Once Upon A Time In Albuquerque

buttercup

Back in my HMO days, the company I worked for acquired a small HMO plan in Albuquerque.  Because I managed the appeals and complaints department, and all the regulatory issues and processes had to be coordinated between the two states, I was part of the conversion team.  I traveled there several times for various meetings and seminars, working to hammer out how things would be overseen and managed.  One of the things that came under that jurisdiction was the member magazine (HMO folks are called “members” not “insureds”–there’s your insurance trivia for the day) that informed everyone about the changes in ownership and the appeals and grievance policy for the company.  Down in Albuquerque, this magazine was the sole property of one woman, let’s call her “Becky”. 

I had already been down there a couple of times for group sessions, meetings with the team who would be handling the appeals for NM, and other folks, but I had not yet met up with Becky.  Her reputation preceded her, though, as everyone kind of rolled their eyes when they talked about her.  I wasn’t sure whether it was because she was eccentric, contrary, unwilling to participate in the inevitable takeover or a combination of all three.  Regardless, it was my job to meet with her and bring her into the fold, and most likely eventually fold “her” magazine into the other corporate communications and print materials that would now be created at a central location.  In other words, while I wasn’t there to fire her, I was certainly going to put the handwriting on the wall.  I completely understood why she might not want to have anything to do with me.

On this particular meeting, I flew.  I had that option every time, but usually I preferred to drive.  This time, I had to get in and get out in a hurry as some other work thing was waiting for me in Pueblo.  Then, we flew Mesa Airlines from Colorado Springs, hop out on the tarmac to a 20-or-so-seater and be in ABQ in about 45 minutes.  Remember, this was in 1997 and 1998.  Flying was simpler then.  Also, there weren’t very many cell phones.  My flight was fine, putting me in Albuquerque in the late afternoon.  The plan was for me to call Becky and then confirm our meeting in the morning.  I had a hotel near the office and was planning on taking a shuttle, just your standard business trip.  I got off the plane, made my way to a pay phone (remember those?) and called.  Becky and I chatted for a few minutes about meeting times, etc.  I told her I was heading to the hotel and would see her in the morning.  Then she popped the question.

“I could pick you up.  Do you ride?”  I admit to being taken back for just a moment, but we were, after all, in New Mexico.  I could sense on the other end of the line that a challenge  was being given.  I needed to be honest.

“I haven’t ridden in a long time,” I said, “But, yes, I can ride.”  And, in fact, I CAN ride.  I love to ride.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever written about my love of horses and riding, but it used to be one of the great joys of my life.  The conversation went on.

“How are you dressed?”  It was a valid question.  Obviously, I wasn’t going side-saddle in stilettos.  I happened to be wearing pretty appropriate clothing–a pair of soft slacks, a plain shell and flat leather shoes–nothing that couldn’t be tossed in the washer after an equine encounter.  I told her as much.  She told me she had to pick up her son from school and then they would come and get me, maybe half an hour.  I said fine, got the description of her car, and parked myself by a window to wait.

To be honest, I was looking forward to it.  It had been way too long since I’d had the opportunity to ride.  Becky and her son showed up in due time, and we headed out to the stables.  Apparently her husband was either in the Air Force or retired from the Air Force and she was able to board her horses at the base stables for a very low fee–something that’s really great if you don’t have land of your own to put them on.  I have to say I was surprised when she mentioned her husband, because even in those days before I really thought about coming out, the first thing I thought when I saw her was LES. BEE. ANN.  Seriously, she pinged my gaydar hard.  Not in the way of being attracted to her, though she was certainly a nice looking woman, but just that whole vibe.  If you don’t understand the concept of gaydar, I can’t explain it any better than that.  She was a tall woman, my height, proportioned–not overweight, but not skinny either.  She had short, reddish-strawberry blonde hair, and very capable looking hands.  I notice hands, okay.  But that stood to reason, since she had horses.

Anyway, we made chit-chat on the way over with her son in the back.  He was maybe 11 and looked just like her.  Once we got to the stables, he ran off on his own and Becky got down to business.  She asked me if I rode Western or English, and I told her I’d done both, but wasn’t as familiar with saddling Western style.  The saddles are more forgiving for amateur riders, but far more difficult to get on the horse, being a lot heavier and with the clunky stirrups.  No matter, she had both horses saddled and ready in no time.

“I’m putting you on Buttercup,” she said with a straight face.  Buttercup was a nice enough looking horse, probably over ten years old, and a nice buff/dun color.  I was fine with Buttercup, but also understood that with horses, as with people, looks can be deceiving.  Thankfully, there was a mounting block that we both used, and shortly we were off on a trail ride across the New Mexico desert.  I don’t remember what time of year it was, but probably spring or fall, as it wasn’t blazing hot in the late afternoon.  She took us out on a trail and we walked the horses side by side for a while, talked a little business, talked a little personal stuff as women do.  Buttercup was a sweet ride, and I was getting the feel of her.  She didn’t take much handling, but I kept her gathered just the same, trying to be ready just in case she turned out to be a ringer.  When I was eight years old, I had a supposedly “steady” horse take off with me out of nowhere, and managed to get it settled down without falling off.  It was only the second time I’d ridden at that particular place and the wrangler was pretty impressed.  I didn’t tell him I was more afraid of hitting the ground than I was of staying on!

We wandered and ambled.  Trotted some, cantered a little bit.  It’s hard to carry on a conversation on a trotting horse.  Becky’s ride was a little bit more spirited, but it was obvious that he and Buttercup were old mates as there was no nipping or nudging.  After maybe an hour or so, we starting circling back to the stables, ending up on a stretch of dirt road where we built up a little speed again.  I was really enjoying myself and told Becky so.  She glanced over at me.

“I wasn’t sure what to think at first, but you’ve got a really light seat and good hands.”  If you don’t ride, that’s a real compliment.  I means I sat lighter on the horse than I looked like I would standing on the ground.  Plus, I didn’t haul and saw on the reins, pulling on the horse’s mouth.  People think you control a horse like that.  You don’t.  It’s mostly the feel of your balance in the saddle, shifting your weight, and a little guidance on the sides of the neck with the reins, especially for Western riding.  Buttercup and I got along fine.

Shortly, we were back at the stables.  We dismounted, and walked the horses to cool them, got them fed, watered, brushed and put up.  Becky’s son helped.  I figured she’d just drop me off at the hotel, but she surprised me by asking if I wanted to go get Mexican food with them.  I said sure, and we hit a local place with great food and had a nice dinner.  I was a little stiff by the time I got to my room that night, but it was well worth it.  Becky had mellowed, and I figured the next day would go well, which it did.  We had our meeting, got things straightened out for the corporate hoo-has, and I bid Becky a fond farewell and told her to give Buttercup a pat for me.  We didn’t meet again.

I sure am glad she didn’t ask me if I could play golf!

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2 thoughts on “Once Upon A Time In Albuquerque

  1. What fun! I used to ride quite a bit, hunt seat. I jumped in high school. I’m told I have good hands and a nice seat. An aunt of mine raises and breeds Arabians – I used to love hanging out there!

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