On the road- Days 9 and 10- TX to NM to TX to AZ

Day 9- September 2, 2010:

After 4 days in Texas, it was time to leave the state and head to New Mexico. At 4:30 am I left Anthony’s house, I had a 5 hour drive to Clovis, NM.  Before I left he presented me with a gift. A bracelet that his friend Matt had made in Iraq a week before he died.

I still wear it everyday. Kate asked Anthony if I could take it off on our wedding day, he said yes.

Just outside Abilene, TX  are what I called the “Windfields of Texas”. On both sides of the highway for as far as you can see for miles and miles are Wind Turbines. At first I didn’t know what I was seeing,  it was dark still and I was somewhat sleepy. As I got closer and the sun starting rising, it was pure magic. The turbines of Horse Hollow, the largest onshore wind farm in the world. Spread out across 100 acres, 421 rotors and their three giant arms rotate continuously, each one turning a three-step gearbox that activates a generator, each sweeping over an area larger than a football field. I couldn’t help but pull over.

I couldn’t stay and watch in awe too long, I needed to be at Airman Kelsey Snipes house at 10:00am. It was such a beautiful drive. Once again, I did not pay attention to that time zone line, as soon as I saw the Welcome to New Mexico sign, I picked up my phone to take a picture and there it was an hour earlier again. This time, I was in a much better place. I was hungry and a diner was across the road. I pulled in had me some breakfast and wrote out a bunch of postcards.

I was excited to visit with Kelsey, we had met in D.C in May at the Servicemembers United Veteran’s Lobby Day. Kelsey was recently discharged from the United States Air Force, her career ended before it got started.

Airman 1st Class Kelsey Snipes joined the Air Force in 2009 and was training to be an aerospace medical services apprentice (medic), stationed at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. Kelsey was discharged at the end of 2009 after her roommate accused her of homosexual conduct. She still carries her Air Force coin in her pocket.

After hanging out with Kelsey for a couple of hours, It was time to get back on the road and head back to Texas. My next visit was with Seaman Joseph Rodriguez tomorrow morning at 9am in Van Horn, Texas which is just outside El Paso. For the next 6 hours I would drive straight down the whole state of New Mexico passing through Roswell (my Mom told me not to stop fearing I would be abducted by Aliens) and back into Texas. I decided to stay at the Desert Inn Motel in Van Horn, Texas.

Day 10: September 3, 2010
I woke up and headed over to Seaman Joseph Rodriquez’s house to meet him and Corporal Evelyn Thomas and her wife Linda Sanders co-founders of the Sanctuary Project. They were all headed on a road trip to the east coast. Once at Joe’s house,  we decided to photograph Evelyn and Linda in the church next door.

Corporal Evelyn Thomas (L) served in the Army National Guard in 1986 as a Supply Clerk and then decided to join the Marine Corps, where she was a baker. After threats, harassments and investigations Into her sexuality she decided not to re-enlist and was honorably discharged in 1991. Evelyn is the Executive Director and Co-Founder with her wife Linda Sanders (R) of The Sanctuary Project, an activist ministry that advocates for service members, veterans, and their families. They reside in Carlsburg, CA.

After photographing in the church we walked back over to Joe’s house, which is a shrine to the United States Military. All the males in his family joined the Air Force. Joe decided he wanted to travel the world, so he decided to join the Navy. His career was cut short.  W e sat down and he told me in detail, his very intense story.  Joe was drugged, raped at San Diego nightclub,  then hospital violated his rights,  and when word spread of the rape spread around the ship, the Navy treated him awfully after wards, eventually dishonorably discharging him.

Seaman José Anthony Rodriguez was rated the top sailor on his ship before dishonorable discharge in 2009. He comes from a military family, although he was the first member of his family to join the Navy instead of the Air Force. His Navy career was cut short after he was “drugged and raped” at a gay bar in San Diego. After the incident, Joe went to a civilian hospital that ended up violating HIPPA laws and released Joe’s records to the Navy. He is in the process of repealing that decision.

It was now late afternoon and all of us were exhausted and hungry, Joe’s mom is a cook at the Original Chuy’s so we drove over there for a much needed lunch. The food was amazing! It was great to sit and catch up with Evelyn, we had originally met in D.C at the Get Equal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rally. Sadly, we couldn’t sit too long, I had a long  7 hour drive still ahead of me. I needed to get to Tucson, AZ and they needed to hit the road and head east. We hugged and I hit the road. Arizona or bust.
Thank goodness, I ate such a tasty lunch in Van Horn, I arrived at my motel in Tucson hungry, too tired to really eat anything, I walked over to the gas station for a night cap snack and…
then I slept.  At this point in the road trip, I have driven just over 3,500 miles and shot 15 portraits.
All images ©Jo Ann Santangelo 2010- can not be copied, printed, posted or reproduced without permission.
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About Jo Ann Santangelo

Austin based freelance multimedia documentary photographer and storyteller.
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