My biggest triumph in Albuquerque is that I can now spell it. Close your eyes and you try. Not so easy. The Sandia Mountains, a reddish-brown ridge through which I biked from Santa Fe, is the only thing to check ABQ’s development across the high desert.
New Mexico’s two best-known cities appeal to me in different ways. The historic core of Santa Fe is central and charming, albeit touristy in a high-class way (think turquoise jewelry). Albuquerque’s Old Town seems irrelevant in the sprawl and is a tourist trap (think toy cowboy guns).
By contrast, you’d never have known Route 66 went through Santa Fe whereas Albuquerque’s Central Avenue is a commercial corridor proud of its Legendary Road heritage. I spend most of my time along Central Avenue in the artsy, foodie neighborhood of Nob Hill. I watch the movie Bikes vs Cars (recommended!) at the indie retro theater Guild Cinema and grab a pint at Tractor Brewing, which wins the award for best brewery slogan: Get plowed.
Another winner for ABQ is craft beer. I bike to as many breweries as I can. You should know this about me by now. Marble Brewery and La Cumbre Brewing Co. are two favorites.
What pairs well with beer? Bike share! I meet a charming woman, Valerie, over coffee to talk about their pilot program, Bici. As evidence of just how overstretched this city is, users get a generous 90 minutes of free riding. Visitors to NYC have a thrifty 30.
An hour and a half is what it would take to get to Walter White’s house 11 miles away. That’s 22 miles roundtrip just to see a movie location from Breaking Bad. I don’t have it in me, but I do pass Jessie Pinkman’s place.
ABQ has an underbelly as dark as an opaque porter. Although the hit series Breaking Bad was set here, it wasn’t a documentary, stresses Bob. He’s biking around with me as my movie/tour guide as we stop outside Tim Allen’s house in Wild Hogs, which is supposed to be set in suburban Cincinnati.
Nevertheless, a lot of troubled souls roam these streets. The most depressing sight I’ve seen crossing America (aside from dead armadillos in Missouri) is people waiting for public transportation in Albuquerque. A bus stop looks like a meth clinic on a break.
Shady characters congregate outside McDonald’s near the University of NM. I see a man walking stiff and aimless like a zombie in the middle of Central Avenue. He is overdosing in bright daylight across the street from the University. Business as usual here?
I leave ABQ feeling conflicted. I love the food, beer, Native American influence and fresh mountain air, but the in-your-face social ills weigh heavily on the heart. I’d be happy to visit again, but I’ll pass on moving here.
It’s not for lack of hospitality. My hosts Bob (different Bob) and Lila go out of their way to accommodate me. I actually meet Lila on the plane to NYC when I fly back for Thanksgiving.
Bob has great stories about American ignorance of New Mexico. It’s no secret that geography is not our national strong suit, but these examples are no joke. Before he moved west, Bob’s physician in Virginia asked him what shots he needed to visit New Mexico. Telephone operators tried to connect him overseas. And upon presenting his New Mexico license at check-in, a hotel in Miami asked for his passport and couldn’t understand how he had a U.S. passport and a foreign license.
To clear up any lingering confusion, the Land of Enchantment is our 47th state, admitted to the union in 1912, about four years after Oklahoma and five weeks before Arizona.
Speaking of the Grand Canyon State, that’s where I’m headed next. ABQ is where I start writing less and taking fewer notes. I’m eager to reach California, our 31st state and the last of my trip. In keeping with that mentality, I’ll skip ahead to where my adventures get interesting again. Next stop: the Grand Canyon.