I’ve known Michael Norwood for the better part of a decade. We met via a Craigslist ad that I placed in which a newly retired nurse man can be found pleading with the masses to find someone to just play some music with and try to make “art n shit.” We did things that lead to a fantastic friendship and this is the beginning of but another amazing aspect of getting old with good friends.
I used to own a Dodge Ram pickup truck. Norwood has pretty much owned trucks since I have known him. I find the man to a patient thinker capable of deep empathy and critical thought. So when he makes a new purchase, or chooses a new or old hobby I can be sure he is doing so with a great amount of consideration to the subject at hand. While I would love to embody these types of qualities I find that I am the kind of man that thinks faster than he thinks he does and makes snap decisions that feel like they took too long to figure out. I’m the guy that shows up to the campground and needs to go home to get the extension cord. I’m the guy that tried to create a band while not actually practicing the damn things in my own time. Opposites attract and all that.
When Norwood told me about the Tacoma and all the bells and whistles and such, I was eager to get to see what the top of modern truckology could possibly present as. Let it be known that those are my words, “Top of modern Trukcology” Mike wouldn’t brag about his own things like this. He’s much more….. Subtle. I think of this truck of his as some sort of land tethered spacecraft. The dashboard has Pitch and Roll ya’ll. I was happy to tag along on a road trip to just go see what was out in the country. We drove around a good bit looking at ranch lands. Lots of newly built homesteads out there. Lots of fresh greenery. We passed a fair bit of wildlife, some feral hogs, some guinea and a long horn or two. Found ourselves a donkey that was just chilling WAY out there by the fence. Seemed entirely disinterested in us.
From my perspective as a man on a tag along for another dudes hobby I could see what it was all about. The new views the getting to know how your vehicle responds, hell even the new scratches and dings feel like an earned rite and not a hassle. As a photo video guy I was in it to practice with my gear. It’s been a while since I had wanted to take pictures of anything at all with the “real” camera. I had been shooting photos and video with my cell phone for almost a year. I haven't edited any of those things for longer. I was considering letting the career go just like I had Nursing in the past.
Then we got to Mineral Wells. We talked about the tales of a newly established town dreaming to make it big and dominate its region only to be thwarted by some sort of Crazy Water situation. You’ll get a kick out of googling Mineral Wells. Our destination was The Baker Hotel. Norwood was aware of the history of the city and the building as it was all part of his research for the locations we were going to visit. I had no clue what I was in for but I knew I wanted to take photos of this spot.
This building can be seen from highways surrounding Mineral Wells and it calls out to be discovered more intimately. The Baker Hotel was built in a Spanish Renaissance style and the architect, Wyatt C. Hedrick, was directly inspired by the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs Arkansas. The hotel’s namesake is none other than Theodore Brasher Baker, a hotel magnate known for his works at The Baker Hotel Dallas and Hotel Texas in Fort Worth. Yellow and brown brick greet your gaze while penetrating the clusters of green and grey that make up the general atmosphere of Mineral Wells. I had difficulty taking in the full breath of the hotel while trying to find a parking spot.
Before we left the truck I was trying to figure out how I might be able to take in the full view. What lens to use, what corner to stand on, but before I could formulate a plan we found ourselves inadvertently driving the wrong way on a one way street. Let’s be clear this is a one way street in downtown Mineral Wells, we were safe and so was everyone around us, Norwood clocked the cop before the cop clocked us. To my surprise he slowed down and lowered the window. “Is this a one way street, we aren’t from around here trying to figure out the best place to park this thing.” The cop just nodded and said no harm no foul, and away we went to find a spot in front of local businesses across from the hotel.
We hopped out stretched our limbs found out how low we could go to get the best possible truck pictures and then sauntered over to the corner of the block. I am always taken aback by how similar old town main squares are so strikingly similar to each other. The stretch of bricks and businesses that we were walking along felt altogether familiar and foreign. The colors of orange brown and red calling out to similar architecture that my feet have walked along in other states and times. I couldn’t help but take a few photos of the building facades and the awkward “basements entries” that could be located but not accessed along the sides and behinds of these businesses.
This proved to be the exact invitation a local business owner required to find a reason to water the plants out front of the shop and inquire about the two dudes standing out front with camera equipment. “Where ya guys from?” asked this shopkeep who was easily in her 50’s with the bottless days of blonde long in the past. “We’re coming from DFW taking some pictures of The Baker there.” I responded, not sure where the next bit of conversation was going to lead. “Oh yeah we’ve seen it on the Tv.” she responded with a type of faux ignorance lining the underside of her voice. Norwood and gave a chuckle and then the shopkeep asked me point blank why I took a photo of the basement entry.
“I like looking at the similarities between the architecture downtown areas of small towns and this little spot here might seem counterintuitive to city kids, I mean it’s a basement in Texas……” I wasn’t sure she gave any merit to the response. I think that the entire conversation existed to let me know that she knew that I took that photo of her old and rusted up basement entry point. “Oh,ok then.” she responded. Then the light changed to signal that the entirely not busy intersection was now safe to cross. With arms loaded and straps on shoulders we started our walk around the property.
Once I had the building properly framed up I found myself longing for a drone or some sort of magic to let me get rid of all these power lines and telephone poles. I am reminded that I know how to do this but that i just sorta stopped using the skills. We snapped the best angle we could manage from across the street. One thing that grabbed my eye immediately after grabbing the entirety of the hotel in frame, was the crazy clean gleam of the chrome bits of the disused swimming pool. Ostensibly these things haven’t been used or cleaned since the 70’s, how the hells are they so shiny? There was a slight problem with my desire to take photos of the broken bungalow motiff that was this old swim area. It was all behind a brick fence and I wasn’t certain that we would be able to find the right angle to make it magical.
We crossed the street and found a few places to super extend the tripod and try to grab that landscape photo with that crazy gleam and the grimy everything else. As we started in on the shutterbugging a woman with three kids aged between 9 and 13 approached us. I had seen them earlier in the trip and wondered if this was some sort of a local daycare retreat to observe the hotel. IT was a small group sure but i can’t really reconcile why a local might take a bunch of kids to an abandoned hotel as a summer activity. Had I been in Grand Prairie I would have assumed that these folks were on their way to a local store for some sort of provisions. There was not really anything like this near us. I’m used to “doing the talking” in situations that involve random people and conversation. I have talked to lots and lots of people in my time as a nurse. I still have some of my old assessment tools to let me know when I am talking to a completely insane person…. I sparked up the skills after the following interaction.
She walked up to us and asked me directly if I was an investigator. My first thought was that there must have been a break in or a fire or something that would make a local want to come out and see the change in status of this building. “We are photo guys from DFW just taking pictures of The Baker here, what type of investigators do we look like? I didn’t realize we gave off such a vibe.” I said in my best we-are-harmless voice. “Paranormal Investigators, do you guys take pictures of haunted places?” The look on her face was one of anticipation and glee I can’t help but wonder what mine was. I think at this point I looked at Norwood and something like “damn dude we look like ghost chasers out here!” We were treated to a couple of stories of local superstition and paranormal activities. Thankfully we didn’t have to figure out how to walk away from this woman and her three followers. They walked along to complete their tour of the hotel and I still have no clue why they did it if not to conduct a walking ghost story tour for the little ones.
We found some great spots to hide a lens and try to manipulate the world into our vision. This is the first time that I have gone out with a person and shot photos at the same time on the same team. I have some experience with three man crews for live video coverage of events but this is a veritable shoot out of stills and I am really surprised by how excited I am to snap these photos. We find a few little walkways with smatterings of colorful graffiti, the one phrase that really sticks out as some sort of timeless warning was the bit of paint that read, “Never skip leg day”.
As we continued we started looking up and down in all sorts of places that a camera could capture something really unique. And though this thing was presumably devoid of sentient life, we did manage to find that something was home. I mean this wasn’t a competition or anything but if it had been Norwood would have clearly won the moment that our little spider pal stepped out along his web and posed for the iphone. The face of the building itself must surely also be home to its own ecosystem of succulents and insects with the occasional rodents and birds. The future of The Baker hotel is uncertain at this time but given the fresh local growth we found in our trek along these ranch and farm to market roads it seems likely that this area will see a fantastic rebirth in local culture. It might be that the folks on the scene are keenly aware of this and are taking appropriate action to make it so.
As we get ready to head back to the house I start to get the itch to do this sort of thing in my own vehicle. I wonder where I might go and what I might photograph. I think about the idea I have in my head for a photo collection of old town signs. Markers of deadened local cultures. The drive was fantastic and the goals of shooting this hotel and even writing this entry feel important. It’s a reminder to me that there is a world beyond the digital screens. The drive feels like a journey and the opportunity for memory that exists devoid of stress is very high. I start to wonder if I still have all my gear from my old camping extravaganza funtimes of yore. I start wondering if people partake in Overlanding in MDX’s. It was a great time and a fantastic combination my hobbies, give or take a superhero here and there.