Albuquerque...looking east across downtown toward the Sandia Mountains
I mentioned in a previous chapter that 2019 marks 30 years since I landed in New Mexico in the state’s largest city Albuquerque.
While I came to town with a little nest egg of under $1000 it was dwindling fast…I had to put down a big chunk of change on a groovy li’l hippie pad in an old motel on Central Avenue…The Duke City’s notorious “main drag.”
I went to the temp agencies in town and within a week I had a gig at minimum wage assembling giant-ass shelves at a janitorial supply warehouse. When that assignment was done it was off to one of the city’s malls of the day to work with a bunch of other temp agency folks moving a J. C. Penney store from one mall to another.
In the meantime I had my application in at the construction firm that seemed to be working on projects all over the city…“Dos Picachos Construction*.”
As the days passed still no word from Dos Picachos. I wanted a job with those guys because of the good money…$12 an hour versus the $4 an hour minimum wage temp jobs. At the end of every week after I budgeted for rent I barely had enough for gas and groceries.
There were more temp jobs: Washing cars for a rental agency at the Albuquerque airport, scrubbing dried snot and spit off the walls of a nursing home and working a collections gig at the Duke City office of a credit card company.
Finally the call came from Dos Picachos…I was in. I’d be running what construction folks call a “pan.” Most folks probably know it as an earthmover…the thing moves along the ground gathering dirt from one place and dumping it in another.
I had to go do a drug test. It would be my very first.
Back then there had been stories about this food or that everyday drug making the results positive for marijuana or other illegal substances. When the construction honchos sent me off to the medical center for the test they gave me a piece of paper with some guidelines. It told about letting the lab people know if you’ve taken acetaminophen (read that as “Tylenol”) and some other medicines and foods.
Into the drug test office I went.
I quickly learned that the drug testing people took their drug testing business pretty seriously because when I joked that I’d been studying real hard for the test I was greeted with a cold blank stare.
Of course if I’d given it some thought I might’ve realized the drug testing people heard that same lame quip bunches of times a day.
The next day I reported to the work site. Dos Picachos was doing a job for the railroad south of Albuquerque in Belen.
I caused a little stir when I got there, what with having taken my first drug test and all I had questions…I’m also the kind of guy known for speaking before I think.
Before the shift, there was a meeting to go over what we were going to do on the project. Then Jim, the foreman, asked if there were any more questions.
I raised my hand.
“Did I pass my drug test?” I asked.
All the other guys whipped their heads around to give me a stare.
“Why,” said Ben, a co-worker, “do you take drugs?” Ben was a young guy who had just moved to the Duke City from Silver City. In a matter of days he and I would end up carpooling to and from the city to the jobsite during which I learned his beliefs that America was on a downhill slide and “the liberal media” was to blame. Looking back on some of the things he talked about I suspect he was an early fan of Rush Limbaugh. He also had an affinity for Metallica and Andrew Dice Clay. But right then he was eyeing me with suspicion.
“No,” I said, “it’s just that I’ve heard stories about drug tests getting fouled up.”
“That’s just something made up by the liberal media,” Ben said.
“If you tested positive,” Foreman Jim said, “we’d talk to you privately before the shift and send you home.”
“Drug tests are always right,” proclaimed Ben. “If they test positive, you use drugs, it’s just that simple.”
And so the project began. There were two shifts…the day shift ran from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the night shift worked from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.
I was on the night shift…we worked under klieg lights and headlights.
The crew was made up of a pretty good cross-section of the people of The Great American Southwest: A handful of white guys or “Anglos,” the popular colloquialism for white folk in The Southwest. There was a black guy who ran the bulldozer, a couple of Hispanic guys, a Native American woman blade operator from the Acoma Pueblo and Vicente, a Native American dude from the Laguna Pueblo.
It was like the Chamber of Commerce propaganda said…Albuquerque was a place where diverse racial and ethnic groups work in harmony.
Well…I wouldn’t call it harmony, but we all worked.
I liked to listen to the Hispanic guys because of their language. I found it fascinating how these two dudes would be talking in English and when they got excited about something they’d seamlessly switch into talking Spanish. Spanish seemed a lot easier than the French I took in high school.
One night the crew was sent home early. It was Ben’s turn to drive us back to Albuquerque. This night he got off the interstate on the city’s south side.
“Where’re we going?” I asked.
“This bookstore,” he said. “They have a peep show.”
Ben went in. I waited in the car…for a bit. I always found adult bookstores a bit weird…I mean it’s not like there’s single women inside waiting for dates. My curiosity overruled my…whatever…and soon I found myself in an itty-bitty room, strange stains on the wall, a metal-covered window and a coin slot. I put a quarter in the slot.
Gears ground, the metal thingy rolled up to uncover a window that revealed a room with a lone dancer on pink shag carpet.
Well, that dancer was missing an awful lot of her clothes.
While hip-hop music throbbed in the room she danced over to my window and was gyrating this way, shimmying another way and twisting that way, thrusting her bare crotch and boobs at me.
I started to laugh. The whole thing was just flat-out funny to me.
The woman stopped dancing. She started laughing too…that made me laugh more.
The laughing dancer backed up to sit on the lone chair in the room. She missed and landed on the floor. She laughed more.
And then the metal thingy came down to cover the window.
I went outside and waited for Ben.
Minutes later he popped out the door.
We stood outside.
“YOU made the dancer laugh, didn’t you?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, chuckling. “It was ridiculous. I’m in this creepy little room watching this dancer gyrate and shake on a pink shag carpet. It was funny. I reckon she thought something was funny too.”
“You’re weird,” said Ben.
“What the hell are we doing coming here anyway?” I said. “You live with someone.”
“Seeing this stuff makes me want her more,” Ben said.
“And you call me weird,” I said as we got in the car and headed on in to town.
I looked out the window. I pondered the mostly naked chick in the peep show…she looked like she had a brain. I wondered if she was working the peep show to pick up cash, working her way through college.
In the days that followed we kept working on the project, dredging river dirt and building a new railroad bed with it. The dirt was soft and mushy and I got stuck in it a lot.
I had run heavy equipment in Florida and had no problem with getting out after getting stuck there. This was not the case in the Rio Grande mud. I’d get stuck and Foreman Jim would have to pull the dozer off its job and come over and push me out of the muck.
One night I got stuck again.
Next thing I knew a dirt clod exploded on the inside of my cab against the windshield. Chunks of dirt flew all over me.
I looked around to see where it came from.
There was Foreman Jim, standing and glaring at me, his hands on his hips.
I didn’t even think twice.
I turned off my rig, got out and marched right up to Foreman Jim and stood there, towering over him.
“What the hell was that about, boss?” I said loudly.
“I’m God damned tired of you getting stuck,” he said loudly.
“No need to throw shit at me, boss.”
“I wanted to get your f*#king attention,” said Jim. “You’re slowing down the project.”
At mid-shift break I was eating and I heard the Anglo guy from the mountains talking about me.
“I bet ol’ Stretch could’ve kicked ol’ Jim’s ass.”
I turned to Mountain Man.
“Talkin’ about me?” I asked.
“Yeah, Stretch,” said Mountain Man, he called me “Stretch,” “Yeah, we thought you were going to kick Jim’s ass. We were expecting a good fight.”
“Ain’t no sense in that,” I said. “I just wanted to know why he thought it was so damn important to throw shit at me. Besides I’d probably get my glasses broke if I fought him.”
Another night Vicente wanted to fight me…
Just because he didn’t like me.
“I don’t like you,” said Vicente during mid-shift break. He was standing over me as I sat having my “lunch.” “I’m going to kick your ass.”
I stood up and towered over him.
“So,” I said. “Just because you don’t like me you’re going to kick my ass. That doesn’t make any sense.
I sat back down.
“YOU DISSIN’ ME, ASSHOLE?” yelled Vicente.
“No, Vicente,” I said. “I don’t want to fight you. I’ll probably get my glasses broken anyway.”
I went back to eating.
Vicente went away and left me alone.
Three nights later Vicente walked up to me at mid-shift break.
“You and I drive the same make car,” said Vicente. “My tire’s flat…can I borrow your spare?”
I laughed a bit.
“Sure, buddy,” I said. “We’ll get it when the shift’s over.”
The project ended in January.
There was no work for a few weeks.
Ben called me one day, asked what I was doing.
“Doing temp work, working at the credit card company, 5 bucks an hour,” I said. “What’re you doing?”
“Waiting for my unemployment,” he said.
“I’ve never gotten unemployment,” I said. “I didn’t know I could get it.”
“Yeah,” said Ben. “I won’t work for less than 8 bucks an hour.”
I was just glad to get a job.
That was the only work I ever did for Dos Picachos.
Not long after talking with Ben I found out a bunch of the crew got called back for a project right in Albuquerque.
I was not called back…didn’t know why...really didn’t care.
I had gotten a job back in radio.
Radio bosses don’t throw dirt clods at you.
Not usually, anyway.
*All names changed.