Wednesday, January 24, 2007

swiss family hobos

Over the past few days, I have made a good faith attempt to tell anyone I talk to that there are homeless people living in trees. The conversation proceeds thusly:

"That's ridiculous. Who told you that?"

"A homeless person that lives in a tree."

I was in Palm Springs, of all places. I find that most people think of Palm Springs as a respectable resort town, and the prospect of the arboreal homeless is somewhat outlandish. But Palm Springs is a bit like Las Vegas, in that it's about 10% resort town, 20% normal/boring residential, and the other 70% is just shady people hanging around gas stations.

I was in Palm Springs on the way back from Joshua Tree National Park. I had never been to Joshua Tree. For those of you who have not experienced it, Joshua Tree is basically a few hundred of acres of desolate wasteland that the federal government roped-off and started charging people to hang out in. But somehow, I've fallen in love with it.

I spent about 14 hours hiking around, off-roading down old mining paths, and taking pictures. No, not with a scanner. With an actual camera. 3 actual cameras, um, actually.

Of course Claire was in attendance, she's my trusty Elan 7 (outfitted with a BP300). She likes to roll with a 100mm f/2.0 USM, a 50mm f/1.8, a 28-135 f/4 Macro, and of course, the Crowd Pleaser - the 15mm Fisheye. Then you have the new guys, as yet unnamed. A Bronica 645 on loan from one of my homies at the office, and a Mamiya RB67 Pro II TL. Imagine a camera the size of your dad's VHS camcorder - 18 pounds of medium format joy. Digital is for failures.

So after lugging around 40-someodd pounds of camera paraphenalia through the wilderness, I headed back to civilization. This required me to stop for fuel, in what was, unbeknownst to me, the inner city of Palm Springs.

This crazy homeless lady was hanging around the pumps. So of course, I do what most people do when approached by threatening and mentally unstable derelicts - I bought her some coffee and little chocolate donuts. Although, in hindsight, getting her hopped-up on sugar and java probaby wasn't the brightest course of action.

Anyway, in the middle of talking about her kids, telling me how she threw out her "old man" (many people would use this term to refer to a husband, but this chick was nuts, so it could have been her father, or maybe even an actual old man), and showing me her cat that acts like a dog (and by "showing me", I mean gesturing towards an area that was entirely cat-less), this crazy older man swaggers up to us.

After a friendly greeting to the lady, he addresses me:

"Hey, I see you got the leather one. That's a nice one. They're all made of kevlar now, ya know? It's just not the same, doesn't hold anything. Like the Chinese poet Loa Tzu once said - the eyes are the windows to the soul, ya know? So that's real cool."

Yeah... I'm holding a cup of coffee. No leather involved. And he swaggers off again, back behind the gas station.

"Good ol' Dale. He'll take care of you."

"I imagine so. Where's he going?"

"Who, Dale? Back to his tree, I guess."

"His... tree?"

"Yeah, he's got himself a good one now, been around awhile Dale has."

"You mean he like, lives in a tree?"

"No dummy, he doesn't live in a tree. More like, under it. Yep, there's a whole city of us over there. Anytime you're on the interstate and you see a big clump of trees, probably some of us livin' there."

"Oh... The city lets you do this?"

"Well hell no! But what are they gonna do - put us up at the Hilton? Although sometimes the damn sheriff comes around and burns them all down."

"What do you do then?"

"Not real bright, are you? We just go find some more trees. They can't burn 'em all down."

It was truly an enlightening experience. When I go back to Joshua Tree on Saturday, I'll be sure to stop off and holla at my girl. I know how she likes her chocolate donuts. And in case you were wondering, the pictures suck. Medium format photography is hard. There will be no contests associated with these pictures, or as I like to call them - coasters.