Turn In, Tune Out

Turn In, Bath, PA, 2010

When I was in college, to get a little extra money, I would loan out my 1984 Dodge Charger to people who needed to borrow it. One of the guys in my dorm was one of my regulars, and although I was reasonably sure that on more than one occasion he spent the time with my car doing donuts in some unfortunate parking lot (I had to have the alignment adjusted three times in college, and always after this guy borrowed it), I continued to let him do so. One day he asked if I could take the Charger to drop him off at the Knoxville airport. He was practically in tears. Not because he had to go the Knoxville airport, which would be bound to affect anybody, nor because of any tragedy in his life that required him getting on a plane, but because he had had a nightmare the previous night. In the nightmare, he had gone to the airport and in the process of doing so, was involved in a car accident and killed. After telling me this, he detailed all the reasons why he should disbelieve everything in the dream, put aside his fears, and get on that plane. It was a matter of faith.

So, in conclusion, he understood if I just wanted to let him borrow my car, or even if I didn’t let him near my car. Now it was my matter of faith.

I did the only logical thing I could think of. I drove him up to Knoxville and picked him up when he came back, and despite the fact that we were white-knuckling it all the way along I-75, we had conquered fear.

How does this relate to the picture above? Well, a couple weeks ago I had a dream that I went to take a picture of this sign (yes, you read that right. I actually have dreams about taking pictures of signs), and that I got into an argument with the people who ran the place and they kicked me out. When I woke up, I knew it was time to kick my fears in the rear end once again.

My initial shots of the Turn-In Family Restaurant in Bath, PA were some of the first sign pictures I took, and good ones, too. I really felt like I had no need to go back and try again until I had that dream. One afternoon I was within reasonable driving distance of it when I came across another old favorite on the road to Nazareth. I’ve come across three or four remains of old gas stations in Pennsylvania, but the abandoned Texaco on PA 191 is very photogenic. This time, there was a tractor in front, which only added to its allure. As you can see.

Texaco station on the road to Nazareth, PA

But I had to pick up my wife at 5:00, and after I had gotten a few shots of the Texaco station I didn’t have enough time to go to Bath. So my fears would have to wait to be conquered.

When I got the first batch of shots four years ago, I was very skittish about pulling off and getting pictures of signs. I more or less figured that some grouchy individual would jump out the door and tell me what I could do with my camera. Experience has taught me that, with a few exceptions, people are more than glad to have me take a picture of their sign, and in some cases, have rushed to turn on the neon to show me how cool it looks lit up. But back then, I didn’t know that, and really expected outright hostility. Which made my recent dream all the more strange. It seemed like something I should have dreamed years ago.

The next chance came a few mornings later. The skies were cloudy, but I was going to give it a chance because a) you never know when the skies will clear, and b) some shots just lend themselves to cloudy skies. I headed out to Bath and ducked into the parking lot.

Turn In, Bath, PA

Two things I noticed: first, the parking lot when I took the shots in 2010 was empty, and this parking lot was almost completely full, so they must be doing something right. Second, as you can see from the picture above, the portly little chef was missing from the sign, which is a shame. I wondered later if that part of the sign might have been damaged in a storm.

Do I like the shots from 2014 better than the ones from 2010? No, not at all. The first group were taken with bright sun and produced beautiful colors. But in the end, I’m glad I did it, because our fears, however foolish they may be, are meant to be conquered. My first shots helped conquer the fear of being yelled at for doing something I enjoy, and the second shots finished them off.

Turn In, 2014

I messed with the HDR feature in Photoshop for this one. Not bad, but I still like the 2010 shots…


Mixed Blessings

Our trip through the north end of the Finger Lakes had been glorious, as it almost always is. The lakes themselves are, of course, spectacular, but even the spaces in between are bucolic, full of meadows and farms and wide-open spaces. The normal routine for us has been to go to Geneva and cut south along NY 14 and skirt along Seneca to Watkins Glen. But we took a detour this time.

While we were driving, it occurred to me: Penn Yan, which was only a few miles away, sits atop Keuka Lake, which we had never visited. Well, why not? I thought.

And off to Penn Yan we went. And midway through town, I spot a sign. Not the best, mind you, but decently old. More importantly, it was connected to a diner, and the diner was simply amazing. Practically imbedded in the Earth, the Penn Yan Diner is a tremendous time capsule, small enough that you couldn’t fit 10 people in it without someone calling the fire brigade:


Keuka itself is a little different. It is Y-shaped, although it is commonly referred to as “The Crooked Lake”. We traveled along the east side of the lake to Hammondsport, a town which looked like a good candidate for sign-spotting. Alas, as lovely as Hammondsport is (see below), I didn’t find much of anything in the way of signs. Oh, well.


It’s always a good day when a classic Ford crosses your path…hammondsport

Keuka Lake at Hammpondsport


And then came the mixed blessings.

The next town along NY 54 is Bath, which I had passed through a few times on NY 17, but had never really visited. We drove through the center of town, which was rather dusty and nigh unto abandoned. Economics of the last twenty-five years have hit these kinds of large town/small city places especially hard; you recognize what it was, but only with a little imagination, because what it is is decay. No worries on my part; usually the best signs are in the rusty, dusty parts of towns just like this.

The decay of Bath was seen very clearly in the Steuben Bowl, which I found down one of the main streets:


I spun back through an alley, and saw a bearded man stumbling through a nearby parking lot. There were several parking lots back behind the main buildings, but all were empty, giving the impression that the town may have been abandoned, or at least, that they people were still here, but didn’t dare to go out.


The Betty Kay Bake Shop, Bath, NY

When we had passed through the main street I had seen something down an alley, and when we came back out again, I could see what it was: a Wrigley’s Doublemint ghost sign. I had never seen one, and this one looked in good shape. There was also a bakery, the Betty Kay Bake Shop, that had some interesting type sitting atop its overhang. I parked in front of it, got one shot, and had ever intention of getting another, when two guys strolled along beside me. They were scruffy and had paper bags that could only contain one thing.

“Take a picture of me and Donny,” said one of them.

I laughed. Usual reaction I get when I’m holding a camera. People don’t usually mean it, they’re just being funny, or trying to be.

“No, take a picture of me and Donny,” he says, more definitively this time.

“Uh, OK,” I say.

I point the K-5 in their direction and fire off the shutter. I had the camera in manual mode, so it was at the same setting I had it in when I got the Bakery sign. The shot was just a silhouette. They didn’t ask to see it. They moved on. I went to take another shot of the Betty Kay, when I spot the two of them out of the corner of my eye, standing in the lot of an old gas station, about twenty feet away, staring, talking to each other.

Behind me, Laura opens the passenger’s side door. She’s seen them, too, and she’s getting the same uneasy feeling that I’m getting. “Get in,” she says.

Yes, I do believe I will, I thought. The Wrigley’s Spearmint can perhaps wait.

Perhaps I’m giving Bath, NY a bad rep. But I’ve taken shots in some bad neighborhoods in Easton and Allentown, in Harrisburg, in Baltimore, and in the heart of Shamokin, PA (those of you who have visited that fascinating coal town probably just shuddered a little at the thought), and this is the creepiest feeling I’ve ever gotten while shooting. We got out of the Bath, post-haste.