Take a Left at Albuquerque

I’ve been to New Mexico a couple of times and always enjoyed those visits, but we’d never spent any time in her largest city. Earlier this week Jackie and I had a chance to explore Albuquerque.

We flew on Express Jet, now offering non-stop service from Tulsa. I didn’t realize this until searching flights on Orbitz. We were very happy with their service- they actually offered us food. It wasn’t a full dinner, but much more substantial than a bag of peanuts. The plane was a Embraer ERJ, which is a small jet but pretty comfortable. They also have XM radio piped into every seat and provide free earbuds.

Our visit was actually for business but left us time to explore. The weather was the first surprise, and not a pleasant one! When our flight left Tulsa the temperature in both cities was exactly the same. Cold.

I always think of New Mexico and “desert” is the next word that comes to mind. But this area is high desert, in fact Albuquerque is at a higher elevation than Denver. For most of our visit the temperature hovered in the twenties and thirties and one night saw wind gusts of 60 mph. Youch.

The flight was great, had a fun time in Albuquerque and saw some neat sites- here’s a few highlights…

  • When we arrived on Sunday a large portion of downtown was blocked off for a film crew. A local told us the film was called The Game. Crunched cars lined the street so maybe it’s a post-apocalyptic thriller? Turns out Albuquerque is becoming quite a hot spot for motion pictures.
  • A free bus called the D-Ride makes a loop around downtown and is a great way to get around. In fact, their city bus service in general was remarkably easy to use.
  • We found a top notch local chain of eateries called Flying Star Cafe. Their downtown location is in the former headquarters of an oil and gas company- it’s worth a visit even if you’re not hungry. If you are- I highly recommend the mac-and-cheese dish, Mama Mac, and Jackie had high praise for their Veggie Burger.
  • The area known as Nob Hill has some of the coolest roadside architecture I’ve ever seen in one place. Lots of streamline Deco and modern buildings from the Forties and Fifties. We also noticed a great deal of operational neon signs!
  • Model Pharmacy is also well worth a visit. In addition to salves and tinctures you’ll find toothpastes from around the world. And you can have lunch too! Their malts kick ass.
  • We dropped by Sandia BMW to see their collection of vintage BMW motorcycles. The dealership is quite impressive with BMW cars, bikes and Minis all on one site.BMW motorcycle museum
  • Albuquerque initiated a rebirth of their central business district a few years ago. One of their mandates in the targeted area was “no chains” and all the businesses are locally owned. They expect 100% occupancy by 2009.
  • The ABQ airport seems tiny for a city this size. I was amazed to see a small display with a model of an unusual Italian flying boat, the Savoia Marchetti S.55. Turns out the Italians stopped in New Mexico during an ill-fated attempt at circling the globe in 1927. The high altitude thwarted their takeoff and required them to ditch anything that wasn’t bolted down- including a spare wooden propeller. It now hangs in the Albuquerque airport terminal.
  • The balloon museum was much more fun than either of us expected. The building itself is worth examining. They also have a great airship display with beautiful models of German, American and British zeppelins.
  • If you were confused about the spelling you’re not alone. It was name after some Spanish guy and originally spelled Alburquerque. But the first “R” was dropped (as the legend goes) because it wouldn’t fit on the sign at the train station. Sounds a little fishy to me.

And here’s a little New Mexican architecture…

The church in the Old Town area.


A wacky house near the Model Pharmacy.

Show Me MO

May 18— Four days of motorcycles, twisty roads and great weather.

Rex, Brad and Chris begin their ultimate adventure.That was the recipe for our recent excursion into Central Missouri (aka the Precious Moments Tour). The Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach, MO made a great HQ to begin and end our daily rides. Most of the roads throughout Missouri are well maintained and offer some great scenery. And our timing was perfect– we couldn’t have asked for better weather.


As usual, there is always the unexpected to deal with. This trip was no different. Even before we left Tulsa, the Suzuki Bandit that Chris was riding spat out its drain plug. A fortunate stop at a Quik Trip spared him of any serious engine damage, while soiling their parking lot with the Bandit’s last quart of oil. Amazingly a parts store across the street had a plug of the correct size (14mm x 1.25 if you’re curious).

Here’s a 30 second spot we shot at the resort…
http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=-2716245207973939240&hl=en

Everything went great as we rolled along OK-20 into Missouri and stopped for lunch in Noel. After lunch we blasted off on to Highway 90. The weather was still perfect- sunny, no wind and temps in the mid seventies. Then the parades began.

We didn’t realize it, but Highway 90 must have been the Poker Run capital of Missouri on that particular Friday. Suddenly we found ourselves stuck behind long lines of American-made noisemakers, barely managing to maintain the speed limit. After several frustrating miles we were finally able to weave around them and resume “touring speeds” through the twists and turns of this legendary road.

Taking in some Americana at a roadside stop.

Turning north at Cassville finally put us into clear airspace, as we headed north for Osage Beach. Upon our arrival at the Tan-Tar-A Resort I was pretty wide-eyed. We passed the golf course, horse stables, turnoff to the long-term estates, swimming pool, another swimming pool.. it just kept going. The rates were comparable to condos in the vicinity (which look like giant apartment complexes to me), but the resort seemed huge and rambled up and around through the woods.

When we checked in we insisted on a room with a clear view of the parking area. It was a needless concern. The security seemed more than adequate. We parked all three bikes in the last parking space and began the trudge up seven flights of stairs to our room. I was wondering if the “parking lot view” we had requested was worth when I walked out on the balcony. Wow! It looked we had been issued the highest room in the whole complex— our door opened out on to the treetops with a beautiful view of resort and Lake of the Ozarks.

Rex and Brad get in touch with their native roots.

Each day we tried to set off in a different direction. Between glancing at maps and a little dead reckoning we tried to get ourselves lost in the middle of Missouri. On average we would ride about 200 miles a day.

One of the most exciting moments occured Saturday morning as we headed east. Earlier my GS had been running pretty half-ass. At one point accelerating uphill became a luxury I rarely experienced. This particular morning I had tweaked on it a bit and thought it might be running a little better. I lead the way as we meandored along one of the many “letter roads” in Missouri. After a few miles the poor acceleration seemed to return. But even worse now. As I struggled to maintain the speed limit, the big BMW seemed to dig in its heels. I didn’t realize just how right I was!

We’re rolling along past long rows of pickups and people walking around with shotguns. The pops of skeet shooters had caught my attention a mile or so back. When I realized it wasn’t my bike making the noise I returned to the task of struggling up hills. Moments later Brad pulls alongside and hollers something about “..rear.. on.. fire..” between the pop-pop of shotguns across the road. Even though I wasn’t quite sure what he said, I instinctively pulled in the clutch lever. The Bimmer immediately slowed as though… as though the brakes were on!

Now I’m beginning to realize what Brad was hollering about. I get parked on the non-existant shoulder, hop off and run around the back of the bike. The acrid smell of brake pad material is now heavily apparant. As I look down at the rear brake rotor I realized that Brad really had screamed, “Your rear brake’s on fire!”

I’m not sure, but I think I tried to blow the fire out. Only problem was my helmet was still on. Fortunately I remembered putting a bottle of water in my top box when we headed out that morning. I fumbled with the latch and dug out the precious half-bottle of agua to extinguish my burning bike. Disaster averted!

Turns out the locknut on the rear brake adjustment rod had loosened. I spent the rest of the morning rear-brake-less until we stopped at a local chopper barn (seriously, it was called Chopper Barn) and I bought some brake fluid and bled the rear system. But that’s an entire story in itself!

The next day we toured north toward the Missouri River. For lunch we made a quick stop at a local grocery store in Booneville for some homemade sandwiches. A local park provided the perfect break. Afterwards we followed the Lewis & Clark Trail back toward our HQ.

The rest of the trip was pretty much uneventful. Not one single fire. Other than that bit of excitement, we definitely plan to do it again.

Precious Moments Tour


Update!
The 2009 rally will be held May 15-17.

So it’s time to dust off the bike and do a little motorcycle touring. The destination is central Missouri. Porcelain figurines may be involved.

If you prefer to stop reading now I’ll understand.

The official base of operations will be the Tan-Tar-A resort. Between rounds of golf, tourists like us can enjoy everything from a relaxing dip in the pool to parasailing to Burger King. It’s located on state road KK just off US-54 in Osage Beach, MO. They have a helpful page with directions from different cities.

Here are some links I’ve dug up that might prove helpful to wayward travelers (and lost Okies) as they meandor during the….

Up above we have a locator map from the Missouri State Parks & Historic Sites. There seems to be a good deal of festive happenings near the Lake of the Ozarks. Just up the road is the University of Missouri in Columbia. Central Missouri is also home to state capitol (no, it isn’t St. Louis) and other scenic and historic junk.

Routes to and from abound on MotorcycleRoads.US, Dan Kalal, Car and Driver and (of course) Places2ride.com.

Nearby accomodations range from rustic (I’m not even sure what a Yurt is!) to houseboats to cutesy B & Bs. For that resort lifestyle we all crave there’s Tan-Tar-A. The most interesting option is the slew of condo rentals available. Rates vary from moderate to wild.

A possible route.
I played around with Mapquest’s new beta version and managed to string together a route free of toll roads or Interstates. It takes a little coaxing to keep it the route on the skinny lines- but it can be done. Here’s a suggested route from Tulsa to Lake o’ the Ozarks.

Yield… to Clinton Riggs

Clinton Riggs probably never considered himself a “graphic designer.” Heck, the term probably hadn’t even been invented back in 1939 when he was creating his magnum opus. But I’ll bet you’ve seen his work. They’re triangular and red & white. In some parts of the world they have no verbiage, but around here most of them just say YEILD.

When Riggs first ventured into the world of traffic control systems and graphical designs he envisioned a device he called a “responsibility sign.” That would have probably never made it in this day and age, and fortunately the key element “yield” came along. The first signs said: “YIELD right of way” in black letters on a yellow background. In 1939 he tried to sell the idea to Tulsa’s municipal government to no avail. Ironically, interest from afar was enthusiastic about the idea. But it was still another ten years before the Yield sign really started rolling.

Finally, in 1951 Captain Riggs took it upon himself to put his sign to work. Back then the most dangerous intersection in Tulsa was 1st Street and Columbia Avenue. For some reason no stop sign had ever been installed, even though accidents were common. Riggs had the world’s first Yield sign made to his specification out of his own pocket. He promptly mounted a pair on poles and planted them at 1st and Columbia. Accidents immediately decreased.

A modern example of the Yield sign in the US.Over time the Yield sign slowly became more common. There was some trepidation on the part of those that felt it was an unnecessary new sign. The thinking was– any intersection that merits slowing down needs to have a stop sign installed. Internationally acceptance was more rapid and letters poured in from around the world asking about design and implementation of the new sign. And then in the late Fifties came the Interstate Highway System.

Suddenly roadways all across the nation were being built with merge lanes and exit ramps. Even cities built predominantly on a gridwork pattern, like Tulsa, were dealing with curved intersections where traffic flowed together. Perpendicular intersections were one thing, but no one was going to suggest putting a stop sign on a superhighway cloverleaf. The Yield sign was immediately requisite.

I can remember seeing the distinctive original yellow signs as a child. In fact, I recall traveling to other cities and noticing unusual triangular Yield signs. It never occurred to me why there might be different styles of the same sign. Eventually triangular signs replaced all of the original keystone-shaped versions. Years later the Yield sign was “globalized” with a new coat of paint and now the yellow ones have all but vanished.

Riggs retired in 1970 and is best known in the Department as the commander of the police-training academy, a job he held for many years. The southwest precinct of the TPD is named in his honor. His widow, Vera Riggs, still has that original prototype sign, along with those letters from all over the world. An example also resides in the Smithsonian.

And to this day every officer of the Tulsa Police Department wears a small homage to this self-made graphic designer/traffic control engineer. If you look closely at their shoulder patch you can see a little bit of that very first black and yellow Yield sign.

This article was originally written for the Tulsa channel on About.com in June 2000.