Highway 60: Four Days in the American Interior: Day 4 Nowata, OK – Fort Wayne, IA

You can read the first three installments of my October 2011 road trip here, here, and here.

Complimentary coffee and supermarket sweet rolls, then on to Vinita where I join the Interstate. The best is past, and I can only look with longing at each exit.  Lots of slowdowns for construction as the two year old stimulus proceeds.

Late Autumn in the Ozarks of Missouri, and Arkansas stations coming in on the radio. A field filled with pickups where a cattle auction is in progress.  On the hills, billboards for “Erotic Superstores,” fireworks, gun stores, Indian gaming. And churches, particularly as I approach Springfield, known for its piety and confessional diversity. Sex, loud bangs, weapons, and God.  If there is a message here, I don’t get it.

A rest area is handsomely themed with icons from old Route 66.  I’ll take route 60, largely intact where I drove it.

Oh St Louis! Long ago Gateway to the West, now firmly in Middle America.  A commanding height on the great river, choke point and gathering place.  History. Approaching the center, a bluff with old brick houses on streets still thick with autumn foliage.  Across the river, East St Louis, another history, an unfortunate one of urban decay, where Chevy Chase had his ride stripped in “National Lampoon Vacation.”  Funny.  I guess.

Some of the old factory buildings are being sold as loft condos.  A sooty dark bridge crosses the river.  There must be a lot of old iron down there, a great place for a little urban archaeology, a black and white photo shoot.  I guess I’d be afraid.  And that’s not funny.

The Interstate splits, North to Chicago, south to Memphis.  On my own, with no obligation, I’d take a hard right, right now.  Memphis, Interstate roads signs to conjure with, each trigger for memories and dreams.

Again those imaginary but so real lines on the map.  Illinois and the clean straight sweep of fields and windbreaks.  White houses and grey barns and silos, very different from those of Oklahoma and Missouri.  Near new Zurich, a country cemetery, nineteenth century grave still tended, sheltered in a copse among the ripening corn, a barn and silo rising behind.  And so it has been, around every corner, over every rise, past every bend, the human geography that shows not only a particularity of place but the traces of great waves of settlement and economic change.

Later, with the luxury of the internet (something I did without those three days) I saw that what was to me no more than an interesting road sign with a tiny population number, was a place built by generations, still cherished, histories remembered.  Not histories of great battles and famous men, but an early settler, a successful farmer, a pioneering business, a champion sports team recalled in yellowed clippings and black and white speed graphic.

At dusk, Terre Haute, and I remember a long ago summer visit there with cousins, lazy days of swimming in the Wabash, bicycling the streets under the green arch of trees in full summer leaf, and out into the open country side. Dinner at the back yard picnic table most evenings. Hot dogs, watermelon, and corn so sweet that butter was superfluous.

Construction delays, and well past nightfall when I pass though Indianapolis, the brightly lit glass towers much the same as in any of scores of midsize American cities. At last skirting the outskirts of Fort Wayne, past dark office parks and brightly lit auto dealerships, into the rural suburb where my daughter lives.

That moment of both solid satisfaction and mild regret when the journey is done.  The lights go on and I am home, because, as was once said, home is where they have to let you in, to which I would add, where they are glad to see you. How fortunate I am to have so many.

Highway 60: Four Days in the American Interior: Day Two: Socorro, NM to Hereford, TX

I really should get started earlier.

(For Day One, go here.)


There’s a supermarket across the way.  A local outfit, with the aisles a bit bedraggled, as these rural places usually are. No olive bar, international cheese spread or charcuterie, but a couple of bucks and tax gets you plenty of hot coffee and glazed deliciousness. Bear claw and a maple log. This stuff just doesn’t exist anywhere outside the U.S.

Sit on the porch, put your feet up. Retire in Socorro?

A guy, white, scraggly, bearded, dressed in layers, probably homeless, is talking to himself sitting at one of the tables. The Latina serving me rolls her eyes. I ask if he’s a problem. No, she says, but the smell. ?Que va a hacer? What can you do?  I remember the week before, chatting with a convenience store clerk in Santa Cruz, California, who was terrified of the crack head who hung out in the parking lot. She’d seen him decline over a year or so, from a hippie pothead type, to a hallucinatory shambles uttering threats to everyone and no one.

Even here, I think. Best to breakfast in the room.

Time for a quick look at Socorro. Back to the square. The town is named for the succor the local Indians gave the first group of Spaniards staggering out of the nearby desert in 1598.   A little less than a hundred years later the Pueblo Indians revolted and Spanish rule did not recommence until 1815. Socorro’s core retains a very nineteenth century look. I n an unexpected segue from Fort Apache the day before, it turns out the Socorro was the home of Elfego Baca, hero of a Disney series for TV in the 50s, “The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca.”

Robert Loggia as Elfego Baca, New Mexico lawbreaker turned sheriff,and later lawyer advocate for the Hispanic community. With Audrey Dalton. Anette Funicello also played a character named "Chiquita." Cringe!. Still, despite color blind casting and goofy accents, the series was the first to bring a Mexican- American hero to a nationwide audience.

There’s enough in the area to keep one busy for days; I figure I have about fifteen minutes to spare. Some of the buildings around the square date to the old municipio. I don’t know why people say history is boring.  Look at a Spanish town in North America, like this one, or Sonoma in Northern California, and you are looking at a Roman colonia.

The building style  combines adobe and timber, of which there is a good supply in the nearby mountains, reminding me of Patzcuaro Iin the pine forests of Michoacan. Government offices are in new buildings off the square and the old places are occupied by lawyers, accountants, and a cafe advertising live acoustic music and poetry readings.

Stopping the wars in Socorro. Somehow, not expecting Occupy Socorro anytime soon.

Adobe of the desert Southwest combined with mountain pine.

A stretch of interstate is unavoidable as 60 joins it for a few miles running north before heading due west again. I don’t mind because this part runs along the Rio Grande valley, the river bottoms glorious in color against the low austere mountain.  , At a rest stop to get rid of the morning coffee I find a marker for the Acomila Buttes nearby. These formed a choke point on the El Camino Real(Royal Road) along the river and was a place where caravans were frequently ambushed by the Apache.

There is that about New Mexico: it seems to exist in different times simultaneously. One can feel the past here. It is part of America,and the Southwest, but there is something in the air,and the light, that sets the state apart in both space and time.

I had been in the state once before, in 71. It was October then, too, and the autumn color reminds of that time. A college drop out, waiting for my draft call up, I took to the road, uncertain of why or where I wanted to go, and spent a couple of months in the state, hitching, sometimes sleeping rough, doing a bit of day labor here and there.

Somewhere in a river valley, ranch homes along the banks sheltered by groves of crimson Lombardy poplar, and then a town. I got out at a Dairy Queen. The place was very quiet. The social tide of the 60s had left this place alone, but the war had taken the young men. A man  asked me where I was going, and when I told him no place in particular, he asked if I could stand a bit of work. A neat fellow with brilliantined hair, plaid shirt, jeans and a string tie. I felt disheveled next to him as I climbed into his truck.

Looking north from Highway 60 going west to Mountainair

He put me up for a couple of days. His own son son was overseas. I wasn’t of a lot of use, but his wife fed me, and the work made me not quite a guest, but less than a beggar.

Acomilla Buttes

After shifting a heap of firewood, he put me to work scraping and sanding the walls of the house, which he intended to paint.   Pleased with my first few hours work, I looked up to see him regarding it. His cheek twitched, and the toothpick always in his mouth shifted from one side to another. I knew I had to start over.

It would be a great story if I could write how that old boy taught me to rope and ride, but a couple of days was about all he wanted me around for. I’m still meticulous on surface preparation. I’m not sure why he took me in.   After supper I was invited to watch the news on the big Magnavox in the parlor. They were particularly intent when a story came on from the war zone in Viet Nam.

Roy’s not anywhere near there,” he said. And the woman smiled and freshened my ice tea.  I slept in the bunk house. The place must have been more active once, but now there were just the bed frames with rolled up mattresses.

60 to the west towards the-40

After two days, the rancher took me back to the Dairy Queen. We shook hands and then he handed me two twenties. I had never thought about pay and one would have been more than fair.

Never mind, you earned it he said”, and drove away.

60 East All mine in both directions

Right on 60, and I am alone on a glorious two lane blacktop skirting mountains and heading gently up. A storm brewing.  Stop to take some pictures, and there is not a car in any direction.  What a country this is, that can build and maintain these perfect roads that so few will take.

Alone. No one coming in either direction, no sound save the rising wind.

Hippie crashes in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The Mescaleros, pine fresh in the morning, the plain of Alamogordo crimson in dusk.

Late one night, a state trooper stopped and asked for my ID. Perhaps no older than I, he put on an air of sternness, but as he looked through my passport ( I had no license) and saw the Asian stamps, he couldn’t contain his curiosity.  He took me forty miles down the road just to hear some of my stories of far countries, and allowed he’d travel one day too.

The trooper dropped me off in Roswell, where I washed dishes for a while. Met a girl there and when she had satisfied her curiosity over the California boy, and I knew that I couldn’t ever be from there, moved on.

Finally, I see someone.  A fellow riding a grass cutting machine, trimming the verge. Not only is the road surface perfect, but the shoulders are manicured. You have to have lived in very different countries to realize what a miracle this is.

Picked up one day by two middle aged cowpunchers with all their possessions in a station wagon, suitcases, saddles and tack, driving hopefully off to a new gig. Left me at the side of the road when they turned off, with the gift of a half pint of bourbon, and best wishes for my time in the service. They had been in Korea.

Taos in the rain. Braided Indian women selling baskets, kids in jacked up chevies cruising the slick streets.

Maybe looking for trouble, thumbing around with my huge  white kid ‘fro and Guatemalan quetzal jacket, but treated with great kindness by people who seemed to find some small happiness in helping me on my way,

When I tired of these wanderings and with winter setting in, I went back to California, where an induction notice had arrived, followed soon by another notice canceling it. Back to real life, finishing school, work, and the long road that brought me back here this morning, once again, to the autumn Rio Grande on a New Mexico morning.

I speak a silent  thank you to New Mexico, for what it gave me then, and is now.    I hope all those people’s lives have been or were full, and happy. I hope the girl married well; I hope Roy came home o.k.

Salinas Puebos National Monument New Mexico

Driving on, the question arises:what it is it about so many rural folk that leads them to collect, and display intheir front yards,large amounts of mechanical junk. The houses I see are surrounded by broken equipment, and lots of battered trailers and mobile homes. These are perhaps, still in use as migrant housing. The ranches are not the prosperous showcases one sees in California.

The map shows that the Salinas Pueblo Mission National Monument is not far off my way. There are three sites, Abo, Quarai and Gran Quivara. Gran Quivara I’ve known about since my boyhood interest in archeology, and it is just a little too far off the route. Abo, however, is just before the the town of Mountainair on 60.

Abo Mission ruins

Buttress use unique to Abo

There’s a small ranger station. The ranger is out to make his rounds and waves as he drives off. There is a light dusting of snow on the red rock ruins. Settled by the Indians as far back as 1300, The Spanish Franciscans established a mission there around 1620, but only stayed for around fifty years. Historic American Buildings Survey,
Engineering Record, Landscapes Survey Library of Congress says this about the architecture:”The Mission is notable for the construction method using buttresses to support relatively thin walls, a method used in European church architecture. San Gregorio de Abo is the only example of the use of this method for a seventeenth-century New Mexican church.”

I have the place to myself. The starkness of the ruined walls against the perfect cobalt sky is overwhelming.Time weighs heavily, all the vanished unknown lives. But, I see here is one, that is happily memorialized. Don Federico, Fred Sisneros whose family once owned the site, spent his declining years caring for the site as “the nation’s oldest park ranger.” His family had once owned the land,and later deeded it to the state. This reminds me again of eh ancient roots of the Hispanic settlement in New Mexcio. Descendants of old families like the Sisneros proudly, and accurately, say that their ancestors predated the United States. Another branch of the family runs Casa de Abo nearby, producing sculptures and landscape ornaments into the New Mexican style.

Grave of Fred Sisneros, "the Nation's oldest Park Ranger."

On to Mountainair and as the road rises it begins to snow. I am delighted. It is a light fall, not enough to close the roads, but enough for me to see New Mexico in winter as well as autumn.

Train Station, Mountainair New Mexico

Railside business in Mountainair. Probably a feed and grain outfit once,now plastic injection molding, You have to hand it to anybody making a go of something in a tiny place like this,

The town is a small place, and looks as if it were never too much more than a whistle stop. There is an old Santa Fe station, closed off to the public, a maintenance center now. Work, I’m sure, is scarce around here. Lucky is he – or she – who is a railroader these days.

There ‘s time for me to make Quarai and I head out of town as the road quickly descends into a nearly featureless plain, now white, totted at great distances by homesteads. Then the way turns north and east and rises again.   Of course. The settlement would be sited on higher ground both for defense and access to, and control of, water from the mountains. There is a town, or hamlet, not large enough to warrant a sign, and

Shaffer Hotel, Mountainair

Quarai mission ruins

Massive walls, six feet wide in places

seventeenth century.

The  nearby town of Manzano (Pop. 54)  has a church, and a churchyard, as well as an automotive graveyard that appears to date from the 30s. Again, that tendency of the rural poor to collect junk.

There’s time for a quick look at the main street in Mountainair. An old hotel that has a coffee shop going, warm and inviting. The icon of every small town where a kid woke up and said I’m getting out of here one day. A

Downtown Moutainair

defunct Greyhound station, a local bank long gone, a John Deere place still in business.

Back to 60 . I’m following the railroad now, one train after another. There is sometime about seeing a pair of diesels pulling a long string of cars across a western landscape. It speaks of power, the raw energy that bound these immense vistas with steel.

The train are different from those I saw a child. Boxcar Willie would find no shelter, as boxcar has almost vanished, Instead, containers on flats, RORO, chemical carriers, livestock cars. And the caboose must have disappeared decades ago. The containers are all Asian: COSCO, Han IL, Yonsei. Gone too is the variety, the many logos that a child would count to while away the long hours on a cross country drive: Rock Island, B&O, Erie, Great Northern, Burlington, Northwestern, Rio Grande, Union Pacific, Wabash and so many more, so that a train bore emblems of every region of the country, a rolling history of railroad commerce for the US and Canada as well.

The Santa Fe, my childhood favorite, because it was the line that brought grandparents from back east, survives and thrives. The Chesapeake has long been CSX which just isn’t very evocative. There are occasional Canadian National and Pacific Cars. Still, the lines of cars form horizon to horizon still and thrill I wonder if this is what rolls during a time of low growth, what must it be like when times are good?

Humans and vehicles at rest

Manzano church

The snowy horizon extends in every direction with a few ranches until I reach the town of Willard. I’m hungry, and the roadside Willard Cafe looks like it might be just the thing. Now here it’s time for a bit of shameful confession. Like so many coastals, I know my fellow Americans from the interior more as types seen in the movies., than as real people I might actually enjoy meeting.

There is a large bar and games area, empty at this time of day, and a small, cozy lunch room. One table is occupied by four bearded guys in billed caps and camos. In the movies, they would be militia types, ready to kick some urban ass. Perhaps they are hunters, or just guys from around here who like to dress that way.

A friendly blond waitress seats me, bringing me my ice tea and a menu along with chips and salsa. The place specializes in deep fried Serrano Chiles. A green Chile combo comes a taco, beans, and sopapilla, New Mexican fry bread. It strikes me that on every table is a dispenser of Karo syrup. I haven’t seen that since I was last in the south. But then Texas is not that far, and there were Confederate militias in New Mexico.

The food is just right for a winter day, hearty, , spicy, but not fiery, satisfying for its earthiness. At the next table are two men and women, an Anglo and Hispanic of each gender. Government workers from different agencies, County, Forestry, Police, sharing lunch. The conversation switches back and forth between Spanish and English, everybody bilingual, from inter-agency topics to local gossip and family news. Their easy camaraderie adds a warmth to the room already glowing with the aroma of good food.

Lisa, owner operator of the Willard Cafe. Original exterior wall in the background

The room clears and I linger to chat with the waitress when she esquires as to my enjoyment of the food, which I am happy to verify. Her name is Lisa, and in fact, she is the owner. Lisa tells me that she’s worked there since she was sixteen, off and on, and after forays to Denver and Albuquerque, came home, and about six years ago when the owners wanted to retire they offered to sell he business to her. It hasn’t always been easy, but in addition  rhinsto the local clientele, she has fans from road trips, stopping by like I did, to return again and again. One son helps her, another is up in the Northern part of the state, installing wind turbines. There are big wind farms in the area, and for a while, the crews brought in a lot of business before they moved on. Her son was able to get on part time, did well, and was taken up for training and permanent hire. Her pleasure in the life she has made for herself and her kids in her hometown, where here isn’t much, is warming.

Lunch at the Willard cafe. Local custom seems to be to drench the sopapilla with Karo. Passed on that.

Back on the road, and the terrain is in a long decline, that continental slope, which I can see in the rail line that tilts to the horizon.  This is the Belen cut-off, an Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe route that once sowed settlements across this empty land, and I come to the remains of one such at Yeso.  There must be some people around as there is a Porta-Post office, but I don’t see anyone, and the businesses that once sold travelers cokes and gas are in ruins.  The trains remain, chuffing along, backing up and moving on, framed by half fallen walls. 

General store, Yeso, New MexicoPost Office, Yeso

One building must have been constructed very early on, and by someone with little capital.  The Overton Merc. Co, which I would take to have a general store is built of undressed stone, and without visible mortar, yet it is in better shape than the frame and plaster buildings nearby. (For more on Yeso, see City of Dust, a fine blog by a New Mexican, fascinated by vanished roadside America.  Eloquent writing and photography)

Then it’s another twenty miles or so to Fort Sumner.  Rolling country, better watered, a bit more populated.  This is horse country.  It is always good for the soul to see horses watering, trotting about open pasture of an afternoon as the light softens and  catches their colors.

Fort Sumner straggles along the Pecos River, and that very name is enough to evoke a another 50s series, Judge Roy Bean.  Bean operated much further down the river, in southwest Texas, but I am certainly in an important site for Old West history.

Fort Sumner is where billy the Kid is buried.  Probably, but exactly where is subject to some dispute.  As an article in Roadside America details , the gunman and psychopath  William Bonney, aka Blily the Kid, is most likely resting somewhere in the cemetery next to the Billy the Kid Museum outside of town, but whether is directly under the often filched tombstone is another question.

The museum, which looks more like what my dad used to call “tourist traps,” as he refused to stop despite all our begging to see whatever lurid attraction we were passing, was closed for the season, and directed interested parties back to a branch in town.  Had it been open, I would have tarried.  At one time I affected some sense of post modern irony in enjoying such  places, but now I’m ready to admit, I just like them.  There is also, a few hundred yards on, a memorial and exhibit to some atrocity by the government against the local Indians.  I’ve decided that I want to sleep in Texas that night, so content myself with some quick pics, and move on

Fort Sumner attractions

The low hills around Fort Sumner disappear, and I’m moving towards the Texas panhandle.  On the last elevation I’ll see until I get well  into  Oklahoma,  to the north, a troop of wind turbines claws the sky, skeletal in the fading glow as more weather moves in.

Billy the Kid's headstone. Grave...maybe

A bit of four lane and then Clovis, the concrete mushroom of the Air base control tower to the right,  gas and motel strip thorough town,   The first grain elevators.  Entering the great agricultural heartland, the North American granary that goes form here to Canada and all the way to the Alleghenies.


State borders may be imaginary lines on a map, bu the differences are very real. Crossing in to Texas, which is just a matter of crossing the street in Clovis, from New Mexico it is immediately clear that I am in a far more prosperous place and one with very different economic organization. Instead of the small ranches of eastern New Mexico, very Big Ag.  I can smell cows immediately and even in the gathering darkness  there are black spills of them all across the plain on both sides of the road. Oil too.  Now and then a hissing injection well lit up like a Christmas tree.

Have I been away so long that I have no perspective, so that that what seems wondrous to me is merely ordinary?  Were communication masts always so tall,  rising hundreds of feet, with their summits even blurred by low lying mist?. There are many of them, the cherries of their warning lights blinking off in a line to the distance.   Some last light escapes from the setting sun already obscured behind an approaching storm front and the guy wires, gossamer with the last light  flicker like lines of fairy dust.

The towns spread light crossways to the darkened highway like the elliptical discs of distant galaxies. And they are like worlds, with their own histories, matrices of relationships of blood and commerce, that l, as would a voyager through space en route to a distant destination, can only wonder about.

Bovina. You have to love these names.   And up ahead, Hereford. Sure enough, a black and white cow on a plinth announces the town, Hereford, Deaf smith County county seat. Smith, the man who took the last letter out of the Alamo to General Houston, was someone I learned about in those long ago fifties popular juvenile histories.

A good place to stop.  Another Indian run motel, south of forty a night, with a liquor store and Mexican restaurant across the street and a McD’s that will serve for  breakfast.

Taqueria Jalisco has more than tacos, a near full house, and friendly, pretty waitresses. 

Chile verde at Taqueria Jalisco, Hereford, TX

Did I want corn or flour tortillas?  I explain that this is a treat for me, there not being any real Mexican food where I live so I’m having trouble making this simple decision.  Have both she says and I do with my Chile Verde.  Tender pork shoulder simmered for hours in in a piquant green sauce based on jalapeno, tomatillo, cilantro and  other goodies.  Real beans, no healthy cuisine nonsense, cooked with lard.  Sides of red salsa and escabeche to make it all even hotter.

As I pay the bill, a Sikh family stops in to pick up a take out order.

For dessert, I grab a big Stella at the liquor store. The low prices and variety of alcohol everywhere are amazing.  You have to live in in Asia  to appreciate it. On the cable, talk shows on cattle futures, ads for irrigation piping, and a show for women horse owners, all the little girls who grew up reading “Black Beauty,” and here in Texas actually get their own horses.

Drifting off, thinking of the day past and the next, it’s like life: you can’t know if what’s ahead will be as good, or better or worse than what’s past until  you move on.


HIghway 60: Three Days in the American Interior: Day One: Phoenix, AZ – Socorro, NM

Last October I had the opportunity to spend three days on the road in the U.S. taking one daughter’s car from Arizona to her sister in Indiana.  As an expatriate, and someone who has fancied himself a world traveler, I’ve spent a good deal of my life seeing what there is outside our borders. Of course, I’ve been to many the major cities, know my native state, California, well,and have seen some of the big draws that bring visitors from around the world -Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier and so on, Since I was a kid in the 50s and got interested in rocks, Indians, archeology, the way a lot of boys did then through books written just for them, I’ve had a hankering to visit the Southwest, another region that has a following world wide, so I was excited about my passage through Arizona and New Mexico. Beyond these, a  previous trip to Fort Wayne had opened my mind to the states so dismissively labelled “flyover” by us coastal types.

What this trip showed me was that America is vast, not only in size and population, but in the infinity of natural features, untouched areas, regional variations in architecture and food, in a word that trope, diversity, means something here. The homogenization of America is much overstated.

I was pleased when a friend told me my pictures from the trip made America look exotic. What he did not know was that I did not have to “make” the country look exotic using photographers’ tricks or a particular vision, but instead merely snapped what I saw to the best of my limited equipment and even more restricted ability, both technical and artistic.


  1. Intriguingly unusual or different; excitingly strange:

America is full of the exotic

And my expatriate eye helped me see the wonder in the familiar. “I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once.”
Thomas Wolfe,
You Can’t Go Home Again

Sometimes I shouted out in joyful wonder at what I saw; at others near tears I quiet gratitude for what we have.

Day One Phoenix, AZ to Socorro NM

Dawdling, I make a late start, around nine, having been warned that this is the height of rush hour. Arizonans, apparently make an earlier start than that, as traffic is flowing smoothly. It is a lovely morning, a few tufts of cloud here and there, but the sky overwhelmingly a desert blue, There is no hint of haze or brown smudge on the horizon,and I reflect on how clean the air is in America.

Route 60 is here for a few miles part of I-10, but at the Superstition Freeway exit, I part company with the interstate, and will stay off for the next two days, with the exception of a few miles in New Mexico.

In Superior, AZ, a hint of the hidden gardens of Andalucia.

Closed Superior Copper Co. mine and smelter

The masonry chimney rising to the blue sky. Historic in this context doesn’t mean anything important ever happened, but that there will be a downtown with old buildings and small businesses trying to find a niche in today’s

Remember high schools with windows? So different from the supermax facilities we build today.

Sprouse-Reitz five&dime, once a mainstay of western small towns

economy. This is seen all over the country,

Copper may be returning to the Superior Area as enabling legislation makes its way through Congress, and local pro job people and environmentalists square off. In the meantime, Superior is a picturesque place, with many shuttered small businesses of a very Old West flavor, and a few that someone is attempting to revive. It’s mid day, but there is almost no one in the streets, and the only place open seems to be the post office.

The town is dominated by an eroded peak, Apache Leap. Its economic history

Apache Leap

is encapsulated in a series of murals, which while appearing ancient, date from the 80s. The mines closed in 1981, and is only staffed by a security post, The murals are in the political and

Rivera inspired style I’m familiar with from San Francisco’s Mission District. One sees miners of a distinctly mestizo cast( and perhaps Apache as well). The word “Aztlan” which has come to represent Mexican irredentism, is displayed in large, but flaking letters. Whether these murals were a protest at the mine closing, or a simple memorial to a lost way of life, the militant spirit behind them is no where evident in Superior today.

Aztlan, the "Lost Territories."

Wednesday, noon, Superior, AZ

The most notable structure is McPherson’ s Magma hotel, dating from 1912, which once hosted business men and politicians, but is now derelict, with the structure on the National Register of Historic places, but there are no plans to renovate or reopen,

There is a small cafe, and I think that a quick cup of coffee and a chat with locals might help me learn more about Superior, but the place seems to have been first renovated, then closed. All along the highway, I will see people trying to make a go in fading small towns, by opening businesses dependent on passers by. It’s a dicey proposition at best, but I can understand the appeal of living in places that are quiet, safe – and cheap. On the same street workman are renovating another building. I suspect it may have

been some kind of emporium. A very large open space is dominated by a handsome hanging clock and a glorious hammered hammered zinc ceiling. There is no sign as to what the plans or the place might be. The workmen nod when I ask to photograph the clock, but seem skittish even though I’ve spoken in Spanish.  This is Arizona, and its understandable why they. legal or not, might be wary of strangers,

Reminds me of the low riders in SF Cinco de Mayo parades.

A quick turn around side streets discloses another mural, this one not political but a whimsical picture of Chicano culture, from traditional Mexican dances to low riders. The homes are mostly tiny clapboard structures, but up a rise toward the copper plant, a large, newish and rather eccentric two story house stands out, The desert attracts people with their own very special visions of how they they wish to live.

Back on the main street, I find the one business that while not then open still seems to be functioning, a cantina, Even here the smoke Nazis are in charge, as the outside bench and butt cans attest. It just seems odd so far fro anywhere, that locals who want to drink Tecate and shoot pool find the state attempting to protect

their health. 

At the end of the street is a county office and a high school, in good repair, but fenced off and not used. So that’s Superior -post office, county office and a couple of guard statons at a closed school and copper mine, Leaving town, I congratulate myself on my immense good fortune in finding the place, fortune that will appear at almost every turn in the next days.

Back on the road and immediately into a twisting canyon road, which unfortunately has no pull outs anywhere for photography. Past the summit is a level area with a few homes called “Top of the World,” that looks like it might have bee a recreational destination long ago there are abandoned cafes and motor courts, and a few houses and trailer here and there. Before air conditioning, this must have been a summer refuge from the desert heat below.

Leaving Superior, headed east

Then a descent to a long arid dry plain,with mountains blue in the distance, This reminds me of a drive to Sedona from Phoenix the previous week: You can count on Arizona to produce something new every few miles: immense vistas, abrupt and complete changes in geology and vegetation.

In Miami, more old smelters,

Active mine and smelter, Miami, AZ

but active extraction as well. Freeport McMoran has a big establishment here. And my first fill up offered two surprises. The first shouldn’t have been a shock: A bit over 50 bucks for the fill up. I make the tank to be around 13 gallons, The last time I spent that much was in France, in 1998.

And a momentary bit of panic as the pump asked me for my zip code…I don’t live America and have a collection of addresses for various purposes. I was able to remember, but this was one more in a string of momentary bewildering confrontations with technical advances in retail services.

Signs tout the upcoming town

Old time atmosphere in Claypool

Claypool, as an antiquer’s paradise so I pull in for a look. Just as in Superior, an old smelter dominates the town from a height, as one did also in Globe down the road. There must be some technical reason as to the consistency in siting. Claypool is doing better as a tourist draw than Superior, but again, just as one entrepreneur is busy renovating and old building, his neighbor  is having a going out of business sale.

Claypool is a bit more lively that Superior

Inactive mine, Claypool

All over small town America one finds fine old buildings such as these. Each in its time represented the pride and enterprise of its builders and owners, the fulfillment of a dream.

Boneyard, Claypool

You can only easily get decent Mexican food in two places: Mexico,and the United States. In other words you need Mexicans. I grew up in southern L.A County, and the highlight of the month was when my father, on payday, would stop at the tortilla factory and bring us homemade Mexican that the ladies sold out the back door of the plant.  Then we moved to the wilderness of New York, Mexican food speaking. If you love Mexican food( and if you don’t, well – I just think soothing is missing from your life) then you know the ache of deprivation if you been long without it. I once met a young guy doing a Fulbright in rural Java.  He was on a weekend toot in a bar in Surabaya, a big city there.  From Phoenix, he asked me what I missed about the States.  I said the food, especially Mexican.  “Is there any other kind?” he said.


A fine combination plate : the tamales are made on site. That soft, but solid hand shaped masa, and the delicious reward of spicy meat in the center. Salsa flecked with fresh cilantro.  Fire and herbal coolness. The red and green of the the Mexican Republic’s flag, in your grateful mouth.

The lunch crowd includes a lot of older people – this is Arizona – and they are

Globe, Arizona

clearly regulars greeting the waitresses by name. On the walls, many framed pictures of the family running the place, their parents and grandparents, back to sepia prints. As well as with local pols, and certificates of appreciation for contributions to various civic causes. Immigration is such a confusing issue. I’m glad these people are here, not just for the excellent lunch they provide, but because they have clearly not only made their own lives over generations, but have built the community as well.

When I come out, the bikers are still at it.

Past Globe the road climbed again. Then came wonder. A great canyon extended to the West and the way climbed and followed it towards the North and east. This was the Salt River canyon. I had never heard of it.

Salt river Canyon, looking Northwest. Of curse I had heard of the Salt River Project, providing hydro power for Phoenix and irrigation for the vast fields of cotton in western Arizona, but this was a revleation

Suddenly, I find myself shouting out loud: Holy shit! This is better than an unexpected check in the mail. An immense winding gorge, eroded rock strata piled in colored ribbons, twists away to the northwest. Again, Arizona delights, surprises, and this time, overwhelms.

There weren’t any turnouts for a while, but a road crew was working and I was able to slow down and take some one handed shots. A glorious spiral of switchbacks brought me down to the canyon floor and a bridge across the river. Then a climb and a pullout. From here the most spectacular part of the canyon was in line with the sun, so with a point and shoot and no filters, there wasn’t much I could do but shade the lens with my hand and hope for the best, but the view in the other direction where the canyon narrows and

This is Apache country.

disappears into the mountains was perfect.

There was another guy there, about my age, and oddly enough also an expatriate, working in the Philippines and Thailand. Having seen much of the world, he decided that it was time to see something of his own country. He too was astonished by what lay before us.

Then up again, and at the summit I looked down into completely different country. Low mountains and pine forested mesas, rising dark green above shadowy canyons. Country that could hide a kingdom, and that did shelter the Apache for so long,

The road headed northeast with the high country to my right, a grassy plain on the left.Then a  sign, “Mangas.”  42 miles up into the mesas. Mangas Colorado? The great warrior? Too far to peel of the high way see what it was about. I’ve since been unable to find any trace of this place on the maps I find on the net,but I would love to go back there and take that right turn.

A anybody who grew up in the 50s could not resit a sign saying "Ft. Apache 22."

Then, another sign, one I could not resist. Fort Apache. For anyone my age, the 44 round trip mile detour was mandatory. Fort Apache was the 50s television home of Rusty and his dog Rin Tin Tin. Off the highway and on to a reservation road, the speed limit dropped ten miles. The road followed the White River with the mountains to the west. Gentle, empty country, a crossroads gas station half way, and then a descent into autumn gold White River, center of the White Mountain Apache Reservation.

I had one of these.

Decent looking homes, some clearly government issue projects going up ,with Interior Department contract numbers and funding information on signs. The town is clean and orderly with a handsome setting on the river bank.

Fort Apache itself is another mile down the road.

Not at all the palisaded wood stockade of the TV show, but a rectangular layout of buildings centered on an Indian school from the late nineteenth century.  One log structure remains, the home of General Crook, the Indian fighter, whom the Apache called Nantan Lupan, “Grey Wolf.,”and having defeated them worked for their benefit. I pay my five bucks at the visitor center, a well run place with more interest the ten minutes I had to give it, and walked around the grounds. I was the only visitor and there was no sound save the soft wind rustling the late season leaves.

General Crook's home, oldest structure at Ft. Apache

Back to Highway 60.

To the North a plain dotted with eroded mesas and ancient volcanic cones, one can see eons here. A light rain begins to fall.  To the Northwest the land slopes and mist fills a great depression, above which in a golden break in the weather the late evening sun shines on a distant power plat that seems to float above the greyness.  There is little traffic.  Occasional gates for ranch roads. 

Show Low, that oddly named town, then Springerville, the gateway to the White Mountains as it advertises itself.  As I enter, something flashes in my eyes.  It’s one of those portable speed registers, and this one take pictures.,  Another, and unwelcome innovation over the time I’ve been away. A quick tap on the brakes  and a slow ride through town.  A likely looking place, but it’s not yet 5 and I elect to continue.

New Mexico

Welcome  to new Mexico somewhere on the rising plain.  Darkness falls and the road rises. Rain and the dark loom of tall pines on either side.  A cleared area, gas station, two motels and a liquor store.  Had there been a bar and cafe, I think I would have stopped.  I’m hoping for a bunk within walking distnace of a country western bar.

Two darkened towns Quemado and Pietown.  Later I will find that there are indeed pies in Pietown.  A sign for the Continental Divide, the beginning of the  long slope to the Mississippi.

Magdalena has a number of motels, a steakhouse and bar, and a sign for a an old hotel, renovated, along with a lot of weathered looking houses and old time businesses, some shuttered, some still running,  and of course, a Dollar store.

The motels  are all full, with many military vehicles parked..  My guess would be National Guard or reserves on maneuvers.  Patriotism and service are very real in the southwest.

So it’s on to Socorro, down in the Rio Grande Valley.  The radio is now heavy on religious stations, in  both English and Spanish.  This will continue all the way through Missouri.

Curves, and extensive road work.  TARP, I wonder?  The distant oasis of light that is Soccoro nears painfully slowly,  When the road work ends, the first sign for a ten mile reduction in speed appears.  These continue at intervals, until I am crawling at 35 with no traffic, and the town still far away.  This reminds me of the yellow caution signs for a two inch step into an aircraft you see in the U.S.  Safety is important, but we carry it too far sometimes for infinitesimal, or non existent gains,

I’m doing 25 and still haven’t entered the town, and the roadsides on both sides are still empty.  Finally, I’m in Socorro , navigating by dead reckoning, and end up at the central plaza.  It looks like exactly you would expect in one of New Mexico’s oldest towns.  There is a cheerfully lit western style bar, and I tell myself that I might come back once I get settled.

The strip leading out to  the interstate turns out to be not far away, and I stop at the first motel I see that that is south of 50 bucks,  Curry smell in the lobby and  the usual Mr. Patel.  I thought this so odd when I stumbled into an Indian motel in Moab, Utah back in 78, but now I expect it, and seek these guys out if I want something a little cheaper than the chains,

After years in Southeast Asia enjoying lodging from 30-to 50 dollars in real hotels with room service, great cable, swimming pools and whatever, I knew I was in for a let down.    How does one describe the smell of a cheap motel?  It’s not a lack of hygiene; these places do get inspected,  Its the smell of old furniture, the smell of transience, the odor of a thousand lives passing though, none staying long enough to make the place home.

It’s late and instead of hitting a bar, I settle for snack food and Dos Equis  from a liquor store conveniently across the street., and check out the cable,as the advertised WIFI is non existent.  Not much.  Even in first class hotels in the US the cable selection is nothing like you get in Asia, but it is fun to watch local TV, see how the high school team is doing, and learn how people make a living from what is advertised.  This is cattle country, and there also seems to be a lot of trucking,.

The bed is clean and I drift off easily, with images of all that i had seen playing a retrospective of a wonderful day, content, knowing that tomorrow would b the same or better.

Thomas Wolfe and Smirnoff in the Morning: American FWIA-DFW

Some years ago I for a while experienced a lovely recurring dream. It is night time, somewhere on the rural edge of a sleeping suburb. I stand on my deck and look out across sloping lawns towards other houses tucked in for the night. A midsummer night scented with life. The moon is full, and casts not the cold whiteness that frightens in scary stories, but an almost golden light, palpable and soothing. It is warm, but not hot.  Against the background of crickets an occasional night bird.

Slowly, calmly, as it seems to be no surprise to me, I start to rise, higher and higher so that first I see my house, and its neighbors nestled among the darker forms of trees in summer leaf. The sleeping town a pool of light, other settlements glowing warm in all directions, knit together by empty roads, the sleeping homes and towns secure in a restful darkness. All around the loom of distant wooded hills..

I am filled with a calm, wordless joy at the fullness of life.

The genesis of this vision most likely was a night flight from Portland to SFO that followed 101 south, the small islands of light of places like Willits and Cloverdale forming an archipelagic string of light parallel to the blackness of the Coast Range. Now, I’ve found a way to experience this as a waking dream.

American to DFW is the earliest flight out of Fort Wayne. I took it first when later trips were full now I always take it on my way back to the West Coast, The airport is empty; too early even to get a coffee, but this means a quick pass through security where the TSA folks must be morning people who have asked for this shift because they are friendly, welcoming and solicitous of passengers who may be sleepwalking.  Customers for these early morning regionals are generally a cheerful lot, not the grumpy sleep deprived that one would expect. Getting such an early start on the day feels like an accomplishment, so pre dawn fliers, if not exactly smug, seem pleased with themselves.

This morning there is a bit of a hitch: It is announced that the toilet is out of service, and that anyone who can’t hold it until DFW should consider another flight. The flight attendant, a tall young Asian woman, named, Asia,-yup -that’s right -reiterates the announcement as we strap in, and just as we take off the pilot says if any body really really has to go, we’ll land some where. He seems pretty cheerful,and I suspect the folks up front have been enjoying a little early morning bathroom humor

First the grid lines of semi urbanized Fort Wayne, then across Indiana and Illinois the chess boards of county roads dotted with farm towns, a major highway cutting across the symmetry here and there, and a faint tinge of dawn on the eastern horizon. Missouris, the lights and towns, some only hamlets sheltering in a fold of hills, are scattered, the more poignant for shining alone.

And in the cabin, a little bit of excellent customer service. Asia announces that drinks and snacks will be free for the first service , so I have some trail mix and a Bloody Marry. First a toast with the Cabo bound couple across the aisle, then sip and sip again, as the dawn line reddens. Nose against the port, transfixed, so that Asia has to nudge me a couple of times to get my attention before she drops more Smirnoff and trail mix.

“I thought it was only the first round?”

“This is still the first round”

We have a brief chat. She is Hoa – Vietnamese Chinese – and say she was very young when her parents arrived. She spends a lot of her time in Australia where she also has family. Her accent reflects both her adopted countries as well as her origin,Her accent reflects both her adopted countries as well as her origin, There is a story there, but not time, or perhaps the place for it,

There are times when you should drink in the morning, and this is one.

This morning I don’t want to argue about population displacement, genocide, railroad robber barons manifest destiny, or any of the disputatious the history that spread this country from one sea to another, The human landscape we have together created is lovely beyond telling and shines out into the night. In the blackness it is easier to see what binds us. The road the ties not only of commerce, but of communities that labor together so that night will not prevail.

Trying to see, no, breathe all this in, I think of Thomas Wolfe, who felt at at times an ecstasy over the richness of the land and its people, and in great torrents of words and sentences tumbling towards the revelation that he never quite could quite reach, made his point all the same.

What Wolfe couldn’t have imagined was that this mysticism of the ordinary would one day be open to all, He traveled by train, and saw the lighted Pullmans rushing through the darkness asthe province of an elect.

To anyone outside, a speeding train is a thunderbolt of driving rods, a hot hiss of steam, a blurred flash of coaches, a wall of movement and of noise, a shriek, a wail, and then just emptiness and absence, with a feeling of “There goes everybody!” without knowing who anybody is. And all of a sudden the watcher feels the vastness and loneliness of America, and the nothingness of all those little lives hurled past upon the immensity of the continent. But if one is inside the train, everything is different. The train itself is a miracle of man’s handiwork, and everything about it is eloquent of human purpose and direction…One’s own sense of manhood and of mastery is heightened by being on a train.

Now, despite bag charges, fuel surcharges and ridiculous prices for prepackaged food and drink, the sleepers in the towns below can and do ride above just as easily as I am now. With this different and expanded view, I’m sure Wolfe would see union, not separation.

And while the .sleeping car porters are long gone, we have Asia this morning.

Racing the ribbon of dawn. The stars and the waxing moon are still there, but day is asserting itself. The engine pitch changes and the the plains and rolling hills of Texas are below. In one glance the balance between night and day has shifted. Roads converge and in the distance the glassy towers of a great city reflect the first rays of the sun.

Lower and developments with Tudor mansions nestle in copses of oak, and closer in more modest tracts where swimming pools seem the norm. A few thousand feet above the homes of many thousands of strangers, one feels strangely intimate with these people, the evidence of whose lives fills the view.

The the last few seconds of descent, the final moments of the omniscience of the air traveler.



Desert Wind in the Southern Philippines

(From time to time, I will write about happier times in my wanderings and residence in Dar ul Islam.)

The PhilippinesPhilippine gunmen snatch US citizens on Tictabon (BBC) 13 July 2011
“Two Filipino Americans kidnapped by “Islamic insurgents.”  This is another skirmish in a very old theatre of the oldest war of all.  I’ve been thinking of these two Filipino Americans, and the southern Philippines since I read the headline.  Long ago, I traveled the area where they were taken.

Over a long life things change, and not always for the better.  In 1969-70 I was twenty, and spending a year in the Philippines going to classes at Ateneo University, living with my parents in Manila.  My father managed a fertilizer plant  on the Bataan peninsula across the Bay.

During school breaks I took trips around the islands. At the time of the last free election before the Marcos regime became semi-permanent, I went down south to Mindanao and Jolo.  Before living in the Philippines, my family had been for many hears in Indonesia, and later Costa Rica.  In the Southern Philippines  I found the Muslim Malay culture that I remembered from my Indonesian childhood and still longed for, and remnants of the Spanish colonial era.  It was a fascinating and satisfying blend,

I flew to Davao where I was the guest of a an old mestizo  family I knew from Manila.  They had extensive plantations and copra processing works.   And a cute daughter, but very well watched over. These old families were very Iberian, with the young girls strictly chaperoned, and now I wonder if this in itself is a remainder from Moorish Spain.

After a few days of huge meals, beach parties , and  what little  light flirtation was allowed, it was time to go further west and south towards  the last islands of the  Philippines, and the beginnings of the Malay Archipelago.

It was a tough journey over dusty roads, crammed in with passengers whose main hobby was spitting, and a boat that became a sweatbox when the crew sealed it up at night.  Like many in Southeast Asia, Filipinos fear the night air.  Unhealthy they say, and home to unseen things that mean people no good.

It was a relief to reach Zamboanga, stretch my legs and enjoy a shower and a walk about town,  “The monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga,” the old navy song goes.  I saw no monkeys, but instead a  sleepy town, streets of white sand and crushed shell lanes off the few bits of macadam.  Venerable trading hoses built of coral block with signs saying  “Hnos Gonzales Manila – Zamboanga – Madrid. “And there were Moros, the Spanish for moors, Muslims  of various groups, the biggest the Taosug and the Bajo, the sea gypsies found there and in Indonesia ,and as far as the Mergui Archipelago in SoutheastBurma,  Small compact men with turbans, short flapping trousers,  buttoned tunics, leather belts, and small short curved swords.  The sultan of Sulu, on Jolo Island, not far away, had once been suzerain of a good part of Borneo.  I had to go there.

1969 Philippine Military outside Jolo Great Mosque. From the time of the Spaniards, through the American occupation, and on to the present, Sulu has never been pacified.

Waiting at the airport for the small island hopper, I ran into an American guy, a Peace Corps volunteer.  He recommended a hotel, and said he’d show me around.  He was working in malaria control, still spraying DDT in those days.

Aside from him, I never saw another westerner.   It was the election of1969, the one in which Marcos won a second term, the first in Philippine history to do so, and than stayed on indefinitely,  I had been warned that elections were a dangerous time to travel, but encountered no trouble.  Danger would have come from being caught in a crossfire between rival parties.  Local races, dealing  with matters of power and influence were particularly hard fought, and still are.  Islamic terrorism was an unknown term

Grand Mosque, Jolo Town, 1969

The Mestizo population of Jolo has a unique language, Javocano, a pidgin Spanish without much in the way of grammar, very easy to understand,  So I was in a town with wet markets, a waterfront where the Moro sailing craft, vinta, unloaded plenty of fresh seafood, ready for feasting on at the restaurants built out over the harbor on pilings, and all centered on a grand mosque,  Perfectly exotic, and exactly what I was looking for.


Jolo Island coastline

A malaria education team arrived in a jeep at my hotel the next morning, without the Peace Corps guy, who was at a government meeting. We took of into the hills, climbing switchbacks until we could look back at the city, the fringing islands and the sea glittering to the blue horizon.  Then on into the interior valleys, small holdings hacked out of the jungle, and tiny hamlets, the little stands selling food and sundries, just like the ones called warungin Indonesia.

Moro village headman with wives and children, malaria team right and left.

Village snack stand Jolo Island, but it could be many places in Southeast Asia, to this day. Borders dont always mean a lot.

We stopped at one for lukewarm cokes.  The young man in charge  suddenly gestured for silence.   In the distance up ahead we heard some popping.  Gunshots, from two directions.  He went over to the jeep and tapped out a sequence of long and short toots,

Smuggler with son and a tool of the trade.

The shooting stopped, and we heard a jeep coming down the road towards us. It was a unit of the Philippine Constabulary, a paramiltary police force founded by the Americans in 1901, and which had been mixing it up with the Moros off and on ever since.  This bunch had been having a little shoot out with men they described as smugglers.  The team leader bought them cokes and handed out some literature on malaria, and then they drove off towards town.

Philippine Constabulary after a morning's exchange of potshots with smugglers.

After a few minutes,  another, and different signal on the horn.  And a quarter of an hour later, men in civvies, carrying M-1s  ambled down the rod and we had another round of cokes,  which they bought,

Islam's prohibition of gambling clearly ignored

Was my guide a Muslim or a Christian?  It didn't matter back then.

Was my guide a Muslim or a Christian? It didn't matter back then.

These guys were, in my guide’s words, respected men in the community, who preferred to conduct their business on their own, without interference from the authorities.  The constabulary and the government never showed up when they were needed, except at election time, to hand out favors, and hang around with guns at the polls, he said. In discussing the local politics and economy, religion never entered the talk.  I don’t remember if my guide was a Muslim or a Christian.

An old man came up to me.  I could only understand that he was asking if I were Amerikano.  He said, the team leader translated, that he liked Americans.  His father told him that the moros hated the Spanish who were sneaky fighters, cowards, and cruel to prisoners.  The Americans  they liked “ We killed them; they killed us,  Good sport, and good fun!” he said,

Later, walking around the town, I found a small brass plaque set into a concrete plinth.  In1902, it said, a number which I don’t’ remember of “brave Americans” had given their lives fighting “bandits“  The plaque had been erected in appreciation by the  business community fo the town, with the names of the subscribers being mostly Spanish, and a few American.

I met the Peace Corps guy that night in one of the waterfront restaurants.  He looked over his shoulder before having a San Miguel. As we tucked intoheaps of chili crab, he explained.  Although a Maltese Catholic from Queens,  he had married a local girl, and converted to Islam.   I’ve since wondered how he fared.  Many smitten young men take conversion to Islam – which is easy enough, especially if you are already circumcised – quite lightly.  Just words, they think, but find out that it is, as I did year after this, taken very seriously. His wife was at home, not comfortable with foreigners, he siad.   Thinking back, I’m not sure if I spoke to a woman the whole time I was there.

These village women put on their best sarongs to have their picture taken

I traveled around the island for the next few days

Sandy white beach and the usual friendly kids

by local bus and jitney.  I can understand why the kidnapped Americans would want to open a resort in the region,  The beaches were gorgeous, almost painfully white, dazzling, and stretching for miles.  The sunsets were nightly theatrical displays as the last rays illuminated the cumulonimbus towering above the sea into the stratosphere.  The people were courteous.  Sabah was not far away and many had some Malay, and there was usually an old man in any village who could speak Spanish.  I wished I had time to take on of the boats to Tawi Tawi and Jesselton in Malaysia, and the on to Indonesia.  One day, I thought, but returned to Manila and have never been back.

Village market. Plenty of fresh fish.

I’ve thought of that trip from time to time when there has been news from the Southern Philippines.  The news is uniformly bad, and at times shocking.  The violence by the Moro Liberation Front and Abu Sawwaf is nothing new.

After seizing the islands from Spain, the US fought the Philippine insurrectos who figured that since they had pretty much rolled up the Spaniards before eh Americans arrived, they had a right to an independent country,

The war in the south was quite different,  The Moros had never acknowledged Spain, and had always warred on Christians and animists, with rape, pillage and slave taking incidental in benefits in defending and advancing their faith. Jihad by sea, much like that of the Barbary corsairs, and in the Arab and Turkish tradition of razzia..

There the Americans encountered the juramentado,a moro warrior sworn to kill

"Institutionalized Suicide"

Christians until killed himself. In other words, a shahid, a Muslim martyr, a suicide slasher rather than bomber,  The .45 revolver with its massive stopping power was developed to replace the .38 which often had no visible effect on these enemies, just as asymmetrical wars with Muslims now push among other developments, drone technology.

The Americans did prevail, but the violence never disappeared entirely, and continues to this day.  The Philippine government has granted some autonomy,and continues to attempt to negotiate with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Jolo 2007. The mosque has been renovated or replaced.

2007: A Muslim woman in Jolo. Centuries after Islam appeared in Southeast Asia, arabization is eradicating local customs. The hijab began appearing in the eighties. This picture from the Navy Times, 2007, taken during US Philippine joint operations. Plus ca change...


Jihad  began in Seventh Century Arabia. The great tide surging from the desert wastes a few centuries  later had already reached the islands of equatorial Asia.  Today the hot desert wind blows again where the trade winds rustle palm fronds on coral strands.



(On October 3, 2011, one of the Filipino Americans was released, the BBC reported, on Basilan Island, not far from Zamboanga.   Her son and nephew remain captives.)

Church Bombing in Java’s Heartland

Batik workers at Danar Hadi batik museum, Solo. The television is not part of some oppressive surveillance apparatus, but for the entertainment of the workers.

"Rumahku," My House, a refurbished 1930s Dutch era house, now a guesthouse and restaurant.

Slamet Riyadi, Solo's main street. The city moves at a slower pace than larger cities nearby. The quiet heart of old Java.

Here's the guy. Pretty tastless of me to put it up, right? Well, tastelessnespales in the face of moral cowardice. The daily outrages, 10 dead here, 30 there, these are real people, as is this man, as much a victim of a vicious and death worshipping ideology as the people he attacked. Churches burned, mosques bombed( by other Muslims, with Shia and Ahmadiiah, as well as the occasional moderate Sunni cleric taking the hit from the more pious). Buddhist monks, and children, beheaded in Thailand, cross border shoppers bombed there too, beer drinkers executed in Nigeria, and on and on…all real people. So have a look at it once in awhile to remember who these people are, and what happened to them. Tastelessness is nothing in the face of this holocaust. I like Solo. This pisses me off, so I put the pic up. Deal with it.

Solo, or its formal name Surakarta, the seat of an ancient sultanate, is a  center of  highly refined Javanese culture epitomized in its batik, court ceremonies, dance and gamelan music.

Less visited than its better known neighbor, Jogjakarta, it is quiet place with good accommodation, excellent shopping without the touts and traffic of Jogya, accessible by domestic air lines, with Silkair coming in from Singapore. Tourism will not be enhanced by the latest outrage in “moderate“ Indonesia, a  poor omen for  success in the country’s drive to  improve arrivals numbers, 7.2 million in 2010, compared to 12.6 for tiny neighbor Singapore.

Solo is also the birth place of Abu Bakar Basyir, radical Islamist and convicted, although lightly sentenced, terrorist mastermind.  In Solo, the cultural civil war between syncretistic Hindu-Islamic Javanese culture and Wahabiism  rages just below the surface.  The historic tendency of the Javanese toward syncretism and openness to different spiritual beliefs also resulted in a large Christan population,  Now there are jihadis to attack them.

Egypt’s and Tunisia’s tourist industries have been ruined, and will most likely never rebound as they become shariah dominated Islamic republics. This could be Indonesia’s fate as well.  Jihad is bad for business,

From  Reuters, via MSNBC
“A suspected suicide bomber attacked a church on Indonesia’s Java island on Sunday, killing himself and injuring 17 people, police said.”

The ubiquity of cell phones here, and lax policing procedures means that a pic of the dead bomber is already viral.  He looks like an offal stand in a wet market,  No “suspected” about it.

The story goes on: “Religious tensions still bubble near the surface in the officially secular nation.”  “Bubble” is a rather weak verb in this context.

“Officially secular”…yes, but not in a sense that nations like the US or France might recognize.  The country has a Ministry of Religion, which, given the demography concerns itself mostly with Islamic affairs, but does allocate some funding to other beliefs.  Domestic airliners, along with the emergency instructions and barf bag, have prayer cards for the major religions in the seat pockets, just the thing for white knuckle fliers,

In Indonesia, religion trumps everything , and one religion trumps all others.

And… “Religious conflicts flared up between Muslims and Christians in Maluku and Sulawesi, in the eastern part of the sprawling archipelago, following the overthrow of former President Suharto in 1998.”

This is a case where “religious conflict,” rather than being the value neutral and history shunning whitewash it usually is, may be an appropriate term, at least in terms of the inception of the conflicts, which were actually large scale regional civil wars.  Both sudden explosions, over perceived slights that quickly spread and dragged on for years.  However, in both areas was only the Muslim side that brought in arms and fighters from outside, with the indifference, if not outright collusion of the security forces,   To my knowledge, no clear journalistic account, in any language, has been written for either conflict.  At the time, local media withdrew and foreigners were banned.  Despite widespread lawlessness, and the deaths of thousands, only three people ever prosecuted, Christians Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva, and Marinus Riwu, all executed in 2001.  No one, Christian or Muslim was ever charged in the Maluku war.

Instead, academics, religious leaders and government actors spoke of “horizontal conflict,” convened conferences and hammered out intercommunal agreements.  This is the Indonesian way, where confrontation is avoided, and consensus, regardless of justice, is valued above everything else. That is, until tempers rise too far.  “Amuck” after all is a Malay word(for non- Indonesian readers, the  Indonesian language is based on the Riau-Johore dialect of
Malay.)  This, as much as political indebtedness to Islamic parties, may be at the heart of President Yudhyonos’s passivity in the face of rising Islamist agitation and violence.

In its story, the Jakarta Globe quotes police sources as saying the attack may be linked to recent violence in Ambon.

Note that once again, a “clash“ is Muslims attacking Christians, just as this is usually described wherever it may be, Egypt, Nigeria, or Indonesia, among others,

Since the end of the wars in Maluku and Sulawesi almost ten years ago, I would challenge anyone to find an instance of a Christian initiated “clash” in Indonesia; If nothing else, those “conflicts” taught the minority that they are not going to win, even in areas where they have numerical equality, or even superiority.

Another Globe story quotes Christian and Muslim clerics as warning against a plot to stir up “conflict.“

Here in microcosm, is Indonesia’s quandary, and the world’s, in confronting Islamist extremism.  A refusal to look at the core texts of Islam, not the various islams practiced in different forms across continents, but the texts whose exact words motivate terrorists and jihadi fighters, results in logical fallacies, x-factor searches for conspiracies, leading to abject  failure in defending the societies attacked.s

Just as is standard procedure in the Us and Europe, when a “lone wolf” jihadi is caught, or acts,, we are told that he or she is not part of a network, as if that is reassuring, and police and press speculate as to motive.

Motive?  I posit Islam.

“When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them and lie in ambush everywhere for them.”

Surah 9:5 Al Saif(the Sword)

Paranoia and Intolerance in Central Sulawesi

Sunset, Prince John's Dive Resort, Donggala, Palu Bay, CentralSulawesi, Indonesia

From the Jakarta Post, Sunday, September 18, 2011 13:47 PM

US family in Palu evacuated over rumors of proselytizing

In this story you have all the elements behind both the truth and the wishful thinking behind the phrase “Moderate,  modern Indonesia.”

The Central Sulawesi Police have evacuated a family of four American nationals from their rented house in the BTN Bukit Kabonena Permai residential complex in Palu to the local immigration office, allegedly because they were in danger due to rumors they had been proselytizing to locals.

The Graeff family, including father David Ray, 41, mother Georgia Rae, 41, and children Benjamin David, 12, and Daniel Earl, 14, were evacuated on Sunday evening reportedly after locals had begun to question the family’s presence in the region.

Locals then burned the family’s car after they were evacuated.

Palu Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Deden Granada said that David Ray Graeff, who had been in Kabonena for two weeks, was a teacher at Uwera Theological School in Marawola, Sigi regency, Central Sulawesi.

“We had to evacuate the family for their own safety,” Deden said.(more)

I’ve been to Palu,  the capital of a region of stunning natural beauty, three times.  The town lies at the head of an lovely mountain girded  bay, so long that the sea is not visible from the city.  The first time was in in 1975, when I  flew over from Balikpapan, in East Kalimantan, to buy and sand and gravel for the LNG project I was working on.  Then, there were no hotels, so I stayed in a dirty boarding hose with light so weak I had to supplement it with candles.   Now there is a Swiss Bel-Hotel.  In 1994 there was a decent small hotel in town with air conditioning and hot water, and cable TV. Later in that trip  I stayed up the bay at a  German run dive resort, and returned there in 05.  During my first two visits, Islam never crossed my mind.  The last time I flew up there I was struck that every woman on the flight, including small girls, aside form two Chinese and the stewardess wore a hijab,  By that time, I had read that a local cell of  the terrorist Jemaah Islamiah had met at the Hotel Central..

In the thirty years between my first and last trip, communications, and the standard of living had increased immensely, and the natural beauty, and tourism potential was still evident, but little more exploited in 05 than it had been in 95.  The material culture was greatly advanced, but something ancient, and foreign has seeded the minds of many with distrust and hatred.

The story quotes Habib Saleh , a teacher at an Islamic boarding school, as saying he had heard rumors of foreigners engaging in missionary activity, and being transported by helicopter.  These schools, called pesantren, are often hotbeds of extremism, and sometimes incubators of terrorism.  The public can be rather volatile in Indonesia, and rumors spread by both the traditional gossip network, and nowadays, text messages, are often the source of violent incidents, as in Ambon last week.

The helicopter story is an example of  paranoid fantasy apparent not only in matters of religion here.  Despite the internet, cable TV, and more frequent travel abroad, many Indonesians believe there are dark forces ranged against their country.  I had students tell me that the US was working to break up Indonesia in order to seize its resources.  I tried to explain that a breakup  would be a security nightmare for America, but to a little avail.

Habib Saleh wondered why the seminary would import English teachers.  Having made a living as such in Indonesia  for more than ten years before my retirement, I can easily answer his question.  Since independence, English  has always been the second language of the Republic, and with the economic expansion the country has enjoyed the past few years, the thirst  for competence in English has become universal.  Even isolated villagers speak of globalization, and ask for a quick lesson or two.  The more progressive and modern pesantren have incorporated English competence into their curricula. It is clear that Mr Saleh is unaware of this, as he as quoted saying,  “What was going on? There must be some other agenda.”  The Indonesian phrase here for “must be”  is likely pasti ada, used in both a kind of conspiratorial subjunctive( “9/11 must have been an inside job,” widely believed here), or to express a fond, but unsupported hope( “There must be a gas station up ahead, I really have to go.”)

So were the Graeffs proselytizing?

Proselytizing is not illegal in Indonesia.  The Constitution  acknowledges one god, but there is no state religion.  The state officially recognizes five religions, a stricture introduced under the Suharto regime.  Atheism is not outlawed, but all citizens must state one of the recognized religions on their identification cards, and religion is recorded in all kinds of transactions, such as school registration, where it would be prohibited in the west. In theory, all are free to change religions, but bureaucrats make it very difficult to change a registration in Islam for a different belief.

Nevertheless, preaching Christianity to Muslims  In Indonesia, as in any Muslim majority country,  is extremely risky.

I don’t doubt that the Graeffs are dedicated Christians. Such schools as the seminary offer little more than a work visa and a token salary of perhaps two or three hundred dollars a month at most.  Like many I have met, they mostly likely financed their sojourn largely from their own resources. The province is almost 25% Christian, so their would be more than enough scope for pastoral work without proselytizing. Local Christian institutions are well aware of their inferior status, and would not encourage open preaching.

Indeed, all versions of the story, both in English and Indonesian, refer to rumors, and provide no proof.  The headline in the large circulation Indonesian Islamist newspaper, Republika,  took the proselytizing as fact, and only deeper in reported it as suspected.  Readers’ comments were uniformly incensed at the evidence of “Christianization,” and complimentary to the police for handling the situation.  Some were angry that the government had not dispatched the crack U.S. trained Densus 88 anti-terror brigade to capture the missionary terrorists,  seeing this as a sign of systemic discrimination against Muslims by the central authorities, and that the Jakarta government is subservient to Washington.

The religious school  teacher found it suspicious that the family lived in Kabonena, rather than in town. In Palu, as all over Indonesia, new suburban housing estates and satellite towns with modern facilities are springing  up to meet the needs of a growing middle class. Republika reports, but doesn’t comment on the fact that the Americans rented their home from a member of the provincial assembly, H. Nasir Djibran, clearly a Muslim name, and a person of some substance locally. The housing estate is one kilometer from the city center.  The seminary is in Wera ( not Uwera, which is in Uganda), near the port of Dongggala( where Joseph Conrad met Olmeijer, the protaganist in his first novel, “Almayer’s Folly,” so that Palu could add literary tourism to its already considerable attractions!) halfway up the western shore of Palu Bay, a reasonable and very scenic commute on the quite decent road, which I have traveled, in the large and comfortable Toyata Kijang the Graeffs no longer have.

This story summarizes all the difficulty caused by the insidious spread  of a dry, desert ideology, call it wahabism, salafism, or what you will, that threatens to overwhelm and supplant the syncretic forms of Islam that worked well for so long here, and reflected the reality of the archipelago’s cultural and religious history.  Palu, a region with immense potential for investment, tourism and recreation, and a decent life for its inhabitants of all faiths, could lose its chance to progress further and succumb to ”religious tensions.”

As has been seen many times on Java, the authorities do not punish attackers, and consider their work done if they merely prevent grave harm to those attacked, reflecting a greater malaise, and dangerous inertia, as the government  of a secular republic refuses to acknowledge its subversion.


SF Follies – Slap a Bun on that Dog!

…but buns are also a problem for Supervisor Scott Wiener(Stonefree:  Who is the patron saint of headline writers anyway?  I’d offer up a prayer of thanks and write this one: “Wiener Says to Wrap Weenies”), as this  story for SFGate relates:

San Francisco, September 7, 2011 — “San Francisco will once again be the butt (Stonefree: kudos to Gate writer Rachel Gordon)of national ridicule – or a beacon of freedom of expression – depending on your point of view. The latest issue?

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced legislation Tuesday that would require nudists

Not Club Med

to put something under their bottoms if they take a seat in public and to cover up when they’re in a restaurant…”

When I was a kid if you wanted to see naked women, you went to the Follies on Third Street.  Locker rooms for naked men.

As for tolerance, if I were so foolish as to show my wrinkled bum in public in the City of St. Francis, I would suffer snickers at worst, but a bumper sticker for a Republican candidate would invite near certain vandalism.  I visit SF now and then, and enjoy it, but I don’t miss the city, even after spending more than twenty years there.  Just before I left for good  some ten  years ago, I ran my last Bay to Breakers.  There were some naked guys at the start line, and they were clearly, um, pleased to be naked.  It gets a bit much.

Although not that much in most  cases.  Consider coverage of last June’s naked bike ride in SF, by Zombie, a trenchant observer of Bay Area weirdness.  Without actually counting( but I’m pretty good at estimating and quantitative thinking) the score was: schlongs,1; teenies, around 30.  And as to my personal preference, none at all; but hey, it’s San Francisco.

The story’s mention of Supervisor Wiener leads me to digress a bit, but still on the subject of man-wurst, you have to feel a bit sorry for Rep. Anthony Weiner. Early on his was faced with a difficult choice,  The German diphthong “ei” is pronounced “eye,”  Hence, it’s Barbara Streye-sand, not Stree-sand.  Yet some choose the long “e” sound, although rendered “ie” in German, as in people named Stein pronouncing their name “Steen.”

So, as a lad the unfortunate congressman was faced with the choice of being either whiny, or a weenie. Events proved him to be both, but he will be remembered for the latter. As for the Supervisor, I can see his reelection slogan, given his strong stand on this issue: “Wiener’s no Weenie!”  This would no doubt give his opponents the willies.

Flyover State: Fort Wayne Indiana

The term  “flyover state” says it all: at best an amused contempt and frequent face palms for the folks who live between SFO/LAX and JFK( Not quite sure where  ORD fits here – perhaps Lakeshore Chcago and the Northwestern suburbs might be seen as a kind of lightly garrisoned base of the coastal mindset.) A place where Wallmart yobbos cling to their guns and religion

Recently  I had  the good fortune to spend some time in Fort Wayne.  What did I see out  in  the wasteland?

First, an airport, that with its aviation exhibit is a destination in itself,  Clean and airy, the design taking the eye to the open sky.  Friendly, helpful ground staff staff, both airline and TSA.  The cleanliness and order are a rebuke to the outright squalor of JFK and LAX/..(SFO I gotta say is looking good)

Supermarkets bursting with summer produce, a visual and olfactory feast.  You would expect that in the MIdwest, but how about an olive bar, with thirty odd varieties?  An array of cheeses including not only varieties from across the country and Europe, but local artisan products as well, in all a delicious  and dizzying spread of choices  that would require a gross of boxes of water biscuits to merely sample.

In the super the choice of wines and beers was excellent, but in a number of specialist beverage stores,it was truly stupefying.  Local craft beers, regional from across the country, and both the greats and lesser-knowns from Europe, Latin America and Asia.   And wine of course California, not to mention Washington, Oregon, Virginia, Indiana, and even Texas. Australia Europe, Latin America.  Staff are helpful and knowledgeable.  Prices: negative sticker shock after Cali.

My daughter,her husband and ew baby Leah livie in  a four bedroom house with a good size yard for $120,000, easily affordable on one salary,and large enough for their two dogs and as many children as they wish to have.

Lovely, shaded roads in good shape.  No bumps, potholes and half-assed patches as I saw in California. The country side green and ripe with the scent of high summer.  Starry nights, and a bone white moon without the penumbra of pollution. Clear, robin’s egg blue skys in the day.

Oh yeah, they have Blackberries and iPhones out there too.  What about “diversity?”  Well, the area is mostly white, which is an offense in some quarters, but I also saw black folks, East Indians, Asians, and Mexicans, all apparently having more or less the same amount of money to spend, some of which they are putting out for new cars.  The roads are not filled with the clunkers you see in Cali these days.

Yes there are a lot of very large people there, more than you see in SF, at any rate.  But there are also  trails filled with runners and walkers. And the lovely, fresh-faced girls the Beach Boys sang about.

I didn’t get a chance to check out the cultural scene but the local zoo has an astonishingly diverse and perfectly curated exhibit on the Indonesian rain forest.  The place was filled with people not only enjoying the animals, but listening to docent lectures and taking part in activities so that they could learn about, and help preserve an environment half way around the world, one that they may never see, but clearly care about.

There was a street fair downtown, but what with the granddaughter’s birth missed that.   Letters to the editor in the local paper, from both sides of the political divide, and the center, were thoughtful and literate.

I hit one outlet of Half Price Books, came away with a wonderful haul,and was impressed by the numbers of solitary browsers, couples, and families who encourage their children to read.

The hospital where my granddaughter was born was fairly new, had a terrific coffee outlet, and a cheap cafeteria.  How sweet is such a thing as the classic grilled cheese sandwich! In layout and feel it was like a good mid range hotel, say Double tree or Courtyard by Marriott. Doctors and nurses were attentive and efficient, but not to efficient to smile.

Food?  Well the Olive Garden is a big deal, and before you give a haughty sniff, try their desserts.  Pulled pork sandwiches – awesome!  And oh yeah, they got sushi, plenty.  And Mexican of course, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian.

So, fly over folks, book a non stop, or have a drink at ORD or DFW, don’t get off.  You will never know what you are missing,  As for me, I’m with the Jackson Five – “Going Back to Indiana.”