On the Road Again

Christ in the Desert Monastery road, northwestern New Mexico near the Rio Grande.

Christ in the Desert Monastery road, northwestern New Mexico near the Rio Grande.

Warren spent a week packing for his trip to Loveland Colorado for the Loveland Sculpture In The Park Show. This week Warren retells his roadtrip deja vu and shares some advice he gave a bellhop in New Mexico.

On the Road Again

The inside of my Cadillac Escalade was getting ready for another road trip. Clothes hung on hangers behind the driver’s side, a well-organized food box behind Kitty’s seat, the space between loaded with plastic divider boxes with everything from road flares to safety pins. The giant first-aid box was buried beneath them and behind that a “GOOD” emergency backpack. “GOOD” is an axiom for “Get Out Of Dodge.” It contained a knife, solar blanket, dry food for three days, water, matches, ponchos, gloves and a laundry list of other items. Four small suitcases and a case of wine for our Colorado friends along with our pillows completed the traveling supplies. Collecting and packing had taken a week and I was doing the final preparations for our road trip.

The driver’s seat was adjusted; I slid the plastic wrapper off a CD box containing three compact discs. Tony Hillerman’s story, Talking God, one of a few I had either not read or listened to on previous trips. I relished the stories of Joe Leaphorn, Navajo Tribal Police detective, as he solved murder mysteries on the Navajo reservation. Wife Kitty opened the door and noticed the CD I was placing in the slot. She warned, “Warren, do you remember the time we were driving to New Mexico listening to another Hillerman story?”

“Of course.”

“Remember how we were so absorbed in his story, then stopped for gas out in the middle of nowhere and the old gas station had ‘out of gas’ signs. And how we went in, took a bathroom, break, bought a bag of Cracker Jacks and drove on West on I-40 toward Santa Fe and stalled because we didn’t get gas?”

“Let’s not do that again.” She pointedly suggested. The stage was set for another turn of events.

I slid the disk into the appropriate slot, pushed the button and adjusted the volume as the familiar sound of Hillerman’s introduction music began. Kitty flipped open the glove box, pulled out her sunglasses and said, “I’m ready. Let’s go.” We buckled up, turned the key and our vehicle and trailer packed with sculpture slowly eased out of the driveway on my twelfth journey to Loveland, Colorado. I would participate as an exhibitor in the Loveland Sculpture Show, the most prestigious sculptures shows in the States. I would be one of the 170 sculptors to show and sell for the August three day event.

Sixty miles into our adventure, we stopped out front of a convenience store, already absorbed into Talking God story. Kitty asked politely “How’s your gas?” I glance up as I stopped the disk. “We have a half a tank; I want to stop for gas in Goldthwaite.” I bought my token bag of Cracker Jacks and a ten dollar scratch off for Kitty and good luck. Our rig was humming. Tony’s story was again keeping the attention of two absorbed listeners. Miles down the road we crested a small hill, the engine stopped and we coasted off the asphalt and onto the gravel shoulder. We both yelled “We’re out of gas again!” I realized that I had been so engrossed in Hillerman’s story I had only glanced at the gauges and misread the oil gauge for the gas gauge. I apologized profusely to a gracious Kitty, who managed to not say “I told you so.”

An old black pickup slowed and turned into the dirt road where we were stalled. The driver asked us if we needed help, said his name was Joe. We told him triple A had been called and were sending assistance. He waved and drove away. we waited for an hour in the sweltering heat, and called again, it would be another hour. Kitty’s lip gloss melted. A white, diesel truck pulled up and the woman driver yelled out the window “Ya’ll need some help?” I greeted the young, blonde ranch lady and told her we were out of gas. She yelled that she only lived ‘bout five minutes away and would bring us some gas. Fifteen minutes later her big truck pushed through the thick Rye grass and stopped on our right side. Her fourteen year old son helped his mom pull the big red gas container out of the back of the truck. The funnel was not attached to the container. She spotted a plastic bottle in the grass, pulled out a big folding knife, sliced the bottom off and handed it to me to use as a funnel. Now with enough gas to get us to the next town, I thanked her for her Texas hospitality and handed her young son a twenty dollar bill “for his education.” The ranch mom smiled and said thanks. I asked her for her address and email and told her I wanted to send her a couple of prints as an expression of my gratitude. We pulled out of the grass, waved and were on the road again.

Warren at Loveland Sculpture Show with bronze sculpture Spirit Totem.

Warren at Loveland Sculpture Show with bronze sculpture Spirit Totem.

Our sculpture show journey was one of staying overnights and visiting with family and friends along the way, driving several hundred miles each day. We worked at two galleries: Meikle Fine Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Smith-Klein Gallery in Boulder, Colorado, catching up on the changes that had taken place since our last visit. We stayed with collector friends in Fort Collins, Colorado. We watched the sun set over the Rocky Mountains and toasted the full moon from their patio. The show was again successful, tiring, fun and full of new collectors. The two weeks we were gone we managed to take off a single day and went on our favorite “Dirt Date.” A dirt date is where one has a vague plan, a picnic packed, walking shoes, folding chairs and plenty of water for the desert. We left Santa Fe and headed North West toward Abiquiu, New Mexico, home of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, and on to Ghost Ranch and the dirt road toward Christ in the Desert Monastery. This road had the largest Cottonwood tree I have ever seen. We had measured it on a previous drive: 19 feet 6 inches in circumference.  Our afternoon was breathtaking, observing nature with the mesas in all the colors of a layered cake from frosty white to caramel yellow to red strawberry, topped with distant, dark blue thunderstorms that flank the mesas during this time of the year. We took photos, stopped and collected small rocks for a sculpture that Kitty had talked about the day before. It would be another future collaboration between the two of us. Where was our tree? It had been two years since we had sat in its cool shade on the banks of the mighty Rio Grande. Kitty said in a sad way, “I think it’s dead,” and pointed. We drove off the road and got out of our vehicle like friends at a grave site. The giant had fallen. We walked up to the massive limbs that sprawled across the sage and deep, red earth. The river was up and we could hear the rushing sounds as we touched the deep textures of “Our Tree.” I examined the base, snapped off about four feet above the ground, probably due to a heavy snow storm last year. I took a few photographs of Kitty among the giant limbs. We drove a few hundred yards and found a place to eat our sandwiches under the Piñon Pines and felt a light sprinkle from the distant thunderstorm. Nothing lasts forever.


Kitty among the branches of the giant cottonwood.

Kitty among the branches of the giant cottonwood.


The muffled knock caused me to open the door of our hotel room. A bellman was having a difficult time pushing his luggage cart because he had the wheels backwards.  He was a young Native American with a wide face and black hair; he looked at me with a worried expression and stated that today was his first day on the job. I said “Ok, push this part of the cart toward me and you push the other end and hold the door at the same time.” He smiled and started loading the luggage.  He asked me how my night went. I suggested that he always ask the guest if they have any fragile items that you need to be aware of before you handle their baggage. I continued to instruct him, telling him the guest may want to assist you or allow you to do all the work. You need to communicate with the guest as to what you can do to be of service. I showed him how to hang the cloth bags from the top bar of the cart made for that purpose. He was polite, nervous and fumbling with everything. I guessed his age to be nineteen. I asked him what Hilton management did to train him? He mumbled that they only told him to pick up the guests’ luggage and to be polite, that’s all.

I walked to our back patio door and asked him to lock the door behind me, I would meet him in the lobby after I connected my trailer. My footsteps crunched under the gravel landscape dotted with butterfly plants, hardy desert varieties of cacti and purple Russian Sage. I thought back to my first day on my first job, a long time ago. I had dressed in an aluminum hard hat, laced up boots, jeans and leather gloves. My job was to clear brush for a survey team. My bellman was smartly dressed in his new uniform and shinny new name tag and must be feeling oh! so, new, as I did so many years ago. I had a few minutes to think about my new acquaintance and reflect on what I had learned from Napoleon Hill’s book about being of service. Hill said, “Always give more service than you are paid for.”

"Cacti," one of 68 drawings in Sketch Book.

“Cacti,” one of 68 drawings in Sketch Book.

I unlocked my Escalade, connected my trailer and drove around the hotel to the lobby. The bellman was standing with our luggage in the shadows of the adobe and pine ceiling portico of the Buffalo Thunder Hotel and Casino, a Hilton property in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I walked up, introduced myself, handed him my business card and asked him his name. “Ignacio.”

“Ignacio, from now on when you communicate with the hotel guests always introduce yourself first, because it’s the polite thing to do and they may ask for your service by name in the future.”  I waited for his response, wanting to see his reaction. He smiled and repeated “yes” twice. I could tell that he was soaking up my remarks like a sponge. Proceeding, I told him “Never ask a guest ‘How was your night?’ too personal. Your guest may have lost a fortune in the casino last night or he may have just told his wife of twenty three years that he wanted a divorce, too personal.” His awkward expression suggested that he had never considered those circumstances

Reaching into my shirt pocket I extracted a folded five dollar bill and with both hands extended it to him. He looked down. I stopped him.

“Never look at what someone gives you. You only look the giver in the eye, smile and say ‘thank you.’ As the song says, ‘There will be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s  done.’ Do you know that Kenny Roger’s song?” He responded “yes” and smiled. “Ignacio, Is my tip your first on the job?”

“Yes Sir.” He said.

“Good, do you know what T.I.P.S. stands for?”

“Thank you?”

“No, the letters mean: To Insure Proper Service. That’s your position as the first person the guest meets when you open their door and welcome them to the hotel. You are to provide that service and always ask if you can be of further service when you are finished unloading or loading their belongings.  You may earn another tip.” He nodded.

“Excuse me Ignacio; I must meet my wife Kitty at the reception desk.”

Kitty and I passed Ignacio loading another cart. He smiled and said thanks for all the advice. I said only one more thing, “Tonight practice your presentation of meeting your guest in front of a mirror.” This time he grinned from ear to ear, I could tell that the specialized knowledge that I had passed on to him was already having a positive effect. Thanks to Mr. Hill and all those people in my life that have filled me with specialized knowledge, one of my steps that I took from Hill’s Book Think and Grow Rich and incorporated into my book, My Dad, Napoleon and Me.

Next Sunday the 24th of August we share Warren’s featured sketch The Art Seller drawn at a cafe table in Venice and the story behind it.


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