Letter From thenLower Rightnby John Shelton ReednHome MoviesnIn a recent letter I mentioned thencircuitous route my wife and I drove lastnsummer on our way from Californianback home to North Carolina. The firstnday it took us past Bakersfield, wherenI’m told the children and grandchildrennof Okies have imposed something resemblingnSouthern culture on a part ofnCalifornia. (I’m sorry we didn’t havenmore time to check it out; back here,nalas, something resembling Californianculture is being imposed on a part ofnDixie.) After that, our trip essentiallynretraced the Okies’ route from the DustnBowl, in reverse. Let me tell you aboutnit. (Sorry I can’t show you my slides.)nCrossing Arizona and New Mexiconwe were going parallel to old Route 66,nand sometimes we got off the Interstatento get our kicks on that famous highway.nNow that there’s no traffic it’s a lonesomendrive, through a landscape of whatnwe recognized from innumerable cowboynmovies as buttes, mesas, gulches —nstuff like that. There sure is a lot ofnlandscape out yonder, and after a whilenit takes on a certain, shall we say,nsameness. Whenever my attentionnflagged, though, I pictured a foregroundnof Okie jalopies headed slowly,nwearily west, or broken down by thenside of the road, radiators boiling over,na Woody Guthrie song on the soundtrack.nAll I can say is things must havenbeen pretty dire in Oklahoma.nAt intervals we saw reminders ofnRoute 66’s day as a main east-westnartery: rusted signs, boarded-up gasnstations, deserted snake and monkeynfarms, Indian trading posts now reducednonce again to serving Indians. Itnwas fun to picture summer after summer’snworth of children arguing overnwhere the exact middles of backseatsnwere, back when travel was still slownenough to be something other thannjust a way to a destination.nHighway travel in the Southwest isnCORRESPONDENCEnsHll a bargain, or so it seemed after anyear in the high-priced part of California.nThe food was mostly just good,ngreasy grub, nothing to write home (ornChronicles) about, but I’d already fillednmy sushi and cilantro quotas for thennext twenty years anyway. Decent motelsnrun $20-$30 a night, and in Holbrook,nArizona, gateway to the PetrifiednForest (and ain’t that something?)nwe stopped at one, the Wigwam Motel.nThe Wigwam is a splendid periodnpiece that ought to be on the NationalnRegister, but only three of its tepeeshapedncabins were occupied the nightnwe were there. Give it a try if you’re innthe neighborhood, or at least give it antomahawk chop as you pass by.nUnlike many other “Americanowned”nmotels we saw, the Wigwamndoesn’t advertise that fact on its sign.nMost of the other places we stayednwere run by what my wife and I havencome to call, generically, “Patels,” becausenit seems that most of thenGujaratis who run small motels in thenUnited States do in fact have thatnsurname. (Have you noticed? What isnthis, some kind of innkeeping caste?)nI’m sorry to see them run afoul ofnnativism, if that’s what’s happening,nbecause it seems to me that they’re realnAmericans, maybe the last: hardworking,nthrifty, family-oriented. And whatevernmay be going on in big cities,nAsian immigrants to small towns arenassimilating quickly. They’re not interestednin recreating Hong Kong ornSaigon or Bombay, even if they could.n(After all, they left those places.) Alreadynsome of the Asian students at mynuniversity are more Southern in accentnand style than faculty kids who grew upnin Chapel Hill. And it’s not surprising:nthey’re the children of doctors or restaurateursnor motel-keepers from smallnNorth Carolina towns, probably thenonly Asian graduates of their highnschools. Probably honor graduates, too,nbless them.nAnyway, there’s a lot of there therenin small-town and rural Arizona andnNew Mexico.”We saw places less likenNorth Carolina than any other part ofnthe United States. I know, places differentnfrom here in ways different fromnnnother places that are different fromnhere, if you follow that.nBut that can’t be said of Santa Fe.nWhen we stopped there briefly to seenfriends it felt as if we’d somehownwarped back into California. Thanks tonrigorous zoning, Santa Fe does have andistinctive look, a sort of Walt Disneynadobe-land effect. But most of thosenadobe haciendas have been built in thenlast’fifty years, and increasingly, I’mntold, Santa Fe is becoming part ofnexurban Los Angeles, home to verynrich folks who commute now and thennby private plane.nWhy (I asked my friend) have allnthese Californians moved to NewnMexico? I mean, you can find pseudo-nSpanish architecture a lot closer tonBeverly Hills.n”You don’t understand,” he said.n”These are the ones who think they’renartists.”nAnd of course the coin dropped.nSanta Fe is Carmel-in-the-desert. (OrnSodom-in-the-desert: we heard aboutnone woman’s intimate relations with antiger-trainer, and subsequentiy, it wasnrumored, with his tiger.) Anyway,nthese are the pseudo rich, who dabblenin art, drugs, and kinky sex — not thenphilistine rich, who dabble in golf,nalcohol, and mere adultery. Poor folksnlike Mexican construction workers ornIndian jewelry-makers or tutors at St.nJohn’s College must live in housentrailers on some windswept patch ofnscrub ‘way out of town.nWhat’s wrong with Santa Fe is exemplifiednby the merchants who arenlobbying against street vendors, arguingnthat grubby Indians sitting on thensidewalk peddling jewelry (at pricesnlower than those in the stores) soil then”Rodeo Drive style merchandising environment”nthat they have created. Intake some pleasure from the thoughtnthat those Indians were sitting therenlong before anyone spoke English innSanta Fe and will probably be therenlong after the last English-speaker isngone.nOne place they sit is in front of thenold governor’s palace, now a museumnwhere we took in an exhibit on NewnMexico’s short Civil War history.nAPRIL 1992/41n