On the road a look back, one year later: Days 7 & 8

My current life is getting in the way of  my recapping life. I am in the process of working on my new project, shooting, recording and editing.  Because of my hectic schedule these last few days, I am a few days behind on my road trip…

Day 7: August 31, 2010:

Woke up at my Mom’s, such a great feeling. Then I was off to Whole Foods to meet up with and have breakfast with Deanna. Always great to connect with friends. After breakfast, I was off to San Antonio to visit with Specialist William Neuls, Jr. and retired Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Russell. When I got to William’s house, he wasn’t there. Called, no answer. Did I have the address wrong, day/time wrong. He called back,   he had tomorrow written down, but would be home in an hour.  No, problem, William lived only two blocks from the Alamo and although, I had been to San Antonio before, I had never visited the Alamo.  I really enjoyed it, especially the grounds. I sat in the back garden area and wrote postcards and in my journal.

An hour later, I met up with William outside his apartment. He is one of the veterans I met in May at Servicemembers United, Veterans Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. It was great see him again and be in his very stylish apartment.

Specialist William Neuls, Jr. served in the Army from 1988 until 1996, when he medically retired after a car accident. He was a truck driver in Operation Desert Storm and transported tanks in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

After leaving William’s apartment I headed over to Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Russell’s home.

Nancy and I hadn’t met before, we only exchanged emails. She is one of the many veterans on this trip I was introduced  to by Sergeant Justin Elzie (he was the first Marine (and service member) to come out publicly and challenge “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”).  It was an honor to finally meet Nancy, photograph her and record/listen to her stories of life in the Army back in the 60’s and her activism after retiring (she is a 20-year activist against DADT).

Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Russell entered the Army in 1962 as a member of the WAC (Woman’s Army Company) and after the integration of women into the military she became Adjutant General Corporal. She retired in 1982. In 1994, she testified before Congress against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

I now had to head back to Austin for my third and final portrait of the day. Before I hit the Highball to photograph Airman Chivonn Anderson (friend and former Alamo Drafthouse co-worker), I stopped at my very dear friends Dawna and Norma Jean house for a quick drive by drop-in visit. A stay in Austin, wouldn’t have been complete without seeing and hugging those ladies. Off to Highball I went. Chivonn and I first met back in 2006, shortly after I moved to Austin. I was working as a prep cook at The Alamo Drafthouse and Chivonn was a server, now she was the Manager/Lead Repair Technican of the bowling lanes at the newly opened Highball (which when I last lived in Austin, it was a Salvation Army). When I walked into the Highball, it was anything but a Salvation Army. It got the full tour of all the private “themed” Karaoke rooms, the restaurant, the lanes, the bar, etc. It was sensory overload in there. And then we went back behind the lanes, where Chivonn worked.  I had grown up bowling, I was even in a Saturday morning league from age 10-17. I had never been behind the pins…

Airman Chivonn Anderson served in the Air Force from 2000-2004 as an aerospace ground mechanic. She prepared cargo and personnel for deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom. During that time she and a fellow gay service member got married to help hide their sexuality.

After we were done with the photos and audio recording, it was nice to not have to rush off. I had no where to be. I was spending another night in Austin, Chivonn and I caught up over beers and margaritas!

Day 8: September 1st, 2010

I was able to sleep in, I didn’t have to be in Abilene, Texas until 3:00pm. My first only visit today would be with my now friend, Sergeant Anthony Bustos. Anthony had come across my kickstarter project and emailed me a few weeks earlier (August 3rd). Not only did he want to participate and share his story, he offered his ear and his couch, although we had not met or spoke, he said feel free to call me at anytime if I needed someone to talk to. I had never drove from Austin to Abilene, TX. The thing with living in Austin,  you sometimes forget you are in Texas, until you start to drive 10 min outside the city limits and then you are quickly reminded, you are in Texas.

I arrived at Anthony’s apartment, we chatted right away, like old friends.  For the next hour or so, we sat in his living room (where I would be sleeping that night), this would be the first Veteran’s house I would sleep at. I shot some photos while we chatted. Anthony  joined the Army National Guard with his best friend, to help with his education, for the experience. What he got was two tours in Baghdad. Anthony watched his two best friends in the army die when an IED hit their Humvee in 2005. On May 25th 2010, he came out on ABC World News with Bob Woodward.  “I feel like I might have cheated them of knowing the real me because I was afraid to come out to them and they died not knowing the real me, who I was completely. And I feel every day that I should have told them.”

Sergeant Anthony Bustos joined the Army National Guard in 2002. He served as a combat engineer and a gunner in his first tour in Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom (2004 - 2005) and a combat medic in (2008 - 2009).

With hunger taking over, we decided to go to Sharon Riley’s Lylte Land & Cattle Company for dinner. The place was huge, it was also very empty. Anthony, explained that we were in a Baptist town and everyone was at church.  Then something funny starting happening, little by little we were being surrounded by hunters. Yes, hunters, all dressed in their full hunting camo outfits. First three or four came in, nothing too out of the ordinary, we were in a Texas steak house. Then more came in, and then a few more and then, we both just kinda stopped and looked around. There must of been about 20-25 of them, sitting all around us. We just looked at each other and smiled.

After dinner we went back to Anthony’s house, we sat around, chatted some more about our personal lives, filling each other in our goals and dreams.  It was getting late, I was scheduled to hit the road at 5:00am.

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About Jo Ann Santangelo

Austin based freelance multimedia documentary photographer and storyteller.
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