American Relief and Recovery Act may have new meaning

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By Merilee Dannemann

You can’t accuse anybody of exploiting
the world-famous church in Las Trampas
for gain.
In front of the church is a dirt parking
area, and across the way is a small, funky
shop, with “La Tienda” painted by hand
over the doorway, where you can find
modestly priced pottery, odd-looking
wood sculptures that are a Pueblo version
of kachina figures, and cold drinks
that you can serve yourself from an old
Some folks walk in and ask the shop owner if there is a
public restroom anywhere. The owner, Mr. Lopez, directs
them into his own house. He starts a conversation.
The high road to Taos, now officially labeled a Scenic Byway,
is 80 miles long without a single public restroom, he
says. He says politicians – including now – Sen. Tom Udall
– stop by his shop all the time, and he’s been telling them
for years that a rest stop is needed.
“People stop in Chimayo and eat meat and beans,” Lopez
said. “Then they go on down the road and what do you
think is gonna happen?”
He lets visitors use the restroom in his house as a personal
courtesy. I tell Lopez that I know a few politicians and
will pass his idea along. But I propose another alternative:
He should build a restroom himself and put a sign on it requesting
donations. I’m guessing he could make a decent
Ah, public restrooms. You can’t just build them. You
have to maintain them and keep them spotlessly clean or
else your community’s reputation will be worse than if you
had no restrooms at all. This is especially amusing to me
because I have been reminiscing about this very issue. I recall
arguments in the legislature, decades ago, when some
lawmakers asked disdainfully why we should spend New
Mexicans’ money building bathrooms for tourists.
I recall the general manager of La Fonda in Santa Fe telling
a legislative committee that her hotel was where the
world went to the bathroom. I recall trying to figure out
what to say about restrooms in the annual summer visitors’
guide of a small-town New Mexico newspaper and finally
saying nothing. I recall driving to Salt Lake City and mentally
designating Utah as the “State of Clean Restrooms”
because the facilities were clean and pleasant everywhere
along the road.
Down the road, my friend and I stop at an unpaved parking
area overlooking the valley of Truchas – a glorious vista
in the sparkling fall air. All that remains of what once might
have been a picnic table is a little square with four metal
posts and a roof. I walk discreetly into the nearby woods
and observe that I’ve picked a popular spot for a moment of
personal relief. Mr. Lopez knew what he was talking about.
We stop at the artists’ cooperative gallery in Truchas.
There we find a restroom with a polite sign on the door asking
for donations for restroom supplies. So if some years
from now you drive through Las Trampas and you find a
restroom with a donation sign on it, I’ll take credit for giving
Mr. Lopez the idea.
But if you find a new public rest stop, perhaps funded
with ederal money, it might give new meaning to the American
Relief and Recovery Act.
Merilee Dannemann
NM News Services