Family Tradition and Cadillac Ranch
I got to have a multi-generational traditional moment Sunday when I met my daughter, her husband and son in Amarillo where they stopped en route to their move to Las Vegas.
My daughter wanted to take my grandboy, Eli, to see the infamous Cadillac Ranch because it was a happy memory of hers when she was little and I took her and her brother to see Amarillo’s legendary attraction.
It was a very cool time in the early 1990’s. I had taken the kids to Amarillo for a Texas Press Association summer convention, and thought I’d take them by to see this place that defined the quiet and excessive weirdness of their home state.
At that time is was the best-kept vandalized secret in the state.
If you haven’t been, it’s worth seeing, even if I thought it was better in the early 90’s.
Cadillac Ranch came into existence in 1974 after two artists from San Francisco pitched the ‘alternative architectural practice’ to apparently-bored Amarillo millionaire Stanley Marsh III.
His response to them began, according to Wikipedia, “It’s going to take me awhile to get used to the idea of the Cadillac Ranch. I’ll answer you by April Fool’s Day. It’s such an irrelevant and silly proposition that I want to give it all my time and attention so I can make a casual judgment of it.”
Obviously he signed off on it.
The project involved burying 10 Cadillacs nose-first in Texas dirt in the middle of a wheat field, and he did it for grins. He did a lot of things that were considered non-sensical, and apparently for his own amusement.
But, 44 years later, this work of art stands the test of time.
I should mention at about this time that my mother attended the same schools with Stanley as she grew up in Amarillo.
He was the one, she told us growing up, who rode a donkey to school while wearing an authentic Lederhosen for Senior Kid Day at Amarillo High School. The principal came over the loud speaker, she said, to request that the owner of the jackass tied to the flagpole come to the office immediately.
Stanley knew how to get attention.
When I took the kids to see it all those years ago, all of the cars had been vandalized - probably in the middle of the night, and not in front of God and everybody. But it was still really cool and not a huge tourist attraction around 1994 when we were there.
There were no travel apps for cell phones because there were no cell phones, so it was harder to find back then.
Fun fact: Cadillac Ranch was moved to another wheat field also owned by Marsh in 1997, this time on Interstate 40. This may have contributed to it’s perceived loss of charm, in my eyes.
Back then, I took several pictures of my kids in front of a backdrop of graffiti on Cadillacs, and we were the only people there in the middle of a hot June day.
I was so excited about our adventure, and I may have played Springsteen’s Cadillac Ranch to prepare us for the historic event.
Needless to say, I was excited when my daughter asked if I wanted to go back out after almost 25 years. Even less needless to say was that my husband was not excited at the prospect of walking to the middle of a wheat field to take a gander at vandalized Cadillacs. I mean, who does that?
Yeah, that would be us.
So we did.
It’s amazing what changes a quarter of a century brings. And by amazing, I mean confusing and less innocent in this case.
The buried Cadillacs, now in a more visible place, have taken on more of a backwoods carnival ambiance. Families were coming and going, and parking to accommodate all the people seem to have been arranged. There is now a Cadillac Ranch gift shop, and a guy sitting at the entrance to the wheat field but not taking any money.
Austin, Texas, has nothing on the weirdness of this place.
Then ... Then ... We passed a couple on their way out who was carrying a Wal-Mart bag full of spray paint. As they gave it to my daughter, I looked ahead to the cars and saw people spray painting their own graffiti on the cars and carrying around their own spray paint in their own Wal-Mart bags.
I, myself, was the casualty of a cloud of white spray that floated over me as I walked past where “Gus” had written his name on the top of the car, in really crappy handwriting I might add.
We gave our surprise spray paint to someone else.
The worst thing was that there was trash - spray cans and lids, flip flops, fireworks - all over the ground around this ‘art exhibit.’
Apparently trash pickup doesn’t extend to the center of a wheat field in Amarillo.
But I’m glad we went. I’m glad that a weird idea of mine turned out to be a fond memory for my daughter, and enough so that she wanted her son and her husband to be a part of it so many years later.
I told my daughter on our walk out, I was glad we revisited and that Eli and Brandon got to see it, but I liked it better when we were there so many years ago.
It was during a time when vandals did their dirty work in the light of a full moon, and not by blatantly carrying around the tools of their trade and giving them to the next vandals who entered the arena. Also, they took their trash with them. It felt edgier and more pure back then.
In all fairness, I genuinely feel the spray paint is what it holding these ancient cars together at this point, if you want to look at the whole situation non-dualistically.
Here’s to tradition. And to being able go with change and remember the good times.