Goodbye New Mexico (It's Been Fun!)
Traveling through Arizona was pleasant that late May day in 1971. Deming was a blur. Carlsbad was somewhere out there on the horizon and I was in a big hurry. Phil Buckner had offered me $17,000 a year to run the Carlsbad Current-Argus.
Was he crazy? Seventeen thousand bucks to run a paper, write whatever I wanted? I was driving fast to get there before he changed his mind. Put El Paso behind me, raced towards where I thought was Carlsbad. After what seemed like four zip codes, began to worry if there was a Carlsbad.
Sure enough. Found the town. Found the newspaper at Mermod and Main. Began calling on advertisers because they pay the bills. Began seeking out newsmakers to assure them our relationship was going to be one ongoing honeymoon because I am a fair guy and I am confident the town would value good journalism. We all hugged.
Well, not all. Walter Gerrells, the curmudgeon mayor who ran the town dictator-style, met me on the sidewalk outside his clothing store downtown. Introduced myself. He nodded. “What’s that you’re driving?” he frowned, a glance toward my car.
I told him it was a 1970 Datsun 510. It was a little blue number, bottom of the line, but it was to be mine after just two more years of payments. Proud of that car, I was.
“What’d you pay for that thing” the mayor wondered? “Just $4,000!” I flashed the cocky smile of a self- congratulatory wheeler-dealer.
“You’d think for that kind of money you could have got a real car,” Mr. Sunshine observed. So. It’s going to be that kind of 45 years.
It was the beginning of a healthy newspaper-government relationship. Over the next couple decades, the power structure and the paper fought a lot, made up a lot, worked together in a mostly friendly tug of war. Current-Argus readers enjoyed the jostling.
Actually, all that good will was short-lived. Just weeks after my arrival the Carlsbad Jaycees staged their annual fund raiser, a carnival set up in the park next to Lake Carlsbad. As luck would have it, one Friday night a couple of carnies got drunk and pushed a city pickup into the lake.
Saturday morning six or seven Jaycees surrounded my desk at the newspaper where we were preparing the Sunday edition. Nice guys. Dean Friesen was there. Jerry Calvani, I think. Probably Jack White, Jr. They pleasantly explained how important the carnival was to the town and wondered if the dunked truck was really all that newsworthy. I told them it certainly qualified as a story but it wouldn’t get much play if more important news crossed our desk.
Turned out to be a slow news day. The page one banner headline Sunday morning screamed something like: “Drunk Carnies Push City Truck into Drink.” So much for hugging. Dean and I still laugh about that story.
The next decades were to bring more of the same. Newspapering in Carlsbad, making valued friends among my peers across the state through the New Mexico Press Association, ending our days in Carlsbad with a move to Ruidoso and syndication of a weekly column. It all started with that long drive from Southern California in 1971.
Just the meandering memories of a sappy old man? Sure, partly, I guess. But more. The Cantwells are saying goodbye to New Mexico. Much of our family has settled in Abilene. Roberta and I have plenty of laps to run and we want to run them where we have family and convenient transportation access to more family in Arizona and Georgia.
We love this state, will miss cherished friends left behind. Still, though, “Days that are full of heart-dreams, nights when the moon hangs low…”
Goodbye, O Fair New Mexico.