February 28, 2010
I forgot to mention it amid all the excitement of buying a truck and shopping for a puppy, but my espresso machine came in yesterday.
Tonight, I am drinking one memory out of another.
In high school, I used to cut class and spend the afternoon hanging out at a gritty little coffeehouse with cobwebs on the ceiling, stains on the tablecloths, and a dusty, faded lava lamp sitting in a ring of dusty, faded plastic flowers on one of the tables near the counter.
The coffeehouse itself was pretty standard-issue, but the barista — a gray-haired man in his late 40s, with Parrish blue eyes and a gentle smile that reminded me vaguely of Mandy Patinkin — was anything but ordinary.
At a time when most adults just smiled indulgently and nodded at the right times, without really listening to what I was saying, Richard drew me into very grown-up political conversations and asked me very grown-up questions about what I believed and why. He made me think, and he made me feel as if my thoughts mattered. I will forever cherish those conversations with him.
Richard also taught me to use the espresso machine my father bought me for my birthday that year. I am forever indebted to him for troubleshooting my first few failed attempts at cappuccino and for showing me how to move the pitcher under the steam jet to make a nice, dense froth. I think of him and smile every time I taste that first sip of espresso filtered through foam.
The cappuccino you see in the picture is a double memory, because the mug is a souvenir from the Austin Motel, where my father and I stayed when he played SXSW to promote an acoustic album he’d just released on a little indie label in 1991. It was the first time I’d ever seen him in concert, and as I listened to his voice traverse the familiar notes of a song I’d heard on the radio a thousand times, I buried my face in my hands and sobbed, for reasons I cannot begin to explain.
Maybe I should design some souvenirs for the Tumbleweed. It’s nice to think that Coldwater might be a cherished part of someone else’s history.
February 27, 2010
People say a trip down Route 66 will change you forever. Even after chucking my plans and trading my apartment in St. Louis for a motel in rural New Mexico, I’m not sure I believed I’d really changed … until today.
This afternoon, for what may have been the first time in my life, I did something for entirely practical reasons.
This afternoon, I bought a truck — a big, noisy pickup truck with three on the tree and rust spots on the hood and a bad bondo job on one fender and no power steering and no power brakes and no air conditioning and no CD player — and put a “FOR SALE” sign on my Firebird.
I’ll probably cry when somebody buys the Firebird. It was, after all, a college graduation gift from my father, who really wanted to buy me a Corvette but couldn’t afford it. I don’t have my father any more. But I have his music. I have one of his album covers tattooed on my ankle. And I have about 30 yards of worn-out shag carpet to haul out of here before tourist season.
Tonight, I also have a “good-lookin’ old bitch” with a 327 under her hood sitting in my driveway, waiting to help me do anything I’ve got any business doing … and probably several things I haven’t got any business doing as well.
Now all I need is a big, goofy dog to ride shotgun. I think I may have found a good candidate. Squeezed in amongst the ads for farriers, Australian shepherd puppies, rodeos, and septic-tank services, I spotted this flier:
I think a pit bull-German shepherd mix would look just fine in my new truck.
February 26, 2010
Joey and I spent most of today moving furniture and pulling carpet out of Unit Four. If there was ever a moment in my life when I was more exhausted than I am right now, I truly don’t remember it.
Hank Freed, who runs the garage across the road, has a lead on a truck for me. Some friend of his who lives out near Montoya has a ’66 GMC pickup he’s trying to unload. I don’t know much about trucks, but this one is, according to Hank, “a good-lookin’ ol’ bitch that’ll help you do anything you’ve got any business doing.” He’s going to take me over to look at it tomorrow afternoon.
I keep thinking about that weird guy from the truck stop. Stuff like that usually doesn’t rattle me, but I can’t help wondering what I’d do if somebody like that wandered into my lobby. I mean, it probably won’t ever happen — after all, Miss Shirley lived here for years and never had any trouble — but I think I’d feel safer if I had a big dog to protect me.
Maybe I’ll check the bulletin board at Bill’s tomorrow morning and see if anybody’s got any pups for sale. The Tumbleweed could use a big, goofy mutt to keep things interesting, and if I end up buying this truck, I will need a dog to ride in the back. Based on my observations around town, I am pretty sure it is a violation of Coldwater city ordinances to drive a pickup truck without canine supervision.
February 25, 2010
When I bought the Tumbleweed, I got the entire contents of the buildings — including the old Speed Queen wringer washer Miss Shirley used to do all the laundry for the motel.
The first time I needed clean clothes, I just went out to the laundromat they’ve got in that truck stop near the interstate and read a magazine while the coin-operated machines did their work.
This morning, I went to the laundromat again. About five minutes after I started the machines, some scruffy-looking guy walked in and struck up a one-sided, innuendo-filled conversation with my bustline.
I don’t scare easily, but this guy was far and away the creepiest individual I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting. His words and behavior were so unnerving that as soon as I finished the wash, I wound up driving all the way to Santa Rosa just to keep him from following me home.
When I got back to Coldwater, I Googled “how to use a wringer washer” and came up with a detailed article on the most efficient way to do laundry with Miss Shirley’s old machine. I washed a couple of towels tonight, just for practice. It didn’t take terribly long, and it was actually kind of fun.
Something tells me the novelty will wear off in short order, but even if it turns out to be a monumental hassle, it beats listening to some creepy stranger make lascivious comments about the underwear I’m folding.
February 24, 2010
The new-and-improved Unit Three has its first customer tonight — a Japanese guy who flew into Chicago, rented a car, and has been filming his way down Route 66 for the past month. He’s doing some kind of documentary about the road. He interviewed me for a half-hour or so and then spent a long time filming the office, his room, and some of the other rooms.
I hope he emphasizes the fact that the rooms are being renovated. Especially Unit Four, which is next on my to-do list. I refer to it as “The Jungle Room” because it hasn’t been renovated since the ’70s and is at least as tacky as anything Elvis ever did to Graceland.
My favorite part is the carpet, which is a vibrant indigo shag that looks like what you’d get if you skinned Cookie Monster and turned his pelt into a rug. The only way it could be any better would be if it were avocado green or harvest gold. Too bad it’s almost threadbare in places; if it were in better condition, I’d just add a waterbed, a disco ball, and some Bee Gees posters and market it as the Saturday Night Fever room.
February 23, 2010
I made good on my promise to play in the snow with Joey this morning. Mercifully, he has a short attention span, so he only hit me in the face with a couple of snowballs before deciding we needed to make snow angels in the front yard, where God could see them. (I’m not sure why he thought God wouldn’t be able to see them in the backyard, but I decided it was probably easier just to roll with it and not ask too many questions.)
When we got done, we walked out to the truck stop to get something warm to drink. You know that scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where the vending machine makes something that tastes “almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea”? I always think of that scene when I drink truck-stop cappuccino.
I can live without many things, but cappuccino is not one of them. Besides … having an espresso machine in the lobby might be a good gimmick: “Stay at the Tumbleweed Motel — Home of the Free Cappuccino!”
Let’s see Motel 6 one-up that.
February 22, 2010
This was the view out the office window today:
I think I should have stopped before I tried to put in the footprints, but I’ve never learned to leave well enough alone, which probably has something to do with why I’m a motel owner and not a graphic artist. I guess I could fix it in Photoshop, but that feels like cheating.
Besides that, there really are little animal tracks out there. I’m not sure what made them. One of Joey’s cats, most likely. I can’t imagine a coyote having the nerve to get that close to the building.
The Volkswagen belongs to the guy who owns the garage. It’s beautiful. He’s trying to finish restoring it this winter so he can take it out to the Arizona Route 66 Association’s annual Fun Run this spring.
The Firebird is all but worthless on snow, so I just stayed here all day, painting and making curtains for Unit 3. It’s supposed to snow some more tonight. Joey is hoping some travelers will get stuck and come here for the night so we can have company, but I’m not holding my breath.
He wants to have a snowball fight tomorrow. I told him maybe. I hate being out in the cold, but it’s hard to say no to Joey. He gets so excited about little things, and he still doesn’t understand why Miss Shirley left. I tried to tell him she was sick, but to Joey, “sick” means you threw up or caught a cold. He keeps telling me we should take her some medicine so she can get better and come home.
How do you explain the concept of a nursing home to someone like Joey? I don’t even try. If I told him what happened to Miss Shirley, he wouldn’t understand, and it would just break his heart. So I don’t tell him. I just try to distract him when he mentions her.
Maybe I will go out and play in the snow with him tomorrow. I’d rather be outside, getting pummeled with snowballs in the cold, than inside, answering questions neither of us really wants to think about. Maybe we can walk down to Casa de Jesus and have a bowl of menudo afterward.
February 21, 2010
Here is one of the many, many reasons I love Bill Swinney’s Feed and Hardware:
There used to be a barbecue joint near St. Louis that sold boiled peanuts as a side dish. They would take roasted, salted-in-the-shell peanuts and boil them until they were soft. When you removed the shell, the peanut inside would taste sort of like a blackeyed pea, only more assertive. I don’t know whether the restaurant is still going, but the peanuts were a good idea.
I bought a couple of pounds of peanuts from Bill the other day. I think I’m going to put them in the Crock-Pot before we leave for Tucumcari this afternoon.
The Odeon is showing some ridiculous-sounding movie about the tooth fairy, and Joey wants to see it because it has The Rock in it. The Rock is one of his favorites. I think I’m going to buy some groceries and take some photos of the neon around town while he’s watching his movie. I promised him he could have both popcorn and Junior Mints at the movie if he’d help me move some junk out of the storage shed this morning.
I’ll try to post photos tomorrow if I get anything good.
February 20, 2010
The coyotes are singing tonight. I think they’re somewhere out behind Freed’s Garage. Their voices sound eerie, yet weirdly beautiful.
I drove up to Santa Fe after breakfast today to buy bedding and look at rugs. I found some boring-but-utilitarian berber that should look pretty good in Unit Three, but it would cost me an arm and a leg to have it delivered, so I just settled for a few throw rugs and some matching towels and bedding.
Here is what I did when I got home:
Miss Shirley never could get this to light. I took the transformer out and cleaned it up this evening, and it works just fine now.
Joey says he likes it because it “looks like Christmas.” Once I got it working, he sat out here staring at it for the better part of an hour before he got cold and went inside. I’d like to have the sign out front restored, because it just doesn’t seem right to have a motel on Route 66 without a neon sign, but I think that’s going to be a summer project. There’s no point in having a fancy neon sign that looks better than the rooms it’s advertising, y’know?
February 19, 2010
I don’t pray enough. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because living out here in the high desert, with the sky so vast and the stars so clear, feels sacred enough without the lip service.
A friend once told me that just being quiet and listening is a kind of prayer. She backed up her assertion by quoting that verse from Psalms that says: “Be still and know that I am God.”
I like that. I really like the idea that when I’m just sitting outside, listening to the wind or the coyotes or the distant sound of the semis pulling in and out of the truck stop and thinking how good my coffee tastes or how clean the night air smells, I’m really praying.
Still, if I’m going to hang out with God, I probably ought to hold up my end of the conversation. I don’t want to treat God like some big sugar daddy in the sky who’ll spoil me rotten if I just pester him enough, but I feel as if I ought to say something once in a while, so I’m going to start finding just one small thing to be thankful for every night.
I know I’ve got big reasons for gratitude — I mean, millions of people go to bed hungry, and hundreds of people would love to live on Route 66 — but I think it means more if you take the time to think about the less obvious stuff.
Tonight, I am thankful for instant grits.
That might seem like a stupid thing to sit around praying about, but you have to understand how important instant grits are at the Tumbleweed.
You see, Joey’s favorite food in the whole world is orange sherbet, but his second-favorite food in the whole world is cheese grits. He eats them every morning for breakfast. Every. Single. Morning.
If I had to cook grits from scratch, I’d be in the kitchen half the morning. There’s no way I could pull that off. But I can nuke a bowl of grits and stir in a pat of butter and a handful of cheese in less than five minutes. It makes Joey happy, and it requires almost no effort on my part.
Anything that allows me to bring joy to that gentle soul on a daily basis has got to be a gift from God.
What are you thankful for today?