograph that pool and others before and since. Part of it was an articulation of place, the decay and decline of bygone days. Days of travel and adventure. Driving with the car windows down, The Beach Boys playing on the stereo, a truck stop souvenir on the dash.
p.s. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m writing a book about photography. I haven’t told you all the details yet, but the book is essentially about developing your visual voice with a camera. I’m pretty excited (and at times pretty overwhelmed) that I’m putting this book together. It’s the sort of book I wish I had on the shelf. I’m currently working on a small sampler chapter that I hope to share with you very soon, so stay tuned.