On the Road Again

Willie’s song rolled around in my brain as Debbie and I took off for a little two-day jaunt to New Mexico. We cruised up Highway 80 and hit the state line where the speed limit dropped by five mph and New Mexico’s daylight savings flipped us an hour ahead.
I gotta say, one of the things I love about Arizona – and there are fewer things that I love about it each year – is we don’t do daylight savings time. We leave the clocks alone. No setting them ahead and then back. The only time I have to mess with my clocks is after the power outages that accompany our monsoons.
So. Up Highway 80, pit stop at the welcome center in Lordsburg and a fast stop for gas in Deming. Blessings upon gadbuddy.com for telling me we’d save a dime a gallon by getting gas there rather than in Lordsburg.
North, then northeast along that wonderful cutoff – commonly called the Hatch Highway – that takes us past the town of Nutt and into Hatch.
I hadn’t been on this road for awhile and there were three big changes. First was the new border patrol checkpoint. Now, these checkpoints annoy me anyway, but I was even more upset than usual to find one on this road. Most checkpoints are within twenty to thirty miles of the border (they are supposed to be within twenty-five), but this one was at least forty miles in.
A young man approached our car. Well, he didn’t quite approach. He was dragged by a large overanxious drug-sniffing dog. The young man was polite and the dog looked like he was ready to leap through the car window so he could slobber my face with doggie kisses. The dog evidently smelled no drugs, and the boy-agent evidently believed we were US citizens, so we were sailing down the road again in just a moment.
A short while down the road, right near Nutt, was the second surprise. A wind farm! Oh, it was beautiful. I love the grace of these slow moving giants. About thirty of them here, blades spinning lazily in the light breeze. I wondered what they would look like during a hurricane, spinning madly and sending blades flying. Now, this is just a mind game. I know they have braking systems that shut them down when winds get above 45 or 50, but with Isaac hitting New Orleans and surrounding areas, suddenly the picture wasn’t so pastoral.
The third surprise was that a little beyond Nutt was a solar farm! Though not as beautiful as the wind farm, it was still a lovely sight. Neither power plant had a haze of pollution. Neither made noise. Unlike nuclear power, there will be no spent rods that will have to have armed guards for the next thousand years. These two systems simply sat there producing electricity. Cleanly. Quietly. The rural west has plenty of space and an abundance of sun, with wind as a bonus. With the millions and billions of tax breaks the oil and coal and nuclear fat cats have received over the years, surely it’s time to channel some funds into wind and solar.
Finally we got to Hatch. Hatch! The chile capital of the world. And the town, population well under 2000, was gearing up for its annual chile festival. The airport had already turned into a fairground. The ferris wheel was up. By Saturday thousands would be making the annual pilgrimage to Hatch to buy a sack or two or more of fresh roasted green chiles. We didn’t escape town without our fair share.
But the real highlight of Hatch is the Dead Kennedy Café. No, it’s not the real name, but it’s been my name for it since the first time I set foot in the door.

One of the locals kept making Debbie laugh as I tried to photograph her with the Kennedys.

The Valley Café holds seven tables and three stools at a counter. It serves up some great Mexican food including the best huevos rancheros I’ve had anywhere, including anywhere in Mexico. The huevos aren’t anglicized at all. The first time I tried them, I looked at them in disbelief. Took my first bite, then exclaimed to the waitress, “This is like the huevos I get in Mexico!”
“Is that good?” she asked me timidly.
I gave her a huge grin. “Absolutely!”
I dove into my huevos then, and now I try to get them any time I pass through before noon or so.
The café is small, and mostly it’s locals who eat there – just the occasional passer-by. During the chile festival, though, I suspect it will be mobbed. The walls hold a few Mexican decorations, a few cute saying in both Spanish and English, and a small collection of photos of John Deere tractors. And a portrait of Jack and Jackie.
When Debbie first saw it, I thought she was going to go out of her mind. She’s a practicing Catholic. Irish, and from Boston. Jack and Jackie! Every house in her neighborhood used to have that very portrait when she was young. And here we were in downtown Hatch, and there was a 1960s portrait of the Kennedys on the wall.
The Dead Kennedy Café. Eat there if you’re ever in Hatch, but look for the name Valley out front.
After lunch, we continued on to Truth or Consequences, the smell of fresh

View from one of the pools


roasted chiles permeating the car. First stop – the Paws and Claws Thrift Store. Thrift store stops are mandatory if Debbie is in the car. We picked up a few items and checked in at the Riverbend, one of my very favorite places to stay. Anywhere.


Riverbend sits on the banks of the Rio Grande and has five hot pools overlooking the rolling waters. The motel used to be the best. It was affordable and funky. But now they’ve gone more upscale, and the prices have too. They’ve pretty much priced me out of staying there. It’s an occasional splurge instead of a biannual pilgrimage.

Virgins in the garden.


And I preferred the funkiness. It has kept some. There’s still a Buddha in one corner of the garden and two Virgin strewn with Mardi Gras beads in another. Sculptured geckos still crawl the wall. But it’s all been paved and gussied up outside, and now there are gates in the wall, and patrons are issued keys. There’s a new patio with nice lounge furniture, and the old grill has been replaced with a $500 model. And the rooms have been redone.
The feel isn’t as welcoming and laid back as it used to be. Oh, the people in the front office are still friendly and helpful, but the whole feel is different.
There’s a teepee here. It sits right along the river and is outside the wall to the guest rooms and pools.

Moonrise over Turtleback.

I used to sit on a little bench in front of it and gaze at the river. The owner has now extended a wall so passers-by  can see the teepee, but the wall cuts off the river view. Can’t have people enjoying his view without paying, I guess.
But we spent the night, spent too much money. Hit Bullocks grocery store in addition to the Paws and Claws. Sat by the river and soaked in the tubs. Watched the nearly full moon glide up over Turtleback Mountain. And it was lovely.

Dawn on the Rio Grande.


What is home? Is it the place that speaks to us? Is it family and friends? Is it culture – the language, activities and events of our lives? Or is it some delicate, indefinable balance of those three?
Then there is my friend Christina. She lives full time in her travel trailer, and home is wherever she happens to stop. Truly, she has found home within herself, in her soul.
In 1973 I drove to Bisbee for the afternoon and ended up spending the night. Within two weeks, I’d quit my Tucson job, loaded my meager belongings into my old Oldsmobile, and the cat and I moved to Bisbee. Something here had whispered to me that this was home.
I have left twice. Once I went to Montana and loved the twenty months I spent there. Then a month of thirty below zero sent me back south. Years later I took a job in Kansas City, and though I eventually learned to love it and made it a good place to live, Bisbee was always there in the back of my mind. I was desperate for the mountains, the deep blue of desert sky, and the monsoon rains. Bisbee was home, and fortunately, after a seven year absence, it took me back.
Not always so for others.
My friend Lucho fled Chile in 1974 when Pinochet’s death squads targeted him because he was the head of the teachers union. Lucho’s time was up. He got political asylum and settled in Kansas City. It was safe in the late 1980s, so he went home for a visit.
When he returned from two weeks in Chile I was anxious to hear of his trip, a little afraid we’d lose him because Chile was, after all, his home.
But no. He had not been well received. Those who stayed – and were alive to see him – blamed him for leaving. They had stayed and done battle and he was seen almost as a traitor. In their view, he should have stayed. He should have died. Then he would truly be Chilean.
Lucho knew he would never go back to Chile, that it was no longer home, and he struggled to have his uneasy life in Kansas City make do.
I met another man, a New York City cabbie. We chatted while he whisked me across Manhattan. He’d come from Ethiopia seven years previously to work and send money home so his siblings could go to school. He’d hoped to be here only a few years, and he’d actually accomplished his goal.
“Why haven’t you gone back?” I asked.
“I did. It wasn’t the same. I wasn’t the same. It was no longer home.”
“So now New York is your home?”
“No. I am not really a New Yorker. I no longer have a home.”