In the previous post, I mentioned that Albuquerque and I did not have the fondest of introductions. Mind, this wasn’t my first time in this city.
Much of the reason why I specifically chose to spend more time here on the 2018 road trip was due to a prior favorable visit. Back in 2015, my girlfriend at the time and I were on a bit of a cannonball run from East Texas to California and spent a night here. We had airbnb’d an adorable apartment, and in the morning mingled with a couple neighborhood cats who were apparent regulars of our stoop, then ate at Frontier which is just South of the UNM campus.
Given the proximity of the campus and the stature of Frontier as a dining staple, the restaurant brimmed with a casually impatient fervor during our mid-morning visit. Over the course of the hour or so we were there, many of the common subculture cliques came through the door. And while I may hint at a bit of cynicism toward people’s tendency (my own included) to group-assimilate while claiming individualism, it was charming to see the range of people all coming to eat the same food. I had a similar sensation near the end of high school and on graduation day that I still think of fondly, but I digress…
We left Frontier and left Albuquerque quite happy about our having stopped there, and the city was quick to my mind when I began planning out the 2018 road trip.
I arrived in Albuquerque in May of 2018. And actually, I’ll address that specific day in a little bit. Because while my first evening of re-introduction to ‘Querque was rough around the edges, the rest of the visit wasn’t. And that is what’s important.
I spent 10 days there, with the weekend thrown in the middle. As I had mentioned prior, I work remotely, and this was the first city since the start of my trip where I opted to use a coworking space.
FreeRange has a network of 3 separate office spaces to use around the city, with their primary office based near UNM at the intersection of Central Ave. and University Blvd. I’ve come to really love coworking spaces — particularly those that feel more like a ‘space’ than an office. FreeRange does well in this regard. Their office location on the more northeast side of ABQ used to be something akin to a Jiffy Lube. I never used it since the central office was more convenient for me, but I was otherwise rather intrigued with that location [coworker’s space envy]. Anywho… the main address was well-sized, had a couple meeting rooms in the back, a lounge area up front near the windows that face Central Ave., and an event room with a huge projection screen around the corner from the main workstations area.
While it may have had something to do with the time of year that I was there, the space did not experience a lot of traffic, so days tended to be a bit quiet. What members that were there regularly were, well, regulars. And much like the familiars at the corner table of the bar, they take on a sort of non-threatening pseudo-ownership, and were easy about greeting tourists like myself.
And then we made paper.
One of the benefits of a coworking space hosting open-invite events for members to partake in is that it doesn’t feel like a company event — it’s just something that happens to be occurring where you work. On a Friday (or was it Thursday?) night, an ex-FreeRange member (who was definitely still ‘one of the gang’) hosted an event wherein she taught how to make paper. In short, it’s a lot of water, a blender, a light appliqué of glue (optional), a basic wood-and-mesh frame (Think: tiny screen door), and lots of scraps of pre-existing paper. That may seem counter-intuitive, but when’s the last time you’ve seen paper like in the lead photo available for purchase? Exactly. You’ve gotta make it.
In hindsight, the evening felt something like a crafts version of eating crawdads with a bunch of friends: your hands stay busy, but the task is fairly simple and straightforward so your mind is free (as is your mouth even when ‘eating’ crawfish), and thus much chatting is able to ensue.
All in all, between memories of la noche de papier (and admittedly crushing a little on the host), showing up on Monday to find out the office coordinator and I both similarly cut our own hair over the weekend, and awkward segues talking about the Devel (the concept car, but I think you have an idea on how that may have been phonetically awkward, albeit very funny), I couldn’t have expected more from the mere 5 or so days I spent in that office. FreeRange in ABQ delivered.
Otherwise, I ate.
I had my fair share of green chile dishes (when in Rome…), some immediately forgettable ramen, an enormous burrito and (similarly gargantuan) horchata from Taqueria El Paisa, and a couple other choice outings. I actually did not make it back to Frontier on this go-around; read into that what you will.
I recommend a stop at Farm & Table in NW ABQ for weekend brunch (it is as hipster as the name suggests). Reviews said be comfortable waiting for a table, and they weren’t wrong. I brought a book and grabbed a stool out front in the shade and read for about 45 minutes before being seated. But the location is great, so as long as you’re not in a rush, it’s just a pleasant place to be whether you’re seated at your table yet or not. The pivotal part being that once I was sat, I never felt rushed and proceeded to engage in something akin to a 4-course meal, and it was all delicious.
El Patio de Albuquerque was another wonderful restaurant. Effectively a converted house on the South side of the ‘Brick Light District’, they served what felt to be high quality versions of predominantly standard New Mexican fare. It’s a small restaurant, so again, either work on your timing or be prepared to get a little cozy while waiting.
And for you scotch drinkers, there’s Two Fools Tavern. I went there at least twice in just my 10 days. The food: comfort.
So What Was Bad?
Within the first couple of hours of arriving to the city and driving around to get my bearing, I witnessed two separate pedestrian officer stops, a bastion of five or six squad cars responding to a call, yet another officer response consisting of a couple police vehicles, a homeless person nearly getting maced outside of a 7-11 by the cashier, and a few blocks in a commercial area North of downtown where it looked like rows of car dealerships had all closed, the parking lots fenced up, the buildings empty, and no real sign for an intended future for the area. Altogether, it was not the most heartwarming re-introduction to the city.
Separately, I visited the National Museum of Nuclear Science and on that day they happened to be hosting a sort of ‘Asian Culture Appreciation Day’, and featured such things as a Japanese Taiko drumming group. In a Nuclear Science Museum. Which had replicas of the Little Boy and Fat Man atomic bombs. So, you know, depending on your viewpoint, not necessarily a good thing on their part…
And gentrification is alive and well in Albuquerque. With almost startling definition. But that’s a whole bag of beans unto itself.
ABQ feels caught in a ‘middle’ in a lot of ways. A long section of Central Ave. recently had dedicated bus lanes constructed with centralized platforms working to bolster the public transit for the area and serving that major thoroughfare between UNM and Downtown. But then they ran out of space for the dedicated bus lanes in certain spots.
The areas immediately around UNM are flourishing, but if you keep heading East on Central Ave. you will quickly run into the ABQ Downs Racetrack & Casino, neighboring Flea Market, and a long row of blocks containing thrift stores, second- (and third-) hand auto repair shops, dollar stores, and mobile home parks.
Head North from Downtown and it’s neighborhoods of casitas whose grocery stores have a level of security a bit higher than you may have anticipated. Even around Farm & Table, depending on which direction you head out from there, you wouldn’t expect that restaurant to exist where it does. Then there’s that section of defunct ex-car dealerships.
The quarter of Albuquerque that is North of I-40 and East of I-25 is the sweet spot of suburban development for the city. Life is likely pretty nice over there.
But FreeRange was near solely populated with 20- and 30-somethings. Young adults taking part in small businesses doing work that is potentially (if only marginally) new for the city. And that’s something worth noting: ABQ is keeping its kids. Its future is literally sticking around.