It was not exactly a wild goose chase, but close. I drove up to Albuquerque to the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards but visited a dear friend first thinking I had timed it out to arrive at the book awards just in time for a glass of wine before dinner. Silly goose!
It was the Albuquerque of old, shining in the late afternoon light, stillness of autumn buried in the roar of 5:00 traffic. When I attended grad school here in the late 1970s, a visitor from New York said, “Shelley, look at all this space; it needs to be filled in.” It has been, it has.
Googlemaps had said “no problem.” It’s only ten minutes or so from my hotel. When had Google last flown over for mapping? Helicopters in the sky now meant search for migrants but tonight no one made the maps. The traffic thickened, balked, stopped, dangerously shot across lanes. The traffic folk helped by coning areas you couldn’t see until getting there. I was a country bumpkin in a city I hadn’t navigated in a while. And when put to the test, “OK Google” wouldn’t even answer me.
The ten minutes turned into fifteen, twenty, then twenty five. As far as I could tell (did I mention it got dark mighty quickly) Eubank Blvd. was going on forever. I had been to this country club before (Tanoan Country Club) but as I neared where I thought it was, Eubank coursed ahead where I thought it more or less dead-ended into the country club.
Country clubs have golf courses. I was in the middle of apartment sprawl. Didn’t it have to be here–obvious–somewhere?
Well, not to belabor. After a series of U-Turns and turning where I felt I was way off course, my own contributions to driving dangerously in Albuquerque, I desperately asked for help at a 7-11. One of the check-out girls there whipped out her more modest cell phone which immediately gave her a map and directed back and by five til the time of the dinner, I whizzed into the parking lot and nervously tried to engage other folks walking up to the event. They hustled ahead with a nod as if I were begging for money.
That was it all night. I felt I was coming up in the rear.
With tables of ten at a sold-out banquet, I searched for a spot and found a table against the back wall. The master of ceremonies was a dot in the distance and the servers coursed in front of us all night. My companions all knew each other, particularly the two women on either side of me who were both from Santa Fe. As I ate my baked chicken which resembled a rubber child’s toy they talked over me, exchanging SF stores and SF contacts and tales of where they had lived abroad, and how many books they had written and sold (the one to my left sold out of the SF cookbooks every time they were put out in a store). Are you an author they finally asked? They traded business cards over my dessert.
At one point I looked up to see that beside one of the other table mates (we were too far apart to even introduce ourselves) a mixed breed bull dog’s head emerged next to her. Later in the bathroom I saw that she/he wore a pink netted skirt and her owner had that time-worn SF style too: floor length skirt, jumbly overblouse, obligatory turquoise. Back at the table, I noted a spot where I had dribbled salad dressing on my black pants. I noted this when one of the SF table mates looked too long at my knee where the stain spread. She was the upper end of the SF style: brown suede skirt (floor length), matching boots and rebozo (delicately draped), and of course a hat not unlike that of Mary Austin’s (a 1930s SF writer) I’d seen in a photograph. This gal was born in Japan, raised in Germany, and had just returned from her upteenth trip to Venice.
When they asked again about my book she said she had walked the llano too, but in Spain, on a famous pilgrimage. You simply must go.
In the end, we all shared quite a lot. With the exception of two others at our table who left before the event ended, we each stood when our names were announced among the nominees in the many categories. Truthfully, this was a wonderful accolade, just as the m.c. said. Over and over he praised the nominees, reminding us all that we were rated by reviewers across the United States and gave us statistics to validate that we were the very few chosen to make the cut.
Yes, we stood and we sat down. One man in the table in front of us won two awards. We squinted (as we pretended not to squint) to glimpse the little trophy.
I knew I was in for it when the m.c. began the evening with a joke about forgiving one of the entrants for teaching in Texas. New Mexico is resplendent in Texan jokes. The subtitle of my book is “A Texas Memoir of Place.” I had warned OU Press about that. But what do those Okies know?
We stood and we sat down. Running up at the New Mexico/Arizona book awards–finalists all.