2010-04-11

Land of enchantment...

I just rolled into the house from a week of work travel and a weekend of vacation. Strange how you can not have a care in the world, and the next, you're surrounded by piles of bills and laundry, simultaneously trying to find something for dinner while contemplating the week ahead. Sigh.

I spent the week in Roswell, New Mexico. Yes, the alien place. And no, my visit was completely terrestrial. Even so, there is something a bit off about the place in general. There are only two flights there daily, and the nearest town of any notable size (Albuquerque, Lubbock, or El Paso) is more than 3 hours drive away via US highway. With a population of about 45,000, this is the kind of community that really feels the effect of a down economy. People do what they can to get by. Little restaurants spring up everywhere, long established business get shuttered. Everything seems tainted by the malaise of disaffection.

I've seen a lot of these places in my travels. I thought I knew what to expect. Roswell was something else, though. I was struck by it the moment the airport was visible on the horizon. The airport was covered in commercial aircraft, parked wingtip to wingtip. Dozens and dozens of DC-10s, A-300s, 737s, and even a huge contingent of colossal 747s sat in the dry desert wind, doing nothing, and airline ghost town. Over the next few days as I worked around the airfield, I never really got used to seeing all those hulking birds parked around the runway, like used cars waiting for buyers.

I had high hopes that a week in Roswell would be a nice escape from the fickle Utah spring weather. In some ways it was, as the sun was out everyday, but the nights were bitterly cold, and my spring jacket wasn't nearly insulating enough for 40 degree weather at 8:00 am. Finally, on Friday, I even broke down and bought some hand lotion for the last 24 hours of my time there, because my hands simply couldn't handle the dryness anymore.

Roswell strikes me as fundamentally an agricultural community. From above, you can see that the town is surrounded by large green circles of crops, marking quite a contrast against the beige desert floor. The town itself is stretched out along the single main street, like something out of American Graffiti. On the outskirts you have the modern accoutrements of modern civilization, Subway, McDonald's, Walgreens, but as you near the city center, the stop lights are 200 feet apart, and the streets are lined with classic buildings, which you imagine were once soda fountains and barbershops, but are know struggling to be eclectic boutiques and coffee shops.

This is where Roswell takes another turn for the odd, since a disturbing number of these stores have alien paraphernalia hanging in the windows. On Friday, with my work completed, I walked a few blocks of main street and stuck my head in most of the shops. Most were simply trying to lure people, and the aliens painted on the windows had nothing to do with the incense or indian jewelry inside. Others were clearly local people trying to capitalize of the dumb tourists looking for a silly memento to send home. A few places, though, were clearly run by true believers. In one store, I picked up a few shirts for my little nephews, and the proprietor was quick to suggest that I pick up a recently published children's book about UFOs, so that I would be able to explain to them all about aliens.

It wasn't all weird though. Roswell had some surprisingly great food. Though the places were really run down, the food and the service was excellent. As you may have heard, New Mexico is known for it's chiles. I had green chile enchiladas and a relleno one day, and liked it so much that I had red chile enchiladas with another relleno the next. And in perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip, I had really excellent chicken saltimbocca that rivaled anything I've had in SLC.

All in all, it was probably one of the more interesting trips I've had. Roswell has a lot of personality. I still don't understand why they call it the land of enchantment, though.