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© Robert Sommers 2018

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Road trip


I have just returned from a fast jaunt into the southwest flavored midsection of the country. The adventure actually started almost two weeks ago. Leslie's favorite aunt had died a while back and left her a collection of antique Japanese tansu cabinets, amongst other things. She paid storage for a couple years and finally said enough was enough.


Leslie flew to Florida, stopping off first for a short stay in Dallas and rented a fifteen foot truck in Ft. Lauderdale. She hired some people to help her clean out the storage and they packed the truck. She saw my sister briefly. Then Leslie took off back across the country by herself. First night Tallahassee, then Baton Rouge the second.

She found the right local seafood restaurant, Don's, and sent me pictures of what she says was an amazing crab and crawfish feast.


It was raining her whole trip in the southeast and the driving was hard. What an amazing and tough wife I have to go it alone and attempt such a drive.

But I couldn't allow her to eat all this wonderful food by herself. Time to hit the road. Saturday I hitched a ride to the airport with my kind friend Pat. I flew from Ontario to Dallas on American for the unheard of price of $54.00.

Leslie's brother Andrew picked me up at the airport. We all went out for dinner that night, great to see the whole family but the new Italian restaurant we were trying, Mille Lire, was honestly pretty ghastly. I am not going to waste ink writing about it but would caution you to beware if you consider going there.

Next day after a delicious breakfast at BuzzBrew (I had the pork butt and eggs) we started driving north. The southern route would have been much shorter but it is so militarized now on the border and I didn't want a repeat of my horrible experiences a few years ago in Van Horn.

Now I lived in Texas for near five years in my youth and have been back many times since. Just not my kind of place, as I have written about previously. If you love it, well all power to you, pardner. With a couple notable exceptions, I pass.

We headed towards Amarillo passing many non remarkable sections of parched dirt. Plastic bags strewn across the windy landscape found themselves unwittingly impaled on scraggly cactus bushes. I would hazard a guess that most Texans don't believe in any of that climate change bidniss but it appears to wreaking havoc on them nonetheless. At least this particular route spared me the gassy stink of West Texas.

We went through many small towns like Clarendon where there seemed to be a competition with the neighbors in collective piety to see who could erect the most crosses on one's home or place of business. Identical pvc cross on every block. Pity or woe to the non believer who is forced to live in such a town!

We did stop to buy fresh pecans near Quanah (named for the Comanche chief Quanah Parker) and met some very wonderful folks. Bought a delicious apricot scone and sampled and purchased fresh pecan fudge. Looked for barbecue but being Sunday, all the places were closed. Guess they were busy celebrating the other Texas religion, football, it was Super Bowl Sunday but it wasn't like we cared a lick.

We got into Amarillo after dark. Typical constant road construction. A windy city with few redeemable virtues that at least I could perceive, we headed for its most famous landmark, the place that serves the free 72 ounce steak. The Big Texan.

The proviso of course is that you have to eat the whole thing. Had passed the billboard for years. What do you think, was I up to it?

Of course I could have decimated the thing if I chose, with room to spare for dessert, but decided to be nicer to my gastro intestinal tract and settled on a paltry 32 ounce ribeye, which actually was pretty fantastic. Leslie, as usual, said that her filet was much better than mine was.

The food and service at the Big Texan was frankly wonderful. I have paid twice as much and not had near as good a steak, at some pretty fancy and revered establishments.

Took a while to find a hotel that we both liked after dinner. We got off on the wrong road and the wrong foot and took a circuitous route around the city before getting back on track and finding our bearings. At one point my wife offered to take me to the airport but things leveled off.

40 west is the 40 west. Driving across the Lonestar state is always a horrible drudge, from any route and perspective. But at least from Amarillo it is a short haul towards Tucumcari. I saw a couple beautiful prairie falcons and the ubiquitous red tails. Honestly, was awfully nice to escape back to the Land of Enchantment.

Truth is, I brought a camera, but never stepped out of the car with it the entire trip. We were trucking and we both wanted to get home. But we did drive through both Tucumcari and Santa Rosa to get some flavor of the towns and route 66 and I shot through the car windows and with my car phone.

Wasn't particularly feeling it.


But was intrigued by the old neon, as always. Remember when I shot Central Avenue in Albuquerque at night about eight years ago? Kind of wish I had been passing through at night this time.

100% refrigerated air

I used to be a sign painter and still revere old signs and typography. And Route 66 is mecca for such relics.


Unfortunately things are breaking down so fast, we are in the last stage of entropy for much of this signage.

Many of the quaint old buildings that I admired four and five years ago are now fading fast. Ft. Defiance is gone, many iconic stops on the 40 sure soon to follow.


Would love to take the time to plan a week or two and go out there to these little towns and shoot and catalogue, do it at night, capture the beautiful sign images while they still exist in this world of ours.

Computers have put an end to hand lettering. I got out of the signage business just as the Gerber machines were coming on.

I learned the old fashioned way, from a ninety four year old sign painting master, Les Gampp. Now basic composition is a forgotten art, hand lettering has gone the way of the buggy whip.

The craft of one stroke lettering is near lost to the world, like so many other things, to a sea of conformity and homogeneity.

Everybody too freaking sophisticated and modern cool now to have fun and experiment. People no longer get the beauty of a hand made letter.


Slick and modern has mowed down everything in its path. Raise a glass to the glory days. Hope I can find the time to get back there and give myself the space to just shoot one week with no worries.

We drove to Albuquerque and had lunch at the Pueblo Cultural Center on 12th. Wonderful meal of native food. Had mutton stew and really good gourmet street tacos.


Our friend John Feldman, the pedal steel playing lawyer head of the swing band Curio Cowboys, stopped by after our meal and we followed him over to his studio/clubhouse to see his wonderful collection of posters and southwest material. Classic.

Ended up making it to the Twin Arrows casino outside Flagstaff that night. Great food, great place to stay. Won a couple hundred at the tables.

Drove out early the next day. Saw snow on the mountain, couple bald eagles in the air.


Raced trains, saw a lot of trains this trip. Hit Tommy's in Barstow for fuel. 15 south was wall to wall, or assholes and elbows as my late stepfather used to say.

Good to be home.

1 comment:

Ken Seals said...

Very enjoyable to read about the trip.