Monday, October 12, 2009

Constabulary Encounters

Oracle Junction, 2005

Photographers have always had a love-hate relationship with police. They can be really helpful. They can be a real nuisance (like when they charge you with not having a shooting permit if you use a tripod in the taking of a picture in New York City). They can be obstacles.

I seem not to have learned how to stay out of their way.

Oracle Junction’s is a good example of this. What’s interesting about this photograph (click on it to see it larger) is what you can’t see.

(Actually, Oracle Junction’s a bit of a lie. There is a place called Oracle Junction just north of Tucson. It’s not where this story takes place. But it’s near where the story takes place and is a better picture than the one I have of that place.)

There are several places across the Southwest where idle commercial airliners are stored. They get stashed out there because of the sunny weather, the low humidity and the wide-open spaces.

Driving south from Phoenix toward the Mexican border, I happened to notice the tails of dozens of brightly colored commercial airliners peeking over the top of a low ridge off to the west. I pulled off the highway at the next exit in the hope of getting close enough to take some pictures.

When I got to within a couple of miles of the planes I came upon a man walking down the road carrying surveyor rods. I asked him which road I should take to get closer to the planes. He shook his head and said I shouldn’t go any further because the airport where the planes are stored is actually an old CIA air base, the home of the infamous "Air America," so he said.

Undeterred by that warning, I thanked him and continued on for another mile before stopping by the side of the road to see if I was close enough to get a good shot. After all, I reasoned, I was still on a public road.

So much for that clever defense strategy.

I’d barely stepped out of the car when uniformed military police in a Jeep drove out of the desert, blocked the road in front of me, inspected my driver’s license, threatened to take my camera and insisted that I turn around and drive back to wherever I’d come from. “Fast, if you know what’s good for you,” might have been their exact words.

The righteously indignant part of me was immediately aroused. I was not a spy. Heck, I was just drawn by the geometric patterns of all those planes lined up nose-to-tail across the desert floor.

I probably would have stood my ground if I hadn't been scheduled to meet up later with clients. (Given the hysteric interpretations of the Patriot Act in 2005, and the fact that those soldiers could have tossed me in some dark hole without telling anyone where I was, that would have been a stupid move.) So I didn't fight it. But seeing all those planes lined up was still an impressive sight, even if I don’t have a picture to prove it.


  1. Whatever happened to the free part of "land of the free"? That's a question for the ages.

    You really need a permit to set up a tripod in NYC? Don't robbers and murderers need catching any more? This seems like a right waste of police time.

  2. I make a habit of never arguing with anyone carrying a loaded gun. I think you made the right choice.