Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day 4: What to Do With a Problem Like El Paso

Ah...and we have come to the end of our journey....

But WAIT! The road to El Paso is lined with all sorts of tourist destinations! Like the city of Hatch, NM...Chile Capital of the World!
And you thought I was being facetious (and if anyone tries to tell you that blogging is a waste of time, I now know how to spell facetious. I swear it started with a "ph"...).

And the New Mexico Spaceport
As I mentioned last week, this is where completely normal, albeit way too wealthy, American citizens are going to be launched into outerspace a la Richard Branson. These are diamond in the rough tourist destinations.

As we were pulling out of town, I asked Neal if we could make one stop at Celestial Creations (the only boutique to make the TripAdvisor shopping list). Of course it had been closed the day before. It was on the way out of town and open, so we stopped in. Celeste, the owner (get it..."Celest"ial Creations. Clever they are in New Mexico), explained that her inventory was from almost all local artists...many of the pieces were only available in her store. She had the jewelry, too...over 700 pieces! And some completely amazing artwork, as well. Unfortunately, southwest decor is a look and not one that we have adopted in any of our homes. We lean toward eastern-seaboard-beach-chic with a touch of French coffeehouse. Think shells and tan and lots of blue-gray. Basically, every time Lisa posts something that she has created, I want to own 10 of it. So, we politely let ourselves out without cracking the Coach open, and headed south. And Neal couldn't have been happier. We had skipped breakfast so that we would be appropriately famished for Sparky's in Hatch. Neal is Mr. Crankyshorts when he gets hungry.

Sparky's is, evidently, an institution. Even as we finished our fries, a couple was coming in from T or C, just for lunch.
They are most famous (and most reviewed) for their green chile cheeseburger and green chile cheesefries, which look a little something like this:
I inhaled this like it was the last supper. I eat cheesefries about once a year and, usually, I immediately regret it. Not so with Sparky's. I am still thinking about that lunch. In fact, sometimes I go back and re-read my posts just because I hate typos and try to catch them all before posting. If not before, then I re-read and fix, then re-post. I can't do that with this one because I'll be jonesing for Sparky's cheesefries - which are not all that accessible.

They are also famous for their BBQ, though. And that's what Neal chose for his mid-day gorging.
When I ask Neal how his meal is when we're dining out, the typical Neal-response is "Not bad"...but this got a "really good." Way to go, Sparky's!

The decor is funky and eclectic...

"Sparky" is a robot and if you buy a t-shirt or cap, you can help send him to Robot College. Sorry, Sparky...looks like you'll have to take out student loans like the rest of us and pay them off until you have one foot in the grave.

This is what Neal looks like when he's hungry...
minus the moose, of course. But really, would you willingly deny this face a meal? It says to me, "I know how to kill you 4837 ways with just my thumb. Give me the damn bag."

We came, we saw, we ate until our eyes rolled back into our collective heads and then pondered a mango-green chile milkshake. And then thought better of it. And then I played "Frogger" across 4 lanes of traffic so that I could fit both Uncle Sam and Neal into a picture. You wouldn't think of that as a monumental task and yet...
When Uncle Sam is like 3 stories tall and I have the long lens on the camera, it requires planning. Uncle Sam wants you, Neal...and a green chile. I wonder if they had to pay a licensing fee to the U.S. government for this guy.

Hatch definitely has a thing for monumental men. This RV salesman looms just down the street.
Yes, that is a tiny RV he is holding in his hand.

Once we were on the road again, Neal agreed to stop at the New Mexico Spaceport because, honestly, it is probably the closest we will ever come to space travel. So, we took the exit and hung a left and drove about 1/4 a mile before coming to this:
A sign that read "25 miles of survey crew ahead." What this means is New Mexico Spaceport is at least 25 miles down a gravel road. On the one hand, I'm glad the Spaceport authorities had enough foresight to not launch shuttles from a pad that is 2 miles west of Hwy 54. On the other, I had no intention of driving 50 miles on gravel just to see something that was not yet fully operational. And I was a little bummed. Never one to miss an opportunity for new and exciting experiences, Neal announced that 3 miles down a gravel road in the middle of the New Mexico desert was the perfect place to take a leak.
And then, like the chivalrous husband that he is, invited me to do the same. Death grip on a tailpipe while I try not to pee down the last clean pair of jeans I had? No thank you. I'll hold it. (And men think their lives are so hard.)

No Spaceport for us and no more stops until we hit El Paso (trust me, I was burning up that "what is near me now" search button on TripAdvisor. It kept coming back with "there is nothing near you now." Thanks, Sherlock.) If we trucked on, we would hit El Paso around 1 and Neal didn't have to report back until 2000. 7 hours to kill. S-E-V-E-N. What do you do in El Paso for 7 hours??

We photographed Mexico.
I mean, I photographed Mexico from the highway while Neal maintained a safe speed of 75 mph and weaved through traffic so we would be a harder target to hit.

We went to the Saddleblanket Company because they got rave reviews and also I had decided that I simply could not leave New Mexico without a sombrero.
They had sombreros. They also had caskets.
Neal points out how roomy they look. He obvis didn't read the sign that says "Do not open or handle the caskets."

But WAIT! You say you would rather be buried in something a little more primal? They got that, too.
Nothing says Rest in Peace like cow's hide. This was about the time that Neal showed me how to take a picture silently.

I eventually decided against a sombrero. Apparently, I have a big head. And those things are not at all flexible. Not like my Savannah floppy hats. I was afraid Delta would make me check it and I had no interest in buying a Halloween hat, only to pay $23 to get it home.

But fret not, I did get something in our last hours together. We had to run into Military Clothing & Sales at Bliss to buy another bag so I could avoid the heavy bag fee (I was heavy coming out and if you add the bottles of wine plus fleece math tells me I was going to be heavy returning, too).

Neal got a camo duffle and I got these:
That's right! My elephant butt(e) will now say Booty Camp! I was floating on a cloud of giddiness...until the cashier told me that to get the correct size, I would need to go up a couple from my normal Victoria's Secret size. Undergrodie Nazis. At least she told me, but now I have a pair of underwear with at least one "X" in the size. *sigh*

We now had 4 hours to kill so we drove up and down a street in El Paso, looking for a gelato cafe that had, seemingly, been replaced by a hair salon. So, we stopped at Baskin-Robbins for Neal's last pre-flight ice cream. That knocked off 20 minutes. Then I got a driving tour around Ft. Bliss.
Lodging (his, not mine)
Chow Hall (I gotta say...that's the nicest chow hall I've ever seen. So nice, in fact, that it's called a "dining facility." Fancypants. 

And then we were down to 3. Dinner at Chili's (which was also the last meal he had in the Atlanta airport before his deployment to Kuwait)
...and dessert...
and it was time to head back to McGregor.

The last few hours before reporting back are always strained. You don't want to argue, but you don't want to make undying professions of love, either, because once one starts crying, the other is not far behind. You want to enjoy every minute without mentally tagging it as "this is our last hug/kiss/hand hold/joke/smile for 6/7/8/9/10 months." You try to memorize how it feels to be together so that you can draw on that in the empty nights ahead. But what you find is that as soon as you pull out onto the highway, you're losing the memory, the feeling, the warmth. And now it's just you and all of the days that lay ahead. You think about seeing him just one more time. You almost turn around. But there will come a time when there are no more one more times. So, better to just make it now. And then it never fails..."your song" comes on the radio. It happens every. single. time. And I'm secretly glad that McGregor is something of a hike back to Bliss. I will need that time to re-compose.

There was the very real possibility that the 352 wasn't going to get this 4-day pass. And now, I can't imagine not having it. If you're listening DoD, we need this time to take one more long drink of each other before heading into the desert. We send our husbands/wives/children/siblings packing to fight a war that feels like it is going to last forever. And we do it over and over and over again. The least you can do is give us 72 hours of bliss.


  1. I want, nay, NEED that ice cream and the burger and fries. YES, I NEED.
    Then you can bury me in that cowhide casket cuz Lord knows I'll be dead soon after eating it. :)
    I'm so glad you had the 72 hours with your man, girl.
    Oh, and the HUGE statue guys...scary a little. And the booty camp shorts. LOL!!

  2. Now that is what I call seeing the sights! I swear the last can of enchilada sauce I used said "Hatch" on it. Might be the enchilada capitol of the world too? And you are sweet to say that and give me a link! Thank you! Might heart aches just a tad for you. I hope the time passes quickly for you both.

  3. I will be hiding this post from Wilzie, because if he sees it, we will be going to Hatch for a green chili burger, and I've already got enough to deal with his 5 Guys addiction...
    It looks like you really made the most of your 72 hours - its good you got that opportunity.

  4. Your paragraph about the last few hours before reporting back made me tear up. I hate those hours as much as I treasure them.

    I am so happy you got your 72 with your Soldier!!

  5. Holding you in my heart tonight and for lots more. xoxo

  6. Love your stories...thank you for sharing! Sending hugs to you.

  7. That 2nd to last paragraph made me cry :( ((hugs)) to you and praying for Neal's safety.

  8. I was fine until I read the end of this and now I'm all tears at work. I hope that this time speeds by for both of you, I know that is probably a hard to believe thing for you but I hope it does.

    My cousin was anxiously awaiting his flight from Iraq to destination #2 to make it to Destination HOME! Operation Preparation as his wife is calling it has started... I can't wait to have him back on US Soil and I can't wait for Neal to do the same!!!

    HUGE HUGS oxoxo

    If you get lonely, head to Alabama, I'll leave the light on for you! ox

  9. I've known how to spell facetious since 4th grade when our teacher told us it was the only word in the English language with all the vowels in order a-e-i-o-u.

    Sounds like New Mexico makes everything with chile's. Do you think they'd kick me out of the state if I asked for anything sans peppers?

    I'm glad you got to have your 72 hours together and hope you're holding up today! You're both in my prayers :)

  10. Oh my gosh, your lunch sounds fabulous, but Neil looks less hungry than he does "tolerant" of your photo taking. LOL

    The last part was so real and incredibly touching. Big, big, big hugs to you.

  11. DUDE. That burger and fries makes my mouth water something FIERCE. Dang. I need that like now.

    I'm really, really glad you got your 4 days before he left. I can only imagine how incredibly important that is for both of you.

  12. Wonderful post, right down to the emotional ending. I'm glad you decided to create this blog.


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