exercises in compound storytelling

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Santa Fe I love you but you're breaking my heart

After 15 years I am leaving Santa Fe, and not without considerable regrets.

The process of leaving Santa Fe has dragged on for several months as we have sold one house and have listed another. It's a process longer than dying of pancreatic cancer, shorter than a pregnancy, as these sort of life events go. In the process I've met some people who have given me a unique perspective on Santa Fe and who have reason to know.

There are several people who work in semi-skilled to skilled professions who see enough and get lied to enough that there's no point in lying to them. Dental hygienists being one (there's no point in claiming you've been flossing if you haven't; also, if you've started taking crystal meth since your last appointment you may as well fess up), cable installers being another. Home inspectors, handymen, and to some degree cops.

Our inspector described Santa Fe this way: "anybody who moves to Santa Fe as an adult is probably running from something." And the handyman: "most everybody who moves to Santa Fe as an adult is wounded and looking for a place to heal." I really have no idea if these two descriptions match up or not. What I do know is that Santa Fe tends to attract a certain kind of person, who for whatever reason is more taker than maker. And the town is not aging well.

This is a state capital with a lower-than-average high school graduation rate: roughly 58% versus a state average of about 66%, last I saw. And our school administrators will say flatly in open meetings they don't expect test scores to get better any time soon [link]. This is a town of 70,000 people with a distinct culture, architecture, and cuisine, a rarity in America. But its also a town of 70,000 people with its own immigration policy.

Santa Fe has a vast cash-only economy; the state's high gross receipts tax encourages cheating, so lots of people cheat. I'd be willing to argue that you haven't really moved to Santa Fe until you've had a bonded and insured skilled workman offer to "pay cash and skip the tax." Santa Fe has a shocking number of people getting paid under the table; without it the vaunted Santa Fe artist lifestyle (one job for money; one for insurance; one semi-official creative outlet) simply wouldn't be viable.

Santa Fe has used what little economic policy it has at its disposal (namely, choosing a group to give tax breaks) on artists, ignoring the fact that while art is potentially environmentally friendly it doesn't really have a multiplication factor: artists create jobs for themselves, and their agents, and gallery owners, and models and art supply stores and framers, but that's about it.

Lots of people were shocked and horrified when Bobbi Salinas-Norman turned up dead a few weeks ago, some months after her last known contact [link]. I don't know why: people like Salinas: people of a certain age, who weren't born here, who have scant to no family network, who have a plan for their lives that may not make financial sense, run rampant in this town. They practically run this place. They're the ones walking their dogs in the park in the middle of the day on a weekday, not cleaning up after aforementioned dog, getting offended if anyone suggests they take their dog to one of Santa Fe's many dog parks.

This is a town that apparently believes it can thrive as a retirement and refuge destination, meaning that there will always be enough people over 65 who want to move here and buy houses, and enough cheap Mexican labor to keep their houses livable. Where this leaves the local Hispanic population, who are on average not rich, educated, skilled, or mobile, is anybody's guess. I'm guessing that if current patterns persist they'll be squeezed out altogether within a couple of generations. Which is a shame given their unique culture. They've been living here since the time of the Conquistadors, and they've survived drought, famine, war, and statehood. Its hard to believe they'll be pushed out by simple poor planning.

This is a town that treats its dogs better than its children. The schools are like jails and the dog parks are many and well-kept. There are kennels here on par with a midrange day spa. I kid you not. Living here has shown me that while I consider myself a "dog person," in that I prefer dogs to cats and generally like dogs, I'm not a "dog person person:" dog owners here ignore leash laws, expect their dogs to be welcome wherever they are, and take no responsibility for their dogs' aggressive behavior. And those are the people who love their dogs. The ones who don't are worse: at the other end of the economic spectrum are the pit bull owners who abuse their dogs and raise them to be mean, who don't exercise them and are shocked when their dogs go crazy and maul someone.

We forget that this was one of the locations of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal; the local Christian Brothers school only recently renamed the ball field it had named for a Brother who was accused of over 130 counts of abusing minors (that would be Brother Andrew Abdon) [link]. If anyone thought it was unusual to have a field named after an admitted child molester for more than 15 years I never heard it mentioned.

But I digress. Santa Fe I love you but you're breaking my heart. It saddens me to see a city this liberal be this dysfunctional. By which I mean broken. As if by design. I wish you well, but I have no idea what that would look like.

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