That time in Albuquerque

In March of 2000, I flew to New Mexico for IB training. The airline flight magazine was running a contest for Faux Hemingway stories; this was my attempt. I didn’t win the writing contest, but I’ve always loved this piece, and made a good friend that weekend. One of Hemmingway’s principles was to write the stories of now. Thanks for reading mine…

Toby Green was new to Albuquerque from Baltimore, I believe, and an east coast educated man to be sure. He’d travelled a bit as a golfer and a skier, a real sport. He was an amiable sort, quick at the smile, polite, and well-groomed in a collegiate way. Casual in his fashion, though particular. He was in the desert for the small things of the landscape, and for a change. He’d had a bit of a hard go the previous months, so he’d gone off, and had just returned to his work at the bar. It was there that we met.

Toby asked me to join him at a jazz joint to hear some sax. You never know how these intimacies will turn out. Getting away from work did have a nice ring, and this fellow seemed awful nice. I decided to go.

The next day, I left off at the conference and met Toby at the bar. We thought we’d go up to Taos and see the snow. Not much remained on the ground that time of year, but with such picturesque mountains it doesn’t matter much. The snow was our excuse to go. As he finished his work, I arranged for a car and a few incidentals. Just after 11 we were on the road. Soon Albuquerque was far behind.

The car was a newer Ford of some random make. Gold in color. The engine was small and slow, much to our displeasure as we climbed the hills. The check engine soon light was constantly on, which was a constant annoyance to Toby.

The day was fine. The bright sun shone. The temperature was mild. A fresh breeze blew across the junipers and into the car as we travelled. Our route involved a climb in elevation. This increase left the air much clearer.

We drove through Santa Fe on the beltway. Then on to the smaller towns, on a smaller road. Toby smoked as we drove, lighting each cigarette with a slow motion that signaled his calm on his day away from the bar. He was a hurried waiter the night before, uncaring of those wanting to linger in a clean, well-lighted place. He had been wanting to get on to the jazz show.

The hills grew as we climbed. What had been mere bumps along the far reaching flat plains down below, near Albuquerque and near Santa Fe were now tall , majestic surroundings. The snow was beginning to show on the deep green of the peaks in the distance. The snow did not matter, even though it was what we came for.

Soon we began to follow the Rio Grande. It is quite small in comparison to its name. I remarked at the peacefulness of it’s dark and sparkling path through the wood.

Late in the afternoon we arrived in Taos. Our choices for hotels were limited, but we found an economical, clean, and locally owned place. I wanted a rest, tired from the trip up, the night before, and the days of work preceding the trip.

Just after six we went out for a stroll at sundown around the square in the center of town. We went into a dimly lit bar for cocktails. There was a dog at the bar. He sat on his stool like a regular patron and was given a bowl of drink. His appetizer was a slice of cheese.

Toby and I talked on for hours and began to list our favorite trips. I told him of my recent trip to Venice, and how I very much liked that everyone walked everywhere. I told him of my lunch at Harry’s Grill on the Waterfront; Hemingway wrote there. I had Pernod and martinis, and raised a toast.

The next day we drove through the mountains to see the snow we’d come for. Each peak was again taller than the last. Finally we reached Taos Ski Valley. The air cooled and things became more green. We had a conversation about my leaving and how you never really know how a trip that started when you are alone will end. That afternoon I had to fly home.

Back in Albuquerque, we returned the rental car and took Toby’s to the airport. At the airport we had drinks in the bar. Our waiter looked as if he wanted to go home to his wife. He was rolling silverware. He suggested a beer which was not at all what we wanted.

Tomorrow I had to return to work and Toby to the bar.

“It’s really not so far to travel,” I said.
“No, and next time we can watch the mountains change color at sunset,” Toby replied.
“Yes, and you can tell me the story again of what their name means.”
“Yes, and we can watch together.”
“It’s really not so far to come.”

I moved my bags to the gate and watched from the window as the sun went down. The mountains along Albuquerque for a minute were purple and trimmed in green. As the sun faded, I returned to the bar, took out a clean white sheet of paper, and began to write.

That is really what you do when you travel. You look at things, try drinks in new places, and return home to wait for the next time.

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