I get nostalgic for time and places that I’ve never been part of when I see a train.
A huge part of what made industrialization as widespread as it became in the United States was the intricate network of trains that spider webbed the country. As it turns out, Albuquerque was a vital part of keeping the elements of that system going solidly. I learned this on my visit to Albuquerque, while sitting in a massive, glorious raw industrial building of full glass windows, where trains used to be brought to life.
I seek out “beautiful nerds” wherever I go. When you find such a nerd, you should figure out what they’re into and listen. Even if you feel your eyes glaze over and the cognitive overload starts to make your head hurt, push through it. You won’t absorb everything, but you can learn a lot from the stories of people who have deep knowledge about whatever it is they’re passionate about. I usually find them in maker communities, out social dancing, at conferences, or at a circus arts gym.
And so, I stumbled upon a few of these wonderful souls at the Quelab makerspace in Albuquerque.
My mission this year is to make big. crazy. art. I have no idea how I’m going to do this or what exactly I’ll make, but I’ve always found that if you go boldy in a direction, the universe will bend with you.
After an email or a facebook message – I don’t remember which, Rebecca welcomed me with open virtual arms to the Wednesday Weekly call. I listened through the voicing of typical makerspace concerns – the solving of problems, how post-covid reopening was going. Members and team leaders voiced individual concerns around safety and talked about what projects folks were wanting to take on next.
I asked to have a tour of the space the following evening, and Rebecca excitedly obliged. The tour melted into conversation about strategy and workshops and planning and how the space got things done. We talked about our experiences of being female leaders in a male-dominated space – the good, the bad, the everything. I went home feeling as though maybe there was a little hope and that maker communities were still a good thing. The maker community I used to help run had left me feeling devastated after the loss of two members. It has been difficult to cope with and constantly on my mind for the last few years, to say the least.
I came back the following Saturday to volunteer to help Rebecca out a little. It’s a hell of a lot of work to help run a makerspace. Makers are weird and wonderful, but a makerspace is a constantly-spewing volcano of creative and social chaos.
What did she need help with? Sometimes it’s easier to tackle tasks like organizing a room when you have someone by your side to chat and work with. I know that after a few years of being out of the makerspace scene entirely, I missed the creative energy and just hangin’ out. The sewing room was her responsibility. I’d helped organize a sewing room in the past, so I started wiping things and rolling up fabric.
When we finished up, Rebecca asked if I’d any plans for Sunday. She asked if her partner, Adric could come along.
As far as I was concerned, the more nerds the merrier.
So we met at Quelab on Sunday and decided to take the scenic route to the market.
The “scenic route” included sculpture. If Big. Crazy. Art. was the mission, Adric was making sure we hit the target. Two enormous robots stood along the sidewalk beside a tatoo parlor. They were real-life Transformers, and they were brilliantly assembled. Families were stopping by the sculptures to get group photos and selifes with the pieces.
It’s a magical thing when a bunch of old car parts can bring people that much joy.
And we kept on. We ended up at The Rail Yards. It felt like spring after a long year of COVID winter. The artisans and food vendors had come out and decorated the grounds of a massive glass-and-steel building that once upon a time was a space where trains were born. It was being converted into an event space, and it was often rented out for photo shoots.
The work that was done in these spaces was difficult and dangerous. This sacred place made multi-ton beasts out of poured iron. The cars and engines they made built a nation and brought people from coast to coast.
Progress – right? Progress is good, we’re told. Progress is savvy at business and makes deals. It’s cutthroat and competitive. It’s exhausting.
The same rigorous “progress” that built the rail empire brought its demise. Progress doesn’t have a sense of right and wrong and progress will destroy itself if not kept in check.
The art market felt so friendly, slow, and safe. This past year, human interaction felt anything *but* safe. For me, the last 15 months were a year of bombings and tornadoes, hiding out away from a virus, episodes of anxiety and feeling almost hopelessly isolated and alone at home. A little joy, some art, and some friends were very welcomed.
The space was so impressively large that the experience of being in it was almost religious. The room was welcomingly bright and open.
Adric offered stories of sneaking onto the railyard grounds in his younger years, stealing photos and exploring. He knew so much about the buildings and how the whole site functioned. There were local groups dedicated to rail car and engine restoration – and they were just starting to get back to building. Rail was a major part of the history that shaped Albuquerque. All I could think was that I needed to read whatever I could find about it. This skeleton of a space was only a soft echo of what it used to be.
I left that day with treasures. For my friend who had lost her partner and not found another, I picked out a copper foil origami crane. She folded a thousand for him before he left this earth. I think of her every time I see a paper crane because our apartment was covered in them. For my friends who I was house sitting for, I picked up red and green chili sauce. (When in New Mexico, do as the natives do and slather everything with chili sauce, I’m told.) I got myself some glass bead jewelry strung by Native American artists. The slightly sad irony that the “indian beads” that comprised it had come from a craft store wasn’t lost on me.
We left as the market was getting ready to close with aguas frescas in hand. I had quite a bit to get ready for my next adventure, travel to Mexico to visit a friend on his newly acquired sailboat.