Friday, May 22, 2015

New travels with Alexander the Great

Grandson Alexander the Great has been visiting, and I’ve been seeing our querencia through new eyes.
Not that Alex is new to the West. He’s spent all of his 18 years living in some of its most interesting parts, including San Diego, California, Oregon, Idaho and in Washington, where he was born, in Spokane, near the site of his current home and close to his long-time digs in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
And of course, in New Mexico. He lived in Las Cruces from ages 3 through 10 and has returned to visit family here over the years.
But this time seems different, somehow. His aunts and uncles and cousins have scattered from Texas to the Pacific Northwest. Many of his best childhood buddies are away at college.
Being Alex, he managed to assemble a new posse.
We used to joke that his presidential campaign began when he was a toddler. By his late preschool years, he could amble into playgrounds or kids’ areas at fast-food emporiums and organize diverse, often downright chaotic, herds of K through 8th-graders into imaginative, artfully choreographed groups with a single purpose: specific games, maybe, re-enactments of hit movies or TV shows, or an impromptu mission based on the resources at hand.
When I reminded him of his early leadership endeavors, he acknowledged his role, but issued a modest disclaimer, “I just happened to know what would be the most fun.”
It’s true.
We were boon companions during his elementary school years here, and he was a good sport about accompanying me on my arts and entertainment rounds, offering thoughtful observations about the quality of visual arts, theatrical and dance performances, fiestas ... and the hors d’oeuvres at exhibit openings.
During our spring break/reunion, he hit the ground running. On the way back from the airport, we caught the first evening of the Las Cruces Country Music Festival and he braved the ferocious winds long enough to evaluate the venue, the sound systems and the opening bands.
The next morning, he faced an even greater challenge, getting up before noon to catch the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market. (I’m not being snide. He was coming from a different time zone, had foregone a night’s sleep to catch a ridiculously early flight, and is by nature a creature of the night, like all of us in the musician side of the family, at least in our early years.)
And speaking of jet lag and the impact on his grandmother of white-knuckled drives through downtown El Paso during rush hour, Alex kindly and diplomatically revealed his true identity when I introduced him to a colleague as “my son, Ryan.”
It was an addled senior moment, but truth to tell, there are some almost freakish similarities between son and grandson. Alex is a tad taller and a little lankier than his dad, but I suspect even impartial experts might have trouble distinguishing their voices and guitar riffs. Even more striking: their doppleganger laughs, their senses of humor, and their wry, witty and laugh-out-loud funny running commentaries on life.
Alex was impressed with the growth of the Las Cruces Farmers’ and Crafts Market since the days when he and his mom and relatives occasionally exhibited their wares. He quickly covered the full market stretch on Main Street, to and fro. He left a tip and struck up a conversation with the market musician he deemed the most talented and explained in great detail why he admired the performance.
He sat on the rock wall surrounding my patio and absorbed some vitamin D under the bright lapis blue skies.
He disappeared for a bit and return to report he’d visited our nearby park and again maneuvered the water fountain to give another drink to our favorite old tree there, “For old times’ sake.”
I recalled the kind act, but had forgotten what he’d named the sprawling Mexican elder. Alex remembered: “Tommo, I named it Tommo, for some reason.”
I recognized the tree, too, when I checked later. Tommo is far and away the greenest tree in that park.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout or call 575-541-5450.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Remembering Sweet Old Bob, touchstone and timeless treasure

For many of us, Memorial Day will never be quite the same in Las Cruces.
For the more than two decades I’ve lived in Las Cruces, a highlight of the long weekend was a visit to the Picacho Street Dealers Antique & Collectible Street Sale.
We never saw it as a commercialization of the occasion, but rather as an appropriately nostalgic fiesta; a nice way to remember our favorite people, places and things, and sometimes pick up some reminders to take home with us.
Shops and shopkeepers come and go, but in my time here, Picacho’s anchors have always been Coyote Traders, the fascinating and eclectic wonderland of all things yesteryear, run for decades by Mel and Sandy Hester and their son Cam, and S.O.B.’s Antiques, the fun and rustic Americana emporium of Bob (aka Sweet Old Bob, inspiration for his store’s acronym) Gaines and his wife, Carol.
The Hesters have cut back their hours after the sudden death of their son Cam last year.
And Bob died May 2, pretty nearly with his boots on. He was on home hospice care, but still manning his shop, just a day before he left us.
“I meet lots of good people. For me this is recreation. It’s not work. This is play,” Bob told me in January. We were pondering the fate of our favorite stretch of Picacho Avenue, where he has been purveying his unique wares since the 1980s, after two previous lengthy careers in the U.S. Marine Corps and as an English, speech and drama teacher at Las Cruces High School.
Pat Beckett, his friend for nearly half a century, said Bob was uncharacteristically quiet about some of his most noble and arduous accomplishments, including a ferocious battle in Korea in which a few hundred Marines, known as the ‘Frozen Chosin,’ were surrounded in freezing temperatures by more than 10,000 enemy soldiers.
“His company had to hold the pass at 30 to 50 below zero. Canteens were frozen. They were running short on ammunition. Those guys were going through hell. But what Bob always wanted to talk about was the Tootsie Roll campaign he won,” Beckett said.
The candy company was looking for stories and Bob shared his experiences about surviving on the famed treat, which would gradually melt in his mouth and provide some nourishment when everything else was frozen.
“He said the company liked his story and sent him a ton of Tootsie Rolls,” Beckett said.
“Bob’s story about how Tootsie Rolls saved his life is a classic. The book ‘Last Stand of Fox Company’ is about the Frozen Chosin. I am lucky to have a copy autographed by Bob,” Eva Taylor emailed me, adding that “Bob celebrated the Marine Corps birthday in his backyard with 100 to 200 people for 25 years. My entire family will miss him.”
Gaines also had some great stories about a golden era in the Las Cruces theater community, when now-legendary figures like Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff were coming into their own, and thespians at NMSU and Las Cruces Community Theatre were building foundations that would earn little Las Cruces a reputation as the Broadway of the Southwest.
From what I can garner, one of Bob’s own last, “official” acting gigs here was a dinner theater performance at Cattleman’s with Irene Oliver-Lewis in “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers.”
Irene told me Bob inspired her as an actor, educator and historian. “He recently lent me a bunch of stuff for the recent exhibit at the Branigan on Doña Ana. When I went to get the stuff, we visited a good while. I also remember him as an incredible high school drama teacher. He had a successful traveling story theatre group that performed throughout the city. I told him he also influenced my future work by being a mentor and working with kids. He was a great guy.”
I suspect a lot of us were lured to linger by Bob’s stories, which could seamlessly segue from the Civil War to modern global conflicts, from antique agricultural implements to the state of the theater and the evolution of kitchen gadgets.
But make no mistake. Bob had some amazing stuff, too, and at bargain prices. My first years in town, I picked up some terrific, one-of-a-kind finds: frames to repaint and refinish for my growing art collection, exotic guess-what-it-is (a favorite sport of Bob and Carol) gifts for new and old amigos. Rustic table components. Old brass angels.
I always found something amazing and wonderful at Sweet Old Bob’s place, particularly on Memorial Day weekend. I don’t know if was synchronicity or serendipity or maybe just a sentimental mood that set me up to be astounded when I found, say, some sheet music that was the twin of a favorite in the bench of my mom’s old baby grand piano. Or an ornate, ancient plate commemorating Hackley Park in my old home town of Muskegon, Michigan.
It was nearly impossible to go into Bob’s shop without finding something that reminded you of something, usually pleasant, and Bob was always happy to join you in a little dance down memory lane.
“I find things at yard sales and estates sales and I’ve got a couple of pickers,” he told me.
But mostly, it was Bob’s remarkable eye, and Bob himself that kept us coming back on Memorial Day weekend, over the Christmas holidays, in a sentimental or poignant mood of homesickness, or a moment of wistful longing for exotic retail therapy with redeeming sociological value.
While many stores on Picacho Avenue closed, Bob told me this year his business remained steady, if unpredictable.
“You get kids coming back to visit their parents who remember us, and this is something to do while they’re here,” he said.
Bob was a Las Cruces touchstone, a treasure as rare, timelessly fun, uniquely weathered, reliably informative and endlessly, pragmatically and sometimes eloquently entertaining as the stories, collectibles and vintage wares he shared with us.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Spaceport America style is retro-visionary


 By S. Derrickson Moore

Ah, Spaceport style.
It’s a new frontier for Las Cruces regional style, and in fact, for the world.
After another day at Spaceport America, I was racking my brain for a descriptive phrase that captured the essence, the ambiance, the je ne sais quois of the place.
It finally came to me when I was boldly — lamely, actually — going through spaces where no media person has gone before (at least on this particular press junket). I was there to preview new exhibits slated to open in June, at the Spaceport Visitor Center in downtown Truth or Consequences, and at April’s isolated Spaceport America tour site, the upstairs exhibit portion of the 120,000-square-foot Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space building, a combined terminal and hangar facility.
I realized my still-waiting-for-test-results, impaired knee would probably not appreciate climbing several flights up and down stairs to a SpaceShipTwo hangar media conference site.
To see if there was another way to get from here to there, I asked Virgin Galactic’s Chelsea Green, who may have the coolest job title on the planet: Terrestrial Experience Designer.
She revealed that it was her second awesome, out-this-world-title: the first was “astronaut sales.” Her business card was cosmic, too: the distinctive Virgin logo in the center of what looked like some sort of cosmic nebula but was, she revealed, based on a photo of each staffer’s eye.
She graciously offered to take me to an elevator, with the caution that photographs weren’t allowed in the regions of the vast building we’d be going through, after gaining access through what struck me as a super cool, secret hidden panel worthy of a futuristic castle in a galaxy long ago and far, far away. I kept my promise and didn’t Tout or Tweet or Instagram, so we’ll have to make do with the thousand words, rather than the picture.
Or maybe it won’t take quite that many. It was bright, shiny, white. White-white, like the rest of the interior of the building, and its Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo replica, waiting patiently to be replaced by the real thing, in its white-white hangar. The offices and conference areas were white, and so were what looked like cubicles and storage areas and desks, all in lovely, graceful, free-form, retro-visionary shapes.
It put me in mind of all-white futuristic scenes from Woody Allen movies of the early 1970s, of our first glimpses of Tomorrowland at Disneyland, when we were tiny tots, watching the Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s. Of the bright, white boots, mod fashions and furnishings coming out of swinging London and New York in the 1960s.
It was our idea of what the future would look like, best-case scenario, when we were little kids.
I loved it then, and I love it now, and I can understand why Richard Branson loves it, too. We’re about the same vintage and came into our spacey salad days with the same style influences.
The building’s exterior, by the by, is not white-white, but still fits nicely into its own retro-visionary niche. True to its LEED Platinum accredited, eco-friendly status inside and out, it’s designed to harmonize visually with its high desert country environment.
“It is both sustainable and sensitive to its surroundings,” proclaims the architect’s website,
Back in the hippie, tree-hugging days of the Whole Earth Catalog of the late 1960s and ‘70s, we dreamed of lovely, organic, Spaceship Earth dwellings. I think Buckminster Fuller would have loved this pioneering, retro-visionary commercial spaceport terminal.
The building, designed by the firm of world-renowned architect Lord Norman Foster, will support up to two WhiteKnightTwo and five SpaceShipTwo vehicles, according to Virgin Galactic sources, and will house all of the company’s “astronaut preparation and celebration facilities, a mission control center, a friends and family area and space committed to public access.”
Whatever eventually gets off the ground at Spaceport America, what’s already there is the stuff of dreams — past, present and future.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter  and Tout, or call 575-541-5450

Awkard silences are rare in Las Cruces

AWKWARD SILENCE  Pub date May 10

I was concentrating on allergy season aches and afternoon workloads.
It took me a moment to register that someone I’d never met had just climbed into the hot tub at our health club.
An awkward silence ensued.
I made some comment about good hot tub weather. After all, when you find yourself in what is essentially a large bathtub with a stranger, some pleasantry or greeting seems indicated. But no perfunctory reply was forthcoming and the awkward silence continued.
Later, I realized the incident stood out because awkward silences are so rare in Las Cruces.
At first, I thought it might be something about the physical nature of our territory.
Elevator rides, for instance, are one of the most frequent sites for awkward silences and there are very few elevators in Las Cruces.
But then again, I’ve never experienced an awkward silence during an elevator ride here. I’ve had some intriguing conversations with people from all over the world about the rarity of Mesilla Valley elevators (or “lifts” as they call them in Great Britain, a fellow traveler once informed me) while rising or falling in our still-uncommon, multi-story governmental, office, medical, financial and university buildings.
The escalator at Barnes & Noble on the New Mexico State University campus is an even better source of impromptu chatter. As far as I know, it’s the only one in the county and one of only a few in the whole state. Many of us can’t resist commenting on that fact and reminiscing about other escalators we have known in our travels and far-flung home towns.
“You strike me as someone who never met a stranger,” I was recently told by a nice lady who read a recent Las Cruces Style column and graciously invited me to a May picnic and wildflower appreciation gathering on her ranch.
It was a lovely invitation and compliment that made me feel like a natural-born Las Crucen, thank you very much.
But in my corazon, I know it’s not me: it’s you all.
It’s true I’ve interviewed thousands of you over the past decades, and even on my most shy or introverted days, I find it’s pretty easy to ask anybody their opinions on just about anything.
And that’s because you make it easy. In all those queries, over all those years, I can count the awkward silences, or “no comments,” on two hands without running out of fingers or getting into thumbs. They are so rare, in fact, that I can recall each refusal: most involved language or immigration issues during times of Borderland crack-downs. And even then, most of the refusals were accompanied with polite regrets or attempts to bridge whatever language gaps divided us.
Maybe it’s the wide open spaces, big skies and wild west spirit that foster companionable, rather than awkward, silences. A few friendly words seem like a natural segue from appreciation of nature’s wonders to human urban encounters.
Impromptu conversations are pretty much the norm here, I’ve found, in ticket queues, supermarket checkout lines, at festivals, meetings and during ambles around various plazas.
Nearly every newcomer and visitor I meet remarks about the warmth and friendliness of New Mexicans in general and Las Crucens in particular.
I’ve heard some particularly poignant, appreciative comments from members of minority groups in times of strife, and from those who have relocated from large metropolitan areas or insular, reserved small towns in cooler climes.
In a world perceived as cold, hard, hostile, threatening or downright dangerous, too many people on too much of the planet these days seem to be resigned to keeping silence and maintaining distance.
Just about everyone I’ve talked with here seems to agree that this is a welcoming refuge from all that.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

Fiesta Fatique in Las Cruces

When I coined the term Full-Tilt Fiesta Season in 1994, I was not exaggerating. Our semi-official motto then was "city of fiesta moods and festive, friendly attitudes." In the last two decades, our FTFS has burgeoned to the point where it's pretty much year-around, and festooned with several fiesta superweekends throughout the year.
But some fiestas that were going strong, and others that sprung up and went on to flourish and celebrate 15th and 20th anniversaries, are now calling it quits, cutting back or changing forms.
The Border Book Festival is the latest to say adios. Denise Chᶥz, who cofounded the festival with Susan J. Tweit, announced that the once-popular event, which never quite seemed to weather the change in venue from Mesilla to assorted downtown Las Cruces locales, is calling it quits. An online presence and some literary events will continue at Casa Camino Real, Chᶥz said.
Venues are also an issue for the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference, which trained and educated thousands of mariachi musicians and singers and folklorico dancers over the past two decades and brought top entertainers to perform and teach. Founder Phyllis Franzoy announced that the nonprofit group, which fielded one of the largest gatherings of its kind each November, has had trouble securing suitable venues after New Mexico State University schedules and policies have changed. The group had an abbreviated event at Las Cruces Convention Center in 2014 and is now considering new venues and new dates that will allow return of a full roster of events, including a Mariachi Mass, parque festival with arts and crafts, Spectacular concert, student workshops and a performing showcase.
That's good news. It's one of the treasures of Las Cruces that generates the most comments in travels from Santa Fe to Deming and Albuquerque, where I run into performers who attribute their training and the origins of their mariachi groups to workshops and studies at the conference.
After more than a decade, the White Sands International Film Festival announced that last September's event would be their last gathering.
Roberto Estrada also announced that 2014 would mark his last year preparing his giant enchilada, which once claimed the Guinness Book of World Records title as the world's largest. Everybody agrees that Roberto has done us proud. But it's sad that the still-thriving Whole Enchilada Fiesta is without its behemoth attraction. It would be nice if a new generation would come forward to continue the tradition.
There are bright stars on the fiesta horizon, from the monthly Downtown Ramble, which evolved from the annual Artwalk, to Downtown Partnership and Las Cruces Farmers' and Crafts Market special events like evening markets, New Year's Eve Chile Drop and red-carpet events.
Several fiesta founders, planners and volunteers cited the Las Cruces County Music Festival as a good example of what we should be doing to maintain our fiesta central status. Las Cruces Convention Visitors Bureau Director Philip San Filippo came up with the concept, and had contacts and expertise after fielding similar events to create an event that is attracting national attention. Focus groups determined that we already had a reputation as a mecca for country music fans (thanks largely to decades of efforts by Barbara Hubbard in bringing top names in country, rock and pop to Pan Am). The bureau and city offered resources to put it all together, and hired Dawn Starostka and Helping Hands for the professional help needed.
In a time of what a friend called "fiesta management fatigue," it's a hopeful model. It's time to recognize we've grown. We need to pick the right times and venues, build on what talented founders have created, and hire professionals to help us move into a new fiesta era.

Since this column was posted in March, we also learned that the Soutthwest Environmental Center's Raft the Rio event has been canceled.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at lcsun-news, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

Here's to Mom: Queen of the May

APRIL  26  May Day Memories
If September were a little less wonderful here and summer heat held off a bit longer, May would be hands-down my favorite month of the year. And it’s still a major contender.
It was no contest when I was growing up in Michigan.
Even if June through August had more reliable weather, May had the major advantage of offering the first real relief from the long winter months.
Apple trees were in blossom. So were crocus, tulips, daffodils, lilacs, if I remember right, and lots of woodland wildflowers, including my personal faves, jack-in-the-pulpit, a rare and lovely little orchid, columbines and the aptly named Mayflowers.
Some of my earliest childhood memories involved collecting tiny bouquets of early bloomers in the yard, or wildflowers in the forest. We would occasionally press a few prize specimens between sheets of white paper or paper towels, tucked in the pages of thick books. We checked them impatiently and then usually forgot about them until they fell out, dry, brittle and faded, during a summer vacation search for something to read. Then, if we were feeling bored or creative enough, we’d arrange them into masterpieces suitable for framing or greeting cards.
But in the meantime, back in flowery May prime time, we strung big blossoms from our catalpa trees to make Midwestern leis and floral wreaths to crown our heads.
Then, if we were in a springy mood, and we almost certainly were, we’d dance.
In those days, most of us had outdoor poles and lines to dry our clothes, and my art teacher, scout leader mom was a genius at transforming the utilitarian structure into a fiesta site. Banners and streamers were added and a Maypole was born.
Naturally, we danced around it. That’s what Maypoles, whatever their origins, are for, after all.
There were other important rituals to attend to, and we were on the case.
In a kind of flowery, reverse trick-or-treat routine, we made paper cones with little stapled ribbon handles, decorated them, filled them with flowers, hung them from the front doorknobs at the homes of our friends and neighbors, rang their doorbells and ran off as fast as we could.
If the landscape permitted, we’d try to hide behind a nearby bush, tree or fence and watch the reaction. If our May Day “victim” was home, the reaction was always rewarding: surprise, a smile, a look around. The best sports would pretend to ignore the benevolent pranksters hiding in plain site.
We’d giggle a lot. And maybe go home and finish the Brownie Scout meeting, or have another dance around the Maypole, dreaming of being Queen of the May.
But in my memory, that title always goes to mom. May 1 was her birthday, and those celebrations and Mother’s Day are forever linked in my mind. My sister presented mom with her first grandchild, beautiful Brandy, on May 1, and her second, my sweet son Ryan, was also a May baby.
Mays are a little bittersweet now.
After decades in high-desert country, I think of May as the time when the heat rises, time to turn off the furnace and turn on the AC or swamp cooler.
But it’s also the time, in the best years, when the desert explodes with late wildflowers and vivid displays of cactus in bright hues of fuchsia, purple, red, pink and yellow. The swirling, Technicolor skirts of Cinco de Mayo folklorico dancers remind me of our childhood spring fiestas.
And I can’t help thinking that my imaginative mom would have found a way for us to transform a big agave, a stalwart seguaro or a red-flagged ocotillo into a Maypole, and devised a way to dance around it without getting prickled or stabbed.
If anyone could manage such a feat, it would be my mom. She was magic. She was Queen of the May. I miss her and wish we could join with her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids for one more Maypole dance.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.