I have mentioned the town where I live so much in these stories that some folks who have read them have accused me of working for the Chamber of Commerce. They suspect that I am trying to pitch it to others as the happening place to live, and that to some extent I am gloating over the fact that I live here and they don't. I hope that is not true. I really don't believe the former, and have tried, obviously unsuccessfully, to avoid the latter.
What I do believe is that Santa Fe is the best place to live for me, for now. I am here completely by choice. Sitting in front of my computer at a Canyon Road bar, it strikes me that the story of how I made that choice might be fun to write about, because although it was largely an intuitive choice, I also drew upon many techniques of self discovery that I learned from Rama and a few that I discovered on my own.
A couple of years ago, I was living in Boston, hating it. If you believe in the American Dream, there was little reason for me to do so. The city is beautiful, full of culture and fun things to do. I had a cool apartment in Back Bay, well-decorated and within walking distance of almost everything. I had a great consulting contract, working for an investment house only a few blocks from where I lived. The money was good, because I had managed to score the contract without going through a technopimp, and the work itself was interesting. I was in the enviable position of being able to do all the work on a trading-support application - analysis, design, prototyping, coding, testing, documentation, training, installation and support. It was a dream job in a dream city. But I wasn't happy.
Being the introspective kinda guy I am, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I wasn't happy. One reason is that I wasn't writing. I just didn't seem to have any creative ideas. Another is that I didn't have many friends there or many people I had much in common with, period. And it was tough for me to make friends there, for a couple of reasons.
I am kinda shy, and tend to keep to myself when I am around people who are not particularly outgoing and open to meeting new people. Boston is full of people who are not particularly outgoing and open to meeting new people. It's a cold place, in many senses of the word. Also, it's a college town, and my perception of the place is that many Boston residents came here to go to school and just never left. They formed their core group of close friends when they were in school and see no reason to expand that group further now that they are out of school.
Also, Boston is a young city. It has more colleges and universities than any other city on the planet. During the school year, you can spend the day walking around Boston and come away from the experience convinced that only a half-dozen people in the entire city are over the age of 30. It's not that they're not around; it's just that among the crowds of laughing, vibrant 20-year-olds, they become invisible.
Well, Uncle Tantra is an old fart. Do the math. 30 + 20 = invisible. Hmmm…I should try to sell this algorithm over in Los Alamos…they're always searching for anything that has military applications. Think of the possibilities…you could train a buncha old farts and send them into enemy towns you know have a primarily youthful population. They could go anywhere they wanted, do anything they wanted, and no one would notice them because they are invisible to the locals. Cool.
Anyway, when I first moved there, this feeling of being invisible was actually fun for a while. It gave me the illusion that I had been successful in my pursuit of inaccessibility. But over time, I realized that it probably wouldn't have made a difference if I had walked down the street wearing only my silk Grateful Dead skivvies; I would still have been invisible. No one would have been interested except the police; I was just another old fart in a city that worshipped youth. And over time this sense of being invisible and its corollary - being of no worth - kinda wore me down. I lost my sense of Road Trip Mind. Even my frequent Road Trips didn't seem to restore it. I would go somewhere cool to recharge and come back refreshed, but within a week or two would be invisible and not happy again.
So when my contract came up for renewal at the end of June, I opted out. I arranged for my last day to be July 3rd, so that I could symbolically start over on Independence Day. I resolved to move, to find a new place to live.
The only trouble was, I didn't know where to move. The majority of my friends were in Chicago, so that city was a strong candidate. I had other friends in Boulder and in L.A. and Santa Barbara and the San Francisco area, so those cities were possibilities as well. But no amount of rational thought and intellectual analysis seemed to help me decide which one was best. So as I stood on a rooftop watching the Fourth of July fireworks with my friend Sophie, I decided not to decide.
I resolved instead just to take myself on an extended Road Trip and go to as many nice places as I could and see how it felt to actually be there, in the aura of a particular city, and then use that feeling to help me decide which one should be my new home. When I related my plan to my friend, she thought it sounded like a great idea. She was in a similar position, feeling dissatisfied with her life there in Boston. So I asked her if she wanted to come along. To my surprise, she said yes.
So over the next couple of weeks the two of us packed up all our stuff and moved it into storage. Then we loaded some clothes and books and a couple of hundred CDs into my mid-life-crisis car and headed West. Two solitary birds, each in need of a new nest, we pointed our beaks to the sky and drove off in Protector the War Lexus. We drove for something like 7,000 miles, singing very softly.
We had no fixed itinerary, except to visit some friends and relatives along the way and see what kind of trouble we could get ourselves into. As we pulled out of town, we laughingly came up with a credo for our Road Trip - No Plan, No Clue.
Because Sophie is easily as weird in her way as I am in mine, we had some fun along the way. We spent the first night on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, in one of those cheezy honeymoon hotels with a big, pink, heart-shaped bathtub. It was tackier than you can possibly imagine, but then I love monuments to kitsch like the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, so I had a ball. We woke the next morning and traveled on. Being somewhat of a gourmet, Sophie developed an obsession with trying to find edible road food - a quest that was doomed to failure until we got out of the Midwest. Being somewhat of a weirdo, I developed an obsession with roadside attractions that advertised themselves as the World's Biggest or World's Only. My quest was somewhat more successful - if you buy me a tequila or three, I can tell you tales of the World's Biggest Hand-Dug Well and the World's Largest Prairie Dog that will raise your hackles and give your children nightmares for a week.
The Midwest was tough, but we managed to find fun even there. We went to the Art Institute in Chicago to see the O'Keeffe paintings. We shopped for hats at the World's Largest Sporting Goods Store. Crossing the border into Kansas, we pulled Protector over to the side of the road and took photographs of each other beside a road sign that officially designated the highway as The Yellow Brick Road. That night, still in Kansas, we were faced with the odious choice of spending the night at a Motel 6 or driving another couple of hours to Dodge City. We opted for the latter, primarily because both of us are fond of one-liners, and we relished being able to tell friends how we got up in the morning and got the hell out of Dodge.
We wound up staying at the Wild West Motel and Conference Center, a place that deserves a few paragraphs of its own. As we were checking in, I detected that the desk clerk was having a very different kind of conversation with us than he was having with the 16-wheeler driver checking in beside us. The desk clerk seemed to be hinting things to him that he wasn't telling us. The two of them had a kind of nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean? camaraderie that was not extended to us.
Later, discovering that Dodge City basically closes at sundown, we asked that same desk clerk where we could get some dinner and he said that the only place open was the restaurant attached to the Conference Center, the Purple Garter Supper Club. We wandered in, and felt that same sense of coldness from the hostess that we felt from the desk clerk. She seated us in the restaurant and we ordered steaks, something we couldn't imagine even the worst chef messing up. We had too little imagination.
So anyway, we were sitting there chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing our steaks, and I noticed that there seemed to be a parade of men coming in and being shown not to a table but to a door in back, where a bouncer the size of Godzilla pushed a button and buzzed them in. I never saw any of them emerge.
Sophie and I were both dead tired and went straight back to our rooms to get some sleep, so I never got buzzed through the mysterious door myself, but I have my theory about it. What I think is that the Wild West Motel and Conference Center has never really had a conference. It's a whorehouse. And for years now thousands of fine, upstanding family men around the Midwest have been kissing their wives goodbye as they leave for their yearly 'conference,' smiling inwardly at the…uh…oral presentation they are so looking forward to.
We drove on. And on and on and on. The Midwest is a big place. But sooner or later we found ourselves out West, where the quality of the food and the joy of seeing a great sunset again began to work their magic and bring back our sense of well-being. It took that long. We drove through the Rockies, hiked and took photographs at Great Sand Dunes National Park, and checked out many other power places along the way. We drove through sand storms and tornadoes, and by the time we hit the Arizona-California border the wind had caught us, and we were flyin' high. The California border guard asked me where I was coming from, and I replied, "Well, most recently, from Arizona."
Sophie turned and looked at me and said "Duh!" and we both cracked up. We had clearly achieved Road Trip Mind.
We spent the night in a motel near Joshua Tree. After a dinner of - no shit - alligator, kangaroo and rattlesnake at Don's BBQ, we took advantage of the full moon and drove out into Joshua Tree itself, where we had an encounter with a tarantula the size of Texas. But we also had a lot of fun, and continued to for the rest of the trip. We did L.A. and Santa Barbara and drove up the coast through Big Sur to the Bay area and then turned back East, skipping the Northwest. Sophie was not drawn there and I once lived there, so I know it's not my place.
Naturally, because we were both looking for The Coolest Place To Live, we checked out a number of cities along the way that might be possible candidates. I won't list them all, because I don't want to prejudice anyone who may wish to undertake his or her own such Road Trip. But I will write about the criteria I used for checking them out, because they were useful to me and I think they may be useful to others.
I had two sets of criteria that I used when evaluating a city as a possible place to live. The first set had been taught to me by Rama. Things like mindfulness - watching your thoughts as you walk or meditate in a new city, paying attention to what you think about and whether you have many thoughts at all. Things like paying attention to your physical stamina, and whether the place seemed to rejuvenate you or tire you out. Things like driving around at night and using your seeing on the street lamps, to see whether the lights shone clearly or were hazy, surrounded by a halo (clarity is better). And of course, paying attention to your overall sense of happiness and whether you had fun in the city.
But I also had another set of criteria that were purely my own. The place had to have a view. Coming from the East coast, I was seriously horizon deprived. I needed a place where I could see the sunset. I also needed a place that inspired me, a place where I could write. So my bottom-line criterion when I was practicing mindfulness was that the thoughts running through my mind as I walked around the place had to be primarily creative thoughts.
But most of all, I needed a place where I was not invisible. This criterion was the most fun and possibly the most interesting. I would just walk around a city and pay attention to whether the people - and because this is Uncle Tantra talking here, you can safely substitute the word 'women' for the word 'people' - paid any attention to me. If the women looked through me as if I weren't even there, if I was invisible to them, the city was struck off the list. If they smiled, flirted or even seemed to recognize me as a potentially interesting human being, the place was still a contender.
In retrospect, this criterion was much less self-serving than it sounds. Think about it. When people see you on the street for the first time, they are not really seeing you. What they are seeing and feeling, even if they don't know it, is your aura. I do not delude myself into thinking that a particular place has the power to transform me into someone who is suddenly more handsome or sexy. But a place does have the ability to amp up your aura. These women were not responding to me per se but to the fact that in some cities my aura was brighter than in others.
In retrospect, I have developed a theory that the reason one's aura is brighter in some places than in others is that there is something in the aura of the place itself that resonates with your own. If it resonates badly, your aura grows dull and lifeless, and you become invisible. If it resonates well, your aura becomes charged up as a result and people perceive that brightness. This is just a theory, and may well be a mechanism by which I avoid dealing with the fact that I am simply an old lecher, but it is mine.
All of Rama's criteria clicked for me in Santa Fe. My thoughts had a kind of creative stillness when I was there. I felt physically energetic. The light was right. And I had fun there.
All of my own criteria clicked for me as well. Santa Fe is View Central, with sunsets so spectacular that they are often signed in the lower right corner by the artist. My mind was just filled with creative thoughts when I was there. And I was far from invisible. Which was not really hard to take, because by my standards Santa Fe is home to some of the strongest, most self sufficient and most beautiful women on the planet.
So I took a leap of faith and moved to Santa Fe. I ignored almost all of the practical considerations - like the fact that New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the nation, and that I might not be able to support myself there - and just moved. I knew no one there except Sophie, who also chose Santa Fe, for reasons of her own. But every so often you just have to say, "What the fuck!" I didn't know if I could make it work, but as Jewel says, "There is a certain power in having no Plan B."
And here I am, two years later, sitting alone in the corner of a bar that has been a bar since 1835, writing this story, a huge smile on my face. Even though the town has its down sides, I have not regretted my decision to move here even once in the time since. It's the best place for me, for now.
I am writing this because there is a best place for you as well, and if it ever becomes a priority in your life, you might find in this story some techniques that will help you find it. As much as I love Santa Fe, I don't think it is the perfect place for everyone. It's a wonderful place that would be more wonderful if it came with a working economy. But then it wouldn't be Santa Fe. And it's definitely a power place, and they can be fun places to visit but tricky places to live in. They're indiscriminate. They just amplify whatever is fed into them. If you can keep your state of mind happy and creative, the power place will amplify that and you will be even happier and more creative. If you allow yourself to sink into lower, more depressed mindstates, the power place will amplify those mindstates, push you face down into the swamp, and show you that side of life for a while. I have seen both extremes, and wouldn't trade in even a moment of either one for something more mainstream and stable.
When friends from cities I visited along the way, all of whom had lobbied hard to have me settle in their towns, asked me why I decided on Santa Fe, I rarely told them this story. It's too long, and in social situations I am given to one-liners. So I made one up, not paying it much attention at the time. I told them, "I like Santa Fe because I met more people there who were comfortable just being themselves than anywhere else I visited, and I want to learn that."
In retrospect, this proved to be more than a one-liner. It turned out to be the most important criterion I used in making my decision, the one that I never was able to put into words or allow into my consciousness on the Road Trip itself. And it was just right on. Being comfortable just being yourself is what Santa Fe is all about, and yes, I am learning it. I chose wisely.
It's my place. I am at home here. I wish you grand success in finding your own.