The last four years of my life have been spent as an itinerant police reporter. I’ve traveled the world: Alamogordo, Oklahoma, Belen.
OK, so that’s more like hopping from one small town to the next. It’s good to be back in New Mexico, though I still live in Belen and not Albuquerque, the place I consider home.
One thing I’ve learned during my travels is that big-box stores destroy small towns. The countryside is littered with the corpses of once-thriving towns, reduced to boarded-up storefronts. Maybe Wal-Mart can’t be totally blamed for turning every small town into a Mad Max movie; everything rises and falls in America. But it has done its part. I hate to admit it, but I even shop at Wal-Mart sometimes. I may need a picture frame, a can of coffee or 25 pounds of highly enriched uranium. There’s simply no alternative out there.
Albuquerque is a medium-sized city, slightly more resistant to Wal-Mart’s stranglehold but by no means immune. I love this place: The food is good, the people are nice and fascist pieces of legislation like SB 1070 just won’t fly here. We’ve already had 500 years of ethnic violence, and I think we’re pretty much done. New Mexico has managed to retain its identity, even with an onslaught of ever-repeating chain stores.
It is up to you, consumer, to avoid these places whenever possible, lest the entire planet be transformed into one giant indoor super center where we, the citizens of the world, are employees, subject to termination and orderly disposal. In this day and age, chain stores are simply unavoidable. But it’s important to support local business whenever possible, or it may disappear forever.
I’m just happy to be back around Albuquerque. So I set out to provide a guide for people who are just setting foot on this hallowed desert ground, or who’ve been gone for a while, off exploring the world. You see, no one can leave Albuquerque and not come back. It’s a sunny black hole, and I am forever trapped in its glorious event horizon. I love this town, even when I hate it.
I set out to provide a guide for people who are just setting foot on this hallowed desert ground, or who’ve been gone for a while, off exploring the world. You see, no one can leave Albuquerque and not come back.
For this guide, I envisioned a sparkling list of thrift stores, pawn shops and independently owned businesses. But the problem with lists is that it’s hard to catch everything.
The truth of the matter is, people are going to have to get out there and look. It’s easy to just go to Mega Buy and pick up that copy of Exile on Mainstreet. But why not go to indie stores like Natural Sound and Charley’s instead? If vinyl is your thing, hit up We Buy Music on Lomas and San Mateo. I picked up The Silver Tongued Devil and I for two bucks. There’s a comic book store right next door. Get your geek on.
These places are out there; find them. Albuquerque has shopping malls for all your clothing needs. But it’s far cooler to find a guayabera shirt at a thrift store or a vintage clothing shop. I found an awesome crushed velvet couch for about 70 bucks at an indoor flea market on Central. It’s orange, like the fires of hell. I got a nice teak entertainment center as well—40 bucks.
We have great chile in Albuquerque. I was going to provide a list of places to get it, but I figured if you can’t find green chile, you’re not even trying. When I was in Oklahoma, I yearned for carne adovada, something that really doesn’t exist outside of New Mexico. I also love chicharrónes, having eaten them weekly in Belen. I now have triglyceride and cholesterol counts so high, my doctor thought I was already dead. They can only be measured in scientific notation.
We also have a wide variety of Middle Eastern food. When I returned from Oklahoma, I was heartbroken to see my beloved Petra Café and Restaurant gone, vanished, the building torn down, the owner off to points unknown. But a trek through the city reveals a rich palette of Palestinian and other hot localities’ delights. These joints are often inside small grocery stores (Café Istanbul and San Pedro Mart are two such places)—a great way to avoid the big-box bullies. I had lunch the other day with an Egyptian man who told me the city owes its large Middle Eastern population to its resemblance to the deserts back home. An Egyptian feels at home the minute he sets foot here. I had always suspected this and was thrilled to hear it confirmed. The two years I lived out of state, I felt the profound absence of the desert. It’s a mystical place.
I hate to sound preachy, but I’ve seen the abyss—the towns with nothing but a Wal-Mart and maybe a little mall with a JCPenney and, god forbid, an Old Navy, a few chain restaurants waiting just past their doors with bland, corporate slop. Albuquerque is a cool town; it has a nickname that’s hard to pronounce and a culture all its own. Get out there and enjoy Burque for what it is.