Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day 3, Los Lunas, NM. To Marfa, TX – El Paso an Economic Boom Town?

Finally, a short day! Only 440 miles from Los Lunas to Marfa, the route took me through El Paso where I had an invite to meet Tim F. for lunch to discuss the seeming disconnect from the robust economic activity he sees there versus the hell-in-a-handbasket he reads from bloggers like me!

First off, note that Google maps doesn't even list El Paso until you zoom way in, LOL, it prominently displays Juarez though:

View Larger Map

I traveled roughly 2,000 miles in 2.5 days. The bike’s computer says that I am averaging 73.4 miles per hour when the bike is running, that’s really a good pace, one that I expect will be cut about in half from here on out, but we’ll see.

I got up a little later than the morning prior and headed out south across the desert:

It was a beautiful morning, the type of morning that I love to be outdoors. The smell of the fresh cool air combined with the soft morning light to accentuate exactly why riding a motorcycle, and a good one, is the way to see the world.

I rode the entire 3.5 hours to El Paso non-stop, passing through the very pretty Truth or Consequences, NM area, past Las Cruces and began hitting the suburbs of El Paso fully 10 miles prior to the bustling downtown area.

Nearly 2,000 miles of riding and never a traffic jam until I near downtown El Paso. An accident blocked the freeway and I spent the best part of a half hour in stop-and-go traffic in the 95 degree heat. The not-so-pleasant part of seeing the world via motorcycle!

It's NOT the El Paso I remember from over 20 years ago, that's for sure. It looked much more like Seattle with overcrowded streets and crisscrossing highways in the sky!

I still arrived a few minutes early to meet up with Tim. I found his suggested taco restaurant no problem:

The CHIH’UA was clean and almost empty at 11 AM, Tim arrived about 5 minutes after me, the timing was excellent considering the length of time I traveled to get there.

Tim arrived and introduced his friend and co-worker, Ray - that's Tim on the right, Ray on the left.

They work right around the corner for a contracting company that is building small storage units on Ft. Bliss under GOVERNMENT contract. Tim was succinct in explaining that the economy around the area seemed robust and was disconnected from what he was learning about economics from the non-mainstream media sources, all of which he rattled off I would recommend as being right on the money. I think a lot of people see busy streets, a stock market that is currently zooming from its lows and they KNOW that something is not right in their gut.

This “disconnect” produces anxiety, particularly in forward thinking people who are aware of the debt and who see and feel that the cost of living the “American dream” is getting out of reach considering an average persons’ wages. As Ray said, “It seems out of whack that a decent car should cost $20,000!” A great observation, and just look at how many cars are on the road that cost $30,000 or even $40,000 or more! What do those people do to afford those?

Well, what they do is finance them for longer and longer periods of time with more and more gimmicks to “get the credit flowing.” A banker’s credit, of course, is your debt!

We discussed the average price of housing and how it’s still high compared to wages. As I pointed out, both are good examples of bubbles. Yes, the price of autos was and still is a bubble, one that is being fostered by our own government - cash for clunkers being the latest distortion, the bail out of Chrysler and GM being a huge, menacing misallocation. It was, and is, nothing but a central banker money laundering scheme that bypassed the bankruptcy laws and funneled money to the central bank debt holders BEFORE the other creditors could be paid as is dictated by the rule of law that currently exists. America is going to pay dearly for these moral hazard blunders in the future, you will NOT see capital (money) form to start up truly innovating companies that actually manufacture something in the United States as long as the rule of law is being subverted by corporate interests. Their money is buying them political favors, plain and simple. This is why I suggest that corporations and their money should be separated from State in the same manner that religion is separate.

But I digress… Tim went on to talk about how the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission consolidated military bases and that the local Ft. Bliss was a huge recipient of funds, on the order of several billion dollars. The base has been building up for the return of troops from Europe and the Middle East. Tim speculated that that money was fueling a boom that trickled into the local economy.

I’m certain that some of the activity in the area is a buildup towards Juarez/ El Paso sharing in a portion of the NAFTA Superhighway. Below is a YouTube link explaining the superhighway (YouTube videos are not embedding correctly for some reason):

LINK: CNN Story, NAFTA Superhighway…

Yes, the infrastructure is good around El Paso. Miles and miles of good fresh concrete highways with fast speed limits.

While I love the high speeds, I don’t love the fact that the REAL JOBS of American productivity are outsourced overseas. What you’re seeing is money (capital) that is being put to work elsewhere and NOT in the United States. That’s what happens when the rule of law is not followed and the central bankers press to build a world full of cheap labor, indebted nations, and indebted individuals all being pitted against one another while the central bank skims interest off all “credit” transactions and builds a ruinous shadow banking system that rewards them while selling off toxic securitized debt “assets” to your retirement funds!

Get it? If not, make sure that you spend some time reading up at my economic blog,

So there sits Tim and Ray wondering what’s happening and what they should do for the future. Tim is aware, a kind of watchdog for his family. I noted that society is full of watchdogs, but they are more rare and that most are basically sheeple. He’s buying some gold, and most importantly he’s staying out of debt, THE KEY TO BEING FREE.

Our conversation is pleasantly interrupted by our meal, sliced pork taco plates

Mmmm, delicious! We all enthusiastically downed every last bite. Ray picked up the reasonably priced tab by the way, thank you Ray!

Tim and Ray went on to explain that they have been building storage units on Ft. Bliss for nearly 3 years, most remain empty and they are still building them. Tim has a little angst about the future, and I didn’t help to ease his angst when I compared building those units to digging one hole, then digging another while filling up the first!

I explained that government spending IS NOT REAL ECONOMIC ACTIVITY. In fact, government spending is NEGATIVE ECONOMIC ACTIVITY because every dollar that is spent must come from the PRIVATE REAL ECONOMY.

Our spending on our military industrial complex is simply out-of-control. We spend more on national defense than the rest of the world combined. That is the height of economic mass psychosis to believe that that is sustainable, it’s simply not. This type of corporate pandering has built debt levels that are so large THEY CANNOT MATHMATICALLY EVER BE REPAID! History shows that countries who get into that position do not fare well – “other events” tend to follow. We will not be an exception when the history books of the future are written.

I explained to Tim that at some point an event or an ADULT leader will force the government to reign in the spending. When that happens, how secure is Tim’s job building unused storage units?

Sorry, but those units are another example of a misallocation in resources, a huge problem for our economy. I would say that El Paso’s boom is a bubble, just like housing, just like autos. All bubbles burst, and it is painful when they do.

Ray was and still is a skeptic. But the stock market crash and “recession” got his attention that all is not what it seems on the mainstream media façade. He’s ready to roll with punches, though, has a positive outlook and I’m sure will be successful in whatever future economic activity exists. And while my economic outlook is long term negative for America, it doesn’t get me down and shouldn’t get you down either. Life is exciting and worth living fully. We live in fantastic, in fact revolutionary times. Change is hard, but change is coming for America, yes, Tim is right, you need to be prepared, the angst and the disconnects are speaking to you – you would be wise to listen.

It was a pleasant hour of conversation, I think we all learned something from it and that makes it a big positive. Tim and Ray had to return to work and I had to hit the road…

See, I didn’t leave them in tears! Nice guys, hard workers I’m sure.

I hit the road and it was basically 3 hours of hot desert, fast highways, and trucks – a lot of trucks. Below is a typical scene looking across oncoming traffic…

As I pulled into Marfa, I notice that the population sign said 2,121, (SAAALUUTE, for you former Hee Haw fans)! The one and only fast food place was a Dairy Queen, and after 7 hours in the 95 degree sun, I stopped and indulged in a chocolate dipped ice cream cone! Bless America, she may be “a little overweight” but she’s still great!

And Marfa is a town that's easy to like! It’s a throwback to an older, slower America. Very quaint and very quiet, Marfa was a railroad stop and had a boom around the 1930 timeframe (sound familiar? What was happening around then?) when they thought they had discovered oil here. Turns out they didn’t! But Marfa got some terrific and beautiful buildings as a result.

Since Arno was broken down and I had plenty of time, I took a slow tour around the town. Nice homes, clean and quiet. I did notice that there seemed to be a house for sale on just about every block or so, the number of homes for sale looked very high.

I couldn't help but be charmed by the buildings and the churches:

I did notice several art galleries as I rode around. Later I found out that Marfa has become somewhat of an “artsy” little town, and I could see why.

Right in the heart of the town is a big beautiful hotel called the Hotel Paisano. Of course I was looking for a place to stay and it looked interesting, old and distinguished, much different than the other 1950ish roadside hotel I saw. Right in front of the hotel I saw a guy on a BMW R1200RT! I pulled over and met George…

Super nice guy, we spent probably 45 minutes or so talking. He’s on his way to Big Bend to go camping which sounds like fun. I was tempted to tag alone, but needed to be in communication to meet up with Arno. Turns out that George is from Bellingham, Washington, not too far from where I grew up in Anacortes.

It was humorous because as we talked about what each is up to, George brought up the economy, and I was surprise to hear him zoom in on the central bankers and how corporate America was buying off America and her politicians! BRAVO, George gets it! George is now partaking in a little freedom, touring the country on his bike. He gets the concept of expensive houses and autos being debt anchors to life and thus was expressing the importance of FREEDOM. This is a huge concept, one that I give a ton of thought and attention to and have been thinking more about on the ride down. Thus, I’m going to do yet another article to articulate the relationship of FREEDOM AND SECURITY and how that relationship exists in every facet of your life. I’ll get to that later… Great to meet George, I wish we could have spent an evening talking over a few beers, but he headed south and I went into the Paisano to check it out:

What a gorgeous place! I could see someone like Hemmingway just hanging out in a place like this.

After casing the place, I approached the desk and met Stephanie, a cute, young, and articulate life long local. I asked about rooms and prices, I got the starter price range of $99 to $249 per night. I said that was a little rich for my blood and said that I think I’ll mosey on down the road, to which she responded, “wait… we want you to stay here.”

LOL, now we’re talking business! The place was charming as all get out, and that made it worth paying a little extra, but not bubble hotel prices, that’s for sure. We settled on $80 for a night, more than I’m planning for most of my overnights, but I was tired, the place is interesting, I now had an extended layover, and I could use the time to write with some good high speed wireless access. I asked where is the best place for my bike and Stephanie responded, “right out front.” That’s where I put it…

I viewed the plaque next to the entrance and it explained a lot about Marfa and the hotel:

I carried my bags inside and stopped to talk some more with the nice clerk, and to get some information about Marfa and the local economy from her. She said that, indeed, there were way more houses on the market than usual, but that prices were still near their peak due to the art crowd coming into town. She thought they were way expensive (for a normal wage earner - there's that angst). She said she thought the average little house went for about $250,000 and lamented that a vacant and dilapidated "shack" on a tiny lot was asking $60,000 and that it hadn't sold in years of trying.

"What economic activity is there in Marfa," I asked.

"Well, you have the art crowd and the Marfa lights, that's basically it."

"Oh, I read about the lights. Are they real?" I teased.

"Oh yeah, I’ve seen them."

I played along, "Well, what do you think causes them?"

To which her reply was very grounded, "it's probably static electricity or something..."

Here's a link to the phenomena: Marfa Lights...

She was pleasant and knew how to do business, I liked that and took my keys upstairs. The room is very small and mostly in original 1930 condition, or a replica of it at any rate. Not great by modern standards, the biggest negative was the tiny bathroom with fixtures that badly needed updating. Not something I would consider paying $250 a night for, that’s for sure! Leaky old faucets and clear out under the shower when someone flushes a toilet!

That is the nice part of the room, overall the room is a 4 or 5 on a ten point scale. The lobby, courtyard and restaurant are a solid 8 to 9, but the rooms are not acceptable for the money.

The lobby and hotel are built around a courtyard and it is grand and in very nice condition with original wood and tile work. After getting settled in, I went down to the courtyard for dinner. There were a few guests there, but only a few. The group at the table next to me were speaking German. The courtyard is very pleasant:

Having had those delicious tacos for lunch and having spent more than I planned on the room, I opted for an Angus burger. It was good, I’d give it a 7 or an 8 on the Nate burger scale! The fries were fresh cut and had just a little parmesan cheese sprinkled on them – those were a 9. The burger would have been a 9, except the bun to burger ratio was a little too much on the bread side…

Ten bucks, not as bad as some hotels, but still bubble burger pricing. Of course the Nate standard to which all burgers measure up against is my own “10,” my special bagel burger. That’s right, that’s the gold standard right there!

After a decent night’s sleep, I started typing out this report and then went down to the lobby to negotiate a room with two beds since Arno is finally underway. I met the hotel manager who was not nearly as easy to negotiate with as Stephanie. I tried my best to talk her into a good rate, she quoted me $135 for the night, went down to about $115 but that was it – simply too much for rooms like that and in effect I would be paying $55 more for just a second bed. I packed up and said adios.

I then drove down the road a few blocks to the only other hotel in town, the Thunderbird. Yes, it reminded me of the wine. Cheap and in poor taste. But inexpensive it was not as the desk clerk began at $149 for one night and I could talk her no lower than $135 plus tax (which is 13.4% - and I was reading in the paper how Marfa is running a deficit and is voting this week to increase property taxes by 7.9%!!! I said goodbye to Marfa as it had suddenly lost its charm.

This brings up a point about hotels in general. Their occupancy is way down (both hotels less than half full and turning away my best offers), but their costs are not going down, they are being milked by a bloated government.

I jumped on my bike and rode for 50 minutes to the American border town of Presidio, Texas. A lot closer to Mexico in every way. Mostly dirt and gravel streets, only the main streets are paved. The buildings are not nearly as nice, but the town itself is twice as populated as Marfa.

I found a room at “The Three Palms,” because, well… they have 3 palms in a group. Painted bright white and blue, it’s pretty hard to miss. The rooms are pretty standard, but much larger and with a much better and functioning bathroom. Cost is $59 per night. Marfa, in my opinion is a little too uppity price-wise for what they have to offer. There’s a bubble there too, and I just don’t believe in contributing when I see one. Just call me, Nate, the bubble buster!

Hopefully Arno will make it to Presidio today and we’ll finally get hooked up. I just talked to him and he’s about half way here from Houston. Below is a link of tomorrow’s route, it’s on Bing maps. I wish I could embed Google maps for you because that’s a very cool feature, but unfortunately, it doesn’t route over international borders. Bing maps have some very, very neat features too, like routing across borders, but you can’t embed – ah well, never perfection! If you want a very, very cool experience however, take the time to load the Bing 3D map function while you’re there. You can fly the entire route from any perspective. It’s a little tricky to use until you get used to it and you’ll need a pretty fast machine, but WOW! Did I mention that it’s cool?

LINK: Bing Maps

Note that the distance to Creel, Mexico is only 308 miles, but it’s over 8 hours! Yes, it’s going to take awhile, looking forward to it and to seeing the Copper Canyon region, our goal for the next few days.

Al Stewart – On the Border: