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30 September 2011


Rudolfo Carrillo
By Rudolfo Carrillo

Yeah, the State Fair is always an animal-flavored mess of rustic fun, even sans freak shows.

I didn't visit the midway this year but asked around about it instead, so I don't know if the fine folks over there ever got around to reconstituting the human oddities section of the show or if they still consider the Snake Woman and her lot to be examples of a most nefarious form of familial subversion. Everyone I asked told me plainly they did not have the feria for that part of the feria. Maybe things will be better next year when people need an amusing diversion from the looming presidential elections and the tick tock of the Mayan clock.

Anywho, the autumnal events that follow on through Burque after the fair ends, the things about October that I recall long after they roll up the tents, reduce the tilt-a-whirl to an easily transported collection of metal struts plus hexagonal nuts, and send all those deep fried butter machines back to Venus, seem to strike a deeper resonance than whatever it is that transpires at Tingley Colosseum during the first weeks of September (I'm told it's called a rodeo, whatever the hell that means.)

For instance, the
Balloon Fiesta is a great and popular event, but you wouldn’t know it from the way I’ve seen some dogs react.

Here's a quick story about that. My family had a pit bull named Iris, como
arco iris, the rainbow, sabes? That dog was mean as hell to strangers and other dogs, but loyal and protective to her human family. One October she ended up at our house for good, on account of me.

Our next door neighbor was a veterinarian, his wife was a doctor. They had a kid and the kid had a babysitter who was my age. She went to Manzano High School which I thought was very exotic. I thought she was the utmost, you know, the ginchiest. So, I was always looking for an excuse to talk to her. One day I heard her singing to the kid in the backyard and so stuck my head over the fence to say hello. They were playing with a little black puppy. The doctors saw me and came out onto the patio, friendly and happy as usual. As they walked into the autumn afternoon, they both asked simultaneously, "Do you guys want another dog?" I forgot about the babysitter for a time and by that evening, Iris the dog was living it up at the Carrillo household.

The only thing old Iris was a scared of was hot air balloons. She lived 15 years grand and glorious years but nearly succumbed every October from high-blood pressure and continuous barking. Otherwise she was fierce as hot steel and for years the mailman and many a Jehovah's Witness would run fearfully into the street when they spied her dark and toothy countenance on the front porch.

As it turns out, Albuquerque’s famous but dog-frightening Balloon Fiesta is related to the
Sandia Peak Tramway, a local attraction that continues to engender an eldritch fear in me. Both sprang from the same creative, entrepreneurial minds, though I am certain neither of the folks behind those affairs ever considered the effects their civic produce would have on a beloved mutt or certain waggishly weird local blogger.

I’ve heard it said the tram is a great way to see Albuquerque and I’ve certainly seen it come and go from its loading bay at the base on the western side of the Sandia Mountains - too many times times to count. It’s definitely
an awesome feat of human engineering; the riders glide upward in little metal cars, riding on a wire that looks like a spider web from just a mile or two down the road from the lower terminal.

However, the cables are quite thick. The tram runs on four track ropes, which are made of steel. They each have a diameter of 40 millimeters, a weight of 52 tons. I’d hate to see the Sandia Mountain canyon-dwelling spider that could produce something like that. That sorta tale woulda made for a cool post at
My Strange New Mexico, though, eh, Mr. Smith?

In reality, most of the
technology and materials used to build the tram came from Europe, where they have a lot more experience lifting people up mountains in mechanical devices what with the the Alps and all, sabes?

The development of the Sandia Peak Tramway and Ski Area was due to the brilliance of two prominent Albuquerqueans,
Robert Nordhaus and Ben Abruzzo. Nordhaus, native New Mexican and Yale graduate, returned to Albuquerque after college, where he lived to be 97.

I hope you already know
the story of Ben Abruzzo. His efforts and legacy are floating around by the hundreds, in October, in Albuquerque, as well as hoisting hundreds of curious and athletic sorts of humans up to the top of a very big mountain, daily.

That all sounds really chido, but even if I read it over a thousand times, I still can't bear the thought of actually riding in the tram, much less sailing like a cloud over our dusty town in a balloon. About 15 years ago, I had the chance to ride in the
elevators inside the Saint Louis Gateway Arch. I wouldn’t do that either.

This might be the year I finally give the tram a shot; I'm getting long in the tooth and probably will want to get some kinda kicks in the next few years, before any number of various organ systems fail and my joints totally deteriorate. I know I'll at least take a deeply reflective look at the balloons, in awe of what each represents.

As far as Sandia Peak goes, I’ve always preferred to drive up from the east side of the mountains. There’s a great hike to the upper tramway terminal, but when I was younger, my friends and I liked to hike away from the dock, across to the north peak and into
an area filled with transmission towers.

If you’ve been up there, you know the place. It’s closed off now.

Back in the twentieth century my friends and I would hike past the transmitters and equipment, pretending that we were in the midst of any number of science-fiction scenarios. We would pretend the buildings and towers were the remnants of a once great civilization, that we were there to make an initial assessment of the surrounding environment and capture specimens of the local inhabitants, which strangely enough looked like whip-tail lizards. Eventually, we would arc off into one of the steep canyons at the edge of the mountain top, through a well-made but seldom used trail.

At the end of this trail, in the trees at the edge of a small meadow that ended in a precipitous cliff, we built a sturdy wood and stone fort. We had picnics there, built a fire-pit from big rocks we found laying around, camped there sometimes, and generally thought of the place as ours.

It seemed only a few people knew where the trail that led to the fort was located, amidst the crushed granite and scrub oaks that define that part of the mountain.

And so that place remained intact for years and years, even into my young-adulthood.

Even if unauthorized personnel found the trail, that was no guarantee of being able to navigate to the fort. The trail was rocky and steep; one side was adjacent to the rock wall of the mountain, the other connected to nothingness, to the air surrounding the mountain itself.

The last time I went there was in 1993. We took some British exchange students who had become part of our circle of friends to that hidden
chante. One of them complained of the altitude and vomited all over the log house. Another kept saying out loud that he thought we were going to die on that day and on that mountain.

As we led them out to the very edge, a rocky outcropping that looked down on a pine forest about two hundred feet below, I looked over and saw the tram rising in the distance, suspended between two towers.

“Look”, I said, "there goes the tram."

"Why didn’t we take that thing up here?" asked one of the fearful flatlander exchange students, dizzily unaccustomed to the altitude.
"It looks a lot safer than what we just did."

"I dunno", I replied gravely while winking to my fellow Burqueno buds, "I reckon it has something to do with my dreadful fear of mechanical lifting devices." Then, I kicked a pebble off into the canyon below where the October wind was busy tossing and fluttering all the golden aspen leaves around and around. There was a balloon floating aimlessly on the western horizon, which was layed out all pretty and blue and vast right there in front of me. For a second, I thought I heard Iris barking in the distance.

Rudolfo Carrillo / a fifth-wave feminist from the fourth estate | a burqueña | a ladyboss | a writer + editor

I am a fifth-wave feminist and a reluctant member⸺hey, Groucho knew whereof he quipped⸺of both the fourth estate and the gig economy. I am an Albuquerque-based freelance writer, editor and social media marketing and branding+PR consultant. I remain an observant ’90s riot grrrl and a devout practitioner of halfhearted yoga posturing and zen and the art of the sentence diagram.


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