Even in the best of places, though. . . there is always something. As I sat at the bar sipping at my Old Fashioned, two hip hop boys in their early thirties came up to pay their tab. They were drunk and jacked on coke, I assumed, as they were shiny with sweat and couldn't quit moving. They snapped back and forth with quick talk and plans for the night and tried to pay the barman who said they would have to square up with the waitress that had been serving them. This disconcerted them a bit and as they tried to figure things out, one of them looked at me with a goofy grin and a wave. I gave him my usual backwards peace sign, and he went bug-eyed.
"I give you a wave and you give me back that?" he said too aggressively. I looked at him and said,
"What the fuck do you want?"
"What do I want?" he repeated and looked a little confused. "I want you to hit back that drink."
I simply stared at him. What is there to say in response to something like that. It was no matter. The boys paid up and soon were gone.
The barman who had been serving me said something about it to the other barman telling him he'd seen the two of them here before and they were always a little bit of trouble. Then he apologized to me for their behavior. I thought that was nice of him and funny, too.
"That was no trouble," I said to him. As I settled my bill, I said, "I'll be back up later for some of those tacos."
But way led to way and I didn't make it back to the bar that night.
In the morning, I prepared to drive south of Albuquerque. I-25 to Truth or Consequences. I would stop on the way in Socorro, I thought, to make the detour to see the Very Large Array.
Once out of Albuquerque, traffic began to thin, the small towns growing smaller and fewer. I set the cruise control on the Chevy Malibu to 95 mph. I was surprised that it would let me. Somehow, I thought, there would be some safety control, but no. . . I was wrong. And so I flew once more through the Great American West.
The landscape grew sparser and drier, everything seeming very far away. I reached Socorro before I knew it. The road into town was crowded., and about half the traffic was bikers. I pulled off to get some gas and some water and to use the restroom. The store was full of crippling foods and sugary drinks. I looked around in curiosity. It was impossible to find anything like a non-coated nut or anything not adulterated. Little kids of Mexican descent were loading up on brightly colored candies. No one looked healthy, but what choices did they have? The town was full of cheap restaurants and mini-marts. I got my water and went to the counter.
"Sure is a lot of traffic," I said to the woman taking my money.
"Everybody's headed out to the lake."
I told her what I was doing. "Is that the same road?" I asked.
"No. You won't have any traffic out that way. It's about forty-five miles."
I was wondering if it would be worth the 90 miles I would have to drive to see this thing, but it seems I had made a wrong turn somewhere, for I ended up at the entrance to I-25 south again. Fuck it, I thought, I'll head on down to Truth or Consequences and if I want to, I can stop here on the way back.
The cruise control had a good memory. The highway miles crumbled behind me, and before long I arrived. Truth or Consequences. Oh, my. I parked my car in the center of town and made a quick video to send to a friend. Perhaps I had made a mistake.
I drove through town--that didn't take long--then took the road out of town a ways before I came back and parked. I would walk the town, I thought, looking for something. . . anything. With two cameras around my neck I started out. Right away I found the Tourist Information Center. I walked in and said, "Do I look like a tourist?" holding out my cameras. The woman working the center didn't seem to get it.
"May I help you?"
"Sure. What is there to see in Truth or Consequences?"
She looked at me hopelessly, I thought.
"Well, today there are the museums. . . ."
I had seen the museums on the way in.
"Uh-uh. I don't want to go to the museums. I want to take pictures."
She gave out a heavy breath. I had pretty much exhausted the riches of the town it seemed.
"You can walk the main street here. There are lots of shops and things. There are the hot springs, but most of them are private." She pulled out a map and showed me where there was an outdoor one for free along the river. And that was it. I asked about taking a highway I saw on the map that paralleled the interstate. Would there be anything of interest along the way? "There's the lake," she said. "It's prettier than taking the highway."
I walked around town. It was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, but there was nobody about. Half the shops were closed. I wandered down the main street then cut back onto some other roads. It was just beat. There were rundown houses and trailers and old cars and weird metal things of different types. It seems to me that in New Mexico, anything that is metal is kept. Metal seems to be the coin of the realm somehow.
After a dull hour or so, I got back into the car. I drove down to the river. I made another video.
There was nothing to see in Truth or Consequences. I was done. On the way out of town, I drove by a public park. There were two teenagers there, a skinny Mexican looking boy without a shirt and a skinny white girl with cheap, tight jeans and her shirt pulled up over her pooch of a pot belly. She was talking on a cell phone. The boy handed her a number and she took a hit looking at me. They both looked as miserable as the town. I wanted to stop and talk to them, ask them things, ask them what it was like living in such a place as this, but I didn't have the courage. Or better, I had some common sense. And so, slowly, I drove past them, leaving them to their mid-day stoner fun in a run down playground in the center of a nothing town. I was getting depressed.
Before I hit the highway, I drove by a building that said "Fairgrounds." I was excited for a minute and pulled the car over. There were people everywhere, people and junk. It was an auction. It was crazy. They were selling old vacuum cleaners and shopping carts. . . anything that was junk. I saw people loading up pickup trucks with long metal pipes. Metal. Always metal. The people looked beat and poor. It is a poor town, a poor state, I thought. I couldn't see anything approaching joy. I climbed into my car and headed up the hill on a side street that quickly turned into a dirt road that just as quickly turned into an alley. I was driving on rutted tracks behind trailers and small wooden shacks where endless numbers of pit bulls were roaming fenced yards or were chained up to a broken travel trailer. Fuck. Finally I came to a paved road and drove away from town. Dead end. I got out of the car and took some pictures, but it didn't feel right. It wasn't worth it, I thought. And so I turned the car around and headed for the interstate.
Finally, I found something to make the trip worthwhile. God knows what it was or why, but it was there calling forth some cosmic energy. Now I could head back to Albuquerque.
He was traveling on the opposite side of the interstate, but he was slowing down and pulling to the medium before I got to him. For a second I thought to speed up and try to outrun him. O.K. Split second. Rather, I slowed down to the speed limit and waited watching him in my rearview mirror. He took his time, and when he got to me, he slowed down and stayed just behind me in the other lane for a long time. I was hoping that he was just going to fuck with me then go on by, but I was not so lucky. After awhile, he pulled in behind me and hit the lights.
Oh, well, I thought. I turned off the engine and took out my license and rolled down the window and waited. He came up on the passenger side and said he pulled me over for speeding. He asked me if the car was a rental and asked me where I was going. I thought about the videos of the New Mexican cops shooting unarmed suspects. I thought of Breaking Bad. I showed him my cameras and told him about my day. He laughed and asked if someone had told me that Truth or Consequences was interesting. I told him that everyone I talked to had said they hadn't gone south for many years. No, I had just taken a chance. He was friendly and I thought maybe I was going to get a warning. I didn't, but he did me a favor. He said he was going to give me a ticket for doing 85 mph. That would reduce the fine to $77.00, and since we were on reservation land, there would be no points on my license. Wow, I thought. It is like a freebee. I would have to consider whether I would speed again or not, but there seemed to still be the opportunity.
I drove the rest of the day, though, at the requisite speed.
Back to the hotel. Up to the bar. Everyone smiled and remembered me. Why hadn't I come back for tacos, one wondered? Oh, it was good to be back where there was happiness and joy. It was good to be recognized. A Negroni, then, a civilized drink. The bartenders and the waitresses chatted. I asked for a good restaurant and they all agreed. It was only a couple blocks from the hotel. They had good food and made great drinks. And so, having not eaten since morning, I was away.
I am a western sort, I think. I always get attention in the west, more so than back home. It has always been that way. And tonight was not an exception. I was seated at the bar by a very sweet hostess and handed over to a pretty bartender who handed me a menu.
"I can't read this," I said. "I didn't bring my glasses. You don't serve a lot of old people, I take it, or you would have some at the bar," I chuckled. Within minutes she had dug some up out of a box for me. They were beautiful little reading glasses. "Oh, I'm taking these," I said. She smiled and told me that they would not be missed. The couple next to me were in their mid-forties, fit, good looking, and well dressed. We started chatting and I regaled them with my day. There was advice from everyone, of course. I should have done this, I should have gone here. Whatever, I said. I just want a good meal. And that is what I got. I ate and drank and the bartender smiled. She asked me why I was in town and I told her about the photo workshop. She was a photographer, too, she said, and she told me about her work. She taught as an adjunct at the local college, but her MFA was in painting and she was working mostly in photography, big things, she said. She had a show coming up at Rayco in San Francisco. Did I know it? Of course I did, I said, and felt the pang of unsuccess fall over me. Jesus. Everyone had a magazine or a gallery somewhere. She wanted to give me her website and email address. She wrote them down on a piece of paper. Her handwriting was exquisite.
She certainly was an artist.