Nothing beats country music on a road trip. 

Last weekend, I took a drive to get some equipment repaired. Long stretches of open road called for loud singing, pensive thoughts and hopes the Cowboys would win (they didn’t—good thing I didn’t bet money, Dennis Tim). 

On the radio, country singer Eric Church strummed one of my favorite songs. He can almost read my thoughts and put them to a simple tune. Even though I was already hundreds of miles away, he brought me back home with his song “Hell of a View.” 

He’s holding the hand of his girl, his muse. It reminds me of our Valley; reminds me that, to be inspired by something beautiful, you must be willing to take a chance on it. 

In the song, the man encourages her to take a leap of faith. This ain’t for everybody, the song continues, and it ain’t always heaven this living on the edge. 

It’s almost like he’s talking to me, and to all of us, saying that change is hard but we have nothing to lose when we jump into the unknown together. 

 As he embraces the girl, we embrace our Valley. He says, “You holding me, holding you...That’s a hell of a view.” 

But it ain’t always heaven. 

Last week, someone jumped the fence of our yard at home. With the surgical precision of a professional, someone sawed off the catalytic converter to my van, the one I use for catering. As if that weren’t enough, the person proceeded to saw off the catalytic converter to my truck, too. 

They didn’t finish that job, but the damage was done. Either spooked or overcome by the prospect of carrying off two catalytic converters, they left with just one. According to police, these converters can fetch anywhere from $50 to $250 on the streets, depending on the make and model of the vehicle. The cost to replace them? A cool $10,000.    

There are many crimes being committed in our Valley. Last week, according to the Rio Grande SUN, one of the burglars who stole over $100,000 worth of jewelry from Alicia Fine Jewelers was arrested. Police said the culprits lowered themselves from a roof vent to gain entry. They were caught by an eagle-eyed police officer who pulled over a young woman wearing some of the stolen jewelry. His work led police to her boyfriend, one of the accused burglars.

There have been calls to bring in the State Police to protect the citizens of the Valley, because the Española Police Department and Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office apparently can’t handle the increase in violence. 

 I would disagree with that assessment. The problem isn’t one of quantity of officers, though I argue we need to pay them better and, indeed, attract more of them.

There is one common denominator with these problems. Many crimes and the people committing them are compelled by drug addiction. Whether you call it substance use disorder, drug abuse or soemthing else, it’s a problem of staggering proportions. A word by any other name still describes the crisis we’re experiencing today. 

Many of those addicted to illegal drugs don’t live by the same standards and judicial norms, so imposing seemingly normal methods of punishment won’t solve the problem. There is no right and wrong for them. Their only motivation is to prevent the pain of drug withdrawal. Their biggest struggle is to find the next high. Neither crime, morality, nor even laws matter.   

We need a new approach and radical change. Perhaps we should make long-term drug rehabilitation mandatory when drugs are involved in a crime. One possible remedy could be to bring back work programs for accused criminals to clean, maintain and beautify the city during their addiction treatment. 

   Continuing to sweep the addiction problem under the rug, and failing to believe it’s happening in our families, has not and will not work.

   Let’s make rehabilitation real, lasting and mandatory. Change is scary, and no one likes it. Tough love works, but it starts with admitting there’s a problem and being strong enough to hold our loved ones accountable — and finding treatment. 

   How many times have we chosen the status quo and looked the other way because confronting the problem is too difficult, or because it makes us realize that the people we love aren’t as perfect as we thought or, even worse, that their addiction is a reflection on us?

It has never been jito’s fault. He’s just hanging with the wrong crowd. Or her boyfriend made her do it. Jita is never to blame. We must destroy the mijito syndrome one jito/jita at a time. The cost of not doing so will bankrupt our community.   

The words of Eric Church come on the radio again. I smile and he’s singing another one of my favorites. 

“These sleepy streetlights on every sidewalk...shed a light on everything that used to be. Give me back my hometown, ‘cause this is my hometown.”   

Javier Sánchez is the former mayor of the City of Española, NM, and the co-owner of La Cocina New Mexican Restaurant. He writes a bi-monthly column for the Rio Grande SUN. 


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