New Mexico, Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New Mexico offers its enchantments in neon and scrub, savory meals and vast clouds. This evening I stopped in Tucumcari, as if I could stop anywhere else. The famed town of 2,000 rooms now advertises 1,200. And the neon lights are going off one by one. When Jenny, Vienna, and I first visited in '96, the main drag seemed awash with blinking, chirping, turning signs. A couple dozen at least. And the best of them all was the Blue Swallow Motel, with its blinking bird. Back then we met Blue Swallow owner Lillian Redman who seemed to embody the spirit of the Mother Road [see my blog-post on meeting Lillian]. She patiently tolerated our typical questions, and she seemed to have all the time in the world to rent tiny rooms for $12 bucks a night. I knew even then that talking to her was a gift, and when she died soon after I felt grateful to chat with her even for an hour.

Since then the Blue Swallow has found other owners who continue to care for the place, but it's not the same. As for Tucumcari, a number of the old signs have been replaced with backlit plastic, or the motels have been shuttered altogether. In that golden hour of twilight, I cruised the road and collected a number of animated signs for a video production entitled "Neon Highway." All the while, I knew that fewer signs will beckon the highway motorist when I pass this way again. [Continue...]

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All text and photos copyright Andrew Wood