The feeling of a burned-out failed place haunts Old Route 66, the main street of town. We found the Chamber of Commerce, which contains a room dedicated to the Navajo Codetalkers. Unfortunately, there is no recording of any of the codetalkers who served during WWII, so it is mainly clippings and pictures.
Bill Lee, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, and Sandy, the secretary, were very helpful in directing us to places to eat and places to visit. The three most haunted places in town? According to Bill, those would be the El Morro Theater, the El Rancho Route 66 era motel, and Washington Elementary School. Why an elementary school? It may have been built on an ancient Indian burial ground. (Shades of the movie “Poltergeist”!) Also the County Courthouse and possibly the Country Kitchen Restaurant, if you believe the construction workers remodeling it.
The entire town used to be coal-mining territory. Now, it exists pretty much on the artwork (jewelry, pottery, paintings) of the locals and it doesn’t seem to be doing that well. In fact, the November 19th issue of “The Independent” newspaper has a front page story by Phil Stake, staff reporter, entitled “No Place Like Home.” The article is all about being homeless in Gallup.
Phil was assigned to be homeless for one day in a three-part series corresponding to National Hunger and Homelessness Week, November 16th through November 22nd. There is an all-male transitional housing unit in Gallup called Care 66’s Frances House and Phil followed Kenny Grissom, a 31-year-old homeless resident for a day.
Grissom was apparently not always homeless. He washed dishes for Gallup’s Applebee’s restaurant, ran the register for the McDonald’s (which is visible out my window right now) and worked at the night clerk at America’s Best Value Inn and Suites, which is where I am writing this from (Room 124). Kenny survives on $700 a month from SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), which he qualifies for after undergoing 11 days of psychiatric observation at the state mental hospital in Las Vegas, New Mexico, which diagnosed him as clinically depressed.
Mostly Kenny walks around all day, and Phil walked with him, carrying a sign that read: “Homeless. Anything will help.” The two begged for three hours and had raised $14.85 by noon. The rules? No money. No cell phone. No shaving for five days. No showering for 2 days. And, added Kenny, “Yeah, and it’s a good idea to put your ID in your stock so police can identify you later.” By the time I finished reading the article, Kenny was not the only one depressed.
So, what else is new in Gallup? Well, they found bullets (an unspecified number of .22 caliber shells) in Miyamura High School for the second time in less than a week. Two boxes of ammunition were found at Gallup High School and a janitor at the school found a live shotgun shell inside the school cafeteria last Thursday, November 13th. There was also a large article entitled “Who will police the casino?” The casino in question is a new Navajo casino just outside the city limits. There also seems to be some difficulty regarding the local Superintendent and Principal, with petitions circulating, trying to remove them from their posts.
Inside the paper, were stories about Zuni dancers, people making candles to sell for cash and a Prescott man who has carved a niche for himself repairing dolls. None of these pursuits sounded like sure-fire moneymakers in this tight economy, so I could see why the numerous stores in the area were not doing well.
We were offered a “Manager’s Special” at a Best Western (that is, arguably, one of the finest places to eat in town, along with Earl’s Restaurant and the Olympic Kitchen) of $20 below the going rate of $89. On our walking tour (after going through the self-guided Route 66 Museum) we learned that half of the “must see” things on the list have disappeared, just like the El Vado Motel in Albuquerque we attempted to find for hours.
For example, the White Café is gone and the Opera House has been replaced by Zimmerman’s Western Wear.
The people couldn’t have been friendlier, but one thing I knew, for sure, as we passed through town: I would not want to live here. The town has a sad, left-behind feeling, as though the Santa Fe trains that noisily blare through the downtown at all hours of the day and night, their whistles deafening the locals, have taken the town’s lifeblood with them.