Lost Americana

Perhaps I’ve watched too many Scooby Doo episodes, but one of the things I’ve always wanted to see was one of those old mechanical fortune tellers and see what my fortune was. You can still get a fortune from a wide variety of sources. In fact, a quick Google search yields 6.4 million records for people doing online fortune telling.

Those sites lack the gravitas of seeing something crafted by artisans in a factory somewhere in Jersey. See, there’s a mystique surrounding the mechanical fortune tellers of yore that you just can’t recreate with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Even if you go wild and dump some C# into the code, you’re still missing the weight, the sheer physical presence of seeing a several-foot-tall box with an animatronic person pointing at cards before a piece of paper pops out of the bottom like magic.

Red right hand?

There’s a slight problem, though: no one has produced those things since the middle of the last century and they were notoriously cantankerous beasts to begin with.

So, imagine my surprise when I found not only a mechanical fortune teller, but one from 1944 that still works.

Cheryl can keep her old Gypsy lady, I’ve found something better.

Out North of Sandia Park is a small part of lost Americana, a bombastic example of where we came from. It’s not the usual slick and soulless stuff we’ve converted to lately, and it’s not always pretty, but it’s real and tangible, and has a working mechanical fortune teller that will gift you with the secrets of your future for only a quarter.

Beyond that, there’s also a fully functioning machine that will tell you what career you should choose, a mechanical one-man-band, and more hand-carved miniatures than you can possibly imagine. That place is the Tinkertown Museum. It’s a tiny place tucked into the side of the road and adorned with every bit of history you can imagine. It’s a pop-art history shack that doesn’t take itself too seriously and comes complete with everything from the over-the-top giddiness of the big top to the grotesque mannequins displaying horse-hair jackets.

I’m not sure Love Pirate is a career, but if anyone’s hiring, I’d like to apply. Dictator would be good, too.

Among other things, Tinkertown is an homage to a part of our culture that disappeared with the advent of reality T.V. and fast food; it’s a throw-back to the time when we still felt the creative urge to make something instead of just consuming things.

Now, maybe I’m just being cynical – my fortune did say I have destructive tendencies, after all – but it seems to me that the creative urge has dissipated. And that’s a very sad thing because there are some tremendously talented people out there with stories to tell, miniatures to carve, worlds to build, and images to share.

Yes, the museum has a yacht built in the 30s in it. The owner of the yacht sold everything he owned and sailed that boat around the world for 10 years. It was a really long picture. Just imagine it as one continuous piece.

A while back I was having a conversation with my Kenpo teacher when the subject of winning the lottery came up. His take on it was, if you really want to do something, you don’t need to win the lottery to do it. Just go make it happen. I responded by telling him I wanted to buy a Senator and they’re not cheap. We chuckled, but he was dead on the money: There’s never going to be a perfect time to do what you want, you just have to go do it. That was my Kenpo fortune for the evening.

As for the my Tinkertown fortune, well, that’s between me and Grandmother Esmerelda.

Check out some more of the fantastic stuff at Tinkertown and if you’re ever in Sandia Park, go check it out. Just go early, it’s a small place and it fills up fast.

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9 thoughts on “Lost Americana

    1. Sandia Park is about 20 miles east of Albuquerque, up in the mountains. If you go a bit further up the road, you can even get to Sandia Peak and look down on Abq.

    1. If you’re in NM, you can also drop by the Museum of Nuclear History and see the history of nuclear power and weapons. It’s not every day you get to see an ICBM.

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