Saturday, June 25, 2011

Even If You Build It

Ahh.  It is that wonderful time of the year.  Southern New Mexico is hotter than a pawn shop pistol and the wind is both constant and strong enough to blow the nuts off a prairie dog.   This doesn’t bother me, if it wasn’t for a little heat and the occasional dust storm, New Mexico would be ass deep in New Yorkers.

Still, I completely understand why the deserts of southern New Mexico are not regularly featured on the Travel Channel.  We have a few museums, a huge beach (but no water), and a lot of rocks.  And for a few months of the year, buzzards have to pack a lunch to fly over the desert.  These are not the sort of attractions that draw large numbers of tourists.  Sad, but understandable.
The local city council, however, does not understand.  So they used our tax money to build a convention center.  To be fair, they put the idea up for a vote, giving the citizens the final say on the matter.  The citizens promptly voted the idea down, so the city fathers, all of whom suffer from an Edifice Complex, built the convention center, anyway. 
Now that the convention center is completed, something strange has happened—no one really wants to bring a convention here.  Evidently, our founding fathers believed that convention centers are kind of like a purple martin bird house.  “If you build it, they will come…”  Except they haven’t.  Maybe the town should put out some visitor-shaped decoys.  Cardboard people in shorts, white socks, and sandals taking photos of … rocks.  We could sell souvenir sand.
I’m trying to imagine a conversation at a distant corporation about a future convention.
“Did you get us a great location for our sales conference?” the boss asked.
“Absolutely,” the employee answers.  “We got booked into a small town in Southern New Mexico.  We’re practically guaranteed dry sunny weather.”
“New Mexico?” the boss answers. “What do the spouses do during our meetings?”
“They can shop at Wal-Mart.”
“Any resorts?  Casinos?  Strip clubs?“ asks the boss.
“Lakes, boating, swimming?  Horseback riding?  Sightseeing tours?” the boss asks hopefully.
“No.  You can drive to Mexico, but I wouldn’t advise it.  The death rate in Juarez is slightly higher than in Baghdad or Kabul.”
“Tell me, I’m curious,” the boss says. “What was your second choice?”
Actually, there are a few conventions and meetings being held at the new center.  These are the local meetings the town normally hosted; the only difference seems to be that instead of these events being held at local restaurants and hotels, they are now held at a publicly owned facility.  In other words, using tax payer money, the city has decided to go into competition with the local businesses.  And the effect on local business is notable.  A few have said they are in financial trouble. 
This public/private competition reminds me of a man I met in Zacatecas years ago.  Juan had a job with the city government.  To be specific, he took care of an old brass smoothbore cannon on display in the city park.  The cannon was left over from Mexico’s war for independence, and the town was justifiably proud of its heirloom.
Every day, Juan would get up early, gather up a box of rags, take a new bottle of brass polish to the park, and spend the day polishing the cannon until he could see his own reflection in the gleaming brass.  Every day, summer or winter, rain or snow, Juan polished that cannon, maintaining a perfect shine on the old artillery piece.
After a few years, Juan began to have a few doubts about his job.  While he was paid a good wage, his job didn’t seem to have much advancement potential.  There had to be more to a career than polishing the city cannon.  So, Juan began to save his money.  After about a year, Juan convinced his parents and a few close friends to make him a small loan.  He cashed in his savings, and then quit his dead-end job.
Juan immediately took his money, purchased a new brass cannon, and went into business for himself.

Let me add a small postscript.  Obviously the city should not compete with private business, but occasionally, we as individuals have to help local government to do the right thing.  The renovation of Phillips Chapel is just such a case.
The competition to award funds for the restoration of Phillips Chapel from the National Trust for Historic Preservation ends June 30. Organizers say Phillips Chapel, located at 638 N. Tornillo St., is a symbol of community preservation in action, as private donations, volunteers and student labor are restoring it.

The National Trust has chosen Phillips Chapel as one of the top 100 places in This Place Matters competition. Only online votes can help win the award. There are three awards, first is $25,000, second is $10,000 and third is $5,000. Any of these would make a difference to the continuing efforts. More restorative and construction materials are needed as well as volunteer manpower. NMSU Archaeology professor Beth O'Leary is one of the leaders on the project.

For more information or to vote, visit

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