Pit Stop: Cadillac Ranch

Most just shout names.  Ben, Donna, Jake.  Shirley Sux says another.  FMHS Class of 1977, Laredo, Motor Spirit.  When the moment comes and the paint is ready, it seems like what matters, what needs noted, is who you are, where you’re from, and who’s next to you.  Cause other than that it’s just a series of fuck’s and peace signs.

Cadillac Ranch is the stop.  The most classic of route 66 roadside attractions.  Truly American in its  pointlessness, and situated in the most truly ‘Merican of states, Texas.  Ten Cadillac cars sink nose first into a barren field just outside the panhandle town of Amarillo.  But here’s the kicker; bring a can of spray paint to this site and go crazy on these four-wheeled icons, you’re supposed to go crazy.  This ranch was created by a group of artists after all.

DSC_1112Forty years of constant painting have caused the colors to layer so thickly they bubble in texture.  Over this time the cars have been painted pink for a birthday, black for a death, and rainbow colored for gay pride, but it’s said the site can’t last 24 hours without a fresh paint job occurring.  This constant need to make your presence known draws people here, like carving your name in a tree, or writing the year in wet cement.  Except here there is no permanence, it’s all so fleeting and ephemeral, almost like you were never here at all.  Everything written will be rewritten in only a matter of time, erased in the movement of another’s wrist.  Which works.  Cadillac Ranch isn’t about a singular work, it’s about the totality of creation.  Few that wield paint cans here create anything worthwhile, up close it’s just a jumble of numbers and letters.  Step back far enough though, and you’ll become lost in a swirl of colors so vibrant they clash terrifically against that flat dusty earth and big blue Texas sky.  A mirage in middle America.


The art installation was finished in 1974, during the tail end of an era when the Cadillac car meant something dammit.  I mean, The Clash was singing about Cadillac’s.  Rosanne Cash too.  Bruce Springsteen, Quiot Riot, Aretha Freakin’ Franklin!  When a Cadillac was one of the most coveted of possessions, capable of inspiring endless teenage fantasies.  Of boys driving their girls around their smalltown pocket of America on a Friday night, going absolutely nowhere and doing nothing, but when was destination ever the point at that age?  When all you needed to do was pass the same spots you always passed, places so mundane in the day that somehow became electrified at night.  That pulsated and vibrated around you because your hands were on that steering wheel and you were that young and that beautiful in ways you would never be again.

If these cars weren’t buried in the ground they’d be long gone.  Scrapped.  Now they’re a canvas.  Constantly being reborn at the hands of those that care enough about Americana to drive for miles just to make a stroke of cerulean or silver and to see those long shadows cast on the ground, silhouetting what once embodied the great American Dream…

At least, that’s why I stopped.


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