Los Angeles- The May issue of MLM is out. Worked hard on this one. Enjoy! If you’re not already enjoying, subscribe!
Grants, New Mexico- I stumbled into the old Route 66 town of Grants in western New Mexico after a very, very long drive from Oklahoma with the ubiquitous stop at Cadillac Ranch. I didn’t know anything about the town other than it had a Motel 6 for $29.99 and it fit my goal of staying somewhere west of Albuquerque and under $40. Grants was a uranium mining center during the Cold War that went bust thirty years ago and driving through the main strip downtown, most of the place was shuttered. Grants only recent claim to fame was as a filming location for a Sean Penn vehicle in 2003 called 21 Grams which I have yet to see.
The Pizza Hut where I had lunch seemed like the most happening place around. The only action was the Union-Pacific railroad and that was just passing through. I couldn’t resist shooting some of the old late 1950s-era signage around town and then meandering into the wilderness and ended up randomly at a stunning spot called El Morro National Monument in raw New Mexico backcountry. El Morro was incredible. Three hundred and one years of Spanish and English carvings created a desert narrative around a fresh water source where everyone from the governor of Nuevo Mexico Don Juan de Oñate Salazar, called “The Last Conquistador” by Southwest historian Marc Simmons, made the first Western European inscription in 1605 while the last inscription was made in 1906. And of course, the Anasazi * petroglyphs depicting local fauna, much of which does not exist today, predate the Europeans by hundreds of years. Atop the bluff (and after a stifling hike), there is a massive Pueblo that is only just partially excavated that for me was very Indiana Jones. The Atsinna Pueblo complex had a dozen rooms exposed and a kiva after an archaeological dig in 1954 and had an incredible trail carved out of solid rock replete with staircases created by an army of local Indian workers under a very short lived New Deal program in the winter 0f 1933-34 called the Civil Works Administration during the height of the Great Depression.
Atsinna was a choice spot with a magnificent view for what looked like a hundred miles in any direction. In classic Americana style, for the Southwest anyway, the only other visitors were social security snowbirds and Europeans who view the pre-Columbian world with a marvel that I sometimes wonder has a hint of underlying anti-Americanism. For me a drive through the Southwest is one of purple mesa majesty and a reminder of America’s much more complex past than my anglo-centric experience growing up in the thirteen colonies region let on. The primordial formation of this country owes nearly as much to El Reino de España, the Kingdom of Spain, as it does the Kingdom of England.
After my hike at El Morro, I got back on New Mexico state route 53 which took my through the stark, poor Zuni reservation which consisted of tchotchke shops and many people living in trailers in what looked temporary, post-Katrina-esque accommodation. According to The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest by David Roberts, the first “Spaniard” to come into contact with the Zuni nation was actually an African Muslim slave named “Estavancio” (a.k.a. Mustafa Zemmouri) who was the killed by the Zuni. After cruising a undulating blacktop vein for hours I unwittingly crossed into Arizona where the road became Arizona’s state route 61, I put my borrowed 2005 Saturn Ion in neutral for a very long time en route to the Phoenix area.
*According to the Wiki entry, Anasazi, a term which I grew up reading about with great fascination, has been cast off into the ash heap of political correctness some time ago (although my university professors were using the term in the 1990s) in favor of Ancient Pueblo Peoples.
Amarillo, Texas- Made a quick stop at Cadillac Ranch, the roadside public art installation off the I-40 in the center of the Texas panhandle. Of course, it’s a cliche visit but that’s the fun of this spot. I was more interested in how other people viewed and interacted with the ten cars covered in a riot of Krylon. The quintessential “been there, done that” experience and enjoyable for just that reason. The Cadillacs to me symbolize the built-in obsolescence of American materialism to which the naively idealized era of the mid-1950s often stands for. Maybe one day there will be a Hummer Ranch???
Oklahoma City- I stopped in downtown Oklahoma City en route from New York to Los Angeles to make a brief pilgrimage to The Gates of Time, the monument on North Harvey street where just over fifteen years ago, a deranged Iraq War I veteran named Timothy McVeigh detonated a Ryder rental truck he obtained in Kansas in front of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building on April 19, 1995 that killed one-hundred sixty-eight people. McVeigh claimed in prison interviews that the (first) Iraq war was borne of America’s inherently hypocritical foreign policy which increasingly irked his sensibilities and that the federal responses and reactions to the respective incidents at Randy Weaver’s Ruby Ridge property in northern Idaho in 1992 and David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in 1993 further radicalized him. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection in a federal prison facility in Terre Haute, Indiana on June 11, 2001.
The Oklahoma City National Memorial is stunning in its subdued simplicity and shines as a condemnation of the trend of anti-Federal terrorism and paranoia espoused by the crackpot militia movements of the 1990s. For all the devastation I have witnessed in the third world’s burning heart and as a witness to 9/11, the Gates of Time stand quietly in the American heartland as a reminder not to fall in the lull of assumption that many in this great country take comfort in. McVeigh reportedly felt remorseless about his victims and described the nineteen children he killed in the building’s daycare center as “collateral damage” according to The Guardian’s Julian Borger. I remember being a first year university student and the news media jumping to conclusions that the bombing could only have been or must have been the work of “Middle Eastern terrorists (read: Arab), which they later blamed on fallible government sources that rendered their inaccurate and non-nuanced reporting blameless (so they said in this American Journalism Review article from 1995). Today a breeze gently blows through the Gates of Time, McVeigh is dead and forgotten as a loner trailer-park terrorist, and America is still in Iraq. Memory. Tragedy.
New York- Photojournalist Jason Florio had a slideshow at the Apple Store in the South of Houston street district tonight where he took the audience through over a decade of adventure and memory spanning Islamic Asia and Africa with 9/11 interspersed. Jason has the before pictures to many of my after. Afghanistan just before 9/11, the towers just before the collapse, Iraq just before the neoconservative destruction of the Ba’ath Party and so on. I took a few snaps on my Blackberry but check his site for a more complete view.