Spring Break 2014: This is an account of an armed dispute I saw while vacationing in Santa Fe. It happened a while back but in light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, I am sharing this story to add to the discussion on gun violence.
What I wanted out of spring break was to relax, if only for just a day or a few hours. I headed out by car for the mountains of Santa Fe with my mom, ready to get out of Houston and away from the constant stress of academic life. The first day as we were driving across the vastness of the Texas prairie I still felt leftover stress, but I was hoping I’d get over it. The next day we made a stop at a Torchy’s Tacos in Lubbock. A uniformed man in line for food had a gun in plain sight strapped across the back of his belt. Of course this isn’t the first gun I’ve ever seen and in the US its completely normal for police officers to be armed. It’s part of their job to protect people, but that morning the sight of it bothered me, how it was a bit larger than other guns I’d seen, how visible it was. I tried to shove away my nerves but they hung around as I ate my greasy (but delicious) taco.
We hit the Texas-New Mexico border at a town called Farewell, TX. Sitting behind the wheel I drove a bit faster and thought to myself, Farewell Texas! I’m going to the mountains now. I had never been to New Mexico before. As we drove past, the great plains turned to flat, lifeless, yellow grass with bright red dirt. Desert scrubs and yucca. We gained altitude and peculiar dark green pine trees dotted the rolling yellow hills. We passed between desolate highway lanes, and the small roads of run-down and forgotten towns.
Then we hit Santa Fe, with its majestic mountains. Well-to-do people walked around outside of fake adobe houses. Santa Fe was very commercialized, the rich of the town appropriating Native American culture, decor and customs. My anxiety was still in full gear, but was tinged with a sense of excitement. Santa Fe had the wealth that those other small towns we passed on the way did not. I felt myself wanting to live there.
Until we were driving to our hotel and were stopped at an intersection. In front of us was a black SUV and a white 80’s Honda Accord stopped on the road. We thought perhaps the cars got in a wreck and the owners were about to exchange papers. But two men got out of the SUV and surrounded the white car. One man pointed a very large black gun at the window. It was the biggest gun I had ever seen (and I grew up in West Virginia where a lot of people own guns). Inside a Native American man with long braided hair sat still and silent. Then the gunman turned his gaze and met my eyes. What I thought could be my last moment instead became the moment that the men headed back into their car and sped away.Had we saved that man with the long braided hair?
The next day we learned from a cashier we recounted our story too that the event we witnessed was not out of the ordinary for the area. He leaned in close and confided to us, “It’s the younger generation. They like to race cars in the streets and get into fights. Don’t take the backroads and you’ll be fine. And if it happens again don’t tell anyone about it. Don’t call the police. You just look straight and drive away and you’ll be fine.”
We didn’t see anything else out of the ordinary for the rest of our stay and I was eventually able to enjoy some relaxed time in nature like I planned, but because of what we witnessed, the Land of Enchantment had lost some of its enchanting qualities in my eyes. But gun violence is not an issue pertaining only to Santa Fe. Far from it. In the aftermath of the recent attacks in Orlando I don’t quite know what to say, only that we shouldn’t look away. When things of this nature happen we should never look away. We must speak up. Even when we are afraid, we must tell someone.