A map in the August edition of National Geographic magazine stretches from Wyoming in the north to Texas in the south and from Nevada in the west to Kansas in the east. Eating muesli for breakfast and reading through the place names on the map, by association or through speculation, numerous of them had meaning.
Cheyenne, Wyoming was the place of boyhood Westerns. It was a place from a primary school song, only a snatch of which still remains in the memory, ‘Goodbye, old paint, I’m leaving Cheyenne, Good morning, young lady, my pony won’t stand’. What was the song about? Haven’t a clue, it had a tune which suggested a slow and heavy progress of a cowboy slumped in the saddle of a mount that would never now outrun anything.
Stonewall, Colorado and Ulysses, Kansas may have had particular reasons to be named thus, but such names hint at Civil War generals: ‘Stonewall’ Jackson of the Confederacy and Ulysses S. Grant from the Union army. Between them lies the town of Springfield, a city sharing its name with the fictional home of The Simpsons.
Moving south into New Mexico, there is Santa Fe. Wasn’t it the destination of those toy America trains with the big cow fenders and the funnels that tapered outwards? Weren’t they called things like the ‘Santa Fe Express? To the east of Santa Fe lies Las Vegas, a city sharing its name with a counterpart in Nevada, but without the dazzling lights, shiny bling and streets full of gambling parlours. Further east still, one crosses into Texas and the town of Amarillo; Highway 40 would be the way there from New Mexico.
South of Las Vegas, there is Roswell, new Mexico, where the Federal Government has yet to prove that aliens did not land in 1947. The fact that the Government have not conclusively proved that an alien craft did not land is proof for the conspiracy theorists that it, in fact, did. Attempts by the Government to disprove the conspiracy theorists claims only serve to reinforce them in their beliefs.
To the west of Roswell is the town of Truth or Consequences, a town named after a popular radio show.
What was odd reading the map was the number of places that found at least some degree of resonance in the mind of someone who has only once ever visited the United States, and that visit was to the west coast, far from the states in the map.
What the map demonstrated was the extent to which American cultural colonisation has been successful. Centuries of European culture moving west across the Atlantic have been succeeded by decades of American culture moving eastward. Whether the influences will as enduring is a question that cannot be answered in this Century, what is clear for now is that the names of towns deep in the American interior probably have more meaning for people in Ireland than their considerably closer equivalents in Europe.
‘Goodbye, old paint . . .’
I wish I could remember the rest of the words.