Thursday, March 20, 2014

Life in the 505

I've lived in the "largest city" in New Mexico for the past two years, and it's been an adventure. Being my first real experience living in a place with more than 30,000 people, I spent the first year soaking it all in, doing as many things as I could, and just living it up. In the second year, I've settled a bit more, but still love all the things that Albuquerque has to offer. 

Still, every time I go home to visit, I have people ask me if I like Albuquerque. When I respond that I love it, the responses are mixed. Some can't believe that I would love this place, and others wish they lived here. It has its ups and downs, for sure, but the truth of the matter is that New Mexico is home, and for the time being, Albuquerque is. 

It's not all glorious here in the 505, but it sure is interesting. If you're considering moving to Albuquerque, there are some things you should know about first. So, here are the things that I wish I had known before embarking on this move, and things that you should know if you really want to know what it's like to live here. 

-The mountains are absolutely gorgeous, always, and so are the sunsets. If you need to find a moment of happiness and stress reduction, watch the way the colors gleam and mingle as the sun goes down, or watch the mist settle around the top of the Sandias. It's like a little slice of heaven.

-Country isn't their thing here. I know, I know. Those who have lived here and never truly set foot in a real country bar will defiantly tell anyone who will listen that, "we have Dirty Bourbon, where you can listen to country music and do that two-stepping, line-dancing thing." It's fine. They don't get it, and they shouldn't have to. We don't line dance, and we don't count a place where you put on a red cowboy hat and a flannel shirt as a country bar. Sorry, Charlie. Still, it's amusing to watch from time to time, and to observe (I imagine it's a lot like how Irish people feel when they observe American St. Patty's Day celebrations). 

-Before ordering in a local brewery, you need to understand IBUs and the amount of hops in a beer, otherwise you end up with some skunky IPA that leaves you nauseas, unless you like that type of thing (either way, learn what IBUs are and how to tell what your beer will taste like before you branch out). 

-ABQ Brew Pub has the hottest jalepenos I've ever had, Sadie's has the best green chile, Dion's has the best ranch dressing, Flying Star has the best desserts, Garcia's is the best quick and cheap Mexican food, Orchad Thai has the best Thai food, and O'Niell's has the best patio. I'm pretty sure this is my own creation of the Best in ABQ list, but it's helpful to know if you've never been here or never searched around. 

-Gunshot or firework is a legitimate game. We play it on the porch in the summertime, and I must say, I'm getting pretty good at it. 

-The drivers here are seriously the worst I've ever encountered. They don't signal, they turn into the wrong lane, they cut you off, they sometimes seem to go out of their way to try to hit your car, and if it rains or snows even a tiny bit, game's over. There are going to be at least four accidents on any given out-of-the-norm-weather day. It's just a fact here, but at some point, you become one of them. You learn to run with the big dogs or get out of the way. The day I realized I was one of the Albuquerque drivers, it was both a moment of pride and one of shame. I'm still not sure which one wins out most days. 

-Don't complain about how hot the chile is. Eat it, and be a champ. Or don't. I've been to too many dinners with out-of-towners who can't hang, and while we all appreciate that your senses aren't as hardened as ours, it's not going to stop us from laughing at you. Also, don't try to order "hot" to show us how tough you are if you can't handle it. Once again, we will probably giggle. We breathe fire here, and we understand that you probably don't.

That's a little piece of heaven on earth! 

-It may be seen as the "big city" by those back home, but the people really are nice. Servers, staff at various places, strangers on the street…they're all really decent people. (Although, I have to say, I'm pretty partial to those who are "transplants" to this place like myself, because we bring a mix of cultures, and I've had a couple of bad experiences with lifelong Albuquerque residents).

-People discern details (even if untrue) about your life from which part of town you live in. Everyone has their own bias as to which part is the best, but there are undoubtedly those areas that are seen as more pretentious than others, and some that are downright sketchy. 

-Local shops here are the absolute best! In this city, you can find a Mom and Pop shop for just about anything you could ever need. Shoes, soap, furniture, tortillas, jewelry, booze, anything really. There's a locally owned place that carries it, and they are all usually pretty awesome! 

-Everyone is $4 short of a hotel room, in whatever parking lot you may be in. I'm more than happy to give money to someone who really needs it (or who can tell me that they do in a convincing manner), but Albuquerque will harden this generosity a little bit. It's like the panhandlers had a convention and decided that the $4 short line worked. Why always $4? Why a hotel room? I know that you can't all be in the same exact boat. 

-There are bugs bigger than your face here, and I don't care how big your face is, it's true. Some of them even make hissing sounds, which is especially fun.

-Bikers in this city are intolerable and fearless. Good for you for being healthy, but either stay in your bike lane, or don't flip me off when you almost hit my car. 

-If you're having a bad day, go to the Walmart on Coors, and your ego will immediately get a boost within just a couple of minutes. They really don't care over on that part of the West Side apparently.

-It's incredibly easy in this town to become a child with a credit card. Sure, you have a job. You have responsibilities. But, if you come from a small town, this place has so many new things to offer, and so many places that stay open until all hours of the night. Learning to live responsibly and at least pretend to be an adult is a hard lesson! 

-Albuquerque is the biggest small town ever. When I first moved here, I was convinced that it was so big and that I'd never run into anyone on accident. I was wrong. It happens all the time. Exes, old friends, people from back home, random acquaintances can all be easily bumped into on any side of town. Also, it's really, shockingly easy to talk to new friends and find out that you know people in common. It's odd, but it's also kind of nice at times. 

-Total Wine still blows my mind. 

-If you need supplements, vitamins, or things of that nature, go to Sprouts. If you need specialty or fun healthy food options, go to Trader Joe's. If you need anything else, stick to Smith's. It's cheaper that way. However, don't go to Co-op unless you have money to burn. 

-The North Valley truly is one of the most perplexing places in the world. We've lived there almost a year, and I still can't quite wrap my head around it most days. We're about three blocks from a scary part of town and about two blocks from a really pretentious part of town. We live somewhere in the middle, but we're right down the street from a convenient store that has had a chalk line in the parking lot, as well as one where there was a huge drug sting not that long ago. Additionally, we're in the city, but we have an acre of land, coyotes, skunks, and all kinds of random "country-living" issues. It's a "best of both worlds" kind of place (or worst, some days). 

-Summer and fall in Albuquerque are the most beautiful things on earth. In the summer, the world is a brighter place here. In the fall, the colors are enough to make you fall in love with the scenery. The spring, however, is a wretched hag. She brings with her cottonwoods and junipers blooming, and it's enough to make this little desert girl have allergies for the first time in her life! 

-Learn the slang. There are new words for everything here, and shortcut names for streets, parts of town, restaurants. Learn them. It makes life so much easier. 

-Don't visit Albuquerque urgent care centers, ever. It's not worth it, I've heard horror stories from multiple people, and I lived through an awful experience. 

-Embrace the fact that crazies come out on Central on weekends. It's hilarious to watch, and you can't make that stuff up….go out and take it all in. Don't complain about them. They're the best entertainment in town. 

-Whether you love it or hate it, make the best of it. If you love it, soak it all in. Go hike the trails, explore the little shops, embrace the unique flavor of ABQ. If you hate it, go eat some hot green (or red) chile, look at the mountains, have a locally brewed beer, and realize that life here really isn't that bad.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lessons from a Political Life

Politics has always fascinated me. Coming from a sports background, I think the competitive nature drew me in at a young age, resulting in the fact that I helped organize a mock election in 2000—one which I'm proud to say had much less controversial results than the actual one. Following that, my intrigue did not cease. In 2004, I was giddy to volunteer when Laura Bush visited my hometown, so naturally in 2008, once I was finally old enough to actually get involved, I did so wholeheartedly. 

From that point forward, I was immersed in the world of politics. At the ripe old age of 19 I started on a journey into the roller coaster of campaigning, working in official offices, and eventually working for the State Party.

It has been a thrill—full of ups and downs, friendships and even some burned bridges, and a lot of stress. Mostly, though, it has been a learning experience. My time in politics is wrapping up—for now, at leastand it’s given me a chance to reflect back upon some of the most vital lessons I’ve learned.

1) Politics is personal. Having jumped headfirst into the murky waters at such a young age, this has always been a reality for me. However, it is sadly not for many. An alarmingly large number of people fail to realize the fact that there are actual people at work in every political office. Instead, they see policies or scandals and thrust about insults with rapid fire, quicker than the clicks of a TMZ camera. Am I saying that everyone in politics is in it for the right reason, or that there is no such thing as bad policy? Absolutely not! Still, for the most part, I believe that most people get involved in politics—either in office or as a staff member—out of a desire to better the world. Idealistic? Certainly! However, one cannot survive in the world of politics without that desire in place at least somewhat. We are all still people—people juggling crazy hours, insane pressure, and sleep deprivation, all while trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life. Before you throw your stones, put yourself in the shoes of those you’re aiming at, and realize that they are human.

2) It’s easy to become jaded; maintaining a softer heart is difficult. I think this is true in all walks of life and all professions. In fact, I think it’s just a symptom of being alive. Life is hard. We all learn the hard way that there are people who will hurt us, people we cannot trust, and those whose own selfish desires will stop at nothing to get what they want. For me, this lesson was made clear through my job. For some, this is a lesson possibly learned in other ways. Nonetheless, even after it all, there is great beauty in remaining soft-hearted and learning to trust even after being burned.

3) Coworkers are priceless gems in our lives. Throughout my years in politics, I have had the wonderful opportunity of meeting and working with a very diverse group of people. There is a lot of turnover in campaigning and even in political jobs in general, so I’ve had more coworkers than most. Regardless of the fact that we are all different in our own ways, we each have something to bring to the table. Additionally, since we end up spending more time with our coworkers than our families most of the time, it’s always a good idea to make friends with coworkers. They are your allies, your friends, and truthfully—family.

4) Anyone who complains about a 9 to 5 deserves a high five…in the face…with a chair. Okay, okay. Maybe that’s a little harsh. Still, 9 to 5-ers, please refrain from making these complaints in front of a politico. Most of us are downright celebratory when we’ve only worked a 40 hour week. I’ve even celebrated 50 a time or two, because our world demands a great deal of our time. While working in a Congressional office, an 80+ hour work week was nothing out of the norm. Also, this goes back to point #1…since I’m on my way out, I can say it without sounding too pious, I think:  While you’re contemplating on whether or not to make that screaming phone call to our offices, please keep in mind what we might have been through that day, and how hard we’re working, because our job is to serve you.

5) Friends who stick around a political staffer are golden. This is a special shout-out to those who are able to remain friends with political staffers—especially those who are not in the political world themselves. As staffers, our plans are often tentative. (Note again those 80 hour work weeks). We’re always on-call. At any minute, we could have to drop what we’re doing—or those plans we made three weeks in advance—and go back to the office. We cancel plans regularly, we flit in and out of town like some kind of modern day gypsies, and sometimes we’re just too tired to make good company. This also results in us having strange behavior—like acting like the mom at the prom when we finally do get to journey back out into the world of normalcy. Given the chance to let loose and party it up, we turn into the “one more shot” person who dances like Elaine from Seinfeld. Forgive us, we don’t get let “out” very often, and our dance moves suffer because of it.

Come on, you know it's part of why you keep us around...

6) Appearances send a message to the world about who you are and what you deem important. The world is vain. We all know it to be a sad reality, and as much as I’d like to leave this one off the list, I simply cannot. I’m not saying that I’ve learned that everyone must always dress to a standard of perfection; I’m simply saying that I’ve found it to be true that what you can accomplish dressed in jeans, you can accomplish much easier when dressed the part. People take notice when you go the extra effort. I’m sure this is true across the board of professions—but it is something that I have noticed frequently. Aside from that, dressing the part always makes me feel more confident in my own abilities.

7) It’s okay to change your mind, your plans, or even your goals. Five years ago, I would have told you that I wanted to work in politics forever, and, at some point, I may return to it. I realized a while back, though, that this is not my life’s passion. This is not what I want to do forever. That was a hard concept for the perfectionist in me to accept. I couldn’t have been wrong about the career path I chose. But, I was, in part. Do I regret any of it? Absolutely not. It has been the most fulfilling and best choice I could have made early in my career. My time in politics opened my eyes to so much, afforded me the rich opportunity of making the friends I have, taught me a great deal—both personally and professionally—and made me who I am today. Yet, it is not the path that I feel is right for this time in my life, and that’s okay. It’s not too late to change or to take a new path. In fact, I think it’s normal.

Do new things, and don't be afraid of change.

Overall, I am grateful for my years in politics. For some reason, I was blessed with these incredible opportunities. Employers took chances in hiring me when I was green, and coworkers took me in as friends and family. My family has stood by my side, supporting whichever candidate I worked for and being my support system. My friends have gone above and beyond to help out with whatever I’ve needed—even staying on the phone with me to keep me awake as I drove across the state through the night, or making me dinner when I hadn’t had time to eat in a day or so. Politics connected me to people more deeply than I could have ever imagined.

Also, I’m thankful to have been a part of a movement that I wholeheartedly believe is on the right track and is going to be successful. I have seen the hard work of volunteers, staffers, grassroots individuals, and many more who are tirelessly pouring their efforts into making New Mexico a better place to live and work. I’m proud to call them all friends, and I know they will keep up the good work!