It was one of those days that you wake up and you can either think it’s crummy weather, or you can look out and think, “It’s a good day to take some pictures.” I knew where I was going to go with it. I grabbed a bag full of cameras and some extra film and headed south. On the way, I took some shots of a taxi cab smashed up in the middle of the street; drivers giving their accounts of the crash to concerned policemen, and a firetruck weaving in and out of traffic. It was a good thing I had my point and shoot in the seat beside me, or I would have missed it all.
I parked in Argenta so I could walk from one side of the bridge to the other. It was cold, and damp, but I knew once I was moving, the blood would start pumping and the gears would start to turn. The north side of the river is full of traffic, backed up by accidents on two of the three main thoroughfares into the city. I look in the big plate glass windows, where every building used to be occupied and this was prime real estate. Some guy in a pickup yells at me, but I can’t tell what he’s saying and I probably wouldn’t care.
I stop in the Greyhound station, with all the folks huddled around the TV, laughing at some real life tragedy while two men mopped the floor in the dim fluorescent light. It’s the set of a sad movie that will only play in the art house theaters to mixed reviews. In the daytime, the place still has a whiff of menace, like a county rec room.
I walk around the building and head over to the Junction Bridge. It’s slick as a greased pole and I take it inch by inch. Three kids pass me on the way over to the Little Rock side and one says, “This is that bi-polar weather.” I thought how appropriate the term was for what this winter has been like. A thick shroud hung over the buildings, the few solitary towers in an otherwise low altitude city. The bridges are one of my favorite things around here, and I think of all the things in this little town, the river is one of the few things that I never get tired of.Going up the steps I felt like I was going to fall into the muddy water, and once had that feeling that you get in your gut, just before you take a big plunge. Fortunately, it was all in my head. Two men with matted beards, smoking rollie’s asked me to take their picture. They looked like brother’s and made wild faces. They asked me for coffee, to help them warm up, but I didn’t have any cash, so we left it at that.
I ran into Phil, sweeping the parking lot, with his arm in a cast with a paper bag over it. I’ve know Phil for years. He used to come into the library bookstore and talk to me in the afternoon’s, when I used to work there. He’d be termed something out of the ordinary I suppose because of his kind, simple demeanor, and the way that he sometimes loses control when he gets frustrated. He gets kicked out of places, including the library, because people have a hard time understanding how to treat those who need a little more attention. We don’t do a good job of helping people in America, but in that sense, we’re not unique. The difference is, that we have the resources, but not the will. He put down his broom, and we went to get some breakfast. He says he’s doing well, living in a new place, but they don’t allow overnight visitors. He says he doesn’t like it when people steal, that people are always trying to steal his stuff.
At the restaurant, he orders two eggs, “hard”, and a Coke. Phil doesn’t have many teeth left, and I know the soda can’t be good for the ones that are left. Phil tells me he’s going to quit his job, because he made a promise to God. Phil keeps his promises to God because God’s always watching.
He says, “People tell me that God ain’t up there looking at us…can you believe that?”
I tell him I can’t, and that it’s good to keep your word, no matter what anybody says.
When he finishes, I take my leave. I’m heading in the opposite direction. I move toward the towers, thinking about seeing how high up I can get to take a shot of downtown from above. I stop at the Wig Shop, the last remaining sniff of the real left on the renovated strip of Main Street. For no good reason, I turn around.
Some guy in a fancy truck asks me, “What kind of camera is that?”
He’s a photographer; shoots architecture.
“Yeah I don’t do any personal stuff anymore.” He says, between vapes.
He’s gotten so good at taking pictures, he doesn’t bother. He just flies around the country, collecting big checks.
“Yeah, I don’t really do portraits…except for clients. You know…lights, studio stuff.”
I start backing away hoping that it isn’t contagious. On my way back across the bridge, I think, “…that poor S.O.B.” And I imagine he was leaning back in his leather seat, thinking the exact same thing about me.