November 04, 2009


(Or, "What I Did On My Holidays In Bakersfield"…).

No, I don't expect anyone to get all the way through this one. And yes, it has a soundtrack, which needs to be heard loud with a good sound system.

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November 01, 2009

If You Say So

My eye catches some sort of roadside public service billboard looming over the outskirts of Bakersfield with the slogan "You are someone!" in huge letters next to the standard image of a generic schoolkid. I don't hang around to read the small print.

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September 20, 2009

The Fall

Off Ramshorn Road, somewhere around here, I fall a couple of metres over a dry riverbank while taking a photo some distance away from my car and the "road" (a rough dirt track, in reality). I land on mixed sand and rock, and sprain my right wrist and ankle, bruise my shoulder, cut my arm, graze my leg, and tear my jeans (and just avoid destroying my camera, somehow, which was all that really mattered at the time). I can't seem to use my right arm properly to get me back up to the car (it's partially paralyzed). When I do get back up I sit on the dirt road in the shade next to the car thinking I'm the dumbest guy I know: I just casually broke every one of my own rules for wilderness work on my own, and damn nearly ended up with a bunch of broken bones (or worse) in the middle of nowhere without anyone having a clue I was even in the area; and it's possible no one would have come across me for days.

I drive very slowly back out over the bumpy dirt road towards civilisation and just as slowly the shoulder and right arm start working again, and by the time I'm back in Mt Shasta, I feel sore but fine, and I can joke about it to the supermarket checker as I'm buying bandages and antiseptic. I must look a sight — I have blood on my shirt, and my hair's a matted mess of sweat and blood (mostly from my arm as I brushed the sweat away). I've bought some Hello Kitty bandages along with the more serious stuff, just to cheer me (and anyone who sees me) up. The checker — a woman about my age — looks at the HK package and then up at me, and says conspiratorially "Hello Kitty will fix anything, won't she?".

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May 06, 2009

Road Trip Pix

I've put an automatically-generated gallery of some hi-res pix from my recent road trip into California and Nevada here. I'll be doing something separate for the people shots from the Vegas conference, sometime in the future, for those of you who asked….

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May 01, 2009

City of Light

It's easy to get all huffy about the tawdriness and inauthenticity at the heart of Las Vegas, but immersed in the crowds on The Strip late at night, it can seem a bright and cheery sort of place (watching the Bellagio fountains do a brassy "Hey Big Spender" really did it for me), and from the 26th floor of the Flamingo, with the lights out towards Nellis twinkling in the desert heat and distance, the neon reflections in the windows arrayed around the immediate high-rise horizon, the helicopters shuttling above the strip, the lights of the planes turning final into McCarran, and the palms swaying in the breeze between the parking structures, it's easier to take Vegas at face value, an authentic sort of context for the genuinely inauthentic. Who cares whether the palms in front of the Eiffel Tower are fake or not?

But the drive in the from the desert, the long struggle to get through the traffic in suburb after suburb of huge pastel developments, empty garage Mahals, strip malls, sandy hills and clogged freeways, the permanent impermanence of everything much beyond The Strip or Downtown, the flinty Los Angelisation, the endless stream of billboards that seem to advertise only personal injury, DUI, and traffic offense lawyering, the taxis with rooftop ads for automatic weapons, the way almost every built surface looks instantly worn in the same way so many local faces do… all that's the ugly heart of Las Vegas. It's just hidden in that vast periphery that few get to see on their five-block ride in from the airport.

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April 28, 2009


From the side of US 95 in Nevada, a spooky glimpse of a Predator drone taxiing quickly along a runway at Creech, then a line of black pickups with federal plates and dark windows pulls out onto the highway ahead of me. A Nevada Highway Patrol car flashes past me at twice my speed, silently. I bumble on towards Vegas.

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February 17, 2009

A Few Small Snaps From A Long Weekend

For those of you not following along on Facebook (or Twitter, for that matter), I spent a few days in the desert doing mostly video work on movement and people; some not-as-well-focused snaps from the expedition are at my Facebook Where I Am gallery for a while. Nothing special, but I'm working on the video version, which will probably take months to get that 5 minutes of finished product from 50 minutes of footage. An Australian accent (no matter how not-quite-right) goes a long way in this sort of thing, is all I'll obliquely say here….

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November 14, 2008

The Big Country

The grandly-named Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (actually a nook in the mall at Orlando Airport) sells (amongst a large array of other merch) plush cuddly little official NASA space shuttles. I buy one; it'll go nicely with the friendly over-fed knitted pink and white Dalek I have back in Oakland.

At Denver we land in the teeth of a bitterly-cold strong northerly wind that's sending tumbleweeds rolling across the runways and ramps; it's snowed here earlier this morning, but it's blowing dirt and sand and stray bits of scrap paper right now. The crowds hanging around the gates waiting to board West Coast flights always seem visibly different to the rest of the vast mass of people that flows through this huge airport every day (this has often been the first sign of home for me over the past decade). At the western end of the long concourse you can see the beginning of the Rockies through plate glass picture windows; at the other end there's no view at all of the Great Plains sloping invisibly back through the haze towards the Mississippi and Back East. It's a state of mind, I guess, along with the "Tornado Shelter" signs pointing to the reinforced toilet structures every few tens of metres along the way.

Later, Boulder, the Front Range, snow-covered oilfields, the scoured scarred badlands of Western Colorado (a place with unlikely family connections for me), mesas, the Wasatch, Great Salt Lake, the endless sharp ranges of the Great Basin desert, snowcapped against a desert of rilles, craters, dry lakes, power stations, and mines in the middle of nowhere, Mono Lake and the Sierras (at last!), Mighty Modesto, State Route 99, Interstate 5, Mt Diablo and the Bay… we land into a very dry but mild mini Santa Ana that's turned the twilight bright orange and purple and the brush fire danger to bright red. Back to reality, I guess.

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November 13, 2008

The Natural

Fierce sun, hard rain, towering clouds, dark shades, Caribbean accents, sandy soil, scrubby trees, standing water, filmy lakes, sprawling malls, thrusting resorts, empty plazas, big food, ubiquitous obesity, unsustainable lifestyles…. Outside — somewhere — Natural Florida, a place I suspect I'd like a lot, a place I've never visited in twenty years of having to come to the Real Florida for conferences and business.

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November 11, 2008


So you fly a few thousand miles non-stop across the country to a smallish city in the middle of what seems like a very flat nowhere and approach the rental car counter at the airport. You can't help noticing that on the wall behind the counter there are three large posters, one from each of what you think of as your home towns — London, Sydney, and San Francisco — enticing you to travel to these distant locales (and rent cars there, presumably).

It all seems so exotic. Especially when the guy behind the counter cheerily greets you with a thick Brummie accent.

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September 28, 2008

California Zephyr

Martinez, Davis, Sacramento, Marysville, Yuba City, Chico, Red Bluff, Anderson, Redding, Lakehead, Castella, Dunsmuir… From the comfort of the vista dome, unstable little homeless cities of huddled tents, out of sight in the dry riverbeds and ravines of the Valley, dull blown-about trash strewn across thorns, levees, dead grass, the dry glare of desperation in backyards and dead cars, palm trees, clapboard, boarded-up brick, rusted rails, broken fences. Outside, an entire family looks up from picking over garbage next to the railway and waves at us as we pass by; inside, most seem to be incurious or untouched by the landscapes hustling past.

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August 24, 2008


On the beach, Gualala

Thick fog creeping across the cliffs, dark sand, driftwood, poppies and thistles, sequoias and ghost gums, turkey vultures, hawks, seagulls, pelicans, oases of floating kelp, furtive abalone divers, surfers shivering in wetsuits… and hordes of aged geezers on ear-splitting Harleys stopping to have coffee at places with slogans like "Not just a cup of coffee — a just cup of coffee", or dropping in for dinner at Pangaea.

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August 22, 2008

Beyond Sebastopol

On the Gravenstein Highway just beyond Sebastopol a spindly young black guy wearing a grey suit with a straw hat and a huge bass saxophone strapped across his back rides slowly through the dry shimmering; it seems too true to be real, but it's one with the Zen center, the Sensuality Shoppe, and the roadside bars here, I guess. This time the anti-war signs are faded, torn, shabby, a little less abrasive; in any case, no one's honking as they drive past any more as far as I could tell (did they ever?).

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March 30, 2008

Dry Humour

On the Taft Highway out of Bakersfield, in the middle of a wind-blown nowhere surrounded by fields of dirt and rough tracks, there's a little town (hamlet, really) called Dustin Acres.

(The Taft Highway between Bakersfield and Taft reminds me a lot of the way the Rosedale Highway out of Bakersfield used to look twenty years ago — down-at-heels, rough, tough, scrappy, an uncertain future…).

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March 29, 2008

The Kern River Oil Fields

Kern River Oil Fields from Bakersfield

I've tried to get something like this shot of the Kern River oil fields near Oildale for a couple of decades now; this is probably as close as I'll get, taken early this afternoon on the bluffs overlooking the Kern with a huge long hand-held lens. One thing you learn over the years: taking shots of refineries, bridges, oil fields, etc., with a very big lens can cause all sorts of police activity directed towards you. Not this time, though (they were quelling a fight a bit further along Panorama Drive).

Click on the thumbnail above to get a bit of the flavour of the place (basically northeast Bakersfield): literally dozens of square miles of denuded desert hills crawling with wires, pipes, poles, fences, tracks, tanks, and swinging pumps. And it's constantly alive; all those nodding donkey pumpjacks plod along without moving, giving the whole scene a sort of organic Rube Goldberg / Heath Robinson feel.

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Left Bank

A pleasant two hour stroll down the left bank of the mighty Kern River through Bakersfield…

Kern River, Bakersfield

Kern River, Bakersfield

Kern River, Bakersfield

Kern River,  Bakersfield

Kern River,  Bakersfield

Kern River,  Bakersfield

(Later, the Rosedale Highway, 7th Standard Road, Round Mountain Road, China Grade Loop, Merle Haggard Drive, North Chester (a rough old street, to be sure)).

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March 28, 2008

Westside Story

Highway 33

Highway 33

Derrick Avenue, The Coalinga-Mendota Road, Highway 33, Utica Avenue, Highway 99, The Stockdale Highway, Buck Owens Boulevard, Coalinga, Avenal, the Lost Hills, Kettleman Hills, McKittrick, Taft, Maricopa, Oildale, Weedpatch... Bakersfield, again.

In the Lost Hills area you drive for miles along rural two-lane blacktops through surreal treeless landscapes of rounded near-desert hills scarred by pipes, pale tanks, rutted tracks and the usual rusted twisted junk strewn around forests of nodding donkey pumpjacks, a stinging smell of burning. Everywhere, driven dust, tumbleweeds, pale willy-willies against the haze, and mountains looming in the murk just off stage. Everything natural in this harsh hard-edged landscape is in soft subdued pastels; everything else glints or flexes in bright colours or black. This landscape defeats my attempts to photograph it; it'd work much better as video shot from a truck.

At Vons on the Stockdale Highway, there's a bunch of "Jindabyne" DVDs on special near the checkstand. Outside in the parking lot, huge dark-painted SUVs and pickups with tinted windows, ostentatious crosses, Raiders logos, assault stereos, raised suspensions and oversized tires, "Jesus would bomb the Cr*p out of the Iraqis, That's what He'd do" stickers; what did I expect?

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January 26, 2008

Blood And Soil

Mt. Shasta

I keep returning to this place, this river-strewn high volcanic landscape that's so different from the rest of Northern California, this Southern Oregon that's not the Oregon that seems to look towards Seattle (or at its own organic navel). It's a state of something, for sure, something that makes me feel deeply at home in the same way that the Mojave or the Owens Valley do.

But to acknowledge the State Of Jefferson as anything more than whimsical history or sentimental icon, you have to get past the cringe-making scrappy driven boosterism and inferiority complexes so often behind the idea, the right-wing rewrites of history and coded shibboleths that come with the gun racks and pickups or the creepy newage crystal shops glinting in the malls. It's a States Rights thing, basically, with all that that phrase can mean.

It's like a certain strain of Australian nationalism: motivated by a sort of charming or disarming bad faith and an inability to speak its mind because it's really all Id. It's no accident that the great State Of Jefferson is so often identified by its boosters as a state of mind.

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January 25, 2008

The Delta

Refinery exoskeletons through the mist and driving rain, the hints of steep hills in the distance, a lone hunter out with his dog and gun in a flooded field next to the freeway, low-hanging clouds, a military jet skimming the levees, isolated oaks on little rises, loping wires above the sloughs, long trains lost in the mist, everything unnaturally cold, unnaturally green, unnaturally grey…

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December 08, 2007

Deep Springs

Deep Springs Road

A few years ago in the middle of nowhere — a dozen or so miles further down the remote desert road in the California / Nevada border region shown above — I was taking photos of dead cars and things like that off the side of the road. I rarely saw another (live) car while I was in the area. It was hot, very dry, and, as always out there, windy. After a while I noticed something moving a mile or so away on the side of the road — a sign flapping in the wind? Some discarded clothes stuck on a fence? I didn't think much more about it and turned back to taking photos.

About twenty minutes later I looked back at the road again. The distant movement had turned into a tall, wiry, bearded guy maybe fifty metres away striding purposefully along the side of the road towards me (and, presumably, towards Big Pine, the nearest settlement, some forty miles further up the road). He looked fairly well-dressed and healthy, with a little pack on his back. He ignored me.

I made the mistake of shouting across the road to him: "Need a ride to Big Pine?" Without looking at me, he gestured and yelled "Fuck Off!" (in what sounded suspiciously like an Australian accent). Okaaaaayyyyy, I thought... and turned back to the photo work again. The next time I looked he was a couple of miles up the road towards Westgard Pass, still striding steadily. I never saw him again.

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November 02, 2007


Long shadows, a pale sun, the container cranes lost in the mist, the estuary like a mirror, the familiar hum and shudder of the Park Street bridge against the soles of my shoes, the line of concrete trucks outside my studio, the noise next door… home, I guess.

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November 01, 2007

A List

Es mi barrio

Angus, Andrew, Ian, Heather, Ursula, Tommy, Phoenix, Stephen, Tracey, Dan, Kim, Harry, Russ, Rick, Caroline, Jacinta, Garry, Lucy, Nicky, Daniel, Krisha, Derek… and a whole bunch of others. Thanks! I had a time…

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October 31, 2007

Street Level

King Street, Newtown

"Mate, just take a pitcha of me instead of all the shops!" ("Kenny" on King Street).

Cooper's Hotel, King Street, Newtown

Happy bloody hour.

King Street, Newtown

Deepest Africa.

King Street, Newtown

International Dreaming (this mural has miraculously survived for decades now).

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October 30, 2007

Oz Politics At A Glance

(A glimpse into the election for the non-Australians out there who aren't suffering through the contest between two of the most boring people on the planet… it's even better if you know that Rudd, Labor Party leader, speaks Mandarin).

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October 29, 2007

Erko Plus

Erskineville Rd, Erko

Erskineville Rd, Erko

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October 26, 2007

Then And Now

What a difference a decade or two makes (or doesn't)…

Erskineville Rd, Newtown

Erskineville Rd, Newtown

Erskineville Rd, Erko

Erskineville Rd, Erko

Bedford St, Newtown

Bedford St, Newtown

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October 23, 2007

The Anti-Telegraph (Lismore)

In the Co-op on the plaza at Southern Cross University I pick up a remaindered Les Murray biog; I just have to find out where that huge well of self-pity comes from. This anti-Telegraph Avenue seems to be a good place to start, surrounded by a weird mix of homeopathy schools and redneck trucks, strutting Aussie battlers, beautiful old houses, verandahs, lush greens and bright colours, backroads restaurants, cattle, heat, humidity, rainforest, fibro shacks ….

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October 22, 2007


The ghosts are thick on the ground here, names like Murwillumbah, Byangum, Goonengerry, Mallanganee, Gundurimba, Wooyung, Dungarubba, Goonellabah, Nimbin, the Clarence, the Tweed, Pimlico… (the taxi from Erko to the airport has a loud American accented GPS on the dash, which adds to the ghostliness). My Jetstar boarding pass has a coupon for $5 off Barbie products at Target. How did they know?

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October 20, 2007

Where I'm From

Lion Island from Umina Beach

Or one of the places, at any rate. And Spike does this sort of thing a lot better, but those odd little holdovers from the past (plain ugly or not) like the one below still crop up on the walks through streets now mostly populated with far uglier and much larger places that absolutely strive for mediocrity. There's no There, There, in almost all of my hometowns now.

(And no, this particular house in Ettalong was not my childhood home, but it surely typifies some part of my childhood).

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October 18, 2007


Pale skins, British faces, narrow streets, crowded footpaths, old shops with awnings, terraces, fleeting accents… not so much a homecoming as … well, what? I'm a foreigner with a native accent.

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August 18, 2007

Another Damn Slideshow?

US Highway 50, Central Nevada

For those of you who asked (you know who you are), I finally got around to putting up the full Flash-based slideshow / gallery from the earlier desert trip (see e.g. the april archives ad nauseam). Click on the image above or here to see the gallery. You'll need a fairly hi-res screen (it's optimised for at least 1280 x 1024, but it'll work at less than this), and you can fiddle with the enigmatic little icons on the bottom right of the page to start things going and to enable or disable image titles, etc.

And if you don't have Flash and / or Javascript (or you've disabled them), you probably won't see anything at all. Which might be a blessing — there's a lot of images up there…

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August 17, 2007


Propelled across the Great Basin and the Mojave by Glass's attractively expansive 3rd Symphony (it's a perfect soundtrack for high desert two-lane blacktops), I had to ask: why did he write this as a symphony rather than a quartet? It's a natural for a quartet (a form he's written well for); his orchestration (19 piece string band) doesn't bring much to the piece for me, it just muddies the lines, subtracts from the power by adding to the volume (yes, he eventually gets 19 separate lines running simultaneously, but that feels a little gimmicky in context, something like wringing a Bolero from Metamorphosen).

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July 20, 2007

Night Flight

Camarillo, 10pm

10pm, Camarillo airport (Ventura County, outer LA), after a 200 mile drive through the heat of the Valley from Oakland to Sacramento and back, and a two hour flight down in a rented Mooney, I watch The Boys work on 75T in front of the hangar.

Ahead: a two hour formation flight through a smooth dark moonless night over rugged high terrain with Tight Sainthood as the lead pilot and navigator, another way-past-midnight return, a major tremor epicentered beneath Oakland… what else?

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July 19, 2007



"Camarillo Tower, Cirrus 75 Tango, we're going to have to make an immediate return to the airfield. We've got an electrical problem up here…"
"75 Tango, understood. Confirm that's you 5 northwest?"
"Affirmative, 75 Tango."
"75 Tango do you need any assistance or want to declare an emergency?"
"75 Tango… nah, I think we've just lost our alternator. We'll debug it on the ground. If you don't hear us again that'll be the reason."
"75 Tango, understood. If you lose the radios, look for the lightgun."
"75 Tango, will do, and thanks."
"75 Tango, cleared to land 26, wind 240 at 15, traffic on the upwind is a Cessna in the pattern."
"75 Tango, cleared to land 26, traffic in sight."
"75 Tango, exit at Charlie, ground point eight, and, um, good luck!"
"75 Tango, ground point eight, and thanks. I'm sure the owner's going to be thrilled…"

* * *

CH-46 Sea Knight

I watch the LAPD and Ventura County Sheriff's Department cars careering around chasing each other in the shimmering haze out beyond the runway in what's apparently a special car chase training area on the airport. They've been doing this for hours. I've been sitting here in the airport cafe for hours, waiting for The Owner to call back. There's a growing noise of military helicopters and out of nowhere three large grey-painted USMC CH-46 Sea Knights descend in formation into the heat at the far end of the ramp, out beyond the parked airplanes. The noise is deafening. They descend in a cloud of dust and blown-around trash, with all the smaller planes rocking around on the wash, and in a minute or so the loadmasters lower the back ramps and three or four dozen marines in fatigues line up on the ramp. After what looks like a short briefing the marines stroll briskly across the ramp towards the cafe. I ask the cafe owner what's happening. "Oh", she says, "they've just flown in from Edwards. They've reserved the entire front patio. It's Tri-Tip treat day for them!". Cool, I think, as I watch them rush in like excited kids.

No, I've been here a couple of decades and I didn't know what Tri-Tip was either.


(Ch-46 image from the US Navy via Wikipedia).

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July 18, 2007

The Home Of The Homeless

Santa Monica, 7am

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Back Alley, 7.50am

One of the things I've always liked about Santa Monica (and Venice) is the shady, grimy, muggy, truck- and garbage-strewn urban alleys, so much like the back lanes of the inner-city Sydney of my memory. Around the corner, Third Street gets creepier every year, a sort of clean shiny Disneyfied Telegraph Avenue with the homeless sitting in tidy chairs and street crews cleaning up every morning. And there's almost nothing there any more except large chain stores and generic restaurants.

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July 17, 2007



Tight Sainthood does Van Nuys ("One Six Right" territory for the aviation nerds like me Out There).

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Level at 7,000'

Tight Sainthood 7,000' over the Central Valley (dig those classic retro steam gauges! No, TS usually does the glass cockpit thing nowadays…).

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April 29, 2007

Tough Town

Until maybe Trona, but definitely somewhere before Barstow, the appropriate soundtrack for the trip always seemed to be classic Country (the corny fun melodic stuff of the various Hanks and Johnnies, at least); by Barstow, it had slipped into something a little darker, the sort of bad sub-classic rock male primal scream music you associate with aggressive resentment and loud self-pity. Huge SUVs, ATVs, RVs, jacked-up pickups, assault stereos, windowless clapboard houses, in-your-face Confederate and US flags, dark glasses and bristling moustaches, tats and bare flab, people as fat as their cars; Barstow's a tough town. I leave it for Oakland.

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April 28, 2007

Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino

Cady Mountains, Route 66

Cady Mountains, Route 66.

Ludlow, Route 66, California

Ludlow, California.

Ludlow Crossing, Route 66, California

Ludlow Crossing, California.

Siberia, Route 66, California

Siberia, California.

Bagdad, Route 66, California

Bagdad, California (yes, that Bagdad, even if the film was actually made 50 miles up the highway at Newberry Springs…).

Roy's, Amboy, Route 66, California

Roy's, Amboy, California. When I first drove through here nearly twenty years ago, I knew nothing about the place. Roy's was still owned and run by Buster Burris back then; he actually owned the entire surrounding "town" of Amboy as well, and later tried to sell it en masse (but no one bought it). I stopped and went in to the cafe for a soda. It was small and deathly quiet; I was the only customer there. There were several hand-drawn and autographed pictures of Ronald Reagan on the wall; the decor was retro-kitsch without the "retro" (or the quotes), barstools, plastic-topped tables, etc. I got my soda from the rather nice old woman behind the counter and fled, which seems a stupidly-wasted opportunity in retrospect….

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North American

North American

Pisgah, California

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