Who Are We Keeping Out?

A Drive along the Arizona/New Mexico Border

 by Sallie Bingham

The best thing about taking to the roads is that we see things we are not supposed to see; this happened to me driving through southern Arizona, a few miles from the Mexico border.

Right away I began to notice white border patrol cars lumbering along the dirt roads that parallel the highway. A low-flying plane droned overhead. In the distance, a strange black smudge snaked across the desert; it’s the fence the Federal Government is building, about half of which is, or will be, in Arizona. Under Bush, 601 miles of the fence were built; 69 miles remain to be completed, and President Obama has yet to rescind the order.

Driving east, we were stopped at four checkpoints and pursued once for “evading our checkpoint”—we were looking at a map. All five times, the border patrol officers took one look at us and passed us through. After all, we are white.

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A Year on the Ground: And Now a Blast from the Past

by Sallie Bingham

“Please don’t use the towels to clean luggage, shoes or cars,” the sign on the medicine cabinet in the Gadsden Hotel bathroom reads. This ancient grand dame of a place reminds me of the hotel in Pittsburg where we stayed on long car trips when I was a child; “fire trap,” my mother would mutter, hardly deigning to place herself on the cretonne-covered bed, her feet in high-heeled shoes never coming in contact with the scrofulous rug.

© Francis Donald.Now that motels rule the interstate with their room rates from $29 dollars a night to $58; the Gadsden hardly stands a chance. In its ornate lobby, marble  pillars support a ceiling of stained glass; a few undaunted individuals are cleaning up the decorations—fake ivy and silver garlands—left after a presentation for a supplement called something like Xanadu. From the number of chairs set out, they expected a crowd, but the elevator operator ( the old Otis elevator has no door and so must be operated by a employee) says no one came. Loud music blared when we dragged ourselves in but has now been put out, and the remnant of presenters is scurrying to the parking lot (security from 10 pm till 4 am, the hotel clerk assures us), clicking open locks.

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A Year on the Ground: Abandoning air travel? Sticking to the ground? Am I crazy?

by Sallie Bingham

Racing by the turnoff to the Albuquerque airport, I jeer (in my head, sparing the Roommate reluctantly riding shotgun with Jack the puppy) at the ducks-in-a-line cars turning off, each one sporting a single head as in a two year old’s toy car, heading toward the mile of glinting metal and glass, the far-out parking lot, where I used to leave my car to avoid paying literally hundreds of dollars at the packed airport garage.

Beyond the garage, the familiar litany of irritations waits: the kiosks that have largely replaced desk personnel, and which routinely refuse my credit card or ask for airport acronyms only a terminal supervisor would know, the ridiculous security parade, where I numbly shed articles of clothing that have nothing to do with any imaginable threat (how long ago was the tennis shoe bomber caught?), the unexplained delays and cancellations, the miserably cramped seats, the disappearance of blankets and pillows, the outrageous sums charged for horrible snacks, and now even for luggage.

This time, I’m driving—1150 miles from my home in Santa Fe to my son’s in Los Angeles.


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A year on the Ground

by Sallie Bingham

2009 is the year I decided to stop flying.

Not flying in my imagination, or flying down a mountain on skis, but flying on the hideous US airlines, dealing once again with the insane security regulations, the rudeness of airline emplopyees, the escalating costs, now compounded by charges for luggage, the endless waits, the numbing cancellations, the refusal to grant travelers even basic amenities like pillows and free peanuts....

So, I will not fly this year. After all, we can stilll remember when we used to drive and take trains; we still have cars and Amtrak still manages to cripple along. So there are alternatives to the gross mishebenavior of the commercial airlines. Why not try them?

Expense? Probably. This will be one of the things I'll track: gas has gone down again, motels are not expensive, meals on the road can (perhaps) be cheap.

Time? Certainly. But what are the pay-offs? A closer relation to the landscape? The opportunity to meet, and talk with, strangers? A better understanding, even, of that mysterious entity, our continent?

Relationships? Strained by extended time together in a car or a train compartnemt? Probably. But, again, what are the rewards?

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