June 2014

From Dogpatch to the Desert

Bill Slatkin

"You rented out your Dogpatch loft and moved to Albuquerque!" And it's not about a job, a love interest, or an ailing parent?"

My wife, Suzanne, and I frequently have encountered that question from Bay Area friends and people we've met since last fall, when we packed up and relocated to this overgrown frontier town in central New Mexico. Why, indeed, have we left our home, in what's blossoming into the most exciting neighborhood in a world-class City, and settled into a place characterized by strip malls, pickup trucks and the occasional fading "Romney for President" placard? 

Our decision to move began as an idea about seeking a place with fresher air, and evolved into a grander notion for a pair of young elders ready to begin a challenging new life chapter against an unfamiliar backdrop. 

Suzanne's lived in the Bay Area all her life. The region has been my home for more than 40 years. It's not easy to uproot and re-establish in a completely new and unfamiliar place. It’s an adventure I’ve that learned should be undertaken with minimum expectations and a willingness to be open to new experiences. I was determined not to bring old habits and routines to a new place just because they're familiar and comfortable.

I'm having trouble gaining a sense of the personality of my new home. I miss the San Francisco vibe. People in New Mexico are more diverse, less intense than those we left behind. I don't know if that's good or bad. There's no ocean here. No graceful skyscrapers or elegant bridges. But I have the sense of awe provoked by my favorite City sites when I gaze at the Sandia Mountains, their peaks sometimes coated in snow, appearing so close in the thin air at this altitude that it seems like they're only a few blocks away, though it's a twenty-minute drive to reach the foothills. I'm happy to trade San Francisco's flat clouds pasted against what’s often a grey canvas for Albuquerque’s enormous sky, which is richly blue, and displays creamy white masses floating overhead during part of the day, then a broad sprinkling of stars when the sun has gone to another part of the world. I’m both pleased and bored when an Albuquerque stranger wants to engage in an extended conversation around inconsequential topics. New Mexico feels more spacious, with less traffic, fewer rules. 

Rather than just making comparisons, however, I think it’s important to assess how this new environment has impacted our lives. For example, we both are, mostly, adhering to vegan diets and learning Ashtanga, an advanced-practice Yoga. I suck at it. Suzanne is developing her considerable talent at drawing, I’m back at work on the book I've been talking about writing for the past several years. 

And we've learned a few things, or perhaps been reminded of lessons learned but since forgotten. Dogpatch is not the center of the Universe. I’m perfectly happy to distance myself from the community projects in which I was absorbed. Progress Park is flourishing nicely without me. Another realization: we may both be past the age of retirement, but we're capable of adapting to new things, and of enjoying the process of learning and stretching ourselves. 

Looking out the window of our rented little three-bedroom adobe, near the University of New Mexico and Central Avenue, Albuquerque’s piece of fabled Route 66, I think about whether we’ll return to San Francisco. But the move here reminded me that the time to live is right now. And right now, this is home.

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