What I did on my summer vacation

I’m having a fabulous time on my vacation. I should do this more often!

I spent the first week visiting family and friends in New Mexico. I lived there from 1988 to 2002 in various towns – the famous Albuquerque, poky little Edgewood, and Socorro, where I went to college. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do this time around; my favorite thing to do in New Mexico is hiking (White Sands (national monument AND missile range!), El Malpais, Sandia Peak) and hiking is not in the cards for me right now. But by the time I arrived, I had something scheduled for every day of the week and hardly had time to sleep, much less get bored.

I flew in Wednesday night and immediately headed out to dinner at The Artichoke Cafe with my little sister Virginia. It’s always interesting to come back to NM and eat at the restaurants I thought were exceptional when I lived there; sometimes they are just exceptional for Albuquerque and sometimes they are still exceptional. By SF standards, Artichoke Cafe was okay but overpriced.

Thursday I had lunch at The Grove with Kevin, who also went to New Mexico Tech but before my time. I always mean to talk to him about nanotechnology but I can only remember one brief conversation about nanodots. While standing in line to order, we bumped in to some of Kevin’s friends, despite the fact that nearly all of them were at Grand Outlandish. While the population of New Mexico is about 2 million people and Albuquerque itself contains about 600,000 of them, you’d never guess it from, e.g., how often I run into someone from my high school (400 students in a tiny town 40 miles from Albuquerque – and I only attended part-time for one year).

Thursday evening I went to sushi with my big sister Windy, her boyfriend Joel, and my nieces, Anna and Marya. We picked a restaurant at random on Central Avenue in downtown, Sushi-Hama, and somehow managed to pick the most, uh, challenged one. The “Help Wanted” sign in the window seemed innocuous enough, but we quickly found that the kitchen was closed for the night – at 8pm. I suspect someone quit at 7:45pm. No problem, the sushi bar is still open and that’s what we want anyway. We ordered some drinks – Asahi and sake – and discovered in short order that our server was (a) overworked, (b) unable to distinguish the words “Asahi” and “sake.” We even tried “hot sake” and still got a large (cold) Asahi. This seems like an important skill to be missing as a server in a Japanese restaurant. The sushi arrived just as we were preparing to walk out. Apparently we should have gone to Sushi King instead.

A significant portion of my weekend plans were devoted to lying around the hotel pool and drinking white wine, but the hotel pool was closed for renovation (why, oh why do they not tell you these things when you are making a reservation?). It didn’t matter anyway because Albuquerque was cold, rainy, and overcast the entire weekend. I was a little relieved; figuring out how to get around Albuquerque using public transit led me to imagine/remember standing in the noonday sun at a bus stop. Heat stroke! Sunburn!

Friday we all went to the Albuquerque zoo. I find zoos terribly depressing in nearly all cases, especially when the bears and large cats are pacing back and forth on the edges of their cages. It’s painful enough watching them execute the exact same steps, and turn at the exact same place each time, but then you notice the shiny spot they’ve worn in the wall from brushing against it a hundred thousand times… There has to be a better way than this to get kids interested in wildlife conservation. Even the famously roomy San Diego zoo makes me ill. All that being said, I was somewhat surprised at the animals that even the dinky Albuquerque zoo could afford to keep. Apparently polar bears and condors are not that difficult to acquire.

Friday night I went to Marble Brewery with Kevin and Rich and closed the place out at 2am. Marble Brewery is good, not good for New Mexico. Particular standouts were the oatmeal stout and the apricot sour. I was expecting something like Pyramid Apricot Ale, but it was even more delicate and, well, sour. The IPA was pretty good too.

Saturday I took the Rail Runner up to Santa Fe. New Mexico is trying out passenger rail again and the result is pretty fun as an excursion but not winning any awards for speed or efficiency. Some of the stops are literally less than a mile from each other. However, it’s a beautiful, smooth, pleasant ride that only takes a little bit longer than driving and costs only $9 round-trip on the most expensive days. Wireless is in testing phase. And the bell to signal doors closing sounds like the Warner Brothers’ roadrunner “Be-beep!” Guaranteed to send the kids into paroxysms. I met Meghan and Ben at the station and did a little shopping downtown, and then had dinner at the Second Street Brewery. Through some bizarre conjunction of aborted social plans and random meetings, we ended up with a crowd of 15-20 people and a ride home with friends I haven’t seen in a while.

Sunday I swallowed my pride and made a day trip to Grand Outlandish to say hello to old friends. The clincher was that the Tynkers would be there. My sister and I sort of grew up together with the Tynkers, learning handstands and magic tricks. They took it a little bit farther, of course, given that they are a professional circus troupe now. I have very mixed feelings about the Society for Creative Anachronism. On the one hand, I got to dress up in medieval clothes, fight shoulder-to-shoulder with one thousand of my best comrades, and drink without driving. On the other hand, I spent a lot of evenings and weekends planning, researching, and making the exact right 15th century Flemish belt which, in retrospect, I wish I had spent on my career, my friends, and my family. It’s hard to play in the SCA only a little bit and I quit the whole thing – twice. The last time was after I was Queen of the West – a typical day on the throne for me:

For a while, that was the picture on my home page. My friends kept asking me why I had a picture of myself frowning as a portrait; the honest truth is that I didn’t realize I was frowning. That’s what I looked like for most of my 20s. Fortunately, Virginia still plays in the SCA and brought all my old clothes, so all I had to do was show up, get dressed, and wander around for a few hours before heading back to my hotel room. Here we are:

I’m wearing 15th c. Flemish, she’s wearing the current best interpretation of 8th c. Norse (as deduced from rotting shreds in mound burials and very low-res images from jewelry). Both are heavily modified for New Mexico weather.

Monday I headed down to Socorro, my old college town, to meet a few friends. First I drove up to South Baldy and the lightning laboratory with Patti in my Zipcar Mini. On the way down, we blew out the right front tire. No problem! I know how to change tires and even enjoy it if I’m not in a hurry – I haven’t had to change a flat tire in probably 7 years now. Unfortunately, we ran into a tiny problem: locking hubs and no hub key, and we had no cell reception. Just then, New Mexico small-world-ness struck and some old college friends drove by. They gave us a ride out to cell phone range, whereupon I ascertained that Zipcar had no idea where the hub key was either. (Zipcar just started a three-car outpost at the University of New Mexico and this probably the first time they’ve ever had a flat tire on this car.) Many hilarious hijinks ensued, as when the poor Zipcar employee attempted to find my location using Google Maps, and then informed me tremulously that while they usually aim to have roadside assistance on-site within 45 minutes, they wouldn’t be able to satisfy that standard due to the remoteness of my location.

After I turned over the car to the tow truck, we went to Frank and Lupe’s El Sombrero for a later-than-expected lunch, the putative goal of my expedition to Socorro. Kscott, Bob, Cathy, and Patti and her husband joined us. I was relieved and ecstatic to find that El Sombrero is good, period, not good for New Mexico. The memory of my Frank’s enchilada plate with green chile, chicken, and egg over easy will sustain me for another year. When the check came, I wrested Bob for it – literally – and won!

On the drive back to Albuquerque, the poor confused tow truck driver kept calling me trying to figure out where to take the car. “It’s not my car,” I said, “I don’t know where to take it. Call Zipcar.” But he persisted, and I eventually figured out that he was supposed to take it back to the Zipcar lot where I picked it up. “There’s no garage or building or people, it’s just a space in the parking lot with a sign saying ‘Zipcar’.” “Well, I’m here in the lot and I don’t see it.” “Okay, walk to the corner where you turned right, now look at the first spot…” “There’s a sign here. It says, uh… ‘Zipcar.'” “Yes, put it there.” “Okay… What do I do with the key?” “I’ll call Zipcar and they will lock it from the satellite.” “Okay…” New Mexico, this is Zipcar. Zipcar, New Mexico.

On my way through security in Albuquerque Sunport (lord, how I hate cutesy airport nicknames – take that, Phoenix Skyhook) I ended up in the line for the millimeter wave scanner. No freaking way, I’m not letting TSA personnel look at me basically naked while any random traveler can look over their shoulder. I look at the X-ray scanning monitors all the time. The sign said I could opt for a pat-down instead, so I went for it. As I suspected, the screener I was waved over to just sent me through the metal detector.

All in all, a great trip, if a little exhausting.

2 thoughts on “What I did on my summer vacation”

  1. Big cats in zoos

    Here in Australia we have a number of open-range zoos and the big cats and other African animals were moved out of the old-style zoos in town many years ago for exactly that reason – they need the space. I recommend Werribee Zoo in Victoria and Monarto Zoo in South Australia.

  2. We tried everything sushi-like since my wife is into it (to give you an idea, in SF we go to Kiss — sometimes), and strangely she says Sumo @3rd & Lomas is the best. Next is Japanese Kitchen. Azuma is so-so. The King is ok, I guess.

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