On The Road:
ON the ROAD with TROY PAIVA
Author of Lost America
Photo Safari: 4,360
Miles in Five Days by Troy Paiva
(continued from page 1)
Day Two - Don't Mess with Texas
The next day grinds on across New Mexico. Interstate 40's shoulder is littered with bloated, dead dogs and twisted carcasses of recapped tires. Bypassed Route 66 towns lay sleepy and arthritic alongside the freeway with its endless convoys of semis throbbing past. The legendary old highway is reduced to a butchered afterthought of a frontage road. Running from nowhere to nowhere else, its blind crests and tight curves impossible for today's high-speed tractor-trailers. Weeds grow in the expansion joints and the centerline peels off in chunks.
Petro, Pilot, Flying J, Loves- these are the truck stops of the Southwest. Actually no longer called truck stops, they are now "Travel Centers." They are your friends. At night they glow like gritty space stations inviting you in from the black void. They are a refuge for drivers, a place to cool your jets, get a cup of 100-mile mud, and maybe buy a CB radio. I gas up anonymously, sticking my credit card in the slot, pushing a couple of buttons. I never have to communicate with a soul. Thanks to post-modern technology, the road gets a little bit lonelier. I shuffle stiffly into the garish building to have a stretch and pick up a snack. The trucker's lounge TV is on The Weather Channel. Dazed long-haul drivers with the "1,000-mile stare", sprawl in overstuffed waiting-room chairs. On the wall, a big map of the US with lit pins shows each location of this chain's travel centers. I marvel at how many I've been to, but also at how many more I haven't.
The front of the Subaru is crusted with thousands of insects. Metallic with them. The windshield is peppered with every flavor, size and shape, creating a strangely beautiful backlit patina. I even have to scrub the headlights. Windshield squeegee buckets out here smell like death and decay. They are never drained, only refreshed occasionally. I'm sure some of them have had this slurry of gore in them for years.
There's no "Welcome to Texas" sign on Interstate 40, just one that reads "Don't Mess with Texas. 10- to 1000-Dollar Fine for Littering". What do you have to throw out to only get tagged for 10 bucks? At Vega, I turn north looking for photo ops making a lazy loop through Dahlhart, Stratford, Dumas and back to Amarillo as the glowing red sun sinks into the monsoon clouds. This area is billiard table-smooth farmland with hundreds of abandoned silos and grain elevators banging and creaking in the endless plains wind, but nothing that I feel like shooting. I head west, back toward New Mexico and melting adobe homes in Cuervo and a rotting gas station/motel complex in Newkirk that caught my eye six hours earlier. I spend the night a few miles down a dirt road off I40. The winds blast through the red rock canyons as I toss and turn, crammed into the back of the Subaru.