Summer Odyssey – 2002 II

I returned to the Thompsons for a very delightful evening. Virginia prepared a sumptuous supper of sautéed salmon, rice, and broccoli. The table setting was elegant, yet simplistic, reflecting their continental style of entertaining. We exchanged European travel tales which centered around their adventurous journeys. And get this… this benevolent twosome had sponsored these trips for architectural students from Tech. Now, what could be more rewarding? I really envied them. After dinner, Virginia showed off her prolific oil painting production. “Was she trying to outdo Picasso?”, I thought. Then it was a tour of their very commodious dwelling which ended in the kitchen where they had installed a stainless steel countertop – very handsome and practical. I couldn’t help but notice the Five-Star gas cook top and oven. It was a beaut. No wonder she could offer up such delectable dishes. Before retiring, Dudley and I stood out on the driveway watching the heat-lightning in the distant horizon. I thought to myself, “Have you ever had one of those perfect days? Well, this was one of them.”

I joined Dudley in the breakfast nook for a glass of orange juice. He had been sitting there admiring Ol’ Blue and said, “That is an immaculate-looking van.” “Oh, for crying out loud. It’s only a piece of metal, but thanks anyway,” I retorted. I was due to meet the Sassers for brunch, so I bade farewell to the Thompsons for a most memorable visit and made my way over to the Lubbock Inn. Tom and Elizabeth were decked out in their usual regalia – Tom with his khaki outfit and Elizabeth, dressed to the hilt as usual, with her huge sunhat and flowing ankle-length dress – looking like they had just come off an African safari. A good deal of our conversation centered around their daughter Lisa who I had known during our days in Denver. She was now living in New Hampshire working for the U.S. Park Service and totally involved with restoration projects. I thought of her many times while watching HGTV’s This Old House Classics which concentrates its work in the New England area. My particular interest was the revival of timber framing under the auspices of Ted Benson whose workshop was a whipstitch down the road from where Lisa lived. I was curious if she had run across this remarkable man. To their knowledge, Doc and Tom said she had not. I said, “Well, not yet, but I bet they’ll cross paths someday.” I had a great admiration for what Lisa was doing, and I told them so. As always, it was a great visit with my dear friends.

I headed northwest on the old Clovis Highway where the term “flatlands” was an understatement with power poles, fence posts, and grain elevators the only vertical elements. An agoraphobic would have been traumatized. As I passed through the picturesque towns of Sudan, Muleshoe, and Lariat, I had time to reflect on what a serendipitous time I had where we used to facetiously call “the place where if you wanted to give the world an enema, you’d stick it in Lubbock.” Not an affectionate appellation, I’ll admit. The essence of my thoughts was that it wasn’t the place, but the people that made a visitation so memorable. It’s been true so many times.

U.S. 60/84 took me through Ft. Sumner, the alleged burial place of Billy the Kid. I swear, William Bonney has no less than six tombstones scattered around New Mexico. On down the road, I stopped in Vaughn to photograph the early-20th Century, southwestern-styled railroad station. It was the first of a number of old depots I hoped to record on the trip. It was my designated “mission” on this journey, you might say. The poor little town was silent except for the rumble of the freights rolling through. Sadly, the depot was only used by maintenance crews.

I really had to keep an eye on my trusty Road Atlas since there were several major junctions along this stretch of highway. No GPS for this ol’ salt. At Encino I took U.S. 285 north up and over the Pedernal Hills, an imperceptible climb of 2,000 feet in less than fifty miles! It was not a mountainous drive, just one ascending ridge after another. It seemed endless. Only in New Mexico. I stopped at Clines Corners where my altimeter read 7,000 feet and my gas gauge read near empty. With their usual astronomical petrol prices, I opted to chance it and try to coast down the 2,000 feet to Albuquerque. After all, it was only sixty miles, and probably thirty cents a gallon cheaper in the valley.

Just to take a break, I ventured inside the souvenir emporium to get a bad taste in my mouth by looking at all the mish-mash of junk they offer. Surprisingly, one object caught my eye. It was a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle of a map of the United States with the location of all the Native American tribes inscribed on it. I studied it for maybe fifteen minutes, captivated by all the Indian nations that once ruled this country. I figured it was the only worthwhile piece in the whole joint. Well, that was worth the trip inside.

Back outside, I happened to notice an old Chevy van towing a small camper. Okay, I couldn’t resist finding out what was going on with these vagabonds. There were two guys, one in his thirties, the other in his sixties. The latter was sitting in the van eating some macaroni and cheese out of a cook pot. The inside of the van looked like hell’s kitchen. It turned out they were stranded with a busted starter trying to get back to Needles, California. I sympathized, saying, “At least you have a comfortable place to hang. Could have been worse, like in the middle of Nevada.” I asked to see the inside of the camper. The younger man obliged, and what I saw was even more disheveled than the van – a stack of tire carcasses leaning against a dirty oven and cook top and a filthy mattress crumpled in the rear. I thought, “How could these guys travel like this in all this squalor?” I wished them good luck, and walked away shaking my head, thinking, “My gosh, that mess made Ol’ Blue seem like a Holiday Inn on Wheels.”

As I had hoped I coasted down to Albuquerque and filled up for 30 cents a gallon less than the “highway robbery” station back up the road. A good chunk of change saved. I drove the short distance to the Farris residence where I found Joan hosting a bridge game for her lady friends. My advance notice via e-mail had paid off. Cousin John happened to be in the neighborhood, so he dropped by to see if I had arrived. The bridge game broke up and then Marshall showed up from his stint at the bingo hall. It was a pleasant family reunion. I retired to my parking place in the driveway, gazing at a waxing full moon through the rear windows. It was a beautiful evening in the Duke City.