When you drive down the road on a sunny day, sometimes you have a camera in hand and it’s setup for 1/500 sec exposure. Maybe manually setup for f/11 and hyperfocal convergence.Â Burning through a few frames, or more.Â And there is one shot, maybe, when it is worth stopping. But where on earth are you? Film doesn’t give you much by way of coordinates. If you’re lucky, you can remember the most recent town, or something unique about where you turned around to trace back a quarter mile to find that shot.
This photo was made early August of 2014 on a drive from Nashville to Columbus, MS. It was only after I developed the film that I realized I wasn’t really all that sure where I had been. It certainly wasn’t going to come up in a search for Texaco stations between the two points.
Gratefully there are plenty of ways to trace one’s steps. Working backwards from the end of my drive, looking at a Google Maps satellite view along Highway 17 in Alabama, I was able to find where the above was taken. 34.170103, ‑87.962499. The street view is from December 2013, and you can see the branches bare. The tree seems much more fragile then, as if it could be ripped out of the ground without effort. But in the summer, it seems that within a few years the entire location will be one mass of green.
It was occupied at least since 1989, when System3 gasoline was introduced. And probably much more recently than that. My guess is that it was damaged in 2011,Â possibly related to the EF5 twister that in that area.Â This is a snapshot of a moment of transition. I feel the balance very precariously in this spot. Will we come to clean our mess? And, further, will we come to clean the mess that we were handed by nature, in a way? Or will we let nature take back what was claimed by storms?
I felt like a tourist there. I was no more invested in this space than I am when I visit ancient wonders. I admire those who built it, and I even more so, in some ways, admire those who knew to walk away. “Yes we are OPEN” — was that left as a bit of jest? As a statement saying we will be back? It is like those places abandoned mid-meal, when some terror or need was so great that all was left behind with hope of returning, but maybe knowing in some sliver that no one would be coming back. And now it is captured in film, in this state of transition, forever.
[EDIT: Others have noted that the EF5 tornado passed a few miles north of the service station. So, damage is probably not from the tornado itself but I would still guess from the related storm]