I only sleep five or six hours a night, so I was up and away from the Best Western at 7:15 am. Sunny and clear. Tyler was still at the front desk, and I met Chuck. He told me a little about Truth or Consequences. He likes the name okay. It was the only reason I was there. I had to visit a town that changed its name to that of a popular radio and then TV program back in the 50’s.
I stopped for gas the second I saw a station. I may never pass a gas station again. Teston Miller owns the Chevron, and a nicer man you’ll never meet. The town was originally named Hot Springs – named because of the hot mineral springs that bubble up there. Then two things happened. Arthritis medicine came out, and the hot springs were not as important to folks, and the thriving tourism business slowed dramatically. The town of Hot Springs began to decline. When some resourceful folks in the town heard Ralph Edwards say on the radio in 1950 that he wished some town would change its name to Truth or Consequences to help the show celebrate its 10th anniversary, a movement began. A special election was called, and the vote was 1294 to 295,; Hot Springs became Truth or Consequences. Now how cool is that! The folks in this small town seized the day and as a result obtained more national radio and TV publicity than any town of its size.
Sadly, Ralph Edwards is now gone to Heaven, and the show is gone as well, so the name doesn’t mean as much anymore – but what a great history. Ralph Edwards promised to come to the town and do a broadcast in 1950, and he kept his word. But he did a lot more. According to Teston, he came back every year for 50 years. He loved to ride a horse in the parade, but it was sad the last few years when he could no longer ride and had to be driven in a convertible. Then he couldn’t come at all, and now he’s gone.
Some of you folks who aren’t old enough to have heard Truth or Consequences on the radio or to have seen it on TV may remember “This Is Your Life.” Ralph Edwards was the host, and he seemed like such a kind, special man. According to the people I met in “T or C,” he was just that.
The Sleepy Hollow RV Park & Smoke Shop was an unusual-looking business, so I stopped to take a photo of it and then of the mountains behind. A man hollered out: “Wrong time of day for that.” I responded that it was the only time of day I had. I met Roger Smith, co-owner of the Sleepy Hollow RV Park & Smoke Shop. He said: “You got a minute?” I said sure, and he ran off to his house a hundred feet or so away. He returned with a worn 3-ring binder in which he carefully maintains photocopies of what his house and RV Park looked like many years ago and a few other things that are special to him. He is very proud of his place. Roger told me there is a lot of great history here, but most folks are in too big a hurry and say “there’s nothing here.” Roger said people need to take the time to look around and ask questions and see what there is to see. He knew that without driving to 50 states.
Roger went on to tell me a number of great stories about “T or C.” I learned that Roger was once an aerospace engineer but spent last Spring as a ranch hand working with a buffalo herd. Nice nice man. When he learned I was headed for a day of seeing ghost towns and old western towns, he invited me in and dug around to find some photocopied brochures of places I would have never known about otherwise. His wife, co-owner Marylin, jumped me as I entered. She was caring for two children while selling cigarettes out the window in front. “We ain’t buying no advertising. It doesn’t do any good. The government is putting us out of business with all the taxes on cigarettes and the like, and advertising doesn’t work.” When she came up for air, I told her that I wasn’t selling advertising. She saw the car and the notebook and prejudged me big-time. It was Roger’s prized notebook. She finally calmed down. She said Roger is the nice one. She was right about that.
We shook hands and said goodbye. As I headed out the door, Roger chased after me. He opened his notebook and gave me his color photocopy of his RV Park. Tears came to my good eye. You had to be there to understand.
I drove back into town to take some more photos. I couldn’t leave without doing that for I had certainly learned that most people think there’s nothing here and don’t take the time to look around. I owed it to Roger.
I saw a number of mountains as I drove on. That’s what they’ve got in New Mexico – lots of pretty mountains. They grow chile peppers in this area. More dust. There was one spot along the highway with a sign that warned of dust storms for the next 40 miles. “Zero visibility is possible.” I learned that in Big Bend. I haven’t been able to see very well out of my left eye for three days now.
In Deming, I saw a glorious sight – a Radio Shack. I began looking for a place that would sell a pocket tape recorder in Hidalgo – 2,099 miles back. Hard for a city slicker to believe, but absolutely true. Ernie helped me and suggested that I see Columbus, New Mexico – the only US town ever invaded, if you don’t count 9-11. Pancho Villa was the terrorist.
I was stopped on the street by Walt and Zinta, two former academics who were off on their own trip. Walt told me a funny joke that I probably shouldn’t repeat here.
On the edge of the town of Lordsburg, I spotted an old bus that had been turned into a roadside café. Taco Loco. Looked like just the spot for a guy who drove 600 miles to eat two pieces of pie.
A trucker of 22 years named Kenny who had pulled over for a two-hour nap and had just awakened after 12 hours was waiting for his food. He said he reckons he must have been more tired than he thought. He was doing take-out…eating as he drives. His dog was doing a lot of barking. Mercedes was her name. Kenny said an old lady (trucker and biker talk for wife) and several girlfriends had come and gone, but Mercedes had stuck with him. Mercedes learned to honk the horn on the steering wheel of the truck, so Kenny had to tape it off so she couldn’t honk and wake him up. But she’s a smart little dog as Kenny said she had now figured out how to blow the air horn. No wonder he slept for 12 hours.
Phyllis stuck her head out the little window, and I ordered a breakfast burrito. Man was it good – a big soft flour tortilla filled with eggs, bacon, hash brown potatoes and topped with salsa. What a bargain at $2.65. I gave her $5.00 and told her to keep the change, and you would have thought I had given her the $100 I won in Biloxi! I asked Phyllis how long she had been open, and she said: “Not long enough. I’ll be out of business next week. They’ve sold the land, and I am being evicted.” She was so nice. This was so sad. First Roger and now Phyllis. She went on to tell me that she had never made any money. “Just covering expenses.” She was a one-person operation, and the hours sign said 7 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week. That’s 98 hours a week “just covering expenses.” I told Phyllis things would get better, and I told her I would keep my eye out for a new location as I drove around town. She of course knew what I was about to find out; Lordsburg is one of those once neat old western towns that has all but dried up. There was no place to go around there.
I drove out to see the Shakespeare Ghost Town. It was even on Cody and Erica’s map, so I figured it had to be good. It was closed – only opens occasionally. Private property. I’ve never seen so many do not enter signs in my life. There wasn’t a one at the Trinity Site, but this place was clearly off limits. A sign said it is the owner’s residence. I imagine it would be a problem if the trailer you live in is on the street of a ghost town listed in Cody and Erica’s map.
Arizona became state #8, and I drove around Douglas for a few minutes before going to Bisbee. I really liked Bisbee. It’s an old mining town, and the open pit mine is still operating and takes up about half the town. The town is built into the side of a mountain, and it has great old buildings everywhere.
I saw a sign for Shady Hollow RV Park, and I had it on my list of things to see, so I turned. I couldn’t remember why I wanted to see it, but I knew the second I saw it. Shady Dell has rare antique travel trailers available for rent. The place is really well done, and it would have been a wonderful experience for a night. (See www.theshadydell.com.) The fabulous fully-restored 1957 Dot’s Diner is there, and I had Rhubarb Pie. Waitresses Mary and Kirsten recommended it. I’d never had rhubarb, but I now know why my Dad loves it so much. I sat next to a man and his son, two Roberts. I saw young Robert eyeing my beads, so I struck up a conversation.
In downtown Bisbee, I met several people, including Neil Ziegler and two ladies whose names I should have gotten at the Bisbee Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. They were very helpful and informative. I took some pictures. Had I known Bisbee was as neat as it was, I would have stayed a lot longer, but I wanted to get to Tombstone before the last gunfight of the day. Arizona is on Pacific time during the Daylight Savings part of the year.
Tombstone is the famous old western town with the OK Corral and Boot Hill. I had looked forward to visiting, but I was disappointed. I’m surprised they didn’t have someone posted at every road into town to charge you a fee just to pass through. I felt a little ornery so I chose not to pay to see the Bird Cage Theatre, the OK Corral, or the world’s largest rosebush. At least Boot Hill was free, though the gift shop that seems to own it was accepting donations.
I reached Tucson as the sun was setting, but as I drove straight into a blinding sun, my eye really started to water. Probably some dust (no extra charge) picked up in Tombstone. I’m sure it was a fabulous sunset, but I settled for the room, several shots of Visine, and a couple of Advil. You can’t chase the sun every day. Three weeks on the road, and I was ready for some rest.
The lesson of the day was clear from my chance encounter with Roger Smith of the Sleepy Hollow RV Park & Smoke Shop. Always have a minute.