Thursday, April 8, 2010

Alive in the Superunknown

* * *

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.



h said...

I've exited at Tecumcari. The facades of the McDonald's and Gas Station were made to look Southwesternyish.

Heather Cherry said...

Loved. LOVED the letter to Tulsa. And I'm a bit miffed that you didn't wave to ME as you flew over. :`(

moi said...

Troll: See there. Tucumcari even snags Trolls. Its power is just that powerful.

Miss Cherry!: OMG, mea culpa. My brain, it is leaky, and was most likely still trying to air out after Amarillo. Waves to you and the pups after the fact.

sparringK9 said...

wow wow wow. you are my favorite travel writer. this post was so good i read it twice. I cant wait to go to Tulsa after this. cows everywhere? i am surprised because with all their farting CO emissions youd think it would be a lunar landscape. isnt that what algore says?

some beautiful turns of phrases here, but this is spectacular:

..."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."

you deserve great riches for this amazing craft you have honed, moi.

and the palamino motel! you could have a torrid affair here or get killed here or have a bad tequila bender here. so evocative.

the heifers in their duallys. howwwwwwwwwwwwwl

and the painting! "i think i will get up today and make an action painting depicting an indian chopping up a rival tribe leader with a tomahawk while being chased by men on horseback with guns"...naw, not too complex. grrrrrrrrhahahahhaahah

i love you moi. brilliant post.

Bretthead said...

I usually don't like travel writings. Thanks for being unusual.

Karl said...

Good afternoon Moi,

You didn't stop in Amarillo and try to eat the world's largest steak. They say it's free if you eat the whole thing.(Neither did I)

Seems as if you had a nice trip or at leased if you didn't. You hid it in fine style.

Aunty Belle said...

wheee!this is fun Moi.

Good word imagery.

I git it about google maps. Stick to yore atlas.

Pam said...

My parents were snowed in once in Tucumcari and had to spend a couple of days in a motel there. That's all I know about the place. However, I am very glad you got to the Gilcrease. What a wonderful place. We were there last summer with the show of the art collection I do some work with. Now about the tragedy in Tulsa -- do you mean the race riot? And yes the wind was gawd-awful last weekend. It comes sweeping down the plain. I know why pioneer women went crazy. It was the wind.

czar said...

The only thing I know about Tucumcari, NM, is from In Cold Blood. As the darling duo is on their way to kill the Clutter clan, they stop at a gas station somewhere in western Kansas and ask the young late-night attendant, "Any idea of the distance between here and Tucumcari, New Mexico?" To which I'm sure the 1960 youth would have loved to have answered, "Gimme a minute. Lemme check the Google Maps app on my CrackBerry."

moi said...

K9: That's mighty praise – thanks! As for that hotel? Perfect for when Chris Cornell returns my phone calls :o)

WTWA: And suddenly, I feel very Tom Jones. Only in heels.

Karl: Good Lord, no. But there's a bright shiny billboard advertising it right at the brink of the city, so one day it may be fun to watch someone try.

Aunty: Given my synesthesia, I need visuals. I need MAPS.

Pam: That, but most specifically tragedy in terms of the personal, a la the world Larry Clark depicted:

Czar: Wow, you are so right! I thought you didn't read books. Only push 'em around until they behave.

April 8, 2010 7:32 PM

Jenny said...

you should really consider writing for a living.

I love this. I'm tired, so I'll probably need to read again in the morning, but it makes me remember my trip across that part of the county with Mr. Boxer MANY moons ago and it was wonderful.

Congrats on the run you did. 15 miles, no matter where you are, ain't easy, friend.

Well done.

Big Shamu said...

Now you've gone and done it, made my gas pedal foot all itchy and impatient. Although I think I've heard western Kansas's version of that wind. It was like turning up the volume way up on my tinnitus. Thank you for sharing your trip with us. It was wonderful. Here's hoping you've seen the last of your snow.

VintagePurseGal said...

Gorgeous photos! Don't let Google Maps (or Mapquest) drive you into a cactus. I swear, they do it on purpose.

moi said...

Boxer: Now, if only I could do those 15 miles FASTER. Perhaps if a breakfast burrito were dangled in front of my face.

Shamu: Storm's a comin' on Monday. Which basically means cold, a few flurries, and our own version of sanity-stretching winds. But by then, I'll be in Miami, baybeeeeee. Okay, so it's mostly work with about .09 percent play, but I'll take anything out of the wind.

Wendy: I know! On one of our maps, they told us we were 55 miles from our destination when it was in actuality only 5. I wonder how many heart attacks they cause?

Pam said...

Hmmm, never heard of the Larry Clark project. But it does remind me that The Outsiders was set in Tulsa about that time -- early 60's ... interesting book, I will have to look for it.

Doris Rose said...

well done my friend, applause applause!

LaDivaCucina said...

Your words and imagery combined so well that i felt depressed until I got to the Tulsa bit! haha! I hate wind, esp. hot wind and it always reminds me of L.A. and Sydney, both places where strong winds can bring disastrous fires. Wind ruins a good day at the beach but you can't have it and sail! Wind's a bee yotch like that! Tack! Dead in the water...sigh!

PS: Who needs Google maps when you can READ maps! We are a dying breed Moi.

Snow storms for Monday? As long as you can get outta Dodge before it all happens, the brochure blue skies and turquoise waters, plaintains and pork, expensive cocktails and people-watching for fabulous shoes are all waiting for you. Bienvenidos to Miami, Mami!

moi said...

Pam: I studied Larry Clark's photos in photography class in college. He became very well known for them. Don't know what he's doing now.

Doris Rose: Thanks!

La Diva: Reading maps is a great way to "travel." And the technology it takes to produce them is even more fascinating.