Michael and I met back in 2012 while attending the undergraduate photography program at Savannah College of Art and Design. We both knew of each other’s work, and the cut-throat photography program was a breeding ground for rivalries. This unspoken competition between peers, especially the two of us, was soon replaced with late-night, wormholes of conversation. We’d pass thoughts, ideas, and stories (and joints) back and forth so long that we’d forgotten from where we started. After a few, skeptical hangouts, sizing each other up, we dropped the act and became great pals. Of course, I can’t deny the fact that the weed helped solidify the friendship.
This lifelong brotherhood was formed right around the time Aint–Bad came into being. Michael was always peeking over our shoulders, always poking at us with snarky criticism.
The very first interview I conducted for the website was with Michael, and man, how things have changed since then. Although Michael and I have taken different career paths and are now living across the country, I still consider him a close friend and will always look up to him as an artist, musician, and all around rad human in general. For years there has been conversation for a potential collaboration between Michael and Aint-Bad, but we hadn’t realized where our artistic approaches might reconvene until he began traveling around the country, touring with his band. He said to us that he wanted to “make a satirical survey” of his surroundings. Well, no shit, Michael— that’s what you do every day. Thus, this idea of a United States travelogue was born.
Why deny his millennial, tongue-in-cheek observations on the state of the country fester inside his handsome, little head? Why let those unique and spontaneous, witty and wry, fascinated and confused, and, above all, excited photographs live only in his iPhone? Nah, fuck that.
“Across State Lines” is a new bi-monthly web series written and photographed by Michael Younker as he travels through this enormous country. We invite you to follow along, but be warned, you might just fall in love with him like we have.
Foggy-eyed, 4:30am, I’m stumbling to the nearest gift shop at Boston Logan Airport, where the ‘couldn’t care less’ demeanor of this New England morning is more palpable than the burnt coffee I inhaled shortly thereafter. I hop on the plane to LAX and settle in to my ‘air-chair’.
“At this time, your portable electronic devices must be to set to ‘airplane mode’…”
The passengers surrounding me immediately shift their attention from their lap, to the seatback in front of them with a look of distress. After all, how could our millennial generation be expected to survive without a back-lit screen? Rest easy, the airlines so graciously substitute the forbidden cell-phone usage, now replaced with a ‘television’ screening sit-coms and mainstream films. A breath of stale, climate controlled air. I silently pray they at least screen some Seinfeld re-runs.
* * * * *
Six hours later, the aircraft descends through the clouds (well, smog) and touches down at LAX. The window-seat provides a perfect view, unveiling the archetypal Los Angeles ‘cool’ — sunny, breezy, attractive. I was still pretty pissed the flight attendant did not wake me for orange juice, soda, or at the very least, maybe some water.
Back on my feet having survived the plane ride, I proceed to bop around amongst the bustle, noxious fumes, and suave haircuts of the LA streets. I am looking around for something else — some form of iconographic stamp or hand-print by which pop-culture’s intrinsic ‘consume and forget’ nature often leaves behind. I have some ideas. Maybe some lego bricks in the grass, or another storefront with large-type Papyrus discouraging any street traffic.
Simply, I’m looking for humour, a cheap laugh. Not at the expense of this unfamiliar place, Los Angeles, the West Coast — I’m amused at us, at the US — Our collective cultures, ethnicities, individual backgrounds whose intersection birthed the United State’s quirks and oddities. And trash and bullshit. But in the 95º weather, this notion is far more literal its famously coined metaphor — the “melting pot”.
We’ll fast-forward to my evening. Wide-eyed and carelessly adventurous, I happen upon a pair of tire piles. Each resembling a monolith standing on either side of a gated, tire sales lot. The signage on the street-side store front reads “New Old Tires”. I take a walk around back, curious as to what is visible behind the gates and surprise, surprise…’new-old’ tires. I’m standing there, uncertain to which tires are new and which tires are old. Granted, the sign doesn’t seem to know either.
With thoughtful redemption, our artist working here at the tire-shop uses this rubber congregation as an homage to the California tire-fires, which undoubtedly added a delightful aroma and toxicity to the already enveloping smog. Surely a wonderful and refreshing reminder of the American tradition; to sell, consume, and dispose products and services to which the repercussions of, we are all too often short-sighted.
Alright, rewinding to the late-afternoon — I cruise down the Sunset Strip, I pass by some Los Angeles apartments, twisting through the damned traffic, finally landing in East Hollywood. Standing for the first time before the iconic Hollywood sign, I sense the glamour and romance I imagined as a Midwestern child slowly deflating through the holes in my t-shirt.
Not to worry — I have some quarters in my right pocket, so I grab a soda at the nearest gas station and re-inflate my romance at the coin operated air-pump.
I kick it to the car, wave goodbye to the city of angels and continue my travels, heading east on infamous Route 66.