by Sam Hutchins
New Mexico is a very odd place. It has some of the earliest Indian settlements we know of in the States. The Anaszi people were living there as early as the 1500’s. This brings only one thought to mind: why? There are certainly some lovely natural features, but it’s hard to make dinner out of turquoise and quartz. The landscape is frightfully harsh and barren, and even the best times there must have been hardscrabble. Still the Indian (or First Nations, if you will) presence remains significant to this day.
There’s also a significant Hispanic population in the state. To be fair, the territory didn’t always carry the prefix “New.” Before we swiped it from Mexico it was not heavily settled and remained largely unpopulated frontier territory. Much of the current Hispanic populace can be directly attributed to economic hardships south of the border. Sadly enough a line in the sand can represent the difference between prosperity and hardship. Understandably many Mexican citizens made the move northward into New Mexico, doing their utmost to become former Mexican citizens.
The question that vexes one is why the European Americans would migrate there. The best answer I have is that many were just too weird to fit in comfortably anyplace else. New Mexico seems to be a magnet for new age mystics, nutjobs who think they can assimilate themselves into the First Nations culture through the creation of bad artwork, and others who favor a hideous stone like turquoise. It’s an ugly, garish, milky stone yet some people become fixated on it. Odder still are the UFO fanatics. Setting a southeasterly course, we headed straight for their Mecca.
As we pulled into Roswell I could see that it had indeed been overrun by aliens. The entire town was alien-themed. What I saw was perhaps stranger than an actual extraterrestrial landing. Roswell was once a charming old American town. The Main Street there was as classic as one will find anywhere. One and two story stone buildings line the blocks, fronted by old-fashioned streetlights. Close your eyes and you can see what it once was. Clearly there was once here a Woolworth’s, a soda fountain, a Szabo shoe store, etc. Now, however it had been forever altered by alien life forms. Without exception the storefronts had been converted to tourist traps catering to the UFO-whackjob crowd. (Some more earnest than others, but all con artists in the end.) Even the streetlights had alien features affixed to them.
We wandered into a store and bought some gear like good tourists. I got a shirt with a drawing of an alien on it for my sister. She enjoys science fiction, but is smart enough not to take this crap too seriously. Stephane bought an “I believe” t-shirt and put it on immediately. He was getting much too much pleasure out of these people. For my part I was just horrified. People really buy into this garbage? But I knew they did before ever getting to Roswell.
A few years earlier I had been home in Cleveland for the holidays. I made the acquaintance of a young woman and brought her home for the night. Breakfast was a wee bit awkward as I was staying at my father’s house. It quickly moved from awkward to painfully uncomfortable when my new friend told us, quite earnestly, of the time she had been visited by aliens. It was clear that she absolutely believed that it had happened to her. My father is the nicest guy in the world, but he couldn’t resist a few good-natured jokes at her expense. She got angry, things got ugly, and I was mercifully able to get her out of the house and my life.
Now we had found the place where all of these lunatics converged. Somehow I found the place incredibly depressing. Stephane led Darius and Kar Wai off to meet flakey Americans that they could feel superior to. Splitting off, I wandered around until I found a liquor store. Had a quick belt of whiskey and stashed the bottle in my bag. Getting back to the truck I realized that one of the guys had the keys and I was locked out. I sat on the curb drinking whiskey, taking pictures of the flies smashed on the license plate, and growling at anyone who got too close to me. I wanted out of this city and this state.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.
Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.