A large cloth figure stuffed with shredded newspaper, adorned with long scraggly hair and pink-painted nails, she spent December in the women’s bathroom at the Truth or Consequences Brewery as the interactive art installation for the season. Women, local and visiting, could write notes to pin to La Vieja naming what they wished to release, and then take gift of a small stone or shell from a basket sharing the table with the Old One.
Today, La Vieja moved from the Brewery to a fire pit in Rotary Park on the Rio Grande, where a young woman who is a professional wildland firefighter arranged a safe set up for the ritual burn. A circle of women of all ages and a few men gathered. Poetry and stories were shared while the setting sun cast bright linear sunbows in the gray clouds on either side. Our firefighter lit La Vieja, and the blaze was warming and bright, the gentle sister of the fires she fights in the wilderness.
The Old One arched back with grace, and her legs moved into a posture reminiscent of an artist’s model reclining in the nude. As the words that clung to her burned, her heart seemed to open. Her arms fell back, her legs softened, and when she released her limbs one by one they seemed to let go with relief, until nothing was left but a heart-heap of smoldering ashes.
The ceremony was silent at times, social at others. I saw a friend who is moving to another part of the state. She’s letting go of T or C, feeling called to a new place without quite knowing why. Not in her head, anyway. Her heart knows.
Part Two: Not Quite Letting Go
I found myself thinking of that famous Maine story in which a tourist asks a local for directions. The local muses and makes some attempts to find a route, but his final answer is, “Come to think of it, you can’t get there from here.” Travel from Truth or Consequences to Baton Rouge for the electric car I wanted was kind of like that. I have an eye condition that makes flying inadvisable, so my choices were either to drive my Fiesta, adding 1,000 miles to her odometer, and then trade her in for next to nothing, or take a train or a bus—the lowest carbon options.
Amtrak’s answer when I tried to plan the trip: no such route. I would have had to go a very long way out of my way and then take a bus from a place the train does go. Or I could have spent thirty-two hours on a bus one way, after getting to nearest Greyhound station in Las Cruces. I couldn’t just leave the Fiesta at the station and drive back in the new car, so I’d have to get a friend to drive me there. Or take the Mexican Bus.
I’ve never seen the Mexican Bus. It has no published schedule that I could find. You just have to know someone who knows. As in, “Ask Davey. He took it to Albuquerque once. I think it stops at the McDonald’s in T or C.” We’re not that far from the border. I can see why a Mexican bus line would come here, but it’s a strange state of mass transportation in rural New Mexico that your only option is a mystery bus from across the border.
I reached the cusp of having the electric car shipped to me, but some troubling errors in the paperwork the dealer sent and some red flags in the fine print made me cancel the purchase. (I hope I can use all this in a book. I think the objectionable sales contract has disaster potential for one of my characters who wouldn’t read the fine print.) My attachment to the Cajun Spice Red 2017 Chevy Bolt with only 10,000 miles was brief, not meant to last, but I didn’t pin “electric car” to La Vieja. I’ll drive one eventually. It may not be perfectly convenient—I’ll have to charge it at an RV park and buy a portable charging station to adapt to the plugs—but I still want to do it. Maybe, by the time I find another affordable dream car, much closer to home, T or C will have public charging for non-Tesla cars. I’ve proposed that the city or some entrepreneur convert at least one of our town’s abandoned trailer parks to EV charging stations. The infrastructure is partly there, and the lots are close to both downtown and the river. People could recharge their cars while they recharged their bodies and spirits with art, music, hiking, and hot springs. And there’s something so T or C about a recycled trailer park.