Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

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This happened 10 years ago at this time of year.

We called it a trial separation. I took my brother’s couch while she stayed with the kids in our home. Ten days later, she said she didn’t want me back. My brother walked the line between helping and enabling, and stepped off on the side that said I’d have to go.

I landed at an extended-stay hotel, newly built but already reeking of the cigarettes and the sweat and the dank of the transient, with a faint whiff of ammonia and eucalyptus from scant cleaning efforts. I dropped my bags and walked the ten paces around the room. Turned on all the lights. Turned them off, then all on again. The room still dim, the lights straining at the shadows left in the corners.

The chair and the bed did little for the pain and stress gathered in my shoulders. When it was on, the heater did little but argue with the TV, drowning out whatever program was doing its best to distract me from what I didn’t want to think about, not drowning out my neighbors, their loud sex, the fellow cursing from foreplay to finish.

Twice after the office closed my keycard wouldn’t work, the all-hours number went unanswered, and I slept in my car in the cold in the parking lot. Twice I arrived minutes late to pay the rent, and they had already thrown away my food and put my belongings in storage. Grace was sparse and uncommon.

Meanwhile, I paid the mortgage and cable and utilities on a house I’d never live in again. My credit card paid for this room. I stayed just four weeks before finding a scuffed, dingy apartment that cost less than half. The apartment where the insomnia found me, the tears, the agony. In the extended-stay hotel, there was little room left to feel anything at all.

Thanks to my friend Christopher Newgent for helping me say this.

Autumn strolls through my neighborhood


Velvia is born for sunny days. Cloudy days, meh. Or so I found out when I strolled through my neighborhood one overcast afternoon with camera in hand. But this is the only photo I got that shows how the reds, yellows, and oranges frosted the green trees here as autumn began. So you get cloudy-day shots.

Neighborhood trees

A canopy of trees covers my little neighborood’s banal little houses. My neighbors and I all have our work cut out for us each autumn when the leaves fall. I spend half the day five or six weekends in a row driving around on my tractor sucking up leaves.

Neighbor's house under the yellow canopy

This is one of the better looking homes, just a few doors down from mine. Even though these houses aren’t anything special, I’m happy in mine and am glad to live here.

Neighbor's house

I did get one useful shot of the colorful leaves on a sunny-day stroll through my neighborhood.

Looking up

This really was a remarkable Indiana autumn: wildly colorful, mostly sunny, dry, and warm. I wish they were all this way.

Captured: Flag at Mount Jackson


Little flag among the fallen leaves

It’s called Mount Jackson Cemetery, but it’s on some of the flattest land in Indianapolis. Mount Jackson was the surrounding neighborhood’s original name, going back to the 1820s, but it’s been called Hawthorne for longer than anybody can remember. Poverty, drugs, petty crime — nobody lives in Hawthorne because they want to.

The cemetery persists, quiet, safe. Here lie Hawthorne’s earliest residents and the neighborhood’s original name. This plot gets little love, but someone came to remember a veteran buried here.

Green, yellow, and orange


The trees changed color slowly this autumn, often first frosting their tips in red, yellow, and orange while the underlying leaves remained green. This created arresting views all over town.

Along the section of Kessler Boulevard that I filmed last autumn stands a big Presbyterian church with a grand maple beside its parking lot. I bollixed the focusing on my photo of the whole tree, but the close-up shots sure turned out, crisp and colorful.

Orange green red

In transition

Red orange

Autumn in Indianapolis


Red tree parking lot

Time was, I couldn’t enjoy autumn. I always looked past it straight to winter, which I hate: the cold and snow, the staying indoors, the heavy clothes and coats. But then a few years ago an autumn of astonishing color yanked me from my gathering funk, and since then I’ve looked for autumn’s color, frequently with a camera in hand. My camera has helped me appreciate so many things, and autumn stands at the front of the line.

I’ve often felt that my cameras never captured the full autumn color experience. The closest any camera came was the autumn day I walked through Holliday Park with my old Kodak Z730 digital camera — that old digicam gets wonderful color.

But this year, I had a new arrow in my quiver: Fujifilm Velvia 50, a slide film known for heavily saturated color. I put some in my Nikon F2 and, over several days, photographed as much autumn color as I could. And boy howdy, did I get some strong color back. Unrealistic color. The kind of color we all wish autumn could deliver.

Fortunately, I’m not opposed to such fantasy. Through Thursday this week, I’ll share Velvia photos from my October camera walks. All of this color will counterbalance the black story I need to tell on Friday.

Red and orange

For most of 17 years I’ve lived around the corner from a large cemetery. The trees in its parking lot were probably deliberately chosen for the intense color they deliver come fall.

Red and path

This was the first time I entered the cemetery to photograph anything. I never think about exploring this cemetery because long ago it became something I fail to notice. That happens to things you drive by every day. I only notice these trees because they are near the street.

Recommended reading


From the blogs I read this week:

At Curbside Classic, the old-car blog for which I write, one of our contributors passed away last week of liver cancer. Kevin Martin had stories aplenty, and illustrated the ones he told with Kodachrome slides he took when he lived those stories. The site re-ran his best posts all week. I especially enjoy one about his time driving cabs in New York City. Read CC Feature: My Checkered Career with Checker Cabs

Übergeek and tech pundit Jeff Atwood has been paying attention to tablet (e.g., iPad) performance over the years. His data backs it up: tablets perform almost as well as desktop computers now. It’s an important shift as people rely on tablets more and more. Read The Tablet Turning Point

I don’t know David35mm‘s real name, but on his film-photography blog this week he shared a story of going through his elderly mother’s home after she moved to assisted living, and finding his dad’s old Zenit 35mm SLR with a half-shot roll of film inside. Read Analogue Memories


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