Graffiti defaces buildings, bridges, railroad cars, boulders along coastal beaches, and even cemeteries. In my travels, graffiti shows up everywhere – from the Oregon’s rocky coast to the wall of a Gatwick church in England. Messages vary from persons’ names, public vows of teenage love, scrawled political phrases, to obscenities. Some graffiti looks like the work of a budding Picasso with colorful lines only as wide as the range of a spray can of paint. Other graffiti simply creates an eyesore needing removal.
I never felt inclined to grab a can of spray paint to express myself until I sat in the lounge area of a quick service garage in Amarillo, Texas. The young fellow who completed my Toyota’s overdue 2009 auto inspection offered advice on how to spend my time while in Amarillo.
“What I like to do,” he said with a Texas drawl, “is go to the Wal-Mart and buy some spray paint in all kinds of colors. Then, I go over to the Cadillac Ranch. I like to take girls there on our first date. They love painting those Cadillacs.”
I did not ask him to quantify how many first dates he’s had in his young life although I wanted to gauge this technique of impressing girls. What I asked aloud was this: “Is that legal?”
“Sure, in fact it’s encouraged,” he assured me. The local folks in the lounge waiting on their cars overheard our conversation and nodded in bobble head agreement.
One lady reminisced, “In 2005, the Cadillacs were painted pink in tribute to breast cancer victims. The pink didn’t last too long. Folks came around with more paint and covered up the pink with their own designs and colors.”
“Go ahead and get some paint,” coaxed a grandmotherly lady. “It’s fun! Why, I haven’t been there in years.”
“Maybe since her first date,” I wondered but respectfully kept this remark to myself.
I visited this quirky attraction – the Cadillac Ranch - a day later to confirm that I wasn’t being duped but the locals in some “let’s fool the out-of-towner prank.”
Yes, you can paint the Cadillacs without penalty. There’s even a commercial dumpster for the empty cans of spray paint. The endorsement of graffiti begins where you enter a field through an unlocked gate. Outside the gate the State of Texas posted a sign: “State of Texas Property GRAFFITI painting of anything on this side of the fence is ILLEGAL.”
The idea of adding my personal graffiti nagged me for several days. An opportunity to add to the layers of paint at the Cadillac Ranch was an experience I wanted to claim as part of my road trip adventures. My thoughts churned for several days until finally I knew what I wanted to paint on the cars.
I bought white, red and green spray paint – the cheapest Wal-Mart colors. Then, I made a cut out stencil so my lettering would be legible and clear. I wore old clothing because the gusting Texas wind and my painting acumen guaranteed I’d be wearing some of the paint.
At the Cadillac Ranch, I selected one of the ten cars buried nose down to bear my Hallmark message for some special occasions in May. “Happy Birthday Ed and Chris!” and “Congrats Suzie ’09!”
So for the occasions of Ed’s 61st birthday, Chris’ 26th Birthday, and Suzie’s graduation from William Woods University - Class of 2009, I became a graffiti artist. I captured my work for these special people in my life on digital photos as memorable one-of-a-kind keepsakes from the Cadillac Ranch.
April 17, 2009
At the Cadillac Ranch, ten Cadillacs are buried nose down, all at the same angle as the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt. Stanley Marsh, the helium millionaire who owns the wheat field where it stands, built the attraction in 1974. It is located on the south side of Interstate 40 between Arnot and Hope Roads (Exits 60 and 62), just west of the city limits of Amarillo, Texas. Visitors from all over the world come to see the art work and add their own personal touches.