1502 Longhorn Ranch, NM 1996

A Day Like Any Other
An elderly woman in an old and squarish 1970's model Ford sedan embraces the steering wheel and slowly makes a left turn at the crossing that has no traffic light. Beside her in the car is her grand-daughter, returning to some college town back east. Just ahead of them is the old dime store. It serves as a Greyhound bus depot - the only one in town. A Dodge pick-up truck drives by leaving a cloud of dust around the old grain silo's that in a few years time will be empty and forgotten. The truck is on its way to check out the cows that were brought into town yesterday. Here in this dusty town, still and quiet, the smell of exhaust fumes lingers long in the air. A traffic signal hangs from thin wire stretched between four poles at the corners of an approaching intersection. In the late spring sunlight, its red and yellow lights blink like the last living creatures in this town, blinking lights that signal the pulse of the community-the same fixed pace as traffic lights blinking in the big cities. This town is like any other western country town. Nothing different. Nothing special. Yet looking out at the streets from the car window, some vague sense of familiarity begins to fill the air. Passing the last intersection it all comes back to me. The memory. Twenty five years of time disappears in a moment's recollection. And there it is - the J cafe. Dawn. I had woken up from a dream well rested and found myself in the back of my van. I had taken out the rear seats and put in an old Salvation Army mattress over the naked iron floor. I remember that morning was unbearably cold. I got up and reached into my baggage for two coats to put on. The morning light was beginning to come in through the front window. It was an ordinary light, the kind of light there is no adequate way to express it, except to say, "Today is a day - a day like any other day." It came in, and illuminated the AAA map, left folded on the dashboard from yesterday's journey. In any event, I told myself it was time to move on - keep moving east. That morning, like every other morning, I began my daily ritual. With my left hand I gathered up my dangling hair, as I reached for the van's starter with my right hand. And like every morning I headed off for another greasy spoon cafe, where I could expect the same burnt sausages, the same pile of hash browns and that inevitable cup of coffee - so watery that one could see the murky bottom of the cup. It's the same story in any of these western country towns. After parking my Chevy van for the night in some open place, I'd drive into town in the early hours, and after a few blocks, I'd always be able to find some indistinct roadside cafe open for business. I brought my van to a stop in front of a cafe and turned the wheels 15 degrees in towards the curb out of habit. I stepped out and approached the glass door. It's white paint was cracking around the frame, and the pink curtain on the inside was stained yellow from cigarette smoke. At the moment I pushed the door handle with my hand a roar of loud laughter came barging out onto the sidewalk. It was so loud that it seemed to roar to the far corners of this vast state, so large that one could never drive across it in a day. I hesitated for a moment, but my right hand had already pushed the glass door open. A sudden silence filled the air as ten blood-shoot eyes darted towards me. I had been in these kinds of place before, but the air in this cafe grew unusually heavy. If you are stranger in these parts and want to keep your day happy, then there are certain rules you want to follow. It's not much different from riding the bus, where the young guys, as a rule, take the back seats. In these cafes, when you pick a place to sit down, you don't choose one of the good tables, instead, you go for a lower- middle range one. I picked a place and sat down at a table that seemed acceptable to the local farmers. From behind their dirty mail-order cowboy hats they went on with repeating their worn-out jokes; the same jokes they probably told every morning at that same table. From there, just four tables in front of me, words like "hippy" and "yellow" were puffed out into the air in clouds of cigarette smoke that eventually died away. Sipping the last of my second cup of watery coffee, I thought of those cowboys' roaring laughter and said to myself, "This is it, isn't it? Here is what you've been looking for....Places like this are what make the journey." I somehow washed the last bit of breakfast down with the final sips of a second cup of coffee and ended my morning ritual. I reached into my pocket and took out a tattered dollar bill and a few coins and laid them on the table. At that moment a sudden urge welled up from my food swollen guts. "It's time to play your role now." I thought to myself. "If you don't make your move, before the curtain on this beautiful drama closes, then you will be regretting it for the rest of your life. Remember, it's just ten steps between here and the doorway. And those five cowboys, just four tables away, are waiting for this misquided stranger to vanish from their sacred "territory". I got my balance, rose to my feet and took hold of my Nikon F slung around my shoulder. I stood there, taking aim at those five cowboy hats, then pressed the shutter. The act of taking the photo was over in a moment, but it could have been an eternity. With the white paint cracking on the door behind me, I stood my ground for a count of ten breaths, waiting for those cowboys' holy revenge. I counted to ten, and then turned and walked towards the door. And there, on the glass door, in old-fashioned lettering stenciled in gold, I read the words, "J cafe." I find the cafe again. It is next to a small post office that is two buildings from the intersection. I slowly turn the wheel of my Subaru wagon, and park just in front of the cafe. "Destiny is a funny thing?" I say to myself. I had been in this area several times in the past twenty-five years but hadn't recalled the J cafe incident until just now, when I passed this last intersection. "What circle of events brings me back here? "The "open for business" sign is placed in the cafe window. Staring at the glass door, still painted white, I stand there and find myself tracing my reflection in the glass. It is like an unexpected meeting with a vague form in a passing crowd, where time seems to stop and the heart arches with some slightly bitter-sweet feeling .I return to the car, and after covering my 8x10 camera, laying ready in the front seat, I head towards the cafe. Anticipating a late morning breakfast that hasn't changed in these twenty-five years, I murmur to myself, "Things haven't changed....well ....maybe things have, just a little...."

この先の信号器のない四つ角を、雑貨屋に間借りしている、町に一つのグレイハウンドのバス停に、東部の大学のある街に孫娘を送り出すために、70年代型の角ばったフォードセダンの助手席に乗せて、初老の婦人がハンドルを抱きかかえる様に、のんびりと左折していった。あとわずかの年月で、忘れ去られそうな鉛色のサイロの前の路を、昨日集めた牛の群れの様子を見に行く、ダッジのピックアップトラックが砂埃をあげて、走り去って行く。これらのわずかのガソリンの排気ガスの匂いが、嗅ぎとれるだけの、一見静止してしまった様な町。この次の交差点の中央には、四隅の木の電信柱から、さほど太くないワイヤーロープで吊られた、赤色と黄色の点滅だけの信号器が、遅すぎる春の陽を浴びながら、この町唯一の生きている物に思える様に、あの大都会と変わらない間隔で、この町の脈拍の様に点滅を、刻み続けている。いつもの、どことも、変らない田舎町だ。しかし、何か何処か、取り止めもない懐かしさが込あげ、周りの町並も、車の中の空気も何やらざわめき出している。車を進め交差点を通り過ぎようとした時に、それは25年の時間を飛び超えて、一瞬の瞬きの後に現われた。 J cafe. 後部座席を取り外した鉄板むきだしの床に、サ-ベェ-ションア-ミィ-で手に入れたマットレスを敷き、夜明け前の冷え込みに耐え切れず、荷物から寄せ集めた二枚のコートに包まって、寝起きの夢としては充分な、夢の中から眼がさめた。フロントグラスからは、今日は今日であり、明日はあすであるとしか、言いようのない当り前の朝の光が、ダッシュボードの上の、昨日使ったままの四つ折りにしたAAAの地図に、差し込んでいる。とにかく旅をすることだ、西から東に移動することなのだ。そして今朝もグリーシィスプーンで、コーヒーカップの底が覗ける薄いコーヒーと、決まったように焦げめのついたソーセイジ、そしてハッシュブラウンポテトの朝食をとるために、左手の指で  肩よりだいぶ長い髪の毛を掬くいあげながら、右手でスターターを回し、毎朝の一番目の、儀式の様なものをやりとげた。快いベッド付きの愛しいシェビィ-バンは町外れの空き地から、数ブロックで通り過ぎてしまう、小さな田舎町でも早朝から開いているカフェを捜しだすことは、訳もない。いつもの癖で縁石に、15度の角度でタイヤを圧しあて車を下りる。白いペンキがひび割れたガラス戸の内側には、タバコの匂いでうす汚れたピンクのカーテンが架かっている。ガラス戸の取っ手に手をかけると、大きな笑い声が、おそらく一日中走り続けても、通過できないこの糞でかい州の端から端まで、響きわたるくらいの笑い声が聞えてきた。一瞬思い止まろうと思ったが、右手はすでにガラス戸を開けていた。それはいきなり鳴り静まり、赤い血管がはしる10個の眼球の視線が、付け回し始めた。今まで幾度かは経験したけれど、こんな重苦しい空気は初めてだ。よそ者がテーブルを取るには決まりがあり、中の下の場所を取ることだ、もしその日一日気分良く送りたければ。それはまるでバスの後部座席を若い者が取るのと、たいして変わりはしない。この農夫共にも、テーブルの取り方には、文句がないらしい。見るからにカタログ販売で取り寄せたと思う、薄汚れた五つのカウボーイハットは、毎朝飽きることなく続く、たわいない冗談に戻っていった。しかし、四つ隔てたそのテーブルで今朝は、ヒッピィー、イエロー、ジャップなどの言葉が、吐き出すタバコの煙と一緒に、吐き出されては消えていた。底に残ったコーヒーを啜りながら、あの男共の、あの響き渡る笑い声を思いだし、自分に言い聞かせた。どうだ、これがお前の望む所だ、旅というものだ、と。どうにか、二杯のコーヒーでいつものメニューを胃袋に流し込み、前ポケットからよれた1ドル札と幾つかのコインを探しだしテーブルの隅に置いたとき、思いがけない衝動が、今詰め込んだばかりの、胃袋のあたりから擡げてきた。ここで一役演じなければ一生後悔するだろう、こんな素晴しい劇の幕が降りてしまう前に。それは、そこからガラス戸の出口までの、十歩足らずの間の演技だ。勿論四つ隔てたテーブルでは、俺たちの神聖な場所から、迷い者が立ち去るのを、待ち望んでいる。いきなり、いつも肩に襷がけにしている35ミリ付きのニコンFを構え、足を踏ん張り、五つのカウボーイハットに狙いを定めシャッターをきった。それは一瞬の演技であり、途方もなく永い演技だった。白いペンキがひび割れたガラス戸を背にして立ち尽くし、そこで十の深呼吸して、あの神聖の者達からの報復を、その深呼吸の数だけ待っている。そのガラス戸には、金色の縁どりをした、古めかしい字体で書かれている、J cafe と。それは、交差点から二軒目の、小さな郵便局の隣にあった。おもむろにスバルワゴンのハンドルを回し、その前に駐車した。なんという事だ、この辺りは、あれから幾度か旅をしているにも、かかわらず、このJ cafe での話は、この交差点にさしかかるまで、25間、一度足りとも思い起こすことはなかった。なんと気紛れな回路に迷いこんで、きたのだろう。 J cafeは、openのボードを出している。眼を凝らして見つめると、白いペンキのガラス戸の前に立ち尽くす、己の姿を見いだしそうだ。これはまるで、雑踏の中で、思いもしていない淡い塊に、突然遭遇して、一瞬時間が止まってしまう様に感じる、ほろ苦い懐かしさかも知れない。きっと美味いはずがない、遅い朝食をとるために、助手席に、置いてある8x10のカメラを被りで覆いながら、「変わっていない」と、「いや、少し変わった」と呟く。