Amarillo or Vail? The Answer Is Not So Obvious


I order a vodka tonic, with my frequent flier drink coupon and settle back to look out the window at the clouds at 33,000 feet.


Do you ponder when you fly?

I feel overwhelmingly sad today — the realities of managing the pressing demands of financial catch-up, not to be confused with ketchup, stringing along one freelance gig after another just to make the house payment, while I work feverishly on the book outline and pray to the publishing gods for an A-D-V-A-N-C-E, I get caught short on stamina and optimism. I know nobody brought this on me but me. I get that. I hear my scornful Jean voice several times a day saying, “You made your bed, sister.” 

So, I apologize for whining and I love you, my Greek chorus for every well wish you have blown my way these past few months. You could have been churlish. The rest of you manned your battle stations all damn summer while I tooled about the country with a flea bitten mutt hound. So who am I to whine? I take a deep breath and replay the “sage advice” tape in my head which I’ve been peddling to myself like snake oil.

“One step at a time. They can’t come to my house and beat the money out of me.”  

And then I recall something my beloved brother Garrett used to say, God rest his precious soul.  He’d say, “Any day that you wake up and you’re not laying in a ditch somewhere is a good day.” He knew from whence he could have ended up.

And then, snap! I remember something else.

I drove across the entire United States by myself and I didn’t end up in a ditch!!!

Jean Whatley and Libby

We braved a lot of elements, my gal and I. Weather, traffic, bad take-out.

I got home safely. I brought my best friend home safely. My kids are okay. Louie’s okay, (although he has fleas too) my house is still standing, albeit a tad shabby, what with appliances that need repairing, fences that need mending, and ceilings that need patching, it’s still a roof over our heads, with dimly lit rooms because they’ve cut off the TV and I can’t even afford light bulbs right now!

But I refuse to stay in this dark place too long, figuratively speaking. I force myself to go back. Go back in my mind’s eye. A focal point, they called it in labor, as you’re trying to take your mind off pushing a cantaloupe through the neck of a wine bottle. A focal point, to distract me momentarily from this temporary, (dear Lord,  please let it be temporary) closed shutter in my mind that my dream is going unattended, while I attend to keeping the wolves away from the door.

A focal point; I look out the window at the cloud bank below me and remember the clouds piled high all around me, desert clouds as far as the eye could see. It’s magnificent out there. I do believe the desert landscapes were my favorite, like imprinting on one’s soul, I turn my memory to the desert first, the way a newborn baby roots for its mama.

Tierra Madre

Tierra Madre, Albuquerque’s North Valley. View of the Sandias.

I remember how I felt when I caught the first few glimpses of New Mexico desert, exactly one month after I’d left St. Louis. I started to breathe again. It’s like when you’re at the airport and you’re waiting for someone you love, you’ve missed them so. You cannot wait to hold them again! And then you make eye contact as they slowly work their way toward you and the sight of them floods straight to your heart. Home, it looked like home. It’s a concept I wrangle on a daily basis, such is the tyranny of having lived so many places in my life and loving many of them. Home? Where is that, the place which speaks to my soul in screams or whispers?

Sunset over the Rio Grande

Sunset over the Rio Grande.

New Mexico was like a song, the gradual sloping ascent into the high plateaus, a stunning vibrato teasing up the backside of the Sandia Mountains with a crescendo as you come through the canyons, now the majestic mountains in your rear view mirror. How I love the eastern approach to Albuquerque. But Lord knows I had to pay my dues in the other “A” town — Amarillo: Armpit of America. 

Now that might seem harsh, considering, say, West Memphis, Arkansas (now that I’ve successfully denigrated two towns and in so doing have alienated future book clubs in both Amarillo and West Memphis) but I swear to God, there is not one single aesthetic saving grace about anything I’ve ever seen along that stretch of Interstate 40. Maybe that was the problem, I took the interstate through Amarillo. After braving the hazards of back road Texas highways, when I didn’t see a human for 100-plus miles in 100-plus temperatures with nary a cell phone signal around, the on-ramp to I-40 gave me comfort.

Too bad it’s just so damn ugly, with the two notable exceptions; the Cadillacs stuck in the dirt and the amusement of the steakhouse where you can get the porterhouse for free if you can eat all 72 oz. of it in one sitting. Aside from that, Amarillo, which means yellow in Spanish, but is more like pale, brown skid marks on a Texas map, is a necessary evil, like labor pains are to birth, in this case, delivery into the Land of Enchantment.

Cadillac Ranch - TX

Texas, where Cadillacs grow out of the ground.


So, now that I will never be invited to a book signing in Amarillo, I’ll share a tale of the one and only night I switched hotels in mid-stay. I wrote this piece on August 5th, so it’s in the present tense.

Route 66 - New Mexico

Needs no explanation.

I nod to my neighbors, a skinny gal, oversize tee shirt, comes down to her knees, with her hair in a scrunchied pony tail on top of her head, a cigarette clenched in her teeth. She’s running down the balcony chasing a pit bull mix. I have seen more pits on this trip than any other breed of dog. Libby sniffs with an air of superiority. I get to my room, the metal motel room clanks behind me, comforting now. I pull the sheers together, but don’t close the black-out drapes. Makes me feel claustrophobic. Fuck em’ if the can’t take a joke, a 56-year-old woman on the bed, with her 86-pound yellow mutt, sharing take out from the Taco Sal. It’s pretty bad. The food, I mean.

I don’t give her very much, makes her gassy, just a few bites of the taco meat, cause Lord knows I don’t want to take her out again. This place has no grass, all black top. I have to walk for a block to find a place she’s willing to pee and I’m exhausted tonight. It’s the first time I’ve actually had to change hotels in the same night. It’s not that they weren’t friendly and all, over at the Travel Lodge, what with Mike, who knocked on my door within minutes of me ringing the front desk to tell them I was not able to connect to the WIFI.

“Hey, I’m Mike,” he said when I opened my door. “They said you were having trouble connecting.” As if being Mike made it safe for me to let him into my room. There was no  neatly pressed Travel Lodge uniform or nametag to assure me that he wasn’t a homicidal maniac, just a red-headed guy, in denim shorts,  a polo shirt, and New Balance tennis shoes and a hat that said, “You Are Here.”  I’m the person the cops want to interview if I was in the lobby during a bank robbery.

Yep, “You Are Here” all right. Amarillo, Texas, the armpit of America, now offending any readers who might take great pride in this sorry-ass, God forsaken excuse for a town. Amarillo, Texas, on a steamy August Friday night at the Motel 6 sharing crappy Mexican take-out with my dog. Yeah, I moved across the street from the Travel Lodge, despite Mike’s best intentions, the WIFI wouldn’t work and then there was a cockroach.  I do have standards.

I had been lured to the Travel Lodge because I had a coupon. A nice gal at the desk of the Quality Inn in Asheville, five states back, asked if I had “the coupon.” Turns out they have them in these nifty little coupon books at Quickie Marts from New York to California. Thirty-nine, ninety-nine for a room in Amarillo. You can’t beat that with a stick if you’re good with a shoe on the cockroaches.

I moved though. My skin crawling was telling me it just wasn’t cool for me to stay there. And I got my money back! The guy with the earring in his lip at the front desk with the Travel Lodge name tag on was real nice about it. “We’ve had this problem with Macs,” he said. Okay, as if half the planet, or more, isn’t using a Mac these days?  I didn’t bother to mention the bugs. Whatever. Fortunately, believe it or not this is true, there was ONE room left across the street at the Motel 6. Forty-seven bucks at this pricey joint, but it felt like a haven after the cockroach incident and all.

So, I had to load all my stuff back, up, reverse the ritual I’d go through every night, and do it all over again in the parking lot across the street and then, go on a food run. It was 11:30, I’d texted the kids to tell them I was in for the night. Made myself a vodka tonic from the fixins in the ice chest, ate some of the lousy take-out, then tied up the bag in a tight knot, another trick from the road I’d learned, cause you don’t want to wake up smelling last night’s dinner. It’s gross. As if staying in Motel 6’s from Toledo to Amarillo wasn’t already gross enough. But, this is one of the newer ones, with fake parquet floor and some kind of shi-shi soap. Motel 6, upscale.

I tell myself to catch up on my blog. I have so much to talk about. She’s a slave driver, that muse. I write in the morning, drive for six or seven hours, write at night and crash. So when will I tell them about Friday night in Amarillo, Texas? Too damn tired to post anything on my blog tonight. I click on the TV, seems like it’s always the Mexican soap operas. The motel maids probably catch up on their stories while they clean the rooms. Tonight it’s reruns of The Nanny. For some inexplicable reason, I get drawn in. She’s hosting a party for the rich guy, she feels second rate, she’s worried she won’t pull it off with all his uppity friends. I watch one whole episode, and fall asleep watching the next one. Friday night in Amarillo, Texas, “You Are Here” in a Motel 6 falling asleep to Fran Drescher’s voice. Welcome to my dream.

Vail, Colorado

Lovely view at breakfast. They don’t allow dogs, though.

We begin our descent into Denver. Clients waiting. Thank God I’ll make the house payment this weekend. I rent a car for the two-hour drive into Vail. I look in the back seat of this compact, low-to-the-ground, feel-every-bump-in-your-butt Dodge I rented and there is no Libby. I cry like a baby, batting back tears as I maneuver the turns. This is the first time I’ve been out on the highway without her, and I feel like my arm has been cut off.

Vail is quite beautiful. All the people have expensive skin. The clerks and waitresses seem nice, the folks in the elevator, uptight. I guess that’s what happens when you have a shit ton of money. You’re nervous about it all the time. I’ll stay in a fancy hotel tonight with a breathtaking view of the mountains.

How I long for my Motel 6 with my dog on the bed.

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Reminds me of the kid of financially stretched parents: “Hey, Dad, next vacation could we stay in a motel that doesn’t have a number in it?”

  2. Beautifully written Jeanne. I find it amazing that these motels are always filled.

    • Madge,
      I adore you. You are one of the most progressive, open minded people I’ve ever met on-line and then in person! But honey, the Motel 6’s are full because it’s the only thing a lot of people can afford! That’s one of the things I honestly found most rewarding about this trip — the decent, friendly folks I ran into at the Motel 6’s. Well….except for the guy who was slammed his girlfriend up against my door in Toledo.

  3. marvin schneider says:

    jeanne, i have been following you along the way, so how do i contribute to the gas fund? (not the taco inspired one, but the mobil one? marv schneider

  4. You do have a way with words and expressing sincere feelings. Hope you land a contract.

  5. Marilyn Roberts says:

    Yes, I thought Vail was beautiful – but very uppity, wasn’t sorry to leave. I hope your trip was successful! Love, Myrtie

  6. Jack P, Kilker says:

    I’m following like a “groupie” .Don,t stop, dont’ slow down . But remember ……….It,s not how big the Dog is in the fight ,it,s How BIG The Fight Is in The Dog………
    When the going get,s tuff, the tuff get Going…..etc ,etc, Ask Sean if you need any more Football coach’s quotes…Man, I havent thought of that shit in a long time…