This morning the clean up crew is roosting in a tall dead tree across the bridge that gets you over Percha Creek into Hillsboro, New Mexico.
This tree is dead as their breakfast and gives the buzzards a good place to open their wings and catch the sun’s heat, talk about yesterday’s trips over hillsides, tell grisly buzzard jokes.
Buzzards are a part of western living. In the evening, before the sun goes down, you watch them gliding on updrafts of wind off the hillsides, not in a hurry, conserving energy.
This morning they look big and healthy.
Buzzards, for those who haven’t been paying attention, share many things in common with the Hillsboro citizens.
Even if you don’t see them, there are lots of residents in coveralls sitting in these tree branches with these buzzards now, waiting patiently for the next town person to move up to the graveyard on the nearby hill.
In a place like Hillsboro, the pickings are small and nothing goes to waste.
Anything you get your hands on is worth something to somebody.
The General Store and Cafe is not really a General Store.
You can’t buy barbed wire, bullets, hard candies scooped from an oak barrel. There aren’t bags of flour to load into wagons, fishing hooks or Doctor Edward’s best elixer to cure aches and pains in all places.
The Hillsboro General Store and Cafe has food and gifts and memorabilia. There are ancient fans dropping from high ceilings, glass bottles and posters, an old manual cash register that still works, a funky front door that opens with a little latch bandaged up with white tape like a patient in an emergency ward.
This morning town residents and visitors sip coffee, chat, tell stories, use free wi-fi.
Breakfast is good and there is something comfortable about a place where everything is older than you are. This is a community but John tells me it is nothing like the old days when people watched out for each other, kids raised hell within limits, and a favor was always repaid. When John’s wife, Susan, wants to call the kids she still has to drive out of town on a hilltop by the Hillsboro graveyard to get cell service.
The General Store and Cafe, in operation since 1879, will go on longer it seems, until no one wants to open up and light the stove.
With over a hundred years of life here, you can feel ghosts.
If this place makes it another hundred it will most likely look just like it does now.
The sun fights hard to get through single pane windows that haven’t been washed on the outside since the last rain.
Hillsboro is a hard scrawny town on the way from Truth or Consequences, where I used to live, to Silver City, New Mexico..
In the old days it was a gold and silver mining collage of wood shacks, shovels, dynamite, barbed wire but today it has lost its luster.
When its precious metals played out, there were copper mines left, but they were shut down too and moved overseas when costs and government regulations became too onerous.
Hillsboro used to have apple orchards and a popular annual Apple Festival that peddled apples, arts and crafts, food and live music but that disappeared after management stole money and absconded to Europe.
At one time, main street here had a biker bar that drew Harley Davidson enthusiasts from Albuquerque and Las Cruces but that attraction closed when the bar’s owner sold the liquor license for a ton of money.
A recent couple, trying to bring magic back to the town, have opened a winery on Main Street, the highway you take to Silver City, but this morning they are packing their belongings and have driven a For Sale sign in the front yard.
Today, becoming gold prospectors,my friend John and I use gold detectors instead of picks.
Working our way up hillsides, we wave our battery powered wands over rocky soil. We have tried the detectors around the house with loose change to practice before getting serious. We haven’t found gold yet but we have found barbed wire, nails, bottle caps, and rusty beer cans.
Tomorrow will be yet another gold hunting day. Expectations will be lower, but hope refuses to die.
Those yesteryear miners were tough S.O.B.’s and more stubborn than their donkey’s.
For every gold nugget, there is a trail of blood, sweat, and tears,
For every dream, there is heartache.
Some got advice from Oprah and when she retired they lost their advice fountainhead. Some find guidance at church. Cable channels are replete with soothsayers, doom mongers, all around screwy prophets who have kind words out of one side of their mouth and dire warnings out of the other. News stands are packed with visions of financial collapse or piles of money waiting to be taken home in a wheelbarrow and all you have to do is buy the $99.99 wheelbarrow.
Some of us have simpler ways to get advice.
At China King, a Chinese buffet on Juan Tabo in Albuquerque, one of the girls brings my bill on a little plastic tray with my own personally picked Chinese fortune cookie.
I open it with a slight crunch and carefully pull out a paper banner with words printed in light blue ink that are fuzzy.
” The answers you need, ” it reminds me, ” are right in front of you. ”
I pay my bill and go back to work full and happy. Since everyone has advice, it shouldn’t be expensive. It is true you don’t have to travel far for answers.
It is knowing the right questions to ask that stops me cold in my tracks.
This 800 square foot frame stucco two bedroom one bath single car garage house has been in the family since the fifties.
It has been a residence for dozens of renters, some good, some bad. Through time, much property maintenance was done that is now being re-done. It rents for seven hundred and fifty a month today when one hundred and twenty five used to give a renter the front door key.
This time the place is for sale to a good owner, someone who has time and money to grow a garden in the back yard, put in rocks and desert landscaping, add another room and a bath. The neighborhood, by San Mateo and Kathryn, is acceptable though you see transients pushing grocery carts down San Mateo towards Wal Mart. The War Zone is a few miles to the east but homes in this Parkland Hills neighborhood still show signs of committed ownership with new windows, landscaping, solar panels.
It brings back ghosts to work here.
I see my dad fixing a front screen door and brothers raking leaves and mowing the front yard when it had grass, decades ago.
Two big Chinese elms occupy the front yard and birds leave presents on my car each day I park here.
I miss my Dad sorely, but this house won’t be mourned when a new owner moves in.
A Sold sign will bring me closure.
There is an old joke about having to look for a cop at the doughnut shop when you need one.
I haven’t seen a man or woman in blue at my Albuquerque Donut Mart, but I haven’t needed one either.
While Donut Mart is not Wal Mart, they do have fritters, twists, donut holes, donuts, bagels, glazed, jelly filled delights and specialty treats to meet all your taste bud needs. There are five stores in Albuquerque and all are locally owned and operated by a legal immigrant Pakistani family. It used to be Albuquerque had Winchell’s and Dunking Doughnuts, when you needed one, but they have both died without a proper funeral. The coffee is tasty at Donut Mart, wi-fi is free, bathrooms are clean and the staff is courteous and friendly.
If I were a cop I would be sitting here too at a big round table writing reports and listening to my Sergeant rile about my last traffic stop, the one where the driver of an old Chevy pickup with trash in the back had warrants and I took him to booking for processing and was out of service for two hours while the city was burning.
I have dropped internet at home and instead of spending thirty five a month for internet I now spend sixty for hot coffee and another sixty for doughnuts.
Even though I like coffee and doughnuts and wi-fi, this change is not looking like a good deal.