Feature

Gas, Food, Lodging

September 2006

Gas, Food, Lodging

Marty Garfinkel stands at the center of his Carbondale gallery, flipping slowly through his matted photographs. He stops frequently, pulling out every other picture so he can tell its story. Here’s a rusting ’50s Oldsmobile cruiser, forgotten in the weeds next to a collapsing high-country barn. This one’s a fading Coca-Cola sign, painted on the side of a brick pharmacy, bringing to mind the worry-free postwar years. That’s the neon sign for a century-old hotel in Montana where the cook said they never shut off the griddle. “Can you imagine the grease they have on there?” Garfinkel asks. He grins, his face revealing the creases caused by 50 years of riding a motorcycle, the last 30 in the West. “Yuck.”

Though he lives in the Roaring Fork Valley, Garfinkel doesn’t pull over his Harley-Davidson Cruiser to photograph the mountains or creeks. Leave that to the tourists and John Fielder. He prefers shooting the remnants of the Eisenhower era—boarded-up Main Streets, rusted junkers on the side of the road, and old motel signs, particularly the neon ones. “I like to think that I’m archiving Americana,” he says.

The first-generation son of an Eastern European carpenter/bar manager father and a seamstress mother, Garfinkel hustled his way through Brooklyn College and New York University Law School, set up shop as a Manhattan general-practice lawyer, and got married. He wasn’t a hotshot, but he managed.

By the early ’80s, the marriage had gone bad and law wasn’t as interesting as he’d anticipated, so he packed up his Volvo station wagon, drove across the country, and settled in Aspen. He skied, he worked, and he bought a motorcycle, which he rode across the West on dusty two-lane roads.