Pop Culture Gadabout
Monday, August 13, 2007
      ( 8/13/2007 05:44:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"SHE SAYS THE MAN IN THE GABARDINE SUIT IS A SPY" (II) – (For Part One of this Gadabout travelogue, click here.)

Romance of the Road: Leg Three

Saturday Evening: After we get into our room at the downtown Albuquerque Quality Inn, we discover our first traveling snafu. We'd made the arrangements up in Bloomington to get a mid-sized Budget rent-a-car and the woman up north who made the reservation for us did it with a Budget located at the city airport. "Call when you get in on Saturday and arrange the Sunday pick-up," she advised, but when we do, we learn tha the airport Budget doesn't do pick-ups. The ones in town do, but it's too late in the day to shift our reservation to one of 'em. We have to wait until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow when the offices reopen.

Fortunately, the in-town rental place is ready to oblige, and we're on the road in a PT Cruiser by noon. As we drive out of Albuquerque, a CD of the "New World Symphony" blasting, we catch the first of a road sign that we'll see repeatedly as we drive down I-25: "Gusty Winds May Exist." That's a pretty tentative way of putting it, we decide. For the next few miles, we think of comparable mild-mannered warning signs: "Falling Rocks May Exist," "UFOs May Exist." Off the train and on the highway, the impact of the desert setting is even stronger; accustomed as we are to fairly boring farmland, the ground-level sight of non-stop desert is even more striking.

The highway speed limit in New Mexico is ten miles faster (75 mph) than it is in Illinois, so it takes us less time to drive south to Las Cruces than we guesstimated. After settling into our room at the Staybridge Inn, we drive around town and second-time visitor Becky points out the sights. We return to our room by 7:00 p.m. Mountain time, and I learn for the first time that teevee scheduling isn't consistent with the schedule we've grown accustomed to on Central time. Where yesterday, we watched an ABC series at 9:00 pm that also would've aired at 9:00 in Illinois, today we see that two cable series – HBO's John from Cincinnati and USA's Dead Zone – both run an hour ahead of Illinois. In the case of John, we have the Video-on-Demand option back home, so I'm not bothered by missing it. Before we left Illinois, I totally surprised Becky by not setting up any VCR recordings for while we were gone. Very unlike me.

Next morning, I get up for my first interview and, as I'm preparing, I note On Her Majesty's Secret Service is playing as part of Spike TV's month-long James Bondathon. A positive omen? Sure, why not? We used that film's romantic theme song as a part of our wedding ceremony, after all.

We leave Las Cruces by 1:00: I have a second interview tomorrow up in Grants, way the hell upstate. On our way out of the area, we're stopped on I-25 by the Border Patrol, searching cars, presumably looking for illegals. Not knowing what they'll want, we both pull out our Illinois licenses, but the Border officer waves us through as soon as he gets a glimpse of us. Yeah, we look like a pair of gringos.

Our drive to Grants takes six hours, though admittedly we do more stops along the way this time. Hit Albuquerque at Rush Hour, always a treat, no matter what city you're visiting. But after we get through it, we compare the landscape of the high vs. low desert. To Illinoisans, it all looks fascinating, though the southern region appears more striking to us. We pass three Indian casinos between Albuquerque and Grants; each one has a billboard advertising upcoming concert appearances by faded rockers (Starship w./ Mickey Thomas, Ted Nugent, Skid Row – a group name you wouldn't think a casino'd want on its marquee). Indian casinos: where geezer rockers go to die.

August is apparently monsoon season in New Mexico, and, as we drive, periodically see heavy storms hovering over the mountains in the distance. The demarcation between storm and clear sky looks so much more distinct than we're used to. When it storms, it does so with a vengeance, but it dries up with equal speed. Temperature outside the car is in the low nineties for most of our daytime driving, and though we're told that the current "rainy" season has elevated the humidity, especially in the high desert part of the state, it doesn't feel that bad to us. Illinois summers are humid all the time; just stepping out of the house, you start sweating.

Our third night in New Mexico, we stay at a somewhat depressed looking Comfort Inn. When we park our car around the back, the first thing I see is a quartet of abandoned industrial washing machines, huddled together on the other side of the wire fence separating the parking lot from the desert. Somehow, I'm reminded of a Camper Van Beethoven album cover . . .

Leg Four

Tuesday noon: My planned interviews concluded, we hit the road for Santa Fe and some actual vacation time. We drive back to Albuquerque – the trip looks more impressive in mid-daylight – with Kirsty Macoll on the CD player (Galore, a best of retrospective: I've brought a lotta collections in my CD wallet since they're generally packed with more tracks). I'm looking forward to sleeping in a motel bed where I don't wake up every hour-and-a-half agitatedly anticipating interview questions.

Next morning, we do our first full-fledged toursty thing, getting off the highway to ride the "World's Largest Aerial Tramway" at Sandia Park outside of Albuquerque. Riding it, I can't help flashing on the tramway sequence from that James Bond flick. Though I love being higher up, there are moments looking down off the tram where my lizard brain doesn't.

On our way back to the highway, we stop to buy some gas, and, at the gas station, I flummox the cashier by using two Traveler's Checks. The woman, who is no mere teen, mind you, sez she's never dealt with 'em before, so she has to head to the back to confer with her manager. I feel like the guy in those "let's-make-check-cards-indispensable" teevee commercials who stops the bustling crow by inconsiderately pulling out his checkbook.

We return to Albuquerque and spend the afternoon perusing the tourist shops in Old Town. For dinner, we do Blake's Lotaburger, a New Mexico fast food chain ("If you are what you eat, you are awesome!" the paper takeout sack tells us) that we've been seeing in every New Mexico town we've visited. Decent burger; better milk shake, we decide. The next day is primarily spent returning our rental Cruiser, lying back and decompressing from all the time on the road. (Per the odometer, we've clocked over 800 miles of driving.) We hit the Travel Scrabble set big time that night, watch the penultimate season episode of John from Cincinnati – moving back into our regular routines.

(To Be Continued)
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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