Brownian Movement XVI: November 13, 1996

Wednesday, November 13, 1996
Albuquerque

Only a little while now until my flight boards. I’m a half-hour early, despite the delay in the taxi’s arrival. The airport here is practically within walking distance from Central Avenue.

The airport is a good place to reflect—better, even, than a church. In churches one always feels he must have holy and righteous thoughts, liberally mixed with the oxygen of contrition. In airports, so wholly democratizing, almost any thought seems acceptable, if not exalted, in contrast to the Stepford-like calm of the airline employees and the banality of overheard conversations.

I also find airports immensely sexy places—less earthy than bus stations but with a not dissimilar air of ennui about them. Travelers do always seem sad; there’s a whiff of defeat, or perhaps just resignation, about them, the way there often is in the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices or at any government agency where they have something you need, they know you can’t get it anywhere else, and you aren’t going anywhere until they hand it over.

Flying is like that. How else to cover great distances in so little time and with such a relatively small effort? So you put up with the dreadful food, the insincere courtesy of the flight attendants, and the delays. Meanwhile, you’ve turned over to them your underwear, the razor, and your last clean shirt. Small wonder, then, the cow-like obsequiousness of we passengers. They’ve got us right where they want us.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t flirt—or even entertain tame fantasies—while you wait for the cattle drive to begin at the gate.

A few minutes later: As we ascend, I get a good view of the Sandía Mountains to the east, the whole length of them. What I can’t see, from this angle and even at this height, is what’s on the other side.

Each of the nights I spent in Albuquerque I kept waiting for the setting sun to turn the mountains the watermelon color that gives them their name, but it never happened. Colors, certainly, but never one I’d compare to the illuminated pink of sandía. Perhaps the mountains have faded since they were named, the way Route 66 has changed since it was the subject of the famous Nat King Cole song. With all the XXX theaters, street-side drug emporia, and working girls that now line Central/Route 66, “get your kicks” has taken on an entirely new meaning.

Below me, roads are set out in neat grids that stretch well into the desert: north to south, east to west, with the occasional diagonal street going long from the bottom right corner to the top left. No houses, is the odd thing; they haven’t been built. It takes a little work before you understand that the patchwork on the surface of the desert is not a place that has been abandoned, but a place that has yet to be inhabited.

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Posted on 29 October 1996, in Tales from the Road and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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