Having grown up in the military, I've always been comfortable with the unknown, the unfamiliar. By the time I reached my mid-thirties, I had lived in at least 13 different places. Mostly New York, Germany and Texas. I've called many places, "home." The people around me were always strangers, so I began to find familiarity in the scenery - the buildings, landscapes, and storefronts...
I look for beauty in unexpected places: the dilapidated barn, the overgrown yard, the broken-down car, and the locals at the neighborhood bar who remember better days and dull their senses to keep the long-lost friends from resurfacing.
That's Upstate New York. "Jeezum-crow" upstate. Plattsburgh, and the like. Keep driving North and you'll hit Canada before too long. You'll pass the "new mall" on the way.
I look for beauty in ghost towns with old movie theatres, broken marquees and "pervert alert" spray-painted on the shuttered storefronts. Broken windows are beautiful, in the right light.
That's Electra, Texas. The bar on Main Street had cars parked out front, but that was the only place that showed any signs of life. The high school sign wished The Tigers a Happy Summer, but there weren't any children around.
From there the cities got bigger, though some not by much. Troy and Lansingburgh. Schenectady and Watervliet - home of Bob's Diner, right next to the railroad tracks. Best strawberry shortcake I ever had in the Capital Region, and the slowest service too. Put a quarter in the cardboard stand near the register to support some charity - I forget which one.
Albany, New York - bigger still. Local sports teams on the wall, sponsored by the pizzerias and the taverns. Kids as welcome and customary as adults in those places. Hell, how do you think their parents met anyway?
The architecture that's still holding on, despite the city's politicians that vote to destroy the very bones that hold together the city they work for. Long before their time was the Hotel Wellington - Once a thing of grandeur, then a place for transients, and finally blown up (crashing into itself) in a blaze of fireworks and colors (makes me wonder the fate of the Baker Hotel, in Mineral Wells, Texas, and makes me want better for it).
The burst of red berries in an abandoned, fenced-off, lot. The finally-yes-here-it-is! smiles on the faces of kids on the first day the tastee-freez, or the Sno-man - opens for business. The tied-up dog. The woman on the stoop. The man in the laundromat. The neon sign, spelling out some non-word, like a half-finished game of hangman.
Sometimes it's a reflection, and other times a mood. But always I stop because of the beauty. The beauty stops me. I guess I want to capture it, but also to archive it - save it? The shadows, reflections, laughter, movement, some moment that won't happen again, not in quite the same way.
Those places, and moments, are long gone in most cases. And the beauty mattered. It mattered. I saw it and recorded it - honored it - and can revisit it later. It's the same no matter where I go. For that I am thankful.
all images © 1995-2017 Liz King, all rights reserved