Many moons ago when my now former husband and I started dating, he decided to expand my knowledge of the United States. Multitudes of New Yorkers like me think this country is comprised solely of New York, California, Florida and Texas. While looking at a map of the U.S., he pointed to Albuquerque, a city I had never heard of, much less could spell.
Three weeks after we both quit smoking cigarettes, in October 1991, we left Glendale, Calif., at close to 5 a.m. By the time we got to Phoenix (that reminds me of a song), it was about one in the afternoon. Instead of sightseeing, Tom took a three-hour nap. So much for Phoenix. The next morning we left for Silver City, N.M. The best thing about it was the bakery.
Driving north, we visited Indian ruins in the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. I loved seeing the remains of this ancient civilization. As we continued, there was no traffic. Friendly folks going the other way honked. This was a far cry from the congested freeways of Los Angeles.
Suddenly, a baby deer appeared at the side of the road. Mesmerized, we stopped as the startled fawn, surrounded by large trees, stared at us. Not a sound. No sidewalks cluttered with pedestrians. I was enthralled to realize that outside of big cities a magical world existed.
Checking into our hotel in Albuquerque, I saw a sign advertising the last day of the city's balloon fiesta. "Please, can we go?" I asked, pointing to the picture of hot air balloons filling the sky.
"We've already done a balloon ride," Tom said, noting we would need to be in the lobby at four in the morning.
"This isn't about going up in a balloon," I explained. "This is about seeing hundreds of balloonists."
Tom groaned but grudgingly agreed.
He had been off cigarettes for only three weeks. Since he'd started smoking when he was 11 years old, he had done everything including learning to drive while puffing away. You can imagine the stress he was under. Did I take that under consideration? Of course not!
We left the hotel while it was still dark. At the park, there were vendors selling all kinds of New Mexican food. Strong coffee, a burrito and a sweet roll invigorated us to stroll among the balloonists. Nicotine deprivation equals high caloric intake.
Each balloon had a crew to help blow up the huge hot air balloons. The swish of helium filling the balloons, combined with watching them inflate, was remarkable. Some of the balloons were in the shape of cartoon characters and there was even a balloon shaped like a beer can.
As the sun rose, hundreds of colorful balloons filled the sky. I had wandered into Fantasyland.
A couple of days later at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center while watching Native Americans dance, gorgeous white fluffy clouds appeared. Los Angeles is famous for smog, not clouds. I had not seen a cloud in about 30 years.
Staring at the clouds as if I were Alice in Wonderland, I impetuously said to my future husband, "Let's move here. This is so beautiful." Never one to argue, Tom's eyes revealed he thought I'd gone crazy, but he simply said, "Not sure about that."
As we continued touring, I became madly, deliciously forever-and-a-day enthralled with The Land of Enchantment. Unbeknownst to both of us, the dream of moving to Albuquerque cemented itself in my subconsciousness.
One morning Tom said he'd like to see the burial site of one of his favorite authors. Badly in need of some quiet time, I suggested, "Why don't you drive up to Taos, see D.H. Lawrence's burial site, and I'll do laundry, read, have a break."
Tom readily agreed, keen to have some time away, too.
The day wore on and on. No word from Tom. This of course was before cellphones or car phones. By two in the afternoon, there was nothing to do.
Among my character flaws are a lack of patience and a tendency to become bored easily. Out came the Yellow Pages, where I found a real estate agent.
"Listen," I said to the woman who answered the phone. "I'm stranded here at a hotel, no car, with nothing to do. I have no intention of buying anything, just looking."
"I'm just sitting here myself," she replied. "I'll be over in 20 minutes."
I spent the afternoon buying a condo. When I returned after six, there was still no sign of Tom.
At 10 p.m. the phone rang. When I answered I didn't ask, "Are you OK? What happened to you?" Instead, I snapped, "Are you smoking?"
Tom had not smoked. But he had been lost for three hours. Cranky, he explained, "I gotta tell you, if I had found a store, I would have bought cigarettes."
Everywhere we went for the rest of our vacation showed me a new way of living. People had time to talk, the white clouded sky was blue, there was no traffic and no waiting on line at restaurants. Nirvana!
So we got married, lived happily ever after for several years and never smoked again. The impulse condo became a rental but my dream to move to Albuquerque never dissipated. Fourteen years later I finally picked up and left California for New Mexico.
How I wound up in Tucson is another column.
On StarNet: Read recent columns by Alexis Powers at azstarnet.com/alexispowers
Meet Alexis POwers and other authors
Alexis Powers will be among the authors at an evening of book signings and music tonight from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Bridge Gallery at Ventana Plaza, 5425 N. Kolb Road.
Jane McCutchen and William Ascarza are the other featured authors.
In addition to writing this column for the Northwest Star, Powers has written several books, including "Paths to Freedom," about 12 women who triumph over adversity, and "Madi's Dollhouse," about a little girl and her special dollhouse.
According to Bridge Gallery, McCutchen is the photographer and writer of "Drifting in Beauty" and "Uncommon Thread," collections of poems and photography.
Ascarza is the author of "Tucson Mountains" and "Southeastern Arizona Mining Towns."
The evening also will feature live music by Thomas Ingerick and Friends.
Email Alexis Powers at email@example.com