Sent: Monday, December 02, 2002 9:56 AM
Subject: The Last Waltz
Looking back, again I'm writing this after an
absence just shy of two months. Last seen I guess I had arrived back
East after summer photography school and Burning Man. All the best
intentions of keeping current with this again fell by the wayside, scattered
along the road these past 5,798 miles. I don't know why, but it was
only at the very end that I realized that it was ending (I know, no endings,
just new beginnings). So here I am, sitting outside a San Francisco
coffee shop, on the precipice of the next beginning, on the
first day of December, 2002. Exactly 576 days from the day I walked out
of my cube, 534 days from the first time I set out on the road. This
moment may be the first time I've really absorbed that, it's a little
overwhelming. In that time I've crossed the country 5 times in the van
(8 times in a plane) and driven over 39,491 miles. I've at least
doubled the number of people on this planet I call friend. I have
no idea how many nights spent in the van, let alone camped in a Wal-Mart
parking lot. I've been towed (thank you AAA) at least 4 times, and towed
the van myself over 500 miles on a trailer. Uncountable quarts of oil
changed. Far far too many minutes on my cell phone. Immeasurable
joys, and sadness; certainty and doubt, confidence and fear.
I guess I spent about 5 weeks back East, visiting,
recovering, packing, fixing the van. Just getting the van to pass
inspection and getting the paperwork caught up on it took a week or so.
Several visits to Richmond, a trip to North Carolina to see my Aunt and Uncle,
and in between crashing at my parents house. The usual joy at sitting at
the corner of the bar at Taphouse drinking Brown Ale with friends.
I got some great pictures from one of those nights, but I think my friends
would hunt me down if I sent them over the web. I had the opportunity to
start practicing my new craft, doing some pet and child portraits, as well as
photographing a friend's wedding http://www.findtao.com/LCWedding.htm.
My plan was to make a beeline for San Francisco in
early October, but when my friend Ron from Burning Man asked me to put
together a slide show of desert scenes for a charity rave he was putting
together, I couldn't resist. I modified my plans to spend about 3 weeks
traveling through the Southwest, stopping at as many deserts as possible.
Finally departing Richmond the morning of October 15th, I made it as far as
Bristol VA, on the border of Tennessee. The next day when I got up (a
little late) and was heading out, I saw this guy....
.....walking down the street as I headed out,
driving almost all the way to Memphis. On the following day, I managed
to get all the way to Dallas, where I stayed with an old friend from Capital
One, and then another old friend from Richmond. On Sunday I struck out
for Big Bend NP, down in the far Southwest corner of Texas. The last 75
miles or so were through some pretty empty landscape. For some
reason I noticed a fair number of dead animals by the side of the road, and
realized that over a year and a half of traveling I had never hit one.
Within 5 minutes a bird flew into the front of the van and all I saw in the
rear view mirror were feathers floating to the ground. A little
disturbed by this, I had to stop myself when a little later I started
thinking how it had been a while since the van had broken down.... I got
to Big Bend, had my conversation with the Ranger, got my maps, and started
driving around like a maniac taking pictures. I had started thinking
about how many slides I would need, and realizing that I had about 7 hours to
fill, I was getting a little panicky. Figuring that usually I get one
really good picture per roll of film, I realized that I was going to have to
shoot a ton of film, and lower my standards. Well maybe not lower my
standards so much, as realize that my audience would be dancing and that this
would be serving as background visuals, so it didn't need to be perfect.
So here I am, driving through Big Bend, screeching to a stop every time I
saw something interesting, jumping out of the van trailing camera
equipment behind me taking photo's. I spent about 3 days there, which
was both wonderful and exhausting (http://findtao.com/desertscapes1.htm).
From there up to El Paso where I spent the night before heading up to
White Sands NM, which would turn out to be my favorite stop. I got a
backcountry permit, and hiked about a mile into the dunes where I set up camp
so I could shoot the sunset, sunrise, and try to get some star trails.
As the sun went down I could see all the other backcountry campers on dunes
all around me watching the sunset. As I took my pictures I talked to a
German guy camped over the way from me. He tries to come to the U.S.
every year, usually to hike in the West. After the sun went down, I
spent some time trying to take pictures of lightning, and then star trails.
When I got up the next morning to shoot the sunrise, I took about 5 shots, and
then ran out of film having gone a little crazy with the night photography.
Driving out of White Sands, I took off for Three Rivers Petroglyphs, a BLM
site with over 10,000 petroglyphs carved into the rocks scattered across a
From there it was up to Albuquerque to buy more
film and then over to a place that I had found on the web called the Bisti
Badlands. Unfortunately due to my late arrival and bad weather I didn't
get too much there, so I went on down the road towards Canyon De Chelly in
Northern Arizona, where I was once again saddled with bad weather and lousy
light (as well as a burgeoning ill mood), so I decided to go on to Tucson
where I had plans to photograph Saguaro NP, and spend a day or two visiting my
friend Gary from Burning Man. When I got to Tucson, I dropped off 20
rolls of film at a lab and went over to Gary's for a much needed beer.
We spent the next day photographing Cacti around Tucson, and then I departed
to visit my Great Uncle and Aunt who live south of the city, and we stayed up
filling each other in on all sorts of silly family stories. Somewhat
recharged from two days of company and two nights of real beds I again hit the
road, this time for Organ Pipes NP, and got some great Sunset pictures (http://findtao.com/desertscapes4.htm).
I spent the night in Yuma on my way to Anza-Borrego state park in Southern
California, but didn't have too much luck there before finally moving on to
Joshua Tree. For some reason I was getting a little weary of taking
pictures of dirt and sand, and after a few hours in Joshua Tree...
...feeling like every picture I took was just like
one I had seen somewhere else, I got on the road for Death Valley (http://findtao.com/desertscapes3.htm).
Death Valley turned out to be fairly photogenic, with the catch being that
there is about 20 minutes of great light in a day, 10 at sunrise, the other 10
at sunset. So it you haven't carefully planned your photography, you
either end up somewhere great with lousy light, or are driving down the road
at unsafe speeds hurtling towards your destination as the sun disappears over
the mountains. In spite of these challenges I stayed there two nights
and got some pictures that I'm pretty happy with. It is a place that
deserves a week of very carefully planned photography, and a very reliable 4WD
vehicle to get to the good spots. Someday I'll go back. It was on
the second night there, after eating dinner and setting up to do some star
trails, that I realized that it was my last night in the wild. While I
wouldn't be in San Francisco for about a week, the next day I would get
to LA, and be there for a few days setting up the slide show. So in a
way, this was it. Here is what I wrote that night.....
Death Valley, California - November 4, 2002 -
I stepped out of the van about 20 minutes
ago to move the camera, I'm taking pictures of star trails. It's been
a slow few days, and I've been a little tired of it all. As I opened
the shutter on the camera, I realized that this is probably the last night
of the adventure. I still have some traveling to do, but I'll be in
cities, visiting. This is the last night, in the wilderness, by
myself, sleeping in the van, eating macaroni and cheese for dinner.
I'm in a small campground in the northern part of Death Valley, there's
maybe 4 other people here. I got here as the sun was setting, made
dinner, and set up the camera. I fell asleep a little after 7, and
woke up a little after 9, moving the camera. I read for about 2 hours
(Love in the Time of Cholera - Marquez). It was when I went out to
move the camera again that I realized this was it, and that maybe I should
let go of the weariness I was letting drag me down, and relish these last
few hours. I spent a while looking at the stars, realizing that maybe
I should have done more of it over the last year and a half - but not really
beating myself up about it. They are so bright here, you can actually
see how the one shoulder of Orion is a reddish star (Betelgeuse I think...).
There is one bright light in the sky, I noticed it last night, brighter than
the rest, and twinkling, seemingly with several different colors. I
guess it must be a planet, or something manmade, it is hard not to keep
looking at it to figure it out. The handle of the big dipper has
dropped below the horizon. Cassiopeia is almost directly overhead, as
are the Pleiades. These are the only constellations I know, but I can
find them almost instantly when they are in the sky. Sometimes it
seems as if Orion follows me wherever I go, whenever I need it, it is there.
We first became friends in the 3rd grade when I lived in Iran. I had a
class project to pick a star and mark it's movement across the sky at night.
My Dad showed me the three stars in Orion's belt, and we tracked their
progress across the mountains around the city. Since then it's been my
favorite constellation. As I watched the stars tonight, a shooting
star crossed my vision. Remembering to make a wish, I searched for
one, but came up with nothing. I guess maybe all my wishes have been
granted for the moment. I may have gotten lucky and captured it on
film, guess I'll find out when I get it developed. I think I'll stay
up a few more hours and look at the stars. I want to get up for
sunrise, and stargazing a while longer may interfere with that plan, but I
have seen many sunrises over the last year or so, so I think I may just look
at the stars.
The next morning I drove over the mountains to the
West, into the empty valley there, I took a turn onto a dirt road to check out
a ghost town, and in the middle of nowhere drove past a radar installation.
I was trying to figure out what it was doing out there when a pair of F-18's roared
by. They flew up and down the valley a few times, once directly overhead
at no more than a few hundred feet up. I managed to get a few blurry
pictures. The ghost town turned out to be pretty boring, so off I went
to a place I had been looking forward to seeing called Trona Pinnacles.
As you can see in the pictures (http://findtao.com/desertscapes5.htm) it
is an otherworldly place. The van proved it's off-road mettle by tearing
up the dirt roads around these things, although by the end everything not
bolted down was scattered throughout the interior as I was driving pretty
aggressively over some monster bumps and dips in the road. Other than
the mess it was a blast. When I was driving out I passed a bunch of
people in SUV's and they were looking at me like in disbelief that I had
driven my crazy van down through there. At this point I declared myself
done with the photo project. I had something like another 20 rolls of
film that I had shot, so overall I shot something over 40 rolls
on my desert project. I spent a day in LA visiting my friend Tiffany
from photo school this summer. I picked up my film the next day and
drove down to Orange County where I spent the next day or so with my friend
Ron putting together the slide show. We ended up using 3 projectors,
with 240 slides cycling through them. The show was blast, coming
from Richmond it was exactly what you would expect from a rave type thing.
It was in a not so good section of LA, sort of a warehouse district, with
a seemingly innocuous door in the side of a building, leading into a small
warehouse space below with stacks of speakers, and a smaller loft studio area
above. There were dj's spinning in both rooms, and we had the slides
playing upstairs. Across the street there was an amazing graffiti-mural
painted on the walls. I spent most of the night dancing and watching to
see if people were looking at my pictures. It was a good time.
Since then I spent a week in San Francisco not doing much other than resting,
a week back in Southern California visiting some friends, and the past week
back here in San Francisco busily getting settled in. I'm going to rent
a room from a friend from Burning Man, I've already purchased my cheap desk
and bookcase from Ikea and set them up, as well as pretty much unpacking my
few belongings. I'll be living on the Presidio, which is a great
location. I joined the Presidio YMCA (which I can walk or skateboard to
in about 5 minutes), and have been doing Yoga for the past week to start
getting into shape for Snowboard season. I signed up for Swing dancing
lessons because I've always wanted to learn, and it should be a great way to
meet people. It seems as though every woman in this town knows how
to Swing Dance, so this is probably the perfect time to take it up. I've
been researching photography opportunities in town. It will be a slow
start, so I'll probably do some Temping or get a P/T job at the beginning of
the year to get the cash flow going in the right direction. I'm hoping
to interview for a photographic internship this week, which if nothing else
should give me some other leads. I seem to alternate between being
excited and at peace with where I am, and wondering what the hell I'm doing.
So many people over the last year and a half have told me that what I was
doing was brave and took courage, I never felt that way, it all seemed to me
the right thing to do, it is only now that I feel I need that courage - to
start over. I know it will all work out, it always has, that I'm certain
of, but I do have the bittersweet awareness of all that has been left behind
to make all of this possible. I wouldn't change a thing though, it is
those losses and risks taken that make me appreciate what has and will
be great in this ongoing adventure. The joy and experiences I have had
over the last 576 days are....indescribable. Not that it won't be a
bumpy road, and there is no AAA for the breakdown's on this path, but I'm sure
I can call my extended family all across the country for a tow now and again
when things get a little hard....
So, here I go....
P.S. I want to thank everybody on this list
for their encouragement and good thoughts - you may not have realized it, but
every little bit made a difference to me as I traveled around in my little
van. And don't worry, I'm not going too far, I have about 6 months of
stories to catch up on and many more pictures, and I'm sure there are a few
more good tales yet to happen.