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Dear Tucumcari, New Mexico:
Did you know that whenever someone road trips it along I-40 and their adventures take them through New Mexico, that the forces of the universe are such that they are compelled to exit at Tucumcari? Just as Andy Warhol predicted everyone will get at least one 15 minute shot at fame in their lifetime, so too does one historian posit that we are all fated to spend at least one night in Tucumcari. Which could seem a little bit spooky, since your name supposedly means "dark place" in the Kiowa language. Still, I choose to honor your light. Once a bustling bastion of travel amenities in the golden age of Route 66 travel, there is perhaps no better echo of days gone by than Tucumcari's neon lit roadside motels and cafes. And when you're there, be sure to snag yourself a Blake's Lotaburger breakfast burrito.
Dear Amarillo, Texas:
What's with the smell? Sniff, sniff? Cow pattie? Diesel exhaust? Stale fryer grease? Okay, so you're a cow town. At some point, the wind is going to remind us of that. But do you have to look like it, too? Where's the Crying Indian when we need him? Y'all, littering is sooooooo early 1970s, and I'm not sure in which era it was ever okay to let loose upon the roads troops of linebacker-built women maneuvering dually trucks while balancing a cell phone in one hand, cigarette in the other, and a 32-ounce Big Gulp god-only-knows-where. Sweet Jesus. They all decide to daydream for one second, and I-40 comes to a screeching halt from Flagstaff to Memphis.
Dear Panhandle, Texas:
Hello? Tap, tap. Anyone home? Your sign says, "People of Pride and Production," but I don't see evidence of either. What on earth would one produce in a place so fallen down and given up, except maybe a whole lot of lonesome and the occasional murderous rage?
Dear Tulsa, Oklahoma:
I finally know what God did on the eighth day. On the eighth day, He woke and thought, "Now it's time I play a practical joke." And then He waved His hands over northeast Oklahoma and created a place so ridiculously pretty, with air so sweetly smelling and hills so softly rolling and red buds so brightly blooming, it brings a hitch to my throat and sting to my eyes to look at it. And everywhere the cows! Cud-chewing thoughtfully against a laconic azure sky punctuated only by the occasional marshmallow dollop of cloud, a bovine paradise right up until the time comes to turn them into dinner and a quality handbag.
And then the city itself, an amazing construct of 100 percent American-engineered blood, sweat, and oil monied tears with its whack Deco architecture and groomed parks and elegant neighborhoods, all underlain with just a hint of funk and plenty of tragedy.
Still, something's got to give, and sure enough, it's the wind. The great gusting breath of a billion avenging angels coughing, constant and steady like the persistent whine of a steam engine never fading, like all the world's an asthmatic gasping for breath, like the last effort to pry apart the grip you have on your sanity could very well be an Oklahoma wind. And the one thing that prevents me and S.B. from packing up the dogs and moving lock, stock, and barrel to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Dear Charles Russell,
(Digital reproduction cannot even begin to do this painting – or the hundreds of others like it we were lucky enough to see at the Gilcrease – justice. It cannot even begin to capture a fraction of the brilliance of the color or the catch-your breath drama of story and event, but believe me when I tell you, what Charles Russell put down on canvas with some paint and a few brushstrokes is some of the most astonishing work in all of art history. Click on the image to enlarge and study the Indian dude in the foreground. Look at his posture, at the foreshortening of his left leg and foot, at the movement of his hair and loincloth, the tenseness of his muscle. Holy you-know-what. How on earth did Russell DO that?)
Dear Lake McMurtry Trail Run,
Thank you for reminding me that one should never take a 15-mile run for granted. Much less one along a narrow, rooted and rocked, muddy-as-hell path carved out of Oklahoma clay. Thank you for allowing me to play leap frog the last four miles with a 67-year-old man who told me that he and his wife have been running together for 42 years, starting with the first day of their honeymoon. Thank you for reminding me that when most things in this world conspire to drain your heart, running is one of the things that helps to fill it back up. Oh, and thanks for also reminding me: regardless of all the touchy feely stuff, I nonetheless need to work harder so as not to embarrass myself at Valles Caldera.
Dear Google Maps:
You are the reason I still move myself through this universe the old fashioned way: with an ATLAS. That is all.