Last Blast of Winter Trip – April 1999 Part III

I rolled into my third pit stop for the day, hoping it was my last. Good ol’ Chip waved me in to an empty stall, and I helped him get the “doghouse” free and clear, so he could go “full throttle” with his work. Chip assessed the time required to be into the next day, which was okay with me: “Do it once, but do it right, even if it takes overnight.” So, my next question was, “How’s the motel accommodations here on Main Street?” He easily replied, “There’s several just up the street. They ain’t exactly a Holiday Inn, but they’re clean, and don’t cost near as much.” With that small bit of advice, I jumped on my trusty velocipede, and reconnoitered the streetscape. The first stop was the El Rancho, but after seeing the weathered, wood-sided row of rooms in the rear, the rendering was all too reminiscent of the Bates hotel (right out of “Psycho”). The only other choice was the Crystal Inn, and it looked A.O.K. The office was closed, but I found the proprietor next door at the Crystal Inn Restaurant. His establishment was a throwback to the golden age of travel, B.I. 1957 (Before Interstate). The place was replete with a stool-and-counter alignment, a dining area with table-tops adorned with a checkered fabric (the re-usable, washable kind), and a hardwood dance floor and bandstand. I knew right off that was the place to hang my hat. Good ol’ Frank showed me room no. 5, and I was quite pleased with its modest, yet commodious accouterments. The tariff was a very reasonable 33 bucks. HBO, hot-and-cold water, and a comfortable bed – what more could I ask for? The Boys of Raton had been good to me…I felt very lucky.

I biked back and forth between the motel and the garage, extricating as many necessities from the van that would suffice for the night. Now, what a pleasure it was to have that bike (and baskets)…the distance was about the length of a football field. During my intervals at the garage, I couldn’t help but notice how clean and efficient the shop appeared – top-of-the-line equipment, tools arranged just right, everything seemed in order. It made a favorable impression on me, so much so, I finally had to tell Chip about what I thought of his operation. He said, “Yea, we try to run a tight ship around here.” Jokingly, I couldn’t help responding, “You mean to tell me, you guys show up drunk every morning?” We both guffawed. Fortunately, he had a sense of humor.

Chip had already yanked the ol’ carb out, and was tooling around with its intricacies on the work table. He didn’t seem to mind I was floundering around his immaculate shop. I had noticed that hackneyed admonition printed in bold red letters on the door between the waiting room and the service area that read: “The Management Respectfully Requests That Customers Not Be Permitted In Service Area…ya-da, ya-da, ya-da.” Obviously, good ol’ Chip was politely ignoring the routine edict. In fact, I think he rather enjoyed having me around, so that I could see he was really “on top of things”. He even offered to explain to me exactly what the problem was, and how he intended to remedy the situation. I thanked him for his concern, and headed back to the motel.

As I was reposing in room no. 5, I had time to enumerate the events of the day. For one thing, it was like déjà vu all over again, as I was recalling my adventures in Boise the summer before, when so many people helped me out with my radiator problems. Now, there I was in Raton, a burg of no more than 8,000, and it seemed like all the capable mechanics in town had allied to help good ol’ William get his wheels back on the road. The similarity was uncanny. Maybe it was a slow Monday. There was also an adverse correlation, that is, I didn’t have to revert to a ruse that I was moving to Raton (as to avoid highway robbery, as I had done in Boise). Instead, I just told the truth – that I passed through town at least twice a year, on my way from Dallas to Gunnison and back. Hey, I just mentioned it, Okay? Besides, I could sense Chip was a very conscientious mechanic. It was just a way of putting my mind at ease. Yep, it had been one of those tenacious days, one that had really tested my perseverance, but it looked like everything was going to be A.O.K.

Enough of the reminiscing. I walked down to the restaurant to get a jug of ice, just in time before Frank closed the joint. It was about 9 o’clock, and I could tell nary a sole had patronized his place that evening. I kind of felt sorry for the guy, but as I told him, “Hey, it’s the off-season, in between the skiers and the summer flock, right?” He just gave an appreciative nod.

The next morning, I biked down to the shop around 10 o’clock. Chip had the car back in, and she was idling perfectly. After helping him get the “dog-house” back in place, he presented me a bill for a very reasonable $103.38 (he only charged me for 2 hours of labor at $42.00 per hour). That was anything but highway robbery. I thanked Chip, and said, “Maybe I’ll drop by the next time I’m through. Be seein’ ya’.” I drove up Main Street and dropped by to see ol’ crusty John, and thank him for being such a good Samaritan. Wouldn’t you know it, I ended up spending an hour with him, comparing notes of his ’34 Chevy and my ’40 Pontiac. That was a real treat. I parted with the same valedictory that I had left Chip.

I continued up the main drag, and found a curb-side parking space in the middle of downtown. You can ascertain a town is doing okay when they don’t have parking meters. I unhitched the bike, and did my usual “betwixt and between” tour of the cityscape (faster than on foot, but slower than in car). Naturally, I ended up at the Railroad Depot, an indigenous adobe structure with the usual tile roof and turquoise trimmings. It seemed to sit there, so forlorn on the edge of the unlimited vistas of New Mexico that stretched out to the southeast. Ah, what fortuitous timing…an eastbound freight was just rolling in, headed for Chicago from L.A. The three units paused only long enough to switch crews, and son-of-a-gun, if one of the crew members disembarking was a female. Another bastion of male domination had been infiltrated by the fairer sex. Mockingly, I tried picturing a young lass shoveling coal into the firebox of a 4-8-4 Iron Horse. Oh well, another sign of the times…welcome to the nineties.

As I was finally departing my convivial little town, I intoned a thanks to all the good ol’ boys: “Rick and Don, and Chip and John – I couldn’t have done it without you. I’ll never forget you guys.” I took off south-by-southwest on U.S. 64, eventually climbing up to Cimarron and through Kit Carson National Forest. I encountered a minor traffic jam in Taos, with its narrow streets clogged with the tourist class. Taos has always been one of my least favorite towns, simply because practically every structure was swathed in adobe, be it a Texaco station, a 7-11, or whatever. It was monotonous and gauche, overdressed to the hilt to reel in the wallets of the touristas. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, and hit the high plains where the “air” was cleaner.