Thursday, July 09, 2009

Days 15 & 16 – Albuquerque: Pep(to) talk

When a marathon runner competes, he or she faces something known as “The Wall” – the point of physical exhaustion that a competitor must crash through in order to finish the race. Any student who has pulled an all-nighter to study for a final exam also knows this hurdle well.
In the middle of last night, I hit the vacation “wall” – the point where all those miles I have driven (almost 3,000 to this point), all the mountains I’ve driven past, over and around, all the road food I’ve consumed (from yummy In-and-Out Burgers to the worst pastrami sandwich in the middle of nowhere Arizona), all the orange construction cones I’ve had to dodge and 18-wheelers I’ve had to pass … all converged in my head and stomach.
And I knew exactly what road kill felt like. I was exhausted, yawning every 10 seconds, but unable to close my eyes and sleep. I was in pain from head to heel, but no amount of medication could relieve it. I tossed and turned on the bed (a rarity for a sleep location these days) and on the Hyatt Place couch (no couch in ANY hotel can be labeled as comfortable) like a rotisserie chicken.
My heel throbbed for the sixth straight day, ever since I stepped on a litter trap in my sister’s bathroom in the dark of night (where she keeps the litter box for her feline, Cleo). I not only stomped on it once in the blackness of night, I did it the next day despite taking great pains to avoid it.
It was exactly what resulted – great PAIN! Apparently, upon closer examination by my wife, Jodie, the heel is nicely bruised and there’s no way you can avoid NOT using it.
I also felt nauseous after the last supper consumed, at a place called the Standard Diner, which was discovered totally by accident. It turned out the eatery had been featured on The Food Network by chef-host Guy Fiori on his show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
This was NOT anyone’s standard diner; it was far too upscale for that simple definition (any place that serves aioli is NOT a blue plate special joint). The first thing received – ice water – told me that; it had a slice of … cucumber in it (not lemon or lime). It was a first for me.
The meal was good, although the house dressing of oil, vinaigrette and pomegranate was a little too heavy and the New Mexican burger, complete with Hatch green chiles and a homemade bun with rosemary in it, wound up sitting in the old tummy like a hockey puck lodged behind Marty Turco.
And around 2 a.m. (with all the changing within time zones and who is or isn’t on daylight time, my internal clock is totally out of whack), all of it simply crashed with a thud.
Or should I say a burp. I immediately reached for a fistful of Pepto-Bismol tablets and simply sat there for Lord knows how long … waiting … and waiting … for something, or rather for nothing (hopefully) to happen.
I spent most of the time wondering on which side of the “wall” I’d land – either on all fours in front of the porcelain throne or watching to sun peek through the drawn curtains, still not knowing the time of day (or early morning in that situation).
Luckily, Pepto-Bismol worked as advertised (and it is one of the most disgusting jingles/slogans out there). Everything settled “down” to a relative state of normal so that I will leave this blog, take a shower, and proceed to find a “light” lunch and tour the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque and the Old Town section for a possible jewelry/pottery purchase.
But, as Jodie is now fond of saying, after all the fun and sight-seeing, home, sweet, home, is sounding more and more like Heaven.
Who would ever have believed that we’d actually WANT to get back to Plano?
In our search for dinner, we “toured” the Nob Hill section of Albuquerque, which runs along E. Central Avenue, also known as Route 66. Our fruitless search for a simple Chinese restaurant (sorry, Vietnamese and Thai are NOT suitable substitutes for a good Cantonese menu) did reveal some interesting observations.
Of all the states that comprise the ancient (and legendary) highway, New Mexico might be the one with the most pride about the road’s past history. There is a magazine and organization devoted solely to the promotion of Route 66 history and legacy. There are events held annually to highlight what a simple two-lane ribbon of asphalt meant in post-World War II America.
And if you visit the burgh of Clime’s Corner, N.M., out in the middle of nowhere east of Albuquerque, you will find one of THE largest gift shops dedicated to Route 66 memorabilia in the country (if you’ve ever been to Honolulu and know of Hilo Hattie’s, this place is on the same level as that store). It will be a “must-see” on Saturday when we head to Amarillo.
However, the old girl ain’t what she used to be – at least not in the Nob Hill section of town. Central Avenue runs through the center of Albuquerque and is where the University of New Mexico is located. Those blocks of Route 66 surrounding the campus resemble any other university area (think Austin’s Guadalupe in the 1970s or Ann Arbor’s State Street at that same time period).
There are lots of coffee houses, book stores, sandwich shops and exotic eateries featuring international cuisine (heavy on Mediterranean and countries like Egypt and Turkey). Tattoo shops have replaced the 70s head shops although one or two of those relics still exist.
There are still signs (literally) of the old Route 66, with the names of former hotels still hanging over the roadway. Sadly, most of them are rotten corpses of the past. They stand along in empty lots where the grass grows untended among concrete forms, inside fenced off barriers.
Others oversee piles of garbage and mounds of debris from bulldozed structures. Out of 10 old hotels, perhaps one or two still exist as active businesses, none of which seem to be acceptable places for the well-worn Route 66 traveler to visit (most appear to be long-term residences for the downtrodden and poor).
“Closed for business” signs appear far too often among the storefronts, surrounded by lots of national fast food eateries and the occasional high-end Italian bistros or steakhouses.
The drive along Route 66, on our visit, is interrupted by the thunderous roar of motorcyclists, scores of them, revving their machines as they pull into one old-time restaurant for what must have been a pre-planned soiree. Yes, there IS a Route 66 biker club, as well.
When Tod and Buzz drove their Corvette in the famed TV show, “Route 66,” it was definitely a different nation to visit. When the American interstate highway system was constructed, people’s travel plans, habits and methods changed; it was more of a direct assault on your destination rather than a journey of means of exploration.
Part of our trip has been a small attempt to explore places we had not seen before; to taste things not tried in the past; and make long lists of places to visit in the future, based on mere glances out our window. It is (and was) the whole purpose of driving, rather than flying. It allows us to say, “Hey let’s look over there,” and doing an emotional u-turn to see something new.
I only wish Route 66 looked more like its past than its present state; we’d be diverting even more to see what would be offered.
It is really how one’s life should be lived, don’t you agree?
Until then …waiting for my senses to clear and head tomorrow to Santa Fe … shalom!


Eating The Road said...

The Standard Diner was the best burger of my life!

Chuck B. said...

Perhaps it was that one burger served to me. But I wish I had gone to In-and-Out instead.

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