Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Amazing Race 9: Albuquerque

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Proposal:  a new fish-out-of-water reality TV show. 

Backstory:  Separated couple Neil and Sophia go to the famous Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque.  It is a once in a lifetime experience as hundreds of multi-colored balloons take off into the sky.   The only problem is that you have to be there at 5:45 A.M.  and it is 30 degrees freezing, and all they have are clothes from Los Angeles.  Afterwards, Neil takes Sophia for lunch to a local "institution" that he read about online on a site dedicated to locals voting on the "Best of Albuquerque."  The food is awful.  Sophia says that every restaurant he found online has ended up being bad.  Neil wonders if perhaps he should have been more suspicious of a site on which locals voted "Domino’s" as the best pizza in town. 

Added twist:  By nightfall, Sophia is sick with a really bad cold from being outside watching the balloons.  She is upset about being sick while away.  She shivers, sneezes and is a little cranky. 

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She asks Neil to bring her some chicken soup. 

Tonight’s episode:  Neil does not know Albuquerque.  Where will he buy Sophia chicken soup?  Can Neil make up for his bad New Mexico culinary choices with the best soup that Albuquerque has to offer?  Is any restaurant open in town past 8 o’clock?  Can he find it quickly?  Can he make Sophia less grouchy?

Opening credits roll for the show.

The clock is ticking.  Neil goes to the front desk clerk at the hotel and asks her if she knows where to get some good chicken soup.  The bleach-blond University of New Mexico student stares at him blankly.

"Huh?"

"Chicken soup."

"Oh.  I don’t live around here.  But sometimes I go to Tia Maria’s for lunch.  You can try there."

The hotel is in a "hotel circle" and there aren’t too many restaurant choices.  Neil drives down the block to Tia Maria. 

To the girl behind Tia Maria’s counter:

"Do you have any soups?"

"We have tortilla soup."

"OK…"

"Let me see if we still have any…"

She leaves for what seems like five minutes.  Neil sees her flirting with some waiter, a dumb-looking college student who Neil thinks looks like the brother of the girl at the hotel’s front desk.  "Tia Maria Girl" finally returns.

"Sorry, no more tortilla soup."

"Can you recommend a place to get some chicken soup.   My wife caught a cold from standing outside at the Balloon festival."

"It sure was awful cold today."

"So, do you know any places for chicken soup?"

"Hmm… if you want chicken, we have a chicken burrito."

"No, thank you.  Soup."

"Oh.  Maybe you should try Applebee’s a mile down.  I think they have soup."

Neil goes to Applebee’s.  Neil meets Laquisha at the front counter, the only black person he will meet in New Mexico. 

"Can I help you?"

"I’d like to order some soup to go."

"You should have driven through our drive-through window."

"Oh, sorry.  Didn’t see it."

"Fine.  Just for next time."

"OK, next time."

"Now walk towards the back near the restroom and you’ll see a sign that says ‘Take-Out.’  Andrea will help you there."

Neil goes to meet Andrea.  She is very cheery.

"Hello there!"

"I’d like to order some soup."

"Excellent.  Which soup?"

"What do you have?"

"Today we have cream of broccoli and French onion."

"Ugh.  That’s not exactly what I was looking for.  Do you have any chicken soup?"

"No.  But everyone loves our cream of broccoli!  It’s one of my favorites."

Neil begins to wonder if the concept of "chicken soup" has ever reached New Mexico.

"Maybe you should try Subway."

"Subway?"

Neil remembers that Subway actually does sell soup.  He remembers he once brought Sophia to Subway and she actually liked her turkey sandwich. 

Neil heads for Subway.  Behind the counter is a high school art-rock dude with Buddy Holly glasses.  He checks out my glasses as I approach.

"Hey, dude, nice glasses."

"Yours too."

"What’cha gonna have?"

"You have soup?"

"Oh, man, you don’t want our soup.  It tastes like shit today.  Can I make you a sandwich?"

"I actually came for the soup."

"Shit, man.  Who comes to Subway for their soup?  Even Jared doesn’t eat our soup."

He guffaws at his own joke.

"Go to David’s Restaurant on Central.  They have good soup."

Neil quickly drives to David’s Restaurant.  He wonders if it is a Jewish deli.   David sounds Jewish, right?

Neil enters David’s Restaurant.  It looks like a broken down shack.  A painting of Jesus is on the wall.  A song plays with the refrain "Jesus is the Reason."  David looks like a Hell’s Angel.

"Uh, you wouldn’t have chicken soup, would you?"

"Yes, we do!"

"Alright!"

Neil gives a secret thumbs up sign towards the painting of Jesus.

"My wife got a cold at the Balloon Fiesta."

"That’s too bad.  I’ll put in some green chile peppers.  That always helps when my wife has a cold."

"Interesting."

"Green chile peppers have a lot of Vitamin C."

"Hey, thanks a lot!  My wife… well, actually, we’re separated…

Neil likes this guy so much that he feels like opening up to him.

"… and I’m not sure what’s going on.  We have a good time, but we still fight a lot, but she’s… she’s… my father just… well…anyway, she’s going to love this soup."

"She sure will.  Maybe it’ll even save your marriage."

Neil rushes back to the hotel, making it back in the Amazing Race’s allotted time.  Sophia is in bed, sniffling, moaning, watching the even-worse-than-LA local Albuquerque news.  Neil flies through the door.

"Here I am — with some great chicken soup!"

Sophia takes a sip of the soup.

"Yuch!  What’s in this soup — chile peppers?"

Neil tastes the soup.  It’s awful.  Neil remembers that painting of Jesus and how he was smiling.  Has Neil just been "Punk’d" by Jesus?

"Thanks a lot, Jesus!"

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33 Comments

  1. I think there are an awful lot of people who have been Punk’d by Jesus.

  2. Brilliant, you’ll soon be rich with all these reality TV concepts. What will it be tomorrow, couscous?
    And Sophia, I hope you feel better.

  3. Oy, I was ready to move to Albuquerque after seeing your photos of the amazing balloon festival but now…no way, I can’t be that far from Jews and kreplach. Last night I met my orthodox cousins visiting from Israel for a post-Shabbat dinner on Pico and we had about 20 kosher restaurants to choose from (at 10 pm) in a three-block radius. Get back here before Kol Nidre, Sophia needs to recuperate in the hood.

    P.S. I made my own killer chicken soup last week. Wish I could give Sophia some.

  4. Poor Sophia. Who knew that there would be no good food in Alberquerque.

  5. how many husbands would do that for their wife? no bias, but what a wonderful husband you have sophia.

  6. Poor Sophia. I hope you feel better soon!

    You are a sweetie pie, Neil. I agree with your mama.

  7. You are pretty fabulous, even down to the Jesus tie-in. Nicely rounded out — are you putting these in your portfolio as writing samples? You should, you know…

  8. I’m hooked. I also see it appears to be ready to come out on DVD – that’s fast! Are there special features? Will you and Sophia do a commentary? That would be … um, engaging? Especially as you discuss the scene where you arrive back with chicken soup flavoured by green chile peppers.

    For what it’s worth … I like rye and ginger ale when I have a cold. The alcohol helps dry up the sinuses and gets you a bit tipsy, and illness tends to be more tolerable under those conditions. It’s about the only time I ever drink rye and ginger.

    I’m told I’m a hoot when I’m sick. Get well, Sophia.

  9. don’tcha know they put chiles in everything in the southwest?

  10. Neil, reality-shmality…
    These posts of yours are sit-coms with brilliant writers. “Bridget Loves Bernie” has become “Neil & Sophie Try To Make It Work.” “Love American Style” has become “Love Separated But Not Really Sure About Their Status Style.”
    But most importantly, “Everybody Loves Raymond” has become “Everybody Loves Neil & Sophia”. The Neilsen ratings are off the chart for that show!

  11. You should have called me! I would have made her chicken soup and brought it over. Sorry for the stupidity of some people in this town…it drives me crazy all the time!

  12. oh man….snatching defeat from the jaws of victory… so sorry…

  13. I think more people might go to church if they gave sermons about Jesus punking people.

  14. LOL…Neil you crack me up all the time 🙂

  15. why is that i envision dick van dyke’s defeated look on your face as the show fades to black? you stopped writing comedy because??? david’s is no 2nd Ave. Deli. that’s for sure. chili peppers, bah!

  16. My grandma & mom live in Abq (I will never spell that word)….you can give them a call…they make terrific chicken soup!

  17. i SOOO wanted the soup to be delicious. punk’d by Jesus! ha ha ha.

    being sick while away from home blows. hope sophia feels better. you tried your best neil!

  18. My husband wouldn’t have gone through all that trouble to find me some chicken soup.

  19. I cannot imagine not being able to find chicken soup. It just seems so wrong.

  20. Well, that matzo ball soup looks really good in the picture. Sorry you couldn’t find any of that in NM!

  21. This doesn’t exactly make me want to go to Albuquerque. I guess I’ll make sure not to be sick when I go there.

    Hope Sophia is feeling better. Sorry Jesus punk’d you!

  22. Ummmm, Neil, viruses cause colds, not weather. But chicken soup can kill viruses. You are one persistent guy!

  23. If I had a husband who’d drive around town like that for me…

  24. I pulled something similar on my fiance, just to see if he’d actually do it. I asked him to buy me rice cakes at midnight on a Friday near Pitt’s campus…there aren’t any grocery stores within walking distance and he went to four different convenience stores looking for them. All the clerks laughed at him, and he came back empty-handed.

    Then I told him it was only a test.

    I think he was ready to kill me, but that’s how I knew I could have a long-term relationship with him.

    I don’t know what it means, though, when you actually come back with the sought-after food item and it turns out to be less than satisfactory.

    It was sweet of you to go to all that effort!

  25. I just wanted you to know that even though I haven’t been commenting lately, I’ve read all of your recent posts, and as usual – they are all fabulous. How is it that you are not a world famous writer? Your stuff is better than half of the Border’s inventory.

  26. That was fantastic, Neil. Absolutely great.

    The picture at the end reminded me of the movie Dogma with “Buddy Christ.”

  27. I couldn’t stop thinking about chicken soup after reading this. So, today, I made some and it was pretty darn good. I even left out the chili peppers! 🙂

  28. Mmm… sounds good, Mo. Just in time for the day before Yom Kippur.

  29. Maybe I can express mail you some knaidlech (matzo balls); I made the batter a short while ago, and will prepare them tomorrow to eat in chicken soup before the fast. And if that doesn’t suffice, my hubby makes a great-tasting kreplach stuffed with chicken or ground beef.
    He’s a cook/baker trapped in the body of an accountant. How sad…

  30. Enjoyed this Amazing Race story. You all were just down the street from my home (near Hotel Circle). I could have warmed up some Cambells Chicken Noodle soup in the microwave for Sophia and I would never add chile to it. Just like you shouldn’t add carrots to Green Chile Stew. There is a proper time and a place for Chile people.

  31. I just came back from visiting my son in Albuquerque and had to bring him 5 pounds of pastrami, 5 lbs of corn beef and 5 pounds of brisket.l. and of course challah – direct from michigan!!

  32. Neil. I’m minding my own business on vacation in Santa Fe and do a search on Google for Tia Marias and low and behold, all roads lead to Neil. Again.

  33. I live in Albuquerque…and yes its hard to get good kosher food! Although, the Hyatt Downtown has excellent matzo ball soup! And Whole Foods makes a pretty mean Challah.

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