New Mexico in Context

Route 285 in New Mexico. This is the busiest the road ever looked.

On the car ride from New Mexico to Texas, I read my boyfriend the post I wrote about Albuquerque. As an urban planner he is trained to look at cities in context, and he had a different perspective. Although I viewed the city’s big box stores as tacky reflections of urban sprawl, my boyfriend assumed that most other parts of the New Mexico didn’t have those services. He told me that Albuquerque is the biggest city in the state and reminded me of a conversation we had with an employee of the funky Flying Star Cafe. When we told her we were visiting the city, she excitedly recommended we visit the Borders a few blocks away. I giggled as we left the restaurant. “Borders! As if that’s an exotic place!” I said (or something equally snobby).

However, the Albuquerian’s enthusiasm made more sense  as we drove southeast through the state.

Most human activity ceased about 45 minutes outside of Albuquerque. For miles all I saw was barren yellow grass. As the car grew low on gas, the desperation for a town increased. Everything was bordered up in the first town we passed through, including the gas station. A trip to Wikipedia told us that, as of the 2000 census, the city had 96 people.

Vaughn’s main street

Vaughn, about 20 miles down the road, was a little better in that it had two working gas stations… but not much else. As I took a picture of a vintage sign outside a motel the motel’s older owner started talking to me. He said Vaughn was established at the turn of the 20th century as a railroad town. It once had 1,900 people, but now is has 500. The man was glad I liked the sign even though some of the neon had gone out. He wants to get it fixed, but it costs $1200 and means he has to ask  someone to drive up from Roswell, which is almost 2 hours away. He has four kids, but they’ve all moved away to Albuquerque.

Another view of Vaughn, with the vintage hotel sign on the right.

As I got back into the car and took another look at the bordered up businesses around us, I thought about how much a Walmart, Sears or, yes, a Borders would mean to the 500 people who lived in the area. Albuquerque looked pretty good now.

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