Politics & Policy

New Mexico Journal

Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque, N.M. (Photo: Centrill/Dreamstime)

The New Mexico license plates are just about the spiffiest in the country: either the yellow one or the turquoise one. (There’s at least one other, too.) I believe I have made this point before — in a journal two and a half years ago (here).

I’m back in New Mexico, for the same reason: to see the governor, Susana Martinez. And, again, I’d like to jot you some notes.

‐Still on the subject of cars: I see a Nissan Rogue. Is a rogue a good thing? It must be now, if they’re calling cars that. (And there was the title of Sarah Palin’s memoir, true.)

‐On the top of the Elks lodge here in Albuquerque, there is an elk — a stuffed one, or a statue. It looks utterly natural, with the mountains in the background.

‐There are some balloons in the sky — not little kids’ balloons, from birthday parties; balloons like Jules Verne. It is not yet time for Albuquerque’s annual balloon festival, but almost.

‐I travel streets called Princeton and Vassar. What is this? I thought I was in real America, and I’m seeing the names of these effete little schools back east? Then there is Yale and Wellesley.

What the . . . ?

‐I believe there is nothing more inviting than a golf course on a sunny morning. The impulse to peg it up is terribly strong. Or, as P. G. Wodehouse wrote, at the beginning of his story “The Heart of a Goof,” “It was a morning when all nature shouted Fore.”

The golf course I’m looking at is called Puerto del Sol — Port of the Sun. I do not see any water. There is an airport.

‐Pause for a language note? Someone asked me about this the other day. “Peg it up” means “tee it up,” i.e., play golf.

‐I hit the road for Moriarty, about 45 minutes east of ABQ (as Albuquerque is often signified). I pass the exit for Zuzax — a very cool place-name. I also see this sign: “Gusty Winds May Exist.” I have never seen that sign before.

I further see a sign for punkin chunkin’ (or “pumpkin chunking”). Do you know what that is? They don’t do it at Vassar. Ah, New Mexico is the “real America”! (So is Vassar, but we can save that discussion for another time.)

‐Moriarty is funny. I mean, it’s interesting to have an Irish name in the midst of so many Spanish and Indian names. I believe the locals say “Moriarity.” They sneak an extra “i” before the “ty.” They say the name in five syllables, rather than four. Or is it simply misspelled?

‐A sign says, “Moriarty: Crossroads of Opportunity.” Well, that’s good.

‐Here at the Moriarty Municipal Airport, a tent is set up, at the end of the tarmac. Just outside the tent, a U.S. flag and a New Mexico flag are waving side by side. They look good together — fantastic, in fact. The New Mexican flag is super-attractive: with its yellow background and red Indian symbol of the sun. (Oops: I did not mean “Red Indian,” but a red symbol of the sun that is Indian — Zia, specifically.) (This refers to a tribe in New Mexico, not to the late Pakistani strongman.)

‐A little ceremony will be held here, under the tent. Governor Martinez and other officials are marking the opening of a new facility by Google — which is going to test drones here, I believe. It is a very big deal for the area, and for the state at large.

‐I meet a man named Jace, born and raised in Moriarty. (Not sure about the born. I am about the raised.) He came to the airport with his father when it was new. He was six years old. There were rattlesnakes about. He shot them with his gun. Jace tells me, “I grew up with a gun in my hand.”

In the course of our conversation, I ask him whether he knows how to ride. Yes. “My brother won a horse in a poker game when he was home on leave from Vietnam.”

That is such an American story.

One more thing: I ask Jace where downtown Moriarty is. He gestures with his hand, laughs, and says, “Second tumbleweed from the right.”

‐A lot of the men are in bolo ties. I wasn’t sure whether people wore bolo ties in real life. I thought it might be something for TV shows and movies.

‐The mayor of Moriarty — I think that’s what he is — presides over the ceremony. He says he’s going to introduce some dignitaries. He introduces almost everyone in attendance. It would have been faster to introduce non-dignitaries.

‐One of the dignitaries is Sheriff Heath White. He looks unreal. I mean, he looks out of the movies, out of Central Casting — not like a real-life sheriff. He has a cowboy hat, boots, a huge belt buckle, and aviator glasses. His thumbs are hitched in his front pockets. He has a gun on at least one hip — I can’t see the other. What an hombre.

‐Another of the dignitaries — I didn’t catch his name — is billed as the fastest glider pilot in the world. Beat that, as Bill Buckley would say.

‐An economic-development officer, Myra Pancrazio, exults in New Mexico’s victory. The state has snagged Google. New Mexico has gotten the better of “the country to the east” — she means Texas.

‐A different official, Jon Barela, of Martinez’s cabinet, also speaks. One of his statements is this: “We have to wean ourselves off dependence on the federal government.” New Mexico ranks first in this regard, dependence on the federal government — tied for first with Mississippi.

‐On the road from Moriarty to Santa Fe, there is one outstanding feature: a killer sky.

‐Also, I seem to be just about the only person for miles and miles. I grew up hearing about overpopulation — not just in the world but in America, specifically. We were all going to be choked to death by other people. Resources would dwindle. We would be clawing at each other’s throats. When I got older, and out of the clutches of the Left, I discovered: Cripe, the country is barely inhabited.

‐Driving through Santa Fe, I see the Indian School. The sign says, “The Home of the Braves.” Uh-oh. Is that legal? Hate speech?

‐The state motto is rather nice: Crescit eundo, “It grows as it goes.”

‐I see something that seems too good to be true: the Shake Foundation. It does not look like a milkshake place, not from my angle. Maybe it’s a medical foundation, seeking to help people who have the shakes? Nope, it’s a milkshake place. And a hamburger joint. Right out of Norman Rockwell. Although the painter might not have envisioned green-chile hamburgers. Consider it a southwestern version of Rockwell.

Fantastic.

‐Is that Gary Johnson, walking along? I think it is. Johnson was governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, and the Libertarian nominee for president in 2012. Now he heads a marijuana company.

‐I see a young Indian guy riding a motorcycle. He has very long hair, in a very long ponytail. He looks really cool, free as a bird. He isn’t wearing a helmet. I would recommend wearing a helmet. But I admit he looks really cool.

‐After a couple of days, I think, “I’ve seen more Indians than I usually see in a year.” It depends on where one is living. While I’m thinking this thought, I also hear a dog not barking: “Have I seen any blacks?” There are very few black Americans in New Mexico. American demography is not uniform, coast to coast. I forget that, now and then.

‐Here in Santa Fe, I’m happy to see Lincoln and Grant streets, side by side — or at least at close quarters.

‐Here is something gag-making: the sign for the Inn on the Alameda: “That Enchanting Small Hotel in Old Santa Fe.” It actually says that, right on the sign. You could choke from the preciousness.

Here’s something I like about the sign: It gives the inn’s phone number, and it is seven digits. A number like that looks strange to the eye now — too short. We are used to seeing an area code, what with cellphones. Seven digits is very old-school.

Once, Nat Hentoff, the veteran New York journalist, called me up and left a message. He gave his phone number — just seven digits. I’m sure he had been doing that for decades. In all the time I’ve lived in New York, he’s the only one who has ever given me a phone number in seven digits.

‐Along the Santa Fe River, a sign says, “. . . flows to the Rio Grande.” I’m sure it does. But today, the river looks like it could barely wet a Kleenex.

‐Any city can have good expensive food, really. New York has great expensive food. But an outstanding eating city will have good expensive food and good cheap food — which Santa Fe does.

‐At La Fonda, I have a killer grilled-cheese sandwich — a grilled-cheese sandwich with a variety of southwestern twists. With your check, they give you a survey — a form. The first question is, “Is the pricing fair?” I think, “Hmmm — I wonder what my favorite economists would make of that. Do free-marketeers spit on the concept of ‘fair pricing’? Isn’t a fair price what you’re willing to pay for the thing?”

Yet somehow, I believe in a fair price. I imagine that’s untutored. (Big Bill Buckley word, by the way: “untutored.”)

‐The New Mexico governor’s mansion is exactly what you would picture the New Mexico governor’s mansion as being — perfectly southwestern, perfectly New Mexico.

‐With Susana Martinez, I ride to Las Vegas — not Las Vegas, Nev., where Wayne Newton performs, but Las Vegas, N.M., which is about an hour east and a little south of Santa Fe.

A man tells me a story: Years ago, he was working at a hotel in Las Vegas (N.M.). The night shift. A couple comes in. The man says, “Which way to the Strip?” “Excuse me?” says the clerk. “Where’s the Strip?” repeats the man. It’s obvious he means Las Vegas, Nev. The clerk says, “About 600 miles that way. You’re in Las Vegas, New Mexico, not Las Vegas, Nevada.”

The woman punches her husband — or whoever he is — on the arm and says, “I told you we should have stopped for directions.”

‐Remember the Reagan-era Cold War movie Red Dawn? It was shot in Las Vegas — New Mexico. Ever seen, or heard of, the TV show Longmire? Shot in Las Vegas (again, New Mexico).

‐On the plaza here in Vegas, Martinez speaks to supporters at a restaurant called “El Encanto” (“the charm,” or “the spell”). There is happy hubbub on the sidewalk outside. Lots of people want to meet Martinez and take her picture. There is a couple from the Netherlands — tourists. They weren’t expecting the governor, obviously. They don’t know who the governor is. They’re just touring around. They have been to the Nevada Las Vegas, and thought it might be nice to see this other one. Susana is a bonus.

‐She makes one more stop, to a Kiwanis spaghetti dinner. Then she retires with her team to a joint called Dougie’s. They serve burnt-cheese tacos. Ever had them? You’ll like them: Cheese is melted into the outside of the tacos, making them all the more delicious.

And then come the fried Oreos for dessert — as good as the chocolate cake I had recently in Paris (France, I mean, not Texas).

‐Politicking involves a lot of standing — politicians stand for hours on end, greeting people, listening to them, and talking to them. I tell Martinez, “I’ve done more standing in the last two days, trailing you, than I do in a month. I’m wearing black sneakers. And I still feel it.” She says she’s in heels. And it seems she is untiring.

I tell her a famous story about Birgit Nilsson, the late Swedish soprano. She was once asked, “What does it take to sing Isolde” (a long and punishing role)? She answered, “A comfortable pair of shoes.”

‐Back in Santa Fe, I take a walk, early in the morning. I approach a deer. He (she?) seems mildly concerned, but does not dart off. I have almost “communed with nature” . . .

‐There is a street called “West Manhattan.” I think, “Yes, very West!”

‐At the entrance to the Santa Fe Airport, the sign says, “Please Be Noise Aware.” I don’t know what that means. But it strikes me as very good advice.

So is a visit to New Mexico. I’ll see you.

Oh, one more thing, speaking of good advice: The walnut brownie at the Icebox Café in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport? The bomb. I have had it twice now in the space of a month. What I want for Christmas is an Icebox Café at LaGuardia.

Okay, see you — thanks for joining me.

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