Sunday, October 21, 2007

Still Enchanted by New Mexico

About six and a half hours ago, I crossed the state line from New Mexico into Texas. At the end of a road trip, I am always glad to be home. But I'm always sad to see that yellow rectangle with the red zia symbol in the rear-view mirror.

This weekend marked a wonderful reunion with friends from New Mexico State University.

We all worked together at the Round Up, which we and the "flag" atop the front page always called the "Student voice of Southern New Mexico since 1907." For 2 years, we lived together in those offices in Corbett Center. For somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 to $400 a month, we gave our all.

I was lucky enough to be the editor. That means that I got a lot of credit for the hard work of others. It was a talented group of people who worked hard. But, man did we have a lot of fun.

With a few other exceptions, Emily and I were the outsiders of the bunch. Both born in Missouri, we were not native New Mexicans like the rest of our friends. Many of them longed for something bigger than New Mexico.

You see, New Mexico is the fifth largest state in square miles. But it's 39th in population. And not a wealthy 39 either. So most of our friends dreamed of something much bigger. Indeed, the reunion brought people in from Chicago and the Bay Area.

You never know what you've got until it's gone, they tell me. Most days those words sound about right. I bought into much of that. They joked about the "Land of Entrapment," a play on the state's motto. I thought I understood the joke. I certainly bought into it.

Many of us graduated in May 1997. We received our degrees at the Pan American Center. You can see a small piece of the roof just below the foam red pistol and the pom-pom in the picture above. A decade ago, we couldn't wait for something bigger.

About a week after walking across that stage, I was off to intern with the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund in California. It felt "big time." Circumstances brought me back to the Las Cruces Sun-News about three months later. Emily and I had a kid. I was promoted to sports editor. A few months later, the Albuquerque Journal called. The flagship newspaper of the state. As big time as it got in the Land of Enchantment.

With that, I said good bye to Southern New Mexico. Less than a year after that, I said goodbye to New Mexico altogether for the adventure known as graduate school. I've written about this journey before, so I'll skip some of the details here.

Suffice it to say that my friends have heard me talk about my love for the land of green chile many times. It's one of those things that if you don't get it, you may never understand it. But I have a pretty deep relationship with those rocks and sand that people call a desert. It's more than a place.

Other than my wife, I've never loved a woman as much as I love New Mexico. It became a part of me. And it's a part that does not let go.

Fifty-eight years ago, another man named Sam Bradley moved to the desert Southwest from Kansas City. He had just finished school as a radio engineer (really television but that's a story for another day) and accepted a job at KCHS-AM in Hot Springs, N.M., now known as Truth or Consequences.

T or C, as its called, is about as different as one can get from Kansas City. But my dad had already been to the South Pacific thanks to the army, so he had seen a bit of variety. When dad arrived in Hot Springs, someone encouraged him not to judge the city until he had "worn out a pair of shoes on the desert."

It was good advice for him in 1949, and it was good advice when I moved there in 1994 (the transposition of numbers surely just a coincidence).

As I wore out that pair of shoes, however, the dry air worked a sort of magic on me. The mountains. The dark blue sky. The ability to see forever. The dry air. The planet does not get much more big time than that.

So, New Mexico became a part of me. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would call a New Mexico real estate agent on Tuesday. It's just that great. And then I'd go about figuring out just which foods really cannot be served with green chile. In New Mexico, that's a pretty small list.

Working at Texas Tech is a blessing for my New Mexico habit. I've made 5 trips west this calendar year, and one more is planned. But it's not the same as being there every day.

Wherever you live, I hope you love it as much as I love New Mexico. I hope it brings as big a smile to your face. And I hope you have a bunch of friends who live there who are still great people, great smart asses, and who you cannot see for 8 years and never miss a beat.

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