A visit to the northwest makes one appreciate the peculiar pleasures of the southwest.
If you've lived in the rocky, desiccated wonderland of New Mexico for very long, you've likely come to appreciate the state's Spartan comforts. Any day that something doesn't bite, sting, puncture, burn or digest you is a good day. It can be easy to take some of our more subtle charms for granted, but few experiences can compel us to reflect on the blessedness of our domain more than a visit to any of the other 49 states.
My beloved and I recently satiated our vagabond spirits with a tour of Portland, Oregon. It was just like visiting Paris, but without all the lights and glamour. Plus, the citizenry of Portland generally smelled better. Over the course of our meandering tour, we noticed many small but important differences between New Mexico and this strange, foreign land.
Of course, the first thing a parched desert rat is apt to notice is the presence of moisture. While Oregon isn't exactly dripping with water like Costa Rica, there is actual by-gawd water in the riverbeds. Oodles of it, just rushing down myriad canyons without a care in the world, emptying into ever-larger rivers that apparently are content to just dump it all into the sea. Would it kill these people to extend us the courtesy of a mere sliver of the volume contained in the Columbia River? The Rio Grande has been devoid of water for so long, it has actually be renamed the Rio Sand on local maps. Hook a brother up, Oregon.
As a connoisseur of the cocktail arts, I find it amusing how other states handle their liquor laws. Of course, squinty-eyed New Mexicans eschew placing extraneous restrictions on hooch — witness the recent glory of being named the state where a person is most likely to die an alcohol-related death (go team!) — so perhaps we are a bit more liberal in this regard than the somewhat-more-civilized parts of the nation. The concept of a state-run liquor store is uncomfortable, akin to having to purchase your pornography from a creepy old uncle, and they won't even sell it to you in a chilled state. In fact, they have a maddening habit of actually checking for proof of age, alienating an entire segment of their market.
Here in the Land of Enchantment, we may not get to buy cold beer from the driver's seat of a running car anymore, but we can still score a bottle of rotgut at the grocery store or gas station with tortillas and lottery tickets. That's a shopping cart full of freedom, amigos.
Speaking of food, you already know that when you step across the state line, you're opening yourself up to a menu of sadness. Lightcap's Rules of the Road include never eating at a Mexican restaurant that doesn't have either a 575 or 505 area code, no matter how desperate you become for chile. Once you accept that, it's interesting to see what other states are doing with food.
Kale seems to be a pretty big deal. For those who haven't had the pleasure of chewing a mouthful of gamy field weeds, order up a big bowl of kale. You'll also discover meals that are gluten-free, sugar-free, meat-free, lactose-free, fat-free and/or GMO-free, which are also taste-free as an added bonus. By contrast, it's nice to know that no matter where you eat in New Mexico, you'll have greasy, fattening, hellaciously hot Mexican food that purifies the soul and tests the limits of porcelain.
One of the freedoms New Mexicans have that Oregoniacs don't is the freedom to spill gasoline on your own boots. When motoring in the Beaver State, don't even think about whipping into the local Gas-o-Mat and fueling up yourself. State law mandates that a professional pump jockey tops off the tank for you. If you jump out of your car by habit and reach for the pump handle, you will be harshly reprimanded, and reminded that pumping your own fuel could result in a $500 fine. (Ask me how I know this.)
So you pull in and wait for your state-appointed gas slacker to saunter up, hand him your credit card, and let him swipe it in the pump. Then, they fill your tank and send you on your way. Sounds luxurious, except it's amazing how maddeningly slow the whole process feels when you're sitting vegetable-like in your car. This program creates about 9,500 jobs in Oregon, makes gas more expensive, and keeps addicts employed, which is comforting to know when they're fumbling around with your credit card.
Meanwhile, in New Mexico (still cleaner than regular Mexico), we red-blooded pioneers still pump our own gas, consume massive quantities of overly spicy food that comes with a side order of diabetes, buy liquor anywhere and celebrate rain like an armored car blew up and scattered free cash on the wind. I'm sure a pasty-skinned Oregonian would sneer at our uncivilized and austere lifestyle, and that's okay with me. Hardship is like kryptonite for most Americans, and it takes a hardy soul to appreciate our third-world charms. If it were easy, more people would come and more rules would follow, and that's sort of the antithesis of our regional charm. Like Comrade Khrushchev said, "Fewer people, fewer problems."
Henry Lightcap comes home from vacation to Las Cruces.