Cross-country road trip, resurrected (#6)

*This post originally appeared on theday.com on August 5th, 2007

And I thought I was liberal

First order of business: we broke Pimp. It was a long time coming, but Pimp and his furnace couldn’t hack our lifestyle anymore, and he left us in Dallas to fly back to Chicago. He got really sick, and this is the reason he gave for leaving us, though he said he wished he could stay for the ride.

Directly, this is true. He left us because he got sick—really sick. But he got sick only because we broke his hyper-ordered system. His furnace was too accustomed, even dependent, on functioning at full capacity. When we started to disrupt the fragile rhythms of his daily routine, the furnace broke.[i]

“Some people just weren’t cut out for life on the road,” Will kept reminding him as he sat slumped over in the back seat, head in his hands.

We’ll miss him. He forgot a few fast-food wrappers and a hand-gripper, used to strengthen the forearm and fingers, in the back seat.

Without Pimp, Will and I pushed on to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We stayed with one of my dad’s old friends, Nat.

I’ve known Nat for a while but I’ve never really sat down and talked to him. I learned a lot, mostly that he and my dad got up to some crazy things back in their day. The two now keep their distance, which is probably safer for my dad.

Nat is an artist, who does a lot of welding work. His sun-hardened face and blown back locks looks like they bore the force of a small fire-bomb. When he talks he usually sloshes around an oversized cup of coffee that, defying physics, doesn’t spill. He talks a lot about overthrowing the government, various conspiracy theories, and Bush’s charge toward unhindered tyranny.

I don’t mean to make Nat sound nuts. He is, but in the wholesomely arty and caring kind of way.

And for some reason—maybe it was the surreal surroundings or the nuclear-trigger-switch factory he pointed out a few miles West—I believed almost everything he said. He also has a very eloquent and funky way of explaining things, which makes his theories a lot more palatable.

“Everything is upside down out here,” he said one night. “The air. The space. Even the way people view history in the West is completely inverted. People come out here to forget their past. They bury it. In the East everyone’s always trying to grab hold of it, dig it up.”

Nat lives with his wife, Alice, on the self-titled “Sculpture Ranch,” which lies on a large bare hill outside of Santa Fe. Instead of a yard, he has a field of dry grass, cacti, and sculptures.

Most of these, particularly Nat’s, have some kind of anti-war, anti-Bush, or anti-nuclear war message.

In the dusk, purple clouds mushrooming up around the Santa Fe and Bandalier mountains, which surround the city, we toured the sculpture garden.

One of my favorites was Nat’s “Wheel of Terror,” a gigantic arrow with a big color wheel attached to its back end. The wheel bares the colors associated with the levels of national security alert. When unhinged, the arrow wiggles back and forth while a marker in the center of the wheel spins continuously to point to different colors: Red … orange, green … red.

“The secret is a golf ball that I wedged down in that pipe,” Nat said, pointing to the steel pipe that acts as the fulcrum of the sculpture. “Golf balls are amazing. They’re round and they can withstand a lot of pressure.”

Most of his sculptures are big conceptual pieces that use lots of iron.

Alice also has a few pieces in the garden. One, an interactive piece, is the “Gas Station Cross.” It is a miniature golf hole, covered with turf and shaped like a cross. Insignias of gas stations, (Chevron, Citgo, and Sinclair),[ii] painted on gravestone-like pieces of wood, line the outside of the cross next to holes that are easy to sink. On one end of the cross, behind various blockades, lie insignias for alternative energy: wind, solar, hydrogen. The holes in front of these signs are tougher to make and require a little mathematical or creative ingenuity.

It was also nice to view sculptures in such a natural and changing environment, instead of the sterile white halls of a museum. The movements of the clouds and the light twisted and lit the sculptures in ways that you otherwise wouldn’t know.

Speaking of museums and art, it seems like the only people that live in Santa Fe are artists. There are 200 plus galleries in this freaking city. I can’t figure out how it sustains itself. Everyone is selling, and selling their pieces at bloated prices. Who’s buying? Can anyone answer this?


[i] We decided that Pimp has a coal-powered furnace. Like an old steam ship, he needs to keep it packed so it burns hottest.

[ii] I often opt for Sinclair out here because its symbol is a giant green dinosaur. Very likeable.

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