The Land of Entrapment

My second experience with Couchsurfing was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I stayed with a young bluegrass musician and lifelong resident. His house is dirty, the toilet is broken, and just last week a tree fell in his backyard that nearly took out the entire sunporch. To hear Dustin talk about the saturation of awful punk and rock bands in town, one could easily assume he’s the sort of musician that can’t see past his own genre. However that assumption disappears when you’re with him in the car, and he cranks up the sound on Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.”

Bead & FetishI went to a Mexican restaurant on Dustin’s recommendation, and wandered around Old Town for a while. Old Town is for tourists, and I’m starting to realize that every tourist destination is exactly the same. The same expensive native art, the same cheap T-shirts, the same fudge and candy shops. They even had a place that sells Christmas decorations year round. It amazes me how many places sell Christmas decorations year round in this country. I walked by one store as the door was opening and I immediately knew the smell. I’m still working on the perfect words to describe it, but it was instantly recognizable to me. I knew this was a tourist shop. I knew what kind of knickknacks I would find inside. I’ve smelled that shop so many times in life, ever since I was a little girl on vacation in Mexico. The smell is even more common than Christmas.

I returned to the house and Dustin’s friend Frank came over. The two jammed for awhile in the living room as I listened and watched. We had some split pea soup and waited for their friend Matt to call about fishing. The three of them were hoping to go fishing down by the river that night, and had invited me to go along with. Unfortunately the entire river area was closed due to the fire risk, a fact that Dustin lamented about several times over the course of the evening. The area by the river is his favorite place in the city, and the only place he really wanted me to see.

Frank FishingInstead, their friend Matt said he knew a place nearby that they could go, though Dustin felt that what Matt was describing sounded less like a river and more like a ditch. Eventually Matt called to say his girlfriend wouldn’t be back with the car in time, and Dustin, Frank, and I decided to go off to The Ditch on our own. We had few supplies, and ended up stopping at the local co-op to pick up some shrimp for bait. The Ditch was a sizable irrigation creek just past where the beautiful, grassy, closed river area ended. Frank explained that they weren’t used to fishing in this type of water, and didn’t really know what they were doing. Matt was the one who understood this type of fishing, but he wasn’t here. Still, they tried. Frank thought he got a nibble once, but nothing more. Much beer was had, and I sat back to watch. As the sun began to set we crossed over The Ditch and up the hill to see it. It was a gorgeous sunset.

SunsetWe drove back to the house with the radio up, and Dustin and Frank discussed the various positive attributes that make Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” the absolute perfect song. Some of Dustin’s friends (including the infamous Matt) were heading over to their favorite local bar to hear an all-female salsa band, and I tagged along. The place was packed, and we all drank and talked. The stage and most of the bar was outside, something that would be unheard of in Seattle for most of the year. Dustin says they love getting outside at night, and I can’t blame them. It’s beautiful and warm, and so far I have yet to encounter a single mosquito. I suppose that’s because there’s no standing water for them to lay eggs in.

I was getting tired, but Dustin wanted to hangout with his neighbor, a good friend he rarely gets to see. We went over to find the neighbor setting up his brand new mixing board. We went in the back room and turned on some tunes. When “Fly Like an Eagle” came on, the neighbor mentioned that the only thing that could make this moment more perfect would be if we had some pot. I agreed that it seemed like the setting in which a person should be high, and we’re going to end that story there.

Sky ShotAfter staying up so late the night before, Dustin was down for the count the following day. I did some more exploring in the city, but didn’t find much that interested me. I spent most of the day in coffee shops catching up on my writing. When I arrived back at the house Dustin had returned. He was at Matt’s house using his internet, and spent most of the day refusing Matt’s suggestions that they go places. Matt isn’t able to drive himself anywhere right now due to a DUI, and Dustin could see that all the suggestions of fun things to do were excuses to get a chauffeur. I joined Dustin to watch Slingblade, an old Billy Bob Thorton movie and one of Dustin’s favorites. The cat, Chicken, likes to catch moths and play with them. We assume she eventually eats them, but it’s hard to tell.

When I explain where I’ve been and where I’m going, Dustin tells me I’m missing all the best parts of New Mexico. He explains that I have to come back and visit northern New Mexico, just above Albuquerque. That’s where the real beauty is. He tells me New Mexico is nicknamed “The Land of Enchantment,” but locals call is “The Land of Entrapment” because they have so many transplants. Lots of people come to visit, and many never leave. I can’t imagine why. It must be something they keep up north.

Pie Town

Pies - OpenIt was around 11AM when I saw the sign for Pie Town. I passed by two restaurants proudly advertising their pies before settling on the Pie-O-Neer. When I walked in the place was empty, and the waitress told me that the first pies were just coming out of the oven, so it would be about fifteen minutes before the cherry pie was ready to be sliced. I told her that was fine, asked for a glass of water, and sat down at one of the many empty tables.

A couple in their sixties walked in a moment later. The waitress explained the situation, and the woman looked at her husband. “Well you want a piece of pie, don’t you?” she said as a statement. “Dang straight I want a piece of pie,” he replied with a laugh. The waitress told them they could sit anywhere, to which they replied that they were “counter people.” They always sit at the counter so it’s easy to talk with folks. I moved up to the counter to join them.

Cherry PieThe baker, a woman named Kathy, came out to apologize for the delay. She said normally they would already have some pies out by now, but she got a late start. “It’s my Monday,” she explained, saying that they always seem to get the pies out late on Thursday mornings. Kathy was dressed in Pink from head to toe. Pink bandana to cover her hair, pink earrings, pink plaid apron, patterned pink pants. She had that slightly frazzled look that old female hippies tend to have. She reminded me of Ms. Frizzle. She kept running in and out of the kitchen to talk with us and check on the pies. Kathy was charming.

The older couple was from Lincoln, Nebraska, and seemed to be traveling a similar path as me but in the opposite direction. They were going to visit their son out west, and they explained to me that whenever they drive they always take the highways, never the interstates. I talked with them and the waitress, and told them about my trip. They all gave me tips on what to do and see in the places I was headed. Kathy came back to let us know that after the cherry pie there would be a coconut cream coming out. I opted to wait for the coconut cream, while the delegation from Lincoln opted to share a slice of cherry. As they ate, he commented on the superb nature of the pie. “You know me,” he said to his wife, “I search all over for good pie.”

“It’s a pie quest,” she added quietly.

Before they were finished the coconut cream was ready, and the waitress brought me a slice. It is important to clarify something at this time: I don’t like pie. I have never liked pie. I am a cake person. As a sweets-lover I can certainly choke one down if it’s the only available dessert, but I’ve never actively sought out a piece of pie in my entire life. There are three traits of pie that I normally have a problem with: dryness, sweetness, and cohesiveness.

  1. Dryness: Pie crusts always seem to be dry and flaky, and they never seem to be very sweet. I often feel like the crust is the forgotten vehicle used to deliver filling. As such, whenever I bite into it I feel like I’m eating a plate.
  2. Sweetness: I am rarely one to claim something is “too sweet,” but to me, pie fillings usually are. They are a different kind of sweetness. They are syrupy. I don’t like syrupy. I don’t understand why you would do something like that to perfectly good cherries.
  3. Cohesiveness: As a result of the two previously mentioned traits, I often find that the pie, on the whole, doesn’t make sense. In theory having something ovelry sweet next to something bland or bitter is a way of cutting one with the other. It is the basic premise behind High Tea in England. But with pie it never worked that way for me. Instead I just end up with one thing I don’t really like paired with another thing I don’t really like, and they don’t seem to go together.

Now, all of that being said: one of the promises I made to myself before I left was that I would take more culinary risks than normal, knowing that the things I don’t like at home might be very different across the country. And, it seemed that if I was ever going to enjoy a piece of pie, it would be in Pie Town. Especially a coconut cream pie fresh out of the oven.

It was the best pie of my life.

It was the pie that made me finally understand what people mean when they say the crust should be “flaky.” The cream was rich instead of syrupy, and the whole thing made sense. Like it was an actual dessert. A very, very good dessert.

Pie ReceiptIt’s been a while since Pie Town, and along the way people have asked me where my favorite place has been thus far. I tell them Pie Town. I have yet to adequately explain Pie Town to anyone, but if I could magically change the next stretch of road on my trip to be momentarily anywhere in the world, I would make it into Pie Town. I suppose it wasn’t just the place itself, but the effect it had on me. That delicious piece of pie was further proof that I should keep being adventurous and try things I don’t think I’ll like. Hearing the Lincoln couple explain that they like to sit at the counter in order to talk to people made me realize that the counter was the best place for me to be if I wanted to meet people on my journey. I haven’t sat at a table alone since. Pie Town was also the turning point in my trip and my life where I began to draw a distinction between the words “highway” and “interstate.” I too prefer highways to interstates, even if it means a longer day. It’s a better day.

Recently I was attempting to explain the glory of Pie Town to someone, and she asked if I knew the town was there when I picked that stretch of highway to drive down. I told her no, I just happened upon it. “Good,” she said, “You never would have found it if you were looking for it.”