Sunday, October 31, 2010
Day 123: The Roswell Rodeo
Somewhere in Eddy County to Artesia. 19.7 miles/2334.6 total
Sunday, October 31, 2010
9:15 a.m. I’m in the middle of Eddy County on US 82 heading west to Walmart on the far side of Artesia, a distance of 19.7 miles.
It’s party cloudy for a change, but the clouds are high cirrus clouds; nothing threatening rain. There’s a gentle breeze blowing in from the southwest and the temperature is about 65. I’m back in just a t-shirt. Yesterday it got up to 90, but I don’t think it’ll go that high today. And the temperature in the motor home never went below 65 overnight. Sometimes I wake up and it’s in the low 40s.
I took the day off yesterday and have already spent two nights at the Artesia Walmart, which is located on 26th street at the west end of town. Artesia is a reasonably prosperous community, built mostly with oil money. Oil, cattle, and farming are its principal sources if income.
I went to a laundromat in Artesia, a fairly painless experience as those things go. It was pretty clean, and very busy on a Saturday. The washers and dryers were all coinless, and you had to purchase a plastic card, which you credited with money through an ATM-like device, then inserted in the washers and dryers. You had to pay four dollars just for the plastic card, then put the money on it for the machines. I suppose if you’re a local and only have to perform this task once it’s not so bad. But for a tight-fisted itinerant like me it was painful.
So at the end of my time there, with fifty cents credit left on my four-dollar plastic card, I decided to bestow it on a deserving person, since I’ll probably never be back here to do laundry again. Once I made that decision the beneficiary was pretty easy to find. As I was folding my clothes I looked around for the most attractive young woman in the place who looked as if she could use a little help. I found a pretty Mexican woman in her early 20s with a handful of kids in tow. Beauty should receive its little rewards here and there, especially since that beauty will soon be lost to a life of domestic drudgery.
As I walk along I spy a patch of baseball-sized gourds growing wild, maybe from something someone threw out the window. It’s somehow appropriate that I should see these on Halloween, a day we celebrate with another member of the gourd family. And speaking of members of the gourd family, I noticed while driving from Seminole to Hobbs that they grow watermelons in the twenty-foot swath of cultivated earth between the cotton fields and the road. The guy in Loco Hills told me they grow them all through the cotton fields, between the rows. They have to water it all anyway, he added. And I suppose the watermelons are all finished before they go through to pick the cotton. The ones I saw were leftovers, small and round. Texas ranks third in the country in watermelon production, behind California and Arizona.
A couple of miles into the walk I pass the entrance to Turkey Track Ranch, which sports ten black iron signs boasting of rodeo championships they’ve won. In the 1990s and 2000s they won events in the Roswell Ranch Rodeo, and also the Eastern New Mexico State Fair and the Eddy County Sheriff’s Posse Fair.
I don’t know if the Roswell Ranch Rodeo has just the traditional rodeo events, like calf roping and bull riding, or if there are extra events such as alien probing and flying saucer shooting. I can just hear the announcers:
“Now the object of this event, Billie Bob, is to lasso the alien as he’s flying up to the mother ship. You gotta get him around the neck, pull him down and hogtie him, then stick the probe in him, all in under ten seconds. And you gotta watch for the green stuff he shoots out of his eyes, which can blind you. Jimmy Clyde Baxter, out of Turkey Track Ranch in Artesia, holds the state record at 4.8 seconds.”
“Yes sirree, Donnie, these aliens can be tricky as well as feisty. Sometimes they fly horizontally, just to confuse you. You gotta have split-second timing at the moment you throw that rope, and know which way they’re gonna go. These little guys might only weigh about eighty pounds, but they can be slippery and ornery. So let’s watch Jimmy Clyde now as he attempts to rope the alien.”
I had occasion last night to meet some local folks and one of them, Ray, works for a gasoline distributor. I asked him if he knew about the cheap gas down in Carlsbad, and he did. He said Murphy, which is affiliated with Walmart, opened a new station down there and started selling cheap gas to drive out the competition. According to Ray retailers currently pay $2.49 a gallon for gas. That means the station where it was $2.29 is losing twenty cents a gallon. I don’t imagine that can last for long. But maybe they more than make it up in sales of beer and cigarettes.
I haven’t said anything about my beloved New York Yankees, mostly because I’m trying to forget. But I must acknowledge that the Texas Rangers handed them their asses. They jumped on the Yankee starters pretty consistently, and New York’s middle relief wasn’t too strong. You can’t win with Mariano Rivera if he’s not in a save situation. So, better luck next year to the boys. Knowing them they'll throw some money at the problem and fix it. Now Texas is trying to make a series of it, down 2-1, playing in Arlington later this afternoon.
As for Michigan football, that’s just too depressing to talk about.
I fear I’m disappointing you lovers of road kill. I just haven’t seen much of it. Three coyotes, a rabbit, a vulture, and a skunk in five days. There just isn’t that much out here. Or they’re all to fast. Maybe when I start walking up the mountain I’ll see some deer. I heard they’re hunting them up there right now.
Then again, I am only forty miles from Roswell. Maybe the aliens are eating all the animals around here, like those wonderfully carnivorous prawns in District 9. And speaking of meat, I saw a billboard in Artesia for that restaurant in Amarillo, Texas, where you can get a 72 ounce steak for free if you eat it and the rest of the meal in under an hour. I keep promising myself I’ll go there, and I’m pretty sure I can tuck away the steak dinner in the prescribed time. I’ve watched them on the Food Channel, and the strategy is simple: eat the steak first, and do it within the first twenty minutes, before your brain tells your stomach no mas. Then you can pick at the potato and the rabbit food for the next forty minutes.
I’m reminded of the opening lines of one of the early chapters of James Joyce’s Ulysses:
Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
Now there was a carnivore after my own heart.
Finally after 9 miles I’m looking down into a valley at the City of Artesia spread out before me, and beyond it in the far blue distance the mountains where I’ll be later this week.
At 10.4 miles I come to a small junkyard spread out over several acres, containing mostly old trucks and cars, tanks, oil equipment, hills of broken concrete, old dumpsters. There’s a used tank sitting on the ground bearing the name “Enchantment Propane.” I really love stuff like this. In another life I’d like to be either a scrap dealer or a garbologist, examining landfills like an archeologist.
Just out of curiosity I thought I’d check where I was on Halloween last year. I was walking through Marion, Illinois, named for the Swamp Fox, and home to the federal prison that once housed John Gotti, Nicodemo Scarfo, Manuel Noriega, and, of all people, Pete Rose.
On the flatlands in the outskirts of Artesia there are several cotton farms, some picked and the others just about to be. At 16.5 miles I enter the City of Artesia, elevation 3,380 feet, population around 10,000. The city got its name in 1903 from an artesian aquifer located here. And just inside the city is the Navajo Refinery, its dozens of towers twinkling with little lights like a forest of odd-shaped trees all lit up for the holidays. So there’s oil on one side of the street and cotton on the other. Throw in a few cattle and you’ve got the whole picture.
Just past the refinery with its deep hollow rumblings and the hissing of hot gasses escaping from pipes, Artesia proper begins at the intersection of US 82 and US 285, which is called 1st Street. At this intersection is a handsome bronze sculpture about fifteen feet high called “Trail Boss” by Vic Payne, from Wyoming. It's a cowboy on horseback waving a rifle over his head and driving a couple of longhorn cattle. Up at the next intersection there’s a similar sculpture called “El Vacquero,” again with a rider posed in action on his horse pushing a cow along.
At 6th and Main (as 82 is called here) there’s another group of bronze sculptures in a little park on the south side of the street. The large central one is of an oil derrick being worked by several men. Another sculpture depicts a meeting between two men, Matt Chase and Johnny Grey, called “The Partnership.” These two men went into business together in 1972 as Marbob Energy Corp., which they named after their wives, Marilyn and Bobbie. They sold their interests in the partnership some time in the 80s to pursue other interests, but Marbob is still a major presence in Artesia.
I come across a huge prickly pear cactus plant in someone’s yard, with no needles on it. I don’t know if they’ve been removed or if it just grew this way. It has large clusters of fruit on it, not yet ripe. The fruit does have needles.
From 1st Street to 6th Street is the central business district, with most of the buildings occupied. There’s the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center, a few cafes and restaurants, ATES Petroleum in a huge glass and brick building, and the Land of the Sun movie theater. After 6th the solid blocks end and it goes to separate buildings, which get larger and more scattered as I go west. A hardware store, a K Mart, a grocery. A florist with the somewhat suggestive name The Love Bud Floral and Gifts. I look for the county courthouse, then it hits me that this isn’t the county seat. That honor belongs to Carlsbad.
Finally I reach 20th Street and the well-maintained lawns and stately corporate offices of Marbob Energy. Across the street is the Pecos Inn Best Western Motel where I stayed last April on my way out to California. I ate at the Kwan Den Chinese buffet, which as I recall was not a great dining experience. But it was handy and I was hungry. The Kwan Den proved my rule that the farther you get from each coast the worse the Chinese food gets. And it’s still over a thousand miles to L.A.