“The book American Gods wishes it was.” --Despina Durand

Thursday, September 16, 2021

ROAD TRIP FOR MAGGIE: PART ONE

 

We left Phoenix on the hottest day of the year, straining the abilities of our aged Hundai Elantra’s air-conditioner. This trip up north had become very familiar to us over the last few years. It was cooler when we checked into the Matterhorn Inn in Sedona. We were escaping the brain-melting inferno, taking along what Emily called, “two cups of Mom.”



My phone plinged while we were waiting for tacos at the Oaxaca. It was a Gmail from Scott Duncan of Somos en escrito. Their Extra-Fiction contest, that I had agreed to judge again, was on. My career follows me, even on a memorial trek in honor of Maggie, my mother-in-law, who had died a few months earlier at age 99.



 Scott had attached a PDF of their flyer for the contest. I figured out how to take a screenshot so I could start doing some social media publicity, because the deadline for entries was September 30 and it couldn’t wait.



They also wanted me to make a video. I told them I was on vacation and would have to do it on my phone in a motel room.

When the going gets tough, the tough get creative.



That night I dreamed I was working at a combination store/warehouse and got trapped in a cramped, industrial elevator. After I escaped, Jodie Foster (who, along with the Very Large Array and the Movie Contact became obsessions for Maggie near the end) was lecturing my wife Emily and the other employees.



The next morning the famous red mountains were misted-over. The distant forest fires filled the skies and violated state lines. After breakfast at the Coffee Pot, we hit the road that was lined with robust datura from the rain.



In Flagstaff, we swapped the Elantra for Mike’s Prius Hybrid, which Emily had decided to name Zsa Zsa because of her peculiar license number. From a broken down relic of the past millennium, to a gateway drug to the transportation systems of the future, we hummed into the reservations, where a Trump sign, partly torn away from a billboard, revealed ONE NATION UNDER GOD.



The landscape seemed post-Apocalyptic, peppered with abandoned, graffiti-covered tourists traps and geodesic domes. 

An empty building sported a sign announcing that it was for hire. Another sign said DISCOUNTED AERIAL FIREWORKS.



The next day we spent in Grants, another post-Apocalyptic town with lots of empty buildings.


We had to visit El Malpais, the Badlands. We had the road to ourselves, as if the world really had come to an end. The lava fields were choked with greenery, a side-effect of the year's abnormally heavy rainfall. We braved a ROAD IMPASSABLE WHILE WET sign to the Sandstone Bluffs, another otherworldly environment. Then we hit El Morro with its ruins and ancient graffiti.



On the way back to Grants we saw a DISCOUNT TOBACCO AND VARIOUS ACCESSORIES sign.



The next day we drove to Santa Fe and once again stood at the fabulous Silver Saddle Motel. I managed to do the video for the Extra-Fiction contest, on my phone, in the Cowgirls room. Somehow I got through without Emily crashing in, naked from her shower.



After scones and coffee at the Dulce Central, and some so-so thrift storing, we headed for Taos via the High Road/El Camino Real.



Taos is trying for a comeback. Masks are no longer required on the streets. The reservation is no longer blocked off and guarded by the tribal police. Streets are torn up, buildings are being worked on.



At the Kachina Lodge we had trouble with the key-cards, but there were shiny, new murals on the exterior walls, one still in progress; airbrushes and compressors stood ready, awaiting the artist. With careful examination, I noticed that figures I first thought were warriors because they seemed to be facing off, had no weapons, so they were probably dancers or magicians.



In the morning we grabbed coffee and bear claws at Michael’s Kitchen, which featured a “life-sized” Betty Boop (just how tall would she be?). Couldn’t get decaf, but I could use an extra boost.



We had smelled smoke during the night, were the other guests smoking? By the time we hit the road we realized that it was in the air, creating a thick haze, turning the mountains into giant ghosts.


Highway 64 was eerily empty.


“Hokey smokes, Ernie, we may not have the best view of things on this trip. I’m also kind of enjoying having this apocalyptic landscape to ourselves,” Emily said.



To my shame, I missed a chance to photograph the Earthships--futuristic, eco-friendly, semi-subterranean, self-sustaining structures--under the smoke-filled sky as a balloon waited to be launched. I just gawked at the steampunk-ish scene.


Or should that be smokepunk?


Smokapalypse?



There were no other signs of life for a while; then we saw flecks of yellow under the haze.


“At least we’ve got the wildflowers,” Emily said.


As we got into the hills, an effigy of Trump hung from a noose by the roadside.


Emily swerved to miss something, and said, “I don’t want to run over adorable little ground squirrels.”


We had also seen dead deer.



That got me imagining the Beatles' Why Don’t We Do It In the Road? as a travelogue theme song.


We topped off the tank. It only needed five gallons. It had been a couple of days since we last bought gas. Zsa Zsa just kept going, making her sci-fi noises. When she slows down, it briefly sounds like a police siren.



By this time I was trying to get pictures of the smoke, which isn’t easy.  “Stupid trees!” I said. “They’re getting in the way of the smoke.”


At a scenic view, I almost got an accidental shot of a guy pissing off the ledge.



Soon we were in Colorado.


In the City of Monte Vista, there was no view of the mountains.

It kept looking like we were driving to the edge of the Earth.


We saw a WE BUY ANTLERS sign.



I made a note that the symmetrical, green cross is replacing the marijuana leaf.


After zigzagging through New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, we never got out from under the smoke. A thick shroud covered Moab when we arrived.



It looked like a Mars colony. Maybe I had the Mars Colony Syndrome: Everything looks like a Mars colony . . . Or maybe I’m really on Mars, hallucinating about the Southwest of a place called the United States of America, back in the 21st century.


Friday, September 10, 2021

CHICANONAUTICA CON SPEC FIC, DREAMERS, CANNIBALISM, Y HUMAN SACRIFICE


Chicanonautica, over at La Bloga, goes wild over the release of Speculative Fiction for Dreamers (that has a new story by me in it).


There’s an official video:



And what about them dreamers?



And cannibals?



Didn’t a guy named Pablo Cortez once say something about every society practicing some form of human sacrifice?


Thursday, September 2, 2021

FLASHES OF A ROAD TRIP


Here I am again, back from a road trip, and the world is transformed. All the yards in the neighborhood have become jungles, kids walking to school wear masks, and I won’t bother to mention Afghanistan.



My body would like for me to crash into some serious R&R, but my career is running amok and demanding my attention. It kept calling during the trip.



I made a video with my phone in the Cowgirl room of the Silver Saddle Motel in Santa Fe for Somos en escrito’s Extra-Fiction contest. And Speculative Fiction for Dreamers—that will have a new story by me, so order yours now—will be coming out next month. And I worked on my insane Victor Theremin novel, on my phone, every day of the trip.



We helped Emily’s brother, Michael Thiele of Hardwood Music, at the Sun Valley Arts and Crafts Festival.



A lot of the time we were under the smoky haze from the forest fires.



Now Emily is looking for a job. And I’m getting back to business.



Still in searching-for-America mode.


Friday, August 27, 2021

CHICANONAUTICA EMERGES WITH THE EXTRA-FICTION CONTEST IN 2021


Once again, I'm judging Somos en escritos' Extra-Fiction contest.


I even made a video with my phone in a motel room:


 

Here' a screen shot of the flyer:



Yeah, it's hard to read, but links to all the information is in Chicanonautica, over at La Bloga.


Hurry, the deadline is September 30, 2021!


When in doubt, break format . . .

Thursday, August 19, 2021

FINDING AZTLÁN ALONG OAK CREEK


The previous day I spent slaving away at the computer. When Emily and I had breakfast at Kiss the Cook (where they have a  bas relief version of the classic Wild West “End of the Trail” Indian in the men’s room), and she suggested we play hooky and go somewhere, my reaction was, “What the hell!” 


So, we headed up to Sedona, with the maskless summer tourist season taking off in full force. As we got into the town, it got crowded, spilling out into the road along Oak Creek. Our hopes of finding a place to hike were soon dashed. All the big hiking places were full, or had long lines to get in, or parked cars strung out at the roadside for about a mile.



Finally, we decided to park at a place by the river that wasn’t full of cars, and near a rustic stairway leading down to the water. Oh, yeah, there was some interesting graffiti--especially a drippy smiley face, on some of the signs.



Turns out it wasn’t a bad hike. All nature-y and quiet enough.

There were other people, but they weren’t many, and were not making too much noise.



Especially some kids, balancing on rocks across the river. They were quiet. Too quiet for kids on an outing. They were all looking in the same direction. One of them looked our way and pointed.

There was something near the riverbank. At first, I thought it was a statue of a dinosaur. Then it moved. It was a bird. A large bird. A heron.



In case you didn’t know. Aztlán is Nahuatl for “Place of the Heron.” Kinda mystical, huh?


On the way home we ate at the Lone Spur Cafe in Prescott, where Festus from the antediluvian TV show Gunsmoke smiled down on us.


Friday, August 13, 2021

CHICANONAUTICA GETS HIGHAZTECHIZED

 


At La Bloga, Chicanonautica looks at news that sounds a lot like High Aztech.

 

Who remembers Tenochtitlán?



Aztec culture is not dead:



New technology is bringing back the past:



And the culture wars go on:


Thursday, August 5, 2021

MEMORIAL DAY AMID ARIZONA RUINS


Trying to avoid traffic jams on the day to honor fallen warriors, we headed north into cooler weather, toward the remains of lost civilizations. It was the beginning of the almost, not quite post-pandemic summer. NOW HIRING signs were replacing MASK REQUIRED. Everybody was ready to jump the gun while the Delta Variant lurked in the dark corners.



People had come to do the trails around Walnut Canyon with the Sinagua cliff dwellings, but not enough to crowd things. The 736 step (that’s just one way) vertical hike is quite a work out. Emily had to rest. I can still do it without getting winded. The visit to a lost world makes it worth the effort, though.



Then we went to Flagstaff, and just for the hell of it, down Route 66, to pass the site of the late, lamented Galaxy Diner--and lo and behold! It was back from the dead, fully resurrected, and back in business. There was live music and the joint was rocking.



Lost worlds do come back. Better keep an eye out for Sinaguans and Anasazis . . .



We still had time so we visited the lava fields of Sunset Crater and the buildings and ball court of Wupatki, that got me thinking about that ball game novel I want to write.



It was a day in worlds lost and found, old and new . . .


Friday, July 30, 2021

CHICANONAUTICA FORGETS THE ALAMO


Actually, it's a Chicanonautica book review, over at La Bloga.


This one is making news:



Fighting the Hollywood myth:



That’s engrained into Americano culture:



Soon folks will be singing a different tune: