Tag Archives: amarillo

Driving 1It was the weekend I drove across America: I left Phoenix after work on Friday and pulled into North Carolina before breakfast on Monday. I was hauling macadam.

But to paraphrase Mr. Bernstein from Citizen Kane, “There’s no secret to piling up miles, if all you want to do is pile up miles.”

At any rate, I logged 1,886 miles between work on Friday and sleep on Sunday.

People sometimes ask me if driving doesn’t wear me down, but it doesn’t. There is nothing I find as relaxing as spending a week on the highway, watching the scenery scroll by and the sun roll around heaven all day.

I get up at 5 each morning and count a hundred miles on the odometer before stopping for breakfast. You notice the difference from one edge of a time zone to another: On the same day, 5 a.m. can be black night in Williston, N.D., and broad daylight in Pensacola, Fla., both in the Central Time Zone.driving 2 - night

It gives you a cosmic feel: You know you are moving across the arc of the planet’s edge. In Saskatchewan you can watch the grain elevator behind you sink below the horizon in your rear view mirror, like the sails of a ship dropping under the curve of the earth, just as the next elevator breaks the surface in front of you. You are always on the top of a mound that falls off to every side.

The point of this particular dash across the continent was to collect my wife, who had been visiting her mother in North Carolina, and continue on our vacation, making a great loop across the Northeast and back through central Canada.

I left the office at about 4 p.m. on Friday and drove the 289 miles to Gallup, N.M., where I stayed in a chain motel and ate supper at a tiny, empty  dive, where a Navajo woman made a great turkey sandwich.

Saturday took me from Gallup to Oklahoma City, some 725 miles. I could have gone further, but I did some sightseeing in Endee, N.M., and in Amarillo, Texas.

Sunday, I stopped for a couple of hours in Arkansas, but still managed to make 872 miles, stopping in Kingston, Tenn., just short of Knoxville.

I usually avoid the interstates, but to waste as little time as possible before joining my wife, I took I-40 most of the way, playing dodge-cars with semis, terrorizing slow-moving RVs and watching my odometer spin like a slot machine.interstate mt airy

The next day, I drove across the Smokies, up along the Blue Ridge and down into the Piedmont, managing to cruise through Andy Griffith’s Mount Airy.

There are some disadvantages to this kind of travel. Meals, for instance, are either awful or non-existent. Mostly, I keep a box of Fig Newtons in the back seat and gnosh occasionally. The entree is beef jerky bought at a truck stop; I’ve become quite a connoisseur of jerky. A liter of bottled water sits on the back floor.

When I do stop and eat dinner, it is uniformly greasy, oversalted and overcooked. And don’t even mention the salad bar.

Then, it’s into the motel room for a night’s sleep before getting up again at 5, to see the dull light in the east spread out along the fuzzy line that separates the sky and its brightening clouds from the ground below and the road that stretches toward the rising sun.

Cadillac Ranch

There must be something in the water in the Texas Panhandle.

Something must explain what I saw beside the road as I drove past Amarillo.

First came the Cadillac Ranch, a series of 10 Caddies buried front-end down in the dirt in a cornfield just west of Amarillo.

It is not an officially sanctioned tourist location, says the nice man at the tourist info stop. But it seems as if there is always someone there, gawking at the Texas equivalent of Stonehenge.

It was built in 1974 by a group of San Francisco architects who called themselves the Ant Farm and was bankrolled by Amarillo millionaire and TV station owner Stanley Marsh.

Marsh, known as something of an eccentric, believed in public art with a sense of humor. He has also been responsible for a farm-field-size ”soft pool table”; a monument at the ”Grave of the Unknown Pet”; and a wood-frame ”Boot Hill” to which hundreds of old boots have been nailed.

His most recent project has been a ”drive-by art gallery” called the Dynamite Museum.

”There’s something wrong with art in a museum,” he once said. ”First you’re photographed on a hidden camera when you walk in. You’re intimidated by docents. The art’s hanging in grand frames with scrolls with gold letters. Behold. Genuflect. Art needs to be hung under expressways and in grocery stores and bowling alleys.”

So, in 1974, he commissioned the Ant Farm to bury 10 Cadillacs — vintages 1949, ’52, ’54, ’56, ’57, ’58, ’59, ’60, ’62 and ’64 — grille down and tail fins flashing.

The cars are now pretty rusted out. There is no more window glass, no upholstery. Only the metal and most of the tires, which spin when a breeze catches them. The original Body-by-Fischer paint job has been superseded by layers of graffiti, all brightly colored, leaving the calling card of many of the monument’s visitors. Underside of Cadillac

There is surprisingly little obscenity. Almost all the writing is of the Kilroy sort, ”We passed through, these are our names and the towns we live in.” I spotted listings from Sierra Vista and Tempe, among the many from other states and countries.

The cars, which, despite the oft-repeated claim, the artists deny are set at the same angle as the side of Cheops’ pyramid, are at the end of a dirt path a 10th of a mile into a working cornfield. The green stalks are all around. In the shade of two of the angles, corn is growing between the axles.

The only ugly thing — as long as you don’t consider the whole thing ugly, as I know many people do — is the mess of spray-paint cans. Many are tossed into the passenger compartments and pile up next to where the steering wheels used to be, among some empty Budweiser cans. But even more of them litter the cornfields, tossed out there when they empty up.

I don’t know how the farmer feels about the mess, but I thought it went completely against the spirit of the monument, which is otherwise a collective paean to the American spirit of On-the-Roadness. Groom Texas cross

But, although the Cadillac Ranch is the most famous Amarillo monument, it isn’t the only one: On the eastern side of Amarillo, I spotted a huge white cross beside the interstate. It must have been a hundred feet tall and made out of what looked like aluminum siding. At least it had that flat, white paint job and siding grooves. It has smaller crosses on either side whose function is to hold up the spotlights that illuminate the thing at night.

I must admit, I felt something less than admiration for it, perhaps because the last time I saw a huge, illuminated cross, it was at a Ku Klux Klan meeting. It was also impressive, but it certainly stood for something I find less than admirable. Leaning water tower

And less than a mile to the east, Britten, Texas, has a roadside water tower set into the ground at something more believably like the Cheops angle. It nods over, like a drunk on his barstool. I can’t tell if the water tank on top is functional or not, but I rather doubt it. It seems more like another American eccentric creating a memorable roadside monument.