The night cooled off so we didn’t need the A/C or the fan to sleep comfortably. This was short lived as the sun broke through and quickly raised the mercury. Being Labor Day weekend, the last hurrah of the summer, I called the Albuquerque KOA to see about a spot. Luckily there was a cancellation, a large pull through with full hookups was available, but they charged me the smaller spot amount. She must have looked at my KOA permanent record and seen who they were dealing with. More than likely she was just practicing good business sense. Keep the customer happy. A reservation is good and bad. Good in that you know you have a spot and late-night check in is easier. Bad in that you have a spot that you must reach or forfeit the fee. If your timing is off, or you see a better option on the route you either have to bypass or eat the amount you paid for the KOA. I didn’t want to take any chances so went with the reservation.
It was game day in Lubbock and Raider Nation was out in full force at the campground. I noticed this as I walked to the restrooms, my red shirt and grey shorts allowing me to fit in. This was totally by chance and not planned so I changed into orange when I got back to the camper.
Last night, after dark, a camper van had pulled into the spot behind me. The couple quickly set up and retired for the night. Mabel wandered over to them this morning as they were prepping to leave and I noticed the New Hampshire plates so I told them I enjoyed my trip through their home state. Remember the advice in the laundry room. I really did like New Hampshire though. It turns out they travel for a few weeks and then place the camper in storage and then fly home. The camper was just retrieved from San Marcos earlier this week. They plan on heading West and will repeat the process somewhere “out there.” The couple started early this year and have been to New Orleans and Key West. The camper was roomy and the husband proud to show me the inside, telling me about what they saw in Lubbock last night. I thought what a great way to travel.
The trip is not turning out as I thought and the couple just reinforced this notion. I totally misunderstood time and how it related to the trip. Originally, I thought I would have a load of time in camp so I brought books and movies and even figured on taking an on-line writing class. The amount of time required to make distance was miscalculated as America is a big country. It takes a long time to travel it when only going 40 -50 mph on back roads. I also thought it would be easier to immerse myself in the local culture. I had visions of coming into a nice small town, parking myself on a main street bench, and having conversations with the locals. I would become the “remember that nice man from Minnesota we talked to last week” guy. It hasn’t happened like that and maybe it never could, my ideas on the trip coming from a Norman Rockwell painting which was not my reality. Maybe it’s not so much about the people but more about the me and what this trip will do to/for me. But that cannot be determined until the trip is over and I am reflecting while back to a normal life.
We hit the road after breaking camp taking HY27 North to Amarillo. I think of the George Straight song and sing the only lyrics I know. “Amarillo by morning, up from San Antone. Everything that I got is just what I got on.” Mabel isn’t impressed and I sense some irritation after the ninth time singing the abridged version of the song.
We stop at two small towns on the way to Amarillo and I get gas at Tulia. The streets were red brick, in some spots good, in other spots bad. The cross streets were severely dipped, maybe for drainage, and I had to drive slowly to protect the trailer from bottoming out. I had already fixed the license plate enough times to last me the entire trip. There was activity at the local park, a few food trucks, and people milling about but I don’t stop. It didn’t look like the right opportunity to mingle with the local population.
As we head North on IH 27, I see a sign for a town called Happy, and feel the need to pull off the road to check it out. They also had spots where the road was red brick but in much worse shape than Tulia. The bricks were loose and pot holes made me carefully pick my path as I traveled to their main street. It was small, maybe a block or two but most of the stores were vacant. The grain elevator must keep the town in business, if not I don’t know what does. We do find a small park and Mabel has fun running around, the fenced dogs across the street enviously barking to no avail.
I decide to skip downtown Amarillo, instead opting for Stanley Marsh’s Cadillac Ranch. I’ve heard of it but never been, the Google images and the back story peeking my interest. This is a pop art project from the 1970s; ten Cadillac’s buried nose in the ground that over time have been partially destroyed and completely multi colored. The welcome sign says spray painting the cars, which are considered works of art, is illegal. But as we approach through the corn field, everyone is painting the cars. There are cans of spray paint in orderly rows and people are passing them to each other. The recent rains have left the area a muddy mess and we choose our steps. I did find a small spot to make my mark in red spray paint. I am glad I stopped but thought it would be different, maybe bigger and grander. The ten cars are not spaced far apart so the whole display is walked in less than three minutes. Maybe they should have used 50 Cadillacs.
Highway 40 will be our friend through New Mexico and Arizona. The road passes straight through the upper portions of both states and I view it as a quick conduit to get through the heat. But we still have more of West Texas to pass through, more ranches and farms for as far as the eye can see. The massiveness continues right up to the border with New Mexico. The ranches are dotted with scrubby little brush trees that are just waiting to become tumbleweeds. I guess that’s why the land is used for ranching, it’s hard to grow anything else on it.
We say goodbye to Texas as we cross over into New Mexico, a new chapter to the Southwest. The Texas swagger does not continue even though the land looks basically the same. Albuquerque is still some ways to go and I am committed because of the damn KOA reservation. I see a sign for Rt. 66, that iconic US Highway that signified American Freedom for so many in the 1950’ & 60’s. During TWC it was the only route possible, giving life to the small towns along its way. Commerce sprang up to meet the needs of the travelers, each storefront lit with lively neon or the building itself a crafty gimmick. I enter hopeful at San Jon and exit disappointed at Tucumcari. Most of the buildings are in disrepair, their neon long since turned off. Only a few have retained a semblance of their original luster, and even those look shabby. I didn’t even stop to take pictures. The towns need an adrenaline shot, otherwise they are slowly closing their eyes to possibly never open again. There is no Disney influence here, the company hasn’t ridden in on a white horse to preserve the road’s history. Now, I was travelling while it was light out, driving the stretch after dark might change my perspective, but I don’t think so. There are more signs on HWY 40 advertising Rt. 66, and many businesses lay claim to its moniker, using it like a light to pull in moths. But in most parts, Rt. 66 has been swallowed up by HWY 40, a more efficient way of passing through New Mexico.
There are many signs along the roadside for tourist places that sell “authentic” Indian blankets and jewelry; with some offering item exclusivity. There are so many I become numb to them, they remind me of the tourist trap “South of the Border” in South Carolina. They sell nothing but tourist crap and fireworks. Their signs are famous with Pedro stating “403 miles to South of the Border”. He eventually counts down to feet. But with Mabel needing some exercise, I decide to pull off at the Flying C Ranch in Encino mainly because I was curious. I park the car and trailer at the backside of the building and walk her through an old parking lot to a gate blocking what looks like an empty field. A number of trailers sit behind a Private Property sign, a few worn cars parked on dirt driveways. We walk past and run into a couple walking two little Yorkies. Mabel takes an instant interest, her social interactions limited since we crossed over into New Mexico. We stop and talk because the dogs stopped to talk. He is a traveling ICU nurse and they are travelling back to California where he is currently assigned for a few months. I had never heard of this so ask a few questions and must not have seemed too nosy because he obliged my curiosity. He works through an agency that will send him where he wants, for the length of time he wishes to stay and can make money from referrals. This is the new economy, a mobile society working wherever and whenever. James Altucher has a great book called Reinvent Yourself that talks about this. I read most of it and it changed how I think about work and gave me the courage to take this trip. Check out his podcasts.
I ventured inside the store and it was what I thought it would be. A large variety of things I didn’t need or want; I guess I am not their target market or demographic. Remember the infomercials from about 10-15 years ago where Tom Bosley, MR “C” from Happy Days, told us we could all own our own business selling trinkets and statues from the Specialty Merchandise Corporation (SMCO)? He walked down the warehouse aisles that were brimming with items that just couldn’t wait to be sold. There were testimonies from successful business people whose lives were changed with a simple phone call. Well this place must have purchased the entire warehouse because that was what they were selling. They did have a clean bathroom though.
Back on the road and Albuquerque is fast approaching, I can sense the traffic tempo picking up. The multi lane highways are also a clue. I am keeping an eye on the road and an eye on the GPS with Mable watching my “6”. It is an awakening from the slow stroll we had been accustomed to and it definitely woke me up. The KOA was North of the city in Bernalilo and we reached it after dark, my knuckles eventually turning from bone white to their normal pasty color.
Maybe because it was the start of a three-day weekend, but his KOA was livelier. The pool was full of kids, folks were sitting around fires, and there were movie watchers in the outdoor theatre. This KOA was a destination, a place to stay rather than pass through. We get settled, Mabel sniffing the fake grass, one neighbor a multicolored graffiti rig. I can hear them talking but they seem alright. My other neighbor comes in while I am cooking. A nice Viet Nam Vet from Oregon, here until October so he can visit his daughter. Mabel sniffs his outstretched hand and decides he is ok. No socializing tonight, I set up camp and do a little writing and then we are off to bed. No need for supplemental cooling tonight.
Thankful tonight that city traffic is not the norm.