duck-shaped pain


12 November 2001
Santa Fake

Monday, October 29, 2001

Monday morning, I was fast asleep, when Z. came in to wake me up and tell me he was going to work. It was really creepy, since he really looked like a teacher. I've never seen him in his work garb, and I groggily mentioned something about being sorry that my paper was late.

He left for work, and I got up, showered, and hung out with the cats for a while. Then it was time to go.

I set out, going the same way that I had passed on Saturday, when Z. and I drove to Albuquerque. Originally, that was my plan for today - go back to 'Burque and look around some more. But we had covered a lot of ground while there, and I figured I'd go somewhere else.

But hostels are relatively sparse in New Mexico, and if I was going to go econo on this trip, I had to stay somewhere where a hostel was. Not a lot of selection, really. Which is how I ended up going to Santa Fe instead.

Now, I'll just let you know here: I don't like Santa Fe. It's really sort of annoying. It's really expensive, it's full of annoying people, lots of mediocre art, has too many cutesy useless boutiques, and is generally vastly overrated. It has its moments here and there, but for the most part, I'm not a huge fan. I'm not alone: stories abound about the disdain most New Mexicans have towards their state capitol. But anyway - the hostel there was cheap and had rooms available. I figured I could put up with being there for a day or so.

I drove in and headed toward the hostel. Now, all the hotels (except the super-expensive ones, which are down on the Plaza) and gas stations and grocery stores and waffle joints in Santa Fe are on the same road -- one big long strip that stretches from the interstate to downtown. Now, I assume this is deliberate to keep the other parts of town free of eyesores and congestion, but the result is that everyone ends up with one really ugly street that has a lot of cars on it. Unfortunately, like many places, Santa Fe deals with traffic by pretending it doesn't have any. Which doesn't help things one bit.

Finding the hostel was easy, since I've passed by it before on previous visits. I pulled in, and there were almost no other cars in the parking lot. Not surprising, since it's technically the off-season (which is odd, in a way, since the weather is still really nice there and it's not very crowded).

I have to tell you this, before, I go any further: do not stay at the Santa Fe International Hostel.

There's not one particular thing that I can point to in making that recommendation. It was all sorts of things, all of which combined to make a really unpleasing situation. Sure, it only cost $15 in a town known for expensive lodging, but I felt really ripped off when I left the next day.

On Sunday, back in Zuni, I had called the hostel to see if any rooms were available. The guy on the phone seemed genuinely stunned that I was making such an inquiry. "Uh, sure we have plenty of rooms…just walk on in. We don't really take reservations."

So what was the first thing the front desk guy asked me when I walked in the door?

"So, um, do you have a reservation?"

I told him that I did not. He asked me where I was from, and I told him.

"I don't know if we're taking any Coloradans this week. We had a couple of them last week, and that was enough."

The guy saying this was a tall, stinky hippieish guy. He said it in such a way that he might be completely joking, but that he might be totally serious. I hoped it was the former (although, in retrospect, it would have been a good idea to flee at this point), so I just stood there and tried to look like a pleasing, responsible guest-to-be.

"Ha ha!" he said. It wasn't a laugh. He actually said "Ha" and then, "ha!" Very deliberately. "I'm just joshin' ya," he continued, and then he proceeded to come over and pat me on the top of my head.

Now I am not short - 5'8" - and yes, he was taller, but regardless of size, there is no reason whatsoever that this man that I met 60 seconds earlier should be touching me on the top of my head. People I have known my entire life are not allowed to touch me there, why should he. I bristled, both bodily and audibly, but he didn't seem to notice.

I gave him my $15, and Mr. Inappropriate (how I will refer to him from now on) took me on a mini-tour of the premises. It didn't look bad - nice, spacious kitchen, free food of a sort (free if I felt like chowing down on plain quinoa or oatmeal), Internet access, plenty of books and magazines. He gave me sheets (getting surly when I mentioned that I brought my own sheets [1]) and explained the morning chore system. Then he took me to my room.

"We've been having some problems with the heaters lately, so I'll let you know that this is one of the coldest rooms in the place. There's plenty of blankets, though. But since you're from Colorado, I'm sure you won't mind the cold."

Oh, like I grew up in an ice cave or something. [2]

Good thing I brought slippers.

So I entered the room. It's a good thing I wasn't staying there in the high season, seeing as the owners that be had gone to quite a lot of effort to stuff as many beds in this room as possible. In a space about the size of an average hotel room, there were seven beds. Six bunk beds and one single bed hiding behind the door. I can't image what it would be like in there when crowded.

But there was only one other person staying in the room, which was a relief. She wasn't there at the time, but her stuff was strewn all over. I chose the bunk farthest away from her encroaching possessions.

I made up my bed, put my backpack neatly on top, and got ready to head out again. Then my roommate came in.

She introduced herself as R. (Coincidentally, her name was the same as my last hostel roommate, back in San Francisco in March.) She was from Massachusetts, and had come out to Santa Fe for a week "to find the real America."

Voices in my head started shrieking. This is not real! There is nothing real about Santa Fe! Taco Bell, strip malls and interstates, those are the real America, not here! What the hell are you thinking? But we had just met. "Oh, that's interesting."

I told her where I was from, and we bantered as idly as possible, and then we both left. "I'm off to be uplifted," she said to me, not specifying where the scheduled epiphany was to take place. She went over to the bus stop and I got in my car, off to visit some completely non-uplifting places.

Say what you want about Santa Fe, but it does have pretty good thrift stores. People here tend to be literate, so the used books are decent, and they spend a lot of money on clothes. So I visited a bunch, and came away with a nice black silk sweater. Then I went and ate a green chile cheeseburger for dinner.

My next plan was to drive downtown to the Plaza and look around a bit, but there was an accident on the road that led down there. I turned somewhere else to avoid the jam and ended up driving for a while, completely at random, which was nice. I got to look around and see some buildings.

Other visitors to Santa Fe always remark on the charming aspects of the town's architecture. You see, it has a very strict building code. All buildings, regardless of size and function (there are some exceptions for older buildings, I think) have to look like precious little adobe houses. Now, this is fine when one is attempting to actually build a precious little adobe house, but is not so great when one is trying to built a Home Depot or something like that. But people try. The Home Depot in Santa Fe looks like the biggest adobe house on Earth, and it's really odd-looking. This is a style of architecture best suited to the small, personal and imperfect, but in an attempt to zone away cheesiness, the town of Santa Fe has determined that everything, even car washes and gas stations and Denny's need to look like that. I will admit it this city-wide housing covenant works well in residential areas, but elsewhere, the results are really, really silly.

However, I am pleased to report that the entire town of Santa Fe has done away with lawns. No tyranny of fertilizers and mowers and constant upkeep for these people.

Anyway, as dusk approached, I made my way downtown. There was no one there. This was a good thing. When I came here back in July with my mom and my aunt, people were everywhere -- swarms of ladies in broomstick skirts and loud German tourists [3] followed us everywhere. But on a warm night in late October, they were nowhere to be found. So I walked around, looking in the windows of soon-to-open stores and generally enjoying being somewhere else than where it is I live.

I went into the bookstore, expecting to just look around and not get anything. I am strong, I thought. I can say no to books.

I walked out, though, with about $52 in books. Not a lot, I have to admit, but more than I planned to spend. All good ones, though: Landscape in Sight, an anthology of writings by landscape historian John Brinckerhoff Jackson, a study of the WPA guides that was published last year, and a copy of Bi By Any Other Name. I was happy to find all of those, though.

At night, when there's no one else around, the essential appeal of Santa Fe is suddenly understandable. Lots of old, weird buildings; winding, senseless streets; courtyards appearing at random; the smell of burnt pinion and juniper (incense) in the air; and a sense (true or not) of being someplace completely different than anywhere else. It helped that all the candle stores and expensive Western-wear shops were closed. Those would have annoyed the epiphany right out of me.

Then I went to Borders, because I am lame. Which was like all other Borders, but since there's not one of them where I live, it was exotic all the same. I went on chess night, it seemed, for everyone else in the café area was engrossed in a game. I drank some coffee, wrote in my journal, looked at books until my brain was full.

After I left, more driving. It was clear and warm out, even with the darkness -- driving was imperative. So I tooled a bit more about town, looking at houses and actually getting a faint warm feeling in my gut about Santa Fe.

Which lasted until I went to bed. I drove by the hostel on my way to somewhere else, and noticed in passing that there were no parking spaces left. I don't know where all these people came from all of a sudden, but I figured that was a sign to go back. I did a U-turn and drove into the parking lot, where, behind a big truck in a dark corner, one parking spot sat waiting for me.

I went into my cold, cold room. I gathered a bunch of blankets and tried to lay in my bed to read. The only light source in the room came from a bare bulb in the middle of the ceiling which shone directly in my eyes and did not illuminate the book at all. This was upsetting.

I left the room and walked around the hostel a bit, thinking that I would perhaps join in the social life of the place. I will admit that the possibility of meeting new, exciting strangers from around the world is not the biggest draw for me. Conversations with fellow hostellers tend to be pretty repetitive: "So, where are you from?" "Isn't it cold there?" "You know where I can get some veggie burritos?"

I looked around the common areas: some bored people were playing on the Internet, someone was sleeping on one of the tables, and my roommate R. was putting the moves on some boy with dreadlocks in the kitchen. Quinoa was served. I decided to go to bed. My presence would not make anyone's evening here.

This is when I found out that my bed was really something else pretending to be a bed. It looked like a bed, had sheets like a bed, but there was no actual mattress. Only a thick piece of foam glued to a board. All foam gives up after a while. Mine had gone to seed years ago.

I got into my pajamas and took a lot of Excedrin PM, thinking it would help me go to sleep and at the same time preemptively cure any aches I would incur by sleeping on my piece of foam. This did not work. I kept passing in and out of short bursts of drugged sleep. The dreams I remember were odd and all about battling foam.

I really wanted to get to sleep before R. came in. That way I would not have to deal with the light in my eyes and all sorts of rustling, pre-bed noises. In retrospect, though, those would have been okay.

R. came in, hours after I had first attempted to go to sleep. Dreadlock Boy was with her, and this made me fear the worst. There was some muffled conversation, some sounds of clothing being discarded, and then -- they started getting' it on

Oh, the joys of hearing two unattractive people screwing six feet away from you. As if you weren't there. As if they were far away from everyone -- out in the woods, perhaps, where they could be as loud as they wanted without bothering anyone. But no, here they were, rutting on the foam. That couldn't have been comfortable for either of them.

Please kick in, medication, I begged, silently. Either I fell asleep or they gave up, but suddenly I realized that all was quiet.

Tuesday, 30 October 2001

Early in the morning, the earliest that I could get up without an alarm clock, I arose and silently tried to take a shower. More fun - the shower refused to work. I turned knobs and pulled levers and hit things, but no shower. The sink barely worked, but it was grotty. So I sat there, fuming, on the grotty toilet, glaring at the uncooperative shower (also grotty) and thought, was this really worth saving money for?

I dressed and left the room as soon as I could. I noticed Dreadlock Boy sprawled on the floor - at least he found somewhere comfortable to be.

In the lobby, I checked out, did my chore (I was tempted to just skip it, but I wanted my $5 deposit back), complained about the shower to the front desk woman. "Sometimes they just don't work." Hey, thanks. Then I drove away, fast as I could.

The lack of sleep would continue to haunt me until later, but for now, I figured a good breakfast and some coffee would allow me to be at least functional.

Having a fast-food meal the night before and, regrettably, sleeping on a board saved enough money that I could have a fancy breakfast. Despite its other drawbacks, Santa Fe does have good food. Some of the prices are in the scary range -- nothing that comes in a tortilla should be that expensive -- but a lot of it is very tasty.

I went to Café Pasqual's, expecting a wait. We went there back in July, and had to wait a lot to get in. It was worth it, but still, the wait.

So I was surprised to just walk in an get a seat. Another reason why people should go in October.

I sat down and they brought me good coffee, and I looked at the menu, which was pointless in a way, since I ordered what I got last time, the smoked trout hash. A big plate-sized potato cake served with salsa and two poached eggs and big pieces of smoked trout and cilantro strewn on top of the whole mess. Yum.

While I was waiting for my food and drinking coffee and orange juice, I took out the journal and began to write. As I did so, one of the waitstaff passed by and remarked on my handwriting. I get this once in a while -- I guess the novelty is that I write in backhand, letters leaning severely to the left, using a pulling motion instead of a pushing motion with my hand. People don't see this too often, I guess, especially not from a left-hander. I have to place the paper in an odd position to produce this, and I suppose that's what gets the attention.

"Wow," she said. "I haven't seen anyone do that in a while."

So up until I got my food, all the waitrons would stop by and watch me write. "Oh, we were talking about you back in the kitchen…"

The food came, and it was excellent. But I expected nothing else.

My next plan was to go to the Museum of International Folk Art, where I didn't go back in July. It's located up in the hills surrounding downtown, so I drove there and there was not a soul in sight. I figured it wasn't open yet. I sat in my car and then decided to drive somewhere else and do something and then drive back here, when the museum was sure to be open.

I drove down to Wild Oats, to get some more food for the road and to look around. I bought some Luna bars for driving and a pound of locally-roasted coffee (called the Pinon Nut blend -- coffee with a hint or so of pinon in with the beans). The coffee, which I am currently in the process of using up, is really good. I would recommend it to all.

I got back in the car and prepared to drive back to the museum. But I was really cranky and achy by this point, and sick of Santa Fe. Not like it did anything to me, but I wanted to be as far away from that foam-covered board as I could. So I just left, got back on the interstate, and headed south.

What is southish of Santa Fe? Albuquerque. Again. Not like I minded, since I like it and all. So I decided I would stay the night there.

I drove into the city, taking note of places that looked promising in case the local hostel didn't work out. I exited at the proper exit, took a spin down Central Avenue (the old Route 66, which they drill into everyone that drives down it), and arrived at the hostel.

No, my insides said with great force. It wasn't bad looking. It was okay, pretty acceptable. But I kept thinking that inside somewhere, waiting for me, was a board topped with thin foam, and I would have to sleep on it again. I just couldn't take it.

I got back on the interstate and drove back the way I came. I stopped at the first place that looked good. I really didn't care how much it cost -- and it didn't end up being that much -- and so I checked in. Once I got to my room, I gleefully scattered my stuff about and took a long, long, non-grotty shower. It felt so nice.

The rest of my evening in Albuquerque went like my visit on the previous Saturday. I went back to the University district, ate another steak sandwich (this one tasted even better), bought another notebook (bigger this time) [4] I drank a lot of coffee, and planned to see the new Takeshi Kitano movie, Brother, which was playing at the fancy arty movie theater, but I was so sore after a while, that I just went back to the hotel to sleep. It'll come out on video eventually.

When I stay in hotels by myself, I enjoy them as much as I can. I use all the beds, fling my stuff everywhere, walk around naked, watch a lot of TV that I don't get back at home, hoard items from the free breakfast to eat later. This stay was no exception. I really got my money's worth, and slept very well.

[1] Okay, this is something that I've found puzzling. Whenever you read guidebooks or anything that concerns staying in hostels, they always recommend that you have a sleepsheet (essentially two sheets sewn together to make a giant human-sized pouch). I have one, a nice, silky blue one, but I have yet to be able to use it in a hostel. Usually, the explanation is that the hostel knows where its sheets have been, which is not the case with my blue thing. Mr. Inappropriate gave no such explanation. There was only growling.

[2] The odd thing being that Santa Fe is about 2,000 feet higher in elevation than where I live, and therefore quite a bit colder in the winter than I'm used to.

[3] For reasons unknown to me, Germans love the Southwest.

[4] If anyone knows where else I can get these notebooks in the US, please let me know. The woman who ran the fancy paper shop said that they probably weren't going to get more in. I looked on the web, and it seems that the only places that offer the large notebooks for sale are in England, and that's quite a ways to ship something. Now how these notebooks got out to the desert is beyond me…

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