Chapter 14

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Highway Haiku # 14

Screaming neon pleads

In the bleak black dark of night

Do not pass me by

 

When you’re enchanted, you’re likely to magically find more enchantment, just as when it comes to its antithesis – disenchantment — that’s likely to snowball to tremendous, even life-altering, proportions, too.

Both can sneak up on you, but disenchantment is much harder to shake off.

When it comes to enchantment, you’re usually not going to find it on an Interstate. To fully fall under its spell — even when you’re in the so-called land of it — you have to hit the back roads, slow the heck down and let your guard down enough to give it a chance.

In New Mexico, we got some mild kicks on Route 66, marveled at sunsets, gazed at stars and contemplated clouds. We couch-surfed in Albuquerque, pet-sat in Santa Fe, and basked in the neon lights that, once the sun goes down, cast a warm glow over the sleepy town of Tucumcari. We visited a catty bar in Madrid, eyeballed lots of art, and gulped down much southwestern cuisine. We soaked naked – well, I did, Ace watched — in an outdoor hot tub at a mountainside spa. We encountered lots of lizards, and some inflatable aliens, but no mullygrubs.

John Steinbeck gave short shrift to New Mexico – on the trip and in the book. The only stop mentioned in Travels with Charley is, after passing through Gallup, camping on the Continental Divide, in a canyon next to a mound of broken whiskey and gin bottles.

By then, Steinbeck had a bad case of the “mullygrubs,” as he called them.

The author realized that, after so many miles, he was just going through the motions — that his curiosity had stopped sparking. He was road weary, homesick, “moony” and, even with his dog along, disenchanted. Rocinante was a mess, its bed unmade and its sink filled with dirty dishes. Steinbeck was viewing the highway ahead as more of a burden to get past than an unwinding ribbon of opportunity.

“I was no longer hearing or seeing,” he wrote. “I had passed my limit of taking in or, like a man who goes on stuffing in food after he is filled, I felt helpless to assimilate what was fed in through my eyes.”

Charley too was lackadaisical:

“Why didn’t you come when I whistled?”

“I didn’t hear you whistle.”

“What are you staring at?”

“I don’t know. Nothing I guess.”

“Well don’t you want your dinner?”

“I’m not really hungry but I’ll go through the motions”

Steinbeck decided they needed something to celebrate – something to break out of automatic pilot mode. Not knowing (or at least remembering) the actual date of his dog’s birth, he pronounced it Charley’s birthday. He cooked pancakes, piled four of them up, covered them with syrup and put a candle on top. Charley, hungry after all, gobbled them down and licked the plate clean.

In an effort to lift his dog’s spirits, he’d raised his own, at least enough to carry on.

Ace and I had slowly drifted east out of Arizona, stopping a little more often, in accordance with his dictates, or at least what the animal communicator said Ace told her about needing more sniffing around time.

SONY DSCHeading east on I-40, I decided, when the exit appeared, that we needed to stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona — if for no other reason than to say we did. I picked one at random, and Ace sniffed and peed there before we proceeded downtown. There I found the official “Standin’ on a Corner” corner — complete with a mural of a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford – so we stood on that corner, too.

The town makes much of its mention in the second verse of the 1972 Eagles song, “Take It Easy.” Standin’ on the Corner Park, opened in 1999. The corner features a statue that some people think is of Jackson Browne, who co-wrote the song with Glenn Frey. It’s actually a generic “1970’s man,” wearing jeans, with a guitar resting on the toe of his boot, according to the park’s website. The corner that inspired the song was actually in Flagstaff, but Brown thought Winslow rolled more smoothly off the tongue, rock legend has it.

Until the 1960’s, Winslow was the largest town in northern Arizona. But, like a lot of towns along Route 66, the prominence it enjoyed faded when Interstate 40 came through in the late 1970’s, allowing drivers to avoid the town entirely. Tourism suffered and some downtown business closed their doors, leaving downtown Winslow “frozen in time,” the park website says.

We stopped again, a mere 35 miles later, in Holbrook, which can also be described as frozen in time, which in my view isn’t always an entirely bad thing.

Holbrook is home of the Wigwam Motel. Fifteen concrete wigwams sit on the dusty lot, its parking lot dotted with antique cars. Dogs are allowed, and no pet deposit is required. I went into the office and chatted with Guy Thielman, the great grandson of Chester Lewis, who opened the motel in the 1940s after seeing a similar one in Kentucky.

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Lewis — of a mind that, if anywhere should have a wigwam motel it, was Arizona — took out a loan and got his own franchise. He purchased the rights to use the design, and the name. Profits from the coin-operated radios (30 minutes for a dime) in each wigwam went to the chain’s owner.

Lewis closed the motel in 1974 when Interstate 40 bypassed downtown Holbrook. Two years after his death in 1986, his children reopened it, and managed to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Of the seven Wigwam motels that once existed across the country, only three are still in operation — in Holbrook, Cave City, Kentucky and near San Bernadino, California.

I love it when something bypassed survives and thrives – whether it’s a discarded old dog who blossoms in a new adoptive home; an unappreciated employee who shows the bosses who gave up on him how wrong they were; or a funky mom and pop motel that, robbed of its prime location, makes some adjustments and manages to flourish.

When that happens — with dogs, humans, or concrete wigwams — it’s a testament to the fact that, beneath our temporary doldrums, despite attempts to squash us, there’s still a tiny fire inside, like a stove’s pilot light, capable of bursting back into full flame.

When we’re bypassed, ignored or overlooked — like a homeless dog in a shelter who doesn’t rate a second glance — we immediately feel it, and it hurts. When we’re bypassing, we don’t feel a thing, because we don’t know what we’re missing.

Then too, it doesn’t always take a quicker alternative road for us to get in bypass mode. When we have too much on our minds, or not enough on our minds, when we are too obsessed about getting where we’re going, too tuned in to a computer device, or just have a bad case of the mullygrubs, we tend to stop appreciating what surrounds us and go on cruise control.

Convenient and time-saving as they may be, I can’t help but question whether we’re doing ourselves a disservice by taking the bypass – whether it’s a concrete one, a computer shortcut, or that spare-me-the-details state of mind we all seem to lapse into from time to time. I can’t help but wonder whether, if we added up all the time we think we’re saving, and divided it by all the fascinating things we’ve missed, we’d find we’re coming out on the negative side of the equation.

***

In Albuquerque, we spent the night with a complete stranger who, by the time we left, was no longer one.

For this, though I’m prone to cruelly bashing the Internet – because of all the bypassing it leads to — I must thank it.

I first heard about couchsurfing.org through a comment left on my blog by a reader who pointed out it could save me money. I went to the website, created a bare bones profile and paid a $25 “verification fee.” I searched for members who lived along my somewhat fuzzy route who were open to opening their homes not just to travelers, but their dogs as well.

Couchsurfing.org – though it’s about more than saving money – serves to unite us frugal sorts who don’t require mints on our pillows with local people willing to provide free sleeping accommodations in their homes.

I sent out three queries, and Jen in Albuquerque was the first to respond. We messaged back and forth through the website. I told her a bit about myself and Ace. She, with hardly any hesitation, invited us to bunk with her for a night or two.

My first inclination was to question her sanity. Why would a 25-year-old woman invite a 57-year-old man she’d never met, accompanied by a 130-pound dog, into her home? It probably had something to do with the dog, a lot to do with trust, and much to do with having an open mind.

And perhaps it had a little to do with the Internet, and how it allows us to connect with other people while keeping a shield up. Walk up to a person on a street corner and ask to sleep on their couch and they’d likely run. But when you go through proper channels (and throw in a little screening) there’s an opportunity to share something of yourself, find some common interests, hold a dialogue, and take the time to get to know a person.

I’ll admit that the Internet – despite all the misrepresentations of truth it harbors, despite the superficiality it leads to, despite the lack of civility it reflects, despite its unwieldiness, despite the evil it can be used to accomplish – can also be an awesomely good thing.

It can, and does, bring good people together for good causes – saving dogs, for instance. It has been a game changer for rescue organizations and others that seek to find homeless dogs homes. While the Internet tends to make the big dogs bigger, the popular more popular (as in the case of overused phrases like “game changer”) it also offers a chance for little dogs to be heard.

And it got Ace and me a room for the night.

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Jen was a student at the University of New Mexico and had a dog of her own, an Italian greyound-Chihuahua mix named Cali who likes to hang out on the roof of her apartment. She also had a cat named Autumn, who likes to crawl into suitcases. More than once Autumn has almost been accidentally abducted by a departing couchsurfer.

Ace, once spotting Autumn behind a pillow, immediately hopped in Jen’s bed to better size the cat up. Jen, a wonderfully easygoing sort, had no problem with that. Autumn sort of did, and, after a brief staring contest, hid under the bed. Jen took us to dinner at a dog-friendly restaurant near campus and, back home, inflated an air mattress for me, which she said would be more comfortable than the couch.

By the time I left, she had taught me a few things about trust, or at least reminded me of them, and about the advantages of keeping the doors to one’s life open enough that new people, with a minimum of screening, can get in.

She had hosted 67 previous couchsurfers by then – people, she noted “that I probably otherwise would never meet.” In college, one tends to hang out with a core group of friends, generally all with similar backgrounds and interests. Through couchsurfing, she said, she has expanded her horizons and met all different types of people. She’s had no negative experiences, made some lasting friends, and — one of the big side benefits — accumulated a long list of places to stay around the globe.

The concept is based on a pay-it-forward kind of philosophy: Taking in others leads others to take in others, and so forth. And it lends credence to the belief — sappy, for sure, but wouldn’t it be nice if it were true? — that in this world there are no strangers, only friends we haven’t met yet.

As Couchsurfing explains in its mission statement: ” There could be any number of obstacles that keep us from venturing as freely as we might otherwise, whether it’s economic limitations, cultural constraints, or simply fear of the unknown … If we could address and overcome those barriers, more of us would naturally tap into our own curious nature and actively explore the world.”

More important than free lodgings, though – even to me – is this: It offers a way to make a deeper and more intimate connection with the place you’re visiting. By staying with a local person or family, as opposed to a sterile cookie-cutter hotel near the Interstate, you’re afforded much more insight into the town in which you’ve landed.

Couchsurfing.org got its start when founder Casey Fenton bought a cheap ticket to Iceland for a long weekend. Rather than stay at a hotel or hostel, he came up with idea of e-mailing over 1,500 Icelandic students in Reykjavik, asking them if he could sleep on their couch. That led to numerous offers from Icelanders offering him not just a place to stay, but tours of Reykjavik as well. After Iceland, he vowed to never stay in a hotel again.

I’d planned to stay two nights in Albuquerque, but an offer of free lodgings in Santa Fe led us to depart a day early. A friend who lived there was going with her husband to a family reunion in New York and, assuming their three dogs got along with mine, I could stay in their home for a week in exchange for being the pet sitter.

It was an opportunity I couldn’t bypass.

***

Ace got along fine with Sophie, a gigantic, sweet and speckled nine-year-old great Pyrenees who recently had one of her front legs amputated due to bone cancer.

He hit it off right away with Charlie, an affable, seven-year-old golden retriever with a congenital respiratory disorder and a severe fear of thunderstorms.

And it appeared he and Lakota, an 11-year-old bulldog with issues both behavioral and gastrointestinal, were going to tolerate each other, and that perhaps that might best be achieved by keeping them mostly in separate rooms.

All three dogs belonged to a writer/editor friend of mine and the veterinarian she had recently married. Valerie had brought Lakota to the marriage, while Mark came with three pets of his own — Sophie, Charlie and a cat named Cleo.

Ace – until he realized there was also a cat in the house — was most enamored with the humans, especially Valerie, who he’d met years before and clearly remembered. Once he detected the presence of Cleo, though, finding her became his obsession. She didn’t cooperate with that at all.

After our preliminary visit to assure the animals would get along, I explored some more of the Southwest, returning later to Santa Fe for my week-long pet sitting assignment – the details of which were spelled out in two full pages of instructions, most of them dealing with the medications each dog was to receive.

Sophie needed a pill to help deal with the effects of her chemotherapy treatments. Charlie gets tranquilizers because afternoon thunderstorms tend to roll in almost daily, and he doesn’t like them at all. Lakota gets half a Rimadyl and some Beano with meals. He takes his meals in a separate room with the doors closed – in one of those bowls designed to slow down fast eaters

Lakota was described in the note this way: “Can snap on occasion … If he starts to snarl at any of the others, yell ‘Hey!’ very loudly. If that doesn’t work distract him with food … In general, keep him apart from the others, especially when vying for your attention, in a close space or when food is nearby.”

Ace quickly adapted to living with the new pack. He sought out Cleo, was amicable with Sophie and Charlie, and steered clear of Lakota, who snarled at him a few times.

The first time that happened Ace laid him down with one paw, and that was that. Lakota, seemed to carry a grudge though, and whenever Ace got too close, he’d tense up, get perfectly still and then display an Elvis-like lip quiver. Ace would detour around him to get where he was going. Eventually, they seemed willing, if not comfortable, to share the living room, as long as they were at opposite ends of it.

Lakota, in true bulldog form, snores loudly and farts often. Sometimes, his humongous tongue seems to get stuck outside his mouth, especially during and after naps. When I gave it a little push, whether he was asleep or awake, it would usually slide back in.

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Sophie was easy to deal with, and was quickly adapting to being a three-legged dog. She was up and around the day after the surgery. My only special instructions when it came to her were to be sure and immediately scoop when she pooped in the backyard. Because of her chemotherapy treatment, her “output” would be toxic for a couple of days.

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Charlie was the biggest attention seeker of the group, often approaching me with his tail wagging wildly and sounding like he was going to spit up on me. Because of respiratory problems and difficulty swallowing, he makes strange noises deep in his throat, like a two-pack-a-day smoker. The note instructed me that, “if it persists, and it seems like he’s choking, just hit his sides to help him clear up what’s in there.”

Cleo, after hiding from Ace for two days, surfaced and decided he was alright, to the point that she’d approach and nuzzle him, which he, assuming I was correctly reading his mood, found positively thrilling.

The pill routine got easier when I decided that, rather than trying to push them down the throats of each individual dog, I’d encase them in hunks of Havarti cheese. After that, all three dogs would get very excited about pill time, as would I. It was very good Havarti cheese.

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Lakota, while he’s a sweet dog, and putty in your hands when you rub his belly, remained the most unpredictable and stubborn member of the pack. A couple of times, right after waking up from a droopy-tongued nap, he came barking and charging at me, apparently having forgotten who I was. I’d calmly (though it was a fake calm) say his name, and in mid-charge, he’d remember who I was, turn around and seek the location of his next nap.

In exchange for looking after them, making sure they got their food, their meds and ample amounts of attention, I got to stay for a week in a lovely and peaceful home, with views of the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains, ample wind chimage, and a buckwheat pillow – which supposedly afforded some health benefit I’ve since forgotten — on my big and fluffy bed.

Except for the possibility of Lakota eruptions, it was a totally stress free week, and there really was no need to go to a mountainside spa and soak naked in a hot tub.

But – because it was there and because we could — that’s what we did.

***

Santa Fe is a massage Mecca, home to hundreds of practitioners of the so-called healing arts who are willing to manipulate, realign or otherwise cleanse and bring peace to your body and soul. One of the most popular of its many spas is Ten Thousand Waves, which claims to be dog friendly.

Dog friendly, as we know by now, can have many definitions, and those can range from “We love all dogs whose owners put down a $100 non-refundable pet deposit” to “We’d love to have you bring your dog along, if he’s under 20 pounds.”

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We decided to test Ten Thousand Waves, and see if – in addition to offering detoxifying herbal wraps, exfoliating salt glows and facial masques that make use of sanitized nightingale droppings – they offered true, unconditional dog friendliness that was not weight-based, or breed-based.

We wouldn’t answer the question of how exactly do you sanitize nightingale droppings? (Because we didn’t want to know.)

But we would answer this one: Would they be as welcoming to 130-pounds of sweet clutziness whose tail tends to clear tables as they would to, say, a shih-tzu in a handbag?

Ten Thousand Waves was opened in 1981, by a “child of the 60’s” who got his start in the business world by selling T-shirts at Woodstock. Originally, Duke Klauck planned to open a storefront in Santa Fe with a couple of hot tubs, but when a prime piece of countryside became available just outside the city limits, he snapped it up – to the displeasure of some neighbors.

One of them, shortly after the spa opened, showed his opposition by building a pen for a dozen of his pigs at the edge of the spa property, six feet away from one of the hot tubs. The news media picked up the story, providing Ten Thousand Waves with much early publicity, and a judge later ordered the pigpen moved. The bathhouse containing the tub was subsequently named Kobuta, which means piglet in Japanese.

When I called to reserve a private bath (dogs are permitted in the private baths areas, though not in the tubs) I requested that one. Ace and I arrived in the afternoon, climbing the 90 stairs to the lobby, and burning 45 calories in the process, according to a sign.

Ace’s size, while commented on by the receptionist and others, didn’t seem to be an issue. I was given a robe and directed to the men’s locker room. Guests are asked to shower before their baths, which I guess makes sense in an odd way. I looped Ace’s leash over a towel peg while I quickly showered and, even though he blocked an entire row of lockers, none of the other guests seemed upset by his presence. He sat patiently, and didn’t stick his nose into anyone’s private areas. I robed myself, and we walked back down to the lobby, where we were directed to our bathhouse.

As it turned out, big dogs are nothing new for Ten Thousand Waves. For years, Klauck’s Akita, named Kojiro, roamed the grounds, followed by another Akita.

“It certainly fits in with Duke’s whole philosophy. He loves dogs,” said Bob Sheffield, the front desk supervisor who’s known at the spa as Buddha Bob. “We have guests come in with dogs about every other day. A lot of out of town guests are traveling with a dog and they prefer not to have to lock it up in a car or board it in some kennel. Dog lovers like the companionship of their dogs in all the things they do.”

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My private bath was surrounded by bamboo fencing. The water in the large wooden tub, five feet in diameter, was a toasty 105 degrees. When I turned on the jets, Ace watched with his head cocked for a while, then settled down at the tub’s edge. When I got to the point of overheating, I walked over to the “cold plunge” and took a dip in freezing cold water.

It was a tranquil little spot, and Ace – the Rottweiler-Akita-Chow-pit bull who serves as my preferred method of stress relief — seemed calmed by it, too. When the five-minute warning came, we didn’t want to leave. But the sky was becoming packed with clouds, and they were turning gray, and I guessed that Charlie might be getting worked up.

Back in the car, fully mellowed out, I developed a theory – and it’s not scientific at all – on why thunderstorms are so common in Santa Fe.

Clouds come in from the mountains, usually in a group, like tourists. The clouds look down and like what they see – all the pleasing terrain and art and spirituality and dogs and wooden coyotes and harmony and adobe. Unlike clouds in most places, whether they are big fluffy ones or wispy flat ones, they don’t seem to keep moving along. They seem to stop, or at least move only imperceptibly, lingering to enjoy the view, or perhaps the vibe. Meantime, new clouds come in, and they decide to linger, too.

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And so on and so on, until there are so many clouds vying for space in the sky above Santa Fe that it becomes like trying to find parking downtown. They fight for space and bump against each other, resulting in thunder and rain. Often, when they depart — as if to apologize for their outburst — they leave a rainbow behind.

On stormy evenings, I stayed home with Charlie, upping his dosage of tranquilizers as instructed and eating lots of Havarti cheese. On clear ones, Ace and I usually went out to the dog park, or to wander around downtown, where we’d often find a free outdoor concert. Given all the money I was saving with free lodgings, we ate out a lot.

Despite its many rules and restrictions, Santa Fe seemed fairly relaxed about letting dogs eat with their humans in outdoor dining areas.

We visited Louie’s Corner Café, where I got an omelet of my own building, and Ace got a bowl of fresh water. At The Atomic Grill, we had fish tacos and a particularly adoring (of Ace) waitress. At Counter Culture, we sat in a spacious and shaded outdoor dining area and shared a grilled chicken sandwich, which the birds wanted in on too. One was courageous enough to step all the way up on my plate. Ace, who gets scolded and ordered to sit when he gets too close to my plate, took umbrage to that, I think.

Just about every day, we stopped at Frank S. Ortiz Dog Park, which was down the road from the house we were staying in. Named after a former mayor, it’s an expansive swath of high desert that, while not big on frills, has plenty of arroyos and hills, miles of paths, and offers great view of the town and the mountains.

There, and all around town, we’d run into dogs of all shapes and sizes — coyote-looking dogs, wolfy-looking dogs, tall dogs, short dogs, laid-back dogs and high-strung dogs, smelly-looking dogs accompanying smelly looking hitchhikers, and purebreds with their well-coiffed heads protruding from windows of passing cars.

The mix seems to go along with Santa Fe’s slogan. It calls itself “The City Different” and – even though every structure seems to be poured from the same adobe mold — it’s an apt description of the city, and, come to think of it, the whole state. Where else are you going to find inflatable aliens for sale outside stores, and a McDonald’s shaped like a flying saucer, as in Roswell; or the world’s largest chili pepper, as in Las Cruces; or Carlsbad Caverns; or barren atomic testing grounds; or a town named Truth or Consequences?

When the homeowners returned, I drove to Albuquerque to pick them up at the airport. It was my only outing of the week without Ace, and I left him sequestered in my bedroom, as I had come to call it, while I was gone.

Their three dogs greeted Mark and Valerie with great enthusiasm when they entered the house, and vice versa. For about five minutes, they lavished attention on all three. Hearing Ace whimpering – if affection is being dispensed, he always wants a piece of it – I let him out and he ran to greet them, too. Only then did Ace and Lakota get into it, when Valerie, upon greeting Ace, showed him a little more affection that Lakota thought was appropriate. It only lasted about three seconds, but Lakota was left with a bloody eye.

Sharing his house was one thing. Sharing his human, especially after a week-long absence, was quite another.

***

By day, Tucumcari appears little more than a dusty main drag dotted with motels abandoned, motels barely hanging on, and motels still making a go of it.

By night, when those that remain open, like the Blue Swallow, turn on their neon signs, a strange and ethereal beauty descends over Route 66 – an aura so enchanting that I had to spend two hours taking photographs as Ace sat patiently in the car

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At some motels, the glow is gone. The Relax Inn, for example, was a ghost motel, and I’d seen at least a dozen of them in my travels on Route 66 in New Mexico and Arizona — their windows boarded up and weeds rising waist-high in the parking lots. Their outdated signs remain, unlit, but boasting of “modern” amenities such as air conditioning and color TV.

Route 66 was established in 1926, originally running from Chicago to southern California – 2,448 miles in all. It served as pathway for migrants moving west during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Mom and pop businesses began popping up along it around then, like restaurants, gas stations, motor courts, curio shops and more. Most of those businesses managed to survive the Depression, even prosper from it, catering to those moving west in search of a better life. By the 1950s, the road served as the main highway for vacationers and others headed to California and other points west.

It would become a cultural icon in the 1960s, featured in songs, TV shows and movies. It was something distinctly American, and even today, some of the motels tout – in addition to their more modern amenities, like Internet connections — their American-ness.

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The Tucumcari Inn, for example boasts that it is “American-owned,” but right next door, the sign at The Historic Route 66 Motel — as if casting aspersions on its neighbor — reads “Genuine American.” (Apparently, genuine American-ness, is worth an extra $2 a night.)

The beginning of what many thought might be the end for Route 66 came in 1956, when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act. Interstate 40 offered a speedier alternative and allowed one to avoid passing through the business districts of towns like Tucumcari.

In 1981, the section of Interstate 40 bypassing Tucumcari was completed. Route 66 would be decommissioned four years later when the federal government decided it was no longer “relevant” – given the presence of the Interstate Highway System. Since then, there have been many efforts to preserve Route 66, and keep both the road and the businesses along it from becoming inconsequential relics of the past.

It occurred to me when, after photographing neon, Ace and I went back to our motel room, that the Interstate’s effect on Route 66 was a lot like the Internet’s impact on newspapers. Both were victims of changing times. Both were deemed too slow. Both, in effect, were bypassed, resulting in flickering hopes, disenchantment and desperate pleas, like the billboards on fast-moving I-40 that attempt to beckon the tired traveler into town.

“Tucumcari Tonight,” they urge.

 

ROADSIDE ENCOUNTER 

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Names: Lucifer, Sashi, and Stringbean

Species: Cats

Breeds: Various

Encountered: At Mary’s Bar in Los Cerrillos

Back story: Southbound from Santa Fe on Highway 14, if you veer right before you get to Madrid, you end up in a little town called Los Cerrillos, or sometimes just Cerrillos – maps and road signs seem to differ on that point. It was once home to a thriving gold and turquoise-mining industry. During the 1800’s, the town sported four hotels and 21 saloons.

Now, it’s a sleepy little community, home to a Catholic mission, some artists, and Mary’s Bar, where the proprietor is approaching the century mark, customers are few, clutter rules, and cats are king.

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“They keep me company when we don’t have any customers,” said the bar’s owner, 95-year-old Mary Mora, the daughter of Italian immigrants, who sat at a table next to a wood burning fireplace. Mary runs the bar with help from her daughter, Kathy, who is responsible for bringing in all the cats.

Not too long ago there were six. When we passed through, they were down to five — Sashi, Stringbean and Lucifer among them. All were unwanted, and some had been abused, Kathy says. One had been wrapped in Christmas lights by children. Another was forfeited because he scratched a family member. Kathy got them checkups and shots and gave them a new home at the bar, which the Moras live in as well.

Originally built as a general store in 1918, the bar was known simply as the Cerrillos Bar until a crew filming the 1998 movie “Vampires” used the town as a set. The crew put up the “Mary’s Bar” signs and nobody ever took them down. The bar was also used in the “Young Guns” movies, during the filming of which Mary cooked spaghetti and meatballs for both Emilio Estevez and Lou Diamond Phillips.

 

 

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