abandoned old car

Daily Wander Photo Challenge

It seems fitting that the first photo of the year, and my first daily photo challenge, is of a hood ornament on an abandoned 1950s DeSoto. Named after the early Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, the car represents a time in the 50s when American’s criss-crossed their country in the family sedan, spurring countless roadside motels, drive-ins and a fascination with the Road Trip. While de Soto never did find a viable route to China, he did reportedly lead the first expedition into modern day United States, crossing the Mississippi River and exploring as far north and east as South Carolina – a state which I currently call home.

I have taken on this daily photo project as a way to challenge myself to find interesting perspectives, even in the most mundane. Here’s a list of photos taken on the daily challenge.

sign barn

Southern Pickin’

Shuffling from one table to another, it is difficult to keep focused on any one item. There are vendors selling expired vitamins, partially used perfume bottles, rusting rifles, old farm implements and a disproportionate number of books about the Third Reich. In another row of tables, a mess of shiny objects from keys to belt buckles grabs my attention and I begin to peck through the flotsam that was surely destined for the dump.

close up of junk

Flotsam destined for the dump.

I’ll take two dollars for that,” one vendor offers a hesitant shopper. That, along with the indignant “I’ve got twenty bucks in that,” are favorite refrains around the Pickens Flea Market.

I look up to find my friend Malia negotiating for an old metal lunchbox. Malia, who curates an online vintage store Maliasmark visits the market most Wednesday mornings. The no-frills market attracts vendors and buyers as varied as the assortment of goods available for sale – mostly kitsch and things found on the side of the road. Who knew there was a market for expired cans of pineapple juice?

shopping at market

Gemstones, costume jewelry and bolo ties are making a comeback!

With a trained eye for vintage, Malia picks through items that instantly have a nostalgic cachet: an assortment of wooden crates, trinket boxes and a familiar blue Holly Hobbie lunch box and thermos set – identical to the one I had as a kid. As we meander down the rows of tables, a disquieting realization hits me. When did my generation become vintage? And is it wrong to buy up all the things I tossed away when I moved away from home?

Ooooo, I love that!” Says Malia, betraying the cool, detached demeanor of a skilled buyer. It’s a music box, not the gilded, precious kind, but the cardboard and vinyl clad kind with a windup plastic twirling ballerina – Identical to the one I had as a kid! Shit.

shop the flea market

Negotiating for old aluminum trays and wooden crates sold by Les.

One of the sellers, in his mid 70s, is there to clear out his garage and share a few stories. He’s selling a collection of trays he’s fashioned into planters from aluminum used in a now defunct paper mill. Another woman shares her love of travel to Italy, selling some of her accumulated trinkets. Another vendor selling a retro wedding cake topper, boasts about her own garden wedding set in an idyllic 60s timeframe.

As the morning progresses, glimpses of personal stories, a peek into a private past, snippets from a school journal reveal themselves. After several trips to unload armfuls of stuff, we head back along the country roads and wind our way past rolling farmland and vestiges of old homesteads.

sign barn

Approaching the barn covered with old industrial signs.

We pull over to take a closer look at a barn covered with old industrial signs. As we walk along the edge of the property, keeping an eye for guard dogs, Wayne, the owner, happens to come out to check his empty mailbox and graciously offers to give us a tour of his property. He constructs fantastic stories of imagined past, building on the lore of the South, complete with practiced tales about using corn cobs as toilet paper and showing us the bedpan, complete with plastic poop prop, stowed under the bed of his little cabin in the woods [I’m still kicking myself for not taking a picture].

old dog

Release the hound…dawg. This guy came sniffing around when we pulled up to the barn.

Wayne sits of the rocking chair outside his fabricated cabin filled with historic memorabilia cobbled as a tribute to the past and offers us tea and cookies. He spends the next hour talking about the various visitors he’s had on his property, the curiosity seekers, photographers and occasional derelicts that show up on his doorstep – we fall into the first two categories, hopefully!

Wayne kept Malia and I entertained with his fantastic stories.

When I get home, I’m excited to play the 78 records on the newly purchased WWII US Army issued phonograph while I flip through advertisements for learning to play an accordion and the surprising number of promotions on how to ‘build yourself a “He-Man” body’ from a 1957 copy of Popular Mechanics. I have no personal history with that past, but enjoy listening to Glen Miller and his Orchestra perform American Patrol as the dull needle narrows in on the grooves of the heavy shellac records.

The phonograph will most likely collect dust and end up with someone else in the future. In the meantime, the novelty of the object puts a smile on my face.

I occasionally spin a few vinyl records of marching songs …

fancy boots

Honky Tonk Confessions

It might have been the rousing vodka soaked night of dancing on the sticky floor, or it could have been the spirit of Hank Williams sitting in a dark corner in the back of the bar below faded autographed snapshots of county legends. Most likely it was the neon sign of a pinup girl straddling a guitar that lured me into the boot shop where I laid down a good sum of money for a pair of embroidered cowboy boots. I’ve only worn them once – and that was the day I bought them in Nashville.

Broadway, along Nashville’s famed Music Row, is crowded with lines of people teetering down the sidewalks. The wait is never long to get into the bars as the groups of tiara-crowned bachelorettes and trailing entourage of boys quickly do the rounds and move from one bar to the next, making their way through the succession of country music at the other end of town. A couple of the regulars at Robert’s Western World reminisce about the fact that no one seems to be dancing anymore– the bar hoppers preferring to yell over the musicians and slosh their PBRs on the dance floor in front of the stage.

Robert’s Western World along the Music Row strip in Nashville

As the night progresses, the crowds of people making the rounds settles on a bar, perhaps in spite of their best intentions, and the country swing dancers take over the floor one centrifugal spin at a time. I join an older gentleman who is clearly a great dancer and I try to call up variations of disco moves long relegated to the orange shag carpet of my childhood suburban basement. I lose my partner on the last spin to my friend who clearly has a better grasp of the moves.

Nashville is synonymous for all things country music; record studios, radio stations and numerous bars attract aspiring musicians from around the country where they bust their ass for their big break. The musicians at Robert’s pays tribute to honky tonk, and like most musicians on the strip, they play for tips.

Humor not lost to the crowd

I have to confess; in the past I have expressed great disdain for the genre. Living in the ‘South’ you can’t spin the radio dial without hitting a country music station of one sort or another spanning the gamut from bluegrass to Christian gospel and new country. I rarely linger for more than a few seconds, enough time to decipher the manufactured lyrics. Maybe it was the earnest live performance, or the kick-ass cowboy boots, but I found myself being drawn into the raw and jagged sound set to a syncopated beat that defines an American mythology.

Waiting for the dance floor to clear

“You sure this is the place?” Asks the cab driver as he pulls up to an unlit house. All signs indicate it’s closed.

“No, but we’ll get out anyway.”

We walk up the steps to what appears to be a law firm. The door is open and behind heavy velvet curtains is the well-stocked bar at The Patterson House, dimly lit with chandeliers reflecting off a stamped tinned ceiling. The menu reads like song titles – “Maisy Makes a Sling” and “Shanty Town Jewel”. These aren’t the same bar tenders wearing tank tops and straw hats, but Gatsby-esque mixologists complete with newsboy caps, satin ties tucked into vests, sleeves rolled up.

This tops our 48-hour extravaganza in Nashville. From the well-worn honky tonks to the boutique-crammed neighborhood of Hillsboro, there is no doubt that Nashville is more than a collection of boot shops and museums constructing an edifice of Americana.

The next morning, I pack my boots into the trunk of my car, the leather soles scuffed from a night of dancing. We eat lunch at Hattie B’s – famous, like everything else in the South, for exceptionally crisp fried chicken. We also stop at Antique Archeology of American Pickers fame to browse some unique and bizarre junk – but that’s a story for another time. As for the boots – they stand stiff at the back of my closet. Yes, its time to take them on another road trip.