Written by Cheryl Eichar Jett
We were finishing lunch at a window table in the Church Street Cafe, when Kev’s phone rang and I motioned for him to take the call. I could hear a female voice on the other end, and glancing at his face, I guessed this was the call he was anticipating.
Rising from the table, I picked up my glass of wine and wandered out to the patio, leaving Kev to talk in private. Soaking up the gorgeous Albuquerque afternoon, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. If anyone had been looking, I’m sure I had a silly smile on my face, but I didn’t care. I’m a Chicago girl, by birth and by choice, but I had been falling in love with New Mexico for the past four days.
We were on a Route 66 trip. I write travel features for several small publications in the Chicago area. The travel gods must have been looking out for me, because, amazingly, I landed this plum assignment to cover Route 66 from Illinois to California. Kev, also a writer-reporter, had a couple weeks free, planned to do some writing and photography along the way, and had recently received a couple emails from ex-girlfriend Elaine, who had settled in Albuquerque.
I glanced at the window and could see Kev still talking animatedly. I had hesitated when he asked to come along on the trip—he’s a nice guy, but awfully talkative and sort of impulsive. So far, he’d been good company and I appreciated a relief driver.
While I idled on the patio, I snapped a few photos to add to a blog post. My blog had grown out of a travel column I wrote for awhile, entitled “Coffee on the Map.” It was a happy accident when one day I spilled coffee on a road map and went to the wrong town because I could no longer read that part of the map. It became a running joke and the name stuck, as I would set out for a story, splash a little coffee on a map, and end up in a random town. Leslie Rydell’s “Coffee on the Map.”
I was zooming in on a riot of colorful flowers when I realized Kev was flailing his arms to catch my attention. I finished the shot, picked up my empty wine glass, and went back in.
“Was that Elaine?” I sat down across from my grinning colleague.
“It was,” he said. “And we had a fine conversation.”
“I noticed that,” I said. My sarcasm was not lost on him and he made a rude gesture. “So, are you going to see her tonight? Am I leaving you here in Albuquerque when I head west tomorrow?”
“One question at a time.” He paused as our waiter refilled my glass, but not his. “Yes, we’re going to get together. Uh, she’s not in Albuquerque now, but she’s not far away. Let’s just leave now instead of tomorrow morning, as we’d planned, and stop and see her along the way this evening.”
“Along the way?” I repeated. That local wine I was drinking was wonderful, and for a moment I was finding it more interesting than Kev’s jabbering. “Leave now?”
“Yes, kind of along the way. Leslie, you’ve taken a thousand photos. We’ve documented every sign and every motel along Central Avenue. We’ve eaten at the Frontier, the Dog House, the Standard Diner, and a dozen more. You’ve got everything you need here. So…let’s get going!”
“I’ve just finished another glass of wine.”
“I’ll drive. You’ve entrusted the Jeep to me so far, so what’s another day of putting up with my driving, right?”
“Okay, Kev, as long as we don’t have to pay for another night here at the motel.”
There was no problem at the motel office. Sleepy me actually sat in the Jeep while Kev checked out at the office and then grabbed our stuff and stowed it all in the back. Between the wine, the excellent (and large) lunch, and the warm sun, I apparently was out like a light as we drove out of the motel lot.
“Mmmmmmm,” I yawned. The sun was warm on the side of my face. I stretched and opened my eyes. The New Mexico landscape was spinning past as we headed west on the interstate. Kev glanced over at me. He was looking happy, but there was a little lift to one eyebrow, as generally happens when he has something up his sleeve. He didn’t say anything, though, so I just smiled back and returned to observing the scenery. Until I saw the interstate sign. We weren’t on I-40 west. We were on I-25 south!
“Kev, you took a wrong turn. We’re heading south.” I looked at him.
He glanced back at me, still wearing the eyebrow lift.
I knew what that meant now. “Kevin James Barrett! You deliberately took I-25 south, didn’t you!”
He looked so guilty, yet undeniably kind of cute.
“So, Elaine is not far out of our way, huh. Just maybe down in El Paso?” My sarcasm level was going off the chart.
“Nah, not all the way to El Paso,” Kev grinned. “Just to Las Cruces.”
I’d been had. When he didn’t mention Elaine’s city of residence at lunch, a warning bell should have gone off.
“Come on, Kev, turn around. This isn’t funny. I need to stay on schedule. I’m doing Route 66, not the Camino Real.”
“But Leslie, we actually left Albuquerque ahead of schedule. We can leave Las Cruces in the morning, and only be a few hours behind. Come on, I want to see Elaine…and we’re more than halfway there now, anyway.”
“More than halfway? How long did I sleep?” I sat up straight to check the time on my phone.
“Couple hours. We’re almost to Truth or Consequences.”
Sigh. We were going to Las Cruces.
Oh, well. Kev was right—if we left Las Cruces early the next morning, we wouldn’t be much behind schedule. A half day or so. And I’d never been there. Hopefully, after seeing Elaine, he would actually be willing to leave in the morning and not try to trick or wheedle me into staying another day or two.
I ignored him while I caught up on Facebook and then wrote in a notebook for awhile. Mr. Tilted Eyebrow occasionally looked my way and went on jabbering about Elaine’s new job and what they might all want for dinner.
“Humph,” I commented and went back to Facebook. I really was starting to enjoy the scenery but was not about to admit it to Kev.
I had savored every moment of our Route 66 trip so far. The autumn weather was perfect for gorgeous photo backdrops. We had connected with all the people and places I had on my list, from Chicago through Illinois, Missouri, the little corner of Kansas Route 66, Oklahoma, the panhandle of Texas, and into New Mexico. In the Land of Enchantment, we had stopped at all the famous attractions like the Blue Swallow Motel and Teepee Curios in Tucumcari and the Blue Hole at Santa Rosa. As Kev had said, we had visited, tasted, and photographed virtually everything along the “Main Street of America” in Albuquerque. I was looking forward to seeing Gallup, and then Arizona and California.
But now we were headed south to Las Cruces instead of west. I really wasn’t ready to quit sulking, but the scenery kept beckoning me to look. As we neared Las Cruces in the late afternoon, the jagged peaks of the Organ Mountains seemed to whisper to me, “Photograph us. What kind of photographer are you, anyway, hanging out on Facebook instead of drinking in our beauty?”
“The sulking kind,” I whispered back.
“What?” Kev asked. “Are you talking now?” He shot me a smug sideways glance. He had gotten his way with this side trip. Maybe a visit to Las Cruces wouldn’t be such a bad idea. But I wasn’t ready to admit it.
“Nothing. I was just talking to the mount…er, myself. Where are we meeting Elaine?”
“At THE place to eat down here, La Posta de Mesilla. Elaine told me all about it on the phone earlier. It was established way back in the 1930s by a woman named Katy Griggs. Just one room, a dirt floor, and a few tables, where they served the family recipes. It’s actually in historic Mesilla. Anyway, it’s grown over the years to a large and very popular restaurant.”
As we arrived a little later, I spotted Elaine’s wild red hair. She was watching for us, and hardly waited until Kev parked and exited the Jeep before she threw her arms around him. Remembering the on-again, off-again relationship they had had, this looked promising for him.
I liked the looks of La Posta de Mesilla and was getting excited about dining at this historic business. “Hey, Leslie,” Elaine greeted me as I got out of the Jeep. “I hope you won’t mind, but I invited someone to join us for dinner.” Just then I noticed a tall man with salt-and-pepper hair approaching the three of us. Typical New Mexican male attire—Levis, good boots, nice shirt. He had a nice smile, too.
“Leslie and Kev, this is Rafe Lewis. He’s a noted local historian and tourism advocate.”
Rafe was pleasant and looked as if he might know everything about the area. We were soon seated at a table and a waitress appeared to take drink orders. After my long nap, I shouldn’t have been sleepy, but I was and ordered a coffee.
“No wine?” Kev snickered.
“I’ll have that later,” I replied, kicking him under the table.
“Tell me your name again,” Rafe said to me. “I didn’t catch your last name.”
“Leslie Rydell. From Chicago.”
He shook his head. “Sounds familiar, but I can’t place you. Elaine said you’re doing a story on New Mexico.”
“Actually, I’m doing a story on Route 66.”
“You’re just a little ways off that road, I believe,” Rafe said with a chuckle.
“Just a bit.” Sarcasm alert. I gave Kev a dirty look but by then he and Elaine were immersed in their own conversation.
“I said, ‘Just a bit off Route 66,’” I repeated in Kev’s direction.
“What?” As Kev turned, his arm bumped my coffee mug, sending a flood of java onto the notebook I had brought in with me.
“I know who you are!” said Rafe. “You’re the Coffee on the Map lady! I’ve read your blog!”
“I am,” I admitted, trying to stanch the flow before it ran in my lap.
“So, since you’re stuck with us down here in Las Cruces, could we expect a blog post or two from you about our fair city? Even if it isn’t on Route 66?” His smile was genuine.
“I think a blog post or two is a very reasonable request. I’m beginning to think I’m going to enjoy my visit.”
“As long as you keep your friend away from the coffee mugs,” the waitress commented as she mopped up the mess on the table.
Fiction Contest Second Place
Charlotte Ate Green Chiles
Written by Richard Green
Charlotte ate green chiles every day—Anaheims, Big Jims, poblanos, habanernos, anchos, jalapeños—a day without capsaicin was a day without sunshine for Charlotte.
She always planted peppers early in her own garden, but eagerly looked forward to the end of summer and the harvest, the chile festivals and roadside stands up and down the Rio Grande. Nothing excited Charlotte more than the roasting bins which blackened the tough skins of the chiles so they could be peeled off the soft green flesh, which she prepared in a variety of ways. She immediately made chiles rellenos with the freshly peeled ones, using mixtures of cheeses—asadero from Mexican Mennonites, jack, cheddar, or mozarella for the fillings, sometimes adding some shredded chicken. She froze some for later use, made salsa with onion and garlic, made enchilada sauce which she canned. She made green chile stew with chicken or pork, and used some for burritos wrapped in big flour tortillas.
Sometimes she made a casserole version of chiles rellenos, layering the long chiles in a Pyrex baking dish…
Fiction Contest Third Place
The Trouble with Teenagers
Written by Samson Stormcrow Hayes
Dean marched across the dark golf course listening intently for signs of Terry. It didn’t take long before he heard someone bellowing near the ninth hole. He found Terry, half-naked, running through the sprinklers.
Dean folded his arms in contempt and shouted, “What the hell are you doing?”
“What’s it look like?” Terry slurred. “I’m golfing!”
Dean noticed the empties littering the green. He started picking them up…
Read the rest of the Second and Third Place stories, plus all our submissions by visiting LasCrucesMagazine.com and search for the “Annual Fiction Contest”