Column: Rancheros Con Huevos
By Lauren Reichelt
Rancheros con Huevos is a column written by me where I share some of my memories and experiences of the “old days” in Rio Arriba County (or at least the old days from 20 years ago when I first came to work for the county). The people and places I’ve written about mostly existed and I gave everyone the right names if I remembered them. Sometimes, if I didn’t like a fellow, I renamed him “Dirk.” I hope I have not offended any of my old or new friends, as I love you all. Rio Arriba is my home and my passion. Gracias!
(#2) My Recycling Misadventure, Part 1
“I have an assignment for you.”
My boss, Lorenzo, looked over his bifocals, and stroked his graying beard. He was trying to develop a job description for me that would not rankle his other directors, 99% of whom were male and all of whom were Norteños.
He was also the Dad against whom I perpetually rebelled.
Lorenzo’s desk occupied the entirety of his cramped office in the Pinch Penny Laundromat. Most of the County’s remaining employees were jammed together into a few large rooms beyond his door, creating an ambiance similar to the New York Stock Exchange without computers or flashing stock prices.
A few employees had typewriters on their desks. Invoices were stacked on a table because the County did not own a file cabinet.
I was squished in a chair wedged between desk and wall. Grey light filtered weakly through Lorenzo’s lone barred window.
“I’ve met with the Commissioners and we all agree,” Lorenzo assured me enthusiastically. “You are the ideal person to represent our new recycling program.”
“Why?” I groused. “Do all white people look alike to you?”
I wiggled my hands over my head in rabbit-like fashion to signal my displeasure at being named the Rio Arriba Recycling Bunny. I didn’t know a thing about recycling.
I wanted to run our recreation department, which is what I understood I’d been hired to do.
“What’s wrong with recycling?” he asked. “Managing trash is an important function of county government.” He took off his glasses and rubbed his face. “This is a safe and secure role for you.”
“I don’t want to be safe and secure,” I shot back. “I want to matter.”
“Recycling does matter.” Lorenzo barked. “Do some research! Let me know if curbside recycling is feasible in Rio Arriba!”
The County had recently upgraded my office from Norman’s car to a vacated supply closet that was donated to me by the school district. It was very dark. The walls shook and the lights short-circuited several times a day leading me to wonder if Española was located over a fault line.
I’d picked up a chair and desk from a salvage yard, while the County popped for a phone.
It was time to engage in recycling research.
I remembered the last time I visited my best friend, Didi, in Michigan. She’d put out her recyclables to be picked up by Kalamazoo County.
I dialed their Solid Waste Department.
“Hi!” I introduced myself. “My name’s Lauren and I work for Rio Arriba County in northern New Mexico. We’re thinking of starting a recycling program. I wonder if you could tell me how to do a feasibility study? How does your recycling program work?”
“Do you mean curbside recycling?” asked the woman at the other end.
I thought about Rio Arriba’s thousands of miles of unpaved washboard roads. We didn’t even have addresses. “What curbs?” I countered.
There was a long silence.
“What’s your geographic area and how many people do you have?” she inquired.
“We have 5,858 square miles and 41,000 people.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “We have three square miles and 230,000 people. And we just gave up on curbside because our population density wouldn’t support it.”
“Oh, dear,” I told her. “That doesn’t sound promising.”
A few hours later, Patricio, the Planning and Zoning Director, called. “Lencho says you’re doing recycling presentations.” Lorenzo’s oldest friends called him Lencho. Patricio didn’t normally refer to him that way to me, as Patricio didn’t normally address me at all.
He paused. “Could you go to El Ríto tonight and do a presentation for me? I was supposed to go, but I have a conflict.”
Patricio neglected to mention that he had recently unveiled a plan to locate the county dump next to El Ríto, enraging its residents to the point of revolt.
“Really?” I asked. “You want me to do a recycling demonstration in El Ríto?” I was wondering why he was suddenly ratcheting up the charm.
“I have some slides you can use,” he offered helpfully. “I can go over them with you if you want. Come over here and I’ll buy you a coffee! You just gotta show ’em how to separate cardboard, plastic and glass. There are certain glass colors we don’t take, like we don’t take brown. We only accept plain cardboard, paper’s gotta be bundled, and we only accept a few plastics. There’s a bin in Abiquiú they can use. It’s clearly labeled.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Really,” he enticed encouragingly. “They’re already recycling out there. It’ll be a piece of cake.”
Lorenzo called back a few moments later. “I hear you’re doing a presentation in El Ríto.”
He was apprehensive. “Are you okay with this?”
“Yeah,” I answered. “Pat says it’s a piece of cake.”
Lorenzo’s unease appeared to be growing. “You don’t have to go if you don’t feel ready. We can reschedule.”
“I can do it,” I answered. If Lorenzo didn’t want me to go, there was probably a reason I wanted to be there. “Separate cardboard and plastics. No brown glass. There’s a bin in Abiquiú.”
“Okay,” said Lorenzo reluctantly. “Just stick to recycling. Don’t get off on any other subject.”
“Okey dokey,” I agreed cheerfully. “I’ll finish my presentation lickety-split and then whiz, bang, bam, I’m outta there!”
Lorenzo sounded suspicious. “Whiz bang bam, my ass!” he grumbled and slammed down the receiver.
“Recycling, my ass!” I complained to nobody.
(To Be Continued…)
Click HERE to Read Last week’s Episode