Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

Command Traffic Lights

When the traffic light was first introduced, folks had no idea what those colors meant. In order to educate people, words were printed on the colors. These were called Command Traffic Lights. As you can see in this model from the 1930′s,  green is “go,” yellow is “caution” and red is “stop.”

When I saw this Command Traffic Light at the Classical Gas Museum in Embudo, NM, it occurred to me that it is time to bring them out of the museums and install them back on the street. I think it’s time to remind people that yellow is not just a paler shade of green, and red does not mean time to gun it.

The Museum is located at 1819 Highway 68 in Embudo. Johnnie Meier is open most days, but best to give him a call at 505-852-2995 before you come.

The Classical Gas Museum

Three pumps from 1941-1944

Johnnie Meier, a retired Los Alamos scientist, has a theory that everyone has a proclivity to collect something or another as a remnant of our old hunter gatherer days. I collect antique French textiles which are kept in an armoire. Johnnie, on the other hand, went big. He collects and restores vintage gas pumps, cars, oil cans, clocks, neon signs, diners, S&H Green Stamp books, Coca Cola memorabilia  and old car stuff. And each piece is a work of art and a bit of history.

The Museum Building

Johnnie started “messing around with old cars” as a teenager. He started his serious collecting about 25 years ago. In 1992 he purchased 2 acre in Embudo which sits between Santa Fe and Taos on Highway 68. He built and opened the 1,000 square foot Classical Gas Museum in 1997.

“I love it when people walk into the Museum and say wow,” he says. “The way I have things displayed, they can see the design, see these functional pieces as art as I do. I appreciate the graphic art, the use of color and unique tints.”

1935 Flight Gasoline

I was quite taken with this 1930′s Wayne Model 60 gas pump. “This one is considered one of the most beautiful pumps ever made. It was important to the company that it be beautiful.”

1920′s Powerine Gasoline

Johnnie has provided gas pumps for 6 major motion pictures, including “No Country for Old Men,”  “Wild Hogs,” and the newly released “God Bless Me Ultima.” His museum is the backdrop for fashion shoots and inspiration for artists and photographers. He also sells his restored pumps.

1940′s Indian Gasoline

There is no cost for admission but Johnnie has a big jar collecting dollars for the local animal shelter in Dixon. Last year at Christmas he handed the shelter a check for $1,500.

Polly Gas from 1940′s-1950′s West Coast

If you stop by next weekend you might get a glimpse of  the new Jetta Hybrid being introduced by Volkswagen as well as the vintage pumps. Seems VW is gathering 80 journalists from all over the country to test drive the new car on a route between Santa Fe and Taos. They will be stopping at the Museum, not for gas, but a cool drink from one of the beautiful old coolers.

1957 Chevy Being Restored…NFS

The Museum is located at 1819 Highway 68 in Embudo. Johnnie is open most days, but best to give him a call at 505-852-2995 before you come. Don’t forget to leave a few dollars for the animal shelter.

Sitka the Wonderful


© B Walker

This is Sitka. He is wearing his award winning Halloween costume. Let me just say this up front: My readers unanimously directed me to go stand with my head hung down in the Corner of Shame for dressing Georgia in her ladybug Halloween costume. I feel quite certain I have now been joined by Sitka’s person Betsy Walker, for which I am most grateful.

Sitka, who will be 12 in January, is not just a gorgeous face. Sitka is a trained social therapy dog who obtained his “Canine Good Citizen” certification when he was 2. After playing around being a puppy for 2 years, he started working in earnest through the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society’s pet outreach program.

Sitka in his working vest.

Betsy and Sitka’s first assignment was working at the Santa Maria El Mirador day-hab for folks with assorted challenges. During his 2 years working there, people’s spirits were bolstered by the wonderfulness of Sitka. For example, Betsy told me one day a man was so motivated to walk Sitka in the hallway he rose from his wheelchair and spoke for the first time in over 25 years. That is the power of  love.

Betsy and Sitka then moved on to working at the El Dorado Community School where they still work. Initially Sitka was a “reading dog” for 2nd graders. What is a reading dog? As Betsy explains it, kids who struggle with reading often eventually shut down because they cannot handle faltering repeatedly in front of their peers. Taking them away from the classroom to a quiet place where they read to a dog who could care less if they mispronounce a word tends to give them confidence. The children loved to lie down and use Sitka as a pillow as they read to him, or they sat next to him and held the book so that Sitka could see the pictures as they read to him. Sitka has become a famous and beloved personality in the school.

When the 2nd grade teacher moved to another school, Sitka soon had a new job working with kids of all ages in the special ed classes. Sometimes the kids walk him in the hallway. Sometimes they practice performing Sitka’s favorite tricks with him. Sometimes the kids just give him tummy rubs. Always it is about unconditional love and acceptance.

Bravo Sitka! Brava Betsy! We thank you both for your service.



Tinker Tantrum?

Late yesterday afternoon, I pulled into the grocery store parking lot and saw this little mode of transportation. I ended up parking several rows away, but ran back to take a few photos of the thing marked Tinker Tantrum just so you could see it. The photos are lousy, but with good reason. First, I took these photos with my cell phone while holding my purse and my reusable grocery bag. Second, I embarrass easily and wanted to take the photos as fast as possible without being noticed.

What you cannot see is that the Tinker Tantrum has pedals. Now focus on how low to the ground this thing sits. The entire thing is no higher than the bicycle tire you see in the background.  I should also explain that this grocery store is off Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe, a very busy street.

As I was leaving the parking lot, I saw a tall woman wearing a helmet fold herself into this. This presumably otherwise intelligent woman was about to pedal around on one of Santa Fe’s busiest streets, four inches off the ground while sitting no higher than the tire rims of the adjacent SUV’s and big damn Ford Tundra’s. And we have serious drunk driver issues here.

So here is the question: Do you people who live in the real world have these Tinker Tantrums or is this just another piece of  The City Different bizarreness?

On the 18th Anniversary of His Passing

“One merges into another, groups melt into ecological groups until the time when what we know as life meets and enters what we think of as non-life: barnacle and rock, rock and earth, earth and tree, tree and rain and air…And it is a strange thing that what most of the feeling call religious… is really understanding and attempt to say that man is related to the whole thing, related inextricably to all reality, known and unknowable. This is a simple thing to say, but the profound feeling of it made a Jesus, a St. Augustine, a St. Frances, a Roger Bacon, a Charles Darwin and an Einstein. Each of them in his own tempo and with his own voice-discovered and reaffirmed with astonishment the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is all things-plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and spinning planets and the expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time.”

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts

The Ladybug Halloween Costume

Is this just so very wrong?

Georgia seems to think so…

Autumn on Canyon Road

Santa Fe is either the second or third largest art market in the United States, depending on the latest poll and who polled. Without question, Canyon Road, with its historic adobe architecture, historic homes, and views of the mountains, provides one of the most beautiful settings in the world to peruse over 100 galleries and unique shops. If you do not appreciate art, go anyway. You will enjoy the scenery, and it is a painless way to get a little exercise to walk off the breakfast burritos.

You will find a wide range of art, including Native American, contemporary, early 20th Century, traditional representations, and, I have to say, a few pieces which I think you could probably skip and head for coffee, tea or a meal at one of the great restaurants, but taste is subjective.

Any season is lovely for a walk on Canyon Road, but autumn and winter right after a light snow are my favorite times. Recently photographer Ann Murdy enjoyed a walk down Canyon Road with her camera on a crisp fall morning, just to let you see a few of the galleries and the sculptures sitting outside. Add the sound of crunching leaves and you are there.

FOOTNOTE: I had to remove Ann’s photos given the fact people have been lifting them in violation of her copyright.


Brothers Share the Road Ahead

Ben and Max

Imagined conversation: “I understand. It is embarrassing. The same thing happened to me. Just be nice but firm and say, ‘Mom, Dad,  enough with the grandpa jeans!’”


The Tree and Me

Yesterday I saw this tree on the way home. Right before my eyes I saw a visual representation of change: the transition from summer to autumn.

Thankfully unlike the tree, the majority of us don’t face a big transition every four months or so. We often live our lives for years pretty much in the same pattern: we go to work at the same job day after day, we live with the same spouse or partner, we raise our children, we live in the same town. Then, what often feels like out of nowhere, a piece of our lives shifts, and the pattern of our lives crumbles: you lose your job, begin a new one or retire; your business falters; your spouse or partner says it’s over; the kids grow up and leave home; you must move to a new town to take care of a parent or a parent moves in with you; you or a loved one face illness; a loved one dies. Something happens. You have no choice but to transform your life. You do have a choice how you transform your life.

I wrote a piece on transformation which was accepted for publication on Maria Shriver’s web site. It was posted this week. They named it “Living A Fulfilling Life.” It is an edited, truncated version of a few of my more Biblical in scale transformations. I am in the midst of one of them now. I am hopeful I am at least as far along as that tree.

You can find the piece by clicking here: http://mariashriver.com/blog/2012/10/living-a-fulfilling-life-susan-tungate


We see them all along the highways and public roads of New Mexico: crosses decorated with flowers, teddy bears, photographs, Christmas decorations. These tributes mark the last place a person was alive. In New Mexico, we call them descansos, which is Spanish for place of rest.

In 2007 while I was working as media liason for the Majority Office of the New Mexico House of Representatives, a bill was passed which was later signed into law making it illegal to knowingly or willfully deface or destroy “a memorial placed alongside a public road or right of way to memorialize the death of one or more persons.” Descansos may be removed by the state under certain circumstances, but it would be a rare occurrence. In New Mexico even when roads are under repair, the descansos are treated with great respect by construction crews.

Descansos are a symbol of remembrance for the family and friends, a place to honor their loved one. To me, the hundreds of descansos lining our roads are even more poignant knowing the people who passed away had no idea they would die that day. They sat in their cars to drive to the store, to have a bite to eat at a restaurant or just drive home. Unfortunately, all too often in New Mexico, the death was related to a drunk driver on the road. These people did not have to die that day in that spot but for someone making a hideously poor choice.

So while the descansos mark a celebration of life, they provide a constant caution to the living: Do not drink and drive. Drive safely. Best not to have a descanso erected in your honor.

©Catherine Trapani