February 10, 2004

Enduring a Frigid Interlude in New Mexico


Altitude sickness has always been a bitter enemy of mine, but right now, at 7,000 feet above sea level in my aunt and uncle's house in New Mexico, what concerns me most is the temperature. February in Santa Fe can be goddamn balls-ass freezing, folks, and for a feeble, California-bred child of suburbia like myself, five days' exposure to even the inside of a comfortable home in this city is still a bone-chilling experience.

That's right, for the past week or so, I've been hunkered down in one of America's weirdest locales, shivering like a popsicle and unable to rouse myself into few activities more complicated than eating, excreting, and sleeping. Santa Fe has turned me into a hibernating animal, and all because my brother and I needed to get the hell away from Isla Vista for a week. We were long overdue for a visit--I'd last been in 1999, and it had been longer for Bryn, so with a break in Honey White rehearsals before a show later this month, we decided to fly up the mountain to endure the last lashings of winter. This being an election year, I thought maybe we'd observe the aftermath of the New Mexico Democratic caucuses, preferably in the company of our good college buddy Crazy Jon Neal, who had somehow elbowed his way into Wesley Clark's fizzling campaign. Ideally, we could do it all while taking in a Cracker show--the rootsy alterna-clowns would be rocking the Paramount on February 4th.

So yeah, we had a plan at one point, sure, but that was hopelessly fucked before we ever left California. Hell, we were doomed before we even got to LAX; I knew it might be a close one when we became desperately mired in traffic on the 405 a half-hour before takeoff, but I really thought we'd make it right up until Bryn actually said "Hey, that's probably our flight up there," and I followed his gaze to a jet banking over Catalina before making the turn inland. Well, who knew if it was really ours, but the deal was done, and by the time we were booked on an alternate Phoenix-Albuquerque run by two highly attractive Filipino girls posing as America West desk attendants, I realized I hadn't freaked out even once about missing the flight.

I mentioned this to Bryn as our new plane launched itself into the sky, and my brother was taken aback for a second. "Yeah," he said, acknowledging my incremental personal growth with a shrug, "I was feeling kinda strange for a bit there, and I had no idea why, but now I know what it was: you weren't hyperventilating at all. Way to go, man." A week later that bizarre mercy has stayed with me, sort of--I have yet to collapse into the usual black moods and blistering migraines that plague me at this altitude--but other than the good food and company, that's been the only bright spot of this trip.

Our grand designs unraveled almost immediately when we got into town. I'd eaten a skimpy breakfast the day of our flight, and what with missing it, waiting for the next one, and the stopover in Phoenix, I'd barely eaten anything at all, so by the time Bron picked us up in Albuquerque I was famished enough to inhale a rubbery McDonald's fish sandwich. "Ugh," I'd gagged, mouth full of polymers, "Bronwen, I hope you realize how momentous this is." My aunt merely giggled from the driver's seat, and I tried to ignore Bryn's fish-sandwich-fueled Leon Phelps impression from behind me as I swallowed. "Seriously," I said, "I haven't come near a McDonald's for, like, eight or nine years. This is some dangerous backsliding, okay?"

Exhaustion finally body-checked both Bryn and I when we arrived in Santa Fe, though, and we were in no condition to turn right around and run out to the Cracker show, let alone keep up with Jon as he came down from the dizzying heights of the General's certain political flameout. So we never called him and instead ditched Cracker and stayed home to eat fancy Italian take-out in front of a roaring fire while Bron and Jeff gently disabused us of any ideas concerning the less-than-action-packed New Mexico caucuses.

"Oh, it was weird," said Bron. "The Dean people were staggering around like they'd just been gutted, the Clarkies huddled in a corner with a single pot of coffee, and John Edwards' crowd couldn't stop smiling, even after he'd clearly lost to Kerry."

"What about the Kerry people?" I asked. "Were they still flogging that dipshit 'dated Dean, married Kerry' line?"

"You bet," nodded Jeff. "They were clearly fixated to a disturbing degree." My uncle declined to state if that was a professional opinion, or merely an observation, but after he regaled us with his story about meeting Howard Dean himself at a fundraiser some months before ("The candidate did a double-take when he heard my name was the same as the Confederate president, and when I said 'that would probably be worth 5 percent in some states,' he couldn't contain his nervous laughter!"), everyone was ready for bed. The rest of the trip passed in a frozen haze of activity, and it was mostly a question of creatively enduring the cold, whether by jamming at some local guitar shops with Jeff or taking in Canyon Street art galleries with Bron or simply learning how to move around under six layers of clothing.

Miraculously, I avoided altitude sickness the whole time, which I can take some perverse pleasure in reporting to you all right now as I slake my shameful thirst for the Internet here in Jeff's office. Nothing much has changed in the outside world: John Kerry continues his brutal march to Boston, knocking out Clark after big wins in VA and TN. Edwards tries to stay relevant but seems more and more like a veep. Dean limps to WI and his own line in the sand. Bush looks like a chump every time he speaks, and I'd be happy about that if I weren't so worried about the October surprise sure to come in som ugly form or another. At least there's no more Joementum.

Oh, and in music news U2 apparently brought in old hand Steve Lillywhite to take over production of their new album. Par for the course, ya bastards--hopelessly delayed again. We'll return to your regularly scheduled Isla Vista mania momentarily. Hang in there, sports fans.

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