Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Siren's Call

Southern Lady Liberty, 2003

A sultry August morning finds me driving alone down I-459 east of Birmingham, Alabama. The great Shirley Caesar is on the radio, wailing on about Jesus. Billboards along the highway warn me repeatedly, "YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN." 

Then I become aware that someone’s watching me. A lady. THE lady. Lady Liberty. 

I say out loud to myself, all David Byrne-like, “Who is this lady?” “Why is she watching me?” “Why won’t she leave me the hell alone so I can get on to the airport and not miss my plane?”

But she’s like that talking sign in LA Stories that won’t leave Steve Martin alone. Or like when you’re in the presence of a beer-drinking bear in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and you know deep in your bones that you just can't not stop. This is a moment for the ages. No one’s going to believe you if you don’t take a picture.

All I have with me is a little point-and-click camera. There’s no way I can do justice to her from the highway. There’s too much traffic and she’s too far away to be anything but a speck on the screen. So I hustle off the closest exit in search of a better shooting position. 

Here, deep in the American South, an immense scale model of the Statue of Liberty keeps watch over a stretch of suburban Interstate highway. But instead of "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free," this lady beckons well-to-do, SUV-driving suburbanites to an executive office park and exclusive housing development where the masses are kept safely at bay outside the gate.

And wouldn’t you know? When I finally get close enough to take her picture, the only perspective I can get (thanks to those fancy gates meant to keep the likes of me out) is from behind. Back at you, lady!


  1. Didja' get a shot of Vulcans' naked "beehind" while you were here?

  2. Another classic story. I've been to almost all the states in the US, but I've never been to Alabama, and I hear tell I might have to do some recruiting there this next fall. GREAT photo!

  3. Good God. Most people are happy with lions on plinths at their gated communities.

  4. Chris, Just read through your stories. Every one of them wonderful & the pictures too. You've found your medium, man!