The (not so) Great Southwest Tour

We’d been planning this tour for a number of months; our first since coming West.  It would be a week long, take us out West as far as Lancaster, CA, back on a Southeastern oblique to southern New Mexico and back up to return home to Santa Fe.  Our car was packed and our hopes were high as we headed for our first destination; Flagstaff Arizona.

We’d yet to clear Albuquerque, though, when our first sign of trouble showed; a flashing AC indicator on the dash, followed by the sudden disappearance of any cool air from the vents.  A review of the manual revealed the bad news; a problem with the Air Conditioning which required dealer service.  The problem was, of course, that there was no time built into our plans for such a delay.  We would arrive in Flagstaff less than two hours before performance time and would have to be on our way fist thing in the morning to get to our next stop; Palmdale CA, where my brother and his family would have a place for us to sleep.  It was a Friday afternoon and we were heading into Flagstaff faced with the Mojave Desert to cross the next day, a trip through Phoenix and down to southern New Mexico with no AC to mitigate the anticipated temperatures well over the century mark; a truly daunting prospect.

We tried to set our concerns aside as we pulled up at the hotel.  After all, I had a performance to get through just  an hour and a half away, so our worries would have to take a back seat to more immediate concerns.  We made it to the venue without incident and began to unpack.

It was a funky coffee shop, two storefronts wide, with a small but mixed crowd.  I was set up and playing in under an hour and, though the crowd was small, they were beginning to gravitate my way and pay attention.  It was then that I noticed some not so good attention from behind a white van which had pulled up outside.  A couple were eyeing me with less than good intent as they began unpacking instruments from the back of the van.

My stomach sank with the suspicion over what was occurring and, sure enough, my fears were confirmed about ten minutes later when the manager came to me.  He seemed a nice young man of college age, hair in braids, tee shirt and jeans, but he was clearly uncomfortable as he approached. He gave me the bad news; he had not been aware that ANY music had been scheduled for the evening, yet someone had double-booked the place with two different traveling acts.  I was very disappointed, but what was there to do?  The manager made recompense and we were given the dinner we had been promised, so I quickly packed and got my equipment out of the way, ‘lest there be any confusion as to who’s wires belonged to whom. We ate quietly as the “opening” act, a local friend of the traveling couple did his shtick.  Without further ado, we went back to the hotel and settled in hoping that, somehow, this tour would recapture its positive vibe the next day.

Keenly aware that we had much desert to cross without benefit of AC, we departed early the next morning, hoping to be across the Mojave ahead of the hottest part of the day.  As we descended out of the Arizona mountains we were faced with more heat than we came upon in the depths of the Mojave; 96 degrees a little bit West of Kingman.  By that time we progressively gave up on the internal vents, tilting open the moon roof and opening the windows to the blistering roar coming through them, like the breath of a blast furnace.  If it was this bad this far North, what could we expect working our way to Phoenix the following Monday? Desperate, we hit the smart phone for the nearest Toyota dealership to our destination and rang their service department.  We were told that the only way we could be seen was as a walk in; otherwise they wouldn’t even look at us before Monday.

We hauled butt for all we were worth; we HAD to get there before closing time.  As we crawled our way along the route to the Pearblossom highway, we began to dispair.  But then things began to open up and we were back at the speed limit.  We pulled into the dealership a half hour before closing.  The staff were reticent to even begin to look at it, saying that the AC system testing process was extensive and would take more time than was left in the day, let alone figuring any time for actual repair.  We pleaded as piteously as we could manage, telling them we’d just crossed the Mojave without AC and were facing the prospect of 108+ degrees Monday on the way to Phoenix. Reluctantly they agreed to at least take a look.

Imagine our surprise when, not five minutes after driving the car down into the repair shop, there was the mechanic standing outside the shop director’s office with a smile on his face.  ‘Turned out it was a known problem for which there was a service bulletin; a failing compressor clutch relay.  AND THEY HAD THE PART IN STOCK!!  The repair wound up taking less time than the paperwork. With unending praise and thanks we bid the Lancaster Toyota team farewell, deeply grateful for the promise of cool air to get us across the desert to Phoenix.  We made our way to my brother’s house and set up camp, relieved and relaxed by the prospect of our bad luck spell being broken;  Now things would finally start turning out way!  We spent a pleasant evening with family catching up while enjoying the cooling high-desert breeze as the night sky moved in overhead.

The next day we took an easy start and headed out to the house concert site.  Wayne and Charlotte made us feel welcome and, amid thoroughly enjoyable banter we got set up and prepared for the audience to arrive.  Unfortunately, mostly, they didn’t.  A dear friend from high school showed up with her very sweet long-suffering husband, having made a two-hour journey.  However, the rest of my West Coast classmates couldn’t make it; neither could most of the other folks who promised to show up.  So we had an intimate gathering, including 7 people following along on the live streamcast.  The show was quite good and we got some excellent video from it (see youtube). I had a lot of fun, as did the audience.  So it wasn’t a financial winner, but it was a success nevertheless.  We continued the pleasant conversation while packing, headed off to spend another lovely evening with my brother and his family and prepared to face the drive to Phoenix the next day.

We made reasonably good time and were exceedingly grateful for the AC, considering the temperature made it to 111 degrees.  Once checked into out hotel, we got together with another couple of friends from high school, currently living in Phoenix.  Yes, we Performing Arts HS grads do manage to get around.  The next morning we were off to Silver City, New Mexico.

About mid afternoon, we pulled into the center of town; an artsy little main street of  antique shops, nick-knack shops some restaurants and coffee shops, with more than its share of empty storefronts.  My wife got in a little shopping while I checked in at the coffeehouse where I was to play the following night.  It was a pleasant day but for one thing; off to the North, the sky filled ominously with what at first glance looked like angry thunderheads – that is, until you realized the color was wrong; thunderheads aren’t tinged with brown.  Wildfire smoke, however, is.  The Gila National Forest was beset by fire; a conflagration approaching a 100,000 acres.  We had booked a cabin at a cozy campground in Pinos Altos, high in the piney mountains overlooking the Silver City Valley, several thousand miles below.  The closer we got, the more the sun was obscured by the roiling smoke plume of the blaze.  Thankfully, though, the smoke had been lofted so high that the air at ground level held no scent of it.  We could look forward to a pleasant dinner in town and a quiet evening in a romantic cabin and an easy set up the next day.

As the next evening approached, my wife curtailed her shopping activities and I began to set up at the equipment for the evening’s show.  Again, the manager had neglected to mention me to Sam, the Barista, but we straightened that out in short order and Sam was exceedingly helpful.  The crowd was not large, but they spanned the age spectrum and they lingered and listened.  After a quick pack we were back at our little mountain hideaway; the wildfire getting closer, but the smoke mercifully blowing elsewhere.

The morning found us reluctant to leave our cozy little cabin, but I had an afternoon to play in Socorro, so we packed up and went looking for some real southwest cooking for breakfast.  We found it, after several false starts, in what had been an old motor court, repurposed as a mini-mall, with a wonderful Southwestern style restaurant.  A hearty breakfast had us back on the road, heading North for Socorro.

Until one begins to approach Hatch, there’s not much to speak of.  But then the green fields of peppers and fruit orchards loom up well before the sign that officially lets you know that you’re in the chili pepper capital of the world.  Once on I 25, though, the wind became fierce.  We were unfortunate witnesses to the wind’s power and the havoc left in its wake; a car and the trailer it was pulling were flipped over on their roofs. With a shudder, we both hoped it was only a vacation brought to an abrupt end and not more.  Further down the road an 18-wheeler was flipped on it’s side in the median.  We were relieved to pull into the parking lot of the coffee shop in Socorro – until we opened the doors.  The smoke billowing angrily at 20,000 feet in Silver city fell to earth in Socorro, burning one’s eyes and throat.  We unpacked in record time and set up well ahead of time for performing.

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM is not high volume traffic time for a coffee shop, but people drifted in and out, staying long enough for a cup and pastry as well as a song or three.  Many were very generous, a fact much appreciated by this humble performer.  It certainly helped put a little gas in the car to get back to Santa Fe in one piece.

So now, we recover, with only some local gigs on the calendar.  I’m sure I’ll get cracking in a few days, but for now it’s recharge the batteries to prepare for it all to start over again.

About Gary Paul

Having worn many hats in my life I bring a broad perspective to my writing. 2-time winner & 8-time nominee, New Mexico Music Awards. Winner, 2006 Xtreme Folk Scene's Song Contest. Degrees: B.A, Psychology; & MPA, Public Administration; MS, Computer Science. I'm a Santa Fean born poor, but surrounded by music, theater & poetry in Brownsville, Brooklyn, NY. Piano gave me a love for melody. My grandparent's farm showed me the beauty of bucolic settings & bluegrass music. But around Boy Scout council fires I grew to love storytelling; especially a good ghost story! :-).
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