I was driving my mouse around on the information superhighway last weekend and saw that Saturday, June 29 was the 80th anniversary of the real life superhighway, the interstate highway system. At least that’s when President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act into law in 1956.
I don’t know about you but I have mixed feelings about zooming cross-country, stopping only to eat at Stuckey’s or get gas at a Love’s truck stop, but that’s what you do if you don’t have time to spare. When John Steinbeck was writing Travels with Charley, this is what he said about the interstates: "These great roads are wonderful for moving goods but not for inspection of a countryside. You are bound to the wheel and your eyes to the car ahead and to the rear-view mirror for the car behind and … at the same time you must read all the signs for fear you may miss some instructions or orders. No roadside stands selling squash juice, no antique stores, no farm products or factory outlets.” Cowboys don’t wear shorts
Of course, Steinbeck was right, and by the time I started driving most of the system was in place, but some sections still had gaps, where I guess you could still pull over and get squash juice. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing like taking the old roads; the ones that were built to tie one community to another, where one can fully digest the peculiarities of any given part of the country. Sure, we’re all Americans, but we’re also independent. And stubborn about our independence. It’s like the spirit of 1776 is still alive, in a way.
This makes me wonder what I would be up to if I was a colonist back in the 1770s. I mean, weren’t we all British citizens, more or less? Yes, but...
I’d like to think I’d be one to hitchhike to Boston and join up with the Sons of Liberty, or pick up a musket and enlist with the Continental Army (since there wasn’t a Continental Air Force at the time) to drive those pesky Redcoats back to England.
We drove ‘em out again in 1814 when “we took a little trip along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip…” or so the song goes.
Then there was the British invasion of 1964, but that’s a whole other song and dance.
Funny thing, though, is that they keep coming back.
Case in point: A few weeks ago there was a summit of sorts where our two countries separated by a common language met at the Golden Spur “pub” in Magdalena, and I found myself chin wagging with 11 Englishmen who had traveled to New Mexico to see what we were all about.
Turns out one of the Brits was the great-grandson of Agnes Morley Cleaveland, author of No Life For A Lady. His name is Monty Powell and he had invited 10 of his mates from London to spend a couple of weeks at a ranch outside of Datil.
Monty is actually no stranger to Catron County and the old Cleaveland home place.
“I’ve been coming out here for 25 years now,” he said. “And all I can say is, I remember as a kid that there were way more cowboy types back then than now. I remember people with six-shooters coming and hanging their gun belts up at the ranch. Ranch workers that very much lived like cowboys.”
He said although he had been here many times, it was an eye-opener for his friends, who had no first hand knowledge of the U.S., save for what they saw on American TV shows broadcast in the UK.
“To 11 English lads, this experience couldn't have been further from what we are used to in London,” Monty said. “We are amazed at how friendly, helpful and hospitable everyone is. The more remote we were, the friendlier the people seemed to be. We didn’t know they would be as friendly as they are.”
Observations from the rest of the group at the Spur that day ranged from the hospitality of New Mexicans to confusion over four-way stops. A few direct quotes:
“Everything is bigger. Cars bigger, drinks bigger, skies bigger.”
“The spaces here are massive. We can literally see the weather coming.”
“Very rural. Kind of old-fashioned way of life; the farming and ranching.”
“The four-way stop. What’s that all about? Where are your roundabouts?”
“You can look out the window and see 50 miles and look the other way and see 35 miles. In England you can see two miles, maybe a half-mile.”
“It’s pretty incredible, really, to see the roads. They’re so straight.”
“What happens at a rodeo?”
“Catron County is like the Wild West. The kind of place where people still wear cowboy hats … and cowboys don’t wear shorts.”
Blimey, what a quotable quote.
Anyway, they were a very nice bunch of young men and I just didn’t have the heart to bring up 1776.