Whenever I visit my friend B in Albuquerque’s Far Northeast Heights, I am reminded of a passage in The Zozobra Incident where our hero, BJ Vinson, hauls Emilio Prada, the supposed bad-boy in the novel, to the extreme northeast heights area in search of someone who might have stolen the negatives of a group of explicit snapshots that show BJ’s client in several compromising poses. For those of you who have not yet reached a certain age…yes, there was a time when you obtained photographs by developing and printing a roll of celluloid film impregnated with images you were interested in seeing. Take a look at the following partial scene:
I glanced at Emilio sitting silently beside me in the Impala. He was leading us down a meandering road in the remote Far Northeast Heights. Lampposts were infrequent. My headlights were the only bright spot in the deep night. Sandia Peak with its corona of blinking, red-tipped TV antennas and the Cibola National Forest crowded us on the east. The Sandia Indian Reservation blocked the way north.
This was one of the ritzy sections well outside of the city limits where front yards were left desert-wild, except for cement driveways snaking across the hardpan to anchor the buildings to the roadway. Most of the landscape was vacant, but an occasional rambling house hunkered down beside some dusty road with a name like Black Bear Lane or Calle del Oso. Albuquerqueans were big on bears.
Although it occurred to me that the good-looking creep might be planning something, it was more likely he was simply lost. It was hard enough finding an address out here in the daytime, much less at midnight.
“Crap,” he mumbled. “It all looks different.”
“You leading me around by the nose?”
“Naw, I swear man. I figured I could find the guy any time I wanted.” His teeth gleamed in the faint moonlight as he smiled weakly. “He give me a hundred-dollar tip. But this don’t look familiar.”
“Okay, you’re coming home with me for the night. I’m going to lock you in the basement. We’ll try it again tomorrow.”
“You can’t do that. That’s kidnapping or something.”
“Maybe so, but that’s the way it is.”
“Go on down the road. Let’s try some more. I got a woman waiting for me, man.”
“She’s long gone by now. But we’ll give it another few minutes.”
As we plowed on through the darkness, the first car we’d seen in an hour of wandering the foothills came roaring up on us from the rear. Its sudden appearance made me nervous, but the massive Caddy Escalade roared by in a cloud of dust as I pulled to the side of the road.
“That’s him!” Emilio threw a wiry arm toward the windshield. “That’s the dude’s big tank.”
“Yeah. That’s him, I tell you.”
“Emilio, if you’re lying—”
“I ain’t. I swear. Follow the Caddy.”
Half a mile farther down the dusty road, the vehicle turned left at an intersection that was invisible until you were practically through it.
“That rock. I remember that rock.” Emilio jabbed a finger at a huge boulder on the far side of the roadway. “Yeah, remember that rock.” The excitement in his voice convinced me he was on the up and up—at least for now.
B’s locale no longer resembles the neighborhood described above. She lives on a paved street with a signpost clearly identifying it by name. She has neighbors on all sides of her. Indeed, the only similarity that remains is many of the yards are left “desert-wild.” Cacti proliferate.
However, B lives west of Tramway Boulevard (which is mentioned later in the same scene). The fictional address in the book lies east of the four-lane artery. So I meandered to the other side of Tramway when I returned home the other day. There are changes there, as well, but I found a section that is still pretty well represented by those descriptions in Zozobra.
Those of you who can should take a drive through the area sometime soon before that part of Albuquerque’s history is left behind in the dust of progress.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and let me hear from you.
New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.