First, let’s start with some good news. Late last night, President Obama cut a deal with the House Speaker on the budget – which means the federal government will not shut down next week. While the terms are probably terrible (Democrats always negotiate against themselves, because they’re pathetic), in the short term this is great news – because now I can go to the Grand Canyon. Of the 3 things that could go wrong on this trip, so far I’m scoring 2-0. I also had fun last night visiting Amarillo’s gay bars, spending most of my time at Sassy’s – which has karaoke on Friday nights.
This morning, I just had one thing to do before leaving Amarillo: buy a cowboy hat. I found a nice Stetson at Cavender’s – a great Western gear store, where the clerks were all very helpful. They had a special on belt buckles, so I got one too. As you can tell, I’m gradually changing my wardrobe. I got cowboy boots right before Oklahoma, a cowboy hat and belt buckle in Texas and my goal tomorrow is to buy a bolo tie in New Mexico!For the rest of Texas, Route 66 is a frontage road just along the Interstate – so I head due west to my first stop: world-famous Cadillac Ranch. In 1974, a group of artists set up this installation of ten Cadillacs – buried half-way into the ground, with spray paint all around them. I was all excited about my new Stetson hat and was ready to show it off, but as I stepped out of the car by the ranch it was WINDY!!! This is the Texas Panhandle – and with nothing but flat countryside for miles around, this part of the country is famous for its wind. So I leave my hat in the car, and head towards the ranch.
Cadillac Ranch looks a bit anti-climactic from the road, but as you walk towards it (with the wind beating feverishly into your face), it is quite amazing. It’s appropriate that these cars are all nose-dived into the ground like a burial, as the automobile is not a sustainable mode of transportation for the 21st Century. I took a lot of photos on my Facebook page to capture the feeling of it all, but believe me – the wind did not make it very easy.Visitors are allowed – perhaps even encouraged – to bring spray-paint, and contribute to the artwork on Cadillac Ranch. As I speak to a group of French tourists who are there, I notice that someone left a yellow spray-can on the ground. Naturally, I can’t resist – and, while struggling with the wind, manage to write “PAUL WAS HERE” on one of the Cadillacs. Not original, I admit … but I couldn’t think of anything clever. It’s truly amazing that a world-famous landmark like this allows anyone to come up and spray-paint it.
I get back into the car, and head due west on Route 66. I don’t have a very wide selection of country music, but I pop in the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?. As the bluegrass tunes swell in the car, I look around the flat expanse of land and realize how I am truly in the middle of nowhere. This isn’t like Illinois, where you’re never far from a small town. In the Texas Panhandle, you’re the only person for miles. And my GOD is it windy out here!As I wrote the other day, Van Jones has said we have a real “Saudi Arabia” of wind power that can be harnessed to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. I see a few windmills, but not nearly as much as we could use. Ironic how Texas, whose Panhandle could be the answer to our energy problems, is so fixated on drilling more oil.
Pretty soon, I stop in Vega … a small town of 800 people that has made a good effort to prop up its Route 66 landmarks. There’s a beautifully restored gas station, that has been around since before the road was even commissioned in 1926. But all in all, the town is pretty dead … Not much reason to stick around here for long. Adrian, Texas is only a few miles away – and I’d like to stop there for lunch.Adrian has even fewer people (less than 200), but it’s a famous Route 66 landmark for being exactly halfway between Chicago & Los Angeles. And there’s a great restaurant called the Midpoint Cafe, so I go in to have lunch and celebrate a milestone on the journey. Cristina the waitress is very nice, and I order their “signature pie” – a very rich chocolate pie with ice cream all over it. We chat about how many tourists come here, as a British couple is eating lunch at a booth nearby and I end up buying a coffee mug from the giftshop. After lunch, I ask Cristina to step outside and take a photo of me by the sign.
West of Adrian, the guidebooks say you must get back on the Interstate – so I get off the frontage road and onto I-40. Almost immediately, the scenery quickly changes from flat plains to lush vegetation. We’re still in Texas for another 20 miles, and it’s still very flat – but it’s definitely starting to look a lot like New Mexico.Right at the border, I exit the Interstate at Glenrio. Just like Texola (which I visited yesterday), the guidebooks all say it is a ghost-town. I would say that Glenrio was even more depressing than Texola. I did not see a person, and only heard a few dogs barking when I stopped to take pictures. Abandoned buildings are everywhere, and a faded sign that advertised the last motel in Texas is a shell of itself. Like so many Route 66 towns, Glenrio was devastated by the Interstate – and never managed to recover. It reminded me a lot of the Disney-Pixar film Cars (which I saw before going on this trip.) It’s worth it to show the following clip from that movie:
Now I’m off the Interstate, and I take Route 66 through Glenrio as the O Brother soundtrack comes to an end. At the New Mexico border, the road suddenly turns to gravel – and I’m in a dilemma. Do I keep going, or do I play it safe by going back on the Interstate? I’ve learned that when you’re traversing tough roads and must go slow, I need to put in music that I probably won’t sing along to. So I put in “Every Breath You Take” by the Police.The road is rough here, and I’m bumping along at 25 miles an hour. But I see on the map that the next town (San Jon) is not far away. If the road really continues to be this way, I can always get back on the Interstate. For now, I must go slow. It allows me to think more pensively about this trip, as I have the whole place to myself. As the road crosses a few bridges, I think this must be what the Joad Family experienced in the Grapes of Wrath (which I had read right before going on this trip) – and how much tougher traveling across the country would have been back then. As Route 66 gets closer to the Interstate and becomes a frontage road going into San Jon, the road is paved again – and it feels safer to drive on. I later read that after Glenrio became a ghost town, they actually unpaved that part of Route 66 – because it was too expensive to maintain. San Jon is depressing too, but it’s not a ghost town.
One benefit to driving so much yesterday, is that my drive today was relatively short. It’s only about 4:00 p.m, and I’m only one town away from my destination: Tucumcari, New Mexico. Tucumcari is famous for its thousands of motel rooms, so I figured it would be a nice place to spend the night – and do pretty much nothing else.
When I arrive at my hotel, I begin to understand why (despite thousands of rooms in Tucumcari), I truly picked the right place to stay. The Blue Swallow Motel is run by a sweet couple who lives on site, and they have refurbished it to keep its 1930’s charm. Bill shows me my room before checking me in (and makes a point about it), and we talk for a while. I ask him about the Free Wi-Fi that was advertised, and he asks me why it’s important. When I tell him about this blog, he says: “well, in that case I’ll give you Room 12. It’s got the best wi-fi signal, and it’s where my daughter stays when she comes home from college.” Bill & Terri check in on me later in the evening to see if I’m okay, and give me some helpful instructions – like where to go do my laundry this evening. I highly recommend any Route 66 traveler who spends the night in Tucumcari to stay at the Blue Swallow Motel.