The road home had its first stop in my favorite U.S. city, Santa Fe. A place small enough to be intimate, large enough to have a depth of human history and a sense of cultural diversity. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have the beauty of desert melding into mountains for a background, either.
Leighanne, Richard and I are lousy tourists, surely, spending less than what the chiefs of tourism deem desirable, walking, looking into shops, drinking flights of micro-brews and sampling desert wines, but watching the budget all the time, supporting the local economies and basically acting cheap.
Oh, Leighanne bought some bird fetishes carved from stone by a Native American craftsman, t-shirts for friends and family, but in Santa Fe we mostly explored, inspected tribal arts, checked out the ancient church St. Francis of Assisi, and dined on a rooftop serving micro-brews and a chicken/chili, pinyon nut/cheese pizza with alfredo sauce and a blue corn crust. Wow. From there, continuous blues rocked out to the lovely green square below.
Mile by mile, from prairie dogs to coyotes, mesas to the sagebrush plains, we turned away reluctantly and headed east. Again the southern heat (104 degrees and muggy) clobbered us each time we spilled out of the car. Memphis, “Home of the Blues,” would’ve made an interesting stop for us but was too close from our morning start in Arkansas for an actual visit. We investigated a southern museum in Brownsville, Tennessee, home of early bluesman Sleepy John Estes, where I did break down and buy an Estes album recorded in 1964.
Had I been traveling alone, I wouldn’t have stopped (because of heat and the fact that “Nashville music” doesn’t play well in my ears), but downtown Nashville sucked us into its steaming maw, with music twanging and thumping out of its hundred bars. I grumbled but I rambled along, enjoying a barbecue beef sandwich, mediocre folk musicians and less than average beer. In a place called “Swingin’ Doors Saloon,” a tight country band had me tapping to the beat. In no surprise to the others, I knocked my full beer glass to my lap and then to the middle of the floor where it shattered and drew the quick attention of a pretty barmaid.
I tried to help with the clean up, but the Nashville maid was friendly and I was… well, unbalanced. Had it been Santa Fe, I might’ve heard “Bad tourist, no turquoise!” Back at the hotel, a thunderstorm approached, winds blew, lights went out, then generators hummed. An arriving cold front brought relief, and we were almost home.