Loren introduced himself to me when he worked as a valet at La Posada Resort. He was the cool one with enough style and manners to attract attention. I learned he also provided private airport transportation and luxury limo service. A trip to Albany, New York was on my schedule so I asked Loren to drive me to the Albuquerque Airport. When I told him my flight left at 6:30 a.m., he didn’t flinch, “I’ll be at your house at 4 a.m. with Starbucks. What’s your drink?”
He showed up, loaded the car, asked me to select my own music, and off we went. I felt like I was riding with James Bond — smooth shifts, minor breaks, all the time engaging me in conversation. The combination relieved my pre-boarding stress and woke me up. From then on, I chose Loren’s airport service. When he picked me up from Albuquerque, he had Fiji water, a Travel & Leisure magazine, chewing gum, and he played Vic Damone. “Chill, sit back, tell me all about the trip.”
At my kitchen counter, on a 20-below morning, Loren leaned back against a bar stool too petite for a swarthy 6’ 4” man. His Johnson & Johnson silky blonde hair is swept back, and I want to touch it, but we don’t play with physical affections. Loren’s 40, looks 30, and thinks like he served an attitude-and-values apprenticeship under a wise guru. He’s on a break from plowing snow at Albertsons, the Yoga Center, and private homes. This is before he reports for work at Geronimo Restaurant, where he not only parks the cars, but walks the ladies indoors, keeps the Zapata’s outdoors, and directs traffic on Canyon Road until midnight. He’s wearing a sheet-white Polo turtleneck and black slacks, his day look, and I’m about to serve pesto, prosciutto and feta cheese frittata for late breakfast.
Loren is sipping a 16-ounce chai and unwinding his broad shoulders in a circular motion as he considers the current consciousness of Santa Fe.
“It’s a different kind of materialism. You really want it, but you can’t have it. The most simple things — a toaster, a new phone, pinion wood — cause we’re cold. It’s so cold! The guy in front of the Homeless Shelter was near frozen when I drove by to drop off a bundle of clothes. Why is it so cold? Even the valet has to wear BMW beanies. These are some funny times.”
“What’s so funny about not having money?” I snapped.
Loren breaks into a full-body laughing recess. His sailor-blue eyes are just slightly turned up when he laughs. This transmits his effortless humorous pitch on life.
“It’s different,” I said. “I mean everything feels unfamiliar.”
“Yea, it’s O.K. to feel,” Loren said. “Things are rattling around. That’s why the Gorge Bridge felt so stable the day I drove up to Taos. I think it’s the most stable thing in my life right now! Hah.”
I had placed the frittata in front of Loren, but he hadn’t touched it yet. Even when he’s starved; he lets the food sit there and cool off. I’ve never seen a man not eat when food is placed in front of him. I was already biting into the frittata, relishing a real meal.
I found a momentary silent inlet and asked him if the food was cool enough. Loren looked down, touched it with his index finger, and then his appetite fired off. After a few pensive moments, as if he were saying grace, he took a proper bite. He takes the food seriously, intensely. He’ll make a remarkable husband for some woman. He talks a lot about marriage, and the songs he’ll sing to his bride’s mother the day of the wedding. He confides in me uninhibitedly, as if we were two teenagers, cutting class. I feel youthful when he’s in the house; the absence of masks, emotional camouflage, and exaggeration is how I remember adolescence. When you’re so much yourself, even the most serious student, is humorous in his self-absorbance.
“What’d you say Wednesday was — on your new schedule?” he asked.
“Wednesday… I forgot since you showed up. I know! It’s Gallery LouLou marketing.”
“We have to give out two cards a week. I want you to pass out two everyday,” he said.
I nodded my head and bowed.
“Geronimo’s been slow, no A-list celebrity types, no mothers and daughters; cause the daughters don’t want to come here anymore,” he said.
“Neither does single me, I interrupted. And if they do, they’re from Los Alamos. Can you see me with a scientist or an engineer? I’d make them crazy.”
“Listen. Someone asks you out for an Ecco latte, don’t be a bitch. Just do it! You reverse sweat it. If he’s a jerk; deebo him.”
Deebo is the guy who shows up late and should have been on time. His quip is unabashed, and he handles himself like Sean Penn — smoking and all smiles while he reverses blame.
“Can we change the subject?” I said.
“No! I want to know why you’re not even trying to hook-up?”
“Because I’m convinced the man I want isn’t in Santa Fe. The ones I’ve met are looking for a caretaker, a fly-fishing partner, or a biker. Look, there are two types of men: one loves a woman because she’s not a man, and the other one seeks a mother who he can bash around.”
“I want to rat those guys out — like the ones that pinch and don’t tip. Give a name to that.”
“Listen to this; the newly coined slogan for New Mexico is Truth,” I said.
“Truth. About what?”
“Exactly! What truth are they referring to? How ‘bout the naked truth? Picture a Native American woman out in the arroyo in a leather crop top, her black hair elevated in strands by the wind, dust on her cheekbones. New Mexico is naked, isn’t it?” I asked.
“It’s isolated. If you can afford to come to Santa Fe and not blow your brains out, or go broke, you deserve to be here. Right?”
He is smiling. Even the painful truths are reformed as tests of endurance rather than complaints. He developed his own poetic rap dialogue that I suppose comes from growing up in two cultures: one in the hood, and the other in the wealthiest homes in Santa Fe.
“Then it’s a good place for you. Like your friend who takes her poodle to hospice. I really respect her for that. That’s what she’s doing with Santa Fe,” he said.
“What do you do with Santa Fe?” I asked.
“I’m the union organizer for luxury limo drivers. Like, iron your shirt and shine your shoes, have CD’s in the car, and water. You know — like this is New Mexico, but we can spell Burberry. On the weekends I’m the ladies traffic controller!”
“ What is that?” I asked.
“At the clubs. Some of the guys are okay, all suited up, hoping for a dance, but some are like, ‘I’ll buy you a cocktail if I can follow you home.’ Someone has to protect them. Ladies can’t drive home cause they’ve cocktailed all night, or they can’t find their car keys, or they want to impress their friends with the Viking chauffeur. It’s chill; they’re good girls during the day.”
The morning turned into afternoon, and now I was cleaning dishes, and watching the birds from the kitchen window. Every hour or so I stop responding to Loren, and let him talk. I can feel the rush of his life; how he sprints from limo driver, to Geronimo valet, then to Albuquerque, the gym, and his family. People who live intensely engaged in a variety of relationships; stir their surroundings like a human wind. Every time Loren leaves, I’m bouncing through the living room and dancing.
When I tuned into the conversation, he was recounting his day in ardent animation. His laughter echoes; almost like he’s singing a song and it last a long time.
“I don’t mind giving back to our greedy city tax roll. I feed the meters; that quarter made a difference. Huh?”... more laughter and he repeats, “We’re down to quarters.”
“Those meter guys were writing tickets like, here take that, and then on to the next car. Don’t bother coming back to Santa Fe, and it’s the weekend! That’s the barometer of my city — hurry hurry write that ticket. Once it’s done it’s done.”
Suddenly he stands, positioning his legs a few feet apart, he leans over, picks up his keys and his phone.
“ Come on let’s go for a quick creep.”
“Cruise the plaza, get you outdoors, come on it’ll make you feel better.”
“I’m not dressed for outdoors..”
“Put on a pair of low-brow boots and a jacket. Not fashioning this afternoon. You won’t even get out of the car. Come on.”
I listened because Loren is definitive in decisions. He doesn’t waver back and forth or want to argue. I rushed upstairs, zipped up my boots and grabbed a down jacket. He was standing by the window.
“ We have 20 minutes,” he said pointing to his watch.
We hopped into his silver VW GTI ,and he told me to pick a CD. I shuffled through the stack, while he backed out. Just then I noticed a car pull out across Palace Avenue.
“ Loren! Watch out!”
“I got it.” He leaned back, shot eyeball calmness to me and asked what CD I wanted to hear.
He didn’t scold me for my alarm and doubt. After that I knew my caution was unnecessary. You learn a lot about a man by his driving. It’s a graph of his responsiveness, confidence, and how he handles sudden movement. Loren cruised over the icy asphalt and into the empty Plaza, all white and brown like a two envelopes sitting side by side. He was now slouching back, one hand on the wheel, messing with something in the open compartment, and driving 15 mph. There weren’t a lot of cars, but I had the feeling Loren didn’t care if there was someone behind us. We drove past Santa Fe Dry Goods, and he stopped, “Empty — that’s sad. No one buying fuzzy boots or hats.” He drove by every shop and looked in, as if he was monitoring shopping trends. His eyes swept the streets, the alleyways, and I mimicked him, because I knew this was for me. We went slow as a couple of tired horses, so the eyes could bring in the unknown: a homeless man on a corner, the Indian woman selling jewelry, the jewelers smoking cigarettes, and a few locals trotting back to work from a break. I looked up to the sky and found a patch of blue, and pointed it out to Loren, and he turned to me and said, “I’m happy you noticed.”
“It’s two o’clock already.” I said.
“How’d it get to be two o’clock?” Loren kept the engine at crawl speed all the way back to the house. “You have to go to Santa Fe Spa — at least go see people! And go after six.” I nodded my head as I got out of the car, went inside, turned on the Rolling Stones and danced.