He pauses for a while before he responds to my asking him what was the best thing he did during his short trip to Albuquerque last week.
“Hmmmm,” he says, the mmms stretching on for nearly a full breath. “What was my favorite?”
You can understand the delay if you know all the activities Arti Shaterian packed in during his visit last week to our fair city, thanks to his grandparents, who, God love them, managed to keep up with this 11-year-old dynamo from Lafayette, California, for four days.
You can understand that if you know how long Arti has dreamed of taking this Albuquerque vacation, how excited he was when he wrote a pithy essay last year about his upcoming visit only to see his best laid plans fizzle because of COVID-19.
His grandmother, Gloria Podolny, shared his essay with us in this column, which was published July 8, 2020, not to bemoan her lost visit but because sometimes we forget how lucky we are to live in Albuquerque and maybe a bright boy from elsewhere was just the guy to remind us.
The Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau thought Arti did a good job at that, so much so that after the column was published, the group made him a junior tourism ambassador, published a video interview with him on its Facebook page and sent him a customized care package filled with goodies from local businesses.
“Your story really captivated us and made us a huge fan of Arti’s,” President and CEO Tania Armenta wrote in an email then. “We cannot wait until he gets a chance to come back.”
Well, he got that chance last week, but woe to any of us media folks or dignitaries who wanted to meet him in person. He was just too busy having a good time.
“Arti feels strongly that he does not want his ‘fun time’ cut into, but he seems to be agreeable to Zoom or phone calls after he returns to California,” Podolny advised.
I can’t blame him. He was always on the go while he was here, he said. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I could keep up with his itinerary, which included Cliff’s Amusement Park and Hinkle Family Fun Center in the same day.
Both amusement parks had been at the top of Arti’s Albuquerque bucket list, especially Cliff’s Rattler, a bone-shaking wooden roller coaster that last year he was finally tall enough to ride.
And ride he did, once at the very front of the coaster and once at the very back. He explains that the experience is different depending on where you sit – the back very “whippy,” the front more “rattle-y,” more aerodynamic, especially since the lap bars were built by Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters.
“PTC makes lap bars that don’t go down as far as others, so when it’s going you can feel yourself really fly up off the seat,” the rollercoaster aficionado said.
He called the experience “very fun.”
Although he can’t say for sure, Arti said he thinks he developed the plan to hit Cliff’s as soon as it opened at 11 a.m. then jog off to Hinkle by 2 p.m. for more hours of fun.
Which is to say, he definitely developed that plan.
Arti and his grandparents – who developed a system of spelling each other so one of them was keeping up with Arti while the other caught their breath – also played laser tag for hours at Main Event and rode the Sandia Peak Tramway on a bright blue day when the views of the city, the Rio Grande and points west were clear as the crags on the mountain’s rocky face.
More excitingly, he said, he captured a Charizard with his Pokémon Go game atop Sandia Crest.
Alas, he did not get to hike the Sandias or go to the zoo as planned. There just wasn’t enough time or endurance to fit it all in.
“Sometimes we just decided to chill,” he said.
Which must have come as some relief to his grandparents, who also entertained Arti’s sister, Yelena, 16, who arrived a day after him.
They had better rest up. This week, two more grandchildren arrive for exhaustive Albuquerque fun. Next month, the Podolnys fly to Florida to visit four more grandchildren.
“It’s such a relief to finally get to see them all,” Gloria Podolny said.
And of course, Arti’s trip would not have been complete without a Lotaburger and Lotaburger’s breakfast burrito, both culinary treats he had referred to in his 2020 essay as “classy” and “the BEST EVER.”
Next time he comes, he said, he believes he will be ready to try them with green chile.
Next time. It’s nice to imagine that we are getting back to talking about next times when for so long it seemed as if life was on hold and that what was next might not be something good.
“At first it felt different,” he said of the year in coronavirus lockdown. “Now it feels normal. It feels weird not to always have a mask on.”
Arti is not yet old enough to be vaccinated against COVID-19, so masks are still the norm for him. He turns 12 in November, and then he’ll get a vaccine so he can make sure he’ll have many next times.
This was his third trip to Albuquerque to visit his grandparents and do the town, and he admits that the newness of the adventure has waned slightly.
“But it’s still fun,”he said. “There’s a lot of nice people here.”
That includes his tireless grandparents.
And then he knows what the best part of his trip to Albuquerque was.
“Just being there was the best,” he said. “Just being back after everything.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.