The first day of my photographic journey was spent wandering through the downtown back-alleys, old city hubs, and now-defunct business districts of the Abilene of yesteryear. But I wanted Day 2 to be a little different - perhaps a bit more personal.
And so I hopped in my wife's Jetta and weaved my way through the forgotten neighborhoods of Abilene - not the ones that are just off the main roads, but the old streets and homes that are tucked deep into the neighborhood grid, far beyond the eyes of our daily hustle through town.
I love the old buildings I ventured around on Day 1. I'm fascinated by the huge architecture, the ornate crown moldings that are now covered in overgrown vines, and the beautiful craftsmanship in the smallest of details. But it's these abandoned homes that draw me in. As I crept around each home, I couldn't help but wonder what stories hide within the walls. Who lived here? What were conversations like? What were their hopes and dreams? Where did they go?
For me, it was a matter of sorrow to see these homes. These weren't the stale offices or empty warehouses that I saw the day before, these were once the homes of families. What once was filled with laughter, children, and friends - now sits quietly with boarded up windows, broken glass, and trash strewn throughout the yard.
Now let me introduce you to Jimmy.
I met the man pictured above on my last stop of the day. I actually wanted this building to be my first stop, but as I drove by, I saw this man casually smoking a cigarette and drinking a Big Gulp on the front porch, and so I politely kept driving - I didn't want to draw any attention to myself as I crept around these abandoned buildings throughout town to take photographs.
And as I drove back by before calling it a day, I hoped the man would be gone so I could examine the structure alone. But just as before, the man was still there, casually smoking a cigarette and drinking his Big Gulp.
This time, I pulled over. I wandered around one of the side buildings for a brief moment, then walked towards the man.
Me - "Hey, how's it going?"
The man - "Alright."
Me - "Do you live here?"
The man - "No."
Me - "Ok, well I'm taking a few pictures of some buildings in town. Do you mind if I take some around here?"
The man - "Fine with me."
Me - "I'm Braden by the way."
The man - "Jimmy."
Me - "Nice to meet you Jimmy!"
Jimmy - "Same."
Jimmy wasn't uninviting or rude, just...simple. And I could appreciate that.
I then step back, and take the picture below:
I suddenly hear a loud and stern voice behind me to my left.
"Man, get the [expletive] out of here."
I look over to the house about 50 yards away, and see a man standing on the porch, who once again proceeds to yell, "Yo! Get the [expletive] out of here, man."
Now, I'll admit, I'm not a person who is used to this sort of greeting. But rather than proceed to my car as advised, I turn and walk towards this man on the porch. And he proceeds towards me.
Man on the Porch - "Whatchu doin, man? Taking advantage of the poor and degenerate?"
Me - "No sir. I'm actually driving around town taking pictures of old and abandoned buildings around town. This one caught my eye. And I made sure it was ok with Jimmy over there."
Man on the Porch - "Ah Jimmy he's cool. Man, that building used to be THE SPOT!"
I was shocked at how fast the situation diffused. So I quickly introduced myself, and the Man on the Porch did the same - Craig.
Craig's friend Daniel came over, and soon I found myself listening to the two of them tell stories about which restaurants used to be around, which convenient store used to be right next door, and what the building across the street used to be - the same one that Jimmy now sat quietly in front of - still casually smoking his cigarette and drinking his Big Gulp.
I started this venture believing that old painted walls and shattered windows could tell me the stories of a forgotten Abilene. But I was wrong.
Just like Craig, Daniel, and Jimmy showed me - it's the lives that once dwelled within these old resilient walls, and the memories that still linger inside of them, that are the true voices of these forgotten neighborhoods.
It's the people, not these old abandoned buildings, who are the storytellers of this Forgotten Abilene.
May we always be willing to listen.