“Do You Need a Ride?” A Pedestrian Ramble

One of my favorite Edward Abbey rants in Desert Solitaire is about tourists who won’t get out their cars in a national park and who suffer the illusion that they have actually seen the place when they haven’t walked in it.

For me, walking is a way of getting to know a community and its personality. I seldom sit in waiting rooms when I could be out exploring. A place doesn’t have to be scenic to have character; even a kind of dreary character can be interesting to a writer. While waiting for oil changes at the Ford dealership in the town that inspired Cauwetska in The Calling, I explored the neighborhood behind it. Many years later when I wrote the book, I knew which house Mae and her mother would move to in the opening scene and I could see, hear and smell every step of the life-changing walk Mae takes that evening.

In my review of The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras I mentioned the narrator Hubie Schuze’s reflections on the superiority of walking compared driving. The line that stuck with me from this particular scene is I saw a baby gopher—one of the many things one could not experience if driving a car. I’m trying to find the chapter for another quotation but I keep finding all his other walks in Albuquerque instead. Hubie walks in his city quite a lot.

Based on this literary precedent, I believe it can’t be remarkable to be walking in Albuquerque, surely not so odd that a complete stranger should offer me a ride—and yet someone did. I arrived early for a yoga class Tuesday and decided to walk a few not-very-scenic blocks to pass the time rather than sit. A man of about fifty to sixty, driving a nice car, rolled down his window in passing and asked if I needed a ride. New Mexico is a friendly place, where we talk to strangers all the time, but I’ve never been invited into a car. I was so stunned I just said “No,” forgetting add “thank you.” What was this man thinking? I was wearing yoga clothes, flip-flops, and a sensible sun hat, so I don’t think I looked like some middle-age hooker angling for business at five-thirty in the afternoon. I didn’t look feeble, either. When I was walking in T or C a few nights earlier, a woman I’d never met before asked me what I did to stay so fit. She was getting out of her car, and she didn’t offer me a ride. (On that same T or C walk I passed a group of people who’d been rafting on the Rio Grande. They’d just unloaded their gear and I think they’d been imbibing a little on their trip. One woman, still holding a half-empty beer bottle, hugged another, and liquid poured from the bottle to the ground. The recipient of the hug asked, in a most serious tone, “Are you peeing?” You couldn’t get a laugh like that while driving. That was as good as seeing a baby gopher.)

When I went to the corn dance at Kewa Pueblo (Santo Domingo) earlier this week, I chose to park a distance from the plaza and walk. Twice, shuttle bus drivers tried very hard to let me know I could ride. I know they were just being courteous, but I couldn’t bring myself to ride. In my work in progress, this pueblo will be one of the settings, and walking helped me to soak up details.

When I walk in Santa Fe, no one offers me a ride. The city is full of pedestrians, some of them very interesting. While I walked to the Best of Santa Fe Block Party last Saturday, I encountered young women striking dance and yoga poses on the streets. This evening in the Plaza at Bandstand, I saw a tall trim Anglo man with a white tiny goatee wearing a little round flat African hat in pink and green and orange, pink John Lennon sunglasses, an orange-and-green African print shirt and a swath of similar fabric wrapped around his waist over his bright green shorts. All the clothing looked new, clean and crisp, a carefully chosen concoction.

The best-dressed dog at Bandstand belonged to man whose lean, scruffy appearance and worn-out backpack suggested he might be homeless. He had placed a pair of sunglasses with bright orange frames on the nose of his dog, a gentle, friendly mutt. Children broke off dancing wildly to the Santa Fe Chiles Jazz Band to pet the dog, and the man was gracious, careful of the children’s well-being and his dog’s good behavior. The way he steered and guided his dog made me think perhaps the glasses were there to indicate that the dog was blind. I had to wonder about the story behind his apparent good cheer in what looked like tough circumstances. Now, while writing this, I wonder if anyone ever offers him and his dog a ride.

Advertisements

Dancing in New Mexico Part One

This is going to take two or three posts to cover, because dancing has roles in both social life and spiritual life here. It plays a big part in my books, too, because dancing is how Jamie communicates when he experiences life at its highest intensity, as in the Santa Fe Bandstand scene in Shaman’s Blues. I’m a barely adequate ballroom dancer myself, but I enjoy it anyway, especially the flow when I have a partner who can lead, and I love to watch people who are better at it than I am.

Part one: The perfect partners.

No matter what kind of music is playing, there are people who will dance to it, and dance well, whether the Santa Fe Chiles are playing Dixie jazz and swing dancers from the Rhythm Project are cutting loose in creative kinetics at Bandstand, or the Bill Hearne Trio is playing “alt country” at the Best of Santa Fe block party, inspiring older couples to dance in the elegant flow that embodies a whole history of partnership.

Sometimes at Sparky’s in Hatch it takes an icebreaker to people out on the floor, or the right kind of music—Western Swing. Then those couples who dance the way old married couples finish each other’s thoughts start moving their boots. When the Renegades played a couple of weekends ago, I enjoyed one man’s smile even more than I enjoyed dancing with my dancing buddy. We took to speaking of this tall, gray-bearded, Hispanic cowboy as The Smile. He bowed over his lady, cradling her in the shade of his body, with a look of radiant bliss glowing over her shoulder. If only she could have seen that look.

When I left the Best of Santa Fe block party Saturday to go pick up my car at the Firestone place on St. Francis, the man who’d taken care of my car knew where I’d been and he came dancing out of the garage with a smile on his face as if there were music. I danced too. Why not?

This is my new favorite song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96UkbM6cII4

Picture the older guy, Bill Hearne, and the two guys to his right, as a trio, outdoors under a mixed cloudy-sunny monsoon season sky, the Railyard water tower to one side, and the free food and coffee and books and other festivities to the other side, and in front of them those perfect partners swaying along.

Next installment, sacred dances.