Work of Art - Double axels, double features

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By Art Trujillo

Two things that generate a lot of nostalgia have been in the news lately: The prospect of bringing back the skating pond at Montezuma and the possibility of Las Vegas’ soon being without a drive-in theater.
First the skating pond. It’s hard to pinpoint the year people stopped using the rink, located next to a steep cliff just beyond the community of Montezuma.
My family and I checked out the area last week, even before articles about the pond began appearing in the news. Because of the height of the mountain immediately to the west, the pond remains shaded and frozen for long periods.
Even though never the expert and not even a skater of any sort, I applaud efforts like those of Councilman Joey Herrera, who is talking up the idea of restoring that wonderful place where many people gathered.
As a student at Highlands back in the ‘60s, I often joined others on trips to the pond, where we’d have cookouts, where we’d pay a visit to a small concession stand operated by a service club, and where those who were able to, skated for hours.
Even non-skaters enjoyed trips to Montezuma. Once, during an ice carnival, some of the more talented skaters put on exhibitions. I recall watching the late Ed Nitczinski performing a figure skating routine, along with others, whose names I forget.
Admittedly, restoring the rink is not simply a matter of people slipping on a pair of skates; it takes planning, teamwork, maintenance and money. It’s ironic that the facility somehow just was abandoned a few decades ago and yet the dam site is blessed with a splendid natural setting for skating.
Ted Maestas put me in touch with Joe Padilla, someone who really knows his blades. Because of their proximity to the pond, “Just about everybody in Montezuma skated regularly,” according to Padilla, a Montezuma resident and former City Schools superintendent. Padilla said there actually are or were nine dams in the region. “Most people skated by Dam No. 3.” In those days, he said, the season began around Thanksgiving and lasted into February. Padilla said that Saturdays and Sundays being the most popular days, cars often lined up all the way from the parking area down to the village of Montezuma, “and often there were 100 people on the ice, some playing hockey, some playing ‘tag,’ and some even playing ‘crack the whip.’”
In the mid-’60s, Montezuma seminarians would join Highlands students at the pond.
Padilla referred to a spirit of volunteerism in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when people would keep the skating pond in good condition by cleaning and scraping the ice. He said he was on skates as early as age of 3, and that many youngsters learned the ice by having instructions passed on by the elders.
What’s the reason we let the facility drop? I believe we can resuscitate it. I urge interested members of the public — including students at the United World College, Highlands University and Luna Community College — to support the idea of restoring a skating pond that once was a big draw in and around Las Vegas.
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And on the subject of big draws:
We don’t realize how lucky we are to still have a drive-in theater. Coverage in the news reveals that advancing technology may be the reason for its possible closing.
The old 35mm film format is giving way to electronic, digital technology, which makes the acquiring of movies expensive. The mechanics of making a conversion were alluded to in Monday’s Optic.
But yet — and here’s the nostalgia factor again — it’s a joy to observe how people spend their evenings at the Fort Union Drive-In Theater during the warm months. Last summer, when my grandson and namesake and I were preparing an Optic photo page on night life in Las Vegas, we were amused to see so many pickups backing up to their spaces rather than driving forward.
That’s when we noticed the lawn chairs coming out, with theater patrons settling down to watch the movies, without obstructions such as windshields. Some people even have spread out air mattresses and sleeping bags to make the stay more comfortable. And now people listen to the soundtracks through their FM car radios rather than the bulky car-mounted speakers of yesteryear.
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A minister only recently delivered a sermon that highlighted the evolution of the way people look at cinema. He said in the olden days, in many cities of a size comparable to Las Vegas, one of the biggest downtown buildings was the local movie theater.
As the auto became more affordable, he said, drive-in theaters outside of town began to appear. Eventually, with the advent of videotape that fit into a cassette, the VHS machine made its brief appearance, to be replaced by the DVD — complete movies on a five-inch disk.
That bit of technology gave birth to businesses that would rent movies for two or three days at a time. The minister said that in many small towns, the most active business soon became a Blockbuster-type outfit.
Even those are gone, as people opt to stream movies on their computers, laptops and cell phones. Now there are kiosks that dispense movies for rent.
True, technology changes things. But the fact that we’re a historic town, home to 700 buildings listed on the National Historic Register, ought to count for something. I proudly tell visitors that Las Vegas has one of only two drive-in theaters in New Mexico, the other being in Las Cruces.
As a native, I like to play the we-still-have-one-in-Vegas card. Please, Las Vegans, let’s do all  we can to keep the Fort Union Drive In.
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Is there an Edgar Allan Poe-tic way of announcing that it wasn’t in the cards for the San Francisco 49ers to win their sixth Super Bowl, with no losses?
Here’s one: Quoth the Ravens, “Nevermore!”

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 234, art@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.