As part of our Route 66 drive a few
of summers back we
wanted to spend the night in Tucumcari to check it out.
Tucumcari is pretty much an outdoor museum of old motels and
neon signs. Route 66 had more than its share of lonely and
punishing stretches, especially a long washboaded section across
north Texas. But even today on the interstate this length of road
from Amarillo to Tucumcari has a special ability to make you
re-evaluate your own judgment about where the hell you are.
In the car I remember waking up to rain, big raindrops
on the windshield, and then that beautiful metallic smell, I guess
ozone, of rain when it first hits the desert floor. We pulled off
a little after midnight . Sure enough, although most of the signs
had already been switched off, the business route through town
proceeds through a double line of these motels like the Safari,
the Blue Swallow, the Pony Soldier. Lots of 'em.
Then we had a failure of nerve. A bunch of these properties
been abandoned, like the Lasso Motel, others looked half-closed
or late on their electric bills. You just know that some of these
are run by older people and you hate to wake them up. They
might be irregular all the next day. Those vintage properties that
were plainly open looked small and tired. Motels aren't usually
built well to begin with, and the only way to get a motel
room really clean is to burn it down. Wordlessly
Karla and I agreed that it's one thing to support vanishing
Americana twenty-nine dollars at a time, but it's another thing to
lay there in a bowl-shaped mattress and listen to the mites in
your pillow plan their midnight campaign.
In the morning we drove around and took photographs.
looked for but didn't find the prototypical Tucumcari motel. I'm
thinking it would have a multicolored, five-step animated,
ground-level neon sign, a working swimming pool full of California
girls, and rooms with doors open full of hay and chickens.