It’s mid autumn and the rains are falling in New Mexico along Route 66. As I look up, on one side of the sky all I see are clouds huddled together tightly. Instantly, the sun pops out from the charcoal grey backdrop and the late afternoon light shines directly on this old car graveyard creating a dramatic sky and setting the stage for the perfect photo op. I am awestruck by the amount of cars and trucks that are lined up, rusty relics from the past, potent reminders of a bygone time. An adventure down memory lane transporting me back to the golden era of car travel along the “Mother Road.” A time when shiny chrome rimmed Bel Airs and Impala’s cruised by, evoking the dream of freedom. But now these tattered automobiles are in shambles, shattered glass everywhere, the material that once was the inside stuffing of a back seat is now musty and covered in black mold is all over the place while the coiled springs pop out for all the world to see. Peeling paint and patina decadence that happens when metal gets exposed to the elements shines brilliantly in the sun creating a mesmerizing texture that only gets more beautiful and varied with time. This is not trash, this is art begging to be captured.
Further down the road in Tucumcari, the old mixes with the new. Some of it refurbished and some left in perfect decay, untouched for decades. Famous hotels such as the Blue Swallow are lit with fluorescent neon signs with classic 1950 beauties parked out front. In this example, the mid 20th century style architecture is kept alive, hosting guests of all ages fascinated with this bygone era. Down the road, the diner “Kix on 66” still exists and waitresses serve you steaming hot food on thick plates in old school booths and on chrome stools. The eggs, grits and coffee are certainly on the menu as is classic New Mexico green Chile stew. But my favorite part of this Route 66 experience: the leftover gas stations, abandoned shells of what they once were but sill chock full of personality and life. Remember the Mobil trademark, “Happy Motoring?!”
It takes me back to my childhood in the ’70’s when my dad scooped me out of our old station wagon and walked in the gas station and grabbed a paper map from the man who rocked back in the leather chair, feet up on the metal desk, cigarette in hand. The smoke smell mixed with the strong scent of motor oil created a thick plume in the shadowy light that now makes me wish my dad photographed these moments. It was a time when the attendant pumped your gas, cleaned your windows and even checked your oil level. On your way out you might have put a few cents in the coca cola machine for a Coke, picked up a pack of Lucky Strikes from the cigarette machine and snatched a Charleston Chew from the candy machine then hopped back on the road for more adventure, window rolled down, tunes blasting from the radio, a full tank of gas and the wind blowing in your hair. Ahh the good old days…Nostalgia at it’s finest.