Saturday, December 17, 2016

Al Jazeera Imagines New Mexico

Pakastani immigrant Muhammad "Palomino" Malik at his motel in Tucamcari - Gabriela Campos/Al Jazeera

This photo is one of several by New Mexico photographer Gabriela Campos that ran with an article published the other day by Al Jazeera, the media conglomerate owned by the ruling family of the oil rich gulf emirate of Qatar. The Route 66 article centers on the New Mexican part of Route 66. It's one of a constant stream of Route 66 articles that get published, so people must love reading about Route 66.

There's an entire Route 66 travel industry made up of businesses, state and city tourist bureaus, historic places and a huge line of Route 66 souvenirs, but articles about Route 66, it seems to me, make up a separate industry. 

The two industries overlap but are distinct in that one has to do with thinking and one with doing. One with being and one with becoming.

We travel, and we imagine traveling. We need to do both. At any given time we may think we know who we are and what the world is, but when we go out into it we find something different, and think again. The continual interplay between what we think and what we experience, between being and becoming, keeps the light of our consciousnesses flickering and maintains the illusion of sanity.

We don't really see or touch or smell or hear things. We think "light" lights up the world when actually the universe exists in darkness. What happens is that through nerve endings in our eyeballs our brain detects certain wavelengths of a certain kind of energy -- what we think of as "light" -- and uses it to create images for our consciousness.

We think the world our brain creates for us is taking place in front of our eyes but only because that's where we imagine it to be. It's "taking place" if it takes place at all only in our imagination. This imagined world might be three dimensional, like the measurements and instruments we imagine are measuring it, or it might not be. It might be hot or cold or soft or hard.

But we enjoy, we derive pleasure, from imagining things like Route 66. We enjoy receiving these particular image stimuli, and we enjoy creating them. We all have our Route 66s, but this Route 66 works for a lot of people.

It's both being and becoming. As the article's author puts it, it represents both decay and resilience. It's solid and malleable. It's Palomino Malik and al Qaida, the flag and the fire. It's the world that's moving past us and the one we move through, one we see and one we dream. It's both the highway and the motel.



  1. Thanks Bubba. That post is poetic prose, as opposed to prosaic poetry. Parts of it are just poetry, but not just plain poetry. Poetic justice.

    The relationship between brain activity and what is happening "out there in the world" is one that has fascinated me for a very long time. People who have studied the anatomy and function of the human eyeball are generally aware that the images that our eyes' lenses project upon our retinas are inverted, and yet we see the world right-side up within our brains -- a convention in which we perceive the ground below our feet as down, and the sky above our heads as up. It's a kind of gravitational bias that the vast majority of us share. I used to play with that bias as a child, draping my body over the steel bar that supported a row of see-saws in the Cole Elementary School playground so that I could experience the asphalt as a ceiling a few inches above my head and the sky as a vast blue pool lying some indeterminate distance below me. Birds and airplanes would pass under me like fish swimming, belly-up, in the deep azure ocean of nitrogen and oxygen.

    I had my own experience of Route 66 the day I drove Bill's motorcycle down from Joliet to St. Louis, sticking to the old highway wherever I could, rather than staying on I-55. It brought me at one point, I don't recall the exact point, where there was one of those classic truck stops with a restaurant serving good basic truck stop food, the kind Dad used to like, and which we still enjoy when we can get it. I ate lunch (or brunch) there, probably my last meal before you and I had supper somewhere down near Fort Leonard Wood later that evening.

    And so my experience of Route 66 wasn't just visual, it was tactile as well, feeling with my backside the bumps wherever cracks in the asphalt had been patched. And it was gustatory because of that truck stop, and auditory because of the sounds of the passing vehicles, and another kind of tactile when a morning shower soaked through my jeans which dried long before I reached the Mississippi River.

    Have never seen the New Mexico stretch of Route 66 though. That's still on my to do list. Am pretty sure it exists, even though I haven't seen it, but the reality of it goes deeper than what the eye can see in physical terms (we only see the top surface), and what the mind can conceive (many millions of minds have experienced it in their own ways, and imagined it in other ways). It's a great cultural icon, that's for sure.

    And I'm sure the people of Qatar have their own take on Route 66, different from yours or mine or that gal or guy sitting in the truck stop.

    1. So that's how you tuned out the way you did. Force feeding your brain with nutrients and oxygen while perceiving and conceiving outside the gravitational biases most of us are confined by.

      That was a remarkable trip on several levels.

      That bike by the way has classic, collector's edition status. A guy has one for sale here in Albuquerque for $5,000 or around 5 times what it cost new.

      There's a few for sale here from about that to well over $10,000

    2. I was a trippy kid in Kindergarten, Frank. Probably borderline autistic. The teacher was more concerned about it than Mom was. That bike, BTW, was a joy to ride. I was not (and still am not) an experienced motorcycle rider, but it treated me well on that trip. Not sure whether Bill still has it or not. I hope so.