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Random Ramblings of Driving East

8 Jan

We kicked off 2012 by spending the first week driving home from L.A. (close to 3100 miles), a far less eventful journey than the trip west. I had intentions of blogging each day, but most of the days were long hours of butt-in-seat-of-car and very little sightseeing. In some cases (West Texas, I’m talking about you) there was very little TO see, had we been able to sightsee. Tonight’s post – brought to you from the comfort of my very own couch in Greenville, SC and supervised by Kitty, the Siamese cat who is currently doing her best to become a Siamese Twin she’s been sticking so close – is a collection of random observations of our journey home and some random facts and figures for you numbers geeks out there.

– 6451.4 – # of miles driven on the trip – just shy of the 6600 I hoped for

– 33.4 – average mpg – pretty good for mostly being a stop-and-go trip and considering how much stuff we were lugging along

– 9313 – # of photographs taken on the trip, + however many were snapped with our phones (probably at least 200 on mine alone)

– 16 – # of states traveled through; 5 of which I had never been to before

– 6 – # of Lebowski references in this post

Random observations:

– They call Los Angeles the city of angels. I didn’t find it to be that exactly, though I’ll allow as there are some nice folks there.

– Tucson is a city I would very much like to visit. We only saw the fringes of it but it looks quite beautiful.

– It is true that Texas Canyon (about 50 miles east of Tucson) is pretty much the only interesting thing to see between Tucson and San Antonio.

– New Mexico has very zen highway signs. Some of my favorites:

– Gusty Winds May Exist

– Zero Visibility is Possible

– During Colder Months Ice May Exist

– Dust Storms May Exist

Obviously whoever wrote these was not in the unique position of being able to confirm or disconfirm the suspicion that these entities exist.

– Texas is big. It’s friggin’ huge. 892 miles across I-10. Sadly, everything you suspect about West Texas is true. It is big and barren and pretty darn flat and driving through it seems to take an eternity. I’d like to be all philosophical and say there was a stark beauty that only someone with a refined aesthetic can appreciate (and that may be true) but I would be lying if I said that I possess this refined aesthetic. I was ready to crash the plane (car) into the goddamn mountain just for some excitement.

– After driving 12 hours through the boredom that is West Texas, you will not find the excitement you crave in the rusty dusty burg of Ft. Stockton. Unless your idea of excitement is a steakhouse in a pole barn building, a former gas station that is now a gun/tackle/bait store (and where are they fishing, exactly? It’s a dust bowl out there) or Wal-Mart. If those satisfy, then you are in luck.

– I’m not sure if hill country in the middle of Texas is really pretty or just regular pretty, but it sure is a welcome sight when you finally get there.

– San Antonio is bigger than expected, the Alamo smaller than expected. The riverwalk area is cool but obviously party central – this week they are doing their annual “draining of the river” to clean out all the chairs, beer bottles and random trash that gets tossed in by drunken revelers the rest of the year.

– I am glad we spent a day in Austin. First, it was nice to have a break after three solid 12 hour+ driving days. Second, it is a city that practically everyone suggests to us as a place we would love, and we’ve always wondered. My biggest fear was that we would fall in love with it and then I would somehow have to come to grips with the idea of living in Texas and dealing with heat/humidity, etc. Thankfully, this was not the case – we both pretty much hated it. There were a few neat stores and they did have a bunch of neon signs that will make good paintings, but it was completely overrun with what JJ calls “hipster doofuses” (who all have a whole “cowboy” thing going on), everything was super expensive, and I’m not sure if we just missed it (I don’t think so, because we specifically went looking for them) but we could not find a single art gallery in the city. Of course they are a music-oriented town and are very supportive of musicians, so kudos for that, and supposedly there are good art festivals that happen during certain times of the year. I could see living there if we were trying to break into the music industry or if we were 24 year old recent college graduates looking to get laid. But we are neither of those things, so for us it just wasn’t appealing at all. I’m still glad we stayed for a couple days, because now we know and never need return unless some of our musician friends hit it big and we want to travel to hear them play.

– As much as I am a fan of Mark Rothko, the Rothko chapel in Houston was a disappointment. The paintings are supposed to be serene and meditative but to me they are dark, drab and depressing, and no one would commend them for being strongly vaginal. Of course he did commit suicide about 6 months after completing that work so they were probably indicative of his mental state at the time.

– Vegas only wishes it could be as decadent as New Orleans. You all know I love Vegas specifically because it is so fake – and compared to NOLA even their “Sin City” moniker comes off as a made up marketing ploy (not least of all because that’s exactly what it is). Other than gambling, NOLA beats Vegas hands down on every vice in the book. NOLA is sin city for real, with better looking, more authentic buildings. Gluttony, sloth, lust – check, check, check. Plus the best people-watching ever. And we were there on two off days between New Years and the BCS championship game – I can’t even imagine how rowdy the city must be during those times. From everything JJ told me about it ahead of time I fully expected to hate it. My thinking about the city had become very uptight, but now – ah -I get it. Can’t wait to go back.

– I hate driving through Atlanta. Every time we drive through it I am sure I am going to die in a horrible traffic accident from everyone going 90 mph in the 55 zone and swerving randomly across 6 lanes of traffic. It was by far the most stressful 1.5 hours of driving on the entire trip.

– After living mainly in hotel rooms for 3 weeks, our apartment seems HUGE.

– There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed.

– I don’t really want to get back to my “real life” tomorrow, but I am very excited to get busy sorting through images and making paintings.

– I appreciate all of you who have supported me and followed along with my journey more than I express. Thank you for coming along with me.

The End of the Road

31 Dec

Sorry I’m late on this post – I had a hard time wrapping my head around what to say now that traveling Route 66 has gone from something I want to do to something I have done. It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling. I know we have a week of more adventures on the way back home and a whole lot of painting ahead of me, but it had an air of finality to it that was a mixture of “hell yeah, I finally did it” and “oh crap, now it’s over.” I had to console myself with some dim sum in Chinatown, a trip to the Getty, a second visit to the Beauty Foot Massage parlor, and another helping of olive oil ice cream. I think I’m doing better now.

We headed out Friday morning to finish the rest of the route from Abby’s house (near Pasadena) all the way out to Santa Monica. Route 66 is only a block away from Abby’s house. We headed west through her neighborhood and toward downtown L.A. on the surface streets. I was thankful to be able to avoid the Pasadena freeway, which is more than a little bit scary. It does not have merge lanes; instead you come to a stop sign, assess oncoming traffic, and attempt to go from zero to 60 in two seconds. This could be a lot of fun if we had a fast car, but the Fit is no speed demon, especially when loaded down with all the stuff we’ve brought on the trip. The lanes are narrow and the road is twisty, and everyone drives like a bat out of hell. The exits are even more fun – they are marked “5 mph maximum” and they are not kidding, because essentially you’re making a right hand turn onto a side street, not getting off on a long exit ramp.

The surface streets took us through a nondescript industrial area, past Dodger Stadium (I am going to assume that the signs telling you the stadium is there are not lying – you can’t see it because it’s behind a hill. We’ve driven past it at least 10 times and I have yet to see it). Then we hit Chinatown. What a gold mine of painting images! I am so glad it is on the route because I wanted to paint it anyway, but now I feel like it is a requirement. It was by far the best part of the rest of the route.

From Chinatown on the traffic was thick, but we headed on through the Silverlake area, which is hipster central, and on out through West Hollywood, Westwood, Beverly Hills and out to the beach. I was surprised by how little there was of interest painting-wise on this longer stretch, although there were a few things.

Aside from gathering photos it was interesting to observe the way the neighborhoods change, though I was frustrated knowing that we were traveling parallel to the Sunset Strip, which is only a short way away over and offers much more neon. But, we stuck to the route, and this was our typical view. At least the palm trees are cool.

Silverlake is neat but seems as if it’s trying too hard to be cool – every building has graffiti, but you can tell it’s sanctioned and planned out, it doesn’t happen organically. West Hollywood is clean and has that quintessential “Hollywood” look – really cute houses and shops interspersed with places like the Pleasure Chest, a famous “toy” store. Beverly Hills has a park that runs down one side of the boulevard where we saw several homeless people sleeping right in front of a huge sign that said “welcome to Beverly Hills.” It also has a section of office buildings, all of which appear to be banks or doctor’s offices. Every side street we looked down was filled with huge, beautiful houses, mostly behind gates. Westwood has a Starbucks on every single corner, every chain store & restaurant you can think of, and lots and lots of white people. From WeHo to Westwood was probably the greatest concentration of women with boob jobs and bleached-blonde hair I have ever encountered. I hate to buy into the stereotype (L.A. people are fake)  but in this area it appeared to be at least partially true.

Soon we finding our way into Santa Monica to find another first for me – a vintage, interesting hardware store sign – the Busy Bee.

We found our way toward Ocean Boulevard and once we got within a few blocks of the beach it became foggy and the temperature dropped about 15 degrees. Santa Monica ends at Ocean Boulevard at the little building below, which is the official end of the route, but tradition is to end the trip with a walk out onto the Santa Monica pier a couple of blocks south.

We found parking and headed out to the end of the pier, just the two of us, the ocean below, 1000 screaming children and a flock of agressive, dive-bombing seagulls. It seemed appropriate to end the trip the same way we started – by walking. The only disappointing thing about the pier is that we weren’t able to get great photos of the rides because of the fog, but we did document the end of the road.

Today we’re hanging out with Abby and going out to celebrate New Year’s eve, so no post tonight. Tomorrow we’re heading homeward. I’ll be blogging on the ride home but it won’t be every night. The first part is probably going to be pretty boring – interstate 10 through west Texas – but we will have a day stopover in Austin and one in New Orleans, so I’m sure I’ll find some interesting things to tell you about.

I did decide on my New Year’s resolution: to continue living adventurously.

Happy New Year!


Laid Back West Coast Living

29 Dec

We slept in this morning! I know that probably doesn’t sound very exciting, but we have been getting up at 5 or 6 am every day and driving 8-12 hours, so sleeping as late as we wanted was a big deal.

The other nice perk is that we didn’t try to cram 500 things into the day. We purposely scheduled a nice, 4-day interlude in L.A. to rest and recoup for the long drive home, so while we’re definitely sightseeing, we’re doing it at a much more leisurely pace. Getting into the west coast spirit, if you will.

Around lunchtime we backtracked through Pasadena to photograph a few of the signs we passed coming in last evening but couldn’t photograph because it was too dark. They are busy preparing for the Rose Parade and there are banners and bleachers all over town. Pasadena has some great architecture including the craftsman style bungalows they are famous for, but also some nice art deco stuff.

Another couple of firsts for me found in Pasadena: a psychic sign that may be painting-worthy, and a model train sign. I especially love how the psychic put a registration mark on the drawing of a palm – I guess because it includes a “business” line. We also found a great surplus sign that is begging to be painted.

I don’t know why, but around this area we have found so many great neon liquor store signs. I could easily make a show of just liquor stores if I wanted to.

We met Abby for lunch at her favorite local bakery and then she drove us around the rose bowl where there were hundreds of people lined up to get a glimpse of the rose parade floats which are under assembly now. The parade is a huge disruption to traffic around the city and a real annoyance to the locals. She also took us to several nearby neighborhoods so we could get a feel for the area. It was nice to be the passenger for a while and be able to look around without having to pay attention to traffic. One of the great things she took us by is the Rialto Theater. Everything on the front of the building is carved wood and it’s just gorgeous. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

This evening Abby had plans to see a friend perform in the Nutcracker, so JJ & I headed downtown to MOCA – the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is – yay! – free on Thursdays. The museum is smallish but has some nice pieces in their permanent collection including an entire room full of Rothko works. The special exhibit was something we both really enjoyed. It was a photographer named Weegee, who was a self-invented personality in the 50s and sort of the first paparazzi, but with a twist. He not only photographed the movie stars, he photographed the reaction of the crowd at premiers and general life in L.A. in the 50s. It was interesting to see how much of what he was doing in the 50s influenced other, later artists in other media and dovetails into our idea of celebrity today. Here’s a link to some info about the exhibit and a few examples of  his work if you’re interested:

After the museum we toured the Little Tokyo area downtown and then headed back toward Abby’s neighborhood. We had a great meal at an Italian place called Maximiliano’s that just opened up in Highland Park. Everything was delicious, but the highlight was dessert – olive oil ice cream with salted caramel topping. Yum! We briefly discussed heading back to Beauty Foot Massage but decided to take a day off lest we develop a dangerous habit.

Tomorrow we’re planning to be slightly less lazy and get up early to drive the rest of Route 66 out to Santa Monica. I’m excited to see what we will find along the way and to visit the famous pier at the end of the route. Of course I will be posting updates.


California Here We Come for $15 Asian Massage

28 Dec

If this post title doesn’t get me a bunch of hits from Google search, I don’t know what will.

We committed the blasphemy of going to bed before midnight and then rising before dawn in Vegas to get an early start toward L.A. and the final leg of Route 66, leaving the glitter and grime of Sin City behind us. Little did we know how much the view out the window was going to change.

For the first several hours it was unrelenting nothingness as far as the eye could see. Craggy peaks in the distance with nothing but flat, dry, brown dirt leading up to them. We did not see a single living thing and only a few cars for at least the first 3 hours. This leg of the route its desolation personified. Because of the monotony of the scenery, soon any little variation became a cause for excitement. I yelped for joy when I saw a “cattle crossing” sign in hopes of seeing some other living creature, but alas, no cows. Route 66 markers painted into the road were the only photogenic thing for miles and miles.

After a while we began noticing odd piles of rocks here and there, and before long we came to a stretch of road that had a natural bluff on the side of it that went on for miles and miles. People gather rocks from the area and spell out their names on the bluff. This probably went on for over 15 miles. We found one display of a 66 made out of the ceramic bumps that are often imbedded in the road as lane markers. We saw that names written in white showed up the best, so we have decided the next time we make the trip we’ll  need to bring a bag of white gravel and spell something out on the side. Nearby was an enormous pile of the ceramic reflectors, so I grabbed enough to recreate this “66” at home (below).

Before long we encountered an abandoned structure completely covered in graffiti. Since it just so happened that we were carrying spray paint from our failed attempt to tag Cadillac Ranch, we couldn’t resist putting a little promo up on the wall.

Several more miles down the road brought us to Roy’s in Amboy, which still has a functioning gas station. The more interesting aspect was the abandoned motel next door with a great Googie-style lobby building that I wish I could pick up and move home with me. It’s a little difficult to tell in the photo, but the roof slants up at about a 30 degree angle and the columns get taller as they go along. The inside still featured some great 60s era furnishings, and I swear I could move right in other than the fact of it being so far in the middle of nothingness I would surely lose my mind within the first week. The little bungalows that served as hotel rooms provided some Hopper-esque photos that I’m fairly sure will end up in a painting.

Next, more nothingness, and then – lava! Did you know there is a volcano out in the Mojave desert? Me neither, but here’s the proof.

After what seemed like forever we finally approached the beginnings of “civilization” which quickly turned into a never-ending parade of restaurants and strip malls marching ever westward into Los Angeles. All of a sudden the landscape changed from brown and dry to exactly what you picture when you think of sunny California – palm trees of every variety, bouganvillia blooming everywhere, and exotic flowers like bird of paradise.

By the time we reached Pasadena the sun was going down, ending our photography opportunities for the day. We headed straight to JJ’s cousin Abby’s house  (she is kindly hosting us for our three day stay in the area). She took us to a great restaurant famous for Vietnamese comfort food, where I awkwardly tried to figure out how to eat vegetarian butternut squash Pho using chopsticks without covering myself in broth. I was partially successful, and what did manage to get into my mouth was delicious. Then we headed off to the best and weirdest part of the evening.

I wish I could show you a photo of what I’m about to describe because I fear you won’t believe me, but for reasons that will become clear, photography would not have been appropriate at this location. I swiped the above photo off the internet, just to prove I’m not making this up – these places exist. During dinner Abby tells us about about Beauty Foot Massage, an Asian place she loves where you get an hour long full body massage for $15. That is not a typo. “But,” she cautions,” they also pretty much expect a $5 tip.” So, $20 for a massage. We of course express disbelief at the price, since it’s late we assume they’re closed, and we say “maybe tomorrow we’ll check it out.”  But this is L.A., so of course they’re open at 10 pm on a Wednesday. Abby convinces us we must go now so we head over. To her credit, Abby did her best to prepare us on the way over so we wouldn’t be completely taken aback (you keep your clothes on except for your shoes & socks, they soak your feet while massaging your neck & head, then rub your feet, then flip you over and work on your back). Ok, sounds like any other massage to me other than being dressed, and hey – $20. This won’t be weird at all.

But, what she didn’t tell us, and what would probably be impossible to prepare someone for, is that your massage takes place in a large, open room while 14 other people are being simultaneously massaged all around you. When you walk into the place there is no lobby or waiting area to ease the shock – you simply walk into this huge, dark room where 15 people are sprawled out on red velvet massage chair/bed things and 15 Chinese people are climbing all over them, and there’s a tiny desk at the front with a sour-looking Asian woman who immediately tells you to shush. This trippy scene – which looks very nearly like every opium den in every movie you’ve ever watched except for the addition of a flat-screen tv on the wall showing Benjamin Button with the sound turned off – is scored by a soundtrack of whispered Chinese conversation, loud smacking/slapping noises that remind you of the sound of meat being tenderized, and an occasional enthusiastic belch from the gassy massage therapist in the corner. It’s kind of weird (ok, more than kind of). But the signs ask you to maintain “absolute silence, please” and the receptionist lady is glaring at you with a pinched, disapproving expression, and somehow this stops you from running screaming from the building because with her looking at you all accusingly like that you just wouldn’t dare. So you just stand there trying not to gawk, unsuccessfully, of course.

Before long you are taken to your very own red velvet massage table/chair thingy, where you will receive one off the best massages of your life. I would rank it #1 in fully-clothed massages I have experienced, and pretty high in the running of massages overall. If they had one of these places at home I would seriously go there 3 times a week, but I have a feeling the Asian massage places by us are different – more…..stereotypical, if you will. Abby is practically addicted and has a frequent customer card; after 9 massages she gets the 10th one free. After we were done she told she was sorry for taking us there on the first night because she’ll never be able to show us anything else in L.A. that will top it. We’re already making plans to go back at least once more before we leave. I have a whole new mental picture when I hear the words “Asian Massage” now.

Thursday we’re going to drive the rest of the route to the end in Santa Monica. I’ll be posting updates later tonight.


Vegas, Baby!

27 Dec

I couldn’t drive within 100 miles of Vegas and not make a side trip. My favorite place (and best source of fodder for future paintings) is there – the Neon Boneyard. Plus, we had a date on 11/11/11 to renew our wedding vows with Elvis and weren’t able to get out here then, but the chapel was nice enough to let us transfer to another date instead of forfeiting our deposit on account of our date being so popular. Normally they do about 30 ceremonies in a day; on 11/11/11 they did over 300.

We started off from Flagstaff bright and early and headed west on one of the best-preserved sections of Route 66. We first arrived in Williams, which is home to this fabulous bull sign. Williams is laid out in two one-way streets that make a loop; this restaurant is situated between them. The owners thoughtfully put a message on the sign to let people know if they are going the wrong way through town. Williams is home to many other small businesses that have embraced the Route 66 theme. Unfortunately since we were there at about 7 am, none of them were open.

Next we were on to Seligman and Peach Springs, where – true to form – the Arizona scenery changed once again. If you are familiar with the Pixar movie “Cars,” you can tell that they took a lot of the inspiration for the geography of the fictional town Radiator Springs from this area.  We alternated between open expanses of gorgeous scenery interrupted sporadically by small towns and the random route outpost, such as this abandoned trailer park/gift shop that has a giant Easter Island-inspired head in the front. Why? Why the hell not?

Once we hit Kingman we broke away from the route to head north to Vegas. This 90 mile stretch is one of the most desolate drives I have ever been on and all the scenery is uniformly rocky and brown. Distances are deceptive out here – things appear to only be a short distance away but they are in fact many, many miles off. At one point to relieve boredom we chose a random peak in the distance and made a bet how many miles away we thought it was. I said 20, JJ said 25. It turned out to be 23.7, so we were both pretty close.

There is one odd little outpost along the way between Kingman and Vegas that is well worth seeking out if you ever are in the area. It’s a town called Chloride, AZ, located approximately 4 miles off Highway 93 about 20 miles north of Kingman. The town has a population of only 342 people, all of whom have embraced a sort of crazy-from-the-sun desert folk art aesthetic for decorating the town. The sign welcoming you to town is a fence covered with assorted rusted debris gathered from the desert. Nearly every home in town is festooned with improvised sculptures made from old water heaters, pieces of abandoned cars, rocks or animal bones. JJ stopped into the post office to get a stamp and asked how all the art got started, to which the clerk replied, “I don’t know, it’s just what we do.” She also told him that he is the first person from SC she has ever met. As we left town I noticed what appeared to once be the town’s gas station, but is now someone’s home. They’ve either left or collected old gas pumps to put out front, but mysteriously surrounded them with a miniature train track. Why? Why the hell not? They also had some other great sculptures scattered about.

On to Vegas, where we arrived with enough time to have a quick lunch, which I determined should be of the liquid variety because hey, it’s Vegas. Why the hell not? I headed straight for the Russian vodka bar in Mandalay Bay for a bloody Mary, only to find they were not going to be open for several more hours. What happened to Vegas being a 24-hour town? House of Blues proved to have a decent one, though, and JJ enjoyed his Jack Daniels Manhattan as well. We killed time until our 2 pm appointment at my favorite place on earth, the place where my ashes should be scattered after I die – the Neon Boneyard. If you are ever in Vegas, you simply must put this place #1 on your to-do list. The casinos and bars are open 24 hours and you’ll have plenty of time to drink, gamble, or do whatever else it is you want to have happen in Vegas that stays in Vegas. Please do yourself a favor and book an appointment at the boneyard for a tour – they only offer two tours per day. The signs are fabulous of course, but what really sets this place apart are their tour guides who convey in an hour and a half the history of Las Vegas illustrated through the signs on display. It’s probably the most cultural spot in the whole city. Seriously, check it

I’m only going to share one photo to give you a taste; I have to horde my others as future painting references.

Tip – you may be able to make out the side view of the skull that used to hang on Treasure Island on the right side of this photo. If you do a google map search for the neon boneyard and click on satellite view, the skull will be staring up at you. They did that to scare away aliens.

After the boneyard we headed off for our appointment with Elvis, where we laughed our heads off reciting our special “Elvis vows” to renew our marriage. (He promises to never act like a hound dog, whining all the time. I promise to never step on his blue suede shoes. I also promise never to let him buy blue suede shoes).

Our “Elvis” (Harry) was fantastic and we had a lot of fun. When we are able to download our photo off the web I’ll post one here because of course it is impossible to take photos with Elvis using your own camera. He’s invisible to all but the special Graceland Chapel camera, which produces images that cost $25 each. Seriously, the folks at Graceland are great and they made our actual wedding two years ago and our renewal last night really fun and special. If you want a quick, easy, fun, no-fuss wedding I highly recommend the Vegas route.

Sadly, we knew we had to be on the road bright and early again so we actually were in bed by midnight (!) in Vegas. That’s the closest thing to blasphemy in Vegas. I’m sure that because of our insensitivity, somewhere in the city a showgirl lost her wings.

Updates on our journey into L.A. in a bit – as promised, I will get caught up from skipping a day of updates.


Four Day’s Worth of Sightseeing in 12 Hours

26 Dec

Today we took a whirlwind tour around northern Arizona so JJ could see some of the fantastic scenery in the area. We crammed way too much into a day and I am now exhausted, but at least he was able to get a sense of the natural beauty and understand why I love to visit here (I have been here many times but this is JJ’s first).

We started off bright and early out of Flagstaff for the 35  mile drive through Oak Creek Canyon into Sedona. We saw elk along the way and enjoyed beautiful views of the canyon walls high above us as we followed alongside the meandering creek. Before long we were in Sedona, with its stunning red rock formations that offer some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

The backdrop of red rocks should be enough of a draw for anyone, but there is also pretty heavy new-age vibe in Sedona on account of the energy vortexes that are supposedly situated around the area (shockingly enough, they are all located immediately adjacent to the main roads and hiking trails for convenience). There are also lots of places to get your aura photographed or to buy candles ”infused with the spirit of the white buffalo.” Of course JJ had to ask HOW they infuse the buffalo spirit into the candle. Evidently they collect the fur from the white buffalo during molting season, burn it, and capture the essence from the smoke. This explanation was delivered in a completely irony-free manner by a woman who went on to explain that the person who makes the white buffalo-infused candles was instrumental in getting the herd relocated to Oregon, which frankly may end up putting a dent in the local white-buffalo-essence-infusing market.

All of this new-age stuff is fine if you’re into that sort of thing, but the vibe has melted over into the art scene with oddly disturbing results. Let’s just say that Santa Fe has nothing to fear in defending their title of art capital of the southwest. Though there are lots of galleries in and around Sedona, the work mostly falls into two categories: idealized but inaccurate depictions of Native Americans and/or wildlife, and mind-blowingly ugly “contemporary” art (read: splashy abstract works in colors so bright they make your retinas bleed) . We saw numerous examples of both types but the epitome has got to be this artist, who we instantly dubbed “the Thomas Kincaid of southwest art.” His name is Bearcloud. That’s Mr. Bearcloud to you. Be warned, you cannot un-see what I am about to unleash upon you. Behold:

Like other things we saw later in the day (but for very different reasons) the photo simply cannot do this work justice. Not sure if you can tell, but in the clouds there is a woman and a – raven? Eagle? Phoenix? Some winged thing. Plus a buffalo and a whole mess o’ galloping horses for good measure. This work is obviously symbolic (in light of that, let’s just ignore that rock formation in the foreground – too tired to go there tonight). On some of his original pieces the clouds extend out onto the mats and frames. Every piece has that weird pastel-blacklight-glitter thing that I thought only Kincaid could capture. But – the guy has a gallery in the most expensive shopping center in Sedona (and Kincaid doesn’t) so obviously he knows something we don’t.

After a couple of hours you get used to the general weirdness, so that when you eventually encounter a giant fiberglass chicken overlooking the road you simply think, “sure, why the hell not?”

A few miles down the freeway is an amazing Native American cliff dwelling called Montezuma’s Castle. It has been abandoned since around 1400 but is still standing. It is a really amazing thing to see the dwelling perched near the top of a cliff overlooking the river and surrounding valley. I’d love to show it to you, but the blog is not cooperating and gives me an error message every time I try to add the photo, so here’s the next best thing:

Next we drove north for a quick look at the Grand Canyon. We made it about an hour before sunset and walked a mile or so along the rim. The photos can’t do it justice either, so I’ll only share one of JJ sitting on the ledge. He was rendered speechless, and for those of you who know him, you understand that is no small feat.

Tomorrow we’re back on Route 66 through Arizona with an overnight jaunt to Las Vegas where we will visit the neon boneyard in the afternoon and renew our wedding vows at the Graceland Chapel with Elvis in the evening. Stay tuned for updates.


20,000 Words About Albuquerque

25 Dec

Today we drove from Santa Fe to Flagstaff, which is a stunningly gorgeous drive scenery-wise. It proved to be a fruitful day sign-wise as well. We took over 1200 photos today, and saw so many wonderful things I’m honestly overwhelmed and don’t quite know what to focus on. So in the spirit of “a picture is worth a thousand words” I give you 20 pictures of signs from Albuquerque, NM. The 20 mile stretch of Route 66 through the city would probably give me enough source material to make 100 paintings.

Tomorrow I’ll regroup and share some of the great stuff we saw in other parts of NM and Arizona, but tonight, I’m letting the pictures do the talking. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.


“Some Gringo got it Wrong”

24 Dec

Today we enjoyed a cold but clear day in Santa Fe with beautiful blue skies. We spent a few hours in the Railyard district looking at galleries (only racked up $26,000 in imaginary purchases today, on one piece) and had a great lunch at Tomasita’s restaurant. Then we headed downtown to wander through the areas we did  not cover yesterday. We did manage to add a couple more pieces to our affordable art collection. Merry Christmas to us. These two are not PG rated, however, so I cannot post pictures.

A friend who has been visiting Santa Fe annually since she was a child kept telling us how blue the sky is there – often appearing almost navy blue. I didn’t believe her until now – the sky is so amazingly clear out here. Maybe it’s also due to the lack of humidity, but whatever the cause, it’s gorgeous. Check out a couple of great “arty” shots JJ took that show off the sky:

Christmas Eve is a big deal in Santa Fe, and everyone we’ve spoken with over the last three days has strongly suggested (read: practically threatened us at gunpoint) that we do the Canyon Road walk to look at the farolitos. In case you didn’t know (we didn’t) a farolito is what most people refer to as a luminaria – a paper bag with sand and a candle inside. According to Penny, our friendly hotel manager, a luminaria is actually a small bonfire. “Some gringo got it wrong,” she told us, and that is why most people mistakenly call the bags luminarias. According to Wikipedia the terms are interchangeable, but I’m not going to argue with Penny.

To review, with handy visual references:


these ^^ are farolitos

this ^^ is a luminaria

Now that we’re all on the same page, the big deal is that once a year all the houses, galleries and businesses on Canyon road line the sidewalks, fence rails, and tops of the buildings with farolitos. They close the road to cars and everyone walks around drinking and singing Christmas carols. Occasionally groups will gather around luminarias that are lit in various areas. I think every person in the city must have been out walking the road this evening. It was quite beautiful and unlike any Christmas display I have ever seen.

Also, this happened. Don’t know why that dude’s looking at me funny.

Tomorrow we’re back on the road and headed to Flagstaff.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!



23 Dec

I’ll explain that number in a bit.

We woke this morning to find about 6 inches of snow on the ground, which added a magical look to the city (this photo taken later in the day, after a bit of melting).

The car did not look particularly magical, and it looks even less so now after driving around  in slush all day. Give the little Fit credit, though, it handles the snow like a champ.

The two hour time difference makes us uncharacteristically early risers, so we went downtown to the Plaza and had a great breakfast at The French Pastry Shop at the La Fonda hotel, which was – true to its name – quite French and very delicious. Afterwards we walked around the square, where we came to a block-long stretch of Navajo vendors selling turquoise and silver jewelry. As we were browsing we struck up a conversation with one of the vendors, Coral Guerro, who explained to us that the waiting list to be a vendor on the square is now ten years out, and that most of the people who have a space are 3rd and 4th generation silversmiths. (Coral is 4th generation). She also explained the requirements that must be met, including that all the stones must be natural – not dyed or altered in any way, and that the silver must be sterling or higher. In addition, the vendors themselves must be Native American and must demonstrate in front of a committee that they are in fact silversmiths and make the jewelry themselves. This is to avoid natives selling imported pieces and passing them off as genuine.

One pair of earrings caught my eye, and Coral explained that they were one of her original designs created to honor her grandmother, whose native name means “warrior.” The two silver balls between the turquoise pieces are meant to represent her upraised fists – she’s ready and able to fight off all adversaries who come her way. JJ & I both had feisty grandmothers, so we immediately connected with the representation. When Coral told me the turquoise came from the Kingman mine in Arizona, I was sold. (Kingman is a town on the Route). So, early Christmas present for me.

Next we spent some time in the Georgia O’Keeffe museum (spelled with two “f’s” – I learned today I have been spelling it wrong for years). The woman who taught JJ to paint learned from Georgia O’Keeffe, so it was particularly meaningful to him to see the museum. We listened to a docent talk and learned that Georgia was highly offended by the critic’s and general public’s commendation of her early abstract work as being strongly vaginal. (Perhaps tomorrow we will make it through the blog without a Lebowski reference, but I doubt it). Ironically, this interpretation is what led her to begin painting more representational pieces such as flowers and cow skulls, which arguably are even more evocative of the um, female form.

Once we’d had our fill of famous, expensive, floral vagina art, we headed over to Canyon Road to see other expensive, far less vaginal art. And that brings us to the title of this post. At dinner tonight, JJ & I calculated how much we would have spent today if we could afford to buy every piece we wanted. We came up with $162,702, not including sales tax or shipping fees. And this was being really strict and only including pieces we would really like to own if we could, not just pieces we kind of liked. As an example, of all the work I saw today I only would have purchased four pieces (assuming unlimited funds), but those four would add up to over $70,000. It was quite inspiring to see the variety of the art represented and the enthusiasm and appreciation of art that permeates the city. And incidentally, I don’t think anything we saw today could be considered overpriced.

We didn’t leave empty handed, though – JJ spotted these “stackable cattle” sculptures that he really liked, so he got an early Christmas present as well. Between our two purchases we spent less than 1/100oth of what we would have with our imaginary budget.

By late afternoon we were “arted out” and decided to seek out more delicious native New Mexican food. We found a nice local place that makes the best margaritas I have ever had, made with agave wine instead of tequila, which means they are relatively safe for me to drink. (Those of you who know me well know that tequila + me = instant idiot). The only bad thing about these drinks (and the food) is that I will now crave them on a regular basis and not be able to satisfy that craving.

More updates tomorrow – we enjoy another full day in Santa Fe before heading to Flagstaff on Chrismas day.


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.