Hat on Top, Coat Below


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Brown, Snow, and Kokopelli

January 25, 2005

Remember when I was talking about the eight states I need to visit before I can go to Hawaii? Well, now I’m down to seven, because Mr. Karen and I just got back from a long weekend in New Mexico. (Note: Because I let myself write another paragraph as a reward each time I cleared another 25 of the work e-mails that piled up while I was gone, this got a little long. To skip directly to the photo essay version, go here.)

We left last Wednesday night. The plane was at seven, which meant I needed to leave the office no later than 3:45. At 3:30 I was frantically making a programming change to fulfill a very important customer request that had come in around two o’clock and could not wait for my return (and no, deploying new code just before leaving for days is not a good practice, but in this case I felt okay about it since the screen in question is only used by that one customer right now and the change I was making was minor) and fielding a last minute question from a coworker who didn’t realize it was a last minute question because he’d ignored the e-mail about my schedule which I’d sent to what I thought were interested parties. I finally escaped the office at ten to three, at which time I remembered I’d intended to go out at lunch and get gas because the low fuel light had come on near the end of my drive to work. I could have probably gotten home without stopping for gas, but imagining the consequences if I didn’t made me not want to try it. Because I was worried about the time, I didn’t fill up but only put in a few gallons. Yes, it would have only taken a few minutes more to get those other nine or ten in, but what if those few minutes made the difference between missing a back-up on 696 (a.k.a. the bane of my existence) and getting stuck in it? These are the kinds of questions that my anxious mind spends entirely too much time on.

I made it home before Mr. Karen and started shoveling the snow that had fallen since we’d shoveled in the morning. Soon after he arrived, we loaded the truck (because the ski bags fit much better in it than in my car) and headed out. Lo and behold, the check gauge light was on because we were low on gas. We were also low on time, so we just went straight to the airport. Mr. Karen was confident we’d make it, but I still worried. We did make it, and had enough time after checking in and clearing security to go to the other end of the terminal from our gate to get little pizzas from Pizza Papalis–as far as I know, you can only get these mini versions at the airport, which is a good thing because otherwise I’d be very tempted to stop on the way home from work and pick one up on more than an occasional basis as they are very yummy. Our flight took off a little late, but landed in Minneapolis on time so we made our connection with no problem. Even if we’d landed late, we could have made it, since our flight to Albuquerque (motto: “Harder to Spell than Mississippi”) was delayed long enough that the shops in the airport were all closed by the time we boarded.

The airport in Albuquerque was bigger than I expected, and instead of having the standard issue black and chrome gate areas chairs had brown and wood ones with a Southwestern look–a nice touch to give one a sense of place. It also had brick floors in many areas–nice to look at, not so nice to hear rolling luggage click clacking over. By the time we collected our luggage and got the rental car and made it to the hotel just a few freeway exits away and got ready for bed, it was 1 in the morning local time. Lifts open at nine? Great, they can just do that without me, I thought.

After almost enough sleep to feel human again, we had breakfast at the Burger King next to the hotel and encountered the most cheerful set of fast food employees ever. The guys taking their smoke break outside the doors interrupted their conversation to wish us a good morning, and inside one of the kitchen employees was singing along with the oldies playing on the speakers, which sounds like it might be annoying but somehow wasn’t, even before I got my Coke Icee which is a guaranteed Karen-mood-elevator. While we ate, we considered whether to try skiing at Sandia Peak that day since it was a heck of a lot closer than Taos Ski Valley (a.k.a. TSV), our ultimate destination for this trip, but decided against it because we hadn’t done any research ahead of time and so didn’t know what kind of vertical they had or what the snow conditions were, and also it would be more enjoyable to make the drive to Taos while it was light and we could see stuff.

And see stuff we did. Much of it was various shades and hues of brown–the ground, the rocks, the hills, the rectangular adobe and faux-dobe houses–punctuated by dusty greens. Even the concrete dividers in the freeway median were painted brown (I guess grey would clash with the color scheme). Just when I had decided I couldn’t live in a place with such a limited palette, we came to a section of highway near Santa Fe which featured huge colorful pictures on the retaining walls and some of the overpasses; there were birds, lizards, snakes, rabbits, dancing suns, and all sorts of other things to look at. (Evidently the creature I thought was a lizard is a horny toad, since this article doesn’t mention lizards at all.) If I thought I had any chance at all of having them turn out, I would have been snapping pictures out the window of all of the highway art.

What we didn’t see until we were almost to TSV was snow. I was beginning to wonder if there was any, but the closer we got to the mountain, the more white was mixed in with the brown until we finally got to what looked like a proper ski resort about three and a half hours after we left Albuquerque, which was about an hour longer than I thought it would take. The people who wrote the brochure that gave me the impression it was a two and a half hour drive evidently didn’t run into any road construction or have to stop and pee, which we did at one of the many brown casinos on the way. To compensate the casino for our use of the restroom, we put some change into the nickel slots and ended up winning ten cents, so that worked out to be sort of the opposite of a pay toilet.

Once at TSV, we changed into ski bibs and boots, extricated the skis from the luggage, and bought half-day tickets. By the time we got on the lift, it was two o’clock–talk about a late start. It was warm and sunny, so we wore our Chubbs, thinking the snow would be skiied up and slushy. It was not. It was in pretty darn good shape, especially since they hadn’t had any new snow for days. If we’d started earlier, I might have gone back to the parking lot to swap skis, but we hadn’t so I stuck with the fat ones and it was fine.

Coming off the slopes, my cellphone rang to tell me I had a message, which turned out to be a customer with a problem printing checks. I felt like a bit of a tool standing there in the parking lot in my ski boots talking to the office to make sure the problem was being resolved, but I did enjoy the “you’re in MEXICO?!?” part of the conversation. (Evidently no one reads the e-mails I send to let people know about my vacations). Once I’d wrapped up my business, we went and checked into our “junior suite” (hotel room with microwave and mini-fridge crammed into it as an afterthought). After dinner at a nearby restaurant, we found that the people who said TSV was quiet at night were right. It wasn’t yet nine o’clock, but all the stores were closed, including the self-styled “convenient store”. I like to go to bed early more than most people, especially on a ski trip, but in TSV I felt like a real night owl.

Karen is in no way panicking Friday we were on the lift bright and early–well, 9:30 sure seemed bright and early after Thursday’s late start–with our regular skis. A few hours later we did something very unusual for us and stopped skiing. We turned in our lift tickets just before the 12:30 cutoff to get a partial refund and went to Taos (the town). Neither of us was feeling well, and the snow conditions weren’t all that great, and we decided to just take the afternoon off. I think it was exactly the right thing to do–and not just because there was a quilt shop in Taos as well as a fabric store which carried interesting cottons. We found so much to look at (and buy) that we had to go back and put more money in the parking meter and it still ran out before we got back. We especially had fun spotting the many, many representations of Kokopelli. I found a manhole cover to take a picture of–and was very impressed that the woman whose car’s path I was blocked as I framed my shot didn’t even give me a dirty look when I realized she was there and got out of her way. We also took a detour to photograph a restaurant we really should have patronized given how much their name amused us–Pizza Emergency.

A really big cookie By Saturday, we were feeling better and skied the whole day, except for a stop for lunch when I found that Frito pie–seriously, how could I not try Frito pie?–was so filling that I could only eat half of the cookie which was big as my head. We were very pleasantly surprised that a sunny weekend day didn’t lead to long lift lines, a trend which continued into Sunday, when we again skied the whole day. The whole trip, we had to share a chair on the lift only once. That’s amazing. Once in a while a run would get a little crowded, even the steeper ones, but on the whole we had plenty of elbow room. We got the weekend perks–things like ski patrol bringing the rescue dogs out to be admired and setting up an alarming yet amusing educational exhibit–without the weekend hassles. Excellent.

A really big cookie Yesterday there was no skiing for us, just travel. We left TSV around 7:15 in the morning and had time for a casino pee stop (down 45 cents) and quick look around the terminal building of the Sandia Peak tram on the way to the airport. Then it was all airplanes and airports for the next ten-but-should-have-been-eight-at-most hours. We connected in what my boarding pass said was Cincinnati but turned out to be northern Kentucky. Now, I know the Detroit airport isn’t actually in Detroit, but it is at least in the same state, the same county, even, so I was a little surprised by this whole Kentucky thing. The beautiful sunset distracted me from my geographic dislocation, as did the sense of mastery I felt when I was able to operate the faucets in the airport bathroom.

After the faucet triumph, things started to go awry. We were delayed taking off because of traffic issues in Detroit, then we landed to find no empty gates, then there was nobody to guide the plane in once a gate opened up (at this point it was amusing that the person being the most obnoxious about probably missing his connecting flight was the guy going to LaGuardia–way to reinforce the stereotype, dude), then we waited and waited and waited for our suitcases to show up in baggage claim (though our skis did appear and I had no trouble getting them, unlike last time). Finally we decided to I would go file a missing luggage report while Mr. Karen kept waiting. When I got to the counter the woman could see that our bags had been scanned in but where exactly they were was a mystery. She thought they might be over at Delta (we’d flown them to northern Kentucky) but she also said that Mesaba (who handles the regional jet traffic for Northwest) was taking up to three hours to get luggage over from the gates, so they could just be on a cart en route from one building to the other. I didn’t want to wait and see if they’d make it over, so I gave her all the information to have them delivered and we headed to the parking lot and loaded what luggage we did have into the truck, which was still low on fuel because the gas fairies had not come by in our absence.

Mr. Karen thought we should just go over to the other terminal and see if our bags were there. I didn’t expect they would be, especially since our skis showed up at the right place, but since it was in the same direction as most of the gas stations, I drove over to Delta baggage claim. I dropped Mr. Karen off and had to go a little way down before I found a spot to pull over as it was surprisingly crowded for so late in the day. While I was on the lookout for any authority figure coming to tell me that the red zone was for loading only, I spotted someone heading my way with two bags that looked a lot like ours. As this person came closer, he started to look a lot like Mr. Karen, and behold it was him, with our suitcases. No way I thought that was going to happen, but it did.

A full complement of luggage in our possession, we headed to the gas station and then home, where we found a driveway full of snow. Boy, that we could have used that on the slopes at Taos Ski Valley. Here in at home it was not at all valuable, except as entertainment–I decided I could get the truck over the big mound piled up at the end of our driveway when the street got plowed and proceeded to do just that, sliding to a stop well before I came close to either hitting the garage door or skidding into the lawn. (Good thing, too, as Mr. Karen told me I was going to have to dig the truck out if I got stuck since he wanted to get out and see just how deep it was before I tried to drive through it.) Since the non-mounded snow was over our boot tops, we had to shovel before we could unload and go to bed, which we finally did somewhere around 1. Work started at nine, and I couldn’t just let it do that without me, so I had some extra caffeine and it hasn’t been too bad a day considering I’m no longer on vacation.

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