Meet Mike and Dog, a couple of really nice guys who live in an RV that cost $200. “Watch this, watch this,” Mike said. “Get it!!! Get your tail!!!” he said to Dog, who chased and barked at his tail with vigor. I laughed hysterically. This truly brightened up my day. I’m glad I gave Mike and Dog a chance and talked to them.
I pulled up to the gas station and parked facing an old, run-down RV. The owner, an older, rough-ish gentleman with long, gray hair, smiled and said hello on his way back from talking to the attendant in the little booth. He seemed concerned, talked to a few more people, then went back to the attendant. I overheard snippets of what he was saying as I filled up my car with gas, something I can always afford to do. Maybe it’s my photographer’s eye, but I immediately saw a story – a man and his dog who can’t afford gas.
He came back to his RV, and as I replaced my gas cap I said hello and asked him if he needed something. He was entertaining, full of stories and kindness, his dog circling his feet. “I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I’ll give you some money for gas if I can take your picture and ask you some questions.”
“Okay!” he answered, grateful.
I handed him some cash, moved my car, and got my Polaroid 440. I had to photograph this interesting character in front of his home with his sweet, gray-haired dog. He’s recently retired from the Labor’s Union and waiting for his retirement checks to come. There’s a stall with the postal service in the town he’s from, so for now he’s broke and stuck in Modesto. As soon as his money comes through, he plans to drive north to see his daughter because she’s having a baby.
Mike marveled at my cool vintage Polaroid and loved seeing his photos develop in front of him. He borrowed one to show a few people at the gas station, people I thought he knew. He didn’t, he was just friendly and talkative. Per his request, I told the attendant he wasn’t pan-handling, then he asked me to go back and show her his picture, so I did. She smiled kindly and said she knew he was fine, clearly also enjoying Mike’s presence. I bet her job can get pretty boring, so when someone interesting comes along, I’m sure it’s a nice break from the mundane.
Mike has lived in thirteen states, never really knew his father, has been married at least three times, and was in a motorcycle accident on Saturday, May 14th, 1977 (one of the few dates he remembers). And he loves to tell jokes. I really wish I’d had a recorder or had my digital camera set to record our conversation.
He and Dog met eight years ago on Ninth Street in Modesto during a rain storm. He saw a puppy stuck in the road with cars driving around him, so he opened his truck door and called, “Come here dog!!!” and the pup jumped right in. They’ve been together ever since. “What’s his name,” I asked. “Dog,” he said. Hilarious.
I know that when many people see Mike and Dog, they judge. He’s homeless, he’s begging, he’s crazy… He’s homeless, so he must be lazy… I wonder if people shout, “Get a job!” like they do at so many homeless people.
As soon as I saw Mike and Dog and their RV, the idea for a Polaroid project about transient people in California came to me. Maybe I can photograph people who are homeless, or who have fallen on some bad luck, and tell their stories. Maybe I can open people’s eyes to how easily it could happen to them. In this economy, any one of us could end up living in an RV. Maybe I can enlighten people to not immediately judge the homeless and transient, and remind them that they don’t know their stories. Hopefully I can teach a lesson. If not, and if all else fails, I will have a great time meeting interesting people and hearing amazing stories.
I welcome you to follow me on this journey, and to think about how it could happen to you.