“What’re you takin’ pictures of?” He knew the answer to the question before he even asked it.
I replied, “The bank, the sky behind it and the water tower beyond it.” That much was evident. I told him nothing he didn’t already know. He gave me a sideways glance through the open window of his police car.
“You live ‘round here?”
“Well I used to. I’m living in Seattle now and I wanted to take some pictures to remember the town by.”
“Oh. Well I just drove by and saw you takin’ pictures of the bank. You gotta be careful what you take pictures of these days.”
There was an awkward silence as I waited for him to interrogate me further. It was cold out and the sky was dark, heavy with the promise of precipitation. A wind blew across the vacant Dollar Store parking lot behind me and after a minute he asked what I was driving. I pointed to the red truck parked in front of the bank. He told me to have a good day and drove off slowly.
It was Christmas day in small town Cornelia and I understood the boredom that drove this officer of the law to pull over and inadvertently ask me just what the hell I thought I was doing taking pictures of a bank in a post 9/11 America and on Christmas day to boot.
Make no mistake; The South is not simply another part of the United States, it’s all together an entirely different country. One that has become increasingly foreign to me the longer I’ve lived outside its visible and invisible borders. A vast network of kudzu covered walls hold in the ideological, political, cultural and religious views of an entire society.
This is the one day a year when box store parking lots across America are nearly empty but for the occasional discarded receipt or plastic bag blowing across the desolation like a wind driven tumbleweed. Huge swaths of oil-pocked asphalt lay barren at the feet of these consumer driven kingdoms.
The sky above broods ominously as I capture a few images and am accosted yet again by a police officer wanting to know what I am doing standing in the middle of an empty Wal-Mart parking lot. In a capitalist society police are paid to protect property instead of people.
Today is my birthday. I’m 27. And on this day of what should be celebration I feel lost, alone and alien in a strange land. I’m ready to go home. I’m ready for Seattle.