An Excursion into the Wild and Wonderful West of the U. S. of A, or How I Hated to Stop Working and StillLove My Time Off
Yea, I’m outta here, away from this Metromess, leaving behind the hot, hazy,humid days of July and the omnipresent soundof Texas in July – the insistentand inimitable cry of the Kadydid. Westwardon U.S. 287, I just want to makeit to Vernon and the Village Inn by 2 o’clock and duck under the shade of Room117 (they seem to reserve that room for me)…near the pool and ice machine.There seems to be a Lone Star Gas Convention gathering at the motel….I countat least eight white pick-ups withLSG logos. Here’s the kicker…it’s 97degrees at 6 o’clock and these red-necked employees, who have been slaving inthe heat all day, are enjoying a tail-gate happy-houroutsidein front of onetheir air conditioned rooms! These are your real outdoorsmen. After the sundisappears and cooler night air invades the premises, I cannot resistorderingfrom the next-door restaurant a take-out dinner of the best chicken fried steakthis side of anywhere. A diner near Breckenridge would be a close second.
On to Amarillo where I definitely want to have an afternoon tea with “Uncle”Allen Early (Dad’s first cousin) from whom I wanted to get a report of thefamily reunion in May in Charlottesville,Virginia. In all the16 years I’vedrivenOl’ Blue between Dallas and Denver, I’ve never failed to stop at theHoliday Inn, whether it be for a pit stop, ice, phone call, and/or free happy-hour hors d’oeuvres. It’s like Ol’ Blue has a built-in radar and computerizedexit control at the Ross-Osage Exit off I-40. I contact Uncle Allen and wemeet as usual in the parking lot in frontof The Inn…for some inexplicablereason I’ve never been invited to their house.
As we always do,we have amost enjoyable “reunion”, as I query him about his visit with Ted and the kidsin Rockville after the reunion. He told me whatI was hoping to hear…thathe was very impressed with their strong sense of family unity. If I may recall,that was the same response I heard from cousin John Farris and Aunt Patti Rosefrom their visits to6 Defoe Courtin. Maryland. It’smiraculous … three ofmy adult-relative-peers visiting my son Ted and seeing what a fine family andhome he has brought forth. What an incredible turn of events since Ted wasborn in 1962! I owe it all to his mother Sue and step-dad Doug. I was freelysubmitting this unplanned parenthood information to uncle Allen like he was myconfessional priest. Actually, I referto him as “The Grande Old Man of thePanhandle”. This guy has survived fifty years of Panhandle politics as a Democrat in the birthplace of the John Birch Society. I always look forwardto hearing several of his narratives about confrontations with conservatives.
Here’s a beaut: Back in the’60s he was chaperoning some neighborhood kids ona Halloween night in an affluent part of town.. At one particular mansion, anelderly lady of obvious stature in the community answered the door and, uponrecognizing Uncle Allen, exclaimed: “You’re the City Councilman that voted forJFK, aren’t you? Get the hell off my property”. That’s what he put up with.
I deftly change the subject by unfolding a “classic” Shamrock Highway Map(precursor to present-day Diamond/Shamrock) of the Southwest U. S. A. published in 1963 by the Oil & Gas Corporation of all places, Amarillo, Texas. He was goggled-eyed. Fortunately there was only a smattering of the Eisenhower-initiated Interstate System indicated on this precious paper, and there in redinkwas old Route 66 from Joplin, Missouri to Needles, California plowingstraight through Amarillo. As he perused the larger-scale map of his hometown, it dredged up memories of the political and economical battles thatensued over the most “prosperous” location of the inevitable concrete swaththat was to dissect their city. What about the commercial strip of U.S. 66?
What about downtown? Of course, all these issues were academic, for an Interstate takes the path of least resistance. In this case, it was a mile south ofdowntown and the rest is the history of the American landscape since 1960….the anomalous proliferation of truck stops, fast-food junkers, chain motels,and shopping malls juxtaposed along Dwight D’s beloved Interstates (which incidentally :ere originally conceived for the swift conveyance of military materielto thwart a Soviet invasion of ballistic missiles). The irony of history!
I skim past the blur of signage west of Amarillo and out into the interminable flatness of West Texas. God has blessed me with a bank of beautiful cumulous clouds that thankfully block the late afternoon sun from glaring through the windshield. I’m at peace with the thoughts of having spent a most enjoyable afternoon with my best friend in Amarillo. The air is warm and all I want is to climb to a comfortable elevation at which to sleep. About 200 miles east of Albuquerque, NM, and I cross the state line (Goodbye Texas!). The geological change is amazing. It’s as if the surveyors had laid out the longitude right there where the topography alteredits own course…. to the east we have Texas and its flat cotton fields; to the west we have New Mexico’s depressed arroyos and elevated mesas.
I really believe that The Almighty had His say in laying out the state lines inthe Great West… Colorado to Wyoming to Montana to Idaho to Nevada to Arizona and back to New Mexico…they’re all different. You gotta notice it, you just got to!I get to the rest area 30 miles west of Tucumcari and it’s still warm at 5,000 feet.So I headed for higher ground, remembering that Clines Corners was elevated ataround7,000 feet and there was another rest area west of Santa Rosa. Sure enough,my trusty altimeter reads 6,000 feet as I pull off for the final stop of the day.
There’safeeling of serenity and protection of parking under a tree, especiallywhen one is sleeping in a motor vehicle. I’m definitely going to remember thisrest area for its arboreal attributes and altitudinal advantages. Back on Route 66(a.k.a. I-40) I’m bombarded by red and yellow billboards (the official New Mexicocolors) promoting Clines Corners as the mecca-stop of the entire southwest. Inactuality, it’s a slavish southwestern structure housing the sales of shoddy souvenirs, a multitudinous array of auto/truck accessories, and sky-high gas prices.
A rule of the West: there is a definite correlation between the rise in elevationabove sea level and the price of petrol. I pump a few gallons to keep the tankfull, and practically coast down the70 miles (2,000 ft. drop) to Bernalillo County.Six months ago I was climbing through this pass in a snowstorm after having workedtwo months on the Farris residence. I roll up to3405 Marmac, home of Marshall andJoan Farris (client John’s brother), who have become two of my best friends anywhere. Three years ago I was vaguely cognizant (ashamedly admitting) of my NewMexican kin. Then his brother commissions me to design a house right there wherethey all grew up together back in the 1940’s and 50’s. There’s even more irony tothese flashbacks.
In November of 1978 1 made a special stop in Albuquerque to visit Mrs. Rose Gould Farris, on behalf of a strong suggestion from my Aunt PattiRose (“Why don’tyoulook up myaunt Rose?). Aunt Rose and Serena Gould Early (my father’s mother), were sisters, which makes John and Marshall Farris my secondcousins. This may be genealogically confusing, but my point is that I hada mostenjoyable and enlightening conversation with our family’s grande dame for an entireafternoon.
Actually I listened 90% of the time. She had an indefatigable memoryof the past. Her stories were spellbinding, reducing me to an 8-year old kid wanting to climb up on grandma’s knee. As we were bidding adieu, she might have suggested that I stop by and see her son Marshall on the way out…I can’t remember.Anyway, I was out of there, having been sated with enough family history to last mea lifetime. No more relatives for awhile.
I was a maverick at the time, wantingto put as much distance as I could between me and Texas…departing Dallas for goodinmy 1965 Chevy van, lock, stock and T-square. It would be 16 years before I sawMarshall and Joan again (we did run into each other at John’s daughter’s wedding,but very inconspicuously). That would bein April, 1994, when I met cuz John in Albuquerque to present my schematic designs to subdivision design committee approval 3405 Marmac was my binnacle base, both for a legal and level parking space for the van habitation,and a makeshift, frontporch office. It all came together there.