7/29 (Monday): City people, walking
Monday morning, I leave the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, fully charged, both the car and me. I drive the "frontage" road most of the 40 miles from Tucumcari to the New Mexico/Texas border. Frontage roads are secondary roads, usually one lane in each direction, built next to superhighway. They often exist in rural areas so that heavy farm machinery - tractors, plows, hay balers and the like - can move around at their slower pace without clogging the highway. The frontage roads are perfect for the Blue Frog, who must have a tractor ancestor in its lineage. In New Mexico, the frontage road switched sides, crossing a bridge from the eastbound to the westbound side every few miles. In Texas, perhaps in keeping with the Texan sense of bigness, frontage roads flank both sides of the highway along 40, newly paved, brightly lined ribbons of two-way payment. The Blue Frog is happy!
Adrian, just into Texas, marks the official midpoint of Route 66. It is 1139 miles from Chicago going west, and 1139 miles from Santa Monica going east.
Once bustling, boasting at least 3 gas stations and 4 cafes, Adrian today is a one horse town - after the horse has left. With approximately 150 residents, the ruined buildings and the junked vehicles (cars, tractors, log splitters) far out number the people. It has a nice little restaurant and curio shop for the tourists who come down to take a picture of the halfway sign and an RV park for electric car drivers with 50 amp adaptors. I spend 5 hours there, waiting for the Blue Frog to charge. I take a walk along the frontage road going west, listening to the crickets hum and watching the wind fling puffs of dust across the pale gold, dry grass. A woman in a white pickup truck drives by, turns around, and comes back.
"You broke down?" she asks. Just walking, I say and explain the electric car.
"Oh," she says. "I was worried. The radio was telling me to take care of my brother and I thought I need to check on that person. You know, city people come out here and they don't know how hot it is. That dial..."she gestures at the readouts on the dash, "says 95 but it's like 120 standing on the black pavement." She reaches into a bag next to her and hands me a cold bottle of water. "You need this," she says. "Are you coming back the other way?"
I nod. "Promise me you'll stop in at the gas station when you pass. I work there." I promise and I do. I try to repay her the bottle of water with one from the convenience store at the gas station but she refuses. "I buy them by the case," she tells me.
She declines to take a picture. "It was nothing," she says.
After the quiet of Adrian, the busy-ness just before exit 60 is a bit of a shock. Cars are lined up on both sides of the frontage road and clots of people move back and forth, all carrying and shaking cans of spray paint. In the near distance a line of dayglo colored objects projects from the sandy brown desert soil.
This is Cadillac Ranch, an art installation created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm, with silent partner Amarillo billionaire Stanley Marsh III. The installation of ten Cadillacs, half buried nose-first in the ground, is a must see on every Things to Do on 66 list. To read more, link here.
I am less than wowed. Anticipation breeds disappointment, I think. The website I looked at before the trip did not mention that viewers are modifying to the art, bringing their own spray paint and adding layers of graffiti, but graffitti and vandalism were part of the artists' design from the onset. In theory, I like this idea. Forty-five years on, people continue this with exuberance. The paint is visibly layered on the cars but, to me, the effect is chaotic. Also, word snob that I can be, I wish people had thought about what they wanted to say before writing. "Go Cowboys!" is not doing it for me.
Mostly, I am offended by the trash that blows all around and I wonder at the carelessness people who miss an open dumpster when attempting to throw something in it.
Sour puss, I think. Maybe if I had a couple of cans to spray, I'd feel different!