by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Bca Raton, Fla.
May 27, 2004
LESSONS LEARNED FROM BOCA TO RATON
BOCA RATON, Fla., May 26,2004 -- Some day I'll write a book and call it "From Boca to Raton."
After about a month of business news thoughts mostly culled from short-wave radio and an assortment of daily and weekly newspapers from Northern New Mexico, I've learned some lessons. My office in Boca Raton, Fla., is nouveau everything. I was actually stopped by a cop while driving my beat up 1980 Cadillac for a split tail light filter. But the officer's sneer indicated my real infraction was for not driving a new BMW, Lexus, or at the very least an Escalade SUV. The country cabin we (or our contractors) have been trying to build for two years is in Colfax County, N.M. The county seat in Raton, N.M., is on the main route of the old Santa Fe Trail, on what is now Interstate 25. The cabin, in an unincorporated portion of the county is four miles from the ski village of Angel Fire, and 21 miles from the historic Pueblo Indian settlement of Taos. At 9,000 feet it's not surprising that on the night of May 15th the temperature dipped to F. 17 degrees, although the next afternoon it was a lovely 76 degrees. The county seat of Raton is the place I go for usual county services, the court house, insurance, title papers and such. It also is near the Whittington Ranch, where my wife and I have worked as youth adventure camp volunteers. Some weekends I drive there in an hour from the "cabin" and rent a private room, community kitchen, hot shower, and access to Dish TV for $26 per night. The clean and modern Olympic-style dorms costs about a third of a plain motel room in the resort areas closer to "home." In Raton and environs folks actually say hello. Shopkeepers apologize if something is out of stock. There's a small K-Mart, a few decent restaurants of the "diner" variety, and six or seven gas stations in town and near the interstate. The Sonic hamburger joint is the Saturday hotspot. A renovated 19th Century theater gets a few visiting concerts a year, and antelope, elk, and rabbits are more plentiful than people. Each summer the Amtrak station is filled with kids heading 50 miles west to Philmont Boy Scout Camp in Cimarron. All of this is my way of setting the stage for the reality check we all need once in a while. On the surface, I've been living in the basement of an unfinished house with no heat, no electricity, no running water, no phone and exposed insulation. The lovely flakes of fiberglass necessitate sleeping with a construction worker's white mask for as many hours as possible, before ripping the darned thing off of my face. Grizzly Adams. Man Mountain Dean. Return to nature. Nonsense. Returning to South Florida for a brief family reunion before heading back to the lower levels of 13,000-foot Mount Wheeler near the entrance to Taos Canyon, I watched some of the PBS series called "Colonial House." The differences between "roughing it" in the 17th Century versus today, are as stark as daily life in Boca (Raton) versus Raton (N.M.). First of all, I had my little SUV expensively gassed up and ready to go in four-wheel drive outside my garage door. It provides a few minutes of emergency heat if needed, a good radio and CD player, and auxiliary power th rough a small inverter which can be used for a flood flight, charging cellphone batteries, and a blower for my air mattress. The road is steep and dangerous, but even in the worst snow and mud I'm just a few minutes from a paved road. Then there is the cell phone itself. Say what you will, but AT&T Wireless and its "Digital One" plans with absolutely no roaming charges or long distance charges ever, has the best national coverage. I am still in a "TDMA" area, which is four months away from the newer "GSM" coverage area. By driving about a half mile down the road I can receive and make cell calls over one of three local carriers, all hooked into the AT&T system. Locals using several other mobile systems get spotty service at best. Unlike our pioneer ancestors, I guess a guy named Mr. Coleman perfected the small, two-burner propane camp stove. With wildfires already threatening the Southwest this year, "warming fires," or "cooking fires" are pretty much out of the question for responsible mountain men. You'll build them and bank them with caution in an emergency, but most of the time I defer to Mr. Coleman and the handy little quart-sized propane tanks. One $2 tank lasts me about 6 days. The cowboy coffee in it's blue enameled percolator tastes fine; a similar tall pot doubles as hot water heater to be mixed with a bit of Joy for dishwashing; an iron griddle can be used for one or two burners, and a small cooler is refilled with ice every other day. Old Army surplus and survival store "MREs" are my staples. Roughing it these days means that when in town you return with two bags of ice. The ice goes into the 10 gallon orange Gatorade dispenser used by my construction workers. The ice melts into fresh ice water, and the cooler still keeps a small reserve of ice. My 21st Century first-aid kit contains more pharmaceutical power than any combat medic had in WWII. Antiobiotics (pills and creams), aspirin, blood pressure and cholesterol medication; anti-bacterial wipes; soap and toiletries; an electric toothbrush which seems to hold its charge forever, and "liquid" bandages are a few things Davy Crockett never carried around Tennessee and Texas. Communications is by a 12-band portable Sony shortwave ra dio. I guess the Internet has changed short-wave. What was once the source of a plethora of Voice of America, Armed Forces Radio, and BBC broadcasts, is now band-to-band religious programming. A few BBC, Australian, Canadian, and VOA shows pop up, but the English-language "services" seem to be dominated by revival meetings and competing newscasts from Taiwan and Beijing, each touting nationalistic business news to lure foreign investments. Late at night the AM band brings in the heritage 50,000 watt stations from Omaha, Denver, St. Louis, San Antonio, and beyond. One FM station in Raton plays syndicated nostalgia through the night. Local news means waiting for daylight when signals from Taos, Santa Fe, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Albuquerque can be heard in English, Spanish, or on some stations which alternate languages often in the same newscast. Some New Mexico stations carry Native American news and features aimed at Pueblo, Hopi, Navajo and other area residents. The excellent broadcast comes over PBS from an affiliate in far away Fairbanks, Alaska at a campus station of the University of Alaska. A local cabinet shop owner and his wife with a small studio apartment above his shop allow me to use their shower a few times a week, which is well worth the five-mile trip. When I luxuriate in the world of flushing toilets and modern bathroom facilities, it's thanks to the local mini-mart, lumber yard, and laundromat in town. Sleeping in what is basically a partially underground basement room gets cold, but is a wiser alternative to pitching a tent in an area where bears, mountain lions, and coyotes like to poke around. The rewards for a modest amount of cold grubbiness are herds of elk, mule deer, and some bobcat tracks in the morning soil. Woodpeckers and wild turkeys; giant blackbirds, and a few hummingbirds, and lots and lots of chipmunks and rabbits are my neighbors. Sitting outside in the evening, an old Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad six-volt lantern, the short-wave, and a loaded .12 gauge "over and under" shotgun are nearby. With the last cup of coffee of the day, dusk melds and melts into a complete oneness with stars, planets, and whistling mountain wind. I finally broke down and made my first concession to the touchy-feely crowd in places such as Santa Fe, and bought a five dollar wind chime at a flea market. Placing it a few yards from the cabin it takes a substantial breeze to start the chimes and ceramic discs swaying and clinking. But I noticed the chipmunks seem to stop and listen. Save the emails if it turns out that you studied Chipmunk 101 in school and learned that they are really deaf. Heck, it still looks to me as if they are listening to the wind chimes. The business part of this story is that you should never even think about contracting to build something in an absentee mode. After 11 months of delays my banker basically said that either I spend virtually full-time at the worksite, or funding stops. When the boss is there the workers are more likely to show up and actually work. But the more important lesson took me back to the Boy Scouts and my old troop in Brooklyn, which for some unexplained reason specialized in American Indian dancing and folklore. Every second of every minute I am cognizant of the fact that my neighbors to the North and West on my little ranch are not developers, shopkeepers, or school boards. They are the guardians of the 1,000-year-old culture of the Taos Pueblo. Some sources indicate that Taos Pueblo is the oldest civilized spot, continuously inhabited in exactly the same location, in North America. (My friend, Ernesto Luhan, one of the elders, appreciates my desire to be a good neighbor, and also the smoked catfish I bring him from time to time. His adobe room and smooth dirt floor seem cozy and luxurious compared to my nightly "cave.") What's not questioned by historians is a remarkable and unprecedented Pueblo victory over Spanish rulers in the 17th Century, and an eventual accommodation with the Spaniards on their own terms, which in some cultural respects survives to this day. I survey the land, and no matter what a slip of paper says in a building in Raton, I am a visitor. I borrow the Pueblo land for a few years of my breath, just as they borrow their land from spirits owned by no mortal. I am more custodian than owner. When and if the project is finished is of tremendous social and financial importance to my family. Yet there is little moral or emotional attachment to completion of a building. The attachment has taken place because--through a strange and circuitous route of fate--I have been forced to experience the place without electric, without heat, without water, without telephones. I don't know what the mortgage brokers or Pueblo elders will say years from now, but for the time being the rabbits seem to take little notice of my presence, so I guess I sort of belong far from Boca and closer to Raton.
AR Correspondent Mark Scheinbaum, a former UPI newsman, is chief investment strategist for Kaplan & Company Securities (www.kaplansecurities.com) and syndicated business commentator for Doug Stephan's "Good Day" radio program.