Mellow El Paso vs. Shoot-’em-up Albuquerque

If Albuquerque took a chill pill, it might act more like El Paso, Texas, a metro area of similar size but only half the violent crime.

Metro Albuquerque counts four times as many murders as El Paso, a city 250 miles down the Rio Grande opposite Cíudad Juarez, Mexico, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) for 2013. Albuquerque tallies twice as many rapes and in 2013 recorded 742 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, twice the national rate.


El Paso police cordon a downtown street to investigate a pedestrian fatality. Unlike Albuquerque, jaywalking laws are enforced here. Photo © William P. Diven

In comparison to the Wild West shootout occurring almost nightly in Albuquerque, El Paso might as well be Mayberry RFD.

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Amtrak’s Southwest Chief Ripe For Mutiny

If you’ve been out West for enough years or enjoy Western novels, you know being snakebit may not mean a snake actually sank its fangs into you. Just ask Amtrak, snakebit from the get-go this travel season.

Train No. 4, the Southwest Chief, usually runs close to on time from Los Angeles to Chicago. And Amtrak tries hard to mimic the travel experience from the days when the Santa Fe Railway sped the Super Chief across the desert and plains on blazing schedules at speeds occasionally topping 100 mph.

But that was then, and this is now: Continue reading

Reforming the Impossible

Justin Weddell arrived in New York City as a newly minted graduate of the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts Class of 1908. No Aggie hayseed, Weddell sprang from Chicago and came of age in the rowdy Progressive Era replete with yellow journalism and muckrakers stirring up scandal and busting monopolistic and rapacious corporations.

NMCA&MA Class of 1908. Justin Weddell far right second from top.

NMCA&MA Class of 1908. Justin Weddell far right second from top. (The Round Up, June 2, 1908, New Mexico State University Library, Archives and Special Collections.)

At the time New Yorkers read about 20 daily newspapers, not all in English. Feuding news barons like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst battled for readership creating their own headlines and perhaps their own wars, if you credit Hearst’s Morning Journal and its million-a-day circulation with pushing the McKinley administration into the Spanish-American War.

Weddell took all that in as he wrote back to A&M Professor Elmer Ottis Wooton in June 1908 describing his new surroundings:

I find everything and everyone in the East concerned in some form of reform. I’ve read so much of it, and heard so much of it that almost am I persuaded to be an ardent foe of any reform movement. One can’t turn around without encountering a new graft and its attendant muckrake. I prefer the spotless Southwest–where reform is almost impossible. — Justin R. Weddell, Ballston Spa, N.Y., June 15, 1908. Courtesy Hobson-Huntington University Archives, New Mexico State University.

A lot has changed in New York City since then. Too bad the same can’t be said for New Mexico.

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Amtrak’s Last Scotch

When fire turned Albuquerque’s railroad station into smoking rubble on a January night, the blame variously fell to homeless folk lighting a fire to stay warm or trouble in the electrical system of the 91-year-old building. Call it another hard-luck episode in the history of Amtrak in New Mexico.

Albuquerque firefighters hose down the smoldering wreckage of the Amtrak station. January 4, 1993. © William P. Diven

Albuquerque firefighters hose down the smoldering wreckage of the Amtrak station. January 4, 1993. © William P. Diven (Click to enlarge)

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Death and the Newsroom

John Cleveland didn’t die at the assignment desk in the KRQE newsroom although I feared he might given the health issues he mentioned from time to time. Instead we are told he died in his sleep, a peaceful end for a larger-than-life character who boosted the game and noise level of an already frantic place. He wasn’t much past 50 and leaves behind a wife and young son.

John Cleveland. Photo by Rebecca Valdez.

John Cleveland. Photo by Rebecca Valdez.

For those of you who don’t know TV newsrooms, the assignment desk occupies the high ground at the center of the maelstrom. It’s where police scanner chatter merges into ringing phones while competing with a two-way radio base and shouts from all directions. The manager assigns photographers to reporters and live trucks to photographers, dispatches the helicopter, updates all on fresh developments and constantly calls contacts for information and confirmation. Continue reading