Aurora: Summer’s End

Ish and I drove up to Aurora last week to take pictures. I love shooting with Ish because she makes her subjects feel so comfortable. I feed off her energy, as the subjects let their guard down to her I am able to take advantage and open up myself. I talk to people I never would have approached, making street photographs I would have felt to shy to create on my own.

Our first stop was the Way West. We had talked about going there last time, and as the sign approached I pulled in. We were looking for Drunk Dave, whom we had met back in 2009 during the Aurora Motels class where this whole project was started. Dave was no longer there, but we did see another man we had met years before. He was originally from Los Angeles, but had been living in Washington for many years. He told us about his crazy neighbors beating up on their girlfriends, over-dosing on crack, and killing each other. Apartment #11 was cursed. It wouldn’t matter if you tore the whole building down and started over, the curse would still be in that same spot.

Paper Art

A new neighbor came out to visit, giving our friend a sponge. “I bought a pack of 3, you can have one,” she told him. “He-she” he called her. She wore a bright blue skirt showing off her little bird legs. She was also from California, and told us a crazy story about driving old cars drunk off her ass. The conversation slowly turned to the weather, and the “he-she” went inside to have a beer.

For images of our friends at the Way West visit Ish’s blog at Ish’s Street.

As we climbed back into the car we spotted this beautiful beast sitting in the windowsill. I love cats, and totally flipped out! I started talking to the kitty, telling it how beautiful it was and in the process scarring Ish just a little.

Kitty Cat!

After shooting and chatting at the Way West, we made our way up the road in search of a soda. Wondering around the front of Aurora Family Market we came upon the Fremont Fellowship. An AA group that holds meetings there regularly. A meeting was going on inside, but there was a small group outside chatting, smoking and snacking. They were happy to have their pictures taken! Except maybe that guy in the stripped shirt. I think he has that look on his face at all times. He was giving us the evil eyes earlier when were were in the back parking lot shooting pictures of the building. I usually don’t like to photograph people who don’t want to be photographed. He, however, is an exception.

Fremont Fellowship

The woman photographed here has been sober 30 years. She goes to meetings every day, her sobriety is too important to compromise. She wasn’t going into the meeting today because the man leading the meeting had gotten a young woman drunk and taken advantage of her. Her foster father had taken advantage of her, and she wouldn’t support someone in that kind of behavior. She stayed outside the Fremont Fellowship eating a muffin and danish. We got to chatting about her jewelry, and she opened up her collection to show me some of the pieces she had made.

Icicle Earrings

As we were getting ready to leave she let her hair down. She told me she was 63 years old, but looked so young because natives keep their hair color.

We drove on, exchanging stories about our respective house guests. As we neared Shoreline I turned the car around. We were quickly loosing light, and I was starting to get hungry. “The Scooby-Doo van!” Ish squealed. I pulled over in front of a fire hydrant and Ish ran out to inspect the van. Turns out the Scooby-Doo van housed a very large running generator that was hooked up to the trailer parked in front of it. A prostitute walked by, and noticed our cameras. “Getting pictures of real life?” She asked. Her face was bloated and discolored, like a living dead. “We are fascinated by this generator!” I told her. “The guy who lives there is real nice,” she explained. A voice came from inside the trailer. “Looks like he’s home, ask him yourself,” and she walked on.

Attitudes are the real Disability, so true!

And he was a nice guy! Mr. Gray Cloud. He has lived on Aurora for the past 12 years, moving his trailer and van every few days in order to comply with the city laws about squatting. During the night, when no cars are around he backs his rig up the street to avoid getting a ticket. He has a great view of Mount Rainier, as well as the Seattle skyline. Originally from Shoreline, he has lived all over the United States. He visits his mom regularly at her home along the Hood Canal, helping her with yard work and house chores.

Our last stop before the light totally faded was to the Georgian Motel. I wanted to get a picture of the giant plant exploding through the window. When our class first started that window was in one piece. A few weeks in a bullet was shot through the glass. We all thought it very sad, since the community at the Georgian was so nice. We were invited to more than one BBQ in their parking lot, cooking hot dogs and marshmallows, drinking soda… Over the years the hole in the glass has grown, as has the large house plant in the lobby. This summer the plant has finally broken through the glass. I wonder who will win this battle, how far will the plant grow into the street with winter on the way???

Giant Plant

Tropicos Breeze

Monday evening Ish and I went back to Aurora to shoot.  Luckily, it was another gorgeous day!  We met up around 6:30, and both of us we starving.  We decided to start with dinner at the Salvadorian restaurant, Tropicos Breeze.  The menu advertised pupusas (like a  thick tortilla filled with meat, cheese and veggies), and the prices were right.

Because of the beautiful day, we requested to sit on the patio.  The host looked at us like we were kinda crazy, but told us to go ahead.  As I stepped outside into the roaring sounds of Hwy 99, I understood his questioning.  The sun was out, and we both were looking forward to about dining al fresco, so we sat down.

the sun was so bright they had the shades closed

The waitress came to take our drink order.  We both got beers, and decided to share some kind of fruit juice drink Ish was excited about.  Ish inquired about getting a side of yuca.  The woman nodded her head, wrote it down, and went to put our order in.  “Guess we’re getting yuca to start,” she said.  I love yuca, though I never cook it at home, so was happy for the opportunity to eat it!

Yuca Fries and Drinks

Since we had gone a little over board on the first course, we searched the menu for the best deals…. Pupusas for $2.50, and the $4.99 entree, how can you go wrong??  We couldn’t say enough in praise of the restaurant, and we hadn’t even tried the food yet!  Luckily the food lived up to our expectations.  Unfortunately, everything was so delicious I didn’t get a chance to take any more pictures until we had finished our meal.  Looks like I will have to go back to recapture…….


After drinking a giant glass water, a beer, and half a glass of tropical juice, we both really needed to use the restroom…

Women’s Restroom

Leaving Tropicos Breeze, we realized our leisurely three course dinner had put us behind schedule.  Dark was setting in, so I took the opportunity to work on my homework assignment for my Night Color class at Photo Center Northwest.  Here is the shot we got.  Thanks Ish, for doubling as my assistant and my model!

Ish Smokes the Last Cigarette before Canada

Aurora preview

Yesterday evening the beautiful weather finally got me and Ish out of the apartments and back onto Aurora Avenue.  We scoped out some of our old favorites, as well as discovered some new corners and alley ways.

Ish in the alley between F&E Motor Sales and Tropicos Breeze

At the Georgian Motel, we were told to come back in a few days after they get some of the repairs done.  Many of the motels there are clean and comfortable.  This afternoon I spoke with Susie, a resident of the Shoreline Inn.  “The rooms are clean, with no bugs.  Just nice furniture, and a soft mattress to sleep on.”  She went on to explain her contempt for the notorious Belle Italia and Thunderbird Inn, which had been closed earlier this year because of tax evasion.  Both of those properties brought bad press to the Aurora neighborhood in recent years.  Now many owners are wary of photographers coming to showcase the shameful, dirty aspects of their community.

swimming pool at the now closed Motor Inn

I think I went into this project looking for that gore factor, too.  In a way, it is still there.  There is no way to sugar coat a body wasting to drug addiction.  I want to continue this project with the intention of finding the community, compassion, and lust for life and beauty that can most certainly be found on Aurora Avenue.  I hope to bring the photographic voice to a place that has been misrepresented.


I feel like the images I have here are of a dirty Aurora.  I look forward to seeing where I can take this project with my new dedication.  Will the images be just as dingy?