The next leg of my trip– from Amarillo to Tucumcari– clocks in at under 2 hours if you go directly along Interstate 40/Old Route 66, but I took the Mother Road only as far as the New Mexico border before deviating south to make a pit stop in Portales, home of Eastern New Mexico University.
Portales may be home to just 17,000 friendly people (and three or four old grouches, as cited by the welcome sign), but in a way I owe my own and my family’s existence to the place. My parents met at ENMU back in 1980 (unlikely as it was, given their respective Midwestern origins).
My dad had given me one of their old addresses, but the building was different– they didn’t recognize the photo I sent them, on a run-down street with many a boarded up window. Ollie and I made the short trip to the main campus; took a picture with the statue of their mascot, the Greyhound; imagined the permed, leg-warmer’ed students who might’ve frequented the quad in my parents’ day (on my visit, replaced by just a few COVID-masked figures).
Then we proceeded on through Eastern New Mexico, desolate in a whole different way from the Route 66 experience. There was none of the anachronistic campiness that serves as the hallmark of that old highway; just crumbled, forgotten adobe, left to the elements on the open range.