On a Chinatown Street

One fine June day in 2013, we were downtown on our regular monthly run for dim sum and tea. Empress Pavilion was long gone, we had lunched at Ocean Seafood. They have the best selection of chicken and vegetarian dumplings in town, and since we don’t eat pork, it had become our favorite. Next door to Ocean Seafood is the Wing Hop Fung market. Two floors of Chinese foods, liquor, herbs, housewares, beauty supplies and tea. We go for the tea. Hundreds of varieties in tall cylindrical jars with heavy glass lids. Black tea, green tea, white tea, Oolong, herbal tea of every variety you can imagine, expensive Pu-erh tea in large black cakes, beautiful tea blossoms that bloom in your teapot. We discovered a particular Oolong we favor years ago, Wudong Phoenix Honey Orchid Oolong, and stocked up. It is somewhat expensive, but delicious and you can only get it at WHF. Once back in the car, we were heading south on Hill street when I spied this “procession” of people. Not exactly a procession as they weren’t going anywhere. We couldn’t figure out if there was a leader, couldn’t really get a handle on what was going on. We didn’t know what they were waiting for, not at a bus stop, but they were clearly waiting for something. We pulled over and I shot several pictures and this little triptych seemed to capture the mood on the street.

Down to the Car Wash (Bomp-dee-bomp-dee-bomp)

20 years ago, one of my neighbors initiated a campaign to plant street trees in our neighborhood. He chose a variety that spits tiny droplets of sap, dead leaves, and twigs throughout the year, and a multitude of little yellow flowers during the spring. I can usually wait about a month or so before our cars are too disgusting to stand, so it’s down to the car wash. This collage includes 4 different establishments. The one with the two dogs waiting for their car was my go-to when I worked in Santa Monica. I could stop on my way in, get a quick once over and still get there by 9. Now, my regular hookup is Handy J’s at the intersection of Washington Blvd. and Washington Place.

When you bring your car in for cleaning, you fully expect to wait, and these four places have similar but different vibes in their areas. Handy J’s has an outdoor barbecue restaurant on the corner owned by the same folks that run HJ’s. They grill on a large charcoal barbecue and the smell of tri-tip and ribs wafts across the lot, borne on the perpetual on-shore air from the ocean to the west. Santa Monica has free wi-fi, little bistro tables, and if you are hungry, a McDonald’s right across the street. Millennium is one block away and in a pinch I might go there, but HJ’s does a better job and I get coupons. Now that we all have our mobile phones, it doesn’t much matter where we are, we are always in our own little worlds. In years past, you might strike up a conversation with your fellow waiter, but there isn’t much conversation anymore; we are all too busy peering at our 5-inch screens.

Walk-ins Welcome

Waiting_select_050
Barber Shop, Venice. June 2013

Lincoln Blvd. is a street that could be anywhere. A strip of fast food restaurants, psychics, cheap motels, and liquor stores, it is replicated endlessly across the country. My particular slice of this  uniquely American landscape runs from Venice Blvd. to Washington Blvd. All of the above are within a few blocks as well as a veterinarian, an art supply store, car wash, shoe repair, pawn shop, day care, bicycle shop, a couple of used car lots, nail salons, gas station, 7-11 strip mall, legal document service (wills, divorces, incorporations), beauty supply, car rental, Jewish synagogue, Catholic church, Chinese fast food, Thai restaurant, Italian restaurant, Indian restaurant, gluten-free bakery, donut shop, drug store, payday check cashing, wireless telephones, a post office box business, sewing machine and vacuum repair, Thai massage, mixed martial arts studio, car stereo, smog check, locksmith, tattoo parlor, and a marijuana dispensary; truly a cross-section of our culture. And a barbershop.

The Open Door

Waiting #76
Surgery Center, Santa Monica. June 2013

By now, I was on the lookout for waiting rooms, waiting benches, waiting stools, waiting lines, any place that had been designated, however vaguely, as a “waiting area”, my iPhone at the ready. I had it pre-set to one of the black and white combinations that I was using. Often these photos were taken surreptitiously, no more than a quick glance at the screen and a touch of the shutter button. Many times I would only take one photo. Sometimes I had the luxury of several, choosing the best when I had the leisure to look at them on the large screen of my computer. After my initial appointment with the oral surgeon of the last post, I was walking down the hallway toward the elevator when I passed this doorway and was immediately captivated by the image. I wondered what the woman was doing. Was she talking to someone? Was she getting something out of her purse on the chair next to her?  Was she a patient or was she waiting for someone else? As I didn’t want to be discovered taking pictures, I snapped this one photo; I didn’t linger to peer in to answer the questions. I preferred to leave them unanswered to be asked and answered by the viewer.

The Whole Tooth

 

In June, we celebrated my wife’s birthday at a very upscale restaurant in Santa Monica with my mother and Jake. At the beginning of the meal, I bit into a piece of olive bread and a pit hidden inside cracked one of my teeth. It was the beginning of a two-year adventure attempting to get compensation for the damage, a story for another time. The very next day, I visited my dentist (the photo on the left) for an evaluation, and waited in one of those chairs. He determined that the damage was so extensive I needed the tooth extracted and an implant put in. He referred me to an oral surgeon (the photo on the right) and I had the surgery a few days later.  Six months later I had a titanium insert screwed into my jaw and a shiny new crown. Note how many more patients the surgeon anticipates than the dentist. This is one of the first pictures that has another person in the shot. I also took a photo of the empty room, and the presence of the person lends a different import, so I amended my “rules” to include rooms occupied and unoccupied.

Union Station Gallery

The rest of the photos from the Union Station day. This  is the only time I went to a place specifically to shoot for the project. I could have spent all day there, each photo tells its own story, each person is there waiting for something or someone. The  picture of the bride isn’t exactly about waiting, but the image was so compelling I had to include it.

Union Station

Waiting_select_078
Mother and Son, Union Station, Los Angeles. May 2013

As the project progressed, I developed “rules” for the game. The photos had to be taken with the iPhone. I had to use the Hipstamatic app and the photos had to be in black and white. It had to be a waiting room in which I found myself, and at first, I strove to photograph only empty rooms. We were downtown for lunch one day and decided to break the last two rules by going to Union Station to shoot the beautiful art deco main waiting lounge. Of all the photos I took that day, this one stood out as the best of the lot. The woman and son wait for their train, he dwarfed by the huge overstuffed chairs. She rests warily, her foot on her duffel bag lest someone try to snatch it, leaning as close as she can to her son, still protecting him in her sleep. The activity of the other people swirls around her as she finds a moment of repose in the hectic station. I will post the rest of the select photos in a gallery post to come.