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.


The Best Laid Plans

21 Dec

If you’ve been following the Tweets, you already know this story is going to get dirty. Very dirty. Filthy, even. But there were a few other events that deserve mentioning so I will cover them first. Gonna be a long post tonight…

As we left Tulsa this morning I spotted this fantastic sign for Daylight Donuts. Of course we had to go inside to get a donut and we started chatting with the owner. I told her the sign would probably become a painting and she was excited because she’s getting ready to start a fundraising campaign to restore it. I asked her to keep me informed so if I get further info on that I’ll be sure to share. We had a donut called a pinecone, which looked kind of like an exploding flower and was described as an “inside out cinammon roll that’s deep fried.” It tasted just as good as you would expect a sugary, fried dough bomb to taste. By which I mean, it was awesome.

A few miles down the road we encountered one of the famous road landmarks, the round barn in Arcadia, OK, which as you can see, is indeed round.

Just down the street is a newly-built attraction called Pops. I was prepared to hate it since I am into the vintage sights, but this place was really cool. They sell over 400 different brands of soda, all cold and all in glass bottles. Brands I haven’t seen in years (Faygo Redpop ring a bell for any of you Detroit-area readers?) and some I’ve never heard of. They’re arranged by color/flavor – all the grape in one cooler, orange in another, and so on. You grab an empty 6-pack carton and pick and choose what you like. Of course we had to pick up a variety as souvenirs.

The most peaceful part of the day was a little further west, where we got to drive on an extensive section of original 1930s concrete, much of it with curbs. The concrete is a pinkish color, and in this area you can see miles and miles of mostly nothing, which gives you a great idea of what it must have felt like to drive the route in the 20s or 30s.

As we entered Texas, we encountered what is billed as the largest cross in the western hemisphere, which implies some larger cross exists in the eastern hemisphere, but I digress.

Ok, now things are going to get dirty.

Amarillo is home to the famous Cadillac Ranch, 10 mid-century finned Cadillacs buried nose-first into the ground. It’s one of the sights I have been most excited to see, and one of the big events on this trip was for JJ & me to graffiti one of the cars with the names of all the sponsors of Project 66. JJ laid out a great design before we left and we printed it up in large format to wheat paste on one of the cars. We were at Lowe’s in Tulsa at 6:30 am picking up the supplies to paste it on along with some spray paint to further decorate with after it was affixed. We’ve been talking about it all day – what’s the best way to put it up, what angle to photograph it, etc. We got into Amarillo with plenty of sunlight left to work, and found the location with no trouble at all. So far, so good.

Then we looked across the road and saw this:

A row of 10 Cadillacs beckoning in the distance. In between us and them: anywhere from 200 to 300 yards of muddy field that may or may not have contained cow poop, but certainly smelled as if it did. I have to admit, for a split second I was disappointed, thinking that we were going to miss out.  But we are  dedicated artists! I didn’t come 1978 miles to watch my buddies die in the muck… sorry. Went all Lebowski on you there. The point is, I wanted to see some cars, I promised some people graffiti, we were going to go make some graffiti.

You may think from this image that there are just a few puddly places, that to the left and right of the water the ground is dry. You would be very, very wrong. Walking across this was like ice skating in banana pudding – you would slide with every step, but not in a predictable direction. You also had to move quickly or else you would sink. And with every step, your shoes would gain another ounce of gooey, sticky mud. And we were carrying a gallon of wheat paste, assorted spray cans, a huge cardboard tube with the paper rolled up inside, and a brand new, pretty expensive digital camera, all of which we wanted to keep clean and mud-free.

Quickly we learned that short steps and a rapid pace were the way to go, and after much cursing and a lot of laughing we made it to our destination. JJ began to prep the wheat paste, and I unrolled the paper to ready it for application. And did not take into account the 20-25 mph wind. You know, the wind that had been blowing on us for the 10 minutes it took to traverse the sea of mud. The wind which immediately ripped the graffiti from my hand and rolled it like a tumbleweed across the muddy field.

So, what I’m saying is – the “massive graffiti tag on Cadillac Ranch” did not quite turn out as I planned. As promised, here is a photo with everyone’s name near the cars. It’s kind of an “arty” shot:

Despite the frustration of  not getting the tag done, I haven’t  laughed that much in a long time and I know our visit to Cadillac Ranch is one we won’t soon forget. Our shoes will never be the same, though I’m surprised we didn’t get much dirtier.

I’m going to let the mud dry and preserve the shoes as a souvenir. They’ll probably be displayed on a pedestal next to a painting of Cadillac Ranch.

JJ, however, had the bright idea to wash his shoes off in the hotel bath tub. This did not go well. This photo is not the vast Amarillo landscape, it is the inside of the bottom of the tub after he was done cleaning his shoes. We’ve cleaned it up the best we can, but the hotel maid is getting a giant tip when we check out tomorrow for the trouble.

Tomorrow we’re up bright and early to photograph the other interesting sights around Amarillo, then heading west for a little side trip to Santa Fe. We’ll be taking a break from driving and staying put there for a couple of days.

Updates tomorrow.


Welcome to TULSA. (not Oklahoma City)

20 Dec

I am not sure why I had in my head that today we were going to make it all the way to Oklahoma City. The destination all along for the day was Tulsa, and thank goodness because there is no way we could have made it any further without skipping sights, and there were many wonderful sights to see today despite being dogged by rain for all but an hour or two.

We left St. Louis bright and early and headed out on the route. As we wound our way west through Missouri I was pleasantly surprised by how pretty the countryside is. I lived in Missouri for a few years when I was very young but that area of the state was all flat farmland, nothing like the rolling hills we encountered. We passed through many small towns, most of which had at least one great hotel or gas station sign. In Lebanon, we also found the Bell Restaurant, which unfortunately is about to be demolished. We got great photos of the building and sign, and a few through the window of the great old diner interior. It’s possible that we may be the last people to photograph the site before it’s gone forever.

We had a great lunch in Springfield, MO, which was much larger than I expected and had a very charming downtown area. Not long after that we crossed the state line for the extremely short 13 mile stretch of Route 66 through Kansas. Though it was raining pretty hard and was slow going on a narrow road, it was well worth it to see the Rainbow Bridge, the only remaining Marsh arch bridge on Route 66 (named for their designer; there used to be three but the others were demolished).

Soon we were on our way to Oklahoma, where the scenery was beautiful – especially the clouds. We were alternating between rain and clear skies but the cloud formations were some of the most unusual I have ever seen, including the coloration. You could see for miles, and it was interesting to see the patterns of the storms as they moved across the area.

We made it to the outskirts of Tulsa just before sundown in time to see the famous Catoosa blue whale. He sits on the edge of a swimming hole (where there are numerous signs that say “no swimming”) surrounded by a small picnic area and a soda stand that is closed for the season. Dark was fully upon us as we entered Tulsa but we passed several more neon motel signs that we had to photograph.

Tomorrow we head to Amarillo, Texas (through Oklahoma City), where we will be putting the graffiti on Cadillac Ranch. Weather looks clear but cold for our trip tomorrow, which suits me just fine.


Another Rambling Artist on Route 66

19 Dec

Today we made our way from Chicago to St. Louis and it seemed everywhere we turned we were being shadowed by giants. The first one was in Wilmington, IL, where the Gemini Giant resides. If you have been following the blog and the Project so far you already know this attraction was high on my list of things to see, and he did not disappoint. Little did I realize that giants would appear further down the road in Atlanta, IL and in Springfield. All three are made from fiberglass “muffler men,” a common fixture at Goodwrench garages in the 60s. The originals were dressed as service attendants and held up a giant muffler. The Gemini giant holds a rocket, his brother in Atlanta is dressed as Paul Bunyon and holds a giant hot dog, and the one in Springfield is still in front of a garage but he holds nothing at all.

Another presence who kept appearing during our trip was the late artist Bob Waldmire. Bob was a fixture on Route 66 for over 50 years, traveling up and down the route in his orange VW bus. Bob was also the inspiration for the character Fillmore,, voiced by the great George Carlin, in the first Cars movie. In Pontiac, IL, we had our first ”encounter” with Bob at the Illinois Route 66 musuem where a lovely lady named Pauline showed us the display of his van, which is filled to the brim with buttons and toys and general debris – as she said, “he was a real hippie, you know.”  She told us that Pixar offered Bob 3 million dollars to be the voice of Fillmore in the movie, but he found out one of the biggest sponsors was McDonald’s and he was a strict vegan so he refused the check. Talk about sticking to your principles! Bob used to doodle maps and postcards all along the route, and some of you receiving postcards will get his designs – you’ll know if you do because they are rendered in “vivid black and white” and take a magnifying glass to read.

One of our last stops of the day under less-than-ideal weather conditions was the Cozy Dog Cafe, which – as it turns out – was started by Bob Waldmire’s father and is supposedly the birthplace of the corn dog. They have a ton of 66 memoribilia and it was fun to rest a while and enjoy a beverage before getting back on the road.

We arrived in St. Louis in really heavy rain, but that did not deter us from visiting Ted Drewe’s frozen custard, where we waited outside in the rain with about 50 other people to get one of the famous treats. JJ’s cousin Brenda met us there and explained that it is custard, not ice cream. The difference, according to Brenda, is that “it’s way worse for you – has a higher fat content.” So there’s that. It was quite delicious and I can see why it is a fixture on the route. St. Louis has some of the most beautiful houses and buildings I’ve seen and I would love to come back when we can spend more time and see it in dry weather – I am sure seeing it in the rain at night was not the best way to experience things.

Tomorrow we are off bright and early to Oklahoma City!