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  • Chuck and Megan Marra

Day 10 - The Road to Tucumcari - August 28, 2020

The sun burned down on us and the air was still. The large metal sign in front of us informed us rattlesnakes were nearby; just off the pavement, in fact. Sophie's large dark headlamps stared at the picture sign. The rational part of me knew that rattlesnakes would rather avoid people altogether, but the irrational part of me, the part that kept saying, 'You just had to buy a 35-year-old Italian sports car - didn't you', was certain that the rattlesnakes were peering out from behind the short cacti and awaiting their opportunity to pounce on the couple in the shiny red car that wouldn't start.

Megan wasn't at all worried but my heart was in my throat. I didn't want to get my wife stuck in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, in the middle of the baking Texas desert, among packs of starving vipers.

I held my breath and turned the little black key again. Sofia fired up as if to say, 'yeah, let's get out of here'.

I took a breath and put Sophia in reverse and gunned it. I pushed the clutch in, revving the engine and throwing the stick up to first gear. Still revving, I let out the clutch and we flew off and leaving the field of disappointing asps in our dust.

Once we were back at highway-speed, Sophia ran like there wasn't a problem. I, however, didn't relax right away. It took miles before I calmed down.

The dry desert heat blew over us. The sun bearing down overhead, and still, it was a gorgeous drive. The baking plains with muted hues of yellow and brown and red, broken by pale green cactus stretched out all around us.

We had planned to stop at the Cadillac Ranch, but I was apprehensive about stopping anywhere. Not that I had a big plan if we kept going, but Sophia was moving and I just wanted to keep her moving. My gut was saying, if Cadillac Ranch was way off the road, we might have had to talk about it, but as we sped along I-40, on our left, there it was right off the highway. We turned off the exit.

We pulled up along the side of the road and found a space in a long line of cars. I turned the engine off, not knowing what was wrong, or if it was about to get worse, or if Sophia would even turn over again.

Cadillac Ranch is a permanent art installation that turned the rough golden desert into a land of whimsey. We walked through the colorful spray-painted turnstile that leads to all the Caddilacs, which cheered me up right away.

The long row of vintage Cadillacs standing noses-in the ground and tail fins in the air were still far off in the distance. As we got closer to the cars, we saw the ground was littered with spent spray paint cans that were used by tourists to spray whatever they wanted to on the classic cars.

I always thought of Cadillacs from my youth and big cars, but now, with them standing on end I realized that these cars were enormous. Towering over us with handed painted personal messages, political messages, shapes, and faces, and cartoon characters. It reminded me of something that you might see in at MOMA or the Guggenheim in New York City, but it was out here in the middle of absolutely nothing but flat dry earth, and this permanent art installation made me smile. I was glad we stopped.

We made the long walk back to the road, through the colorful turnstile, and suddenly, as if we had stepped back through a looking glass, we were back in the normal world full of traffic and heat and concern about our new car not starting up. Megan was completely non-plussed. "It's fine. There won't be a problem."

Skeptically, I turned the little black key. I heard a hesitation, Megan did not, and Sophia fired up eagerly. We pulled away from Cadillac Ranch and turned back on the I-40. The sun was low and the sky was turning that beautiful desert blue as we sped off to Tucumcari, New Mexico, and to a historic motor lodge from another time.

Check out our Road to Tucumcari playlist on Spotify:

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