Single Shot Stories No. 008 – Jarrod Hills, Asian Wok

Single Shot Stories No. 008 – Jarrod Hills, Asian Wok

1429 2000 Guest Author

There’s a song by Tracy Lawrence called Time Marches On. The chorus goes like this:

A star is born, a star burns out
The only thing that stays the same is
Everything changes, everything changes

Living outside of Washington, DC, this lyric is all too accurate. Things that seem to be staples of the community oftentimes seem to disappear overnight. You notice something interesting. You know that it has some historical significance. You make a mental note to photograph it. By the time you get to it though, it could very well be gone.

This happened with the Towne Motel. It had been in its spot since the 1950s. Close your eyes and imagine a ‘U’ shaped motel of that era and you have it. According to the people who had stayed there, it was very well run and affordable. Something you do not always get in this area. Problem is, everything changes and around it, older neighborhoods of brick duplexes were being torn down and replaced with massive, boring, town homes, each one selling for more than the one before. The starting “in the low $600s” signs everywhere made me laugh. “Low $600’s? Hell, I will write a check right now!”

Anyway, the point is that the land around the Towne Motel was appreciating quickly, so I knew I needed to get a photo or two of it before it was gone. But I was too late. Holiday Inn (despite there being a hotel directly across the street from it apparently bought the site and blew it apart faster than I can disassemble by daughter’s Frozen Lego castle.

Opportunity missed, but lesson learned.

Next door to the now missing motel is a small, out of place restaurant. It is currently Asian Wok Café but it has been a few other things since its construction in the 1940s, a fact which its design shows. It serves Asian cuisine but looks more like a bar that the Keebler Elves would use to drown their sorrows when their tree home bakery is torn down to make space for that new 7-11. Little known fact, there are about 15 Keebler Elves, but we never hear or see them. Probably hit the sauce too hard in this very building so they’ve been excommunicated. But I digress.

The Asian Wok sits on a plot of land right next to the hole that used to be the motel. I saw a motel melt away into dump trucks and I have a suspicion that Asian Wok will be next. It gets great reviews and the food is quite delicious, but I know that good reviews and good food will not save it. It is destined to become a set of town homes whose developers will undoubtedly keep the ‘spirit’ of the building alive in their new project. You know, maybe they will save a bright green shingle or two and integrate them into the roof line of whatever blandness comes next.

I realize that I am an old man yelling at clouds with this. I am concerned that in this rush for bigger and better things, we are needlessly discarding a heritage and history that can be saved, or at least  left alone. As an owner of property, I can see that the amount of money to be made from selling the land is massive. I just hope they resist for a little longer. I will miss seeing the eccentric little roadside restaurant every day.

Jarrod Hills is a high school teacher, father, and a fan of everything on wheels, being outside, and capturing family moments.

Jarrod has written some lovely guest articles for the site in the past, which can be seen here.

Many thanks to Jarrod for their contribution to Single Shot Stories!


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11 comments
  • Since you are probably right – it won’t be there much longer – I see a project for you: a series of photos from the same perspective, each showing the minor changes (leaves drop, weeds grow, trash introduced) that come day to day, week to week, month to month (you will have to decide on the level of urgency) and then perhaps a going-out-of-business sign, equipment and furniture being removed, maybe the owner claiming the sign as a souvenir, then a bulldozer knocking it down, a pile of rubble, and eventually a barren lot. Even as I write that it seems so sad. Now that I think of it, maybe your photo already tells that entire story.

    • That would make a great comment, and one that I hope to never need to actually do. It is a charming building that I pass every single day on my way to and from work. If it ever does meet the bulldozer, I will absolutely be there every day to document the destruction. I would not call this an icon in any way but I would consider it to be a landmark, considering how long it has been there and the distinctive green tile roof with giant neon sign in front. I need to pull a page out of the Nick Carver playbook and call to see if/ when they will turn on the sign (and order some food for good will).

  • I hope the Asian Wok Cafe manages to stay on. Thanks for the article, I enjoyed reading it. It reminded me of a willow tree in my neighborhood, one I drive by daily, with 2 large branches that hang over the road and form a large heart shape together. I stopped one day and took a black & white photo of it with my old Rolleiflex but I’ve been meaning to stop again and get some color shots. Of course you know where I’m going here….. I drove by last week and all that remains is a stump. The owners had it cut down. Lesson learned.

    • I am afraid that we all see things like this in our daily lives. I used to have a tree that I consistently photographed. It was a giant oak set out on a small island that a pair of Bald Eagles would return to roost in multiple times a year. It was not torn down by man but by storm. I photographed it in a long exposure one month but was not satisfied with the results when the film came back so I went back to try again. That is when I discovered that the last line of high winds had pushed it over and it was no more. Your story saddens me. The Weeping Willow is my favorite plant/ tree. Absolutely beautiful in so many ways. Permanence can be fleeting, as oxymoron-ish as that seems.

  • One more time like Ken Rockwell, in this digital world, for all who want to go digital without enjoying one time the pleasure to do film, here we have digital FUJIfilm cameras. From my point of view, there are the best digital camera now : sensor are very good, lens are better than Leica and very well made, the size of the sensor is not a problem, full frame is also a marketing argument, the prices are ok according to the excellent quality. This is the best digital gear we can buy. And it is made in great Japan. This is digital FujiFilm camera image. You can buy Fuji this is the best.

    • I do enjoy it. I searched specifically for an X Pro 1 for that sensor. Many photos remind me of Kodak Gold 200 when I look at their files. That is not to say that it is the best though. I use Nikon for the motorsports and bike racing events I enjoy shooting. And then for film, I have a few other makes as well. Use what works well for you. This day and age, there is no such thing as a terrible camera. Everything has progressed to a point where the camera can capture so much that it is up to the user to mess it up. That being said, I am enjoying the camera. It really does produce a special look.

  • Well done. I enjoy the colors from the Fuji sensor, including my own X100V. My town is changing rapidly. What was once a hard scrabble working waterfront is now a boardwalk. Some fishing boats still call the waterfront home. The factory that made textiles during the war effort and seat belts for automobiles is now a waterfront condominium for privileged use in summer. A huge waterfront braided rug factory inexplicably held out for decades. It is now on the chopping block, slated to become luxury residences. The building is run down and needs a new life, so on balance the change will be good. I can’t say I would rather my town had remained as it once was. It is an enjoyable place to live. But I do miss the gritty character of first and second generation European immigrants (e.g. my own family) who worked hard and forged a good life. I miss the grounded nature of this ilk, and its prideful determination and lack of pretentiousness. Buildings are symbols, but people are definers. Louis.

  • I return deeply to film when I have changed my Fuji for a Sony 😉 I wanted the full frame. 😉 following Strong Fuji and press marketing about stabilisation system and full frame of Sony, … but this camera bores me, and I have taken my M3 again 😉
    What I like with Fuji before:
    – easy to use
    – we use like a film camera
    – JPEG are very good and be used without software processing,
    – very good quality of making and extraordinary good lens (who will put a lens made in some places … in this camera).
    Yesss I am agree the XPro1 is a fantastic camera and X100V too. I will say all are good, certainly Nikon or Fuji will be maybe, … maybe better for Pro work when it comes to speed, and I am not sure, this is a topic.
    By the way, I love film photography, and now I prefer to use my film cameras. I remember the first Single Shot Story No1, it was a great image, I think It was made with a medium format. Impressive, the result is so great that I think it is difficult to get the same with digital. Digital, computer, social networks, … Now you can use the services of some software to control the publishing of the people in the websites, all these technologies delete some freedoms, we have seen in many last democratic process such elections or publication of informations of pandemics, … with film it is clean, the raw are in physical support. But if people want to enjoy this great hobby which is photography I will advice to have a film camera, a Nikon FE2 with a good Nikkor 50mm is enough, and maybe a digital camera, and for digital camera Fuji is now the best to enjoy this hobby, I speak about enjoying something not to have the last top performances WE DONT NEED. I say FE2, but a FE is enough, where is the difference 1000 sec to 4000 sec, is it so important? Yesss, yesss, 50mm, 1.4, lot of light, 4000 sec are better, … OK OK OK.
    I have been impressed by the JPEG of Fuji, when I try to process the raw from my Sony it is so boring, the Sony software is so boring and it become very heavy files. ….. Thank you for these comments about Fuji

  • I like this shot. The colors are great, and it reminds of the many other similar buildings we sometimes don’t notice, but unconsciously inform our understanding of a place. Sadly I’ve seen several dozen of them disappear recently – shops, diners, old industrial properties, and anything with enough land for apartments. I wish I had documented them before they were gone, regardless of image quality. Sometimes waiting to get a nice shot like yours meant I missed it entirely. Nice work capturing the atmosphere of this unique little landmark.

  • Jess Hobbs posted a very good video on her YouTube channel recently about an old local building that was being demolished. It was quite an intimate and emotional storytelling. Don’t let interesting old structures sit around without photographing them because they’ll be gone before you know it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lR0jPeOrF4I

  • A brilliant photo and fantastic article. What time of day did you take the photo? The light and shadows look to me like the day was towards its end? which is fitting for the subject. I would love to see a follow up if and when anything happens to this place. I have a pizza place near me that is the only surviving shop on the street. The others around it have all closed to make way for the extension of a football (soccer) stadium but I guess they are just refusing…

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In addition to our staff writers, we accept articles from passionate and knowledgeable photo people. If you have an article idea that you'd like to publish on Casual Photophile, please submit it to our email address for articles - [email protected]

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