El Paso post mortem

Back home safe and sound, no thanks to United. As we were driving back from New Mexico on New Year’s Eve, my cellphone went off, and it was an automated message from them saying my flight from Denver to Boston had been cancelled and I had been rebooked on a flight that left 7 hours later than my original flight and arrived 10 hours later, which would put me here shortly after midnight (as the ticket agent had said, “not a lot of options”). So when I got back to the hotel I called the airline and wrangled with the lady on the phone to switching me to a flight on Delta that went through Atlanta and got me here before 5pm, which seemed a reasonable compromise. Still had some anxious moments at the airport to make sure it all happened, but it did, and Delta was right on time and both planes were full, so it was just as well I took care of it right away. No movies, no entertainment of any sort on Delta, but they offer a choice of free snacks, where United has a movie but you have to pay 5 bucks for anything more than trail mix.

So anyway, let me see if I can fill in the rest of the gaps in the trip. I went on ad nauseum about the game the other day, and as I said, getting there was easy. Nate had to make a sidetrip before we left for the stadium to pick up some Immodium after the previous night’s Mexican food, and he said there was another NU fan in line buying sunblock and asking the clerk if SPF30 was the strongest they had. El Paso was having a detrimental effect on the delicate northern constitution of the NU crowd, apparently. Rich wasn’t feeling well either and had his own bottle of Immodium, leading us to wonder why they weren’t the sponsor of the Sun Bowl instead of Vitalis.

Since the game was at 12, none of us ate anything all afternoon. Nate tried out ordering from “dial4snacks”, which was advertising at the game that they would bring your order right to your seats. We got three bottles of soda, and after about 90 minutes there they were. Seems like their business model needs work. The last-minute addition of Adam to the attendees was as a result of a recent trip to Vegas that yielded enough winnings to pay for the plane ticket, but by then all the good flights were spoken for and he could only book a flight that left at 5:15 the day of the game. We’d been telling him all along that he would miss the ending, and sure enough at 3:45 it was time to head for the airport and the game wasn’t near being over (it was about 4:30 before it finally ended). So Daren left to drive him to the airport, down by 11 at the time, but they must have been driving all over the road listening on the radio as we kept trying to come back and then blowing it.

After the debacle was over, the rest of us moseyed back to the car and got back on the highway with little traffic since most people had left well before the end (not realizing there were another 28 points still to be scored). We met up with Daren and eventually worked our way over to the State Line restaurant west of town, which is not only near the state line, it’s on the state line, such that part of the restaurant is in Texas and part is in New Mexico. Had some really good ribs and maragaritas and such, and we were all totally wiped out by the time dinner was over and crawled back to the hotel and passed out by 11.

Saturday morning was New Year’s Eve and Daren was leaving at the crack of dawn. Nate had to drive back to Albuquerque but still had a couple of hours to kill, so he and I drove across the border to Juarez, Mexico, a huge sprawling city that, from the parts that we saw, appears to be a dump. Pretty much what you would expect Mexico to look like, although I thought being just over the border it’d be a little more dressed up to attract the tourists, but what we went through was just plain seedy. We crossed over the border from US 54, where not only were we not stopped by anyone but it didn’t appear anyone else was either. Just on the other side was the tourist info center, which was closed, on a Saturday morning, with no hours posted (I sound like one of those travel website reviews). Chamizal Park, which runs along that part of the Rio Grande (the so-called “river”, although it’s basically a viaduct that’s barely noticeable), is pretty large and looked nice enough, lots of picnic tables, joggers, etc.

We drove towards downtown and found a couple of major roads and the Cathedral and adjacent market area, where we hopped out to take a couple of pictures. Most of the streets are one-way, many don’t have signs, and there’s little indication of how to get back to the border, and time was running out, but we finally managed to get back to the US side more or less on time. Nate said his farewells and handed me off to Rich and Liz, who had just gone through the nearby scenic drive and were open for suggestions on what to do for the afternoon. Rich wasn’t feeling well, so I offered to drive and we headed north into New Mexico.

The goal was to check out the White Sands National Monument, about 2 hours north of El Paso. Not far down the road from there is White Sands Missile Range, which has an outdoor missile park and a museum. The museum was closed for some reason, but we checked out the park, which is inside the grounds and you have to go through security and have your id checked and everything. Being New Year’s Eve, nothing much was going on otherwise there. Saw another NU group there who thought it appropriate after the previous day’s game to go look at missiles. Although it’s not quite Wyoming-barren, it’s still pretty empty there, and miles from anywhere (Las Cruces and Alamagordo are each about 30 miles away in opposite directions). The mountains in the distance give some sense of scale and if anything make you feel even more alone.

Back in the car, we drove the rest of the way to the actual White Sands, which for some reason is a national monument rather than a national park, but it seems like a park, complete with hiking trails and picnic tables, in spite of the fact that it’s basically a white sand desert in the middle of New Mexico. Much like the Badlands in South Dakota, you drive along for miles through normal geography and suddenly the landscape changes dramatically. Along the sides of the road are dunes with a fair amount of vegetation growing out of them, but if you drive well into the park, the plants disappear and there’s just the dunes, many of them 20 or 30 feet high, looking pretty much just like snow. They even have to plow the roads to keep them clear, and you can rent snowboards and go sledding on the dunes, which gives you a sense of the size and permanence of the landscape in that the park service isn’t worried about people being able to trash them, as long as you don’t go driving over them. We spent a couple of hours there, it was a little overcast, but fortunately not windy like it was at the missile range.

It was after 3 and we still hadn’t had lunch, so we continued on a few more miles to Alamagordo, which is a wide space in the road alongside the mountains with a sunset strip that contained every fast food restaurant in existence, so we grabbed a sandwich and then headed back due south to El Paso, arriving back in town around 6, just after it got dark. Being New Year’s Eve and all, we figured on regrouping at our various hotels and then going out to eat, but it didn’t happen, Rich and Liz were both too trashed, so they blew me off and I ended up getting some takeout from the Long John Silvers next door and watching tv in the room for a couple of hours before turning in just after midnight eastern time so I could have all my wits about me for my alternate travel plans the following day.

El Paso was a nice enough town, Liz kept describing the area as a “hardscrabble existence”, but it was pretty well kept up, not much of a downtown area so you didn’t get the sense of the football game taking over the city, although technically it probably did, even moreso than San Antonio, since the Sun Bowl has been there for so long. It’s also the only game in town for a large chunk of that part of the country, a city of 500,000 (although it doesn’t seem nearly that big), the nearest city of similar size is probably Tucson, 300 miles to the west. It’s out of the way location made it an expensive city to get to, but once you were there everything else (restaurants, hotels, etc.) was comparatively cheap. And it was just as well the game in December, since in June, July and August, the average temperature is 95 degrees. No amount of sunblock and Immodium would help you then.

So next year we may be back, or we may be somewhere else (the ‘Cats haven’t been to the Music City Bowl or Outback Bowl yet), or it may be a rebuilding year since Basanez is finally graduating (already has, I believe). But regardless of the location, or the opponent, or whether it’s in a red state or not, I would highly recommend the experience. At least until we win one, then we’ll talk.