Monday, July 7, 2008

Coming Into Santa Fe: 1984

I'd graduated from the University of Iowa in December of 1983 and then went back to Des Moines to try and figure out what the heck I was going to do. I had a degree in English, but I wanted to be a writer, not a teacher or businessman or counselor or anything else. I'd been offered a slot--essentially--at the Iowa Writers Workshop (MFA grad school) but was not ready for more college. To be honest, though I wrote quite well, I was still a little wet behind the ears as far as experience and true maturity went--I'd spent my high school years and a couple after that ensconced in my own head, insecurities and depression--and I was ready to get out into the world (or my limited version of it) and live me some life.
So, I went back to Des Moines and my parents' house. Hmmm.
In Des Moines, a friend--Craig Stillman--landed me a job at the Ninth Street Warehouse doing inventory for Younkers. I hated it and was lousy at it and, because I had a degree I guess, they promoted me to the office where I payed bills and did paperwork . . . I suppose if I'd stuck around they'd have moved me into management and then executive training, as long as I continued doing lousy work . . . But that had always been a temporary job and place in my mind anyway, so come March, I quit and took the train to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The Amtrak station for Des Moines is a few towns south, in Osceola. That train went out to Colorado, I think, and then San Francisco, I think. I needed a southwestern train and I took the bus back to Iowa City and my friend, Margaret, gave me a ride down to Ft. Madison, Iowa where I could catch the Amtrak that would angle me down and over. Margaret had been Cin's roommate. Cin, back in Chicago, and I were still in love, but it was a long distance thing. I was not ready to commit to anything and she was committed to her family business. But we stayed in touch (letters, phone calls) and saw each other when we could. Of course, I was headed for New Mexico, not Chicago, which probably told her something that I couldn't quite articulate in person.
The train ride was long, uneventful but new to me. I never flew, I always drove or took the Greyhound Bus and this time Amtrak. I liked that it took a long time to get somewhere and all I had was my stuff stuffed into a canvas U.S. Mail bag that I'd gotten ahold of somehow somewhere (it was grayish white and imprinted with US Mail in huge black letters) and was clicking my way down through the open farms and plains and desert to the small town of Lamy, New Mexico. I'd been to Santa Fe once before--briefly--when Matt, Clyde and I took a western trip one summer from Iowa City. It was one of those places I'd mapped into my brain, a place I liked and wanted to know better, so that's why I went. It also turned out my friend from Iowa, Joel, was there, attending St. Johns College, and he said I could stay with him and that he'd pick me up in Lamy. I don't know why the trains did not run into places like Santa Fe or Albuquerque, Des Moines or Iowa City, and instead hit these small towns.
And Lamy was a small town.
It was mid-day when I got there. The sun was up, the air was dry and dreamy. I remember the smells--western smells of sage and dust and pinion (though I didn't know what pinion was at that time). Off the train in this no-horse town, I stood around. Joel was not there. The station worker came around with the bags and I had to stop him to get my duffle. "That's yours?" he asked and I nodded. "I was wondering what the U.S. Mail was doing on the train. You need to cross that out if it's your bag." I nodded again (and never did cross it out). A number of other people got off the train and I stood there at the open station, looking at the fuzzy hills, the bald hills, the white clouds in a pure blue sky as those people all got in cars and trucks or walked away. Then it was only me and the station worker. "There's a cab," he told me. "It's the last ride out of town if you need to go." "I'm supposed to get a ride." "Well, that's the last ride, U.S. Mail," he said and went into the tiny station. I stood around some more, the only person left. I had second thoughts about the cab (this was before cell phones and email and such and my meeting with Joel had been set up through letters, many days and weeks ago) but wasn't really worried. I was happy to be out of Iowa and in this dry bumpy sand-purple-green-colored country.
Then, down a gravel road came an old yellowgreen VW bus. It parked in the lot and it was Joel, Joel a slight smart artistic-minded guy and he looked rumpled and confident, different than when I'd known him in Iowa City, but still Joel. We said hello. He told me the car--the VW--was his roommate's (Mike's) and we hopped in and he took me over the rough roads to a small highway and into Santa Fe. 
He took me into Santa Fe and all its winding streets and knobby hills, its adobe this and adobe that, buildings and walls in tans, browns, reds and pinks, adobe churches with smooth Henry Moore sculptureish shapes and odd angles, where streets were named Paseo de Peralta and Old Pecos Trail, Old Santa Fe Trail, Canyon Road, with mountains in the distance and bald Mt. Baldy still holding some snow on its crown. He took me to the east side of the city where Monte Sol and Monte Luna loomed, and onto some gravel roads where he lived in a rented adobe on Camino de la Luz. We parked and I took it in like the young man I was, excitable and impressionable, and we went into his worn and beatific home and he showed me the place, the kitchen and single bathroom, the two shotgun bedrooms, the living room where the red couch was, where I'd be sleeping. I stowed my duffle behind it. We went out and he walked me up a hill behind the house, just pinion and cacti, juniper and sage and lizards, where there was a small abandoned reservoir and we could see the city below and the distant distance to some degree and he started naming the hills and mountains for me (the Jemez Range and Sangre De Cristos), some of the plants and such. Later, I met Mike and I thanked him for letting Joel use his car to come get me in Lamy. Then, late in the day, Joel and I walked Old Santa Fe Trail to Cliff's Liquor Store and we bought some beer and on the return walk it rained, but the sun came back out--low slanted intense--throwing its light upon the wet adobe walls along the Trail, so that they shone, and they were the color of blood. 
It was 1984 and I was done with college and Iowa and I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Such simple facts meant a lot to me back then. Maybe they still do.

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