I was born in Carlsbad, New Mexico, population 25,000, a long way
from anyplace that isn’t Carlsbad. It exists due to farming and ranching,
mining and petroleum, and tourists. The closest places of similar size are
an hour’s drive away. An airplane ticket will get you to or from
Albuquerque on a seven seat single prop, on which the safety spiel is
basically, “If you use the airsick bag, please take it with you.”
Things have changed since I left. Eight mines once employed thousands
of people around the clock, but most have closed. One of the two
railroad yards is gone, and the tracks to the south have been pulled up.
The highways are four lanes now. The gas business comes and goes.
National labs have set up shop because, twenty miles out of town, the
government buries their radioactive waste half a mile underground. TV
is pulling the culture more into line with TV’s definition of normality,
which is not necessarily an improvement.
New Mexico State University has a Carlsbad campus, but I attended the
main campus at Las Cruces, 225 miles away. The southern route takes
you past three mountain ranges, a salt flat called Salt Flats, a state line
(twice), two national parks, and the city of El Paso. The northern route
crosses two mountain ranges, a national forest, a gypsum desert, a
missile range, a city about the size of Carlsbad, and another half the size.
I intended to be an electrical engineer. You can imagine my
disappointment when I learned that EE’s were expected to study hard.
Instead, I graduated with a B.S. in geography, specializing in city and
regional planning. I played clarinet in the Aggie Band and wrote a
humor column for the student paper. I worked two semesters in
American Samoa, six months in Oklahoma, and summers at a mine.
More important to me, I met a girl from Los Alamos. We are still
married after 38 years. I also met a Savior while in college. He has
been far more faithful to me than I was to him, especially starting out.
Two adults, two kids, and two cats moved from Carlsbad to Michigan in
1979, during a blizzard. South Haven has less than 5,000 people in the
winter and over 15,000 in the summer. Chicago is seventy miles away
via Lake Michigan, or three hours by land, which explains the
population swing. We did our part for the year-round population by
having three more children. All are grown, and some are multiplying.
Degrees don’t always define careers. My first job after college was as a
draftsman, and I have been engineering ever since. It pays the bills, but
writing is more fun. I would not be heartbroken if writing eventually
paid the bills.
Lois and I enjoy rail travel. In fact, we’re on a train to Montana as I
write this. We have taken most of the major North American passenger
routes, including some that are now defunct.
I also do woodwork, photography, clarinet, walking, church, and city
government. We get to a Cubbies or Tigers baseball game once in a
while. What we don’t do is watch TV.