Archive for February, 2015

Ghosts at the Weatherford

February 19, 2015

Like clockwork, on day four of my road trip I hit my cranky existential crisis. It didn’t help that for this trip, day four overlapped with my birthday, which always makes me a little bit cranky. So double crankiness.

I had a wonderful visit with two parts of the family that I never get to see, and then hit the New Mexico roads. About an hour in, my crankiness descended.

I’ve never liked birthdays, but I hate telling people that, because they nod their head and say, “yep, getting older sucks.” That’s not it. I’m cool with getting older, if for no other reason than it releases some of the societal expectations that get forced on younger people.

It’s the ghosts of birthdays past. I’ve had some great ones, and whether I’m consciously remembering them or not, I think my brain tries to hold each new one to ridiculously high standards. I don’t really like that about my brain.

Last night I sat and listened to the Italian study group that was inhabiting the upstairs saloon at my historic (haunted, of course) hotel. The ghost of my last trip, to Rome and Venice, was floating about, but it wasn’t making me feel all nostalgic and wanderlusty. It just felt like I was trying to be manipulated into a good mood.

(By the way, 100% sounds really cool in italian. Cento perciento. Or something like that.)

The facilitator, who is from San Diego and has a very large family, was very cute, but this was a closed group and my Italian skills are below remedial. I moved over to the mostly empty ground-level bar for another cocktail (apparently all the kids were in the basement bar playing trivia), but I didn’t really engage with anyone and booked it upstairs pretty early, hoping to see a ghost. Because how can a too-young college kid at the bar compare with a pair of honeymooners who died in a murder/suicide in room 54? He can’t.

… Yeah, I think this bit of my brain that is fixated on ghosts may not be the most healthiest thing for my real-life relationships. Something to think about on the long desert roads scheduled for day five.

(Also, it’s just painful to listen to college kids hit on each other in halting Italian. “Can I dance? Oh, DO I dance. Yes.”)

Your video for the day: Senza Fine, the best part of the horrible 2002 film Ghost Ship, with a bizarrely creepy background image.

Borderlines

February 18, 2015

On my last road trip, just over 10 years ago now, I noticed a surprising thing when I crossed state lines. Things changed. I’d always assumed these borders were largely arbitrary, formed by politics and history and maybe a river here or there.

Nope. I found that each of the states had distinct landscapes and personalities, and these changes took place pretty much right on the borderline. Today, when I passed from New Mexico into Colorado, that feeling was reinforced. Suddenly, trees! The adobes shifted to log cabins. The weather and the rivers were the same, but now there were fly fishing outfitters. All of this within the span of about 10 miles.

This time, though, because I was thinking about it, I noticed the shift coming back into New Mexico down a different road. On this road, the changes were far more gradual; it took nearly an hour of driving for the landscape to feel like a new place. (Yet another sign that the brain tricks you, and only remembers what it wants to remember.)

And of course, since I seem to be traveling on a theme this time around, I started to think about the borderlines between life and death. Sure, sometimes they’re abrupt: life on one side, death on the other. But maybe sometimes they’re a bit more gradual…

I was lucky enough to see two aunts today, who live about seven hours apart from each other within New Mexico. The first, who’s right next to one of those gradual state borders, was who I was aiming to reach when the snowstorm pushed into a haunted hotel instead.

“I worried about you!” she said. “Did you sleep at all? Did you even know what it was, going into it?” I reassured her, and we got to talking about spirits. I think one of the reasons I seek them out is because I’ve never seen one. I’m not what you’d call sensitive, really in any sense of the word. So I look for them, and enjoy the terrifying tricks that my mind plays on me along the way.

She had an amazing story, about coming down a grade in the snow, losing traction on a pile of slush, and hearing her father’s voice telling her to let up on the brake. She swears she never would have thought to do that, and that he saved her life that day.

As I sit near Santa Fe and think about borders and spook-filled late nights, this feels appropriate, from Tom Russell’s Borderlands album. “Baby wakes up and calls to me, ‘What is that lonesome sound? It echoes off the mountain out near the lights of town.'”

On an unrelated note, I started to get nostalgic for the sketchy places I’ve slept in (the hotels and family homes on this trip have been freaking DIVINE, I feel spoiled) and discovered that my favorite, the Sleeping Buffalo, has been seriously swanked up. I reeeally want to go to the new spot, but I’m a little sad, too. Here’s what it used to look like, except I’m pretty sure it was never really that clean or that bright. I remember dim lighting, murals obscured by decades of mineral deposits, and the only after-hours entry was through a darkened, perennially under-construction motel with plastic window coverings flapping frantically in the wind. Once you actually got to the pool, your senses were overloaded. The water coming in through the exposed pipes (with holes punched into them for jets) blasted your eardrums so that you could just barely hear the menacing, grumbly, hungry noises of the water running back out, and the jets churned up the rust colored water so much you could not see your foot as you stepped naively into the water. It was a pretty good bet that the crazed serial killer lurking in the abandoned motel behind you was going to grab up one of the power tools left lying about and easily sneak up behind you.

I loved it. I miss it. RIP, old Sleeping Buffalo.

Ghosts, and Adventure

February 16, 2015

My spirit tour continues…

To sum up, here’s my timeline so far:

Friday the 13th:
– Hop on Spirit Air to Dallas, connecting (belatedly) to Missouri, to pick up the car.

Sunday, 15th:
Picher, OK: a ghost mining town and Superfund site, largely evacuated in 2010.
– Geocaching in cemeteries

Monday, 16th:
Texola, OK: a ghost(ish) Route 66 town
St. James Hotel, Cimarron, NM

And so much more still to come…

I like ghosts. Whether or not they exist (and I will withhold all judgement on that), the very idea of them makes me all tingly. They are things that exist through storytelling, and often only through storytelling. What is an icy hand on your back if you don’t tell about it, with great gusto and exaggeration, to your buddies in the bar the next night? Have you ever heard of a ghost that lived an uneventful life and died peacefully in their bed? No, their lives and deaths were undoubtedly filled with drama and plot twists.

I like adventures. I’m sure that’s not a surprise, what with the deep and abiding love of getting lost that I confessed to in my last post. I’ve bungee’d, zorbed, slept alone in the woods, cross-country tripped solo, visited 48 states and 6 countries, whitewater rafted, swapped a desk job in publishing to drive a freight train, went skinny-dipping in a leech-filled pond with people grabbing my ankles (okay, that was at a theme event thing, but still), and more.

I freaking LOVE Ghost Adventures. I watch it ironically, and scoff at the frat boys yelling “Come at me, bro!” to ghosts, while magnifying every possible sensation to the millionth degree. Later at night, I watch it totally un-ironically and have to turn on every single light in the place.

So while I didn’t plan this trip based on their site visits, I was stoked when I discovered how many of the places on my itinerary that they’ve also been to. They’ve visited the St. James and Amargosa, and even the Clown Motel, but they went to the other haunted hotel in Flagstaff, the Monte Vista, while I’m hitting the Weatherford.

Of course, it’s a tourism thing. They’re on the Travel Channel, for pete’s sake. Ghosts and travel go together perfectly; locals can tell as many tall tales as they want, and the history of a place will only grow. Right now, I’m sitting in the lobby to work, and listening to the front desk agent field calls. On about 3/4 of them, he mentions the paranormal. He’s pretty good, though; when I stopped in to get out of a blinding snow storm white-out, he didn’t say a word about ghosts. It was only when I saw the signs while coming down the hall (“Ghost Investigators:” followed by a list of rules, one of which is “No Ouija Boards”). Even then, he downplayed it, just in case it was a turn-off for me.

It was not. This trip, man. It’s doing this itself, I swear, my fingers aren’t even on it.

cemetery gravestone:

Not quite Unknown, but unnamed.

Digital Tools

February 15, 2015

Before I got a smartphone – and this was embarrassingly not long ago, like less than a full year back now – I railed constantly against google maps and online tools for travel. Yes, they mean you’ll never get lost again. But you’ll never get lost again. That’s heartbreaking.

I love getting lost. On my year-long road trip (chronicled here, because I’m really not at all an anti-internet person), I was lost about 89% of the time. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and absolutely the best way to travel. You never miss anything, because you weren’t aiming for anything to begin with, and you find little amazements that delight you. Like this, hidden behind a bush off Route 66:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jujuwiz/16519111936/

Y’all, I was wrong. That little guy? Geocaching.com actually led me to him. And this?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jujuwiz/16544082782/in/photostream/

Roadtrippers.com. Here’s the thing: I’ve figured out how to use the tools.

Today, they actually helped me get even more lost than normal. Because I was free of any fear. I knew that I could dig myself out of any hole that I wandered into accidentally. It may be that the degree of ‘lost’ness wasn’t quite as great, that because I wasn’t really in danger of never coming back, then maybe I wasn’t ever truly lost. Still. I got lost enough to bliss me out, anyway. I ditched my expectations, and found back roads and heartlands backyards that blew my mind.

sunset behind neon motel sign and curving road

Route 66 sunset, Missouri

I may just be a luddite no more.

I’ll leave you with one last image. Early this morning, I was following a geocache link out to a cemetery in Kansas. I could see some headstones off in the distance, so I started crossing an empty (I thought) field toward them. A few steps in, my boots clicked on something. I paused, and started pulling at the weeds, uncovering a gravestone. Then I uncovered ten more.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jujuwiz/15922552634/in/photostream/

You Are At Terminal E

February 15, 2015

“Hello. Hello? Hello! Hello! …. Hello?”

The empty baggage carousel of an international airport is a strange place to hang out and listen to “Welcome to Night Vale” podcasts. And yet, it’s somehow also the most perfect place in the world to do so.

A car pulled up about twenty minutes ago. It’s still sitting there, its lights on. The engine may be running; I can’t hear from inside the wall of glass.

A cleaner overheard a man speaking on the phone in Swahili. (The same man who could not get a clear connection a second ago, and simply repeated hello twenty times.) Both were delighted, and surprised, to find each other here. One was from Kenya, the other Tanzania, but the shared language united them for a moment.

“Hello? Hello? Helloooo. Hello. Baby. Hello.” He’s trying again.

The car has moved on, very slowly, down the passenger pick-up lane.

Maybe the reason the desert is such a place of weirdness is that it inspires late nights and insomnia. The million stars so bright they keep you awake; the warm nights that encourage sitting outside on a porch, not cuddling under a down blanket.

I love the languorousness of late night people. At 2:41 A.M., no one is in a rush. You’re walking down the hallway only to keep awake, not to actually get anywhere.

I’ve switched from “Night Vale” to Tom Waits. Blood Money. Best damn play I’ve seen, maybe ever.

Night people can sit and stare at a vending machine for twenty solid minutes. They might not ever get anything; they might not even intend to. But they can carefully consider their options, staring not-quite-vacantly until another night person wanders slowly over and they have to give up their position.

Because night people also do not overlap. There’s one sitting right behind me, barely four feet away. I could reach out my hand and touch his furry lined cap. But I never would. We’re in different worlds. And in fact, it seems a little weird that we’ve both been sharing this space for so long. An hour has gone by, with each of us studiously ignoring the other.

Well, he’s ignoring me. Obviously, I am pretending to ignore him while listening carefully to all his conversations.

There are reasons for moving slowly late at night. Your actions can become repetitive very easily, and if you are moving fast, quickly making vending choices, popping chocolates into your mouth, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll never stop. This crosses over to other things as well; writing, say. Smoking. Or driving.

Driving late at night, through the desert, your speed gradually increasing, without you even realizing it, until you’re passing the gulch where James Dean died at 100 miles per hour. It happens. It’s the desert.

I don’t really believe in ghosts. Not really. I believe in them less than I believe in God, though I do feel like both of those beliefs are on a kind of spectrum of “well it doesn’t hurt, and it could be a really good choice should the afterlife prove to be long.” I don’t believe in ghosts, yet this trip has turned into a ghost-hunting expedition. From my arrival on Spirit air and my refusal to get a hotel room during my 12-hour layover (maybe the non-overlapping of night people is actually a sign that they are in fact ghosts) to the three haunted hotels that just lined themselves up perfectly with my itinerary, the theme of this trip built itself.

Odd, I don’t think of ghosts when I think of the desert. Ghosts are a plot convention for urban areas, or at least rustic and aged small towns. I can’t picture them wandering among the saguaro cactus.

“Hello. HELLO. Hello?”

A whole slew of people who are not night people just entered. A plane must have gotten in, or it’s closer to dawn than I realized and the next shift is coming on. It’s easy to tell them apart; these folks are out late tonight from necessity, and they’re all on their way somewhere, in a bit of a hurry. They’ll make it to the cabs and their next hotel, or to their cars in the employee staff lot, and they won’t slow down to see the ghosts. They occupy each other’s spaces, overlap with each other, and avoid the eyes of the specters moving slowly on their fringes.