Category Archives: New Mexico

Abandoned

I really like this little building.

I’m fascinated by this little building and its mysterious walled backyard. It’s just a few blocks from our house, and we pass that fabulous arched gate several times a week when we walk the dogs. Seeing the Coke sign from a distance, I thought it was a long-shuttered corner store, but as I was taking a picture of the sign the other day, I realized there was a ghost sign above the door:

A beauty shop in this neighborhood makes more sense than a grocery store.

The hours should have been a pretty good tipoff that this wasn’t a grocery store.

This little archway just knocks me out.

Exploring Tucumcari with Ramona is one of my new favorite pastimes. We go out for a walk or a jog almost every evening. She likes sniffing stuff, and I like slowing down and seeing cool stuff like that abandoned salon.

Our evening workouts actually made the Washington Post website recently. Click here to see it. Our part starts at 1:20.

In other news, I worked on office upgrades today. I now have a mount that gets my monitor and laptop up off my desk and a curved shower-curtain rod above my desk with a pretty curtain hanging from it to reduce distractions during Zoom calls with students.

I also went to the hospital today to get a blood test to see whether I had COVID-19 when I got sick in early March. People who have already had the virus can donate plasma to help active patients. I should know whether that applies to me by the middle of next week.

Emily

Headed for the light

Ron and I found a welcome light illuminating the darkness this evening on Route 66 here in Tucumcari.

For several weeks, we’d been seeing signs of life at the long-shuttered Apache Motel. Ron talked to the new owner today, and this evening, she sent him a photo showing the lightbulbs around the perimeter of the motel’s iconic neon sign burning brightly.

We immediately grabbed our cameras and headed out.

Apache Motel sign with lights on around edge
The Apache’s new owner got some of the sign to light again.

The Apache was open when we took our first Route 66 trip in 2001. Some of the paint was peeling from the sign, but the neon was still burning, and chasing lights raced dramatically around the edge, calling attention to the motel for at least half a mile in either direction. At the time, I hadn’t yet learned to leave the shutter open long enough to catch all the lights as they flashed on and off, but you can see how vibrant the neon was:

Apache Motel sign in 2001 with neon lit
The Apache sign on Aug. 4, 2001.

Not long after that, the sign went dark, and the motel sat empty until 2006, when new owners bought it and restored it to its mid-century glory. I stayed there during a November 2006 road trip, which I blogged about at the time.

The motel closed almost as quickly as it reopened, and it’s been quietly decaying ever since — a heartbreaking sight, given the work that went into restoring it.

The timing of the coronavirus pandemic — arriving in the United States just on the cusp of tourist season — couldn’t be worse for my beloved Route 66. But looking up at the Apache sign this evening, I was reminded of one of the things I love most about this old road: Its seemingly endless capacity for renewal.

Just ask the Over the Hill Gang in Arcadia, Oklahoma; the Illinois Route 66 Association’s Historic Preservation Committee; the owners of the “Murder Bordello” in Galena, Kansas; Dawn Welch, whose Rock Cafe literally rose from the ashes after a 2008 fire that gutted its interior and collapsed its roof; or Ned Leuchtner, who reconstructed Cool Springs Camp from a pair of stone pillars.

The Mother Road and her children may see some casualties in the coming years. But as Ma Joad said: “We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever … ’cause we’re the people.”

Emily

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

‘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

 

(Just Like) Starting Over Again

Ah, what the hell — let’s start the new year by pretending I’m going to update this blog on a regular basis.

As I mentioned last summer, I’ve been researching Celtic folklore for a project I’ve got brewing. This mostly involved trips down online rabbit-holes while I was recovering from surgery, but in early August, an acquaintance heard me mention my project and brought me a stack of books on the subject. Before I had a chance to dive into them, school started, bringing with it some unexpected challenges. It was a deeply rewarding semester, but also deeply demanding, and I didn’t get a hand free to start my research in earnest until Sunday.

Three days later, I’ve skimmed four books, read two cover to cover, and gotten about two-thirds of the way through Patricia Monaghan’s fascinating The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog, which I highly recommend.

The project that prompted all of this is another novel that is simultaneously a prequel and a sequel to Greetings from Coldwater.

Here’s what I can tell you at the moment:

It is set in Coldwater and includes several familiar faces: Sierra, Miss Shirley, Joey, Abuelito, the denizens of the liars’ table at Casa de Jesus, and at least one other character I’ll keep to myself for now.

While Greetings was magical realism, this new book crosses the line into unapologetic fantasy. The new characters include a pair of banshees: Morgan, a lonely, awkward seventh-grader, and Holly, the middle-aged school administrator who becomes her mentor. We’ll also meet Holly’s girlfriend, an acerbic banker who is wholly unbothered to find herself dating, as she puts it, “an incarnation of an ancient Celtic spirit most Americans either haven’t heard of or don’t believe really exists.”

The story is more plot-driven than Sierra’s last outing, and while my intent is for Morgan to be the primary protagonist, I have four very strong characters on my hands, so there’s no telling where this thing will end up by the time I wrangle it out of my head and onto paper. At this point, about all I can say with any degree of certainty is that it’ll pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.

If you’re nice to me, I might post a scene now and then. Stay tuned.

Emily

Winning

So tonight, I found out that the girl who bought our old house in Cape — who insisted she really, really loved it and was just DYING to move into it but simply could not get her lender to approve her for more than the pittance she was offering — never actually moved in. She just used it as an Airbnb, then flipped it for about $12,000 more than she paid for it.

Now, it’s possible she was telling the truth, and her circumstances simply changed unexpectedly, but I’m skeptical.

I should probably be irritated over losing my arse because I allowed somebody to manipulate me into letting her pay way less than fair-market value for a good little house that I worked like a dog to make into a great little house just so she could turn around and sell it for more than it’s worth, but here’s the thing: I have Joni Mitchell on the turntable, bizcochitos in the oven, and a view of Tucumcari Mountain from my front window.

All she has is $12,000.

It’s hard to muster up anything stronger than mild annoyance at losing money on a real-estate deal when you have literally everything you want.

Emily

Green-chile stew

Green-chile stew is one of the reasons I find fall and winter exponentially more tolerable in Tucumcari than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I’m pretty sure everybody in the entire state of New Mexico has a different recipe for this cool-weather staple, and everybody who makes it is sure his or her recipe is the best (and probably only proper) way to make it.

Here’s the way Celtic white trash from a town full of Italians makes New Mexico’s favorite winter dish: heavy on the potato, loaded with garlic, and doused with cheap beer for good measure.

Ingredients:
1 medium yellow onion
2 tbsp. olive oil
5-6 cloves of garlic
2 big baking potatoes
At least 1 lb. roasted green chiles
1 can diced tomatoes, drained (optional)
Decent-sized pork roast (at least 1 lb.; amounts aren’t precise, but never use more pork than chile)
1 can cheap beer
At least 1 tbsp. each of cumin and chile powder (or use my Mexican spice blend)
Salt to taste

Chop the onion and saute in olive oil in a cast-iron skillet until clear. If it browns a little bit, so much the better. While onion cooks, crush and mince the garlic and set aside, then dice the potatoes and chiles and toss them into the Crock-Pot along with the tomatoes (if using).

Trim the fat off the pork roast and cut the meat into bite-sized chunks. Transfer the onion to the Crock-Pot and brown the pork in the skillet. Add the minced garlic and saute briefly before adding the pork-garlic mixture to the Crock-Pot.

Deglaze the skillet with the beer and add the resulting liquid to the Crock-Pot. Stir in spices and salt, add water to cover, and cook on low overnight. Serve with warm flour tortillas.

There is no shame in eating a bowl of the finished stew for breakfast after dreaming about it all night as it simmers, but it will taste even better if you let it rest in the fridge all day and then warm it up for dinner.

NOTE: Green chile does not mean “any random chile pepper that is green.” Green chiles are a specific type of pepper grown in New Mexico and parts of Colorado.

Emily

Lost among the stars

I really need to find myself a good constellation map. The stars out here are incredible. I’m pretty sure I knew what some of them were when I was little and Daddy used to take me out stargazing in a vacant lot a couple of blocks from our house, but I’ve forgotten most of what I knew, and at this point, I’m lucky if I can find the Big Dipper and Orion’s belt.

Emily