There’s no nice way to say it. Tucumcari is a dump. Some years ago the town was part of the famous Route 66 and had a hustling and bustling railway yard. Now it has neither. The Government disposed of Route 66, and modern, reliable trains disposed of the railway yard.
With both the road and the railway gone the town gives the impression that it has been left to slowly rot and die. But, and it’s a big “but”, so far it’s been one of my favourite small towns on our journey across America and that’s because of the way the residents and businesses of Tucumcari welcome you.
We stayed at the KOA RV campgrounds on the edge of town and while it was showing its age a little, it was clean and everything worked. Plus the owners were simply the loveliest people to deal with. That is what makes the difference. If the owners were just business operators who took our money and didn’t care to chat with us, it would have been a very average place to stay.
Many years ago, during the Reagan era, I told a friend “I don’t like Americans, but I’ve never met an American I didn’t like!”. The last bit still holds true, while the first part of that statement was simply a product of the times and my youth. But my attitude towards America and its global influence has softened hugely on this trip. My understanding of what makes this country tick is so much greater then it was just a few short weeks ago. Not that I claim to understand it.
But while the generosity of spirit never fails to delight me, the ugly side of the States is still there. I’ve been listening a lot to the radio, but in the last few days I’ve almost given up and have resorted to the MP3 player.
All too often I can find only country music, or “Jesus” stations. Sometimes on a really desperate day I can only find “Country/Jesus” Station all rolled into one. While the country music stations play songs with some of the most inane lyrics I’ve ever heard, quite often to the same tune, the Jesus stations strike me as anything but Christian. I have never heard “hate radio” quite like it.
These angry announcers lately are obsessed with body searching at airports, particularly body searches of Muslim women. From that launching off point they start into an anti Muslim diatribe that is as extraordinary as it is relentless. Occasionally they pause and make an offhand remark that they are referring only to extremists within the religion, but the radio spruikers seem to fail to see that they in turn are sounding every bit as extreme and ill-informed as the people they are denouncing.
Thankfully while I seem to hear bits of this drivel everyday it’s just not backed up by the people on the street. America gets a lot of bad press. Some of it is warranted, a lot of it is not.
On this motor home part of our trip we have travelled from Washington DC, through Virginia along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Tennessee. There we visit Nashville and Memphis and then turn south to New Orleans. After three days of the Big Easy we head back north through Texas to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
The Grand Canyon is everything people say about it and more. The only word that fits that place is Stupendous. It is simply the most staggering thing I have ever seen. It is vast and silent and serene, and you get the sense that if you get too close it will happily swallow you whole.
The day after the Grand Canyon we arrived in Las Vegas. If ever there are polar opposites then it’s these two places. While the Grand Canyon is a vast empty space, no space on the Las Vegas strip is let empty if at all possible. While the Grand Canyon had a handful of visitors at this time of year, Vegas was still going flat out despite this being its quiet time. The Canyon is silent. Vegas has no silence. The Canyon is full of wildlife.... so is Vegas... just not the same kind!
From Las Vegas we have been heading north again through the desserts of Nevada and Utah. Unlike Australian deserts they are not flat expanses. The highways follow the valleys between sharply rising mountain ranges. The mountains are the same colour as the desert floor, a sandy brown that gives the impression that nothing lives here.
Soon we’ll be getting into the cooler country of the north. Soon we’ll be driving the highways flanked by snow capped peaks and worrying that the water in the motor-home will freeze overnight. My greatest fear is that our black water, our toilet waste, will freeze solid one night and not defrost, and we’ll have to hand our motor-home back to the rental company containing “human remains”.
For now though it’s time to soak up the American landscape. It is a landscape familiar to anyone who ever watched The Lone Ranger or City Slickers. It’s all so familiar here, and all so foreign.