the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Balloon Fiesta

The Amazing Race 9: Albuquerque


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. 


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.


"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."


"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."


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!"


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."


"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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