November 3, 2011
On the old game show “Truth or Consequences”, a contestant would be asked a question (“Truth”) and if answered incorrectly he would face the “Consequences.” Sometimes the Consequences could be an embarrassing stunt. At other times the Consequences could be happy ones — such as a chance to win money or a surprise reunion with a long-lost sibling. Host Bob Barker would often close the broadcast with the phrase “Hoping all your consequences are happy ones.”
In 1950, “Truth or Consequences” creator Ralph Edwards promised to do his national tv program from the first town that agreed to rename itself for the show. Hot Springs, New Mexico won the contest and promptly changed its name to “Truth or Consequences.” The game show is long gone but the town’s strange name remains today.
So, here’s the “Truth” of Truth or Consequences. “T or C” (as it’s known) is a dusty desert town of 7,000 people and the county seat of Sierra County, New Mexico. The nearby Rio Grande provides water and some recreation. Cactus patches speckle the rocky hillsides. The barren face of the Caballo Range towers in the distance, and beyond that lies the ancient Jornada del Muerto, or Journey of the Dead Man.
Desert towns can be odd and seem to stretch reality. Walking down Main Street feels like walking through a kaleidoscopic canyon. Storefronts are mostly trinket shops painted multiple pastel colors and the aroma of burned incense and marijuana fills the air around them.
Across the street, a lawyer’s office is painted in red and white stripes as if it were a circus tent.
Homes built of rocks cling to the hillsides above Main Street; their porch supports are stacks of rocks. Many of the residents seem to be retirees who came here for the blue skies and warm weather. Yet this isn’t a wealthy town, so presumably many of those might be retired schoolteachers living on state pensions.
As I turned the corner onto Broadway, I found an open diner. I ordered some green chili or “chile verde” as New Mexicans call it. Chile verde is not simply a green version of chili con carne. It’s a stew with meat (usually pork), potatoes or other vegetables, and chopped green chilies added for a kick. This is perhaps New Mexico’s signature food — each restaurant seems to have its own recipe. Although you can find red chili on most menus here, it is referred to as “Texas Red” and is delivered to your table with some under-the-breath derision.
I overheard some waitresses chatting among themselves.
One said, “I think [man’s name redacted] might just claim my youngest to be his real daughter.”
“The one in first grade now?” another waitress asked.
“Oh, she looks just like him.”
So once upon a time there was a Truth and now there are Consequences.
On my way out of town I saw, incredibly, some Occupy Wall Street protesters! There were maybe 10 of them, all old hippies, holding signs in the town park at the corner of Main and Broadway. They seemed to be a quixotic bunch, protesting Wall Street in a town too small to have a three-story bank. As I slowly drove by, I could overhear one of them explain “right-wingers” this way: “It’s in their genes so they can’t resist the urge to hate.” I’d hate to see the Occupy bunch turn into the next eugenics movement.
I tweeted about it later:
“I saw protesters today at Occupy Truth or Consequences New Mexico!! A dozen peyote-smoking middle-aged hippies. Truth!”
To my shock, I got an answer from one of them:
@que_taylor: “There were 18 of us and thank you for saying ‘middle'”
You’re welcome @que_taylor. I looked up @que_taylor on twitter. She describes herself as “K Taylor: Math teacher, single mom with grandchildren, fan of humanitarians, love to re-post good tweets”. I looked up some of her other tweets. They weren’t as friendly as the one she sent to me:
“For one thing, #OWS are testing local police forces and local authorities; exposing the thugs and police-state mentalities.”
“Don’t put the bread in the oven until it’s done rising. #OWS is far larger than T-baggers. No need to get personal.”
@que_taylor and the Occupy Wall Street people in Truth or Consequences might be having a problem understanding Truth. The police force here doesn’t seem to be thugs or the leaders of a police state. In fact, their headquarters are in the Sierra County Courthouse just 200 yards away. Although the protesters are clearly visible from the courthouse the sheriff isn’t marching out with his shock troops.
OWS might also be having a problem understanding Consequences. If they really lived in a police state they wouldn’t be able to protest openly in the town park, and their bodies would likely wind up at the bottom of the nearby Rio Grande.
In the final analysis, OWS is simply demanding things for themselves that others have earned for themselves. I was in other parts of New Mexico the same week I was in Truth and Consequences. Here are some alternative cause-and-effect scenarios.
There’s a burgeoning energy industry in the northwestern corner of the state, near the desert towns of Farmington and Aztec. Natural gas collection sites are dispersed among desert rocks and sagebrush. Pickup trucks servicing the sites invariably pass you at 15 miles above the highway speed limit. That’s all ok though. The ultimate consequence of the energy work is blooming desert towns with middle-class jobs and homes.
But suppose you don’t want a mortgage or a 9-to-5 job. Eschewing traditional occupations, both Jack Kerouac in the 1950s and the old mountain men of the 1830s chose to wander the countryside with a pack and a tough pair of boots. They demanded nothing from anyone. The consequences of such a life would include hiding under rock ledges during storms. However, after the rain stopped, they would be rewarded with sights like this:
So in the end, the vocal residents of Truth or Consequences don’t seem to have a firm grip on Truth. Because of that, they experience only imaginary Consequences. It’s sad and I feel sorry for those modern-day Don Quixotes.
A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.
I’m trying to travel to all of America’s county courthouses, and each month a post about my visit to the most interesting county seats. It’s only a hobby — but donations are greatly appreciated to help defer my costs.
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