Sunday, March 15, 2009

Here in New Mexico...

Well, not exactly. I'm back in California now.

I was intending to post while I was away in New Mexico last week, but discovered an internet connection was impossible to maintain for more than a few minutes at a time and my laptop was giving me headaches with frozen/nonfunctioning browsers. Rather than rassle with it and try to make it work, I let things stew for the duration, didn't even get off more than an email or two, and busied myself with chores and other business neglected since I was there in August of last year.

There was plenty to do, as there always is at that old adobe ranch house we picked up "cheap" in 2005. It needs fairly constant maintenance and attention which it doesn't get when I'm as tied up with other things (like hospice care at home), so coming back to it after so many months away made for many discoveries and a lengthening lists of items to take care of.

Starting with the landscaping. This was something that got put on hold when the nice lady we'd engaged to do the preliminaries, planning, cleanup and whatnot flaked on us and disappeared. I'm not all that surprised, actually. It was a challenge, to say the least, and I know she was frustrated at many turns as she tried to get helpers from Albuquerque and the local area to work on the trees, prepare plantings, lay out paths, get some gravel in and so on. But then, she kept saying she was hauling the cuttings and whatnot out to Bernalillo County's landfill in Tijeras, and she had to pay every time, and I thought that was kind of crazy because it was over 30 miles, and as far as I knew there was a recycle site not more than a mile away from our place where they took everything, including garden debris and cuttings, and they didn't charge. I told her about it, and she just seemed flummoxed, and continued hauling to Bernalillo. Yikes. After she got the high grass cut down and most of the trash taken away, she was gone. Left no plans, nothing, and we got a bill for all that hauling in addition to what we'd paid for the cleanup and the plans.

I understand from neighbors, however, that there is a man in the neighborhood who is interested in picking up where she left off. I've talked to him briefly, and when I have more time -- which I didn't have during this trip due to other priorities -- we'll get together and figure out what to do.

Well, let's hope anyway.

One of my priorities while I was there was taking care of some wiring issues, and to do that, I needed some wire nuts, a handful, you know, this sort:

common as the day, and you'd expect available most anywhere.

Only you'd be wrong. There's an Alco store -- something like a Woolworth's -- that has a modest hardware section, a few miles away in town and there was not a wire nut to be found. There were other sorts of connectors, but not what I needed or wanted, so I thought I'd go to the Ace Hardware and feed store a few miles away in the other direction. They always had what you needed though it might take some time to find it.

Closed. Shut down. Out of business. Oh.

Well, there were other Ace Hardware stores in other towns nearby; there was even a dreaded Wal-Mart no more than ten miles away, and surely they would have wire nuts, right?


Checked the Wal-Mart first; no wire nuts. The first time I went there a few months after it opened, for a shovel, they didn't have any pointed blade shovels, either. What exactly is the point of Wal-Mart?

The Ace Hardware that had been at the crossroads? Gone. Not even a sign that it had ever been there. Next town over, same thing. No hardware store.

So what I eventually wound up doing was going all the way to the Lowe's on Juan Tabo in Albuquerque, on a crazy expedition for a handful of wire nuts. At least I knew they would have them, right?

Well, as I sought them out, I almost thought they didn't, every other kind of electrical connector imaginable, but not common wire nuts, at least not until the very end of the aisle, where finally I found them. Whew. Mission accomplished.

Of course by that time, I almost forgot what I needed them for.

But boy, it got me to thinking. Thoughts that had been in the back of my mind for some time, the sort of "What If" thoughts that nobody really wants to contemplate:

"What if things you take for granted are no longer available or easy and convenient to get? What do you do?" In New Mexico, this is a reality that people have been dealing with for centuries, so people who are adapted to the way things have long been in rural New Mexico rarely let the absence of something bother them too much.

They make do, find substitutes, or they do without. It's a way of life.

For a city boy like me it takes some getting used to, and sometimes I'm better at it than others.

An expedition like I did, for wire nuts, was silly, at bottom, and I knew it at the time, but I wanted to see what was happening to some of what we do take for granted as the economic collapse ripples through the country and what kind of impact it's having on rural areas in NM especially.

Locally, the impact was more pronounced than I at first thought. Not only was the Ace Hardware and Feed Store gone, but lots of businesses had closed -- well, "lots" in a comparative sense, not being so many to begin with. The losses left swaths of vacant business properties along the main road, some sporting For Lease signs, but some just boarded up or even abandoned altogether. Restaurants had closed -- I counted three that were no longer in operation, though one that had been marginal at best last year was apparently thriving now. Even the Flea Market appeared to be shut down, though I wasn't sure and didn't ask anyone.

The real estate market had essentially collapsed. Nothing was being bought or sold, only one property transferred in the last six months.

The grocery store was well stocked, and the in-store hot food and deli section was mobbed at lunch time, which I thought was a positive sign.

One gas station had closed and was completely gone -- as if there had never been one there at all. Others had changed hands, doing what looked like a kind of musical chairs -- the Chevron station had become a Conoco, the Phillips 66 had become a no-name discount station, Texaco at the truck stop had been replaced by Shell, etc.

I even found a new hardware store in town, next to the surviving rib joint, in what had been a small vacant building last year, so my expedition wasn't really necessary, but if I hadn't done it, would I have discovered what I did?

Some of my neighbors were doing very well on a comparative prosperity scale while others were having a very tough time of it indeed. A number of residences round about had been abandoned or were vacant, while one had burned due to arson, the culprit caught, tried and sentenced already. I realized our house had been in that same abandoned situation for years before we bought it, and it's now occupied only a few weeks a year, and the outside still looks pretty shabby because nobody's around to do the landscaping -- among other things. Thank goodness for neighbors who look out for us. There was a tagging incident last year, "4:20" (for which we're assuming the more benign interpretation), but it hasn't been repeated.

Wasn't able to do a complete assessment, but it appears the local population has dropped by some dozens, from a high of only 1,500 or so anyway.

And the future?

Remains to be seen, but we can say with some certainty that much of what we are counting on just won't be there, many of our assumptions will be challenged, and our expectations won't be met.

How we cope is the question.

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