The big, colorful signs promising fun and excitement began appearing west of Amarillo. “Tucumcari Tonite”. After a long day on the road through the rolling grasslands of western Oklahoma, across the unending flatness of the Texas Panhandle and into the rugged desert country of eastern New Mexico, “Tucumcari Tonite” meant excitement to a boy from a town of three-hundred people on the plains of western Oklahoma. How much longer daddy? I’m hot and want to go swimming. Only another hour. We’ll be in Tucumcari tonight.
Summer vacations in the family car were adventures in those days. And every family that traveled with kids had to stop for the night at a motel with a swimming pool. Here, there were other happy kids to play with, to talk with about the distant places we had come from, and to share stories of our travels and the things we had seen along the road.
The swimming pools were especially exciting. Pools of cool, clear water where I could swim with the treasured swim fins and goggles my parents had given me for the trip. There were no swimming pools where I lived. Instead, I shared muddy stock ponds with snapping turtles the size of dish pans, bad-tempered water moccasins, crawdads the size of small lobsters, horsehair worms a foot long, huge bullfrogs, and catfish that caused extremely painful wounds if stepped on.
Tucumcari Tonite! My mind swirled with imaginings. What would tomorrow bring? The world was so full of wonder and adventure, and Rt. 66 was like the Yellow Brick Road leading deeper into those mysterious lands.
That was a long time ago, but the memories are still vivid. Some of the swimming pools I once played in are still there though empty and decaying, shrouded in a quiet melancholy contrasting sharply with the joy that once filled them. But I can still hear the happy voices of kids from 60 years ago as they plunged excitedly into the cool water.
And the signs are still there, though bigger and brighter than they were then. And the excitement of the words “Tucumcari Tonite” is still felt through the years.