The first place I headed on my trip was Shiprock, New Mexico. Not sure why–but I just feel better if I go the farthest-away places first, and get them out of the way. Long ago, I’d heard there was mutton stew on the menu at the KFC. When I called to confirm, the guy who answered the phone said, “Hell yeah man, we got it” in a very New Mexican accent. That proud response has echoed in my head ever since, so of course I stopped at the KFC first thing.
The KFC has been spruced up and moved since I was there last. It’s about the only thing that has been spruced up and moved.
I walked in and stood in line. I was the only non-Navajo in the place. And I was the only person to order the Navajo food on the menu: mutton stew with a side of frybread.
While I was waiting, I managed to spill my ice tea all over, and got to chatting with the woman who mopped it up. After I sat down with my stew, Linda came out on her break and said, “Can I eat with you?”
So nice! This never happens to me, the lonesome travel writer. Linda and I chatted about Shiprock–no new businesses, she said, except…guess what it is? I could not even begin to imagine what Shiprock might already have too many of. Give up?
A laundromat. Apparently, they need more laundromats in Shiprock like they need holes in their head, but here’s a new one opening up.
I asked her about the air pollution–it seemed better since the last time I was here, I said. Maybe the regulations on the coal plant made a difference? She said she hadn’t noticed a thing, but admitted, “Maybe I’m just too rezzed out, you know?”
All the while, I was eating my stew. It was terrible.
Completely bland, with “baby” carrots bobbing in the watery broth, and pieces of meat that were all mysterious gristle. I eyed Linda’s fried chicken with envy.
Still, I left that late lunch so happy, so nourished. A stranger had chatted me up, laughed at me (for ordering the “Navajo stew”) and with me, and given me advice (stew across street is better, but it’s best at the flea market, where you can sit in the air and the dust). I told Linda I’d keep an eye out for her at the new laundromat, and drove off to see what they’d done with Four Corners, now that it has moved.
Much later in the trip, I ate some more mutton stew, at the Pueblo Harvest Cafe in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. The place has been given a makeover and now it looks like pretty much any casual restaurant in a pueblo casino (even though there’s not a casino here), and the menu is all over the place. But the mutton stew was really good. Thick and lamby, with great bread on the side. I wish I’d ordered a bowl, not just a cup.
But I ate it all alone.
I can’t bring myself to axe the KFC from the guidebook, even though it’s a terrible meal–who knows what other adventures readers might have when they stop in? Likewise, I can’t get really feverishly excited about the Pueblo Harvest Cafe, but maybe if I’d been sharing the meal with someone…
This is a prime example of the guidebook writer’s dilemma–recommend fundamental quality, or experience? I wrote about this same problem a few years ago, using some examples closer to home in Astoria, Queens. I guess it’s just a lesson I have to keep learning…