Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Can you tell me where we're headin'? Lincoln County or Armageddon?

Highway 47 runs along the base of a hill, about a half mile from my mom's house. I usually take it on trips to and from Albuquerque, and find it such an enjoyable ride that about twenty years ago I used its pastoral beauty as the backdrop for a story that I never wrote. What I hadn't realized is that its northern terminus is in Algodones, though it doesn't call itself 47 there. It runs through a couple of pueblos, then through a rough Latino stretch of Albuquerque. The railroad and the Rio Grande are never far away.

Rather than carry on south to my mom's place, we hop on I-25 at Isleta. I generally don't like the blink and you'll miss it nature of the Interstate, but it is refreshing to approach Belen from a different angle, above the town, my high school, and the places in the desert where we used to party.
We leave I-25 at Socorro, intending to sightsee a little. I spent a month here thirty years back, plus part a summer a few years later, but I never really explored the shady old plaza that once served as the town center. But as we pull onto Socorro's main artery, traffic immediately clogs it. Right, it's Friday night. I'd completely forgotten about high school football. Our visit can wait. We push on to San Antonio.

Our B&B, Casa Blanca, is an old home circa 1880. It is a cozy place, with a comfy sofa and a large courtyard shaded by tomato plants climbing up trellises. Our hosts are a former Fish and Game warden from the nearby Bosque del Apache, and a former teacher who seemed to know my father from when he taught at NM Tech. Their collection of books and magazine hint at common interests, and I wish I could stay longer for what is bound to be good conversation.
After relaxing awhile on the courtyard swing, we make our way to Manny's Buckhorn for one of their famous green chili cheeseburgers. The Owl Bar across the street holds the nostalgia card for me, but a springtime visit disappointed me in a burger far inferior to what I'd remembered from 30 years back. So, we'll try Manny's, the joint jumping early this Friday. It is full, both with locals and those tourists who may have seen the current owner, Bobby, Manny's son, when he appeared on the Food Channel a number of years back. As we wait for our burgers to come, I walk my daughter around the room, looking at the decor, much of it unchanged since opening day in 1943. Bobby too is walking the room, shaking hands with customers familiar and new. Anytime someone mentions Manny, he apologizes for his father's infamously nasty disposition. We chat a minute or so, then our burgers come.
Afterward we head back to Casa Blanca, where I sit awhile out on the patio, talking with a couple who, like me, were heading down to the Trinity Test Site the following morning. I'll write more about this talk, as well as my visit to the site, in another post...

...I returned from Trinity around mid-morning, loaded the gals into the car, and retraced my route east. Beyond the Trinity turnoff, the road rose, revealing a black band across the desert floor that marked the Valley of Fires, where Miki and I'd camped back in April. On the other side was Carrizozo, a town that appealed to me for the way the name rolls off the tongue. In Spanish, 'carrizo' is a type of plume-like reed, which had once been so prevalent in the area that the town founders exuberantly added an extra '-zo' to the end. The town is famed somewhat for an annual event where local artists paint life-size burros that are then placed at various locales around town--in parks, beside storefronts, on the roofs of local businesses. We drove around the older streets of town, past the visitor center housed in a train caboose, and the Outpost Bar and Grill which supposedly had burgers to rival those in San Antonio. I'll never know since the owner of the Outpost had died back in June, his widow closing the joint soon after. Ironically, the nearby Four Winds served a burger may have been better than the one I'd had the night before. Midbite, I realized that a green chile burger is composed to two important components--the meat, and the chile. The beef I now enjoyed was of a better quality, but the chile was a limp and lifeless, lacking the spark that ignites the fire which lights up the burgers of The Buckhorn.

I'd wanted to wash this down with a beer at the infamous No Scum Allowed Saloon in nearby White Oaks. After a drive that twisted into the Jicarilla foothills, we found the town in a wide valley. It was larger than I expected, though this shouldn't be a surprise considering the large role it had played in this region's history. There were a few telltale signs of the former glory, but mostly it was modest houses trying to blend with the scenery. Though White Oaks is now known to be a bit of an artist colony, the stools of the saloon were manned by a rougher sort of bunch, the type I usually try not to engage. And here I was walking in with a baby strapped to my chest. To diffuse the tension, I quipped to the bartendress, "She's too young to drink, but that's OK since she's driving," which cracked the cowboys up. Safe for the moment, we stepped into the sun of the courtyard. There were only a few people here (all of whom could all wear the label 'artist') sitting in tall chairs in front of a stage now quiet. I could imagine the raucous scenes played here once the bands get going. Miki found a seat in the shade, near a friendly guy who was a drifter of sorts. White Oaks, he claimed, was his final stop. Miki and he continued to talk as I went back inside to assess the beer situation. No draft, and nothing in bottles but that flaccid swill that passes for beer in this country. (I see no value in them but for the fact that they keep sporting events on the television.) As an excuse, I told the bartendress that I wanted to ask my wife what she wanted. As we made our way to the door a few minutes later, one of the cowboys said, "You all can't leave yet,' to which I pointed at my daughter and said, "We wanna stay but she cut us off." The sound of the door closing behind us cut off the sound of their laughter.
Safely back in the car, we rejoined the main road and headed further east and further in history...

On the turntable: The Slits, "Cut"

On the nighttable: Frank Waters, "The Woman at Otowi Crossing"

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