Tuning…I Mean, New Mexico or Bust


This was going to be an essay on tuning…but I just received an email from a reader who said that she was hooked on my family’s emigration to California so here we go, on to New Mexico!

New Mexico! To kid from Cleveland it seemed every bit as exotic as Old Mexico. Little did I know at the time that the road to this romantic sounding place would be only the first stage of the most boring fifteen hundred miles I would ever experience. We had pulled into El Reno after dark and it wasn’t until morning that I realized we were in the middle of a part of a countryside that had no features whatsoever. I could look in any direction and see only a pale blue sky meeting the brown, scrubby horizon. There was no rise of hill or fall of valley anywhere to be seen. Only the white grain silos of El Reno interrupted the flat vista in the distance.

At this time, the interstate system was far from completed and much of our trip through the western states was over what is now called “Historic” Route 66. As “Route 66” was also the name of a popular television program, my brother and I naively expected to see movie stars whizzing by in red corvettes. The weather had changed noticeably. And so we stripped off our jackets, took our places in the Ford and set off for our goal, Gallup, New Mexico.

The remainder of Oklahoma was uneventful save for the stop we made at the Texas state line. Now this was something new and exciting. A real trading post! Surrounded by a real log stockade just like in the movies. And inside they had real Indian stuff, ostensibly made by real Indians. Piles and piles of real Indian drums, real Indian blankets, dolls, head-dresses, keychains, snow-globes, pen and pencil sets…WAIT A MINUTE! Keychains, snow-globes and pen and pencil sets??? The dew was off the lily as far as this “real Indian” shit was concerned. Even a kid who’s experience with Indians was limited to the TV article knows that Indians don’t sit in their teepees gazing into the distant hills, their thoughts drifting to the gallant tales of the warrior exploits of their forefathers, while hammering out plastic, “real Indian” key chains! Ah, but then I saw a sign that promised to make the stop worthwhile. “Come see the Genuine American Bison” it screamed, “Ruler of the Great Plains”. My brother and I ran out and found ourselves looking over a rail fence into a muddy corral pock-marked with bovine landmines. Leaning against the fence where what looked like two clothes-racks covered in brown, matted fur, each one crowned by what seemed to be a chewing buffalo head. For a quarter each, we could pet the clothes-rack and hold a handful of hay under its nostrils…to see if it was breathing, I supposed. Real Indian stuff and Geuine Bison my twelve year old ass. Back to the car we went.

I’ve driven through the Texas panhandle a dozen times since that first trip and I still wonder if they’re ever going to finish the goddamn place. Not once, ever, never have I driven across that part of the state without encountering at least five hundred miles of road construction. We must have thought that the countryside was interesting though because I have boxes of pictures marked “Texas” but they all look the same. Cement pavement disappearing into brown horizon. The only difference from shot to shot are the clouds. I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the sign speeding toward us. “Entering the State of New Mexico” it said.

We shot past the sign and the obligatory stockade trading post, chock full of real Indian bullshit. We had stopped at one more of these shams just outside of Amarillo and had learned that the “Genuine American Bison” must indeed have been hunted to extinction. The samples that were available for the pleasure of the westward migration could not have outrun a real Indian pony, wooden or otherwise. The part of New Mexico that I saw from the back seat at seventy miles an hour is just as boring when seen from thirty thousand feet up at seven hundred miles an hour. I learned the first time around that I’m just not a desert person. I keep hearing about how beautiful the desert is and how lovely the desert flowers are and how beautiful the sunsets burn on the western horizon. That’s all bullshit written by the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce. Those things only seem beautiful in contrast to the total absence of any discernibly recognizable life forms. Show me some trees, some grass, a river with real water in it…I mean Christ! They call the Rio Grande a river! And they do it without laughing out loud. Well, as I said, I’m just not a desert person.

Which brings me to the crowning glory of the day, dinner in Gallup, New Mexico. Our very first experience with Mexican food. From that time to this, I have learned to love Mexican cuisine. Not only to love it, but to honor it, respect it, savor it. On that night so long ago in Gallup, New Mexico, what I learned was to FEAR Mexican food. At least I learned to fear the repercussions of that particular Mexican food. I have enjoyed many types of cuisine that qualify as Mexican food. But I have never eaten anything that was in such a goddamn hurry as I did that night. And prolific too. It seemed to grow inside. I could swear that I left more in the way of Mexican food in Gallup than I ever put inside myself. And I certainly didn’t think that I took any with me although I kept making donations all the way to Barstow the next leg of the trip. I wish that I could have a bank account that accrued interest like that meal did.

One more day of travel and we would be in California. But that is for another time. Until then, don’t forget to tune your guitar…and pass the hot sauce!