As soon as I saw a town called Hephzibah on the map, I wanted to go there. It was kind of on the way from Augusta to Savannah, so we stopped at the one gas station in town to take on fuel. One couple was making out at the c-store, the boy seated on the curb and his young lady leaning over him. Next to the gas station was a brilliantly painted wood and cinder block restaurant, THE BURGER SHACK, desolate and bathing in the moonlight and the weak fluorescence emanating from the gas station.
I tried shooting the shack with two or three different lenses, and I wasn’t getting it right. Of my three companions, at least two were already in the air-conditioned car and itching to go. It was just before ten, and the drive was going to take over two hours. We thought that our chances of drinking in Savannah were just about to die in this lonely country town.
Just as I was about to walk back to the car with my camera bag, I heard an engine revving up in the unlit, adjoining parking lot. Suddenly, a Dodge pickup came tearing out of the darkness, directly at me, with just its parking lights on. Meade’s eyes registered the fast-approaching truck. Being from Queens, we thought we were in for some type of altercation, a good ol’ street standoff.
The truck screeched to a stop about ten yards from us. A voice came from the blackness behind the wheel of the pickup: “Y’all take a picture of us!”
Out stepped three teenage Hephzibans into one of my favorite shots of Deep South 2009, Real Hephzibah People (at top).
We chatted with these kids for a while. They were kind of shocked by our ambitious roadtrip plans; none of them got out of town often. They were just whiling away this hot, humid, late spring Thursday night in the Family Dollar parking lot. Meade and I brought them over to our vehicle to introduce everyone.
There were two girls and a boy. I’ve forgotten two out of three names, but the girl pictured to the right was named Savannah.
“Y’all be careful, especially in the city,” she said just before we shipped off. “People are crazy out there.”
We got to Savannah after midnight but stayed up til 3 or 4. A couple nights later, when we made a late-night fuel stop deep in the Florida panhandle, and almost a dozen teens were found in and around the gas station, it just made sense.
— Rob Bellinger