I've been living in a 24-hour accessible world for the majority of my life. Even when Denver felt much smaller and small town-ish back in the '90s ( though it wasn't, really) I remember being able to go the grocery store at any hour, get gas at any hour and do a lot of other things in the middle of the night, like make copies of a zine at 2 a.m. at Kinko's in Cherry Creek or do my laundry at Smiley's. But along with this all-access pass to everything comes a lack of patience.
I spent this past weekend traveling the Southwest, taking scenic U.S. Route 285 for the majority of our trip from Denver to Albuquerque and back. Making stops at small towns along the way, I realized that the beauty of a place known as "The Land of Enchantment" comes with closing times and a lot more patience than the 24-hour world requires. Something we all could probably use a lot more of.
We stopped in Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, on both ends of our trip. This roadside town is literally split down the middle by the highway, so making jaunts between Oliver's Gas Station on one side and Mia's Sopapillas on the other feel pretty dangerous. But since my traveling companions and I watched elementary school-age children skip across the roadway, we figured we could do it, too.
We were only stopping to get gas and head back out on the road to try to make it to Albuquerque before it got to be too late in the evening. But the smell of the little trailer next to a boarded up building selling sopapillas stuffed with beans and cheese and Calabacitas created the kind of detour you only find in a place that isn't 24-hours a day accessible. Mia's Sopapillas were as delicious as they smelled, and we spent a good thirty extra minutes there eating -- but also, waiting.
As I stood in line behind a woman and her elderly mother, I felt myself getting antsy. Why couldn't they decide what they wanted before they got to the window? The menu wasn't even that big, so why were they taking so long to order? Why weren't they aware that there was a line made up of me behind them?
Then I caught myself having these thoughts and was like, whoa, hey. Slow down, dude. You're on vacation and hey, maybe these people are, too. Or maybe they are just having dinner at their favorite spot and this is how they operate. Maybe they don't need to be a on a time schedule like you. Maybe you don't need to be on a time schedule all the time.
Seems like a simple enough concept, yet I don't adhere to the waiting game nearly enough. I'm not talking about being patient when you're cell phone company puts you on hold for 45 minutes because they are a behemoth corporation that doesn't care about you as a human customer. I'm talking about the waiting game when it comes to human-to-human interaction.
Mia's Sopapillas and its customers were not on my time. No one is. And sucking it up and waiting a few extra minutes while the women in front of me meandered back and forth between the ordering window and their table, deciding what to have on a Friday evening at 6 p.m.? It didn't kill me to wait. In fact, saving a few extra minutes by not waiting wouldn't have made my life or anyone's around me any better.
On our way back to Denver, we stopped again in Ojo Caliente. This time, we shacked up at a local roadside spot, the Taos Trail Inn and took a dip in the mineral hot springs after the sun went down. About midway through our night swim, I started to get hungry. Then I started to freak out -- there was no 24-hour King Soopers or late-night diner where we could eat. What in the hell were we going to do?
We ended up snagging a bite just after the kitchen in the restaurant at the mineral springs resort closed down because they were nice enough to cook up some burgers for us. After dinner, we walked back along the pitch black dirt road of Los Banos Drive up to 285 and made the leap over the highway to get back to our cottage. Though I was scared of the dark, it was more the rush of panicky feelings I felt when I thought we wouldn't be able to eat dinner that made me worried.
What would have happened if we didn't have dinner that night? Nothing. We would have woken up the next day and had breakfast. Nothing would have changed. But during the rest of my life when I'm not on vacation, I live in a world where I can have whatever I want right then and there. I don't have to wait and I don't have to be told no, we're closed. In 24-Hour World, nothing ever closes. We don't have to wait for anything or anyone. Everything in our lives is immediate.
Eventually I realized that waiting felt good. It felt good to not be ruled by time. It felt good to not know exactly when and where we were going to eat next. It felt good to have connections with people that weren't just about ordering, paying and consuming. The myth of modern convenience is that it is convenient in every aspect -- but when you don't have time to have a five-minute conversation with a stranger, you're missing out on the human interactions that make us human in the first place. No wonder there were hardly any clocks in Ojo Caliente.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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