Thursday, June 30, 2005

E D F C Z P 6

I guess I’ve been wearing eyeglasses now for about 30 years. For a while, it seemed like every time I went in for an eye exam, it resulted in a finding that my eyesight had gotten worse. The real problem was that I have such a general dislike for doctors and all things medical that I was putting off my “annual exams” for YEARS. Even though I knew that it was highly unlikely that an optometrist was going to give me a shot, draw blood, or force me to pee in a cup- the truth of the matter was that I was always capable of finding something more enjoyable to be doing.

The majority of my eye doctors have had practices in shopping malls. My goal was to get in, read as many letters correctly as I could, select the least offensive frames (honest), and get out as quickly as possible- making a beeline for the nearest video arcade. My impression of the doctors and staff in those joints was that they’d just as soon be doing something else as well.

Just more than a year ago, I stumbled into the office of an Albuquerque eye doctor that would change the way I viewed eye care forever. Arlene Sokola, OD has been practicing in New Mexico for over 20 years, having moved here immediately after graduating from college and passing her medical boards in Philadelphia. She has a wonderful personality, and is obviously a very caring and gentle person.

UltraVISION is contained within a small, unassuming turquoise structure at 2127 Menaul Blvd. NE. If forced to make a wager, I would bet that Mike Brady designed the building during one of the lost episodes of the Brady Bunch. The interior of the building is bright with light turquoise walls and interesting ceiling panels that transitions from dark blue near the entrance to a very pale blue as you approach the exam rooms.

The first thing that struck me about the office was the fact that classic rock tunes were pumping through the air in place of the standard elevator music one expects. Next, the entire staff consists of friendly people who seem practically overjoyed that you’ve chosen to spend part of your day with them. Robin, Lindsey, Vikki and Beverly are constantly joking with each other and the clients while going about their business. As I quickly discovered, none of them would hesitate for a second to inform you that you are trying on women’s frames by accident. It’s as if they enjoy working there. Oh yeah, they don’t allow cell phones either, so maybe that’s why they aren’t cranky by the middle of each day.

UltraVISION’s waiting area is tidy and roomy. A large selection of magazines is maintained for customers who require that sort of distraction. Of course, I’m quite content just eyeballing the place after I’ve completed the necessary paperwork. A funny green ceramic vessel sits on the counter in the reception area that reads “Ashes of Problem Patients.” I decided almost immediately that I didn’t want to end up there.

Sooner or later, you are led to a small area in the back where they test your eye movement, peripheral vision and determine whether or not you are colorblind. Then you are subjected to the test I dislike more than stepping on chewing gum on a hot summer day- the glaucoma test! This is where you willingly rest your face in this brace that allows them to move in real close to your eyes (one at a time), and blast them with a puff of air that helps evaluate the pressure within your cornea and front part of the eye. Try as I might to not blink, they’d have about the same reaction from me if they were trying to jab a red-hot poker into my eye. I simply cannot cope with the knowledge that the blast is coming. Wait… wait for it… wait… don’t blink… wait…wa…BAM! Thank god we only have two eyes. All I can say is that I’m very glad I’m not a fly (as the test would be 800 times worse).

Next you are led to one of the examination rooms. Unlike the sterile exam rooms of your average optometrist, at UltraVISION you enter the intriguing world as seen by Arlene Sokola. One of the rooms is decorated in honor of Janis Joplin, and the other in honor of B.B. King. The restroom is decorated following an extremely colorful Jimmy Buffett theme. I think I like the Joplin room the best. Yes, I’m sure of it. There are a couple of dozen framed photographs, concert posters, Rolling Stone magazines, and even a gold record of the Farewell Song hanging on the walls. The posters include gigs at Freedom Hall, Fillmore West, and of course, Woodstock. One particularly groovy poster is for a Joplin appearance at Winterland 68 with Big Brother and the Holding Company. A gigantic throw rug featuring the image of Janis sitting on top of a 1965 Porsche with a completely psychedelic paint job covers a 6 by 4 foot section of one wall. That image is based on an equally impressive Jim Marshall photograph taken of Joplin in 1968 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

The rooms also contain a comfy chair for the patient, and a bunch of neat-o optical equipment. They have a totally kool plastic scale model of a human eyeball that opens up and is used to help explain how and why the eyes do what they do. A Snellen chart is employed to determine visual acuity in each eye. Then, if you are lucky enough to have eye problems like I do, a refraction test is performed. This is when the doctor places a number of lenses in front of your eyes and asks you to read lines of progressively smaller letter in order to determine the proper prescription. The amazing thing to wrap your brain around here is that they don’t force a time limit on you to complete any of the tests. The concept is that you need to be relaxed and comfortable when you have your eyes tested, not excited, agitated, or in any way irritated. What a novel idea!

And just when you think it is all over and you can prepare to leave, the kind doctor will put magical drops in your eyes to make your pupils dilate. She does this in order to use a light and a magnifier (this deal is called a ophthalmoscope) to take a real good look at your retinas, retinal vessels, the backs of the eyes, and the optic nerve heads. Although you are instructed to look away from the magnifier, the temptation to look directly at it is overpowering. The result is a very interesting view of your own eye. You don’t earn extra points for looking away, so go ahead and take a peek.

So the next time you are in the market for a new eye doctor, I highly recommend that you give the friendly folks at UltraVISION a call. If you currently don’t have an eye doctor, I would encourage you to call them today. You can tell them I sent you if that would make you feel better. No matter what, be sure you ask Arlene to tell you about the times she has met B.B. King- and enjoy watching her face light up as she tells her stories.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

John Edwards sighting

I had an encounter with the John Edwards entourage downtown Tuesday afternoon. Kudos to the DukeCityFix for alerting interested parties that the former Senator was scheduled to be in town to speak at the Albuquerque Living Wage campaign rally on the Civic Plaza. What a wonderful opportunity for freelance and amateur photographers to capture a bit of Albuquerque history! Therefore, I am going to give the Fix first dibs at publishing my better photos, so you may want to head directly to that website to view them. Nevertheless, I will be posting a couple shots here to give you a feel of the day.

This first photo is of one of Edwards’ bodyguards. These dudes were packin’ serious heat, and they weren’t afraid to show their pieces. This guy was giving me the thrice over as I made my way behind him to get this shot.

I also got a kick out of this photo for some reason. I was curious as to just how much this old fella truly cared about whether or not minimum wage is $5.15 an hour or $7.50 an hour- but not curious enough to ask him. Probably he would have told me to visit the ACORN website, and leave him alone.

And here are a couple of photos featuring the man himself...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

play by play : day by day

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Albuquerque Isotopes broadcaster Bob Socci (pronounced “SO-see”) a couple of hours before the final game of a four-game homestand with the Nashville Sounds. I had been wanting to ask Bob a number of questions that have formed in my brain while listening to him call minor league baseball games during the past few seasons, and felt that my blog was a good format to introduce him to people who may otherwise have never heard of him.

It is a special time of day at Isotopes Park as vendors begin preparing the food and batting practice is winding down. A sort of electric calm hovers over the field as warm summer breezes lift the smells of hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza and roasting peanuts up and into the open windows of the air-conditioned press box where Bob sits filling out his score sheet and preparing his notes for his upcoming pre-game radio show. Most people in the park are too busy preparing for the pending game to take note of the stillness before the gates are opened and it is drowned out by the spinning of turnstiles, excited voices of fans and the beeping of cash registers that will fill the stadium for the next four hours. But not Bob Socci. I mean, he’s busy and all, but he takes notice. Socci appears to thrive on the variable pulse of the park during the pre-game, the game itself, and while things are winding down afterwards. It’s almost as if his heart beats at the same pace.

Socci is a rare individual in that he does something that he absolutely loves on an almost daily basis. As a direct result, he is very, VERY good at his job. He told me that he knew when he was playing little league baseball in Auburn, New York that he wanted to grow up and have a career in sports broadcasting.

When asked if he had a backup career plan, Bob replied that he might have become a lawyer, or followed another path to a career in journalism or media relations had things not worked out as they have. Socci acknowledges the help and support of innumerable friends, neighbors, and people from his hometown who recognized both his talents and desire to become a broadcaster as major influences in his life. “Certainly at the top of the list are my parents- my mother and late father,” Socci explained as he paused from writing down the names of Sounds players on his score sheet.

Socci broke into professional baseball in 1987 while working as an intern in the Cincinnati Reds publicity department. Later, while working as a public relations assistant for the Rochester Redwings, Socci was given the opportunity to serve as the no. 2 broadcaster during the 1991 and 1992 seasons. From there, he was employed as the no. 1 broadcaster for the Peoria Chiefs from 1993 to 1995, the Delmarva Shorebirds from 1996 to 1998, and eventually the Frederick Keys from 1999 to 2001. Socci also broadcast a few Charlotte Knights television games during the 2002 season, but mostly served as a fill-in since his schedule was full with broadcasting United States Naval Academy football, basketball and lacrosse games that he had been doing since 1997. Bob had to give up calling the lacrosse matches due to schedule overlaps when he accepted the job with the Albuquerque Isotopes in 2003, but continues to broadcast Navy football and Patriot League basketball games during the winter months. Although he enjoys all sports, Bob admits that he identifies most closely with baseball. He estimates that he has called close to, if not more than, 2,000 games thus far in his career.

Today, Socci shares a small radio booth on the fourth floor of Isotopes Park directly behind home plate with former Albuquerque Dukes broadcaster Mike Roberts, of UNM Lobos football and basketball fame. Together they broadcast live every Isotopes home game on the radio (KNML 610 AM - the Sports Animal) and via streaming broadcasts available through the Isotopes website. Socci also travels with the Isotopes in order to provide live coverage of road games for rabid Isotopes fans that cannot wait till the next morning to read about the game in the sports pages.

Even though Bob is only in Albuquerque roughly 80 days per year, I had to ask what he enjoyed the most about the city. “The weather,” was the first thing that popped into his mind, followed by “the ballpark,” and “the fans support and interest in the Isotopes and his broadcasts.” He stated that IF he had more free time, he would definitely spend it hiking and biking and enjoying the mountains. Given that he spends 10 or more hours per day at the ballpark, the chances for Socci to get out and explore the city in search of restaurants, bars, or other entertainment venues are few and far between. He tends to primarily frequent establishments such as Whole Foods, Starbucks, REI, Sports Outdoors, the jogging path at Albuquerque Academy, and any of a number of bookstores. When he does have time to sit back and relax, Bob prefers to enjoy a beer or two on the patio at Kelly’s Brewery on Central Avenue.

If you Google “Bob Socci,” you will quickly learn that he is often referred to as “the Voice of the Isotopes, “ and “the Voice of Navy Sports.” I asked Bob if he had any interesting nicknames. As it turns out, one of Socci’s pet peeves is the whole “Voice of anything” deal. In his mind, he is “there to do a job- that is, to broadcast baseball games,” much in the same way that “the beer vendor is there to sell beer,” and “ticket takers are there to take tickets.” Bob explained that he believes the focus needs to remain on the game itself and the Isotopes. He feels that too many broadcasters hear stuff like that and actually begin to believe that they are, in fact, THE voice of the organization they work for. What you aren’t likely to learn about Bob Socci online (unless you’ve stumbled across this by accident) is that he was known as “Scrap Iron” when he played in Babe Ruth baseball. Prior to that, Socci lived with the nickname of “Lou” (after Lou Costello). Bob informed me that many of his friends back east, as well as a number of current Isotopes players, call him “Soc” (pronounced “SO-s” and perhaps even spelled that way).

Kris: “So Bob, have you ever said anything on the air that you wish you hadn’t?”
Bob: “Yes, many times. But one stands out in my memory.”
Kris: “Were you able to make amends?”
Bob: (laughing while entering the names of starting Isotopes players on his score sheet) “Fortunately, not many people heard it.”
Kris: “Would you care to tell me what it was?”
Bob: “Sure, but not on the record.”

A few minutes later…
Kris: “Oh, that IS funny! Thanks for sharing.”

Kris: “Do you receive fan mail?”
Bob: “I get some emails from listeners, but not too many. Usually they are forwarded to me from the Isotopes office. I wouldn’t say that it is always “fan mail.” Some of it is criticism, or from fans who don’t necessarily agree with my point of view.”

I have this annoying habit of asking “baseball people” whether or not they feel Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. Bob Socci is no exception. He answered quickly that he feels Pete should have a plaque in the Hall for his accomplishments on the field, but that he has no problems with Pete being banned from baseball for his actions that hurt the game.

Kris: “Personal feelings aside, do you think Pete will make it into the Hall of Fame during his lifetime?”
Bob: “That’s a real tough question.” After giving it some thought, Socci continued, “It would not surprise me. There’s a strong possibility that (Rose) will be acknowledged as a baseball player… possibly after the new guard of sportswriters takes over and the memory of what he did begins to fade, and the numbers he put up speak for themselves.”

I snapped this photo of Bob Socci interviewing Texas Rangers pitching coach Orel Hershiser before a Spring Training game at Isotopes Park in the spring of 2005.

I asked Bob to give me a short list of the most memorable interviews he has conducted. Socci had no trouble rattling off names of baseball icons faster than my pen could scratch them down onto paper. He has conducted interviews with Don Drysdale, Pete Rose, Tony Gwynn, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez, Vin Scully and Bob Costas- to name only a few. Scully and Costas were also included in the list of baseball broadcasters that Socci greatly admires, along with New York Mets broadcasters Gary Cohen and the late Bob Murphy. Socci has also had the opportunity to interview a number of intriguing non-baseball personalities including Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell and President George H. Bush. That said, Bob stated that his favorite interviews have actually been conducted with everyday players who lack big name recognition. He feels that the famous guys have already been asked the most important questions, but that the everyday players also have intriguing and inspiring stories that need to be told, and perhaps more importantly, heard.

I asked Bob if he could give me an estimate of when he would get his break in the major leagues. He replied that at the risk of sounding arrogant, he wouldn’t be doing what he is if he wasn’t absolutely sure that he could make it as a successful broadcaster in the majors. However, Socci added that since there isn’t a formula to calculate how long it might take him to get his opportunity, he didn’t care to speculate on when it might happen.

Kris: “Would you work for any major league team?”
Bob: “In a heartbeat!”

Kris: “Do you envision yourself writing a book in the future?”
Bob: “Yes, but not necessarily about sports.”

Socci feels that his writing and story telling skills help him as a broadcaster by stretching his vocabulary and strengthening his phrasing. He added that since calling baseball games is more descriptive than other sports, it is the ideal sport for radio even to this day. Bob’s passion for baseball is predominately due to the personality and identity it possesses. Certainly Bob manages to paint wonderful verbal images of the ballparks for listeners between pitches. In many ways, his coverage is better and more complete than fans would get at home if the games were televised.

Kris: “So Bob, after having called all the games you have, would you venture to say that by now you’ve seen everything that could possibly happen on a baseball field?”
Bob: “NO WAY! The more you learn about the game, the more you realize how little you know. That’s the beauty of baseball.”

Kris: “Well, that's the extent of my questions. Thanks again for taking the time to meet with me even though I’m not a real journalist.”
Bob: “My pleasure.”
Kris: “Now I’m going to break the cardinal rule of the press box and ask you for an autograph.”
Bob: “Seriously? My autograph isn’t going to be worth anything.”
Kris: “Hah. It is for my collection. I’m not going to try to sell it on eBay or anything.”
Bob: “Well, in that case…”

Fans have the opportunity to meet Bob Socci in person each month when he conducts his live radio show “Topes Talk” live from the Fox & Hound Pub and Grill. Those shows are always quite entertaining as Bob coaxes interesting stories from various Isotopes players and coaches.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Look Ma, no barber’s pole!

Two plastic signs that read “FOR SALE BY OWNER - 242-8637” mark the beginning of the end of a business several paces east of the intersection of Central Avenue and 12 Street between Albuquerque’s booming downtown and Old Town. Affixed to the interior of windows of the Castillo Brothers Barber Shop for only a few days, the signs have already attracted the attention of a number of local real estate agents who would love an opportunity to list the property.

However, the owners are real “do-it-themselfers,” and would prefer to sell their shop with 2nd floor apartments and two-story house that sit on a lot that encompasses approximately 8,450 square feet of prime real estate while avoiding the involvement of as many middlemen as possible. Since they returned home from THE war, Nick and Joe Castillo have made their livings by cutting hair in their cozy little shop at 1114 Central Avenue SW, and passed the time by spinning colorful yarns while patrons relax with feet up and watch traffic as it cruises along Route 66.

According to Nick, their structure on Central was originally built in the 1940s, and served as a paint store. Later the building housed a dentist office and even a restaurant before being converted into a barbershop. The Castillo Brothers rented the business for several years before they purchased it outright around 1960. Since then, the brothers have made the drive from their homes in Belen practically every day in order to keep court in the two-chair shop.

Unlike the barbershop in the small, midwestern town where I grew up, the Castillo Brothers do not maintain a subscription to National Geographic magazine, nor can they issue authentic fishing licenses. However, if you need to have a copy of a key made, they can take care of that while you wait. Also, the most recent Swimsuit Edition of Sports Illustrated seems to be located on the top of the magazine stack no matter what time of year- as if by magic.

Although hairstyles and attitudes have undergone major changes over the past 5 decades, the Castillo Brothers approach to dealing with customers hasn’t. A haircut only sets a customer back $8 ($10 for long hair) while the stories and jokes remains free of charge. When I asked why they were retiring, Nick told me that his brother has wanted to quit for the past few years, and he doesn’t feel like continuing without him. He added that he really enjoys his work, but after cutting hair for 51 years, feels that he has done his “share.”

The Castillo Brothers also have rented furnished apartments on the premises to short-term residents over the years- a business venture they claim often has as many headaches as it does benefits.

So, it is possible that I have had my last haircut at the Castillo Brothers Barber Shop. Perhaps they’ll still be in business five or six weeks from now when I realize that the crazy-haired lunatic staring at me in the mirror is due for a trim, or I will arrive and discover that the building is the new home of an art studio/gallery or law office- or has been demolished and cleared for new construction.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


I often wonder how it happens that one of the funniest movies from the early 1980s has yet to be released in the popular DVD format. When I think about the countless DVDs published of crap such as Arthur, Chariots of Fire and On Golden Pond, well, it makes me sick.

The film is based on Thomas Berger’s novel of the same title. I read somewhere that Neighbors should be thought of as part of a trilogy of Berger's novels about modern America's bad manners. The other titles include Being Invisible and The Houseguest. Incidentally, Thomas Berger also wrote Little Big Man, which is simply fantastic.

I actually walked out of the theater the first time I saw this movie because I didn’t understand it, and because I thought that drinking Mountain Dew and playing video games was a better use of my time. Some might think it strange that after all these years I would rank Neighbors high in my top ten list, but there it is. I also have an audio recording of the movie that I enjoy listening to during long road trips.

John Belushi stars as Earl Keese, a straight-laced family man living on the far edge of suburban America with his wife Enid and teenage daughter. Keese is essentially the complete opposite of Belushi, who died of a drug overdose not long after the film was released. Dan Aykroyd co-stars as the unpredictable Vic, who moves into the house next door with Ramona (who turns out to be even more unpredictable). The entire 94-minute movie is a virtual rollercoaster of odd happenings, funny dialogue, uncomfortable situations and unimaginable assaults on one’s personal space that takes place within the span of less than 24 hours.

Belushi delivers one of my favorite lines in the movie in response to Vic’s catch-phrase question, “Whaddya say neighbor?” His deadpan reply, “Welcome to the end of the road… I guess,” kills me every time.

I’ve been searching for this classic film on DVD since we tossed our VHS machine into the trash more than two years ago. I’ve heard rumors that the movie is available in the UK in the PAL format that won’t work here in the states. Every now and again, I’ll run across a listing for an American version DVD on eBay, but I’m suspicious enough to tell myself that those posts are likely the work of con artists. My cynical fire is fueled by the fact that bidding for this movie occasionally exceeds $50 (US). indicates that the movie is not currently in press or otherwise available. Interestingly, they have a deal on their website that allows you to enter your email address to be informed of a pending release date for any particular movie. Supposedly, they gather together addresses of potential customers, and deliver them to the various companies who produce the movies so they’ll know how much interest a particular film has- or is likely to generate once it is released.

Tossing my skepticism of voting aside, I immediately signed up. Now I’m urging each and every reader to please do the same. Heck, I don’t even care if you don’t intend to purchase the movie. I don’t even care if you submit your “real” email address. All I ask is that you appear to be interested long enough to convince the powers that be to release this movie in DVD- ideally before the next time Santa is loading up his sleigh. And please, make sure you tell your friends, and your NEIGHBORS!

Monday, June 20, 2005


A buddy of mine was in town visiting this past week. I’ve known Greg seemingly forever, since even prior to playing in little league together. The goal was to entertain this guy, yet make sure he absorbed the general laid-back “feel” of the southwest that I enjoy almost as much as I do the sunshine.

Unfortunately, the Isotopes were on the road, so he had to settle for a tour of Isotopes Park. Of course, one of the beautiful things about baseball is that the stadiums themselves are often so interesting that a true fan can be entertained without the sights, sounds, and smells of an actual ballgame.

We also did a considerable amount of touring about both on foot and in my truck as I wanted Greg to see that various sections of Albuquerque.

Meals were consumed at fine downtown locations including Nick’s Crossroads Deli and Pearl’s Dive. One day we were treated to a FREE lunch at Boston’s Gourmet Pizza and a 20-mile-long stretch limo ride courtesy of KRST 92.3 FM after my wife won their weekly contest.

This photo depicts Levi, one of the three wacky on-air personalities who comprise the “Get Up Gang.” The other two hosts, Kristina and Dawson, were much better at keeping at a safe distance from my camera than was Levi. In addition to the free food and the luxury ride, they gave us a stack of FREE cds and a fistful of jokes to do with as we please.

While watching a high-speed chase in California on one of the restaurant televisions, I overheard that a movie starring Jennifer (Lopez) and Antonia Banderas was being filmed in Albuquerque. I made note to try to find one of the filming locations later that afternoon, as that would most certainly impress my pal.

As it turned out, it was surprisingly easy to find a set. While walking about downtown, we crossed through the plaza and I noticed that a corner window of McGrath’s Bar and Grill in the Hyatt was being converted into a discount electronics store. That certainly didn’t seem right, so I guessed that it was probably going to be a location for a scene to be shot in the near future. We continued walking through the 4th Street Plaza and soon stumbled onto some freshly painted fake graffiti, a horribly out of place newsstand and another “going out of business” electronics store. I knew without question that this would be the location of a movie scene, and shoved my buddy into one of the adjacent bars with an outdoor patio so we could watch as things developed.

We discussed the movies I’d worked as an extra on as time passed, and watched as members of the Downtown Action Team cleared the majority of the homeless from the immediate area. Our waitress confirmed that they would indeed be shooting a scene for the film Bordertown at that location. We watched as a good number of extras arrived and wondered about until they were corralled into a nearby staging area. A light breeze helped cool the plaza as a local band played covers of Santana tunes on a low stage in front of one of the other taverns. It was as nice of a day as one could hope for. The filming began after about 5 or 6 beers, and it was only then that we realized that the scene was only extras walking through a busy city street, and that we would not see any stars.

The fact that no stars were present didn’t stop one of the staff from telling me I couldn’t take any (more) photos of their set. As IF!

The highlight of the afternoon was watching a homeless man steal a clipboard from four women who were promoting BMW. Not long after he stole the clipboard, the women confronted him. Just when I thought that things might get ugly, one of the women asked, “What if we stole your cane?” At that point, I wasn’t exactly sure whom I felt sorry for. All things ended on a positive note though after the man chased them down and returned the clipboard, and they gave him a BMW t-shirt. It makes sense to me that a homeless person is better off with a new t-shirt than a used clipboard anyway.

This photo depicts Factory on 5th owner Jerry Miller filling out an information card in exchange for a free t-shirt. While one of the women eyes me with suspicion, her partner nervously scans the crowd for the homeless man who had snagged their clipboard.

Greg and I also made a day trip out along the Turquoise Trail, including quick tours of Golden, Madrid and Cerrillos. It goes without saying that we enjoyed cheeseburgers at the Mine Shaft Tavern. With bellies full, we conducted a lightning stop tour of the various pueblos along the remnants of the pre-1937 alignment of Route 66.

As with most visitors, Greg’s trip to the Land of Enchantment ended with a short drive to the Albuquerque Sunport and a swift kick in the pants. Thanks for taking the time to come out buddy! It was great seeing you.

Monday, June 06, 2005

An Unfunny Thing Happened on the Way to the Drive-in

Okay, I admit that the “thing” actually happened after the drive-in, but even I couldn’t bring myself to use “An Unfunny Thing Happened on the Way Home from the Drive-in” as the title for this blog entry. As usual, I ask that you please bear with me as I start somewhere near the beginning of the tale, and as I ramble my way toward and eventually beyond the event.

My wife and I both really like drive-in theaters! Probably I would even like regular theaters if they would let you bring in a supply of treats and a bottle of wine. But they don’t. The problem is finding a drive-in theater in this day and age. The Scottsdale 6 Drive-in is a sweet set-up on Salt-River Pima Maricopa Indian Community land in Arizona, but that is one heck of a drive from Albuquerque. Thus, when we feel the urge, we pack up the jeep and putter some 100 miles over to the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, which is home to the nearest functioning drive-in.

Sadly, a quick search reveals that the ghosts of 18 defunct drive-in theaters are all that remain within a radius of less than 85 miles from our house.

Although the Fort Union Drive-in only has a single screen, we find that it is quite adequate for our needs. The “Fort” (as I call it) is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings between May and September, and can accommodate up to 350 automobiles. Of course there are no speakers to hang from your window like when I was a kid. Today, the sound is broadcast locally and you can receive it on your FM radio. Luckily, the quality is still pretty random, so you can still feel like you are living in the 20th century every now and again.

The Fort charges $10 per vehicle- a bargain no matter what films are showing in my opinion. The locals flock to the Fort! It is quite interesting to see the cars, trucks, vans, and mobile homes pulled off on the shoulder of 7th Street (NM 518) as early as an hour prior to the opening of the gates. It is fun to arrive plenty early and grab a spot in the front row so you can watch people of all ages playing Frisbee, baseball, and running about in the grassy area directly in front of the corrugated tin screen as they await the arrival of dusk and the mandatory movie previews.

The movies we saw this Saturday evening included “Kicking and Screaming” and “Kung Fu Hustle.” “Kicking and Screaming” was about as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, even Mike Ditka’s intriguing performance wasn’t enough to justify releasing this reel of crap. If anyone attempts to convince you to see this “film,” I highly recommend that you make them drag you to the theater… well, kicking and screaming.

Kung Fu Hustle” on the other hand is brilliant. It is also funny. I think it is in Chinese, so you’ll want to be sure to take your reading glasses when you see it. Don’t worry; I’m not going to blow this movie by revealing any of the plot. If you tend to avoid “violent” movies in general, I can assure you that this one IS violent, but in a unique and almost tasteful way (as opposed to say, “Sin City”). I would rate this film 4 of 5 Chinese throwing stars in spite of the subtitles and dearth of American product placements.

The second movie wrapped up around 11:00 pm. Instead of doing anything as foolish as even thinking about driving home, we drove the few miles to the historic district of Las Vegas to spend the evening at the Plaza Hotel.

I should note here that the hotel actually recommends patrons to park vehicles overnight in the nearby police station parking lot. Having grown up in a small town myself, I tend to scoff at such warnings, figuring they are really only trying to keep vehicles off the main square for aesthetic purposes. I mean, just how bad can crime be in a town like Las Vegas, New Mexico?

I would learn the answer to my own rhetorical question soon after checking out of the hotel the following morning.

VANDALS! How DARE they?!?

The hotel clerk was nice enough to phone the police for us. A cop responded quickly and seemed ashamed even though I was pretty certain that he wasn’t the responsible party. He took down our basic information and said that if we couldn’t get the paint off, to give him a call and he would file an official report. He couldn’t have been gone more than 15 minutes when he returned to inform us that there had been an arrest made the previous evening of kids who had been painting other vehicles throughout the town with the same color of paint. At that point he filed an official report and indicated that it probably wouldn’t be very difficult to get some restitution from them. That, my friends, is first-rate police work!

So it was off to the nearest car wash. Although we did manage to get the vast majority of the paint off the exterior, dashboard, and glass surfaces, it seems that the seats will prove very difficult to clean. Quite possibly, they never will be as they were. Who knows?

All things considered, we had a nice enough drive home along NM 3 through the gorgeous Villanueva State Park area. We pulled off the road to enjoy lunch alongside the raging Pecos River. Between handfuls of Bugles, I reflected on some of the stuff I pulled as a teenager. I guess looking at this “karmady” through the perspective of the robin’s egg blue-speckled rearview mirror on such an enchanting afternoon had me leaning towards not exerting tons of energy to teach the vandals any lessons. After all, nobody was hurt.

Ironically, another couple that was parked next to us at the drive-in had parked directly behind us at the hotel. They had checked out soon after us (and just prior to the deadline), and arrived at their car only to find the police car double parked next to it. The look of shock on their faces was funny as they realized that not a single speck of paint had landed on their car.

I guess that the moral here is that in the world of random happenings, open-topped jeeps provide better targets for young vandals than the average Honda Accord.

In sum, I would still highly recommend checking out the Fort Union Drive-in whenever you find yourself in the area or with enough time to spare to get there. Spend the night if you can. Do see “Kung Fu Hustle” (and see it on the big screen).

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

show people

According to my father, the number one rule of photography is to always have a camera with you- “because you simply never know when a photo opportunity is going to present itself.”

Thus, I was able to snap this shot of Jumpin’ Jon Weiss during the Isotopes/Nashville Sounds baseball game Tuesday night as he was showing off for a captive audience in the press box. Certainly this photo could have been better technically, but when you are dealing with impulsive clowns you find that they rarely give you time to adjust the settings on your camera to deal with artificial light sources.

Jumpin’ Jon, the human cannonball with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, was on hand to toss out the ceremonial first pitch before the ballgame. He also balanced a ladder on his chin in front of the pitcher’s mound.

Not to be outdone, the Isotopes won their sixth straight game by defeating the Milwaukee Brewers Triple A club by a score of 6-3 powered by Jason Wood’s magic bat. The Isotopes current home stand ends this Friday night.

The circus is in town thru Sunday, June 5th. Tell them that Orbit and the Isotopes “sent you” and they’ll knock five bucks off your admission. (Seriously!)