Grand total: 190

We completed our breezeblock inventory this afternoon. By my count, Tucumcari (pop. 4,915) has 190 properties that feature either breezeblocks, shadow blocks, or some combination of the two — and at least 100 of them are within a mile of my house.

I knew we had a lot, but by “a lot,” I was thinking maybe 50. We have nearly four times that number — and I probably missed a few that weren’t visible from the street. Incredible.

Here are some samples from today’s explorations:

We saw this fan-style block atop an unfinished wall in a newer subdivision. The owner appeared to be test-driving samples.

Square-in-square style breezeblock
This double square-in-square was perched atop the same unfinished wall as the fan-style block.

We saw this angular riff on the Starlight pattern at the same property.

I don’t know the name of this pattern, but it seems to be the 21st-century answer to hidden circles.

I like this sort of inside-out approach to installing hidden circles, spotted in an alley while we were walking the dogs this afternoon.

The top image is from a house down the street. The breezeblocks appear to be a later addition, as they don’t really match the architecture of the house, but I imagine they’d come in handy if you were fumbling with your keys on a stormy day.

The research for this project has been fascinating. I knew Tucumcari pretty well before I started, but systematically driving every street in town in search of one specific architectural detail has forced me to pay much closer attention to my surroundings. It’s also given me an appreciation for the ingenuity of the people around me, who are sculptors, muralists, architects, landscape designers, homesteaders, and creative problem solvers of the highest order.

No wonder I love this town so much. It’s full of kindred spirits.

Emily

Ridin’ Around in the Breeze

Well, it’s all right, ridin’ around in the breeze.
Yeah, it’s all right, if you live the life you please.
— George Harrison

For the third day in a row, Ron and I worked on my breezeblock inventory. This time, we were in our own neighborhood. In an hour and a half, we covered all the east-west streets in an area six blocks wide and maybe a mile long. We found 52 properties with breezeblocks and one with shadow blocks. That brings our total to 139, with about 75 percent of the inventory complete.

Here’s a wall of tightly stacked snowflake blocks, protected by a ferocious guard dog:

Snowflake-pattern breezeblocks, magic light, dramatic shadows, and a Chihuahua in the window — what’s not to love?

I was really excited about these Pompeian (sic) blocks. (I was less excited about the manufacturer’s spelling.)

Pompeian breezeblocks in a wall
Pompeian blocks cast interesting shadows on the wall behind them.

Breezeblocks casting a shadow on a concrete wall
Two styles for the price of one: Pompeian shadow next to hidden circles.

We also spotted some double-Ys:

Double-Y breezeblocks in a concrete wall
This is one of the more creative uses I’ve seen for the double-Y pattern.

Some newer walls featured styles I haven’t encountered in any of my research. This one looks like what you’d get if you crossed the arcs in a hidden-circle block and then flattened it out:

Breezeblocks in a concrete wall
I don’t know what this style is called, but it seems to be a latter-day design. I like this installation.

Breezeblocks in a concrete wall
Notice how the same pattern can look very different depending on the installation.

The pattern in the top image is another latter-day design. It looks like arch or cathedral, except it’s missing the diagonal reinforcements.

We got a late start today because of work commitments, but we’re hoping to go out earlier tomorrow and finish our inventory. Once that’s done, I can start designing my map. I’m really excited about this project. If it looks half as good on paper as it does in my mind, it’s going to be one of the coolest projects I’ve ever done.

Emily

More breezeblocks

Ron and I went hunting breezeblocks again this afternoon. My list now stands at 86 properties with either breezeblocks, shadow blocks, or a combination of the two. I have found 51 examples of hidden circles; seven examples of Empress; six of square-in-square; five of double-Y; two of double-X; one each of arch/cathedral and snowflake; assorted squares and rectangles; and a handful of mystery styles, including a couple of Empress variants I haven’t been able to identify. I also spotted at least nine examples of shadow blocks in varying patterns — and we still haven’t inventoried the mid-century subdivisions in the southwest quadrant.

The featured photo at the top of this post is one I shot in December of the front of my church — a gorgeous A-frame with a snowflake-pattern breezeblock wall out front. Here are a couple more views, showing that stunning backlit cross:

A-frame church with backlit neon cross and breezeblock wall
I love this architecture.

Backlit neon cross against a breezeblock wall
This is the most mid-century church I’ve seen since Benjamin interrupted Elaine’s wedding in “The Graduate.”

First Presbyterian doesn’t have the market cornered on ecclesiastical breezeblocks, though. Immanuel Baptist Church makes nice use of hidden circles here:

Church with hidden-circle breezeblock screen on one end
This screen really dresses up the building.

We also found quite a few commercial installations:

Square-in-square breezeblocks on a Plains Commercial building
I can’t decide whether retrofitting an early-20th-century Plains Commercial building with mid-century breezeblocks is awesome or awful, but either way, it’s eye-catching.

Closeup of star-patterned breezeblocks
At first glance, I thought this was the large diamond/Bali/Rotary pattern, but it’s much too angular for that.

Large square-in-square breezeblocks with vertical rectangles in between
Square-in-square blocks at the Elks Lodge. Note the darker vertical rectangles in between.

Motel designers were especially fond of breezeblocks:

Square breezeblock wall
I like the alternating large and small squares in this wall at the old Town House Motel.

Closeup of square breezeblocks in two sizes
Closeup.

Shadow blocks on wall
Shadow blocks at Motel Safari.

Small square breezeblocks in wall with Elvis and a classic car painted on it
Carport wall at Motel Safari.

Decorative breezeblock wall with googie boomerangs painted on one end
Patio at Motel Safari. Dig those boomerangs.

Decorative hidden-circle breezeblock wall
A hidden-circle wall at Roadrunner Lodge.

And last but not least, here’s a pretty residential application:

Square-in-square breezeblock wall
I need a wall like this in my backyard to keep Ramona out of the garden.

It was at this point in the trip that I turned to Ron and said, “If he’d build it out of breezeblocks, I might have to rethink my position on Trump’s ‘big, beautiful wall.'” And then I had an idea for the greatest political compromise in the history of ever … but that’s another post for another day.

Emily

Shooting the Breeze

One of the delightful surprises about moving out here in 2017 was the discovery that Tucumcari has a plethora of breezeblock walls.

A few weeks ago, I decided it would be cool to spend part of my summer taking an inventory of Tucumcari’s breezeblocks and creating a Bob Waldmire-style map detailing the style and location of each. I figured it might help promote Tucumcari to mid-century modern junkies like me, and it seemed like the sort of thing Route 66 travelers would appreciate, given our fondness for all things retro.

With most of New Mexico shut down until further notice, Ron and I decided to take advantage of a free afternoon to start the inventory. After lunch, I got online, researched breezeblock styles, and made myself a little chart identifying all the patterns I could find. Then Ron spent about three hours systematically driving down every street on the north side of town while I rode shotgun with my iPhone and a notebook in hand. By the time we called it a day, we had a list of 40 properties, featuring 15 different styles of breezeblocks.

Here are a few highlights:

"Hidden circle"-style breezeblock wall
This example of “hidden circle”-style breezeblocks is about the only structurally sound remnant of our vet’s old building, which burned several years ago.

Hidden circles were extremely popular. I counted 25 examples today.

Concrete wall with empress and arch-style breezeblock details
Empress-style blocks dominate the foreground, but if you look closely at the wall on the left, you can see arch — a.k.a. cathedral — blocks as well.

The Empress pattern looks similar to hidden circles, but you can tell them apart by looking at the diamonds between the circles: Hidden circles have a horizontal line bisecting the diamonds.

Concrete-block wall with double-X breezeblock accents
This mostly solid wall features occasional double-X — a.k.a. “Dos Equis” — accents.

I found a couple of examples of the double-X style, which some sources identify by its Spanish name, Dos Equis.

Square-in-square, or "Vista Vue," breezeblock in a concrete wall
I found three examples of the square-in-square style.

The square-in-square style was identified by a couple of sources as “Vista Vue.”

Breezeblock wall using what appears to be a variant of the Empress pattern
These blocks appear to be a variation on Empress.

I haven’t been able to track down the name or manufacturer of the breezeblocks screening the stairwells at Roadrunner Lodge (above). I’m also at a loss to identify the rectangular pattern on the blocks at the Pow Wow Inn (top image).

Tomorrow, we’ll explore the south side of town, including a mid-century subdivision that’s positively teeming with breezeblocks.

Emily

Folk Thursday: The Fallow Way

It’s been a bit since I posted anything for Folk Thursday. With a little more time on my hands than usual, this seems as good a time as any to do it.

In “The Fallow Way,” Judy Collins’ lyrics speak to the value of stillness and solitude — two commodities many of us have in abundance at the moment.

I found myself thinking of this song Tuesday as I was standing in the lobby of the Roadrunner Lodge, minding the desk while the owner was busy with a teleconference. Here in Tucumcari, the winter is quiet, but this time of year, we start to see the snowbirds stopping in on their way east from Arizona, and the first few tourists begin wandering up and down Tucumcari Boulevard, cameras in hand. Every spring, I look forward to watching Route 66 come back to life, a bright blossom with petals made of neon and chrome. Continue reading Folk Thursday: The Fallow Way

A quick update

I noticed my “Excellent Time-Wasters” page was out of date, with a lot of broken links. I put it up about 10 years ago, when a colleague was scheduled for surgery and was going to be stuck recovering at home for a while. A few of the offerings on that page seem to have vanished from the internet altogether (or become inaccessible because of changing technology), but a lot of them just moved, as things have a way of doing.

As I’m sure many readers could use some good ways to kill time while sheltering in place, I spent a few minutes updating the page this afternoon. Click the “Excellent Time-Wasters” tab or click here to access it.

I left the Venice Cafe link (“Trippy mosaic-covered bar”) in place because the site is ordinarily really good, and I didn’t want to direct people away from it, but if you go to it at the moment, all you’ll find is an announcement saying the venue is temporarily closed due to coronavirus concerns. In the meantime, you can see photos of it here. When we lived in Belleville, Illinois, Ron and I spent a lot of time slipping across the river to the Venice Cafe on our nights off to see what new art was in the works. It’s quite a place.

If anybody is missing the March Madness office pool, a good alternative might be to start a betting pool on how long these disruptions will be in place before I start attempting to turn my backyard into an unholy hybrid of Dave Dardis’ secret garden, the Watts Towers, and the Venice Cafe’s beer garden. I’ve only been waiting my whole life to have the time and resources to do something like that.

Emily

Victory garden

I’d planned to start seeds indoors this year, but after the growlights I bought from Amazon turned out to be defective, I moved the whole operation outside, with the help of some new tools.

First, I took Mom’s advice and did some winter sowing, which involves turning plastic bottles into miniature cold frames. I’d been saving 96-oz. cider jugs for this purpose all winter. They turned out to be just the right size to slip down into the holes in some cinderblocks I had on hand. The blocks provide thermal mass while keeping the jugs from blowing away. I need to thin the plants, but they’re doing very well.

Tomato plant growing in makeshift cloche
A 96-oz. cider jug just fits inside a cinderblock, creating a mini-greenhouse for sprouting tomatoes.

My little cider-bottle cloches are parked in a raised bed made from a $45 feed-store fire ring and filled with a mix of potting soil and chicken litter — a technique I first used in my juglone-contaminated garden in Cape. Come planting day, I’ll mulch with cedar shavings to discourage bugs.

Raised beds made of fire rings
Note the fence to protect certain beds — necessary because Ramona is obsessed with destroying every plastic bottle she can reach.

I found a bargain I couldn’t pass up at Tractor Supply a couple of weeks ago: $40 walk-in mini-greenhouses.

Small greenhouse
This little greenhouse cost $40 and took less than an hour to assemble and anchor.

To keep it warm and protect it from the wind, I parked mine in a sheltered corner next to my office window and anchored it with cinderblocks and bungee cords.

Greenhouse interior
Cinderblocks anchor the greenhouse in place and provide thermal mass.

The new greenhouse is proving to be a nice place to start herbs:

Chives sprouting in a container
Chives are beginning to come up in a dollar-store pot.

Cilantro sprouting in a container
My cilantro is starting to come up.

Out of an abundance of caution, I decided to grow a Victory Garden this year, focusing on reliably heavy producers: okra, green beans, cucumbers, collards, zucchini, and potatoes. If supply lines get screwed up, we’ll still have plenty to eat; if they don’t, we’ll have plenty to share with people whose incomes have been compromised by the coronavirus-induced drop in tourism.

Emily

Look for the helpers

Ron and I went to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood when it came to Tucumcari a few weeks ago. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s well worth the $3 to watch it on Amazon Prime while you’re practicing social distancing.

As the coronavirus scare unfolds, I find myself wondering how Fred Rogers would handle it. What would a coronavirus-themed episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood look like? What would Mr. Rogers tell his young viewers? What would Lady Aberlin say to reassure Daniel the Striped Tiger? How would King Friday address his subjects in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe?

In an interview many years ago, Mr. Rogers mentioned that when he was a child, and something sad or frightening happened, his mother would say, “Look for the helpers.”

I don’t have Mr. Rogers’ gentle, soft-spoken demeanor or a set of puppets I can use to reassure you. But I do have some training in looking for the good in every situation, and while I’m a bit rusty at it, I still remember how to look for the helpers.

With that in mind, here are some hopeful signs amid the deluge of bad news:

There are plenty of helpers out there. Keep looking for them.

Emily

‘Til the storm passes by

The world is losing its mind over the coronavirus.

In big cities where people live, work, and socialize in close physical proximity to each other, that probably makes sense.

Here in Tucumcari, where we aren’t in each other’s faces all the time, very little has changed — which also makes sense.

School is out statewide for at least the next three weeks. A lot of churches have canceled services. I assume the bars and restaurants are all complying with the governor’s order to modify their seating arrangements. But otherwise, things are pretty normal.

The grocery store is still well-stocked. The hardware store still had plenty of dust masks when I needed one for the flooring project I’m working on. Nobody has treated me like Typhoid Mary this week, despite an ill-timed cold that turned into laryngitis just as the governor’s emergency order came down.

I am concerned, of course. I have friends in high-risk groups. My community’s economy depends, in part, on tourism. I’m not impressed with the contradictory messages coming out of the White House. But I am heartened by the common sense I see around me. People are being reasonably careful, but they aren’t letting fear get the better of them.

As I think about it, being in Tucumcari in the midst of this unprecedented disruption feels rather like being in Red Fork during a tornado.

In Red Fork, if a tornado warning went into effect, nobody panicked. Everybody just grabbed a beer and stood on their front porches to watch the storm. They weren’t stupid. They knew when it was time to go inside. But they also knew that worrying has never changed the trajectory of a storm, and they’d been through enough storms to know that this one, like all the others, would pass, and when it had, they would simply get up the next morning, survey the damage, and start cleaning up the mess.

Rural New Mexico hasn’t been through anything like this. But people here are pretty self-sufficient, and they know that if all hell is going to break loose, panicking won’t dissuade it. So they watch the storm, and they wait, and they know that when it passes, it will be time to start cleaning up the mess.

There’s something reassuring in that.

Emily