Retro Post: 10 Years Ago Today, 20-Aug, Part 1

For the next few weeks, we’ll be observing an anniversary: 10 years since we left San Francisco and moved to Ann Arbor. I’ll repost articles Frank and I wrote at that time for our Ann Arbor blog, aSquared. Bittersweet, very definitely they will be, bittersweet.

[It’s aSquared’s First Birthday … we’re celebrating by looking back at events from a year ago … skip these retro posts if you’re not into sentimentality.]

‘Ah, Day Five … Santa Fe and Oklahoma City … my old stomping grounds. Some great things happened, some nasty things happened, but at least we survived the Texas Panhandle and got outta there in one piece …

Day Five

‘Day Five — Santa Fe, NM, to Oklahoma City, OK

‘[Note: Due to our late arrival in Oklahoma City, I was unable to post this entry last night … here ya go … sorry for the delay:]

‘Today’s statistics:

‘We travelled 569 miles from Santa Fe to Oklahoma City. Spent $51 on gas, $45.63 on food, $70.40 on an oil change and lube and other things for Jeepy, and $219.88 on a hotel (for two nights). We’re now staying with our friends Don and Jean and cousin Artie-Moose, who are being gracious hosts and putting up with us for a night.

‘Here yet again: All the boring, exhausting details, almost as they happened:

‘—I-40E, New Mexico/Texas, 12:11 MDT | 18-Aug-04

‘Well, I’m very sad today, as I usually am when I have to leave my native New Mexico and go to Oklahoma. Invariably, this is a distressing and depressing event, and has been for the last 32 years that we’ve been going back and forth between the two.

‘First up, notes about our day off yesterday in Santa Fe.

‘The day began just dandy. We had a quick meal at Sonic (it was good to have that again, even if it is the last thing I need), then headed downtown. We found parking next to St. Francis Cathedral and then did some exploring and picture taking. Nothing really changes around the plaza, just the names of the stores. For a summer Sunday afternoon, the tourists were really not that numerous and it was an enjoyable experience. There is a book store on Palace Street where I could spend the rest of my life; it’s just perfect. I’d try to describe it, but I couldn’t do it justice. You just have to see it for yourself. It’s a good thing that we’re on a budget and that there is no more room in the Jeep, or I might have gotten myself in trouble there. A great edition of ‘The Lincoln County War,’ a fine recounting of the events involving Billy the Kid not far from my birthplace, was especially tempting. But, at $75, I’m afraid it was left behind in Santa Fe.

‘We walked along in front of the Plaza and Palace of the Governors and took turns popping into La Fonda. Which. Is. Santa. Fe. Speaking of Billy the Kid, he reputedly did dishes and odd jobs in the kitchen at La Fonda for a period of time. La Fonda is the original hotel in Santa Fe and served travellers arriving on the Santa Fe Trail. It advertises itself still as ‘The Inn At The End of The Trail.’ It is a wonderful place; I stayed there in 1992, but this time, we had a beagle with us, and La Fonda, which once hosted Billy the Kid, doesn’t permit beagles on the premises.

‘The beagle wasn’t a very happy dog; crowds, noises and hot pavement are definitely not his cup of tea. He was pretty antsy during the experience. He was, however, a very good dog considering what we asked of him; he had plenty of rest periods and cold water from his canteen. He was happy when we returned to the car.

‘My main purchase of the trip (aside from the necessities) had been planned well in advance, and I was very pleased to find very good and affordable chile ristras, strands of hot New Mexico chile peppers, which, if they survive the next 1,700 miles, will look great hanging in the kitchen in Ann Arbor. They’re now hanging and drying in the rear window of the Jeep as we go along.

‘I also looked for another piece of Adakai pottery, but couldn’t find any. I didn’t look very hard, though.

‘In front of St. Francis Cathedral stands the old statue of Archbishop Lamy, one of New Mexico’s most famous denizens. Willa Cather helped make him famous with her novel ‘Death Comes for the Archbishop.’ He stands in front of the cathedral, looking west down San Francisco Street, over ‘his’ city and people. He’s stood there for years alone, but now he has company. For the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, a new statue has been erected, actually closer to the doors of the Cathedral than the Archbishop. This new statue was dedicated just last Saturday, the day we arrived in SF.

‘The statue is of the ‘Blessed Kateri,’ and as you can see from the Day Four photo gallery, she is a native American woman. It’s a very pretty statue. The Blessed Kateri was born Tekakwitha Kateri, part of the Mohawk people, in 1656. According to Sunday’s New Mexican, she suffered much in a short life. She lost her parents and baby brother to smallpox, which also left her scarred and frail. She was baptized a Catholic in spite of ‘the disapproval of her community.’ She refused to follow Mohawk customs, dedicated herself to Christ and died in 1680. Supposedly the scars of her illness vanished upon her death. She was declared Venerable in 1943 and Blessed in 1980. The church must certify a third miracle before she can be canonized. People at the dedication of the statue reported healings and visions, including one member of the Jemez Pueblo who saw Kateri herself during a drum ceremony.

‘Not sure what all that means. What makes the inclusion of a native American woman in the pantheon of the cathedral acceptable? Is the only statue Santa Fe can erect of a Native American acceptable because she is pre-approved by the Catholic Church? As a book I’m reading points out, when anglo New Mexicans erected a statue to Juan Onate a few years back, someone cut off the foot of the statue. Anglos reacted with outrage … how dare they desecrate art in the city where art is the Holy of Holies?! But if you dig a little deeper into Onate’s history, this is the Spanish governor of the territory who wiped out most of the Acoma people, enslaved the survivors for 20 years … and cut off the right foot of every male over the age of 25. Hence, the poetic justice of the statue foot amputation 500 years later.

‘The history of New Mexico is complex, difficult … bloody and contentious. Most of us New Mexicans, of whatever background/ethnicity, have never, and may never, come to terms with our bloody, bloody past. An article in the same book I’m reading points out that even the names of the Native American tribes are not actually correct; they’re usually derogatory names applied by either invading anglos or enemy tribes. Most tribes called themselves ‘The People’ in words from their own languages. But Apache means ‘Enemy’ and wasn’t the name they called themselves. Sometimes, the tribes me the white man, who asked them what they called themselves. Most said variations of ‘we don’t know.’ And then adopted whatever name the white man called them.

‘Very complex stuff and to me, New Mexico is one of the very few places in the country where culture/race questions are so thorny and difficult. New Mexico represents a collision of the Native, the Hispanic and the Anglo … the collision continues and its effects are still very real after over 500 years. As an Anglo New Mexican, my heritage, culture, life experience, opportunities and other sensibilities are very different (more fortunate in some ways, poorer in others) than the other two, which have major variances between them as well.

‘They’re not kidding when the call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. Not only is the landscape dramatic and awe-inspiring, but the peoples, cultures and different towns and cities are fascinating as well.

‘But back to Santa Fe. After walking around the Plaza, we drove up Canyon Road, with its very foofy art galleries and the most concentrated amount of pretension in a small area in perhaps the U.S. And I say that as someone who has been to Aspen and Palm Springs and LA and San Francisco and Marin County and Highland Park, TX.

‘After the galleries petered out, we drove Upper Canyon Road and meandered around through the real Santa Fe with its dirt roads and adobe houses of all kinds. We passed a house for sale which had brochures out front. Here’s a Santa Fe real estate update for you: The house we stopped at is ‘Casa Colina’ at 1430 Upper Canyon Road. Quoting from the brochure now: ‘One of a kind beautifully landscaped restored classic adobe creatively landscaped with drip irrigation on 1.4 +/- acres bordering National Forest. Historic feel and finishes that cannot be duplicated. Hand adzed vigas, nichos, brick, tile and flagstone floors. Matching guest house with unique rock waterfall incorporating part of the natural rock hillside. Exterior hot tub. Jacuzzi in master bath, minutes from town.’ Isn’t that a hand thing to have? A Jacuzzi just minutes from town? (That was an English Major joke …) But if you can get past the atrocious writing of the ad copy, you will see the Casa has three bedrooms, two baths, two living areas and a chunk of Santa Fe canyon all for the low, low price of $925,000. Now to some of my dear readers, that sounds outrageous. But I think my California friends will find it … somewhat cheap. Anyhow, call Town and Ranch Realty of Santa Fe if you’re interested. The beagle has dibs on coming and visiting you and staying in the guest house …

‘But then we ended up almost getting wiped out by a crazy woman in an SUV, who was yacking on her cell phone and following me so close I thought she would shove us off the road. As we came to a four-way stop sign, she gunned her Explorer and passed us on the left speeding through the intersection without stopping. I saw her wave her left silver-braceletted wrist at us as she continued to yack on her cell phone with her right hand and blazed through the intersection. So, I suppose that means she was driving with her knees. We know she was not driving with her brains.

‘It put a bit of a damper on things. Perhaps at the point, we got tired. Perhaps at the point, the closeness of Mars put our universe out of whack. But the rest of the evening was a series of … distasteful events that kinda dampened our spirits.

‘First, I realized I stupidly didn’t take any pics of Frank downtown. So we went and took some in front of the cathedral. I felt bad. Then, the restaurant we picked for dinner was closed and dark; we missed it and had to turn around and backtrack twice to find it. We ended up having dinner at Tortilla Flats for the second night in a row, which was fine, because the enchiladas are superb. But after we began eating, a rather … macho-looking guy and his girlfriend sat down at a table next to us and we began to get bad vibes and be stared at. Not sure why, and not sure if there was anything behind it, but the feeling was rather odd. Fortunately, they ate quickly and left, but it served to remind us that we are no longer in our bubble of comfort and protection in San Francisco. The middle of the country is populated with some rather weird characters; unlike San Francisco, where weird characters are merely weird and eccentric, weird characters here are often quite menacing. As we approach Texas (now just 30 miles away as I type this), I’m beginning to wonder if I need to cover up the ‘California’ on the Jeeps tags. I looked for a ‘Native New Mexican’ bumper sticker in Santa Fe, but no such luck.

‘At any rate, we went back to the hotel, where I spent the next hour-plus having a conversation with … someone … which I won’t bore you with, but was rather intense, very uncomfortable and extremely upsetting. Let’s just say it involved tonight’s stopover, which will now NOT include a previously planned meeting, which is probably all for the best. Enough of that.

‘I did some laundry, then discovered that the hotel dryer didn’t work. Fortunately, the night clerk let me use the hotel’s commercial dryer and the job was done. Then I discovered that the gas station where I filled up before going to the hotel has placed a $100 hold on debit card … to cover a $27.60 fill up. Wells Fargo tells me the hold won’t be released until tomorrow morning between 5 and 8 a.m. MST. Needless to say, we’ll be paying cash for gas from now on.

‘Didn’t get to bed and asleep until 2, then the alarm rang at 7:30. Plus, at 5:30 this morning, Bayley got lost in the covers of the bed and spent what seemed like a long time walking around the bed trying to find his way out.

‘This morning, we loaded the Jeep and had the oil changed, then grabbed a bit of breakfast at Sonic and hit the road. Today has been a much better day, in spite of the fact that we’re about to leave New Mexico and enter Texas and Oklahoma. I drove us out of Santa Fe down US-285.

‘Frank took over driving at historic Clines Corners, on historic Route 66. CC is a historically large rubber tomahawk shop with just about any kind of … stuff … you could think of to buy. There are rattlesnake eggs. Indian headdresses (the fake dyed stuff for kids). Moccasins. Cedar plaques with ‘Mom’s Rules’ on them. Turquoise out the wazoo. T-shirts. Cactus jelly. Shot glasses. Anything that will sit still long enough to have a New Mexico logo/landscape painted on it is right there.

‘I make fun of Clines Corners, but I don’t remember one single time in the 40 years of my life that we haven’t stopped there. It’s on the route from Roswell to Albuquerque, and Santa Fe to I-40 and is a pretty convenient and fun place to visit. It remains, in my opinion, one of the purest and most successful relics of Route 66. At an elevation of 7.200 feet, CC had a reputation when I was a kid of being a nasty place to navigate in the winter.

‘We’re now tooling down a pretty quiet and calm I-40. Not too many trucks; there is a crosswind again, but it’s not as bad as Friday and Saturday. We passed Santa Rosa, the Scuba Diving Capital of the southwest, or so it claims. There is a deep lake called the Blue Hole which gets its fair share of divers, plus Santa Rosa Lake, Sumner Lake and Conchas Lake are nearby.

‘I remember Santa Rosa as the place where my vacationing aunt and uncle and cousins were pulling a camping trailer during the early 1970s and ran into a fierce crosswind which overturned and destroyed their camper. We came up from Clovis to check on them and I remember seeing the pictures later; trailer looked like a tornado had hit it.

‘I’ve been noticing that Tucumcari’s signs have been updated. In the olden days, they used to say ‘Tucumcari Tonight: 2000 Motel Rooms.’ The new ones now say: ‘Tucumcari Tonight: 1200 Rooms.’ I guess there’s been some attrition since the hey day of Route 66.

‘Just what are the ‘Billy the Kid Tombstone Races’ in Ft. Sumner? Hmmmm.

‘Just passed another interesting road sign: Very large square, black background … smallish white letters state ‘Stop driving without a seatbelt on or’ and in big red letters: ‘We’ll stop you!’ In the lower right corner: ‘New Mexico State Police.’ I think they mean bidness.

‘Frank will be driving to the west side of Amarillo, some 220 miles. I’ll then take over and have the … pleasure? Honor? Duty? Misfortune? to drive us through Amarillo and across the Oklahoma state line. That’s another 240 miles. Something tells me we won’t be getting to Okie City until 8 or 8:30 or so.

‘We just passed an actual, real-life, functioning Stuckey’s, once an American institution on highways and byways and mostly disappeared. Whaddya know.

‘Okay, the Tucumcari Tonight signs now read ‘1500 rooms.’ The number of hotel rooms increased as we approached Tucumcari.

‘I’ll give this thing a rest right now. We’re about to leave the great state of New Mexico and that always makes me cry, so I probably can’t see the keyboard anyway. More later …

‘—I-40E, approaching Vega, TX, 15:07 CDT

‘Well. It’s flat. Yellow. Ugly. Windblown. Full of signs proclaiming supremacy of Empire and inerrancy of Bush. We must be in Texas. We’ve already seen our first car decked out in OU paraphernalia and a couple from Utah in an old green Ford Taurus in front of us have a Just Married sign taped to the back window. When we first saw them, just the man was visible. We just passed them again and now she’s sitting up and they’re both smiling quite a bit. I think they’re having a fabulous honeymoon.

‘Frank says he now believes that I was telling the truth when I warned him that the Texas Panhandle is (mostly) flat. The wind is up and he’s fighting it. The wind always blows here; there’s nothing to stop it. I’m not used to so much … flatness and wind. I’m gettin’ a little freaked out … but we still have about 285 miles to go. Sigh. More later …

‘—Don and Jean’s House, Oklahoma City, OK, 20:07 CDT

‘[Note: I am writing this entry while enroute to Memphis, so this is from memory]

‘I took over driving at a Phillips 66 station in Wolflin Square in west Amarillo. Frank says he wasn’t too scared to leave the car, but I have my own opinion on that [grin]. Actually, I was kinda scared to leave the car. Amarillo is a truly ugly place; I’ve always thought so. It’s flat, dusty, windblown and ugly. Did I mention it’s ugly? We didn’t pause long. We drove through to the far east side and stopped at a truck stop to let the beagle walk and have some water. It was kinda scary inside there too, with a trucker staring at me when I went in (we take turns going in places; one stays outside with the beagle, while the other conducts business). We got back on I-40 (Frank is still trying to break himself of the southern California habit of calling it ‘The 40’) and sped towards Oklahoma. Texas has crappy roads (remember, it’s a low tax, low services state, a Republican dream) and we got tossed around quite a bit, but before the Oklahoma line, they have built the Mothers of all Roadside Rest Stops. Basically, these are some picnic tables and a little building and some rest rooms, but Texas has turned them into fancy roadside art projects, with variations in bronze, fabric and stone of the great and worshipped ‘Lone Star.’ Therefore, when your car simply falls apart from the bad roads, you have some truly beautiful roadside rest stops to be stranded in.

‘Ah, Texas.

‘We hit the Oklahoma line at 17:34 and, while marginally better and being worked on constantly, there are sections of Oklahoma road that almost made me wish we were back in Texas.

‘It was strange to be back in the Sooner State, as it always is. I can’t describe the feeling. Something somewhere between panic, depression and … oddly, happiness that I can see friends and be back in a familiar place with some elbow room and not much pretension.

‘There’s not a great deal to report about the rest of the day’s road trip; we stopped for gas at El Reno, then arrived at Don and Jean’s house at about 20:04. Bayley and Artemis, who hadn’t seen each other in almost five years, greeted each other a little skittishly at first, but soon settled into a routine of rear-end sniffing, followed by studiously ignoring each other (with the exception of the occasional ‘sneak sniff’ when the other one wasn’t looking). After a short stretch, the four of us decided to expose Frank to some more southern culture and took him to eat dinner at the Cracker Barrel, which is always an … interesting experience. After some good chicken fried chicken, mashed potatoes, baby sweet carrots, cornbread and macaroni and cheese (Frank had black-eyed peas and okra instead of carrots and mac-and-cheese), we bought some postcards and left for downtown.

‘I hadn’t seen the new dome on top of the Oklahoma State Capitol. It’s quite impressive at night. Until its completion, Oklahoma was the only state capitol without a dome (although it seems that the Roundhouse in Santa Fe is pretty domeless itself – in the traditional sense). It does seem very strange to see; I’m used to a rather dour, classical building with a flat roof, and suddenly there’s this thing there. Still, it’s a beautiful and much-needed addition to Oklahoma’s skyline and image and is magnificent at night.

‘But the highlight of the evening was a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, site of the 1995 Murrah building bombing. I was never too enamored of the design of the memorial when I read descriptions and saw drawings of it before its construction. The empty chairs especially seemed a bit … well, hokey, to me. But that night (the grounds are open 24 hours and we were there around 23:00), the whole thing is truly awesome and amazing. They’ve done a magnificent job with the site and the memorial.

‘I remember a May day in 1995 when I stood at a fence in front of the blasted ruins of the Murrah, two days before explosives experts demolished its remnants. The memorial cannot erase the sight and smell and sound of that 1995 day. The memorial is emotional and intense and all that, but the sight of what was left of the Murrah that day in May ‘95 almost prevented me from seeing the memorial and taking it in. I remember only ugliness, grief, tears. I remember panic and fear as I found out that my mother was nearby and that a good friend of mine was walking around downtown OKC immediately after the explosion and not knowing for several hours where they were. The memorial is necessary and cathartic, but for anyone who was there or saw the immediate aftermath, I doubt if the memorial does much to erase the memory.

‘As we walked along the reflecting pool, a security guard came and asked if we had any questions. We asked one (I forgot what it was), but that was all he needed. he launched into a 30-minute history of the bombing and its aftermath and gave us a good guide to what was where and when and what happened to who. Some things I hadn’t heard before. His take: Timothy McVeigh, operating in concert with Terry Nichols, in retaliation for the Waco/Branch Davidian mess (which was directed out of the Oklahoma City field office in the Murrah Building, put some fertilizer and a stick of dynamite in a Ryder truck, tried to park it in the parking garage, but it was too tall and wouldn’t fit, parked it in front of the building, which nobody thought much about because that’s where all sorts of deliveries were made everyday, ran over to his car parked behind a church and ‘hightailed’ it out of town, only to be picked up later and, well, you know the rest. Whether that’s the official line or his version or anywhere near the truth is anyone’s guess. I suppose I think it’s about as plausible an explanation as any.

‘Following this, we went back home and watched some video of the wedding and honeymoon from last fall, then went exhausted to bed. I didn’t have any time to post or make changes to the ‘blog, so sorry for the lateness of this one.

‘To those of you posting comments, we appreciate hearing from you. It’s great to hear from the home folks. Just remember: when you post a comment, it is immediately public and only Frank or I can erase it. As one of you who shall remain nameless discovered. But thanks for the comments. It really helps to hear from you while we’re on the road.

‘Today’s trip stats:

‘• 10:00 — Left Santa Fe, NM — 0 miles | 1337 total
• 11:00 — Clines Corners — 58 | 1395
• 12.21 — Santa Rosa — 115 | 1452
• 13:07 — Tucumcari — 174 | 1511
• 13:26 — San Jon — 197 | 1534
• 14:38 — Texas State Line (Time zone change!) — 216 | 1553
• 14:40 — Glenrio, TX — 218 | 1555
• 14:56 — Adrian — 238 | 1575
• 15:07 — Vega — 251 | 1588
• 15:21 — Wilderado — 265 | 1602
• 15:26 — Bushland — 273 | 1610
• 15:40 — Amarillo (Gas Stop) — 286 | 1623
• 16:00 — Amarillo East (Rest Stop) — 298 | 1635
• 16:27 — Conway — 314 | 1651
• 16:39 — Groom — 327 | 1664
• 16:59 — Alanreed — 353 | 1690
• 17:05 — McLean — 360 | 1697
• 17:21 — Shamrock — 380 | 1717
• 17:32 — Texola — 394 | 1731
• 17:34 — Oklahoma State Line — 396 | 1733
• 17:39 — Erick — 403 | 1740
• 17:52 — Sayre — 417 | 1754
• 18:00 — Elk City — 428 | 1765
• 18:25 — Clinton — 461 | 1798
• 18:36 — Weatherford — 496 | 1813
• 19:20 — El Reno — 524 | 1861
• 20:04 — Oklahoma City (Don & Jean’s) — 569 | 1906

‘Good night from Okie City … y’all!

‘—Posted by Steve at 00:09 | 20-Aug-03