We lost one of our own last week, one of the most notable and well known of our small community of vendors. He was also one of my closest friends, my partner and ally when times were tough and they were trying to shut us down. We went to court together when the state was citing vendors for “misuse of public lands” and shared the joy of final victory when the statute we were charged with was declared unconstitutionally vague and nobody ever again would be cited for it. We were partners in resistance and like any good partnership, we knew we could rely on each other and each of us had strengths and abilities that the other lacked which made us very effective in the tangled and troubled world of gorge bridge vendor politics. He had a vision for the future of vending at the bridge, a vision that was expansive, open and accepting of newcomers. He wanted everyone to have the same chance he had but he also wanted them to be mature and responsible. His vision went went way beyond the confines of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and the vendors there. One of the things he often said was “You have to eat to make a turd”. That’s it in a nutshell. We all have the right to feed ourselves and keep ourselves alive. If they tell you the way you’re doing it is not allowed, do it anyway, defy and resist them, you weren’t put on this earth to starve to death. When we won in court he felt it didn’t just apply to us, he saw it as a precedent for the whole state of New Mexico.
He was old school in the best way possible, an archetypal American man, the sort you might encounter reading Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, or Jack Kerouac but living in the flesh. He wasn’t formally educated but he was shrewd and clever, an instinctively good businessman and salesman. He was physically tough and lived a rugged lifestyle. He acquired a lot of useful skills in his life. He could fix cars and build houses but he was an artist as well, a talented and skilled wood carver. He lived up to his name. He was feisty and combative but always morally principled. When other vendors were setting up by the highway where the foot traffic was better, he would set up where it was safe and his customers were not in danger of being run over, even if it meant less money. He did his best to get other vendors to do the same. In a community that doesn’t have or easily accept leaders, he was influential and he achieved that with his character, toughness, and vision. He had a young son who was the world to him and several grown children. He was always active and engaged. He wasn’t planning on dying, death just happened to him. He’s left this world but his vision remains, a vision for all of us who vend at the bridge and elsewhere, for all of us who live by our art and our wits.