Category Archives: Lobos

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.

Easy As Pi

Late last week, I received the transcript of my recorded interview.  It took exactly two days to complete, and after finishing reading through the transcript last night, I can officially vouch for and recommend the services of Production Transcripts out in California.  They charge at a per-minute-of-tape rate, and I couldn’t be happier with their work.  They provide both electronic and hard copies of their transcription as part of their basic cost for services.

In other news, I’m flattered to have been asked by the University of New Mexico to speak at the annual meeting for the Alumni Association this weekend down in DC.  The scheduled speaker — a former professor of mine and now a friend — was unable to make it, and I’m delighted she recommended me as a pinch hitter.

Finally, just to give you an idea of the kind of house I live in: late last week, our matehmatically-inclined daughter Madi pointed out that Sunday, March 14 was officially Pi Day (3/14).  To mark the occasion, then, Barb made three pies — apple, pumpkin, and chocolate pecan — and decorated them accordingly.  Here’s the pumpkin pie, for example, just before we tore into it:

And yes, we rounded off to eight digits beyond the decimal across the tops of the other two pies.

My family rules.

Trip Report, Part 2: Hi, Society!

When I last left you — at least for the purposes of this particular narrative — I was in the lobby of the Roosevelt hotel, monitoring text messages from Barb and Madi as they made their way up from Maryland on the train.  They were running only slightly behind schedule (as I said earlier, “on time” for the Northeast Regional seems to mean about ten minutes late), so I arrived in plenty of time to meet them, even after walking the mile or so to Penn Station.  A short cab ride back to the hotel (when did New York cabs start taking debit cards? Brilliant) and we went into a bit of decompression mode until it was time to leave for the St. Nicholas Society Event at 6:30.

The Maxfield Parrish bulletin board at the Coffee House Club.

The dinner was being held at the Coffee House Club over on West 44th, only a block or so from the hotel, and an easy walk in the brisk February air.  The Coffee House Club is considered a private New York club, but it’s got  an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek outlook that I love. (Its Constitution consists of a half-dozen “commandments”: “No officers, no charge accounts, no liveries, no tips, no set speeches, no rules.”)  It’s also a comfortably unassuming place, just two large rooms — one a reception area, the other a cozy dining hall.

Just inside the door, I met Jill Spiller, the Executive Director of the St. Nicholas Society, who worked hard over the past few months leading up to the evening to take good care of me. True to form, she escorted us into the reception room and put off to one side a nice gift from the St. Nicolas Society, a set of glasses etched with their logo.  Very nice.

The reception was a very classy affair, yet also laid back — St. Nicholas members are genuinely interested in telling and listening to stories, and a well-told story will usually cause an eruption of laughter.  And people had so many different interests that moving from one small circle to another was like entering a live encyclopedia.  Over here, you could talk about astronauts and one man’s collection of space memorabilia.  In this corner, it was about children’s songs.  Over here, people chatted about medicine.  I even found one gentleman who had in his private collection one of my Holy Grails of Washington Irving portraits: a photograph of a painting of Irving’s best friend, Henry Brevoort.  I had scoured the planet looking for a portrait of Brevoort back when I was working on Irving and had no luck — and now here was someone who had one.  It’s wonderful when things like that happen.

After an hour or so at the reception (the hosts had done a good job taking care of Madi, ensuring there was plenty of teen-friendly food and drink), we were gently herded into the main dining hall.  The President of the St. Nicholas Society, Dr. Billick — who is class and charm personified — had gone to great lengths to seat Madi on his left, with me on his right, and Barb right across from us at the horseshoe of tables.  I smiled as Dr. Billick made certain to engage Madi in conversation throughout the meal, offering up history questions, chatting about the European Union (!) and generally making her feel at ease as the only young person in the room.  Not that Madi can’t hold her own in almost any conversation (at one point, someone came up to me, laughing, and said, “After talking with your daughter, I asked her  what she was majoring in.  She told me ‘eighth grade’!”), but it was a lovely gesture on his part, and I so appreciated his effort.

We were still enjoying our dinners when it was time to conduct some business.  Two new members of the St. Nicholas Society were introduced and initiated to much applause.  I was then introduced by longtime member (and fellow New Mexican!) Mr. Hilliard, with Dr. Billick at his side, who stepped to the mike and presented me with their award.

I promised everyone who wrote to me with their good wishes that I would put up a picture of the medal.  Here it is — and it’s a beauty:

I spoke for about twenty minutes, telling one of my all-time favorite Irving stories: the hoax that Irving pulled off to launch his mock history of New York City, and the Dutch reaction to it (someone threatened to horsewhip him). Given the St. Nicholas Society’s mission to preserve and perpetuate New York’s history, I thought such a talk would be appropriate — and I was delighted that it went over so well.  I took questions for about twenty more minutes, then spent the rest of the evening signing books, talking with members, and generally having a terrific time. It was one of the nicest evenings I’ve ever had — and having Barb and Madi there with me to share in it made it that much more special.

It was cold as we stepped out onto 44th for the walk back to our hotel — we had already changed our travel plans to leave early the next morning, in hopes of getting back to Maryland in front of the advancing snowstorm — but we walked slowly, trying to make the evening last even longer.  Our thanks to the St. Nicholas Society for such a remarkable night.

Woof! Woof! Woof!

As I was standing in the kitchen making dinner last night, I started casually flipping through the latest issue of Mirage, the surprisingly charming alumni magazine from my alma mater, the University of New Mexico (sidenote: I have always argued that if the FBI really wants to find its Ten Most Wanted, it should simply sic their respective alumni associations on them, as they seem to have an uncanny ability to find you no matter how many times you move and fail to fill out a New Address Card). And to my surprise, right there in a two-page spread, was a piece on Washington Irving: An American Original.

Now, that was nice. I had e-mailed the alumni association months ago, just to give them a heads up on the book, hoping it might make an appearance in the “Album” that runs along the right-hand column of each page. I never expected a whole article, much less a Two-Page Feature Article. In color, even. (My only gripe, and it’s a small one, is they tagged my course of study incorrectly — I was an English major, not a history major. It only bothers me because I really liked the English department and — perhaps ironically now — never took a single history class in college.)

My thanks to the crew at Mirage for a bang-up piece. (Yes, I sent them thank you notes as well.) Eat ’em up, eat ’em up, woof woof woof!