Consider the life of the itinerant night photographer: I’m up all night photographing, or finding my way into location, catching a bit of sleep while the camera exposes on auto-pilot. But there’s more to photography than darkness even for dedicated night photographers—so I spend my days shooting, scouting locations, and driving to the next location.
In these circumstances, coffee is not about gourmet texture, flavor, and bouquet—it is a caffeine delivery system. Sometimes I’ll make myself a cup of instant (Trader Joe’s has some surprisingly good instant stuff) on my camp stove during the watches of the night. But more likely when dawn comes I’ll find a place to eat in the nearest town, and grab breakfast—the greasier the better, so long as it comes with unlimited coffee refills!
The truth is that sometimes when I’ve been in extremis with several days and nights of back-to-back shooting and travel I’ve even resorted to the ultimate in obnoxious caffeine delivery: those little orange bottles that have some kind of energy mixture, taste vile, and contain caffeine.
Considering my perspective, I read Frank Bruni’s recent New York Times column Loving Coffee without Being a Drip with some bemusement. Bruni manages to fill a surprising number of columns with his angst that as a “foodee” he prefers a caffeine delivery system such as Mr Coffee to more exotic ways to prepare his brew (in the article, there are various amusing accounts of some arcane and expensive ways to make a cup of coffee).
The photo at the beginning of this story shows California Highway 178 with the town of Inyokern in the background shortly after dawn. Inyokern lies about 50 miles to the northeast of Mojave, California.
To get there, I started after the kids were in bed, drove through most of the night, and spent what was left of it in Red Rock Canyon taking photos (there’s one at the bottom of this story) and napping. I was on the road early, and snapped this photo before heading into Inyokern for breakfast.
There are about 900 people who live in Inyokern, which was probably more prosperous when the Lone Pine to Mojave train line came through the place (the town was originally named “Siding 16”; this train line no longer exists). It’s in the Indian Wells Valley; these wells are now the property of a micro-brewery that sells its beer through Whole Foods Market (I mention this in order to link my story back to the gourmet-food-coffee theme that I started on).
Inyokern is also notable for the presence of the Mojave Green Rattlesnake, a creature that combines the normal rattler pit venom with an advanced neurotoxin that paralyzes its victims. Fortunately, these deadly creatures are pretty much not aggressive, so if you don’t step on one, or put your hand on one by mistake in the dark, you won’t get bitten.
I think you probably get the idea by now that Inyokern is a pretty hot, dry, dusty, and run-down place. But I was glad after shooting this photo of sunrise coming up while cars still had their headlights on to stop in the only restaurant in Inyokern. It’s notionally a Mexican place, and had just opened when I came in at 7AM.
Besides my coffee with many refills, I had an omelette filled with mystery meat. Since it kind of tasted like chicken, for all I know I was eating Mojave Green Rattler.