Hello again, Chasers.
SNC played a fantastic show on the Vegas strip on Sunday, November 5. Our next show was in Midwest City, Oklahoma on Tuesday, which meant we had a long drive. Along the way, some of us were lucky enough to spend some time in a great New Mexico town which reminded me of a few things. Allow me to explain:
First off, you should all know that my kids are obsessed with the movie Cars. Thanks to the genius marketing teams at a certain unnamed worldwide media conglomerate, my family owns hundreds of videos, books, toys, and matchbox cars. We have Lightning McQueen, Mater, Sally, Doc Hudson, Luigi, Guido, Lizzie, Red, Sarge, Fillmore, Mac, Chick Hicks, The King, Ramon, Flo, Ferrari, Tex Dinoco, Pitties, Bob Cutlass, and Daryl Cartrip, not to mention the specialized versions like Tires McQueen, Dirty McQueen, Cruisin’ McQueen, Radiator Springs McQueen, Dinoco McQueen, Dinoco Chick Hicks, Crashed The King, Cactus McQueen, Dinoco Chick Hicks, Green Ramon, Gold Ramon, Scuba Mater, Mater the Greater, El Materdor, New Mater, the Hudson Hornet, and I’m sure others I can’t remember. Needless to say, I have seen the movie easily fifty times.
Why am I bringing this up? Because I think we may have been in Radiator Springs on Monday.
Moriarty, NM, as I tweeted (@breakofdon for those of you who don’t follow me), was not a place I expected to spend time during this tour. When I thought of cool places I would have a chance to see for the first time, I was thinking the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. And our first few minutes in Moriarty didn’t do much to get me excited. The five of us on the buses got there at about 2 in the afternoon (the rest of the guys spent the night in Vegas and met us in OKC). We were leaving just after midnight, so we just got one hotel room so that we could shower before the rest of the drive. Shortly after getting to our room, we found that the facilities were…um…not facilitative. The water wasn’t running in the sink, the shower, or the toilet. This posed a somewhat significant problem, as the other useful facet of a hotel room (the bed) was of minimal value. When Ryan called, the very kind woman at the front desk explained that there was a citywide emergency and there was no water. She went on to tell us that they hoped water would be restored “soon.”
We set out in hopes of finding something delicious and local to eat. Following our iPhone maps’ directions, we headed east. In the first ten minutes we spotted not one, but two separate drifters headed east from Moriarty. For those unfamiliar with central New Mexico geography, they were apparently headed to Amarillo, Texas. I expect they’ll be getting there in about three weeks. Needless to say, we were somewhat concerned about the town we were in, to say nothing of our dining options.
Moriarty is about thirty miles east of Albuquerque. Like Radiator Springs from Cars, it is on the Mother Road, Route 66. And, like Radiator Springs, Moriarty is just a few miles off I-40, causing most travelers to drive on by without experiencing this jewel of Torrance County and the Estancia Valley.
After walking a mile in the wrong direction, we got directions from Old Man Lewis (I’m not kidding), turned around, passed the hotel, and rolled into Moriarty proper in about a half of a mile.
We were hoping to find a decent place to eat; what we found was a town remarkable in its history and its character, and yet so unmistakably American that anyone living in a small town anywhere across this country will find echoes of their own hometown in this tiny southwestern village.
Our sojourn took us by many businesses, some still open, some long closed, some indeterminably in between: Trading Post-Mining Co. (closed), Moriarty Flea Market (unclear), Lisa’s Truck Stop (open), Connie’s Grill (open), Get More Thrift Store (open), Frontier Bar (unclear), Blackie’s Bar & Grill (unclear).
We settled on dining at El Comedar de Anayas; probably because of its Yelp ratings, but maybe because it had the brightest sign in town (and a sputnik-like star above it). Our decision proved to be a good one. Not only did El Comedar have fantastic food, we got a history lesson unlikely to be found in many other restaurants.
El Comedar’s walls were lined with remnants and remembrances of what seemed a totally different Moriarty from the one we had just seen. The Anaya family has run the restaurant since 1953. For reference, New Mexico has only been a state since 1912. That means that the restaurant has been going strong for the vast majority of the time New Mexico has existed.
We learned a bit of Moriarty’s history. Michael Moriarty (no, not Professor Moriarty or Dean Moriarty for those literary-minded folks) homesteaded in the (then) territory in 1887, becoming the first resident of the town. When the New Mexico Central Railway opened a station nearby, the station, and then the town, were named for Mr. Moriarty, the recently appointed Postmaster.
The Great Depression was hard on Moriarty; luckily when Route 66 was rerouted in 1937, tourists caused Moriarty to grow from its previous population of ranchers and farmers to include restaurants, gas stations, and even gift shops. (Recall Flo’s V8 Café, Fillmore’s Organic Fuel and Lizzie’s Curios from Cars). Of course, when I-40 bypassed the city in the 1970’s, those tourist numbers dwindled.
The walls told us of the King family of New Mexico, many of whom had been influential politicians and statesmen of New Mexico. Notably, when Bruce King, three times governor of the state, passed away in 2009, the New Mexico legislature wrote a letter to El Comedor paying their respects for the loss of one of El Comedor’s “family.”
On a more visible note, we were shown how places like the Frontier Bar and Blackie’s Bar & Grill looked in the past. They weren’t possibly open and definitely sketchy establishments, they were happening hotspots along the Mother Road, great places for families to stop off on their long drive across this big country of ours. The pictures showed the Frontier bar parking lot chock-full of old Chryslers and Oldsmobiles, and Blackie’s overrun by then-fashionably dressed couples who had driven from all over New Mexico for a good bite. The contrast between the pictures and what we’d seen just yards away outside was striking, yet I couldn’t help but think how it would likely seem eerily familiar to inhabitants of so many places: Riverside, Youngstown, or Detroit, just to name a few.
The loss of tourist traffic coupled with our current economic situation has turned Moriarty into something of a ghost town. Like the Cozy Cone Motel and Luigi’s tires, it appears that Moriarty might open up for business that’s never going to come. Main Street isn’t main street anymore; lights don’t shine as brightly as they shone before (James Taylor’s words, not mine).
So why am I writing all this?
For those of us lucky enough to get to spend some time and attention away from our own hometowns, it is places like Moriarty, New Mexico, that deserve that time and attention the most. By no means am I suggesting you plan your next family vacation to Moriarty. What I am suggesting is that our country, our states, and our cities and towns contain treasures hidden and stories untold. I’m suggesting that instead of hoping for that vacation to the Caribbean or Mexico, that we take a much shorter trip (if the Mother Road is available, use it!) and recognize what it is that allows us to hope for vacations much more extravagant. The strength and beauty of this land is not always found in its towering and crowded cities. It is often found in the small towns and the people who inhabit them. It is their history and character that give us some idea of how we all got here, and how this great and ongoing American Experiment continues. There is sure to be a Moriarty not too far from your front door, with a past as rich as you can imagine, and with its own El Comedor, Cozy Cone Motel, or Flo’s. Go check it out. Get off the Interstate for a while.