A string of freight cars rolls by, visible through the windows of a motel restaurant, one of the few businesses still open in sad, sorry Lordsburg. It rained overnight, and the ruins of service stations and motels disintegrate by atoms as I eat. I can barely remember how such towns looked in the ‘fifties when they were new and the future looked boundless.
South from Deming toward Columbus, the monotonous landscape of white waving grasses, scrub, and leafless trees is a melancholy letdown after the variety and subtlety of the Arizona desert, which at this time of year is more alive than the plains. All of southwestern New Mexico seems to be for sale, and the number of notices in this far corner supports the impression. Whether it’s a real estate company’s sign that I see, or a faded, hand-painted board, I wonder at how many years it has waited under summer sun and winter moon for the right stranger to come along.
The museum in Columbus occupies the old train station; a volunteer claims to remember Pancho Villa’s guerilla raid in 1916. Mostly the screams screams of the dying horses,” she says. The woman would have been at most a child of three or four, but she keeps a handful of tourists pinned in the entryway with what are possibly genuine stories, telling of the heroic telegraph operator who awoke to see “a bunch of armed Mexicans outside the office. She lit a match so’s she could see to send the alarm to El Paso.” Unfortunately, the raiders shot at the flash of light and the telegraph operator was pinned on the floor with her baby for some time. The woman takes the opportunity to solicit support for her political views. “I’m writing a book to send to the President,” she says, the contents of which, from her description, is paranoid anarchist bigotry. I listen with one ear as I stroll in the next room and view the few aboriginal artifacts and knickknacks of the early settlers collected there. The West is full of towns that live off a thin past, peripatetic retirees, and if they have it, mild weather.
The air in Las Cruces stinks this morning and my view of the Rio Grande valley is through a chain link fence. The trailer park where I’m staying is attached to a two-story concrete motel on the light industry side of town. I make the bed and sweep then stuff my shower bag with a change of clothes, a towel, and all the paraphernalia necessary to good hygiene. The ladies’ shower room is empty except for dirt brown carpet, an orange Formica sink counter and a wire stool. A sedan is stranded on four flat tires outside the door, which is hooked by a chain. I trudge back to the trailer, make a cup of too strong coffee and listen to a country station out of El Paso.