Thursday, September 17, 2015

Chicanonautica: Zen and the Art of Interstate Highways, Part 1

Seems there's always a beetle being eaten by ants at the Yavapai Apache Nation gas station. This time I took a picture. See? My life really gets like outtakes from Un Chein Andalou. Especially after cooking my brain in the Metro Phoenix Heat Island in August.

As we headed North, it got cooler. The spaces got wider and more open. A sign announced: SOURCE OF CERTIFIED NAVAJO BEEF! In Flagstaff we did a pit-stop in a hippie gas station that sold metal dinosaurs where they were playing Donavan's zen song, There is a Mountain.

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is . . . oh yeah. That's how it is on the roads of Aztlán. Zen and the art of interstate highways. Get your kicks on what's left of Route 66.

I was reading J. Manuel Espinosa's The Pueblo Revolt of 1696 and the Franciscan Missions in New Mexico. Thoughts of an alien invasion, the establishment of a dystopia, and a witchcraft-fueled rebellion warped my perceptions. Things I had seen before looked new.

Our first stop was Grants, New Mexico, an old uranium-mining-town turned tourist stop in the post-Atomic Age. It has a semi-abandoned, post-apocalyptic, southwestern charm, with its ghost motels, ruined storefronts, and crumbling signs and architecture that are the stuff of postmodern archaeology.

A cheerful Native American woman who checked us into the Route 66 Travelodge recommended El Cafecito for local/Mexican food. She was right – we ate there twice. And most of the customers and employees looked Mexican, Indian or somewhere in between.

I can tell my father's family came from New Mexico. The people there look like my relatives.

We met the mayor of Grants while checking out the lava-faced city hall. He introduced himself, shook our hands and explained that, “I'm off to kill a motorcycle rally.”

Next morning, while getting our free continental breakfast, we caught news of a shoot-out on Dinosaur Trail and drivers doing donuts on I-25. In New Mexico, Hispano newscasters report crimes and political scandals by Hispanos. The Wild West is alive and well, amigos!

We took a tour of the Mining Museum, led by a guy who spent decades mining uranium. Then we took off for El Malpais, The Badlands, fields of funky lava, bat country – I got some baseball caps with bats on them. Then we hit El Morro, and Inscription Rock, where travelers stopped for the oasis and did graffiti – from ancient petroglyphs, to conquistador Juan de Oñate's “Pasó por Aqui” and statements in Spanish and English from those who came later.

On our way to the No Wi-Fi Zone, a car burned next to the freeway in Albuquerque. No sign of the maniacs who were doing donuts the day before.

Finally, near the Cities of Gold Casino, the Pojoaque Supermarket smelled like spicy, Mexican heaven. A headline of the Santa Fe New Mexican announced: NUN WHO STOOD UP TO BILLY THE KID FACES SAINTHOOD TEST. I wondered if my ancestors met her.

To be continued . . .

Ernest Hogan's “Chicanonautica Manifesto” will soon be in Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies.

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