I arrived in Santa Fe early on May 23, 1971. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I drove in from Las Vegas, NM, where I had toured Highlands University for a NM State teacher’s credential. At the time, I knew that I wanted to reside in New Mexico. Through years of college friendships and familial bonds in western New Mexico, I had developed close ties to the state. I was 23.
Day 1: Santa Fe Plaza, 1971
While passing the College of Santa Fe, I stopped, went in, and discovered that they had a teacher’s credential program. I told them my educational background and they accepted me into their summer program right on the spot. Just like that. No security checks, no contacting my university. The old days.
The same day, I opened my checking account on the historic Santa Fe plaza at First National Bank. No Homeland Security, background check, or tax ID number needed – just money and a signature. Nearly 44 years later, I still have the same checking account number.
At the time, the plaza was open to traffic on all sides. There were shoe and clothing stores, pharmacies, a barbershop, and a flower shop. I don’t recall a single gallery. Gas stations were situated catty-corner to the plaza on two sides, and the central obelisk still spoke of “savage natives.” This was before the word, “savage” was chiseled off.
There were only 3 or 4 realtors at the time, and I found a place on Cerro Gordo through the Richard Mares Agency. We put down our deposit and our last month’s rent, and moved in later that same afternoon. No credit checks on Credit Karma, no references to call. Just me, my wife, and our new home.
Day 2: A Different Santa Fe
The next morning I was driving on St. Michael’s Drive, which was a still a two-lane street surround by mostly vacant land, when I heard my name on the radio! The since-departed Santa Fe Welcome Wagon was welcoming my wife and me to Santa Fe. They even mentioned some factoids about our lives that I had shared with the realtor.
Late that evening, my grandfather died in Dallas. Since we didn’t have cell phones, and it took a while to get a phone line, my father’s secretary began trying to locate us. The second realtor she called was Richard Mares, and he informed her of our whereabouts. As a courtesy, he also called the Santa Fe Police Department on our behalf. Soon after an officer pulled up to our house and respectfully informed me of my grandfather’s passing. He also told me where the nearest pay phone could be found, so I could call home.
When I think back on Santa Fe, it’s hard to imagine that there were more pawnshops and trading posts than galleries. I vividly remember Bob Ward’s “oldest trading post” on San Francisco, and The Pink Adobe and The Bull Ring were the only two “fancy” restaurants downtown. Can you imagine?
Those were the times, not really that far-gone, that welcomed me here and successfully beckoned me to stay.