I’m the single red chili pepper in a bushel of green ones some might say here in New Mexico. But I was a fish out of water when I lived in New Jersey. I never felt that I fit in with the vibe of the busy, bustling, sometimes brash northeast. I might be the one red pepper mixed in with the green ones here in the southwest, but I found my tribe. I’m a little bit different, but I feel like I fit in more, if that makes sense.
Life is literally full of sunshine here in the southwestern part of the USA, and my soul is at home when I look out my window in the back of my house and see the most beautiful mountains and turquoise cloudless blue skies; I’m lulled to sleep at night when I hear the coyotes howl, and I enjoy life at a slower pace than most people experience on both coasts and in or near big cities.
Maybe this is why people seem happier here? More sun, more fresh air, and just taking life at a little slower pace might have something to do with it.
Many people thought I would move back to New Jersey when I said I was finally moving to the place I had dreamed of living in for decades; and they were very surprised when I didn’t go driving back across the country to where I was raised. Not me. I’ve hung my sombrero here in New Mexico, and I’m here to stay. (And the people who really know me, know that I never rush into a decision, and once I make up my mind, there’s no going back.)
I must say it’s kind of fun being known as “the girl from Jersey” on the block. Apparently, I have an accent compared to most native New Mexicans. I don’t have and never had, the stereotypical borderline-Brooklyn-Staten-Island-North-Jersey accent, but I do say some words that indicate where I spent most of my life: “wudder” and “cawfee” usually give me away.
I thought I would be issued a ticket for talking too fast when I first arrived in town. Everyone here speaks more slowly and seems to savor life and not rush it away. They remember their manners, hold doors, wave hello, and say please and thank you. Maybe it’s because they don’t have to fight traffic every day on their way to work. Maybe they are nicer because they never have to shovel snow here in southern New Mexico. Whatever it is, I like the rollback to an earlier time when chivalry wasn’t dead, and faster and more, didn’t mean a better way of life.
And, to clarify – last year I moved to NEW Mexico; NOT Mexico. New Mexico is still a part of the United States, and has been very much a part of the 50 since 1912. There’s a running joke among locals saying to out-of-staters, that yes, New Mexico is a state. No passport is required. No pesos, either.
I guess there are as many stereotypes about this southwestern part of the country as there are about New Jersey. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if the mafia is really all over New Jersey and if most people act like they do on The Sopranos. When I tell them I actually know Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy from The Sopranos) (who is like an uncle to my daughter, and family to both of us), and give Artie Pasquale, (Burt Gervasi from The Sopranos) another good friend, a hug, whenever I see him, people around here nearly pass out and embrace the television propaganda that all of New Jersey is knee deep in the mob.
But when you filter through all of the desert sand, you find out that we New Mexicans, don’t all eat Mexican food and live on hot chili peppers. Similarly, when I grew up in Toms River, New Jersey, my life was not like that depicted on the show the Jersey Shore. Stereotypes are just that; nothing more. True, you can find about ten different varieties of chilis at every grocery store here, and no Taylor Ham, but that’s just some literal flavor of the region.
The most frequently asked question I hear lately is, “Why did you move to New Mexico?” I guess the easiest way to explain it is:
If you are living in surroundings that you love, you will thrive. We can learn from nature. You wouldn’t find a polar bear in the desert or a fish living on land. So, it follows that I felt like a fish out of water living in New Jersey; but when I moved to New Mexico, it felt like I found my “lake”. Maybe you haven’t experienced that feeling yet – but if you ever do – you’ll be moved so much that you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Instead of going on a trip to a place that I love two weeks out of the year, home is here, for me. Imagine coming home to a place that feels like you’re on vacation year-round!
When I drove into my then future neighborhood last year, I literally got all choked up and tears of happiness just flowed. I knew that if I could only spend the rest of my life in one place, and the last thing I would ever see is the mountain range on the horizon, I would be content being here.
There were practical reasons for my move, too… I’m a warm weather girl, and I swore to myself in 2017 those would be the last flakes of snow I would ever shovel. I was tired of the blizzards and scraping ice off of my car windshield. I didn’t want to waste any more hours of my life sitting in traffic on roads that wove paths like pretzels. What I used to pay in property taxes, I pack away for vacations now! Instead of financial struggle, I can live without the worry of spiraling expenses.
Was there a period of adjustment for me post move? Well, yes, but it’s not like I had to go from driving a car to riding a horse! Ha ha!
Of course, I came from the only state where people do not pump their own gas. With practice I was able to adapt; but in the beginning it was another flag for people to spot the “Jersey Girl” - at the gas pump.
In August and September, they call it “monsoon season” around here. Maybe you’ll get 5 or 6 thunderstorms at the end of the days in that two month period that last for a few minutes, but I’ll say from experience, that’s just called a quick rain shower back in the humid, wet state of New Jersey where rain and feeling like a wet washcloth is the normal forecast most of the time.
I had to laugh when locals here in New Mexico spoke of “traffic”. I’m used to a 15-mile drive sometimes taking up to 2 hours during rush hour back in New York or New Jersey. When you see the slight orange tint on the gps here, it usually means about a 2 minute slow down because of minor construction or a traffic light. I chuckle. I don’t mind. I wouldn’t trade the “traffic” here for the pothole-ridden roads of the northeast or the gridlocked highways of Los Angeles any day. I’ll gladly accept my New Mexico “traffic” with a smile. I guess my past experiences allow me to put things into perspective and appreciate what I have here in the land of a million sparkling stars not drowned out by the bright city lights.
Besides speaking at the speed of light compared to native New Mexicans, I had to learn what the “land of mañana” is. If anything can wait until tomorrow here, it usually does. If you ask to have something done on a Friday afternoon, you can pretty much count on that it won’t be done until Monday. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily if you learn to expect it.
I also had to get used to handshakes at car dealerships when getting my car serviced, and people consistently holding doors open for others. Smiles and hellos are the norm here. I was so surprised at this kind of behavior here that I hardly ever saw in New Jersey where people tend to keep to themselves, looking down at the ground, pretending you are invisible and can’t be bothered to greet people as they pass by.
I do still have some “Jersey pride”, though. Pizza pride, actually. Only people from northern New Jersey or New York City know what real pizza is. I hate to break it to all native New Mexicans, but it’s not what Dominos delivers or anything from Little Caesars. And, when you find real pizza here in New Mexico (it’s possible with some searching) you don’t put hatch chili peppers on it – that’s down right sacrilegious. But I must admit, just like I can judge true pizza, native New Mexicans are better judges of the hottest Mexican food in the USA (I can’t even wrap my taste buds around what they consider “mild” on the spicy spectrum.)
Among my discoveries is a new shade of blue – New Mexico blue – the skies are a clear, bright, turquoise without a single cloud most days. Now I understand the love for the turquoise color reflected from above in southwestern art.
I’ve found quiet solitude here, about twenty minutes from my house – not just shopping centers. I don’t just mean a neighborhood park, either. Disconnecting from the world really means no phone signal as you navigate the arroyos on a hike through the beautiful sandstone and cacti at the base of the mountains. It turned out that this is just what I needed to decompress. I never realized how I didn’t have a true escape from people and problems until I moved here.
People ask me how I could live here where [gasp] rattlesnakes reside. I’ll tell you, you have a better chance of seeing an alligator on a golf course in Florida than you do of stepping on a snake here. Natives shared with me that generally, if you don’t go looking for trouble (under rocks and around bushes), you won’t find it. Rattlers don’t want to be bothered as much as you don’t want to be bothered by them. They also hibernate, and unless you’re stomping through the desert in the springtime or turning over rocks and tumbleweeds when they wake up, you have nothing to fear.
As for coyotes, they were here first. So, if you ever wondered why the coyote crossed the road, you can probably stop and ask one here, if you catch them late at night or wandering back to their mountain dens before dawn. If you don’t catch up with a coyote, you can surely find one of his roadrunner pals zipping along the pavement on your way to work, too. As with most of nature, if you show common sense and don’t leave small children and pets outside unattended or have mounds of garbage around, you won’t have to deal with crossing paths. Besides, coyotes are cute. You’ve got black bears and wild turkeys in New Jersey. I just traded those species for others out here. Besides, I’d much rather hear coyotes howling at night instead of horns beeping, traffic, and trains.
Do I miss the ocean? Maybe for two or three days out of the year. So, I’ll hop on a plane and take a dip in the Pacific or dive in the water at another location. What about craving WaWa coffee, sub sandwiches, or amazing Jersey Italian food? Same thing – I’ll travel to taste it – but I don’t feel I need it all the time.
I have my happiness. I found my literal space to become the person I wanted to be. Take that chance. Leave your familiar surroundings. Travel. Embrace the new and wonderful. I wish the same for all of you, your own personal nirvana, no matter how you define it on the map.