Today we tried to drive the length of Texas. I was not up to the task. We made it as far as Monahans, a dreary remnant of the West Texas Oil Boom, now home to rusted derricks and storage tanks, boarded up storefronts, and a few motels, gasoline stations, and fast food joints which accommodate weary travelers like ourselves who haven’t the stamina to push on to El Paso.
Monahans is our second dying town of the day. The first was Baird, hometown of a college roommate I lost touch with after graduation. I needed to mail some books to a bookstore that ordered signed copies, so I decided to use the Baird Post Office and check if Don lived there. I learned from the lady in the post office that his parents died long ago (as I would have guessed), their ranch was sold, and Don never returned to Baird. From the looks of things, neither did anyone else. It wasn’t technically a ghost town, but there was enough ectoplasm to populate a Hollywood horror film.
I didn’t leave the Interstate to see the other small towns we used to pass through when traveling from Dallas to El Paso back when it was a two-lane highway, but I know what they look like now. Empty buildings, no one under the age of sixty, a town waiting for the last residents to die so the wind and sand can bury it. Limited access freeways make car travel faster and safer. But those multi-lane roads are like serpents devouring every town small enough to swallow. Only the cities remain, encircled by huge apartment complexes housing the refugees from the towns. In this way America is urbanized.
Tomorrow, we will reach Silver City, New Mexico. As its name indicates, it was born in one of the numerous silver-rushes of the 19th Century. Southeastern New Mexico if dotted with silver mining towns that lasted only until the ore was mined out. But copper followed silver in Silver City, then a cavalry base, and later a veterans hospital and a teacher preparation school that ultimately became Western New Mexico University. The University has had to fend off several attempts by the State to close it, but today it is a stable but small institution. Mining has essentially ceased, but the town had achieved a critical mass of population before that happened, and tourists add to the economy, attracted by the Gila Wilderness and the Gila Cliff Dwellings Archaeological site.
Residents of Silver City were disappointed back in the fifties when the route for Interstate 10 turned out to be far to their south, but it turned out to be a blessing. Deming and Lordsburg were killed by that road. But Silver City hangs on, fifteen thousand rather eccentric artists, recovering hippies, and people who just want to avoid the fast lane. Let’s hope some of them are readers. I do a signing there on Friday.