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.
“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!
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