Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Land of Enchantment

From Dave Brigham:

I lived here 29 years ago. No, I wasn't homeless, although there was a Salvation Army shelter just up the street all those years ago. And no, I wasn't squatting in a tent on the property, at 314 Broadway SE in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There was a small house, with a few attached apartments, here three decades ago. I lived there with friends for three months, following a three-week road trip.

I've been writing a memoir covering the trip and my time spent in the Land of Enchantment. I decided a while back I would write the last chapter only after returning to the city. I tried to convince my wife and kids to take a family vacation in New Mexico, but they wouldn't go for it. Then I realized that the better idea was to hang out in Albuquerque with the guys who I traveled and lived with in 1988.

So in early May my college buddy Pete and I flew out of Boston and met our fellow road-tripper, my high school friend and Seattle resident Andy, in the Duke City. Primary on my agenda for our quick two-day visit was to check out a few old haunts. That's what this post is about. I will also write two other posts, one featuring shots I took on an early-morning walk through downtown Albuquerque, the other, photos of Native American and Spanish ruins in the desert north of the city.

I like the look of the Broadway Market Building, which was just a few blocks from our house. I don't have any idea if there was a market in this building 29 years ago. We never shopped at markets or grocery stores back then; we ate out once in a while, or bought ramen noodles, soup, bread, mayo, tuna, cereal and beer at places like the Circle K or 7-Eleven. We also bought more than our share of chili-and-cheese hot dogs at the latter joint. The building was converted to apartments at some point.

One place we ate is the Frontier Restaurant, an institution for students at the University of New Mexico. Located on Central Avenue (aka Route 66), the restaurant served as a hangout for Pete and me, as well as another guy on our trip, John. Andy left our road trip, which started in New England, part way through in order to return to Connecticut for a family party. He joined us in Albuquerque after we'd already been there for at least a month.

I have a thing for clever hair salon names, which started when I was living in Albuquerque. On the 1.5-mile walk from our rental house to the Frontier, I passed a place called Hairforce One, which to this day is my favorite salon name. I didn't see it on my return trip, but Hair We Are is a pretty good name, and I just love the colors and the artwork on their shop.

We didn't have a lot of money when we lived in the Duke City, but luckily drinks and cover charges were pretty low, so we managed to get out with some regularity to see local and national bands. We spent plenty of nights at the Fat Chance Saloon, which no longer exists. We asked the owner of a bar on Central Ave. where we were tipping a pint, "Where was the Fat Chance?" He told us it was in the space where Brickyard Pizza is now, so we popped in for a quick look.

There was a much closer bar that we also visited on occasion. El Madrid (or, as we gringoes called it, The El Madrid), was a short walk from our house, across a bridge over some railroad tracks. We drank cheap beer out of mismatched mugs -- Black Label beer, Mason jars, cartoon characters -- and watched local bands and performance artists.

(Pete in the doorway of El Madrid.)

The place has obviously been shuttered for a while. I was saddened but not completely shocked to see that the awesome Elvis mural on the outside of the bar has been defaced. That's just tragic. It was painted by Kenneth Wolverton.

Here's a photo of the full mural -- on each side of the front door, and above as well -- in all its glory.

I want this sign and light from outside El Madrid. Now, look in the background of this photo, to the right of the "BAR" sign. It's a turret.

And here's that turret from the front.

Built in 2006, this mansion belonged to the late local jewelry and antique seller Gertrude Zachary. Her store is located next to the house, in a neighborhood that various publications I found online refer to as "skid row," "a battlefield of failed homes [and] empty parking lots" and "a barren industrial neighborhood." Those terms may still apply somewhat, but when we walked through the 'hood we spied a brew pub, an artists' collective called Sanitary Tortilla Factory, several funky new apartment buildings and a Fast Signs franchise.

I'm not sure why this poster of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King was plastered on this building, but I like it.

Just two blocks from the mansion and antique/jewelry store, you get a sense of why folks refer to this area as skid row. The building above until recently was the Albuquerque Rescue Mission. The mission changed its name to Steelbridge and houses nearly 100 men and women on a daily basis and offers "faith-based" programs. I spied at least one building with the Steelbridge name on it, and saw a handful of apparently homeless men lolling about nearby.

After walking through some of our old neighborhood in the midday sun, we drove up Central Ave. to the Route 66 Diner, where Pete worked when we lived there.

Pete had the Pile Up, a "pile of pan fried potatoes, chopped bacon, chopped green chile, two eggs any style, cheddar cheese & red or green chile sauce on top," per the restaurant's menu. I had the 66 Burger, topped with New Mexico Green Chile. Andy had 66 Chicken Fried Steak. They were all terrific.

The next installment in this mini-series will focus on photos I took early one morning in the downtown Albuquerque area.

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