Get Bent

22 Dec

The weather as we set out this morning was a crisp 22 degrees (wind chill 13). As we worked our way west out of Amarillo we began to notice snow dusting the landscape. We drove by Cadillac Ranch (this time at 75 mph on the freeway) and could still see our wadded up paper stuck in the mud near the cars off in the distance.

Before long we came to Adrain, TX, the official midpoint of Route 66. Adrian is famous for the Midway Cafe (which was closed), but we were much more taken with the Bent Door Cafe down the street. As we were taking photos of the building and the gas pumps outside, the owner happened to pull up and invited us in, even though he is closed for the season as well. He just happened to stop by to fill out an insurance form from the place being broken into two nights before during the big snow storm that closed I-40 for the night. Some stranded motorist evidently spyed the electric heater through the window and decided to break the side door and spend the night in the cafe. While we were looking around, he told us some of the history of the building, and the origins of the unusual bent door.

Portions of the building have been on the site since the late 20s, but in the late 1940s it was purchased by a young man who had just returned home from WWII a year earlier. His first year home he had a particularly successful wheat season and used his profits to purchase the cafe. Another item he acquired with his newfound wealth was a portion of the air control tower from a nearby Air Force base that had just been decommissioned, which included the angled windows for viewing the airfield and the unusual bent door. He installed this new section as part of the cafe to attract tourists to the establishment as they drove down Route 66.

This gentleman owned the place for over 40 years, but he eventually sold it to a family that allowed the building to fall into disrepair. Over time, the new family lost it due to not paying taxes, and the original owner got it back. The county gave him an ultimatum – get the place open again in two months or else it would be condemned and demolished. The owner protested that there was too much damage to be fixed in such a short amount of time,but the county would not budge, so he worked non-stop for two months straight to restore the facility and opened on the due date with great fanfare – a huge dance with a band, a BBQ, the works. And the very next day he closed the business and went to Germany for two months. The current owner likened it to Howard Hughes and the Spruce Goose – he just wanted to see if he could do it, and was satisfied with flying it only once, so to speak.

The building once again was left to sit for years, but the current owner is making an effort to restore it to its original glory. While it is closed for the season booths and tables are piled to one side in order to complete repairs on the flat concrete roof, which leaks in many places. The space is filled with photos of the original building and Route 66 memorabilia, and on a wall near the bent door we spied a reminder of home – a poster commemorating Shoeless Joe Jackson.

We got back underway and before long found ourselves in Tucumcari, NM, a veritable treasure trove of vintage signs. These are just a couple of examples, but I don’t think you’ll have to squint too much to see the seeds of future paintings here.

One I’m particularly excited to find is the Golden Dragon Chinese Restaurant sign. I’ve been wanting to paint a vintage Chinese sign for years but have never found one that inspired me. The search is over. (I’m sure those two barking dogs tied up out back are pets, right, and not future members of the “all you cane at u77et?” Right????) (They are).

After Tucumcari it began snowing much more heavily, and the last 80 miles or so into Santa Fe were in a whirlwind of white where it was challenging at times to tell where the horizon ended and the sky began. It was starkly beautiful and not at all scary to drive in, by the way. (Remember, I grew up in Michigan and have a good deal of winter driving experience).

Just as we arrived in the city, the clouds cleared, and we enjoyed a few hours in the square downtown and had an enjoyable meal in the Railyard district. Tonight we’re tucked away in our motel (in the Willie Nelson room, which appropriately has the lyrics to “On the Road Again” in a frame on the bathroom wall) and the snow is falling. Looks like we’ll be enjoying a white Christmas in Santa Fe.

We’re planning on an extensive gallery crawl tomorrow, weather permitting. Updates to come.


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