I was down in Florida for Labor Day weekend to see my Grandmother for her surprise 80th birthday. I had a few days to kill so my dad and I ventured out to take some pictures. We were about 30 miles outside Gainesville FL and the area was very rural.
Not 15 minutes after we had been driving my dad yelled “Pull over! That was a junk yard back there with some old rusty cars out front. Let’s see if we can poke around and take some shots!” He had me at ‘rusty cars’, so we turned around and parked on the side of the road.. As we got out of the car we could tell this was not your traditional junk yard. People clearly lived there. But it was a sprawling place, most of it not visible from the road, crammed with old cars, machinery, school buses, boats on trailers, etc. These are the places that I LOVE to explore.
A second man emerged from behind a truck where he was working. He looked to be in his mid to late 30’s, shirtless and well built,wearing jeans and a black leather cowboy hat. I introduced myself as a photographer and said I was interested in taking pictures of his place. The first gentleman, who was in his late 50’s or early 60’s, stared blankly for a moment from behind a gray bushy beard then asked me a simple question:
“That looks like a 76 seater”
I told him I was not sure of the seating capacity, but I really liked exploring places like his and would like to take some similar shots of his vehicles. Finally he agreed and told us we could poke around anywhere we wanted! He introduced himself as Mark, and he introduced the younger guy as Mark as well. As my dad began to say something about two Marks, the guy stopped him and said:
“Ya we’re Mark and Mark….Don’t say it twice or you’ll sound like a hair-lipped dog!”
I headed back to the car grabbed my tripod mounted Nikon D300 with my Sigma 10-20mm, and slung my Nikon D50 with my 50mm 1.4 prime around my neck. Like an idiot I did not have jeans on, just kaki shorts sneakers and a tee, so I sprayed the better part of a can of “Off” all over my legs, handed some extra gear to my dad to carry, and headed back to explore.
I started by shooting a wide angle HDR of the driveway full of beer cans. As I did, Mark, explained the origins: “We call this ‘Beer Can Alley’. Every now and then a bunch o’ my Harley buddies come over and will race their bikes over the beer cans. You should see it! They rev up their engines and peel out over the cans, sending beer cans flying into the air like a deck of cards being sprayed out! If you stand behind them, so many cans go flying into the air you can barely see anything else! I am planning on putting more cans down to make the road longer” (He gestured to a 6×8 utility shed that was nearly FULL of cans! I’m talking 6×8 feet and chest deep of already crushed and flattened cans!)
My dad asked him when the next time his buddies were going to be over so we could take pictures, but he was not sure. He said:
“I’d get my bike out and show ya, but I been drinkin’ all day. Had my first beer around 7:30 this mornin’ right after I finished my coffee!”
We proceeded to carefully explore the place, not sure if our tetanus shots were up to date. We first peeked our heads into the old busses. One was full of filing cabinets, another full of old tools.He promptly informed us:
“That bus is my tool shed. Got everything in there, including my old dental equipment that I used to use.”
I shuddered at the thought…
As we moved out of his ‘work area’ where it appeared he worked on machines and cars, we emerged into a large wooded field full of old cars, trucks, boats, RV’s, busses, scrap metal and anything else you can imagine in a place like this. He told us it went back several acres and we could walk around wherever we wanted. But he warned us:
“Got lots of snakes around here. My buddy, Mark, just caught a rattler out there the other day.”
We headed out to explore the junkyard anyway. We climbed all over cars and trucks, peering in broken windows of old cars, avoiding rusty edges, glass, and snake hangouts. I snapped pictures of everything in sight, wiping away liters of sweat that fell like rain from my face. It was the 99% humidity and 93 degrees that remind me of one of the reasons I moved from Florida to North Carolina!
Older Mark walked us around back to show us his new house that he had built. We rounded a corner and stood face to face with a very skinny two story house. The front door to the house took up almost half of the house’s width. It could not have been more than 10 feet wide and 20 feet long, but it sure was two stories!
I got a few good shots of older Mark posed with his beer can in the front door to the house that took him 4 days to build.
(I learned later that if a house is built with less than a 200 square foot foundation, it doesn’t have to be inspected by the county. Which partly explains why he at one point asked, “You ain’t from the county are you? If you are, I’ll kill you.” He claimed that the county has been trying to shut down his entire operation.)
Right behind me I noticed a long 5 foot tall culvert with a door on the end and full of junk.
I was taking an HDR of this scene when I heard younger Mark ask:
“You wanna see the rattler?”
He came around the corner with a purple pillow case that promptly started RATTLING! As he stood right in front of us he reached his hand into the sack, and produced the biggest rattler I’ve ever seen that wasn’t behind zoo glass. We made it abundantly clear that he did not need to come any closer than he was! Without any prompting, Mark had unknowingly posed himself with one knee up on a pile of junk, the head of rattler gripped down with his thumb on top, black leather hat and smoldering cigarette from the the corner of his mouth. It was just about the coolest portrait I could have asked for!
After rattling off about 20 shots of Mark holding the snake, he put it back in the bag, and I felt just a bit safer.
My dad asked if the snake could strike through the thin cloth of the pillow case. Older Mark said, “Sure, if you poke it like this.” And he proceeded to poke it with his finger! Then he mused, “We can’t decide if we’re gonna feed her or eat her.”
After exchanging a few more stories, we decided it was time to head out, but before we could, older Mark had a change of heart! He put his empty beer can down and said,
“Ahh hell with it, I’ll show ya how we ride down Beer Can Alley!”
He proceeded to go around back and pull out a beautiful red Harley. I don’t know much about bikes but this was very nice, made for highway travel. He backed the bike around to the end of the alley as I set up my camera a few feet behind him. Not know what to expect, I used my tripod mounted Nikon D300 as a shield and cowered behind it as Mark revved the engine. He turned and looked back and me and yelled: “YOU READY???” I gave him a thumbs up and he gassed that sucker! Beer cans sprayed up behind his bike as he roared away, sliding right and left down the alley. Riding on all those cans must have been about as stable as riding on a icedover pond. He made a couple runs and young Mark razzed him about a wussy performance.
As we once again made our way back toward our car, we passed Mark’s wife. He said:
“Honey, these are the photographers I was telling you about. Why don’t you run inside and put on that little black nightie…”
She grinned and gave him a love punch in the gut. (I had to admit–he wasn’t wrong about her!!!)We got Mark’s address before we drove away and promised to send him some prints. I think he’s going to like them!
You can view more of my work over at: www.flickr.com/photos/miragebym
David appreciate your artistic values comments beloved good friend much love need to touch base
These people are my dad and brother. My brother has died since your shoot, and I wanted you to know that I visit this site occasionally, to remember some of the good times. Thanks for memorializing your visit so well. You truly captured the humor and relationship they shared together. I will always treasure this collection. Thank you again, and you are obviously a very talented photographer and storyteller.
Elizabeth, thank you very much for commenting and sharing your connection! I had heard about younger Mark’s passing and was very saddened to hear that. I am working on a special gift for your father and am hoping to get it to him in the next few months 🙂
I am so glad you have enjoyed this post. My own memory of meeting the two of them will be treasured and remembered fondly. I hope to stop by and say hello to your father the next time I am in the area.
All the best,
Hey, Mark. This is some awesome work that I’ve found very useful for my photography GCSE. I have great interest in this kind of work and really aspire to take some shots like these. Once again, thank you!
Good story made great by great images.
You have a gifted eye. Those are some of the best shots I’ve seen. Looked through the whole site. Caught this one last. Just spent the day in a glider over North shore, Oahu, then hiked for eight straight hours through the Kuaokala mountains. Got home and jumped on the net. Saw that incredible shot of the indoor pool on MSNBC website, linked to your blog from there. A lot of shots and commentary really struck me. First, I grew up in Northern Cali. Forty-niner country. Not the football team. The real gold miners. Spent my youth exploring old abandon mines, stamp mills, washoes(placer or strip mines), old one room school houses, entire towns for that fact. In that era, towns were abandon as quickly as they sprung up when then gold veins played out. Lots of ghost towns out west. Some with some really good creepy stories. Lots of old abandon military bases too. Second, my first ship was a carrier and I’ve always been an aircraft enthusiast. By the time I got there the S-2’s were gone but we still had S-3’s. Those are gone now too. Some of the largest airplane grave yards in the U.S. are out west in Nevada, and Cali. Lastly, no mater where yer from, North, East, South, Midwest or Out West, there’s always some “good ol’ boys” to be found. In the “sticks”, “hills” or “back or’e yonder”, you’ll find some of the most colorful characters that the best fiction writers couldn’t match. Most of them either Vets or draft dodger’s with nicknames like “Bones” or “Dirty Dave” or “Two Toe Tom”. You’ll never hear better stories (bs or not) or “one-liners” than from these true blood “Americana’s”. The “Nudes” banter started me chucklin’, but the “hair lip dog” knocked me out of my seat. As soon as I read that, this scraggly little pathetic lookin’ hair lip dog popped into my head and started “Markin” at me. Maybe I was still on a “hikers high” but that got my funny bone and had me laughin’ to tears. I “used to could” take a fair snapshot my self back in the day but my time is short, my cameras are old and my eyes ain’t what they used to be. Besides, film is ridiculous expensive and so is “digital” so I’ll leave it to you “Pro’s”. You keep shootin’ and writin’ and I’ll keep watchin’ and readin’.
The information here is great. I will invite my friends here.
spectacular pics. thanks..
I found your Flikr site first (great photos!)…and followed the link here.
I LOVED this story!
Hey Walt, get a hold of me asap! Foo!!
Mirage… lol great story. I passed your link on to some of my friends. I should send it to my teacher lol. Fin
Wow David! That is an amazing coincidence!! I can see why they would be your favorite neighbors, meeting them and hearing their stories was one of the coolest things! We had an absolute blast while we were there. I would have loved to meet his Harley friends and watch them tear it up on beer can alley! What a cool place.
What an amazing coincidence! Mark and Mark are two of my favorite neighbors…. Big Mark is the quintessential creative genius and there is nothing he can’t manage to build from scrap and sweat. A few years back I got an old 48 classic Harley big twin frame from him as a gift.
Mark exemplifies the spirit of you don’t need it if you can’t make it.
A true brilliant and loving friend!
really amazing photos. What an interesting story. That house was crazy!