American Relief and Recovery Act may have whole 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 refrigerator.
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 return.
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 the new federal money, it might give new meaning to the American Relief and Recovery Act.  

Merilee Dannemann
NM News Services