Saturday, June 11, 2011

I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car

The first views of downtown Dallas brought a sense of familiarity. The bus came up on the right-hand side of a triangular grass paddock that dipped like a funnel into a road where both inbound and outbound traffic met. It was strange to see such an area still exist in a downtown that has tried to rebuild itself, but that wasn’t the most striking thing about this tiny park on the edge of the city’s hub.

The area’s importance did become apparent the next morning. After taking the train from Irving to downtown, I walked up Houston Street and again past the park. On the corner sits the JFK museum – the former Texas School Book Depository. This relatively small park is arguably the site of one of the most important historical moments of the modern world, and for $13.50 I could visit the 6th floor and see the very spot where Lee Harvey Oswald changed the world (supposedly).

Outside the park and around the grassy knoll conspiracy theorists plug films and push the agenda that there is more to the crime than what has been revealed. Remarkably, after 50 years, it still causes such debate among the believers and still sparks an interest in passers-by. As evidenced by the previous day, the roads are still major arteries for downtown, but it doesn’t stop people trying to photograph a white x that has been painted inside one of the lanes. When the traffic breaks, people with equal measures of crass and bravery run out onto the road and pose for photos.

2nd floor from the top, far right windae

The museum tours through JFK’s life and the moment’s leading up to his trip to Dallas. There are walls covered in stills from the Zapruder film and other evidence gathered on the wall. The corner of the 6th floor is made up to resemble midday on November’s day in 1963. The area is boarded off, but recreated scene is viewable from the street – and it’s hard to tell what the purpose is. It doesn’t seem to celebrate the life of a slain president, but is more like a distasteful reminder to one of the world’s most famous murders.
recreated area. No photos allowed - I'm just rad at mspaint

It’s important to remember history, but it’s really hard to tell what’s going on in this part of Dallas. For such a significant event, the museum doesn’t cover much detail, and if there is more to the story, fear of nutty conspiracy theorists does more to deter people from asking questions. I can appreciate that they might not want to change too much of the area, but what changes have been made could be better – the area behind the grassy knoll is a paid car-park. For anyone with no knowledge of the event, all you’d see is a white x, some guys trying to sell movies and a municipal building that has a few cardboard boxes stacked up inside one of the 6th floor windows when history tells us it’s much more than that.
A man pours water on a sign that reads "until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream". Poet.

Apart from seeing the JFK museum, I really had no other business in Dallas. There was the typical Texas heat that followed me round for the rest of the afternoon, and after a few hours I had a nose so burnt and red Santa could employ me for his sleigh. I walked up and down the streets of Dallas, and on what was lunchtime in downtown I was startlingly lonely. For all of the glass skyscrapers, and multiple lanes on the roads, there were no people.

There are nice areas of town, and there are parts that look like they’ve come from the great depression, and sometimes even a cowboy film. I thought there would be a bit more life to the place, especially given their basketball team’s current David vs Goliath battle in the finals series, but it just felt there was very little going on. After a few hours, and a trip back and from Irving, I was finally leaving Dallas.

My expectations on Greyhound remain particularly low, and it’s not really a stretch to name them as one of the worst companies in America, I just didn’t think they could make things as bad as they did. Pim, a Dutchman I’d met at the hostel was also travelling on the overnight bus to Albuquerque, and with a full bus, we sat next to eachother and chatted about all sorts of things (he saw the band OFF! at Amoeba  Records and said it was awesome). We thought our bus was pretty full, but it turned out they could cram more people on, and if 12 hours sounded long on the ticket, it felt much longer on the bus.

I couldn’t sleep on the bus, and when we reached Amarillo, Texas for a bus change I was particularly tired and running out of patience. Our bus arrived late, and while I hoped it would make the waiting time shorter, somehow it worked the other way. For two or three hours we waited for our bus to arrive and take us out of Texas. The station was being torn apart for renovations, and with limited seating and plastic sheets for walls, our stay in the wee hours of the morning was an incredibly frustrating.

While our bus did eventually arrive, we were well behind schedule and extremely crowded.  At 3AM I already knew I was going to miss my train in Santa Fe, and waiting helplessly after paying for a fairly expensive bus ticket was quite a test of patience.
oldest house in America

The mixture of frustration and lack of comfort meant I didn’t sleep on the second bus either, but there was an upside to this. The tardiness meant we didn’t have to wait too long for the sun to rise, and when it did New Mexico and Route 66 put on some show. The red rocks and early morning sunshine were as nice way to welcome a new place as anything I can think of. Cliffs seem to pop up from nowhere, and erode just as randomly. It is like nothing I have seen before, and this is only the stuff they put a road through. With a few hours and a pair of boots I’m sure the area’s beauty could make your heart skip a beat.

As expected, I did miss my train, and had had to wait two hours for another. Minding my own business and drinking my tea, a young man with long hair and that unmistakable crazy-eye came up offered to buy my skateboard. I politely declined, and he went on his way. Or so I thought. He returned not long after to ask me if he could use my phone, and again I politely declined. It was here when the crazy-eyes showed what was behind them, and though I sat stern-faced to him, he told me the bineural music I was hearing was the reason I was nervous. He went on, explaining that the heavy metals in my tea meant I was hearing music without speakers and that the rhythm was bad for me. He told me my t-shirt was Luciferean and instead of waiting for him to ask me why I wasn’t wearing a tin-foil hat I left him to enjoy some sunshine and wait for my train.

I hadn’t even dropped my bags at the platform when a man of about 40 years and reeking of booze came up and started a conversation. He was a Native American who told me he loved to drink and couldn’t wait to go to the casino in Santa Fe. He asked me if I wanted to join him for a beer at 10AM, and when I again declined he went off to find his mum, as she was paying for his train. I thought the people in Texas were strange, but New Mexico had outdone it and I had only been in one building.

I eventually got my train, and a man who resembled Jack Palance sat across from me. He was short on a few teeth, and what ones he did have left were replaced with gold. This seems to have influenced the words that sprang from his mouth as for the next hour he told me all about his life in New Mexico and why it’s such a special place. As he told me his stories, the view from the outside offered a series of mud huts, abandoned towns and desert cliffs. It’s Native American land so you can’t photograph it, but it was spectacular.

At Santa Fe I was met by Cassidy and Heather. As Weezer had been crazily expensive I had to save some pennies where I could, and a night of couchsurfing is once such means. Both were lovely enough to host me, but before I could drop my bags off we had to stop for New Mexican food.

Cassidy works at a fancy chocolate store, where drinks are made with 100% cocoa and a ton of different spices. I had a cayenne and caramel chocolate slice as a psychic sat in the corner, finding a market among the foodies and hippies that go wild for this stuff.

I had an afternoon to kill in downtown, and even without going inside a building it’s hard not to be captivated by the city. The buildings that make up the city are adobes, and they’re all beautiful. The oldest building in the country is there, held together by mud and straw walls. Around the corner construction of a new building is taking place, but its design is almost identical. 400 years on, improvement is hardly necessary.

Downtown offered a few highlights, with hippies occupying the plaza and drugged out vagrants taking ownership of the hill the Cross of the Martyrs sits on. Every second store is an art gallery, but no matter what’s inside, the architecture of the adobe is almost always as fascinating as the brushstrokes on canvas.

The city is one of the dustiest places I’ve ever been, and my feet were turning black from walking around in a pair of thongs. When I showered I could feel myself clearing the dust out of my two-day stubble.  Most disgusting of all was my fingernails, as they turned black without even touching anything.

That night, Cassidy, Heather, one of their friends and I headed to a brewery on the outskirts of town to see Chali 2na of Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli play a solo show. We got in late enough that we were only charged 25% admission, but still saw enough of the set to be impressed. His keyboard player played Hendrix’s Little Wing in a way unlike anything I’d heard before while Mr. 2na was improvising rhymes before finally saying goodbye to the crowd.

We missed last drinks at the bar, and were headed back downtown to get a late dinner before a policeman pulled the car over. Apparently the driver had failed to stop at the stop sign and the policeman could ‘sense the smell of alcohol’. We were all a little dumbfounded, no one had anything to drink, but it seems that exiting a brewery made an easy target for a possible DUI – whether there is evidence or not. For 15 minutes, our driver friend performed all of the field sobriety tests on the side of a windy freeway before she blew 0.00 on the breathalyzer. By now a second police car had arrived, and though everything was cleared, the manner of the whole ordeal was incredibly unprofessional. It was one big arsehole act that didn’t get anyone anywhere but left us all a little pissed off.

Once we made it downtown without distraction I ordered myself a Frito Pie, where chili is poured all over a bag of fritos and topped with cheese, onion, jalapenos and sour cream. It was lovely, and if a meal can define an area, that’s it. My heart may have been beating for Santa Fe, but the food there was pushing it to its limits.

Before leaving Santa Fe the girls took me along to the farmers market, where more hippies corroborated and used the word organic way too often. We said our goodbyes and I got my train and subsequent bus out of New Mexico.

I’m sitting on it right now and heading along route 66 as we push through the smoke of Arizona’s massive fire. If the last Greyhound trip was the worst I’ve had, this is easily the best. The area between New Mexico and Arizona has got me absolutely smitten. You could stop anywhere here and film a Western. The occasional freight train runs parallel, like a scene from Woody Guthrie’s life even though it’s 2011. It’s a 6 hour bus trip, and though I planned on watching a film to pass the time there seems little point. Even the greatest pieces of cinema can’t compare to the scenes outside this window. To my left is golden crags and rocky hills while the right has red mounds that have been eroded and smoothed away. Driving through this valley, I can’t think of prettier car trip in my life. This is exactly why I chose not to fly, and I’m infinitely happier for it. I just wish I had a window seat so I could share it.

Tom the table Gabel - Reason to Believe
Inspired by an article in The Onion, I re-listened to Springsteen's Nebraska. It's an album he made in his bedroom on his lonesome and from start to finish, The Boss is telling stories in a strip backed narrative - like a film shot solely on black and white film. It's an album that requires a bit of patience, but the reward is startling. Anyway, Tom Gabel of Against Me! covers the last song while wearing a pink polo shirt in a YouTube series where other artists play Springsteen songs. Enjoy, and watch the rest of the series, it's spectacular.

No comments:

Post a Comment