Sunday, December 22, 2002
A rousing night at the Koko Klub left us with a fervent desire to find some decent java when we hit the road Sunday morning. We drove into Lubbock proper thinking surely there must be some little cafe somewhere where we could swill hot coffee and get some greasy eggs. Well someone had forgotten to tell us that the apocalypse had come and all humans had vanished. Except the ones that ran bad Mexican fast food joints, that is. Our grave disappointment was ameliorated only by the serendipitous discovery of the Boll Weevil Information Center in beautiful downtown Lubbock. What do you expect from a town that looks like a giant sandbox littered with cinderblocks where a mattress has exploded? Maybe cotton and tumbleweeds exude a strange poison that drive humans mad after a while - that's the only thing I can think of that would make someone continue to live in Lubbock.
We moved on dejectedly. Our hunger overcame the last shred of rationality that either of us possessed and forced us to stop at the Thai Taste Restaurant in nearby Plainview, Texas. I asked aloud, "How badly can you mess up Pad Thai, for crying out loud?" I should know better than to ever ask questions like that.. Some advice: whenever one of the descriptors on a Thai menu is "gravy," put the menu down and walk quietly, but quickly away. When Dave asked whether they had any tofu, the waitress shook her head helplessly no, so I interjected, "We're from Austin..." (by way of explaining this foolish notion of including soy products in one's meal) "...we're just passing through on a road trip." The waitress smiled and said, "Well I moved here from Arlington, myself, and I'm still not sure why." The enormous back-lit picture of a crashing waterfall, complete with optical illusion moving water that splashed gaily into a river behind her head pretty much said it all.
Back on the road, we made a beeline for Amarillo. We caught I-40 on the west side of Amarillo, and started scanning the roadside when we were about 5 miles out. Finally, they popped up from the horizon as suddenly as if they had just emerged from a toaster: 10 bodacious Cadillacs, world-famous denizens of the Ranch!
It was cold, overcast and windy when we stepped out of the Cruiser. We had brought all sorts of winter gear for what might potentially be pretty cold weather later in the trip, and we put every bit of it on to walk out to the cars.
As you might imagine, it's a pretty surreal place - wide open prairie with cows meandering nearby (and as such, plentiful cow patties), barbed wire fencing as far as the eye can see and an interstate running right through the middle of all this sublime scenery. Oh yeah...and 10 vintage Cadillacs, half buried nose-down in the mud in a single line mimicking precisely the same angle as the Cheops pyramids. Covered with spray-painted graffiti with such regularity that in some places giant flakes of paint chip off, exhibiting geological layers of garish color. On some of the cars, part of the passenger compartment is above ground and makes an intimate little shelter for a couple of skinny teenagers. Signs of Saturday night visitations abound. But the whole shebang is just standing out in the middle of a wheat field on the access road to a major interstate freeway. A colorful gate without a lock marks the opening in the barbed wire fence where you're supposed to enter. No admission, no gift shop, no Taco Bell, no Starbucks. Amazing.
When we could absorb no more, we headed back down I-40 west. It wasn't long before I spied a roadside billboard for an imminent Stuckey's manifestation. What gen-u-wine road trip worth a damn wouldn't have Stuckey's on the itinerary? I was not about to pass it by without stopping, and was not disappointed. I snagged two more choice items for the dashboard display: a 100% real scorpion encased in genuine crystal-clear acrylic backed with hot pink glitter; and a latex cactus complete with bandana, sunglasses and cowboy hat that slipped right onto the car antenna. How lucky was that? Dave couldn't pass up a box of Goo Goo Clusters as his souvenir, and fiendishly devoured one as soon as he got in the car. I took this lovely portrait of the newly installed cactus and happened to catch Dave in clusterante delecto.
As we resumed our journey west, we were once again treated to a spectacular sunset. The dramatic buttes of west Texas and eastern New Mexico made for picture postcard quality images.
We continued our westward push on I-40 and stopped in Santa Fe for some dinner. As we drove through town, we saw luminarias lining many of the rooftops and pathways. Fortunately for the modern homeowner however, scientists have discovered techniques for using indestructible poly bags (exactly the color of brown paper) and Christmas lights so the pueblo owner of today doesn't have to use any of that messy sand or stinky candles! Better living through science is what I was thinking.
We made our way to the old town square and parked so we could stretch our legs and look for a suitable place to dine. We walked around the square, and most of the places looked too fancy or weren't open. We had about given up when we turned the corner onto one last side street, and saw the luminous Cafe Paris. It looked so appealing from the street that we immediately went over to look at the menu posted by the front door, right outside a window that would allow us to take a gander inside at the same time. As I pressed my nose against the glass, a woman who was dining at the table directly in front of the window gracefully displayed her plate of pate with a Vanna White-like swish of the hand for emphasis. She smiled and nodded and then motioned for us to come inside. It was beginning to feel like a scene out of Moulin Rouge - I turned my head suspiciously to look for Baz Luhrman lurking in the alley. We entered the door into a warm, brightly lit room where an accordionist in a beret, suspenders and a striped shirt played lively melodies. The hostess spoke with a heavy French accent and exuberantly ushered us to a little table in the corner. The menu was full of simple, delicious dishes. I selected escargot in garlic butter to start, and followed it with a plate of velvety pate and crudités for my entree. Dave opted for the cream of asparagus soup (and let me tell you, it was even better than you imagine) for his appetizer, with a tasty plate of Shrimp Provencales as his main dish. Based on the quality of our dinners, we imagined that the desserts would in all likelihood be delicious, and our expectations were exceeded wildly. Dave ordered profiteroles in a semisweet chocolate sauce with vanilla ice cream - divine. I ordered the apple tart tatin. The apples were perfectly cooked, with a delicate coat of caramelized sugar doming each lump of apple (no doubt resulting from an expertly applied mini-torch flame). The jacketed apple slices sat on a puff pastry crust, and were lightly laced with caramel and fresh green apple syrups. Not to mention the just-beginning-to-melt lump of vanilla ice cream that pooled neatly at the pastry's side. Perfection! We were the last table to leave, opting NOT to finish with a wafer-thin mint or a bucket..
As pleasant as our meal was, we couldn't bring ourselves to stay in the Disneyized air of Santa Fe - a little too pretty for our taste, so we pressed on. We pulled into Los Alamos late in the evening, eager to finally turn in. As we shrugged on our pajamas and settled in for the night, we listened to the weather report. Forecast for the next day: snow! I was as giddy as a five year old. It was difficult to make myself go to sleep and not get up and look out the window every five minutes, but somehow I managed.