Everybody Knows This is Nowhere


Española, NM – Nested in northern New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley, between the Jemez Mountains and Truchas Peaks, is a ramshackle town, just north of Santa Fe, called Española. Founded in 1598 by Spanish conquistadors, the city is one of North America’s oldest.

But to call Española impressive stretches credulity. Big box stores with expansive parking lots, chain restaurants, and gas stations, call out from the roadside as lives unwind behind coyote fences, many  bearing little rectangular signs warning visitors to “KEEP OUT.”

In my head I sing the verses of Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, as I cruise into town.

I think I’d like to go/Back home/And take it easy…

I’m here on business, I remind myself, to learn more about a job I know already I will take.

For a town of 12,000 people the traffic congestion surprises me. I sit for three green lights at the intersection where a CVS is under construction across from Wal-Greens. Finally, I zip through it in my rented Jetta and nearly strike a little Indian girl hawking newspapers on the median. She brushes the sand and dust whipped up by passing vehicles from her hair. In the rear view, I see someone pull over to buy a paper.

The casino parking lot is packed. I walk through the rows of slot machines on my way to the hotel registration desk, passed the zombie-eyed gamblers fixated on the swirling slot machine tapes, their 7s and Bars and Cherries arriving at a losing halt.

After tossing my bags in my room, I wait for the elevator as an older Native American man approaches with a cart of bath towels at almost the same moment. “Hey man, how you doing?” he asks, wiping his brow. “You going down to win some money?”

“No way, Jose,” I say for some reason even though his name clearly is not Jose. “I don’t like losing my money.”

“I’m the same,” he says, wheeling his squeaky cart onto the elevator. “But my fucking girlfriend, man, she loves those machines. She’s been down there all day.”

“Maybe you should get rid of her,” I suggest.

His eyes open really wide and I think maybe he thinks I’m offering to kill her, or something, so I backpedal. “Maybe you should find a girlfriend who doesn’t gamble.”

“Yeah man, maybe I should,” he says, shaking his head. “She spends too much money here. If I spend money I do something fun, like go get a hamburger or something.”

“Is that what you do for fun around here? Eat hamburgers?”

“Yeah man,” he said. “Or gamble.”

There is no night life to speak of. I count four watering holes, but it’s difficult to tell if they are open. It’s also difficult to say whether they are open for business on any day at all. A tobacco store. A handful of restaurants. Two motels. All of them, on closer inspection, I see are cracked and faded and overrun by weeds.

I drop into a divey little joint with a neon sign. Bar & Grill it reads. But at 7:30 p.m., the grill is closed and, except for the bartender, the place is empty.

“Are you passing through,” he asks, pouring my beer.

“I’m thinking about moving here,” I say. “It’s a beautiful town.”

He looks at me like I’m retarded.

“It’s Ash Wednesday, so it’ll be quiet tonight” he says, as if to discourage me from hanging around. “A lot of people give up alcohol for Lent.”

“Makes sense,” I say.

The beer only fuels my hunger, so I head over to Chili’s and take a seat at the bar. A pair of old white guys in cowboy hats slather the young chica bartender with their margarita-scented charm. She tunes them out and takes my order. A combo steak, chicken and shrimp fajita. A side of shredded lettuce. Hold the onions and peppers. Extra tortillas.

“They never give you enough,” I explain.

The place teems with people. This must be the spot people look forward to going when the work day ends. A pair of women in black pantsuits enter and run over to a table where they exchange hugs with two other women in pantsuits. They’re the happiest people I’ve seen all day.

My meal makes me unhappy, though it’s what I expected. A pile of charred meats on a skillet that arrived with little sizzle. A handful of shredded lettuce was plopped atop a runny glop of refried beans, though in a separate dish would’ve sufficed.

It’s getting late, so I return to the hotel and stroll through the casino. Had I wanted to gamble I would be hard pressed to find a vacant slot. Even the card tables are full. More than a hundred of people, smoking cigarettes and swatting the maximum bet button. The security guard reads Lowrider magazine amid the clamor of bells and flashing lights.

Back in my hotel room, I turn on the television. The nightly news is on. The lede story is about a 13-year-old girl who claimed to have been abducted, but who miraculously was returned.

I’m skeptical of the story.

The next had to do with a woman who returned home to discover a cop had shot and killed the family dog.

In a third, unrelated story, a man with a bandaged dome describes how a pit bull had torn off his scalp.

“It sounded like velcro,” he says of the attack.

After the commercial, the weatherman gives his forecast while holding a chihuahua. He’s not as fun as you’d expect. Certainly he’s no Gene “Hurricane” Schwartz at NBC 15 Philadelphia, but perhaps I’ll come to appreciate him.

Then it hits me that this is going to be home.

I fall asleep contemplating that thought.

3 Comments

  1. WonderfulwomanK says:

    Home? What do you mean home? Bleak. Are you craving bleak?Wonderful writing, as always. 

  2. Ross says:

    “He looks at me like I’m retarded.” Halarious.

  3. Ayngelina says:

    I forgot how much I loved your writing, you made me laugh so many times.

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