Tucumcari, New Mexico – The Blue Swallow Motel

Posted in On Tthe Road on August 13th, 2012 by MadDog
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I managed to skip posting for the entire month of July. Some may have fretted over my passing, but I’ve simply been in too fine a mood to complain about anything. July found Gracie and I to be wandering Gypsies. A work trip to Dallas was followed in a week by Waterloo, Illinois to visit kids and to report to supporters about my new work as a Media Arts Specialist for Pioneer Bible Translators.

Both voyages were long road trips. We bought a couple of books from Audible.com to ease the road tedium. Conversations take you only so far. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. was an excellent listen. I read it many years ago. We followed that with The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by neurologist Oliver Sacks. This audo book required a bit more attention, so I had to concentrate on my driving. Grace got a great deal from it, since it was right up her alley.

I couldn’t talk about our road trips to Dallas without mentioning Tucumcari, New Mexico and especially the Blue Swallow Motel. Tucumcari, whose residents number only about five thousand, is what I would call a “wide spot in the road.” Its existence seems mostly attributed to attention to the convenience of travelers. There probably would not be a Tucumcari were it not for the railroad. Here is how Tucumcari came to be, according to Wikipedia:

In 1901, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad built a construction camp in the western portion of modern-day Quay County. Owing to numerous gunfights, the camp became known as Six Shooter Siding. After it grew into a permanent settlement, it was renamed Tucumcari in 1908. The name was taken from Tucumcari Mountain, which is situated near the community.

Yes, the railroad was the famous Rock Island Line of folk music fame. While I’m on the subject, have a listen to a recording of the song by a group from the Italian rockabilly scene, Wheels Fargo and the Nightengale.

But, I digress. Getting back to Tucumcari, a long road trip and where to lay your head, brings up the subject of The Blue Swallow Motel. This goes on my list of amusing funky places to sleep. Built in 1939 when the idea of “motor hotel” meant that you had to have your own personal garage for the family buggy (more later), it has probably fallen on hard times more than once, but has recently been revived but not unduly modified by nice owners Nancy and Kevin to maintain the flavor of the place without excessively destroying the patina of ageless Route 66 cool.

I can’t imagine any better way to express my tribute to The Blue Swallow Motel than this shot, of which I’m rather proud, of the grand automobile entryway done in the style of the Photorealists. Yeah, I know it’s not a painting. I’m not that talented. I’m just a copycat.

If you are ever in Tucumcari and seeking culture you should consider The Blue Swallow. Frankly, it’s not a place you might want to stay for a week if you are accompanied by a lady who takes her beauty shop science seriously. Gracie was certainly amused by the ambiance, but complained that the bathroom had little in the way of “chick space.” This is not your star spangled Hilton. It is, however, immaculately clean and charmingly adorned with furnishings of the period. What it lacks in accoutrements is more than made up for by American Road Trip style.

As are many structures in Tucumcari, The Blue Swallow’s flat spaces are splashed with folksy Americana.

Everywhere you look are scenes familiar to anyone over the age of sixty. The place appeals to the jaded road warrior.

If your car is not much bigger than that of a pre-war chariot you can make use of your personal carriage house, the walls of which are illustrated with more adorable American kitsch.

If you are ever in Tucumcari, at least have a look at the Blue Swallow Motel. I imagine that there is nothing else like it left.

Well, except for the Petrified Wood Station in Decatur, Texas. It dates from the same general era, having received its raggedy coat of rather poor quality petrified wood in 1935. It doesn’t sell gas any more. The owner uses it as his private office.

On our way to Phoenix while the Gladiator Fire was at its peak I got this shot.

We were a long way from the Highway, so I needed all 300mm of lens. The air was very smoky. I had to massage the shot severely with some nice oily Photoshop.

I love wind machines. Parts of the Southwest are littered with them. We see hundreds on our trips from Sedona to Dallas. You can tell when you’re getting close to a big wind farm because the trees are permanently bent in one direction – the prevailing wind. In this shot, the wind was blowing strongly. It amused me that these two wind turbines were turning in nearly exact synchronization.

And now a picture of a squirrel, for no reason whatsoever.

We have one exactly like this living in our big walnut tree beside the garage. I haven’t managed to get a shot of her yet, so this will have to do. This squirrel lives at Montezuma’s Castle, which I hope to cover in a future post. Our squirrel is madly collecting walnuts and burying them in the most unlikely locations.

Also, just because I can, I’ll show you Datura or Angel’s Trumpet, a psychotropic plant that will put you into medical care if you try to get high by eating it. It’s a member of the family Solanaceae, many species of which are toxic and some of which are tasty, including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplant.

I suppose it is called the Angel’s Trumpet because that is what you may hear if you eat it.

While we’re at it we may as well see a House Finch (a few of which I hear tweeting now through the open patio door) sitting on a still folded blossom of a Saguaro cactus.

The House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) is by far the most common bird around our feeder. What they lack in spectacular colors they make up for in numbers.

Finally, a bee feeding frenzy. When the Prickly Pear cacti are blooming the bees get busy.

I count three inside the blossom and one waiting impatiently to dive in.

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Kinky Friedman, Hoagy Carmaechel and Me

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on June 8th, 2011 by MadDog
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Before I wade into today’s post I want to tell you the sad tale of a man who is gradually losing his mind. Today I went for a haircut. It’s something I seem to have to do three or four times a year. I don’t know why hair has to grow. I guess it’s so that we can change it once in a while. I’d be just as happy if I could get a good haircut and then turn the grow switch off until I’m in the mood for a change. In the meantime my hair tasks would be reduced to washing and a little judicious combing followed by some careful tosseling to get that just-right semi-spiky look which identifies me as a moderately elderly man who is trying desperately to relive his misspent youth with slightly more flair than he managed the first time through.

Going for the haircut is not the funny part. Showing up at the barber shop with no shoes on my feet is the funny part. I was so distracted by my anxiety concerning my first solo trip in Grace’s car that I clean forgot to strap on my spanking new Wal*Mart sandals. There are mitigating circumstances. I have spent most of the last three decades barefoot. I wear no shoes at home, in the yard, on the boat, at the office or in anyone’s house (rude!). I think about where I’m going and decide if I need shoes. So, my mind being otherwise occupied by the horrible thought of wrecking Grace’s car the very first time I’m trusted with it, it is not surprising that I walked past my shoes on the way to the garage without so much as a howdy-doo. Because I had an appointment for a haircut, I did not have time to go back and retrieve my shoes for a dignified entrance to the shop. I stood barefoot in the parking lot and dithered for a moment. Finally I decided to be a man about it and fess up. I went into the Barber shop and was greeted by name, “Hello Arny”, Dennis, the barber said. Grace, as Eunie always did, calls me Arny, a cutified version of my middle name, Arnold. I explained lamely why a grown man would possibly show up at a barber shop unshod. He chuckled and told me that I did not need to go home to get my shoes. I quickly changed the subject.

And now I’ll change the subject again.

The last week has been a revelation in more ways than one. The challenges I have faced since last September, reinforced by the complications of a new and poorly understood life and hurdles I needed to jump since I left Madang in March nearly overwhelmed my capacity to endure. Much of that is over now, one way or another. Issues have been resolved. Obligations have been discharged. Healing has begun in earnest.

The character of my grief has changed with time, as I prayed it would. Sweet memories, once blocked by fear of remembering and emotions which were unpredictable and uncontrollable, have begun to filter through the haze and restore my balance. How I have longed to remember. How I have longed to reminisce about a lifetime of love and fulfillment. I had little idea of what might facilitate this for me. As it turned out, the answers were simpler and more profound than I imagined. A peaceful, restful place where I am responsible only for being who I truly am. A place where I feel comfortable and settled with my own room, my own bathroom, for pity’s sake. An atmosphere that is conducive to quite thought and introspection or stimulating conversation, as the mood dictates. A haven separate from the too-familiar atmosphere of Madang. The most important thing, however, is a shared life experience of love and respect for Eunie and deep admiration and respect for each other. I have known Grace for as long as I knew Eunie. They were closest friends since age four. This has been the key which has unlocked the comfort and pleasure of bringing all of the best of a half century with Eunie back into my consciousness. She is now closer to me than she has been since she died.

I have been here only a little over a week, but I have laughed more than I have in the last nine months. Sharing sweet memories, exploring mutual interests, squeezing the fun from life, all these things have lifted my spirit and evaporated my fears. I have not experienced a single day of depression since I arrived. This alone is a tremendous relief. A couple of days ago, after I painted the porch swing (more about that later) I came inside and sat on the floor watching Grace go through cabinets which had been accumulating items for some years. There were some fascinating things stashed away there. The one I enjoyed most was a Kinky Friedman talking doll.

If you’re not familiar with Kinky, join the club. I won’t bother to tell much about him. You can follow the links if you’re interested. He ran for Governor of Texas in 2006 and captured nearly thirteen percent of the popular vote. What is fascinating about Kinky is that he is so in-your-face politically incorrect. His campaign slogan was, “Why the hell not?” On the front of the box he asks (referring to the Texas governorship), “How hard can it be?”

Kinky wanted to be the first Jewish governor of Texas. One has to respect his chutzpah for this. Even at his most incorrect politicality his remarks reflect sober reflection on the issues. For example, “I’m not pro-life; I’m not pro-choice. I’m pro-football.” One might be forgiven for wondering if he’s avoiding the question. It’s easy not to take him seriously until you remember that thirteen percent of Texas voters took him very seriously, indeed. Of those who voted for him he says, “I don’t know how many supporters I have, but they all have guns.” Okay, that makes me laugh. He passes on his best wishes to all with, “May the god of your choice bless you.”

Anyway, getting to the point, I told grace that she might have something collectible there. I said that I’d Google it later to see if it was worth anything, but, in the meantime, we should get the batteries out of it so that it would not be ruined by leakage. Unfortunately, this involved partially disrobing Kinky, a task which turned out to be strangely disturbing. Grace suggested that we should record the moment:

This may be your only chance today to view an image of a thoroughly mature man sitting on the floor in a semi-lotus position while undressing a talking doll of a former gubernatorial candidate for the state of Texas. Savor the moment, kiddies.

Oh, by the way, this is what my hair looked like before my visit to the barber today:

Those are baby robins at Hans’ house in Hamilton, Ontario.

This is how they looked only two weeks later:

While we’re dealing with critters, I’ll show you this squirrel which sat on the grass at the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, Indiana and mocked me. I don’t know what it is between me and some animals. They often attempt to stare me down. They often succeed. I tried paying no attention to this squirrel, but his stony glare kept drawing my eyes back. I felt like saying, “You. Yeah, YOU! You lookin’ at me? Then I thought, no, that would be silly.

As if that’s not enough, this tree then came at me from the other side and began to taunt me:

So, I retreated to a less sarcastic place and had a little conversation with Hoagy Carmichael, the man who wrote the song with the longest title in the history of music, I’m a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama with my Honolulu Mama Doin’ Those Beat-o, Beat-o Flat-On-My-Seat-o, Hirohito Blues:

Hoagy wasn’t in a talkative mood. I just sat and listened to him play for a while.

Finally, I’d like to show you a proud moment in my life. I call it The Day I Painted Grace’s Porch Swing. I’m a simple man with simple needs. It doesn’t take much to amuse me, as any regular reader will have noted. It took me most of the day to apply the stain to the swing. I made the nearly fatal mistake of not turning it over to stain the underside first. By the time I was half-way through with the visible part I began to wonder how I was going to turn the gooey thing over to get to the bottom. I solved the problem by crawling around on the ground for a couple of hours:

Hey, it kept me off the streets for a while. I was inordinately proud of myself for completing this simple task in a reasonable time and with appropriate attention to workmanship.

Next job – re-glue and refinish the coffee and end tables. Hey, this is fun!

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