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Looking back at life in Las Cruces 50 years ago

Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Courtesy photo.
Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.


Fifty years ago this week, I started my three-year stint as the El Paso Times Las Cruces Bureau Chief. February 19, 1974,

“Bureau Chief” was a glorified name for a stringer. The “Bureau” was the green schoolbus I lived in with my dog. To connect a telephone, the phone company required a telephone pole, so I used a length of 4x4 wood. One very perplexed accountant asked editor Fritz Wirt why the Times was buying a telephone poll.

I was no newspaperman. My “writing sample” was poems. As a pro-civil-rights and antiwar radical, I was rather an exile, or self-exile, within my own country. I called the new gig “my crash course in middle America.” With hair down to my belt, I was quite a strange figure to the city commissioners when I plunked my motorcycle helmet down on the reporters’ table just below the dais. Mayor Tommy Graham immediately dubbed me “Captain Zoom.”

My first stories were about the airport (for which, then as now, the city administration had big plans) and the March 5 city election.

City Hall was that building on the southeast corner of Main and Church. Our beautiful County Courthouse was where the three County Commissioners met, in a tiny room you could fit maybe two-dozen onlookers into. The Courthouse also housed district court judges (just two then, not nine), magistrate court, and all county offices. The little jail was attached. The modest public hospital was across Lohman.

Travelers on Interstate 10 had to use Valley Drive and Picacho, to rejoin the interstate up by the airport. Our population was about 40,000, maybe 30,000 without counting NMSU students. Everything from near Telshor Drive to the Organs was desert. The Cox Ranch was the next dwelling East of town. Highway 70 to Organ was pretty barren. Beyond Main stood Tegmeyer’s Steakhouse a mile up the hill, and later a turnoff to NASA’s Apollo Site. A friend named A.J. once offered me a lot on Highway 70 for $50. I should have bought.

Tommy Graham, who ran Graham’s Mortuary with his brother, was our Mayor. Bob Munson was a City Councilor who became Mayor within months. An early story I covered was local hero Jerry Apodaca upsetting several others to win the Democratic nomination for Governor.

Soon, the Watergate Hearings were in full swing, and at least once the city council brought in a TV so we could all watch for awhile before the meeting.

The biggest motel in town was the Palms, owned by City Councilor Tommy Tomson. The Greyhound station was the modest building still on the northeast corner of Lohman and Campo. We had two drive-in theaters and two movie theaters on Main Street, but the Allen Theaters were a ways off yet.

When I bought a house on Ethel Street in 1975, it cost $17,000.

NMSU played football in an ancient little field right on University Avenue. Journalism was so casual that when the County Commission’s Friday meeting yielded approval of a county bond issue to help finance a new NMSU football stadium, subject to a referendum that would be the year’s biggest local political issue, the commissioners asked the reporters present to hold the story ‘til the official announcement Monday. Two of us refused.

It was a far smaller town. More of a community. A higher proportion of the population speaking Spanish. A town deeper contact with made me love.

Peter Goodman's Opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.