Someone’s Messing With Me

Driving yesterday, I had the thought: “Someone has replaced New Mexico with an exact duplicate, except without orange barrels on I-25.”


A brief political announcement

Please note that this episode has been edited to fix a few major factual difficulties. I haven’t gone back to find the source of the errors, but I suspect it was my head. Just to make things clear, to the best of my knowledge (obviously my best is none to good), Major Jim Bibb is not running for the governorship of anything. Since it’s only a matter of time before someone reads this and mistakenly thinks I care, or that I matter, I have updated the episode. In the great plastic press that is the Internet, it’s very easy to go back and change what you said.

Apparently there’s an election or something going on back in the Land of Enchantment, and up for grabs is the Attorney General’s seat. Attorney General is a politician in charge of honesty, which is especially oxymoronic in New Mexico. Insiders report that as of a couple of days ago the campaigns were clean and issues-oriented. [Apparently, as of this edit, that is no longer the case, and my man was the first one spotted by the elite muddled team of political trackers with his paw in the mud pot.] For all of you who worked on Pirates of the White Sand, here are a few things you need to know:

FACT: When we asked some menial flunky of governor Bill Richardson for jets to fly over, we got squat.

FACT: When we asked Major Jim Bibb for helicopters, he personally represented us to his C.O., and we got a helicopter.

FACT: Major Jim Bibb is running for Attorney General of New Mexico.

FACT: Bill Richardson is running for governor — or so he claims. Rumor has it that he and Hillary have scheduled an arm-wrasslin match to see who gets to run for president. Prognosticators give Richardson the nod based on his larger biceps, but there’s no denying that Clinton has leverage.

FACT: While Sikorsky gets all the glory, Piaseki broke the ground (or at least, that what his grandson told me).

INDISPUTABLE FACT: Major Jim Bibb is a good guy.

DISPUTABLE FACT: Major Jim Bibb would be a good attorney general. No one seems to expect the head lawyer of the land to have a legal background, but does that make him overly dependent on the entrenched bureaucracy?

COMPLETE ABSENCE OF FACT: I have no knowledge of the other guy, except that politically his father was (is?) a big ol’ wheel in those parts.

I was surprised to hear that Major Jim Bibb (You can’t edit that name. ‘Major Jim Bibb’ has a cadence to it that cannot be ignored.) was running for the hot seat in New Mexico. He struck me as an easy-going guy who saw the humor in life, although as a guy in charge of helicopters with big red crosses on the side, I expect he’s seen a lot of things that weren’t so funny. He didn’t have the ‘flyboy’ swagger or strut about him, just a love of life and the desire to make every day a good one. Not that I really got to know him that well; I am probably reading too much into his easygoing smile and willingness to help me get what I asked for. Nevertheless, I like Major Jim Bibb.

Ned’s, Albuquerque, NM

I sit now, perched atop a wobbly stool at one of those tall tables that signify the bar section of a restaurant. I have put a lot of miles on today; this morning I awoke within earshot of the breakers in Ocean Beach, and now I sit not far from the Rio Grande.

Note: Wearing boxers and a new pair of Levi’s is not good if you’re going to be behind the wheel for thirteen hours.

I finally got all my chores done out in California, and most of my bases touched. I didn’t manage to see all the people I was hoping to see, and some of the meetings were terribly brief, but it was a good side trip. I’ll get up to Northern California on my next trip. The book tour – yeah, that’s the ticket. (Soup Boy reports that no rejection letters have reached my pad in Prague, which must mean that I’ve been accepted by everyone.)

Other than the pants thing, no great insights came from the day’s travels, no epiphanies struck as the miles slid past. I thought of a good setting for a story, but not the story to put in it. I had a green chile and bean burrito in Winslow, but while the sauce was satisfyingly spicy, there weren’t actual green chiles in it. Now my intestines are tying themselves in knots.

This is a peaceful bar, a local’s place, nice but not ferny. Not the kind of place people bring laptops, but none of the places I go are, until I get there to set the new precedent. Ben Folds is singing about his girlfriend the brick. People are laughing, and some of the people are pretty drunk. It is early yet, but I don’t feel like looking anyone up here in town tonight. I’m tired. Hanging with Amy wasn’t nearly as draining as it has been in the past, but now it’s time to hole up in an undisclosed location for a few hours. Tomorrow I have a bazillion things to do, and the next day I fly back to Prague, so this is my last chance for a while.

Addendum: While sitting here, working on a short story, I have finally heard “Bad Day” in the US. Regular readers know it as “You Wrote a Bad Song“.

Christmas Eve in Los Alamos – Farolitolicious!

The stars are close here, and on a still, cold, cloudless, moonless night there are a lot of them. Find a dark place, look up, and you will see them. 2.7 fucking buttloads of them, to be exact. (This number was scientifically determined many years ago by our crack stellar research team.)

On Christmas Eve the street lights are turned off over much of Barranca Mesa, and cars drive slowly, with only their running lights, and the stars shine down in all their brilliance. It’s a good night to take a little walk.

Just why are such unsafe driving conditions not only tolerated, but encouraged? Farolitos, of course. Often called lumenarias (opening the speaker up to correction by the more pedantic traditionalists), these little fires were first invented to act as runway markers for when the Baby Jesus was coming in for a landing. These days their job is simply to look cool, to provide a festive atmosphere without resorting to brash blinking and color. Farolitos glow, a calm and peaceful light that is more a “Silent Night” feeling than a “Jingle Bells” one. It fits with the tempo of New Mexico – it’s not a hurly-burly go-go-go sort of decoration.

Out at the end of Barranca Mesa, the whole neighborhood farolitafies, the street lights are turned off, and the neighborhood becomes a destination for people to slowly cruise or (better) walk, taking in the simple beauty for miles.

Farolito 101

For those among you not familiar with this tradition, farolitos require a little more effort to set up than strings of little blinky lights, but when you and friends work as a team things go quickly and it’s a nice way to spend the waning hours of Christmas Eve. The construction is simple, requiring a paper bag, ballast (usually sand), and a candle.

… and that’s all there is to it (although you do not want me to be in charge of folding over the tops of the paper bags. Many bags were injured this year in the creation of farolitos at my house).

Of course, technology never rests, and at the olde homestead we no longer use primitive sand for the ballast, rather we have specialized bricks, just the size of a typical farolito bag, with a hole ready to accommodate a typical votive candle.

Farolitos are a gentle light, and while photogenic, they require a long exposure. Most of the pics I took this year are hopelessly shaken (I should have used the 2-second delay even when using my little mini-tripod). Here is one of the homestead, including fuego’s giant automobile (dubbed by fuego the “hotelsmobile” and by my parents as “the #$@*!! thing blocking the driveway that has long overstayed its welcome”).

As you can see, the parents favor a combination of electric and external combustion, enjoying the everyday colored lights and augmenting them on christmas eve with the farolitos. This is not uncommon, and allows the festive feeling to continue long after the candles have all burned away.

On the walk between John H’s place and Jojo’s, lugging beers and stopping often for photos, we met others out as well, enjoying the unseasonably warm evening. I’ll be putting up more photos at the gallery shortly.

El Parasol

It is one of the simple pleasures of life, sitting down to a well-constructed cheeseburger, taking a bite, and tasting the green chile, feeling the burn but more than that appreciating the pungent flavor.

There is something going horribly wrong in our nation right now, as restaurants compete to put more and more beef on their burgers. Half pound and three quarter pound burgers are supplanting more rational sizes as the marketing departments of restaurants and fast food chains have decided that More is Better. This is a very American sort of trend, but now we are faced with burgers out of balance. Sure, beef is an important part of the burger, but a carefully crafted hamburger is not only about the beef, it is an ensemble, with each element making a valuable contribution. This is especially true of the green chile cheeseburger.

The pinnacle of humanity’s culinary progress, the properly-constructed green chile cheeseburger is a delicate — and subjective — art form, an organic sculpture that bursts in your mouth with the first bite and lingers long after the final swallow. The chile must be hot and flavorful, and abundant, yet the meat, cheese, and other fixings must not be overpowered. Each ingredient has a role to play, from the crunch of the onions to the smoothness of the cheese.

I just polished off a darn fine green chile cheeseburger here at El Parasol. For those who know the town, it is located where Los Alamos Building and Loan was when I opened my first bank account there a bazillion years ago.

One side effect of not going overboard with the beef: the burgers are cheaper as well. The guy in line in front of me ordered a GCCB, as did the woman behind me. Looking around I see some people with burritos and other New Mexican fare, but the GCCB’s are all around me. And no wonder. Mine was damn yummy.

Perhaps I am being less critical, as it is the first green chile cheeseburger that I’ve had in a long time, but boy did it hit the spot. I wonder what it would take to get them to open one of these in Prague…

Around the State

Time is moving just too dang quickly for me to put up an episode a day, so I’m trying a different approach and doing things by theme. Today’s episode is about driving around. You do a lot of that in New Mexico, and when you’re trying to get everything together for a movie you do even more.

Friday fuego and I went up to Santa Fe to meet with the Air National Guard. It was a good trip, and productive. We met with Major Bob, who was enthusiastic about the whole thing but didn’t have a whole lot of authority. He took is to meet Colonel Montoya, who has only a sketchy idea of what it was we wanted to do. We explained it, discussed location and altitude and other logistical issues. The good Colonel paused, thought, and said, “Yeah, I don’t see why not.”
out latest prop - a blackhawk helicopter
Ladies and gentlemen, out latest prop: A blackhawk helicopter. It will be at our disposal at oh nine hundred hours Tuesday morning for a flyby or ten.

So that was a good day. Yesterday we were on the road again, scouting locations for the b-cam to go to shoot some road, and taking stills to supplement the ones I had already taken for the opening title sequence. The morning was hot and bright when we reached Trinity site, the place where the first atomic bomb was detonated. The place is not open very often, and even if we couldn’t get anything interesting for the flick I was interested in seeing it.

In fact, there isn’t much to see except a bunch of other people standing around thinking that there isn’t much to see. The glass-lined crater has been filled in except for one part where a shed was build to expose one section of Trinitite – the name for the glass created there when the sand of the desert was melted by the blast. We moseyed over to the shed, where there was a door in the roof to provide a view of the crater. Instead we found the door shut, with a sign that said in effect, “This used to be a way to see the crater floor, but now it’s covered with sand in there, so neeners.”

Trinity Cleavage There is an obelisk at ground zero, and we spent several minutes waiting for a moment when we could get a shot without some other tourist standing next to the black volcanic obelisk. Everyone wanted their picture next to the thing, although no one read the inscription, or really seemed to consider what it stood for. It was just that there was nothing else to take a picture of out there. After a few minutes fuego did manage to get one without other people in it, but most of the time the place was like this picture.

White sands leading edge Trinitized and armed with photographs we hit the road again, heading down to White Sands to get some more beauty shots and to get pure clean gypsum sand between our toes. As we headed south we saw thunderstorms forming over Alamagordo and heading in the general direction of White Sands. Not ideal for our photos, but certainly cooler. After pausing in the gift shop so fuego could get a White Sands cap so he could be cool like me, we headed out to the dunes.

white sands We kicked off our shoes and tromped out while raindrops blew in on the gusting wind. There was a good chance we were going to get very wet. As the wind flowed over the contours of the dunes it created a halo of sand, softening the edges of the snow-white dunes against the threatening sky. Lightning would flash in the distance and the rumble of the thunder would roll across the desert for an improbably long time. We tromped around, took pictures (only a few of which didn’t suck) and generally had a good time.

funky rocket After White Sands we continued our research at Missile Park, part of the White Sands Missile Range. The folks were right friendly there. The museum was closed, but there is a little outdoor area with a variety of the rockets, missiles, etc that had been tested there. We took some pictures in case a pirate needed to come up with an anti-tank missile. The one pictured here was my favorite – it looks like it belongs in an episode of Speed Racer.

Finally we headed back north, back to the duke city, hot, clammy, coated with sunscreen and sand, and tired as can be. We stopped by Rudy’s house for Yet Another Location Crisis, and that left us all even more drained. I was in the perfect mood to go home and just read a book for a while, or work on edits to a short story. Instead we went over to Charles the First’s place to discuss the opening sequence. I’m taking it a bit easier today, trying to shed some of the stress I picked up last night.


A day on the road

The day was already warming up in Roswell when I woke up. It had never really cooled overnight. I took advantage of what might be my last Internet access for a while by checking up on emails and generally goofing around and then it was time to hit the road.

“Be Happy! You’re In Roswell!” proclaimed a billboard along highway seventy. I was happy, not for where I was but where I would be soon. The road. “Where’ve you been, old friend?” she asked as I rolled out of town. “It’s good to have you back.” The sun low at my back I headed out for Alamagordo and White Sands. There is no route between the two towns that is not scenic. I took the simple way, up the Hondo valley, through picturesque if decaying towns, cottonwoods lining Rio Hondo.

Ruidoso, nestled in the mountains, where gusty winds may exist, remains healthy based on income from Quarter Horse racing. I passed through for the first time in memory, waved hello, and on I went, into the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Past a little road called “A Little Road”, and down onto the desert floor. From there, south to White Sands to plunder the gift shop. There were no snow globes, but I found some other stuff to use instead. Then it was back north, to get a look at the inside of Wild Horse Mesa Bar. I was to join Rudolph and the bar owner there.

On the way back north, I stopped here and there along the way a series of pictures of landmarks that the pirates would pass on their trip, in case we needed something for a title sequence. I was late to the meeting, but it turns out the person the producer met with wasn’t the owner anyway. I did take some shots of the interior of the bar.

Once that was out of the way it was time to head north to Laguna Vista, nestled high in the mountains up toward Colorado.

It was a great drive, the air cooling as I climbed, and a small thunderstorm providing shade and color as the sun set – a good chance to return to the tradition of shooting pictures out the window while driving.

stackologist at work

It wouldn’t be a visit to Five O’clock Somewhere without a little rock stacking.

I give you Rock Stack 5.
Night fell, someone whacked a space ship into a comet, and all is well.

(Almost) the happiest guy on Earth.

Tonight I said, “If you can plug in my laptop behind the bar, bring me Dos Equis draft and a Green Chile Cheeseburger, I’ll be the happiest guy on Earth.”

“No problem,” she said.

“Lots of green chile.”

“You got it.”

Then she plugged in my laptop, but it seems there is no juice in that outlet. That’s the “almost” part. It’s the only outlet in the bar that’s not in a closed section. I’m typing as fast as I can.

I’m not supposed to be here right now. I was taking a leisurely morning in Merry Olde England trying to find Internet access. I was foiled by little things at every turning. I was checking in quite early for my flight and a dude asked it I wanted to jump an earlier one. “Cool,” I thought. I’ll use the extra layover time in Dallas to get in touch with everyone.” I had to hustle to make the flight, but I was on my way dang near three hours ahead of schedule.

I didn’t notice that they also gave me an earlier flight to Albuquerque. Once I got through Immigration and customs in Dallas I looked to see what gate to go to. It was then I noticed the time to begin boarding had already passed. D’oh! After an airport sprint to the gate I took five minutes to try to get online but the pay service was so slow I hadn’t even managed to give them money before I had to go.

So I landed in the Duke City three hours early, and nobody knows. But you know, that’s OK. Of the airports I’ve been through on this trip, this is by far the best one to hang out in. Free Internet, green chile, and, of course, beer. It’s quieter, and just a lot less hectic. In the end, things worked out pretty well.

The High Country Saloon

It is a little more than fifteen miles from here to the High Country Saloon. I went, and I wrote. The value of my writing has yet to be determined. But today was reinforced the most important way to measure a bar.

It’s all about the regulars.

It was quiet when I first got there; no one was at the bar and the only occupied table held a group of yuppie bikers. The tables and chairs were dark-stained wood, the bar also. The floor was littered with peanut shells. There were about ten taps with a reasonably wide selection of beers. I settled into a chair and started to write. My beer arrived, the bikers left, and I ordered a green chile cheeseburger. It was deeeeelicious.

Before long the regulars began to arrive. Eventually there was quite a crowd at the table abandoned by the yuppie bikers. One chair remained empty, however, even as the table became very crowded. It was the King’s chair. No one knew when of even if the king was coming in, but his chair was waiting for him. It’s a good thing that I hadn’t selected that table for my writing; it would have thrown the whole bar out of alignment.

After I had finished writing, I went over and sat at the bar for one more beer. I was probably the only non-fixture among those lined up across from Gail, our bartender. The guy next to me got up and said, “Keep my tab open. I’ll be back later. You can have my fries.” There is a generally recognized definition of regular there—when Gail eats off your plate without asking first that means you’re a regular.

Your typical regular or fixture is a bar’s best marketing machine. The people I talked to really sold the bar; I’ll be going back.


High Desert Retreat

Location: Laguna Vista (map – updated for much greater accuracy)
Miles 10339.0

Now I find myself holed up alone with the pups, high in the mountains. The closest town of any size is Chama (pop. 1,199), which has a couple of stores, a few restaurants, a couple of bars, and no traffic lights. I’m sure I’ll be reporting from the bars later, but I’ll have to be careful, it’s about 15 miles back home. I have no cell phone signal and only dialup Internet access, which still may prove to be too much.

This is a test for me. I have plenty of food, plenty of drink, and no obligations whatsoever except those I impose upon myself. My one and only goal: get The Monster Within to puberty. I think I can do it in four days or so if I work hard.

Last night, however, was not a good start. I did some farting around on the Internet and then I watched TV. TV! I’ve mentioned before what television does to me; I’m even stupider than most people when the box is glowing. I never built up the immunity that so many of my peers seem to have. So today, no boob tube, and only enough time online to care for and feed my Media Empire ™. And check out my favorite sites. And maybe try a link or two. Gaah! Bad Writer! Probably in the next few days the entertainment level here (if there ever was one) will be lower.

Time to take the dogs on a walk.

Back in the day, I had a very good routine going: work on Jer’s Novel Writer in the morning, take a break and go to a bar and write in the early afternoon, and come home and tend to the hut in the evening. Naturally my travels have disrupted this pattern, and it is very important for me to prove I still have what it takes to be what is called a “self-starter” in the business world. I’m not going to put much effort into the software this week, but the novel must be in good shape by October 31st, since of course I will be writing a different story in November.

Then I’ve got to figure out how to get published. That can’t be too hard, right?