The trip from San Francisco was somewhat long and uneventful. We got out mid morning on Monday and headed south, then east to the valley. We descended into the fog of the valley and didn’t see the sun until we rose up into the Tehachapi Mountains late the next day. Our first camp was at the RV park in Coalinga we’ve come to call the almond blossom park. It is set next to an orchard, and in spring when the trees are blooming, it is something to see. This day though it was cold, foggy and dreary. Next day we made it to Barstow and overnighted again. We finally made it into Quartzsite late afternoon of our third day.
Just after we entered Arizona, we decided to stop at the first discount gas station we found. Gas tends to be at least 20 cents cheaper in Arizona than in California, so this was a prudent move – I thought. The station we pulled into happened to be undergoing some upgrades to the pumping area and 3 of the five pumping stations were closed. We ended up waiting in a long line for the one pump we were situated to use. After about an hour we were on our way again.
On the way out of the station, up near the on-ramp, there was a couple holding a sign reading, “Out of gas, anything will help”. Off behind them, I could see their heavily overloaded Dodge van with doors and windows wide open. This would be the sort of subject that would be perfect for certain kinds of photo projects that deal with people who live full-time in their vehicles – but not what I am looking to explore. It is always hard to pass these unfortunates by. I have always had trouble dealing with this part of the human condition and passing them by never feels right. We moved past them and on into Quartzsite.
Before we left San Francisco, I arranged to meet up with with some folks who have been to Quartzsite many times before. We all travel in the same brand of motorhome – the Lazy Daze. Since this brand is a bit lesser known, it gives us all something in common to share stories and fixes and modifications. I think it also plays into the nomadic theme I am looking to frame this whole thing in. We travel, we gather, we move on. The whole experience really gives that kind of feeling. Using the directions I was given and GPS, we found them in the vast BLM area around Quartzsite. This has turned out to be a great move. Everyone we’ve met is open and welcoming and we have felt at home hanging out with the group. Several are full-timers, but I’ve ended up photographing everyone at one point or another. It’s so early in the project that I feel it doesn’t make much difference whether they full-time or part-time.
Our first full day here, Mary and I began checking out some of the local swap meets and flea markets. Row upon row of stalls selling most anything and everything. I stopped to chat with an artist named Alice Thompson. She had missed the deadline for an earlier art faire in San Diego and so rented a booth here for the winter. Her work was well above the level of most others around her, but she said she was doing alright. I started my project with a photo of her. Later I stopped to briefly talk with an older gent holding a couple of carts for the wife while she poked through a booth. He seemed pretty resigned, but bored. I also photographed the general area from the lone high point in the area – the overpass. The image doesn’t really convey the breadth and width of the human presence of this place. Perhaps a very long panoramic might work better. I also went looking for the naked bookseller. He is legendary in these parts, and I knew he had a bookstore in town somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where. Having no luck, we went back to camp.
One of the best parts of camping with a group is sharing stories and information of the days happenings. While hanging out around the evening campfire, I was told just where I could find Paul Winer, naked proprietor of Reader’s Oasis Books. Paul is quite a story. Selling books for more than 25 years, his used bookstore is having difficulties. The bad economy, online competition and a location that is really only good 2 months out of the year, have left him struggling. He avoid a lien sale by 15 days last year and isn’t sure how long he can continue. At 67 years old, it isn’t getting easier. To supplement, he has taken to preforming at local venue’s. Apparently, he is quite a popular draw.
So we went back into town the next day and found his place. He really was a nice guy to talk with. Mary really enjoyed browsing the store and found several titles she had been wanting, and I chatted with Paul. He was constantly interrupted by requests for photographs and he always accommodated the requests. I hope he makes it.
Saturday was the opening of the one of the big RV shows and we decided up brave the crowds on day one and check it out. It was mobbed of course, but the parade of RV’ers was worth the crush. In fact I did find some really sleek LED replacement lights for the fluorescent tubes in my rig. These LED’s use a third of the power the fluorescents do. This plays big when the battery power is low on the Lazy Daze. I didn’t photograph much at the event – just too crowded. Perhaps when I return on Monday for more LED’s.
It is said that the best way to meet people in RV’s is to open a tool box and your rig’s hood. You’ll have ten guys around you in an instant. When I got back to camp and showed the others what I bought, we made an instant date meet at my rig that evening to check out how well the LED’s worked. It was truly amazing at how much better these lights were. The pitch was that one LED tube would provide more that twice the light as two fluorescents. Much to everyone’s surprise, they did indeed live up to the hype.
Most of our time here has been spent hanging out around camp. I’ve been photographing my new friends here, but it is still difficult to point my camera at them. Everyone has been great about letting me in, and I think the images are getting stronger. I think I am proving to myself that this project has merit and that I can do it. It is a good start at the very least.