I’m back at Cadillac Ranch again, but only because photographs sometimes travel with memories.
Last summer when I made the trip I was hungry for the details. The story goes like this: It was 1974 when the junked Caddies were interred into the plains of Amarillo. The act was committed by a wily group of artists who called themselves The Ant Farm. Since then, visitors have begun to leave their marks. Over the years we’ve unleashed a monument unlike any other.
A hundred yards north, the east-bound lanes of Interstate 40 funnels a river of vehicles toward a distant Atlantic coast. Out here in the heartland, the bloated roar of eighteen-wheelers is virtually non-stop. On the other side of the fence are the three lanes of the western artery. Either way you travel, it’s fifteen hundred miles to an ocean.
The traffic keeps flowing here because that’s the way desire works. There’s a thirst in this place that never really gets quenched. The Cadillacs are buried in the heart of the continent and it’s from that spot that we reflect on the backwash of our dreams.
At sunrise, I was alone with my cameras, but within a few moments a dingy car pulled in behind mine. A young couple walked across the field to where I was setting up my tripod. There was a boy with hair knotted up in a blue bandana and arms blazoned with tattoos. He wasn’t much older than my fifteen year old son. His short-haired girlfriend was wearing a white hoodie because the heat had yet to arrive. She approached me shyly asking if I would agree to take their picture with her phone.
I did what she asked because it mattered more than what I was doing.
They explained that they were eloping. They’d driven all night from Tennessee en route to Las Vegas where they hoped to make it official. I took their picture and gave her the phone back. They happily looked at their portrait. The boy asked me if it was okay to spray paint one of the Cadillacs.
“Yeah, everyone does,” I said, feeling like the curator.
“I always wanted to see this place,” he explained.
“Me too,” I said.
He pulled a can of paint from his hip pocket and walked behind a Cadillac at the far end of the row. His girlfriend smiled and followed. For a few minutes they were out of sight but I could hear their muted voices. Once, between the Cadillacs, I could see her stepping backwards. She was angling for a picture with her cell phone, trying to find the best position to photograph her boyfriend. This was body language which I understood. After a while they waved to me and walked off to their car.
There was the crank of ignition and then they pulled away. For the second time that morning, I was alone with the Cadillacs.
I looked at the view from my tripod but my heart was no longer with it. My thoughts had gone with those kids. They were young and it was a really long way to Vegas. There was a door that was about to swing open into the rawness of their lives and I had been ambushed by an unexpected wave of sorrow.
My earlier post about Cadillac Ranch can be found here: