Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


My photo
Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Earth Cruisers at Big Bend

We were down heading for the hot springs on the Rio Grande, down at Big Bend N.P., when we saw a couple of these units growling along. Earth Cruisers. Built in Australia, using truck cab and chassis from a Mitsubishi Fuso. The whole rig is spec'd to fit in a shipping container. 

Lawrence of Arabia Rides again.

A stash of Brough Superiors, the hardnosed English motorcycle of the 1920s, has reappeared in England. To be auctioned.  Details here. Thanks to Matt Dallett for the tip.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Streets of El Paso

 If you've followed this blog you know I have a problem with the way we North Americans live on our land. We sprawl it, we mall it, we chew it up and move on to the next raw patch, then wreck that too. It's deep in our history, this relationship to the land. It's "property", so we can do whatever we like with it. We recently spent some time in El Paso Texas where the dominant reality is vast sprawl stretching along Interstate 10 for 25 miles, and of course the (even larger) city of Juarez, Chihuahua across the river.
You'd never know it from driving through on I-10 but El Paso once had a handsome downtown. It's still there, most of it. It's not used much. Like other American midsize cities, especially in the West, this is the atrophied core: a Central Business District no longer central to how the city (or Metropolitan Area) really functions.
It seems to me that central cities like this need to be revived, and not just as hipster havens. The sprawl-lands of El Paso echo with concrete sadness and alienation; a ruthless landscape of hucksterism. Sprawl proposes a relationship of people to land where land is the enemy, to be ruthlessly paved and subjected to the indignities of the most simpleminded, short-sighted capitalist practice. The waste, the waste.
I don't care if you're a Cruz Republican, or a Sanders Democrat-- don't you find the actual experience of American sprawl...dispiriting?
Downtown feels human in scale, humane, the possibility of discourse, exchanges, civic life exists here. The architecture and the scale allow you feel your own human dignity. I don't think shopping malls every allow anyone to feel that. Malls reduce us to infantilism. Big babies with credit cards.  In the malls we're just consumers. On the streets of a town or a city, we're citizens.

Friday, December 25, 2015

1954 Mercedes 300Sl (Gull Wing)

 from Susan Richardson, re. her father's wheels:
"It is a 1954 Mercedes Benz 300SL.
He bought it in late 1957 from a professor from University of Saskatchewan.
then sold it in 1959 the year my folks got married"-SR

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa Texas (1884)

And the (1986) C10 Chevy
It's easy to make fun of Marfa as a high falutin' art town planted in the high desert but the reality is more complicated, more hopeful, more interesting. And if it wasn't for Donald Judd, and Chinati's roster of visitors and artists-in residence (like Rob Fischer) Marfa would probably look a lot like Van Horne or Fort Stockton or even Valentine, other West Texas once-were-cattle-towns that have more or less dried up and blown away. Marfa has its issues, to be sure, and the gap between privilege and unprivilege can be disconcerting and painful to behold. But Art has done far better by this Texas town than any other industry ever would, be it cattle, cotton, oil, or factories. Art feels here to stay, along with it tourist dollars, construction wages, tax revenue, and a mix of citizens--deep locals and people from Away-- sharing a common interest in making and keeping the town as a thriving community.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book Me, Jesus

Next county over is Brewster. It's the biggest county (area) in the second largest state in the Lower 48. County seat is Alpine, Texas. It's wide wonderful West Texas and includes most of the Big Bend region. Alpine has Sul Ross State University.
And the Brewster County Sheriff, Ronnie Dodson, has been allowing his deputies to stick crosses on their official black-and-white vehicles. The Brewster County DA has said he's all for it. Seems stunning to me. That means that the civil power in West Texas is coming at you wearing the symbol of one religion. Come on. It is clearly, fundamentally a violation of the separation of church and state. This is America, right? No mullahs here. It's fine if cops are religious, but we don't want Religion Police. Follow the story on KRTS, "Radio for a Wide Range".

The West Texas Speedster

 Pat Rogers has owned this Porsche four decades.

El Paso, Sunset Heights, and Ain't That America

We did some exploring in El Paso. This building has always caught my eye---you can see it from the highway as I-10 smashes its way through central El Paso. The reality of El Paso is a rugged 25-mile sprawl along the interstate, with a huge military installation--Fort Bliss--and raw suburban neighborhoods clawing their way out into the desert. EP is the 19th largest city in the US and that doesn't include the one-million plus population of Juarez, across the Rio Grande. 
For all our talk about homeland, patriotism, etc. it's remarkable how we Americans as a civilization care so little for the actual country we live upon. I mean America, the land. America, the ground. Because it's hard not to see in those 25 miles of hideous and wasteful sprawl along the I-10 a set of deep injuries and wounds we have inflicted on our own country. Waste of land, waste of resources. A pattern of destroying, using up, a landscape--then moving on. Ain't that America, as John Mellencamp might say.
      Anyway I'll stop ranting and focus on the desolate beauties of older neighborhoods in central El Paso which have a kind of dignity and charm that the sprawl land/mall-land wholly lacks. The old neighborhoods in the urban core made sense; you could see how a sense of community could develop within their human scale. The Sunset Apartments were built in 1913, in the Sunset Heights neighborhood, a short walk uphill from downtown and close to where the railroad depot was. Probably used to be railroad men who rented the apartments. A bit further up the hill there are some great streets of early 20th century houses. The neighborhood as been neglected for most of the last 50 years but maybe that will begin to change now that we start to really see that building further and further out into the desert is something we can not afford to do. I plan to post some photos of commercial downtown El Paso on a later post. The old town has shown some signs of revival in the last few years, and there are some wonderful streets and buildings there. So the next time you're blasting through West Texas on I-10, give yourself a break, hop off the freeway and have a look at downtown El Paso. This used to be a real civitas, and could be again one day. 
        Maybe the above sounds uselessly romantic, as though I have a trope for picturesque urban decay. No. It just seems to me that the way we once organized our cities to satisfy the needs of the citizens made sense, and those old townscapes and cityscapes established before everything rolled over to serve the automobile and the real estate & banking industries are a useful model--a way of living on the American land we need be finding our way back to.