About a week after getting home from Mexico, we headed out for a road trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We had been there some 40 years earlier and loved it then, but wondered what time had wrought, and if we would still feel the same way. We rented a place for six weeks, intending to check it out as a possible place to live, especially in the winter, and then planned to return to Boulder, Colorado for a couple of weeks to check that out again. We had been there more recently, about eight years ago, and almost bought a house there.
Santa Fe did not disappoint. The central part of the city has managed to retain its old adobe flavor thanks to the foresight of city fathers, who as far back as 1912 recognized that it made sense not to let rampant develop destroy the old town. New buildings had to be built in Santa Fe pueblo or Spanish mission style, at least those surrounding the central plaza, some of parts of which date back to the 1500's. True, the suburban sprawl of Cerillos Road is just as much of an eyesore as any strip mall, with its big box stores and shopping centers, but the main part of town, unlike so many western cities, fits the landscape, and, as one of the oldest continually settled cities in the US, it manages to retain a sense of history. The blending of Hispanic, Indigenous and Anglo cultures is a felt presence, despite the fact that often these groups have little to do with one another. The semi-arid landscape is almost other worldly, and despite the paucity of trees in the valley, the high mountains of the Sangre de Christo are literally just out of town, and they are heavily treed and green. And the sky, which is as vibrant a blue/cobalt as I have seen anywhere, is shocking in its intensity on most any day.
Santa Fe has always been known as a liberal outpost, with an art and culture scene that far exceeds its size of roughly 80,000. We certainly found this to be the case even in the winter, which is the off season. There is also a significant retiree population, our age more or less, but active. There are almost daily hike and art meet-ups, skiing just outside of town, and people that seem friendly and share our values. Once out of town, it is a vast, largely empty wilderness of desert, weird rock formations, high mountains, both the Sangres and slightly lower Jemez, volcanic calderas, along with scattered ancient Indian pueblos,and funky little towns, like Madrid, pronounced Maaadrid. The feeling is that you can walk forever and not see anyone. Alright, a bit of an exaggeration, but New Mexico is huge with a population of 2.5 million, most of which live around Albuquerque, by far the largest city, about an hour from Santa Fe, with little in between.
So we surprised ourselves. After a few days we started looking at real estate, and though not cheap by upstate New York standards, it was a bargain compared to Boulder, which is growing much more rapidly. At first we thought we wanted to be within walking distance of the plaza, but many of the old houses were dark, expensive, and often needed more work to make them up to our standard of livability. It wasn't long before we started looking further afield, a process that I'm sure many other folks have followed. Still close in, but about a mile or two from the center. The fact that our agent, Chris Harris, was a highly interesting man with whom we had a lot in common, didn't hurt our desire to check things out. It was always fun spending time with him. We also met Toni, somewhat older than us, but a former New Yorker who has lived in Santa Fe for some 20 years. She explained the tax advantages of buying and then renting for a year, something she and her husband did when they first moved.
Amazingly, after a few weeks we made an offer on a condo on the north side of town, and it was accepted. Now normally, I'm not a condo kind of guy, but this place, though small, felt quite private as it faced out on open space, and it was relatively affordable so that we didn't feel pressured to sell our house in New York immediately. We heard that the Santa Fe Opera often rents out places in the summer for their staff, but they want it furnished, and so, in an effort to appeal to the Opera crowd, we dashed madly about for the next several weeks looking for furniture in some of the many warehouse sized consignment shops that seem to be ubiquitous in Santa Fe. Of course, we couldn't move anything in until we closed, but managed to get the shops to hold stuff, and then rushed the closing, which happened about a week before we were scheduled to leave town. If all of this seems a bit crazy and frantic, it was. In between hikes, occasional days of skiing, and attendance at art shows, we hunted for furniture, pots and pans, bedding, towels, etc. We probably spent more time riding up and down Cerillos Road than most residents do in a year.
We did manage to spend some time enjoying cultural events, eating out at beer pubs, New Mexican type restaurants, as opposed to, unfortunately, true Mexican. We met up with the stepson of a friend in Albany, who in turn introduced us to his musical work colleagues. Our friend Betty came out for a visit for a few days to see us, as well as her brother who lives outside of town. Our older daughter came out with her boyfriend Jeff from California, and we spent a few days seeing the sights, including Bandolier, a fancy hot springs in the middle of nowhere, Ojo Calientes, and just walking the streets of Santa Fe. What I did not do was to take any pictures of the city. Too busy I guess, though I did take some landscape shots of Tent Rocks which is on a res about an hour from town. With hoodoos and rocks similar to Cappadocia in Turkey, a place we did not visit, it also has a small slot canyon, and is an easy place to spend an afternoon.
Snow covered Sangres in the distance
Bandolier has an almost spiritual feel, having been settled by indigenous peoples for more than 10,000 years. They mostly lived in caves created by volcanic action, in cliffs lining the river valley. Indeed the general area around Santa Fe also felt spiritual to us. We sensed the spirits of the ancestors in the rocks and the sky, perhaps because the landscape hasn't changed all that much.
Round human settlement in Bandolier where farming took place
Tasha and Jeff climbing into cave dwellings
Nanette and Jon
That big sky near Bandolier
We also managed a trip up to Ghost Ranch, to see the landscape of Georgia O"keefe. On the way we stopped to see these incredible white rocks where apparently Georgia used to camp out with friends.
Pedernal in Jemez mountains opposite O'keef's summer home in Ghost Ranch
Red rocks at Ghost Ranch
Door to O'keef's winter house, about 10 miles from Ghost Ranch
Lest you think that everything is perfect, New Mexico has a reputation of being practically a third world country. There is definitely a manana attitude, and most things take longer to get done, especially for those of us who are used to a New York minute. I also had an interesting run-in with the Santa Fe police. On one particular day, I had parked my car at one of the consignment shops, and there happened to be another one diagonally across the street. Both of these were located on a non-busy road outside the center of town, and Nanette was not with me. So without thinking, I just cut across the the corner and as I walked into the parking lot of the second shop, I heard a siren behind me. Turning around, it was a cop car flashing its lights at me.
"Stand in front of the car," the officer said to me.
"What did I do?," I said somewhat incredulously, knowing I had left my car in the other lot.
"You cut across two streets and did not walk in the cross-walks."
"Jaywalking? I didn't even know that is illegal here."
"I need to see your license."
"Okay." I happened to have my license with me. " I'm from out of state," as he could plainly see, "and jaywalking is not illegal where I live in upstate New York. Can't you just give me warning."
"It is a crime in New Mexico. Just stand in front of the car." I had moved off a bit to the side because the sun was hot.
I must have been standing there for a good 20 minutes while he fiddled with his computer, probably checking to see if I was a terrorist.
"It's getting hot officer. You must have more important things to do, like going after the real bad guys. All I did was walk between two shops when there was no traffic."
No response. After another 10 minutes or so he said that he was having trouble with his computer, and asked me to give him the number of my cell phone. He said he would call me when he could print out the citation.
"Can I leave now, and go into the store?"
He nodded, and I went into the second consignment shop. I had been there before, and the delightful woman who ran the place, S., a Jewish-Sikh convert, (apparently not that unusual in New Mexico), recognized me and could tell something was wrong.
"I just got a ticket for jaywalking," I said.
"What. I've never heard of anyone getting a ticket for that in Santa Fe. People jaywalk all the time around here. I feel really bad for you."
I guess she could tell I was shaken up.
"Well, if you see anything you like I'll give you an even bigger discount than usual.
Sure enough I did see a couple of copper lamps, but about ten minutes later the cop came running back in.
"I was able to print out the citation."
"Can I just mail it in," I said.
"No you have to appear in court."
"But I won't be here on that date. I'm leaving town before that."
"You'll have to go in as a walk-in and tell it to the judge. Wait a few days to make sure they receive the citation," and with that, he turned around and left.
"Fuck you." No I didn't say it, but I certainly felt like it. This was unbelievable. Welcome to Santa Fe, I thought.
Well it was only to become even more unbelievable. A few days later I called the court, and they still had not received the citation from Officer Krupkee, or whatever his name was. Gregg, I think.
"Call back in a few more days." I did so, and they finally had received it. I explained that I would be out of town when my court date was set.
"Alright, Come in tomorrow as a walk-in."
Figuring I would get there early to beat the crowd, I showed up at 8. There was already a line. I got to the desk, and they asked when my appointment time was.
"I don't have any. They told me to come in as a walk-in. "
"Oh, I'm sorry, but the judge is not taking any walk-ins today."
"WHAT. BUT THEY TOLD ME TO COME TODAY WHEN I CALLED IN YESTERDAY. I'm from out of town and I'm leaving in a few days."
In fact it turns out that they told several more people, six in all, to come in as walk-ins. "Who'd you speak to?," they demanded.
"I have no idea."
"Well wait here, but you other people will have to leave and come back another day."
Eventually, perhaps because I was from out of town, they took pity on me, and told me to have a seat in the courtroom. Since they were doing me a favor, I would have to wait until the other people with appointments were taken care of. The female judge seemed reasonable enough. More than reasonable actually. Many of the other folks were there for shoplifting, and she let them off with the minimal fine, no jail time, and told them to attend a shoplifting class on Saturday. Shoplifting class. That's a new one . Other people were there for DWI's and driving without a license. They too got off easily. I was the only jaywalker.
Finally, after about two hours my turned came, and I went up to the bench. "I can see you're here for jaywalking. What happened?"
I explained that I crossed diagonally between two consignment shops and there was no traffic. I added that I didn't think jaywalking was even a crime in New York and was surprised that it was here.
"Yes it is a crime. In fact, I have to talk to the prosecuting attorney. Some jaywalking offenses require jail time. Please have a seat."
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Shoplifters let off by taking a class, but I might have to go to jail for jaywalking. After another 20 minutes the prosecutor finally arrived, and after consulting with him, the judge called me back to the bench.
"Well, Mr. Shapiro, since this is a first offense, there is no jail time required. You're lucky. I will fine you the required $25 dollars and then an additional $58 dollars for court time. Any questions?"
"No," I said, by now just desperate to get out of there. I noted to myself, however, that the shoplifters were somehow not required to pay for court time. Just jaywalkers it seems.
"See the clerk over there."
I went over to the clerk who had to fill out the paper work. I said, in sotto voce, "You know, it would have saved a lot of time if you just gave me a ticket which I could have mailed in."
"Oh, we don't do that here in New Mexico. And we take jaywalking very seriously. You could have gone to jail. Just the other day two homeless people were killed crossing the railroad track in the wrong place."
What the hell does that have to do with me I thought, but knew enough not to say a word.
"Go over there to the cashier to pay."
With that, I did so, and they took credit cards. I felt lucky to have escaped with me life.
New Mexico can certainly be a strange place.
A short time later, we closed on the condo and moved in for a few days, postponing our trip to Boulder to finish furnishing the place. In the end, the opera was not interested, though we did later rent it for the summer over TripAdvisor.
As a postscript, S. called me a while back to say that she too had been arrested on a minor traffic charge, talking on her cell phone, and then not pulling over immediately so she could get out of the middle of the road. She also had to go to court, where they acted as weird with her as they did with me, so the whole thing had nothing to do with being from out of state. Being the lovely law abiding person that she is, she was as shaken up as I was.
I am hoping to avoid the police on our next trip out. Jaywalking may be illegal, but it seems, at least in Santa Fe, that an ounce or less of weed for personal use is not. And shoplifting, barely a slap on the wrist.
Yes indeedy, in New Mexico you're not in Kansas anymore.
Road to nowhere in New Mexico. Traffic not a problem.