On The Hilltop

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There’s a hilltop in Bisbee, Arizona, just a few miles north of the Mexican border. It sits over Brewery Gulch, casting its shadow over the canyon homes. The last several months I lived in Bisbee I was in a deeply disturbing relationship and everything around me seemed to be in chaos, but I would hike up to the cross on the hill every morning with my dog and enjoy the quiet and the peace.

I’m not a religious man, but I believe in the power of intention. I’d heard stories about the man who built this shrine, decades ago, and about the effort it took, hauling concrete and materials, an armload at a time, from Tombstone Canyon up to the hilltop. In the years since the cross was erected, other people have added onto the shrine. The ashes of peoples’ loved ones have been spread there, piles of candles have been left on the backside of the hill where a shrine to the Guadalupe Virgin has been built. A mural of Jesus is painted on the side of the hill and a monument to the people who have died in the desert trying to cross into America has been established; at the site, people deposit items found in the desert, left behind by border crossers, from backpacks and worn-out shoes to tooth brushes and baby bottles.

My heart is still in the Mule Mountains, even if it’s no longer in Bisbee. I will never forget the brief moments, sitting on the hilltop on those silent mornings, watching the sun rise over the desert.

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The Spanish Trail – Tucson ‘Eyesore’ Getting A Facelift?

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History isn’t always pretty, but it occasionally gets a second chance.

This historic structure has long been considered a blemish on the face of this otherwise dusty, hideous wasteland of a city. Over the years, dozens of complaints have been filed for The Spanish Trail motel, a deteriorating mid-century hotel held together by cracked paint and inertia. Conveniently hovering over Interstate 10 along the edge of the city of South Tucson, it gives any newcomers from the east a fairly accurate impression of Tucson. I stumbled across an article today, however, indicating that a couple of investors have purchased the property and intend to breathe some new life into it.

In it’s own time, The Spanish Trail was a well-known destination. In the 1960’s and 70’s, live music & theater – and a Hollywood clientele – drew an eclectic crowd. Professional staff lived on-site in a series of duplexes north of the resort and the property boasted luxurious amenities. Today, of course, the housing has been replaced by a steel yard; the golf course, lagoon, running track, and cactus garden are gone.

This is where movie stars like John Wayne and Michael Landon lived (and visited) while working at Old Tucson Studios. The large area that still survives, a space-aged-looking concrete rotunda, was the Dinner Show Lounge. Time, vacancy, and a structure fire have left little to appreciate.

Despite how unkind the past few decades have been, the new owners have expressed an interest in redeveloping the property into permanent affordable housing, with an emphasis on providing homes for veterans.

There’s no set timeline for the forthcoming renovations, but I’ll be curious to see what happens to the old 70-foot sign. As always, other peoples’ eyesore is, to my twisted eye, a fascinating and beautiful relic.

July 26, 2017 – Travelin’ Man

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“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.”
~Jim Morrison

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July 25, 2017 – Pink Haired Roach

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“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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July 14, 2017 – C-Sharp

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”Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.”
~Garry Winogrand

This is Craig. He calls himself C-Sharp. This is a rare photograph because this man is always donning large, reflective sunglasses; he’s always hiding behind his hat and sunglasses. He suffered a stroke, years ago, and struggles to walk; he shuffles up Main Street with his guitar and plays the occasional song before inching up the hill to the soup kitchen. He’s been around the block more than once and, despite his physical limitations and he lack of teeth, he makes are and carries a positive attitude.

That’s more than I can for most folks that have everything they could need.
Today’s portrait is for you, C-Sharp. And ‘Portrait Month’ will continue tomorrow with another fresh face. See you there.

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July 02, 2017 – Danny

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“To sit for one’s portrait is like being present at one’s own creation.”
~Alexander Smith

Today we have a portrait of Danny Baker. It’s not about the model of the car or the year of manufacture – it’s the mileage, folks. And I think Danny has driven far and wide, through some rough terrain.

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June 29, 2017 – Omni

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I could write a hundred-page essay about ‘Omni,’ and I’m still considering it. There’s no way I could distill the qualities of this person into a quick post like this. I met Omni on 4th Avenue near downtown Tucson. During the entire time I knew him, he was living out of his car, a Dodge Omni, and spent his time in local coffee houses writing “spells” into Bibles lifted from hotels, playing open-mic nights, scribbling artwork and signs on cardboard, and strumming the strings on street-corners. He was a pleasant guy, and often made friends with local college students and kindred hippie spirits, so he never went too long without a decent meal or a shower.

He wasn’t ever anything you’d consider ‘normal,’ but he was always smiling, writing music, and entertaining people with his wild conspiracy theories. I imagined he’d had brushes with the law, but it’s pretty inevitable when loitering is your lifestyle. I remember hanging out various flop-houses where he was allowed to crash, and abandoned apartment units he discovered were unlocked. I watched him scrub his teeth with salt in lieu of toothpaste, and I watched him make friends with non-English-speaking emigres who could play the bassoon, guitar, trumpet – and I hung out with them in their squatter spots, candle-lit with no electricity, making music and trying to communicate without a common language.

Omni wasn’t mentally together; many likely assumed that he was on the Asperger spectrum. To my knowledge, he has yet to be diagnosed. Years after he left Tucson, after he packed up his gear and drove out of my life, I learned that he wound up in some legal trouble in Colorado. To my knowledge, he’s still behind bars after having hunkered down into a chemical toilet to spy on girls using the toilet during a yoga festival. He was spotted running from the scene, covered in feces, and was later apprehended. The news didn’t necessarily surprise me, but it was sad to learn that this guitar-playing vagabond had somehow wound up in a position like that.

I don’t forgive him his trespasses, but I can recall very pleasant moments with him, and recognize that he is mentally ill. I suppose we’ll see what happens as his legal situation unfolds. After violating his parole, he has been sentenced to six years in Boulder – you can read about it HERE.

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