People like to break things up into neat little groups. It is a technique people use in order to try to simplify a world that, in reality, is quite complicated. In the United States, we take our cities, and break them out into various groupings. We place cities in groups based on their region, their size, and sometimes even by culture. I am as guilty as anyone of doing this. But, every once in a while, we find ourselves in a place that reminds us that we need to respect two basic tenants of humanity, which apply both to the Cities we visit, as an entity, as well as to each and every one of us individually.
Each City, just like every one of us, has a distinct and unique individual identity. In this identity, we see reflections of factors such as its geographic location, its history, and some of its specific influences, such as specific personalities and prominent industries. We also see some specific quirks that cannot be easily explained just by looking at what we observe elsewhere. It is the same way with each and every one of us. When we are being true to ourselves, our behavior patterns manifest in a similar unique manner, a manner that can only be described as attributed to our unique person. I feel it every time any one of my friends responds to anything I do or say by simply saying “That’s so Steve”.
Also embedded in the character of any City I have ever visited are reflections of natural law, or the universal truths that bind us all together.
Albuquerque reminded me of both of these two basic facts. Albuquerque has a unique heritage. It has similar beginnings as Santa Fe, and even has an Old Town Square that reflects these beginnings.
However, much of the city was built in a much more sun-belt style car-centric manner. It is one of the most storied towns along historic U.S. route 66. Route 66 embodies multiple eras of U.S. history, including the mass migration to California during the Great Depression, and later the first decade after the second World War, when the American road trip first became accessible to a large swath of the American people; the middle class.
Route 66 connected Chicago to Los Angeles from the late 1920s through the end of the 1970s. While the route covers a large distance, traversing many different parts of the country, it is the Southwest, New Mexico and Arizona, that is often most commonly pictured when people imagine that classic road trip on route 66. While the exact location of the route 66 town in Disney’s Cars is not disclosed, the imagery in the movie clearly points to a southwestern location.
Albuquerque celebrates its pivotal position along route 66 by both preserving some of the places that were legendary stops for travelers along this highway.
As well as creating restorations that recreate the experience of being at a travel stop along the old highway, much the same way old west towns recreate the American West during the 1800s.
Route 66 is even the subject of a major controversy in town. A proposed Bus Rapid Transit project, called Albuquerque Rapid Transit, would more or less follow the path of historic route 66 through town. Residents of a hip area of town adjacent to the University of New Mexico called Nob Hill appear united in opposition to the project. Some of the signs I saw opposing the Albuquerque Rapid Transit referenced protecting the heritage of route 66. However, I wonder if this opposition is motivated by route 66 preservation, or the desire to avoid any changes to the neighborhood.
Regardless of whether the people are motivated by the desire to preserve route 66 in its historic format, or preserve their neighborhood the way it currently is, on display here is one aspect of humanity that appears consistent across all cultures. When people are enjoying their current situation, they generally do not desire change, and, in many cases, will fiercely oppose it. This has been the case for me, personally, at various stages in my own life, and is also evident in a lot of the behaviors I observe in others when they react to changes in the workplace or their favorite social media outlet.
It also appears to be basic human nature to seek out a broader view of the world from time to time. It is the reason people go to the top of the world’s tallest building, hike Mount Rainier, or sit and gaze down at Los Angeles from the Hollywood sign. Albuquerque’s answer to this is the Sandia Peak Tramway.
This tramway takes passengers on a 15-minute ride from a base elevation of 6559 feet (already significantly higher than the center of town), to a peak of 10,378 feet. Here, visitors to the area can see unique rock formations.
Learn about the unique biomes that can be found in the mountainous terrain (Breckenridge has a similar exhibit, but uses an actual garden).
And, can get a view overlooking this city that actually covers a much broader area than just the Albuquerque city limits. In fact, Sandia Peak is so high that it is quite difficult to make out individual buildings or even neighborhoods in town!
The culture is unique as well, seeming to combine so many aspects of the West and Southwest.
Along the Rio Grande River, which cuts through the center of town, a bike trail, as well as numerous parks provide the urban outdoor space that Westerners seem to value so much. Whereas, in many other cities I have visited and lived in, living in close proximity to a park is desirable, but kind of a bonus, it feels as if people here in the West view being near a park as a prerequisite, a necessity of life itself!
On this particular Sunday afternoon, a parade of classic cars rolled through Old Town Square, showing off their classic appeal, and the hard work each and every car owner put into maintaining their vehicle’s shine.
That evening, on the West side of downtown, another group of people are gathered, also showing off their vehicles, and, almost downright partying.
When I think of all the cars revving their engines up at night, all I can say is, “That’s so Albuquerque”. One could speculate what mix of cultural influences, old Spanish, sunbelt, Western, Hispanic, etc. lead to Albuquerque being the way it is today. But it is more than that. The same can be said about any other place one would visit. That is why we travel, not just when we need to go somewhere for business, or when we wish to visit people that live in another place, but also when we desire an experience we simply cannot have in our respective hometowns.