This day was one of many that highlighted the value of actually going there. I had three goals: scope out a lunch spot, the offices of the district judge, and the site of an imaginary roadhouse called The Tinker’s Dam.
I visited Santa Fe over four decades back. The only thing I remembered was the miraculous staircase at the Loretto Chapel. It had nothing to do with The Reluctant Saint, but I swung by there anyway, paid the $3, and went in. To the surprise of no one, the staircase looked just like Dad’s slides from that trip in the Sixties. Evidently I was a skeptic even as an elementary school kid, because I just couldn’t buy into the miraculous part of the staircase. After all, a supernatural event is by definition something that defies the laws of nature, and as far as I could see, this staircase looked like it was conforming to all the required natural laws.
My one discovery at the chapel was the fourteen sculptures of the stations of the cross on the walls. As a Southern Baptist preacher’s kid, I knew nothing of the stations of the cross. It’s a Catholic thing, you know.
Then, seven years ago I was thinking about how to write this novel while listening to U2. Moment of Surrender came on and I heard this clever line:
I was speeding on the subway through the stations of the cross
Out of nowhere I wondered what it would be like to structure a novel around the stations of the cross. This is inside-baseball stuff that a reader doesn’t care about, but it is the kind of thing that those who write novels must contemplate. I did indeed structure the novel around the stations of the cross, but it is highly unlikely that anybody would notice while reading it, not even a Catholic novelist. Just like few people notice the communion scene in Muffin Man. So discovering the sculptures was a nice connection back to that agonizing period of story development.
If you’re the type who likes to dig out this kind of detail when reading a novel, look for telling character names, reversal of goals, and analogs to the passion events.
Back to location scouting, the fortuitous connection was ferreting out a lunch spot for Judge Simon Cox. Through net research, I settled on The Beestro on Marcy Street. The menu sounded like something Hensley would dig, and the photos looked perfect.
On the day in question, I popped out of my bed in the Roy Rogers room of the Silver Saddle Motel, looked out the window, and saw snow covering my rental car.
A propitious day. After a short drive downtown, I found a parking place, took a short walk through the freezing rain to The Beestro, and discovered it was a deli where you order takeout at the meat counter facing the street and then go elsewhere or jaunt upstairs to a small dining room with no table service.
At that moment I realized two things. I had to rewrite the setting in a couple of chapters, and I had to find an alternative location fast. Like right now before lunch was over.
I dashed through the rain to the car, found parking across from the Federal Courthouse, went into the bank to get change for the meter, and asked the teller for a good lunch spot nearby. And thus I had lunch at Santacafe, the 100+ year old house of Jose Manuel Gallegos, a defrocked priest. What could be more perfect for a story about a reluctant saint?
The fare was excellent, served by the newly-arrived-in-town Michelle. I re-envisioned the scenes in this new location and all was copacetic.
Thus sated, I tackled the courthouse. I survived the metal detector and chatted up the security officer. He hooked me up with a semi-retired judge who gave me a tour of the courtroom and a glimpse of the anteroom to the judge’s chambers. Score!
That left The Tinker’s Dam.
There’s something about a roadhouse that brings a soul down to the common denominator of the human condition. Some of my readers will be familiar with the vibe. Others might view such an establishment with a degree of trepidation and possibly disdain. I refer the second group to the previous installment for a grounding in the concept of the ragamuffin.
I’m not saying everyone should hang out in dimly lit, smoky bars. Everyone has their preferred hangouts, even if it’s a recliner in the comfort of one’s own home, which is my choice most nights of the year. But there are aspects of the roadhouse worthy of consideration, even if one visits such a place only in a novel.
Few places are more egalitarian than a roadhouse.
First off, like a genuine pub in the UK, there is no place for pretension in a roadhouse. Social status, wealth, these count for nothing. There is no first class seating, no VIP section. No ambitious posers networking, gaming for the most adventitious connection in the room.
Second, you find the most down-home folks in a roadhouse. Sure you might encounter the occasional jerk, but for the most part, if you’re polite and genuine, you’ll find regular folks willing to accept you as you are.
Hensley needed a base of operations in Santa Fe, and I could think of no more likely place for a person of his caliber than a genuine roadhouse. But this isn’t the kind of place you can identify through net research. You have to live in a place to discover the real establishments. Consequently, I had no choice but to create one.
I quickly settled on the name Tinker’s Dam, because in a novel names are important. The phrase “not worth a tinker’s dam” refers to something worthless. Some might think this refers to a cuss word, hence the often-used alternative “tinker’s cuss.” However, it’s tinker’s dam, not tinker’s damn. It refers to a bit of throw-away material used by a tinker to hold solder in place to repair a pot.
The Tinker’s Dam is a roadhouse where those individuals society might deem worthless gather. Based on net research, I decided one would find such an establishment east of town on Old Las Vegas Highway as it parallels I-25. I took a drive out that direction and discovered that a lot of nice developments have sprung out that direction. But I also found the derelict shell of the Bobcat Bite in the perfect location for the Tinker’s Dam.
In the novel, a gentle giant by the name of Scooter Bell owns the place. In his youth, his school buddies graced him with the ironic nickname Tinker Bell. It stuck and he owned it to the degree that he named his place of business, the Tinker’s Dam.
Turns out I wasn’t the first to think of it as the name of a bar. But I just now found that out. 😉
When Hensley returns to Santa Fe on his quest, he turns to his old friend for employment. In the crucible of the Tinker’s Dam, Hensley engages those in need of his counsel and faces his own midnight of the soul.
As I wrote, more than once I thought how interesting it would be to sit down with you, gentle reader, in a place such as the Tinker’s Dam and swap stories, ideas, confabulations. The modern equivalent of the primeval campfire, the marketplace of humanity the crossroads of the human experience.
Give me a call, come on down, and we’ll create our own Tinker’s Dam.