Few people will ever move to a place sight unseen, without a job waiting for them, a place to stay, or someone they know; I’ve done it three times in my life, three times where nothing and no one was waiting for me. I have made several more moves with either a job or a house or both waiting for me when I arrived wherever it was that I ended up. The fact is a source of some personal pride, for a number of reasons, not least of which is in knowing that I can because I have. The first time I saw Santa Fe, New Mexico was through a backseat window of a shuttle bus that left the Albuquerque International Sunport one late afternoon in the middle of February 2011. I was coming to Santa Fe by way of New York City and the two couldn’t be more different despite a kinship between the two cities. The tallest building in Santa Fe was four stories, a contrasting difference to the New York City skyline I had become so familiar with, and as the shuttle came over a mountain and the city of Santa Fe came into view, misknown to my expectations, I wondered, “Where’s the city?”
I stayed at Las Palomas Hotel on W. San Francisco Street for the time being while I was both house and job hunting. The hotel was several short blocks from the city plaza, and, after settling in the room, I started walking toward the plaza, it was around six in the evening. I walked past boutiques and art galleries, bars and restaurants, everything seemed rustic and artsy; however, I couldn’t know for certain because everything was closed, except for the Starbucks right off the plaza. As I was walking back to the hotel after briefly exploring the downtown area, I caught myself seriously considering a move back to New York. I told myself I would stick with my decision for at least a month and then come back to the debate if I was still having doubts. I had never been to Santa Fe before moving here, and I’d barely even heard of it. Before I moved to New Mexico, while living in New York City, it seemed as if I couldn’t escape what came across as signs pushing me toward Santa Fe: everyone seemed to be talking this diamond in the rough, an art community out in the middle of nowhere, I saw signs on the subways, photographs and paintings in museums, it was surreal. But I got the message.
I had been in Santa Fe for a week learning the city, meeting people, listening, and I suddenly found myself working as the marketing manager for an art gallery on Canyon Road, and I was getting ready to move into a small apartment just a few blocks from Las Palomas and, even better, a few blocks from the plaza. My casita was at the intersection of San Francisco and Guadalupe Streets, it was sought after, there was a waiting list, and I wasn’t on it. Apparently, I happened to hit up the property manager at the right moment and he “…got a good vibe from [me].” Santa Fe did want me here, and it was quickly growing on me.
Meow Wolf, which has become one of, if not the largest art collective in the country, was well known in the community but was still a small organization. They had just completed the biggest art project the collective had ever attempted, The Due Return, and were starting to make waves as artists, at the time though, they considered themselves more of a welcoming committee to Santa Fe newcomers, such as myself. I have always thought that mission was such a cool endeavor, and that they actively sought out people new to the community still blows my mind. It was because of Meow Wolf that I became aware of and started frequenting places like: Kakawa Chocolate House and their chocolate elixirs, many of which derived from Aztec and Mayan recipes. I would sit outside under the shade of the trees, watching the cars pass on Paseo, and the people waiting as the line spiraled outside the door and toward the shaded patio where I sat. The Secreto Lounge, inside the Loretto Inn, I would sit by the fireplace with a cocktail and get lost staring into the fire in downtown Santa Fe. Ecco Coffeehouse, the first real coffeehouse I discovered walking around the downtown area, my neighbor worked there, I wasn’t too impressed by the coffee, but their gelato was great, especially when mixed with coffee. Iconik Coffee, one of my five favorite coffeehouses in the country, it was here that I actually learned to really appreciate coffee. Café Pasqual’s served one of the best breakfast menus, I’d get the Breakfast Burrito and every bite was more phenomenal than the last. Rooftop Pizza made one of the best pizzas I’ve had, and I would often wait as long as I had to for a table on the balcony overlooking the plaza and I’d order a pizza and a margarita and watch people from all over the world sitting back and enjoying life. Cowgirl Restaurant, 2nd Street Brewery, Marble Brewery, the Pantry, the Teahouse, El Farol, Backroad Pizza, Clafoutis, Aztec Café, Op. Cit. Books, and, of course, the Jean Cocteau (actually the Meow Wolf had little to do with my relationship with the Jean Cocteau, but Meow Wolf introduced me to Santa Fe, so…) Santa Fe has so much to enjoy and to do, and the couple of years that followed were among the best of my life.
I would often drive toward Taos and stop in Abiquiu, unquestionably the most beautiful place in the southwest. It’s the type of place that you could find a perch and sit there all day and time would pass like water through your fingers, a vista that affirms your belief in God. There are times too when I have started driving toward Abiquiu and made a last minute detour to, and through Los Alamos, New Mexico and into the Valles Caldera National Preserve on my way to the not-so-secret—anymore—Spence Hot Springs, my favorite hot springs anywhere, to date, where I would end up spending all day soaking, and waiting for the opportunity to crawl inside the pent cavern, the mouth of the springs and lay there on my hands while burrowing into the sand with my fingers.
The building that I was living in was, at one point, a popular brothel. It’s a fuchsia brick that stands out among the adobe. The brothel was renovated and fragmented into nine or ten different casita’s, I can’t remember the number exactly because the main house was like a maze of rooms and odd layouts. My casita was one of three in the rear of the main house in a building that used to be a cold storage, like a historic refrigerator. My first, and one of my best friends in Santa Fe was one of my neighbors, Mattie, an artist who, to this day, creates some of the most unique art that I’ve ever seen. Mattie introduced me to a number of amazing people all of which found their way to Santa Fe in the typical style (I’ll get to that in a minute). Another neighbor was Alex De Vore, one of the most well-known journalists in town, he wrote the music column for the Santa Fe Recorder, kind of the local rag. And Michael, another of my favorite neighbors, is a sculptor, and has developed a name for himself in the art community. The life I was beginning to live and the life that I imagined I would be living that evening when I first explored Santa Fe’s downtown were nothing at all alike, and I’m grateful that I challenged myself to stay beyond that afternoon when only the Starbucks was open to greet me.
There’s a local legend in Santa Fe that if the city wants you, even if you’re just trying to pass through, it won’t let you leave. I have heard a countless number of people tell me the same story: that they were driving through town or came for a visit and their car broke down, and they simply stayed, forever, “…that was five—ten, twenty—years ago.” Santa Fe wanted me, and it became obvious with the job that the city offered, the casita the city opened up for me, and Santa Fe always seemed to put me in the right place at the right time so that I might meet extraordinary people as a result. I happen to meet someone, I can’t recall where exactly, but through that interaction I was asked to help organize Santa Fe’s first TED event (TEDx, independent TED events), I met and got to know George R. R. Martin, Vince Kadlubek, the founder of Meow Wolf, Sam Shephard, Willem Defoe (in a manner of speaking), and it’s where I met Samayya, someone who would ultimately flip my life completely upside down, changing the course of my life entirely.
I was extremely lucky to have followed the signs and the opportunities that I was offered, and to have been offered these opportunities when they were because I was able to be a part of the community in its prime. Unfortunately, Santa Fe is not the same place that it once was. I enjoyed working at the art gallery, and I had the pleasure to have worked at one of the best bookstores that I’ve ever seen, and to have worked on an excursion train that toured between Santa Fe and Lamy, New Mexico. I left the city under unfortunate circumstances, but I came to believe I needed to leave, for my own well-being. Santa Fe tried to make my leaving difficult. I was offered my dream job at the Santa Fe Reporter the week that I had decided to leave, and it was almost enough to convince me to stay, almost.
Santa Fe, New Mexico will always have a place in my heart and will remain with me, one way or another, for the remainder of my life, being a place that offered me both the best and the worst experiences of my life, and as someone visiting the City Different it will provide you the experience that you allow yourself to have, nothing more and nothing less. It can be the most memorable and defining experiences of your life or one of little consequence, but you’ll have to mute whatever conditioned authority that might normally propel you and rediscover that higher self that you have unconsciously stifled to guide you.