"Young driver!" he slurred, three syllables a bit much to handle in his intoxicated state. He's a young thirty, this Somalian man, saliva pooling around his lips, in a sports coat and beanie.
"Young driver, how old are you?" Di-ryvah.
"You are young driver!"
The subsequent clarification and understanding weren't terribly exciting. He was too drunk even for a fistpound, gazing confusedly at my proffered fist and then grasping it like an tennis ball.
"Okay, come on in," I said.
My notes now read, "young driver 50x," and I think this is a genuine underestimation. For a solid forty minutes or so he bellowed from the back inarticulately and repeatedly, "young driver! Young driver! Young driver, are you 29?" I'd told him my age. It was hard to discern anything of substance beyond the repeated "young driver." It's a strange feeling, knowing someone is talking about you, but not knowing if the talk is negative or positive. Periodically I'd holler things like, "I can't hear you, my friend, come on up! I can't hear nothin' you're saying!"
Eventually he did stagger up. "Give me your bag," he said.
"But I don't have a bag."
"Give me your bag!"
"Oh I see, you want a bag." This was no attempted robbery, but rather a request for some basket-like object to carry his eight-pack of orange Fanta and six-pack (now five) of Heineken. His drinks were on the brink of collapsing out of his cradling arms.
The wheel, paper, or the printing press are generally acknowledged as the great human inventions in history, but some anthropologists have made a compelling case for the basket. The concept of carrying an extra item that can contain multiple items is rather revolutionary, and vital in daily life regardless of how developed a society is. I actually remember thinking this while the guy was accosting me. I'm sure he would have agreed.
"Give me your bag," he begins yelling to each individual passenger.
"Oh you gotta say 'please give me your bag,' yeah, that's the only way people are gonna give you their bags!"
Delicacy is not his strong suit right now. Free bags are not forthcoming, and he stumbles back to his spot in the rear. "Young driver," I hear amidst the traffic noise. "Young driver…." A woman sitting near him comes up to the front to exit, and I ask her, "what's he goin' on about back there?"
"I hope he's a friendly drunk. That's more than we can ask for."
"Good. Thanks for being patient!"
That was at Boren Avenue, outbound. Ten minutes later, at John Street, he staggers up to the front again, struggling like Sisyphus up the mountain.
"That is me! You wanna step out here?"
"Wha…? No, I wanna go back," and he dodders back down the aisle, teetering by the middle door, finally collapsing in a heap at the bottom of the stairwell.
I open the doors and walk back there. "Hey, how ya feelin'?" I ask the collapsed heap, realizing mid-sentence that the line probably sounds insensitive. I step around him and out of the bus, speaking to him from my position on the sidewalk.
"Uuhhh…," he says.
"Maybe wanna step outside, cool off for a bit?"
"I think it's time to step out, man."
"No, I wanna go back in…"
"No my friend, it's time for you to step outside." Say it with confidence. "It's time to jump out the bus, I'm gonna help you. I'm gonna take your hand–" didn't think I'd be saying that to a drunk male today, but hey, the world is full of surprises– "I'm gonna take your hand like this and we're gonna get you back up."
"I'm gonna help you out." Taking just his hand isn't going to work. His body is diagonally laid out on the stairs, with his head at lowest point, near the bottom step. "I'm gonna reach under your shoulder and lift you up like this, okay?"
"Yup, it's time to step outside, get some fresh air. Here we go."
"But I wanna go back and get my drink!"
Angel of Broadway and John at this moment stepped in to assist. I love it when angels help out. He was a passenger our friend had been accosting (benignly), and this man, a healthy guy also in his thirties, ably grabbed the drunk figure's other shoulder and we lifted– actually dragged is more like it– his form back into a standing position on the sidewalk. In response to the cries for his drinks, Angel of Broadway and John went back and retrieved them. All the while I kept reassuring the guy everything was all right, as he was getting darkly anxious. "My friend is getting your drinks, he's helping you out. We're gonna get your drinks back for you– look, there he is! Fanta! You have your Fanta back, everything is good!"
I think he was more excited by the beer.
"Okay, you have a good night now!" I said.
Having another body helping out in a situation like that is huge. I thanked Angel of Broadway and John profusely. We got to talking afterwards.
"Hey. Were you the driver who missing in Paris?"
"Oh my goodness, how did you know that!"
"You had a bunch of people worried. I talked to five or six drivers who were worried about you."
"Oh my goodness, no way! Yeah, I was declared missing by the US Embassy for three days. Them, and the French Police, and CNN eventually found me."
"Wow. Yeah, I was on a 49 when the radio message came out that you were okay. The driver told us about it, and the whole bus gave a round of applause!"
"WHAT?! are you serious? No way! Wow! That's humbling beyond belief. A round of what? Oh my goodness, I had no idea. I didn't know that! Thanks for telling me!"
For some people, their ego inflates from such acclaim. I think I'm closer to the opposite: it's my opinion of people at large, not myself, which skyrockets. That there were that many people who cared, about the welfare of myself, just the friendly stranger? That this guy wanted to help carry a drunk man down some stairs, for nothing in return? What glorious space are we living in?
"There he is! How ya doin'?"
"Great!" he says. "And you?"
He's a recurring rider, this gent, popping up with a random regularity at different points along Rainier. I'd say he's fifty, a fresh fifty with a genial wisecrack up his sleeve every time. He always says "bingo." I wouldn't mind that as an identifying characteristic. He's dressed in Dockers, a turtleneck, and blouson; one of the many refined pillars of the African-American community out here.
Tonight, the truth was I felt burdened and distended. I'd misunderstood some deadlines regarding medical paperwork and just learned I had a tight timeline for fulfilling them, with the additional complication of not knowing if I had the necessary documentation or if I'd be able to even acquire such due to time-sensitive components and hazy evidence. So.
I answer his query with a sighing "I'm alright." He knows me enough to know this is utterly out of character. Friends joke with me, saying if I reply to "how are you" with a mere "okay," that means my day's been terrible!
"Yeah, I'm getting over this, uh. I had Dengue fever."*
"You had what?"
"Dengue fever. A mild version of it I think, but still." Am I going to turn into one of those people who talks about all their problems with strangers?
"Oh, I just got back from Mexico, Mexico and Cuba. I got family down there. But I think I got hit by a bunch of mosquitoes."
"What's Dengue fever like?" He hollers. He's sitting halfway down the length of the bus, but the route's just begun; we're alone for now.
"Mostly combination of fever and flu-like symptoms, headache muscle and joint pain, there's a skin rash part of it too, but I didn't get that. I'm way better now. I'm thankful I got to go down there, but now I'm tryna sort out the sick days at work, 'cause I was gone for a while."
"What is there to sort out though? You were sick!"
"True, but it's the whole getting the verification, getting certain paperwork in by a certain time, signatures… you know how it puts the pressure on, you know?"
"So it has me stressin'. I know worrying won't help, but I tend to worry until it's all sorted out. You know?"
"Yeah. I'm a therapist."
I chuckled. Naturally! "Oh, well you know all about this! I din't mean to make you work during your off hours!"
This is all way too much about me. I try turning it around. "How are you?"
"Oh fine! Bingo!"
"What a great response! I wish everyone said bingo!"
People are starting to board now. Personal conversation has had its day in the sun, and now it's time for connecting with the folks at large. After a small crowd wafts in at Henderson, a familiar face pauses outside the doors. His round head is emphasized by his baldness, glistening dark brown; if you've got the head shape to pull off fashionable alopecia, you may as well go for it. He's shorter but well-built, thirty, baggy sagging jeans coordinated with an appropriately oversized dark sweatshirt.
In a theatrical voice he declares, "bus driver by day… photographer by afternoon!"
"You know all about me! You saw the sign!"
"I saw the sign, yeah! You know how I saw it?"
This is what red lights are made for. He doesn't need the bus, but he really wants to tell me this. Still standing on the sidewalk, he continues with, "I heard this lady talkin', 'he's so nice, he's so nice,' and I thought she be talkin' about the driver of the bus that was right there. But no! She was lookin' at the picture uh you, man!"
"What? That's an honor! Thanks for telling me!"
After we leave the curb, I say, "aw, that's so nice," half to myself and half to the man in the chat seat. My favorite bus trips are when things keep rolling such that I'm breathlessly chatting from one person to the next for the entire ride. To him directly I ask, "how's it goin' for you?"
He's another distinguished gent, slightly heavy in the way that announces presence with dignity, where you think this guy must be president of something. Wire-rimmed glasses framed by salt-and-pepper dreadlocks down past the shoulders, a knotted wooden cane, dressed in a calf-length black wool felt coat, spotless. You want this guy to officiate your wedding, or at least bless your adopted child.
"Great," he replies. "So, bus driver by night… or is it the other way around?"
"No, definitely bus driver by night! Too dark to take pictures!"**
"Ha! So, what is it?"
"Oh, they're doin' this ad campaign trying to hire drivers, with the idea of you can be a bus driver and do your other stuff too. Tryin' t'let people know, it doesn't have to be just, you come in drive the bus, then go home drink beer watch television!"
"Yeah! So what kinda photography you like to do?"
"As long as I'm shooting on film, I'm happy." I always say that part, in answer to the oft-asked question. How much further I elaborate depends on the person's curiosity. Tonight I say, "but enough about me talkin' about myself. How about you? I like your walking stick!"
"Oh! Thank you!"
"It has personality!"
As it turns out he's genuinely interested in photography. Now we're discussing his friend Melvin, a fellow enthusiast with his own photography show opening just this weekend.
"You might know him, Melvin. His brother's a bus driver,"
"Really," I say. I know a lot of drivers. But this angle rarely works: there's 2,700 of us.
"Oh! I know a Glen. Mr. G-Money! Kinda shorter,"
"Great big smile?"
"Think he has a coupla kids, right?"
"Oh, he's a great guy!"
Why am I so unreasonably happy we didn't mention his race in describing what he looked like? Something about this elates me on a level I can't describe. Would we be somewhere slightly different as a society, if we only used character traits to describe people?
"He is. Yeah, his brother is my friend Melvin."
"This is excellent! Okay, tell me again where this show is?"
We talk about Belltown, trying to pinpoint which intersection. "First and uh, I think First and, or is it maybe Second and...."
"One of those!"
"Yeah, Battery and...."
"That's prime real estate over there for galleries," I say. A photograph or two can cover a month of my rent. We discuss Melvin's photography. Our friend isn't entirely sure of the process. "Something with lamination," he says. "What about you, you got any shows comin' up?"
"I got nothin' now, but I'm goin' to Paris tomorrow!"
"What?! Wow! For how long?"
"Just over two weeks. I'm happy for the opportunity but I'll be happy to get back on this number 7 in no time! If I make it back with arms and legs, hearing and vision, I'm thankful!"
Little did I know, in that moment. But nevermind. You wouldn't doom the present by telling it of its future, would you?
"Well, enjoy yourself! And." He leaned in, as he stood to get off: "Eat. A lot." That's the voice of someone who's knows what duck confit tastes like.
"I will! Hopefully you'll recognize me when I get back!"
I was raised with the notion that we generate our own happiness from within ourselves, such that we might not be dependent on outside forces, unreliable and negative as they can be, influencing our own well-being. I abide by this concept because I find it self-evident. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't take assistance from those around me. Like the song says, we get by with a little help. It's in exactly the times when we feel like withdrawing that we benefit most from reaching out. It's counterintuitive. As with jealousy, which always works the opposite of the way you want it to, it can help to resist the impulse. Closing down won't make things better.
"If you're feeling stressed," I once told a class of new full-timers, "try to get out of your headspace a little. Ask somebody how their day is. Compliment someone's hat. Announce the stops yourself for a trip or two, instead of the machine (or on every trip, as I do!)." We have more sides to ourselves than whatever's bothering us right now, and flexing those other muscles will only help. I'm so glad these three men minded me toward matters besides sick day balances and doctor signatures.
They didn't know they were helping me stand up again, reminding me there's more. It can be healing to talk about Belltown galleries and advertisements and what people's friends' brothers look like. We receive in return what we put out, but planting the seed of positivity for doing so during a challenging time is a delicate act, and the help of others is much appreciated. Together we brought it back, these three unrelated musketeers and I. Pulled me back to my better self.
*Or possibly Traveller's Dysentery. There were a couple thousand cases of the former in the part of Mexico I visited when I was there, but my symptoms were in between the two maladies.
**The ad now says "bus driver by day, photographer by afternoon," as you can see in the image below. The original brochure read, "bus driver by night, photographer by day," which I much prefer, mainly because it's accurate! But the campaign is for part-time operators, who can't work at night. I was part-time for seven years, which is why I'm featured.
I just used a bathroom without having to pay for it. Clearly I'm no longer in Europe!
Back to our regularly scheduled program:
Everyone else has left. Just a few souls remain, scattered throughout the big articulated coach as we continue toward up to Prentice Street, the neighborhood loop which concludes the 7 route in Rainier Beach. This middle-aged gentleman creeps up front, seemingly hesitant as to whether or not to engage with me until I brightly ask him how he's doing. He happily responds in the affirmative and adds,
"Man. Every time I been on your bus I feel like a tourist."
"I hope tha's a good thing!"
"It is. I remember twenty-seven, twenty-eight years ago I come here. I'm from (unintelligible), Texas, where there's no public transportation."
"Okay, a small town,"
"And ah remember comin' here the first time, list'nin' to the black bus driver tellin' us all, on your right we have Othello Street, on our left we have Seattle Center, an' I felt so loved, so at home, in this new place,"
"That sound's beautiful! I want it to feel welcoming. Make the folks feel comfortable."
"Oh yeah. Absolutely. Think I'll stop at KFC."
"KFC sounds good."
"Yeah, I'll just cross the street."
Sometimes a line like that is our last.
"I'm goin' to tha store," he says.
"Takin' care o' business!"
"Das all I been doin'! I been on my feet all day long." Awl. "I din' even get to watch the game!"
"Look at you, stayin' busy on a Sunday!"
"Yeah! But I be there for the next game!"
And so he went, still visible behind me in the blind-spot mirror, a tiny figure crossing the street unharmed, making it hour by hour through another ordinary day.
My body is tired, but more than that, my soul is exhausted from travelling. It's been a whirlwind, this year: New Years Day started off with me on a plane to Milan, for three weeks in Italy; then a quick trip out to Philadelphia (a good friend) and Washington, DC (a killer art show); numerous trips down to LA, for a variety of reasons filling out the highs and the very lows of the emotional spectrum; Mexico (my Aunt!) and Cuba, which had it's own element of challenge (read/images below); and now, Paris in the Autumn, for two weeks, one week right before the attacks and the other immediately following. Perhaps you've read the post just below detailing some of my experiences out there.
Not that I'm complaining. I count myself unimaginably fortunate, not simply to have had the opportunity to take all these wonderful journeys, but to have made it back alive from each of them. I've always felt it a welcome surprise to return in one piece from an international expedition, while simultaneously finding the thought a bit silly; after all, driving a bus is more dangerous than going on vacation, and driving a car is more dangerous than driving a bus. But such logic stands feebly in light of my recent experiences.
I recall nights standing on Wilshire Boulevard in LA, waiting for the bus home, and witnessing a lot of car accidents. I remember thinking, it is such an unimaginable stroke of good fortune that nearly every single one of the twelve million people living in the LA Metro area are going to make it home tonight through all this madness, completely unscathed. One person not making it is still a tragedy, but that many people getting home safely in this madhouse is definitely still a miracle.
What do we do? Do we shut ourselves off from everything? Do we stay indoors, avoiding the slippery bathtub, never turning on the oven, never going out… complete safety is impossible. We simply have to continue, taking cues from what the universe seems to suggest, putting some trust in it, aware but not afraid, and go about our lives doing things which are meaningful to us.
This is the beauty of the human organism, that we keep getting up. It's how we step outside of fear.
So, I imagine I will travel again, and I will enjoy doing so.* But not for a while. I'm taking a good long break from listening to countless announcements about how Delta Airlines wishes me a pleasant stay, or how the seat-backs and tray tables need to be returned to their upright and locked position, or about how Seattle Tacoma International Airport welcomes me, and is a non-smoking facility. I like airports, and find them one of the better metaphors for life at large, but I'm ready to relax and burrow into Seattle with detail: I compare it to taking a 400-level class in one place, rather than skimming the surface of the globe in a 101 course.
The most surprising thing about all this for me has been the tidal wave of concern for my whereabouts during the ~72 hours I was unaccounted for. I honestly never imagined so many people would've given my absence much thought, or taken such effort to find me. To hear the lengths taken by my family and friends, many of them working together for the first time, involving the US Embassy, French Police, CNN and other news networks, and much more humbles me beyond words. I travel without electronics and didn't tell people of my plans or location, and the networking they (you!) did to find me is impressive.
For me, it was just a sleepy interruption in the wee hours, somebody waking me up from the bottom of a bunk bed in a dark room on the third floor of a nondescript building off of Rue d'Atlas, some guy from CNN explaining things to me as I wriggled out of grogginess, asking me questions to confirm I was alive, that I was indeed myself. I had no idea that moment was built out of a huge multitude of friends and entities working together, or that my sleepy mutterings of a response meant so much to so many. Any words I of thanks I can summon up now will fall awfully short of how I feel.
I'm excited to share a few specific bus stories with you over the next week with some more substance than the brief encounter outlined above. Paris pictures and thoughts will need time to process (that's both mental processing and film developing I'm talking about!). For now, please understand as I wade through several hundred unread emails and notifications and calls, each of which I count myself lucky to have received, let alone be able to receive. Thank you again.
And now, off to my first night-shift on the 7 since I got back! Ah yes, that's the ticket….
*Please don't be cowed into not travelling by an overenthusiastic newsmedia. Says Mark Twain, from Innocents Abroad: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
They closed the Eiffel Tower.
Everything else here in Paris is closed too, but when the most widely recognized manmade structure and most visited monument in the entire world is completely shut down for three days, well, that's when you know this event and the lives it destroyed aren't just another blip in the news cycle.
I see tourists wandering about in a confused daze, with nowhere to go. Locals congregate in groups familiar and new, filling up the still-open cafes (nothing could ever close down the cafes in Paris!).
But they are talking differently now.
The tones are hushed, raw, somber, torn. Laughter has been replaced with silence. These are grown men now, with red eyes, ugly from crying but who cares, tears running down their stubble as they point at blood on the ground. You hear the question in every heaving sigh: when did the world stop making sense?
The date will be remembered as its own noun. The names of the concert hall, the restaurants, and stadium will forever shift in meaning, something sinister about them now, sounds which carry the weight of lost years.
Although 9/11 took place in two locations, its focus on the Towers have led us to conceive of it as primarily taking place in one part of New York. Friday Night, however, happened all over Paris. It feels different, here on the ground. The multiplicity of attacks makes it feel like everyone was close, was there, is hurting, knew somebody.
I was four blocks away, at a laundromat, oblivious. I folded my clothes and took the short way home (the other route I sometimes take would've put me three blocks away). For some reason I felt like turning in early that night. Now at my hostel, also four blocks away, I sat on the floor and made pleasant conversation with my hostel-mate, a recent graduate from Taijung on a solo traveling adventure. She and I talked of careers, possibilities, pleasing others, customs, travel.
Four blocks away in exactly the same moments, nineteen people were murdered in two adjacent restaurants while probably having similar conversations. An unknown further number were injured or hospitalized.
What staggers me into bafflement is that the universe has space for these two completely different worlds to be happening simultaneously, in almost exactly the same place. I hardly know what to think. I'm reminded of Joyce's description of the sky as a "vast, indifferent dome," always there, forever silent.
I learned of the events early the following morning when the night-shift receptionist wouldn't allow me outside, as per the instructions of the television. There was no functioning bus or Metro currently, and impromptu refugee encampments had been set up around the city for the millions who couldn't make it home. After an hour I convinced the night guard to let me outside, and I went immediately to the intersection of Rue Bichat and Rue Alibert.
Initial reports state that only those at Le Petit Cambodge, a restaurant, were affected; that is incorrect. Le Carillon, the bar across the street, is just as rent with bullet holes and shattered glass. I arrived before police or news did. Sawdust had been laid down over the square to absorb the blood. There was punctured concrete from bullet strafing throughout the entire intersection, and splintered bicycles and motorcycles from the same. Blood pooled on the entry steps to Le Carillon, some of it gristly with the remains of flesh, elsewhere leaking into the crevices and gutters before anyone could bring flowers. It was still wet when I got there.
I was part of a very small group of strangers, and as light came to the morning so did more and more people, with their silences, roses, candles, cameras and consternation. We staggered around each other, stupid and raw. No matter what we did, or where we looked, at the evidence of violent death, at the spaces between each other, up to the unblinking sky... what was the name of this thing that had happened here, just a few hours ago?
Death disorients us because it is enormous. We're so good at focusing on what is small in life. This has significant and obvious dangers (not being thankful, namely), but I wonder if this tendency carries a silver lining. For it is only because of our amazing ability to forget how near death always is that we get anything done in life.
We get up in the morning and throw ourselves into matters of varying importance. We have some unique sense which lets us forget about imminent mortality as we continue the Search, the Great Search for happiness and meaning, the quest in which we do the dumbest and the smartest of things, feeling our way in the dark towards the answers.
Because the successes we find along the way are worth it, whether we live another hour, or for a hundred years.
Also: I was woken up this morning by none other than CNN, calling on behalf of my friends and family, asking if I was alive and unharmed. I am. Thank you ever so much for such an outpouring of concern. It means a tremendous deal. My heart goes out to- well, everyone, but especially those were happy before Friday Night, and cannot be now.
Information on the events and some of what we've been going through here.
Thoughts on the same, with hindsight: Paris, One Year Later: A Personal Perspective
Photographs of mine in the hours and days afterward: Death in Paris
I have a feeling you're going to like this. You've got eleven minutes. I'm pretty sure when this speech is over, you'll be smiling. If you are, share it around! With apologies and love to Kate Alkarni....
I'll be back in two and a half weeks– another sojourn, this time to Paris! More to come, as always. For now, talk to strangers, smile at grumpy people, take the courage to be honest, vulnerable, kind... let's retire "cool" as a thing to aspire toward, or rather perhaps redefine it with our own brand of excellence, not aloofness but a new approach, a new style, the type which doesn't rely on affectation or irony, but traffics in the strength of unvarnished truth, which at the end of things supercedes all else. The new generations don't need to know that apathy and guarded emotions were once vogue, and they can lead us in their enterprising joy to places we don't yet have the perspective to dream about.
Thanks for holding down the fort for me in this glorious city we call home!
I go to Paris on Tuesday. The blog will be down for another two weeks; I plan to return in late November, but for now– a word (plus pictures!) on Cuba, and a special video treat to come just before I leave!
Cuba is different. I rather wonder if these images will do better justice to my experience of the place than any words can, but I feel a paragraph or two of context is necessary (or, skip over that nonsense and take me to the photos already!).
I was in La Habana for about sixty hours, and I spent most of those hours walking the streets with a camera, pockets stuffed with film rolls. When traveling I like to get a sense of what ordinary life is like, here on the far corners of the world, spaces and attitudes and rooms people call home.
I won't say the major attractions don't hold interest, because for historical or cultural reasons they often do, but the superior thrill is slipping into the side streets, strolling by unbeknownst. An unshaved figure keeping to the walls, in a dirty t-shirt and scuffed jeans… I'm thankful I can pass for native in so many countries (as long as I keep my big mouth shut!). Slum-like in appearance but not in attitude, the adjoining Viejo and Centro municipalities are comprised largely of shanties and precarious solares (inner-city mansions subdivided into small dwelling units), and for me the biggest draw were the back alleys and residential areas, where I spent the most time. What does the air taste like? How are the silences different, and how are they similar? What has been invisible to me until now, and how is the light, the ever-present light, silent but benevolent, how does it read now, in my heart and in my mind?
I've often thought about how I might feel more comfortable in an earlier time period. Nothing extreme, you understand, just a turn back of the clock to a time more oriented around the tactile, before virtual reality, digitization, and the accelerated technological rush toward the 21st-century ideal, that unique and befuddling mixture of chaos and laziness. A time when telephones worked because they had a cord connecting to the wall, if you know what I mean.
Cuba offers just such an opportunity. For all meaningful intents it is a time machine, the most obvious indication of which are the vehicles. Not even China smells like this. The exhaust generated by a sea of Chevys, Daewoos, Citrons, and Peugeots may not be as visually polluting as parts of east and southeast Asia, but nasally, you won't forget about it. Genius mechanics toil away on the curbsides of countless roads, fixing up cars older than they are. Toilet paper goes not in the toilet but in a basket adjacent, which during the 90-degree heat caused its own sort of perfume; the bus system, generally for locals only, has lines which run only once every couple hours, and use buses obtained twenty years ago from a Chinese negotiation that didn't include a maintenance contract. Any description of their poor running ability would be an understatement. They are stuffed to the point that arms and heads stick out not just from the windows but the doors too; getting ejected from one has been compared to being birthed! Families spill out of the overcrowded city center, sitting on stoops or languishing in open rooms of collapsing, unelectrified buildings which recall postwar France.
I listened to the water drip from the ceiling cracks to the floor in my hotel room, creating a swamp-like element with its own hazards. For reasons too complex to explain here I didn't eat or drink on my last day there, instead guzzling uncalculated loads of tap water upon my evening return to the hotel, which tasted… different, and couldn't have helped with the Traveller's Diarrhea/Dengue Fever I contracted shortly after, knocking me out upon coming home for a period nearly as long as the vacation itself.
All of which is to say, there are certain things about our age to be grateful for. I was thankful for the experience. People were kind. The architecture, the cars, the decay, texture, smiles, sun... I had have a great but exhausting time, as I generally do when traveling alone, where there's no one to hold you back, but also no one to help pace yourself. To walk ever onward through an endless grid of alleys, diving deep into the artist headspace and working with the light, wrestling with it, coaxing it, watching it change, was a dream. That I returned unharmed is a privilege. I believe all good pictures are actually pictures of light; I hope you enjoy these 81 photos from the trip, culled from 797 photos. As always, there's no digital manipulation; each of these is an uncorrected negative (or in the case of slide film, positive) scan.
All photographers carry around in their head a roster of the images they've seen but weren't able to photograph– sunsets, faces, shadows, all when the camera was out of reach. In accordance with Joan Didion's claim that all the most beautiful things she's seen in her life have been from airplane windows, one such moment for me was gazing down at the Panama Canal, where an endless flotilla of ships stretched out over still aquamarine flats, way down there, motionless, receding into the hazy distance.
The main purpose of this trip was to visit family in Jocotopec, Mexico; these pictures are solely of the districts in La Habana mentioned above. Other images will likely follow later.