Category Archives: little things

Hip To Be From ‘Burque

While I was born in Kansas and have lived for most of my adult life on the Atlantic Seaboard, if you ask me where I’m from, I’ll tell you that I’m a New Mexican. More specifically, I’m from Albuquerque.  That’s it in the photo above — you’re looking across the Rio Grande, past the glowing downtown, with the Sandia Mountains squatting on the city’s east side. Pretty nice.

I moved to Albuquerque when I was six years old — and while I briefly attended junior high school in the Midwest, I still did most of my growing up in the Duke City. I played Roadrunner little league baseball on scraggly grass fields hacked from vacant lots we always called “mesas,” even if they technically weren’t.  I considered three inches of snow to be a snow storm.  I drove my first car on old Route 66 in the center of town, and ate carne adovada burritos at The Frontier.  I graduated from Eldorado High School and the University of New Mexico. I oriented myself using the Sandia Mountains. And to this day, I still know how to answer The Single Most Important Question a New Mexican Will Hear: “Red or Green?” (Green, thank you very much — and why would you want it any other way?)

Those of us from New Mexico are used to our state causing confusion.  Certainly, having the word “Mexico” in your address can lead to a bad case of Mistaken Identity with our neighbor to the south. During a brief move to the Midwest, for example, I was asked if we had lived in huts or rode horses to school.  When I moved back to New Mexico in the early 1980s, one of the movers nervously asked if it was okay to drink the water. 

Even in the mid-1990s, New Mexico still wasn’t always feeling the love.  During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a New Mexican called to order tickets for the games — and when he informed the ticket agent where he was calling from, he was told he had to consult either the Mexican or Spanish delegations. 

 “No, no, no — it’s NEW Mexico,” the exasperated Santa Fean told the attendant.

“New Mexico, old Mexico, you still have to go through the Mexican delegation,” he was told.

And Albuquerque?  Forget it.  It was a punchline.  When the seven-year-old daughter of one of my coworkers found out I was from Albuquerque, she burst out laughing.  She had heard Bugs Bunny complain that he “shoulda turned left at Albuquerque,” she said, “but I never knew the place was real!

Now, though, things are changing.  Suddenly, it’s positively hip to be from ‘Burque.  All three installments of High School Musical take place there, for instance, though it doesn’t appear an inch of film was actually shot in town — when you see Troy and Gabriella on the roof of the fictional East High School, the palm trees in the background are a giveaway that you are definitely not in the Duke City.

On television, AMC’s Breaking Bad takes place in Albuquerque — and unlike the High School Musical series, is actually filmed in the city, though it uses some of the less charismatic locations, in keeping with the main character’s drug selling business.  Things look better on USA’s In Plain Sight, which follows a federal marshall housing witnesses in the Witness Protection Program.  Not bad, considering the last major features to take place in Albuquerque (regardless of whether they were filmed there) were the gloriously trashy made-for-TV movie Sparks: The Price of Passion, with Victoria Principal, and the gawdawful serial killer film Suspect Zero.

I’m not sure if it really has become hip to hail from Albuquerque, but that’s all right.  I’m still pretty pleased to call it home.

The Little Things

And we’re back.

Our English trip wasn’t one of big gestures – Barb was there to work, and I was there to generally poke about the surrounding countryside and do a bit of research, so this wasn’t really one of those sightseeing trips where we come back loaded up with photos of famous landmarks. Instead, it was one of those trips where you get to appreciate the little things.

For instance, we loved sitting down in one of Oxford’s cavernous dining halls each day for breakfast, sitting at the long wooden tables on long benches, just as students and professors have done for generations. We enjoyed strolling around Oxford, peering through gates at secret gardens and around corners at long alleyways lined with old shops and restaurants.

I loved lounging on the sofas at the country club in Teddington, with five newspapers spread out around me — including, always, at least two of the red tops, most of which were All Michael Jackson, All The Time. And I tried not to laugh at the nickname one particularly snarky columnist had given the King of Pop: the People’s Pedophile. Yeeks.

I loved coming across those casual words or turns of phrase that are part of the everyday language to the British, but completely foreign to those of us on the other side of the pond. A word I am particularly fond of is “gobsmacked.” Why say “surprised” when you can say “gobsmacked”? I’m still trying to work it into conversations.

On the other hand, I also had to laugh at what we called “Americanisms That Aren’t.” These usually occurred in newspaper columns or on talk shows, and almost always began with the four words, “As the Americans say…” followed by something we never say. Writing in The Telegraph, for example, one columnist mentioned a particularly boring financial report and concluded that, “it is, as the Americans say, a ‘thumbsucker.’” What?

The British also have the market cornered on a charming form of passive aggression. On a bus ride from Oxford back to London, for example, we sat several rows behind a young man who spent the entire 70-minute ride talking on his cell phone. As we were all climbing off the bus in London, an older gentleman who had been seated in front of the chatter turned to him and said flatly, “I had to listen to your noise the whole way.” End of discussion.

One pleasant little surprise, too, was the number of books being advertised on billboards. In the train stations in particular, there were as many ads for books as there were for cell phone services or energy drinks.

Finally, there are no free refills. Order a Diet Coke, and they’ll uncap a small bottle, fill up a glass for you and put it on your tab. Order another, they’ll do the same. And can someone tell me why the British seem to have an aversion to ice? Most times, drinks were served at room temperature or only slightly chilled. When one waiter finally asked us if we wanted ice, we said yes with almost too much enthusiasm – only to have our drinks put down on the table with one cube floating in each. Let’s just say I was gobsmacked.

Ah ha! Used it!