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Endings are hard, but vaya con Dios

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Endings are hard.

They’re not like beginnings, which spring up fresh with infinite possibilities and dewy promise. Endings take a long time to get to, and they carry the heavy burden of conclusions.

Endings are hard, but let’s get on with this one.

This is my last UpFront column and my final piece of journalism for this newspaper, which I joined nearly 26 years ago on a December morning that, could I possibly remember it now, doubtlessly felt fresh with infinite possibilities and dewy promise.

The point of a newspaper career isn’t the reporter; it’s the stories. And the stories, every single one of them, start with people.

By the good fortune of landing this job, I was able to return to Albuquerque from a brief and humid detour to Houston and resume the only vocation that ever mattered to me – writing about the people of New Mexico.

The people, the thousands of people.

The yak rancher who taught me that yaks grind their teeth when they’re angry.

The watercolor painters, Fred and Ken, who taught me lasting lessons about friendship.

The immigrant children, living alone and missing their deported parents, who made sure there were extra tortillas and beans to serve their inquisitive newspaper guests.

The high school girls basketball team that had dropped 57 straight games and cheerfully answered my questions after loss No. 58.

The octogenarian hiker who showed me a new way to see the Sandias.

The dumpster diver who taught me where to find the bagels.

The alien abductees who indulged my ignorant questions about little gray men.

The border town mayor who took me to my first Mexican brothel. And the hooker there who gave me a cold Tecate and a piece of her birthday cake.

The master breeder of onions, the apple magnate, the fig wizard, the chile pickers and the cheesemakers – mozzarella, feta and cheddar. The dairy man who gave me the warning – too late! – that I was standing on the wrong end of that cow.

The generous wife of a stroke victim who shared her terrifying experience to help others. The sad parents who lost their baby to a preventable disease. Every member of the patient and welcoming families of far too many victims of crimes and accidents and sickness.

I often came into people’s lives at exactly the worst moment, and was treated to kindness and truth and intimate conversations that stay with me today.

The word “blessing” is used carelessly these days, but I count mine for having had these opportunities.

New Mexico is a big state and, after a few trips out of the city, I made one of my best investments. I bought a copy of “The Roads of New Mexico,” a 126-page map book that divides the state into mile-square grids and shows even the damnedest excuses for roads.

As I traveled – to Torreon and Loco Hills and Weed and Red Rock – I made a practice of highlighting the route. The book is dog-eared and held together with packing tape all these years later and it’s crisscrossed with colored marker lines that show where I’ve been. Not that I need them. Those trips are seared into me.

My love for New Mexico isn’t only skin deep, but I have penned many a mash note to its physical beauty.

From Burnham: “The desert floor fans out here like a dinner plate – flat, hot and empty.”

From Portales: “The clouds have hung for hours over the flat fields like dirty gray curtains, drawing open regularly and lowering sheets of warm rain.”

From the exact center of New Mexico: “The grass had been tinted an impossible green by 3 inches of recent rain, the wind blew gently and, over the course of two hours, the naked blue sky slipped into something more comfortable – white clouds that towered ever higher as the afternoon slipped away.”

Endings are hard, and I made the decision to end this chapter of my career after careful thought and with a keen grasp of what it means to suspend the conversation we’ve been having in these pages.

Since making the decision to resign, I’ve skipped the stages of grief and instead gone through almost all the Seven Dwarfs – Grumpy, Dopey, Sleepy, Bashful. I’ve settled on Happy and hope to stay that way.

I’ve got some writing projects lined up in Albuquerque and out of state, but if you see me standing on a freeway off-ramp holding a “Will Work for Fry Bread” sign, please be generous.

Until then, this is your correspondent signing off. Vaya con Dios.

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