When I was younger I often listened to a song with the line, “You should get to know your town just like I know mine.” I took this to heart and while more than a couple decades and towns have gone by since, the idea still very much resonates with me. This is regardless of the fact that I now suspect the lyric may be an oblique reference to scoring dope. (Click images for full size.)
Of course, the only way to really get to know your town is to get out of the car. Bikes are good, but I believe feet are best. I’ve lived in Albuquerque for four years and must admit that I haven’t walked many places in the city. There was a time when I would wake up every Sunday and wander the streets of the place I lived in then, Augusta, Georgia. I saw some strange and wonderful things, learned a lot, and finally felt that I knew my town. In that spirit, I recently got up early one recent Sunday morning and headed east on Central Avenue to explore a chunk of Route 66. Starting at the gravelly grave of the Aztec Motel and finishing up at the shuttered Foxes Booze N’ Cruise, I did make one jump of several blocks beginning at San Mateo, where the Mother Road has been almost entirely submerged.
It’s certainly not hard to still see the glory of Route 66, which, for me, has always been reflected in motels. Some of these hang on yet, others are known only by the wondrous signs marking their tombs, and still more have vanished entirely. They come in quick succession, the ghosts of the Zia Motor Lodge, Ponderosa Mobile Home Haven, and Royal Lodge, as well as some that have lost their identities entirely, now just sign-less posts and dirt patches off the sidewalk. Look for the busted tiles of former lobby floors buried in the dust. Who is yelling from a room inside the long-vacant De Anza? Is the man lying motionless beneath the sign of the American Inn only sleeping? These are other types of signs, easily missed if you are unable to pay attention.
But many are alive yet: The Desert Sands, Lazy H Motel, Tewa Lodge, Town Lodge, Premiere Motel, Bow & Arrow Lodge, Loma Verde Motel, and Pioneer Motel. Then there is the Caravan East, all quiet for the moment after another night of music and dancing. Just opening for the day is Hillson’s Western Wear, which has likely outfitted more than a few travelers on Route 66. The Expo New Mexico Flea Market has been underway for hours; most of the good stuff is long gone.
Oddities abound, as well. There’s the Winchester Ammunition Advisory Center. The sign beside the empty pool of the Ponderosa marks the area within as an “Adult Park,” whatever that might’ve once meant. Some alarming graffiti provides little clue as to the true fate of an apparent prostitute.
The farther one travels toward the now-risen sun the more desperate the atmosphere appears. More buildings are vacant and many of the people on the street seem largely focused on dealing with the consequences of the previous night. Albuquerque has long trumpeted its historic position on Route 66, singing the road's praises as a potential engine of tourism and economic growth. But, clearly, here there has been little movement beyond the talking phase. Of course, money is a problem for cities just as it is for many of those that live in them.
This road is to me, then, a reflection of this city, its people, and myself. There is no single judgment to be made beyond saying that Central Avenue is the street I find to be of most interest in Albuquerque and have since I arrived. And on this day I only saw a short piece of it. Perhaps some other time I will walk a length east of the Rio Grande and stop for coffee at the Western View. Or visit the motels south of Old Town, waiting for their neon signs to blink on as the sun sets. Or maybe go somewhere else entirely. But, if I know what’s good for me, I must keep walking.
John Mulhouse is an Albuquerque-based frequenter of gravel roads, ghost towns, and empty buildings. His blog, City of Dust, features photos and hidden history from all corners of New Mexico and beyond. He welcomes stories and suggestions for future visits. More of his photography can be seen on Flickr.