Besides the 200 town villagers, another 200 Madroids live on back streets and alleys and up into the hills past where the grid stops and the off-the-grid ‘hood begins: ancient RVs, school buses that hauled their last child decades ago, and houses that are built slowly over years as materials were afforded.
Longtime Madroids are dug in. Solar panels have blossomed, cisterns are filled periodically by a water tanker. Life works for people who’ve chosen simplicity for the last ten, twenty, or thirty years.
The image below was actually taken at the entrance to the visitor center in Taos. It matches up so well with the sentence above written days before, I insert it here.
Clean-shaven men are few; a couple days of stubble probably qualifies as a neatnik. Foot-long beards and ponytails are the hair code.
I saw but one baseball cap. Leather hats, straw hats, and bandannas are the regulation head cover.
No one doesn’t smoke. Cigarettes come out of unrecognized packs or roll-yer-owns.
Madrid is a town where dogs roam the streets and seem to belong to everyone. People entering at the grocery store note the number of dogs on the porch. Since the store will sell a single Milkbone dog bisquit, shoppers often exit with one or two treats in their hand. It takes a village to raise a dog.
The town is governed by an owners’ association, which was likened by one person to a high school student council.
It is a certainty there are scores of stories in Madrid.
Equally certain, no passer-through is going to get much below the surface of either the tidy shopkeepers or the aging hippies–not without better credentials than a ten-day beard, four-month haircut, and an addiction to intrusive questions.
There is an underground to Madrid, but, as one of my hairy phrase-making acquaintances says, there is a soft underbelly, but it has a Kevlar liner.
In the sixties, Joe Huber, owner of the ghostly mining town, tried to sell it. The Wall Street Journal ads offering Madrid for $250,000 didn’t turn up any buyers. In 1972 he decided to auction off the town, parcel by parcel. Deals were closed on a card table on the main street. One of my coffeehouse pals told me of the house he bought for $1500, $100 down. He sold it a few years later for $4000, which became his grubstake for his marijuana importing business. It was a living.
Another of the men who held down the porch of the boarding house told me when he first got to town, he ate corn tortillas, green chiles, and pinto beans–every day.
A few years ago, an Atlantic City attorney, amusing himself in the big tailgate party known as The ‘Net, found his boyhood sweetheart. She owned half of a boarding house in Madrid,; the other half was owned by her ex. The attorney gave himself a golden parachute and bought out the ex. He moved to Madrid, grew a ponytail, and writes stories inspired by the people who inhabit his porch.
Growth is limited by water. The town well has a moratorium on the connections.
There are three classes of automobiles in Madrid. A few late model SUV’s, a few more ten or twenty-year old vehicles that seem well-taken care of, and an extra-large number of really ratty cars–cars with full-length windshield cracks, enough food wrappers, coffee cups, cigarette packs and butts, and Alka-Seltzer wrappers to litter a ball park.
Aside from these few anecdotes, personal histories live in shadowy mystery: ‘Nam vets with degrees of PTSD and vague hints of worse flit though my dialogues with locals.
I’m told Madrid gets raided annually by men with automatic weapons, wearing ski masks and camo (camouflage clothing), accompanied by several helicopters. The raid occurs on harvest day.
Meanwhile, it is business as usual at the pleasant shops of upscale crafts down several tax brackets from Santa Fe.