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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Goin' back to Winslow

Winslow, Ariz. has been described as sad, depressed, quiet, dead and creepy. Buildings once housing bustling businesses were abandoned and not even secured, left to the pigeons. A local gas station reportedly had spelled out “God Hates Winslow” on its sign. That’s probably not fair: The reservation border town of 10,000, once the economic and social center of northern Arizona that lies at the low point along the rails between Gallup and Flagstaff, is simply a victim of the vagaries of transport, just another old railroad town bludgeoned by the Interstate and bled dry by the automobile. Were it not for the prison, a community college, the power plant down in Joseph City and the hotel and fast food chains serving I-40 motorists, the place might just blow away.

At least, that’s how it looked 19 years ago, the last time I spent any time in Winslow, an accidental visit that was traumatic enough to cause me to avoid the place ever since. These days you’ll still encounter rundown gas stations, a high unemployment rate, decaying motels and the detritus that tends to pile up in the liminal spaces of the West. But you can also find vast hallways filled with giant, haunting contemporary paintings in the restored La Posada Inn – built in 1929 to serve a slower, more elegant society. In a few of those once-abandoned buildings, a type of art unfettered by market considerations has replaced the pigeons. Later this month, the Station-to-Station art on rails project is stopping in Winslow, featuring Cat Power, Jackson Browne and Ed Ruscha’s cactus omelette. And don’t be too shocked if you encounter an icon of contemporary art a la Ruscha in the restaurant at La Posada, where the food rivals any you might find in Santa Fe.

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