WHAT SANTA FE DOESN'T HAVE

By Richard McCord

Siberian Husky at Indian Market
Siberian Husky at Indian Market, Santa Fe


Other Articles by Richard McCord

Although wildly chauvinistic Santa Feans have been known to gloat to their less fortunate friends in Cleveland, say, or Buffalo, that this is the city that truly has everything, it simply is not true. Painful as it may be, facts are facts; and no matter how much the Chamber of Commerce may protest, we must admit the unpleasant truth: that there are plenty of things that Santa Fe does not have.

Take toll roads, for example. You can drive from one end of this city to the other, on pavement or dirt, downtown or in the Bellamah subdivision, and you just cannot find a tollbooth. Nor is this shortage merely confined to Santa Fe. In all of New Mexico there may not be single stretch of highway where you have to pay the man before you can drive it. Sure, if you grew up in Baltimore, or Detroit, or Pennsylvania, you miss toll roads. Anyone would. But things are rough out here on the frontier, and this is just one of the prices we don't pay for living here.

Almost as scarce as toll roads in Santa Fe are traffic jams. Oh, there may be a bottleneck or two on St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road around 8 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon, but they are really piddly little things that break up quickly. No veteran of the Long Island Expressway, the L.A. Freeway or even the Ohio Turnpike can take Santa Fe's so-called traffic jams seriously.

It's a real matter for civic concern, too. Even second-rate cities like Greenville, S.C., or Peoria, Ill.or Albuquerque, for God's sakehave reached the point where they can regularly produce a self-respecting traffic jam. But Santa Fe is lagging embarrassingly behind the times.

Did you know that Santa Fe doesn't have an airport? I mean an honest-to-goodness one, with regular commercial service, (except for commuter flights to Phoenix and Denver). As a result, citizens here do not get the same exciting jet roar that regularly thrills residents of Washington, D.C., Newark and Queens. (What would a U.S. Open tennis match at Forest Hills be without that glamorous din drowning out the umpire's calls?)

It's been a long time since we've had the fun of a jetliner overshooting the runway and plowing through an otherwise dull neighborhood. All we can do is read about such things. And when we need to fly somewhere, it takes us a whole hour to drive to the Albuquerque International airportfully half as long at takes to get from downtown Chicago to O'Hare.

When you get right down to it, there's not much transportation of any kind in Santa Fe. I mean it's a regular scandal. No subways, no elevated railways (whatever happened to the adobe monorail they were going to build), and only a few buses and taxis. The Santa Fe Railway doesn't stop here, and neither does the stagecoach anymore. In the face of such adversity, it becomes appallingly clear why you see so many Santa Feans walking and driving and riding bicycles and horses.

Look around you. Not a single skyscraper in sight. Now, really. And they call this a state capital city. Without building upward, how are you going to fit thousands of workers into one building? How are you going to regiment them? And that's not all. Think how hard it is for an elevator operator to find work in Santa Fe. Or a window washer. Or even a second-story man. And in state that's always hustling Hollywood to come here to shoot its films, think of how many big-budget movies we've missed out on just because we don't have skyscrapers. "The Towering Inferno" and "King Kong," to name just a couple.

Nor do we have trees. Well, maybe a few, but you know what I mean. Except for the lucky few (who pay a pretty penny for that big old cottonwood littering up the neighborhood with white puffballs each spring), most Santa Feans never get to rake leaves, chop roots, battle webworms, or fall out of treehouses. Oh sure, there are all the trees you'd want just a few minutes away in the mountains, but without a stately elm providing haven for magpies and hornets right in your own yard, it just ain't the same somehow.

And lawns. Lemme tell you, it's a rare fellow who gets to push a lawnmower, or pull crabgrass and dandelions in this town. Without such activities, it makes you wonder what neighbors find to talk about. Politics, I guess.

One thing they probably don't talk about is the weather. It's simply too dull in Santa Fe. We never have tornadoes, like Albuquerque, Atlanta and Oklahoma City (something about the nearby mountains shielding us). There's hardly a man left alive who remembers the last time we had a hurricane. And I don't think we've ever had a monsoon. They say the Santa Fe River might flood out of its banks one day, but I'll believe that when I see it.

No, all we ever seem to get is warm days and cool nights in the summer and mild days and cold nights in the winter, with an occasional snowfall thrown in, but seldom on Christmas, when you want it. When it does snow, they don't clear the streets, figuring that if you leave it alone, it will eventually go away; and the snow they leave lying there doesn't even turn black, the way it does in Manhattan.

One good reason why the snow doesn't turn black, or even brown, is that we don't have any smog. None. There are some winter nights when you can smell pinon smoke in the air, but that doesn't really qualify as smog of the sort they know and love in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and New Jersey. I don't know where we went wrong, but after all these years, there is no smog here, no smokestacks and precious little haze. Let's not forget that this is the 21st century.

Nor is our water polluted, like it is in so many places. And you know why? It's because we don't have any water. None to speak of, anyway. There's usually enough to drink, I guess, but not much left over for anything else. Take the so-called Santa Fe River, for example. Once the Mob put concrete shoes on a stoolie and threw him into the Santa Fe River. He died of thirst.

With no river and no real bridges, our suicide rate has fallen off alarmingly, the local boat-building industry is almost bankrupt, and there's very little activity on the docks. And even though Santa Fe is the nation's oldest capital city, the Tall Ships almost never come here for the Fourth of July.

No, the hucksters and the boosters can rant and rave all they want to about how Santa Fe has it all. But Iand now you, tooknow the truth And as always, the truth hurts.

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