Level with the town Roanoke I decide to descend the mountains and turn off at a tiny junction onto a tiny single lane road with thick forest either side of me. Hairy too and every tight bend is just like the last and it feels like I am driving the same 100 yards over and over again for hours - like on some broken record time loop - steep cliffs on one side and on the other deep ravines covered in the same endless dense forests layering away. My imagination goes haywire. On the way down I pass through a small village name 'Vesuvius' (like Pompeii volcano) which looks deserted and half reclaimed by the forest. Every building and telegraph pole and signpost, dripping in luscious vines. Further on I pass a homestead which I want to photograph, but am nervous about it. The house is hidden in the trees up a winding dirt track. The ground littered with garbage, broken down and rotting cars and other nameless rusting farm machinery, vine covered garden furniture, stained tarps and dozens of faded, chipped, peeling or decapitated religious icons, some standing twice man height litter the grounds. It reminds me of the home of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family, complete with loud and spluttering nearly failing generator. I pull over and wait a few moments taking it all in - looking up the track for the house, which is difficult to make out - a dilapidated single story place almost completely covered in vines. The windows are dull and dirty with grime and an old sorry looking leather couch sits on the paint peeled porch outside with a hole filled red blanket thrown over its back. I wonder if in fact the house is empty, but the sputtering generator says otherwise. I notice too that a thin wisp of smoke is coming from the chimney. I really want to photograph the place, but when I open the car door to get out two large sounding dogs suddenly start barking viciously so I decide against it and drive away with a pounding heart, telling myself that something's are better only written about..
From Washington DC I backtrack and stay the night in a place called Front Royal, a small beautiful town in the Appellation foot hills in a motel set against mountains and dense forests. My arrival is spooky as a huge dramatic thunderstorm suddenly comes out of nowhere, which makes my decision to stop in this particular place for me, instead of pushing on, as it is still early in the afternoon. I get a great and cheap room with amazing views of where I will be heading in the morning. At dawn I get up early and head out for the 'Skylight Drive' on the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia's Shenandoah National Park. A road which climbs to the top of the Appellations and takes you 400 miles to the other end in Georgia, I believe. It is a spectacular drive on single empty winding road with fantastic views 4000 feet up. Valleys in the early morning filled with thick clouds which in between I see the sprawling mountain range on either side - endless forests layering away into the distance, from peek to peek, until they faded into the sky itself, like a giant green ocean. Unimaginable again to think this is America and understandable too that such stories and movies like Deliverance and Wrong Turn were born from this very landscape - ultimately remote in every way and totally mind-boggling. After two hours of driving hypnotized by the smooth but winding road and the magnificent view, which had now cleared of clouds and was spectacular all over again, with deer casually feeding and unafraid at the roadside and the constant high pitched ring of crickets in the warm summer air I suddenly meet a small traffic jam of caravans and massive coach sized RV's blocking the road and parked in a long zig-zag. Unable to pass I pull over to see what the holdup is and see it is nothing but a Tortoise crossing the road. Before this I hadn't seen a car for an hour in either direction so these cars that were now waiting in front of me now must have been there for some time. I wanted to get out of my car and go and simply pick the Tortoise up and move it to the verge, but a little girl beat me too it.
Heading south from New York City and down into Virginia. At an interstate junction I make a knife edge decision, later to my regret, to see Washington DC. It takes me 70miles out of my way and into, what was on that hot July day, a horrid and oppressive city. It takes me 1 ½ hours to arrive downtown after being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic jams, then I drive around for hours, without success, trying to find somewhere to park. This is how I see the Nation’s capital: stressed out and blinded by my own sweat from a stuffy and airless car. I see all the sights too, scowling and cursing at everyone. Sightseers are everywhere too, wedged from monument to monument (It is a summer holiday Saturday) all dressed in those ugly bright block logo covered colours, wearing baseball caps and white trainers with long socks shouting at each other, like caricatures of themselves. In the end, bitterly disappointed, exhausted, dehydrated and stir crazy, I decide to just leave, thinking bollocks to it and I then make the firm decision to stay out of all big cities and off all major Interstate roads altogether until I get back to Kansas (which I do, and because of this, I see an America which is easily missed from the Interstates and I drive 2100 + miles home on roads no bigger than the A303 - the West bound duel-carriageway which runs from London to the West country ).
This is small selection of images from another on-going series I call ‘The King and I’.
On my travels in the USA Elvis began appearing to me like some religious/cultural vision in a wide range of places and in the strangest of circumstances. From New York City to rural Kentucky and Virginia to the desert towns of Arizona. He has appeared in Shopping Malls and Thrift Stores and everywhere in between. Elvis has become one of the many ‘psychic coordinate points’ which I mention in the introduction to this blog and I have often orientated myself culturally around his scattered presence.