Viva Las Vegas! New Mexico, that is, #Madrid and #Galisteo, too…

Historic Plaza and Hotel in Las Vegas, NM

Historic Plaza and Hotel in Las Vegas, NM

(February 20, 1992) The weather is dreary as I leave Flagstaff, headed for Denver; isn’t it always in February? Since living in Flagstaff the Weather Channel has become my main TV station, and since the World Wide Web won’t hit the public consciousness for another year, hit the streets in another five and become de rigueur in ten, thennnnn… that’s the best I can do. I can’t live in the future, unfortunately. It’s difficult; I’ve tried. But I’m not the first person who’s misjudged the weather in Flagstaff—small consolation.

The weather deteriorates rapidly when I turn off I-40 on to I-25 going north at Albuquerque. It doesn’t help that the sun is getting low in the sky, either. I’m wishing now I’d gotten away before noon. Such are the travails of the self-employed trabajolico. It’s still a long ways to Raton Pass, near the Colorado state line. I’m starting to have my doubts that I’ll make it, much less arrive in Denver by midnight, a respectable hour.

The old drug store in Las Vegas, NM

The old drug store in Las Vegas, NM

An hour later, sixty miles farther and two thousand feet up, at Santa Fe, the snow is starting to fall. This could get dicey. I finally give up after another hour, at Las Vegas, New Mexico, pulling off a rapidly snow-bound Interstate as the sun sets. Snow plows are conspicuous by their absence. Still it’s early, so a room is not hard to find. The city streets are warmer than the highway, too, of course, so they’re passable. The ‘historic’ downtown looks interesting, so I take a further look around. It gets better. There’s a historic plaza, too, like Santa Fe without all the tourists. I’ll be back.

The next day I continue on to Denver. The roads aren’t clear. They’re ice-packed. I put snow chains on my tires. It’ll get steep going up Raton Pass. The exits are all drifted up. I can’t get off the highway, even if I want to. There are interesting-looking towns, too, so that’s too bad. The highway narrows to a single lane, the other drifted up. I hear—and feel—a chain tear off, but I don’t even stop. I can’t.

Old building in Las Vegas, NM

Old building in Las Vegas, NM

I just keep going in my little time capsule through the icy landscape—everything solid white—hand firmly on the wheel, not turning nor even slowing down. This is scary. I trudge forward at thirty miles an hour, hour after hour, all morning. Fortunately, at the pass itself, things get better, since the melting ice can drain, instead of re-freeze. Score one for science. And at the Colorado state line the road is perfectly clear, like magic, like nothing ever happened. Note to self: Colorado functional, New Mexico dysfunctional, my kind of place…

(3 October, 2014) I’m back. It hasn’t changed much. I thought about coming up a couple weeks ago while I was hanging in and around Albuquerque, but chose to go to Santa Fe instead, not sure if I was saving myself the disappointment or the money, since Las Vegas is actually more expensive, for lack of tourists, or competition, or Motel 6. Go figure. I came up the back way this time, too, through Madrid, accent on the first syllable, something of an old mining town retrofitted for tourists. The shabbiest BnB here will set you back more than $100. Its dowdy sister Cerrillos sits just down the road.

Madrid, NM

Madrid, NM

But Las Vegas is the real thing, just like before, with two downtowns, one ‘historic plaza’ that predates the railroad, and a ‘historic downtown’ that borders the railroad. It and Route 66 and the Santa Fe Trail before it have all made inroads here since the earliest days of the USA. And a road leads south to Mexico from Santa Fe from before all that. But I don’t care about any of that right now, not really.

On the average day of the average week of the average month of the average year, I see not a soul that I know. Seven billion people on this planet, and I manage to be a mountain man locked in my own little world, the price of freedom, I guess. So I’m looking for communion. It’s not that I’m I’m lonely, I just need to remember how to speak English. So I’m constantly on the look-out for ‘rent-a-friends.’

Roadside attraction near Madrid, NM

Roadside attraction near Madrid, NM

New Mexico’s big attraction for me is the friendliness of the people, whether here or Albuquerque or Silver City. The difference is that here the locals are really locals, mostly, whereas elsewhere I suspect they come from all over, latter-day colonists. Still, a resident university helps, and there is one here, too, just like Silver City. And if Las Vegas is not as hip, it’s just as friendly, and even more historical. The drugstore even has fountain service, just like a bygone era, and the restaurants serve green chile stew…

But I’m drawn to the craft-brew pub: no Bud, no Schlitz, just brands homemade with TLC and seven-point-three, percentage of alcohol, that is. That’ll get you there quick… ly, porter and cream and IPA and stout, delicious every one. I’m coming undone. And the bar has stools, just like the good old days, with happy hour specials, and three dollar Thursdays, measured by the pint. I could get used to this. I haven’t had a watering hole since the Elephant Bar in Chiang Rai, Thailand, and before that Charley’s in Flagstaff, that old familiar vein that gave ‘Cheers’ its name; yes, THAT vein…

Church in Galisteo, NM

Church in Galisteo, NM

The pleasures are subtle but sublime, and the drives are beautiful. But the real communion comes on cue, on Sunday, on the other—or at least AN other—way back to the big city, this time through Galisteo, on the occasion of its bicentennial. If I time it just right, then I’ll make it there for 11:30 mass, my first Catholic mass since 1986 in Gualupita, Tianguistenco, Mexico, when we paraded through the village with pictures of the patron saint and virgin, of Guadalupe, that is. And it’s my first church service since the Christians of Sri Lanka last April, up in Kandy.

I do make it, no more than a few minutes late, the better to remain inconspicuous, not drawing attention to myself, lest I be made as a tourist, which I am, camera in hand, safely in its case. But that doesn’t matter when it’s time to hold hands. I like the part where everybody holds hands with their neighbor. That’s the real communion, with blessings of peace. FaceBook ‘likes’ don’t count. Hoc est mea corpus…

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