Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

The Newspaper Vendor

For 14 years, I have purchased the Friday and Sunday editions of the Santa Fe New Mexican from this man, let’s call him John. Recently he added the New York Times, so I buy the Sunday edition of that paper as well. John stands at the busy corner of Don Gaspar and Alameda right in the center of town, in rain, sleet, snow and scorching heat, every day of the week except for his day off on Monday. In his late 70′s, he is more reliable than most of our mail carriers.

Usually when I drive up to the stop sign across from him, John is either looking down intently organizing his money or patiently helping some lost tourist with directions. I watch the confused and frustrated driver, usually a man, take five minutes of John’s time then drive away without buying a paper or giving him a tip for saving his day and likely his marriage. I tell John all the time that the Chamber of Commerce should have him on its payroll.

We always exchange a few pleasantries which last as long as the traffic will allow. Over the years as I have come to know John just a bit, the exchange has branched out from how are you today to a quick tidbit from him on the latest town gossip or an article I should be sure to read. He has a wicked sense of humor and the laugh to go with it, a low pitched hee hee hee. And he is very well read. He does not just sell those papers, he reads every inch of them.

Often in the summer he will take an entire week or even two weeks of vacation. One year he visited some place in Latin America. A few years ago, after an extended absence, I pulled up and asked whether he was just returning from a fun vacation. John responded, “No, it wasn’t a vacation. I had to deliver a paper in Japan.”

Now that scrambled my brain for a minute. I had two simultaneous thoughts: who the hell is that desperate to read the New Mexican that he would fly John over to Japan to deliver a copy, and, at the same time, oh no, this does not bode well for John’s mental health. Seeing my befuddled expression, John hee hee hee’d and explained, “When I was a scientist at the Los Alamos Laboratory, my area of expertise was moon travel. A group in Japan asked me to speak, to deliver a paper about my research.”

I had heard that John worked at the Lab for many years, many years ago. Seems he had a breakdown and had to rearrange his life. Along the way I also learned he had graduated from Andover. My neighbor’s father had attended the school at the same time. He said John was brilliant.

So here’s the point. Never ever judge a book by its cover. The contents may delight you despite the ripped jacket. And if you are ever in Santa Fe, stop by and buy your paper from John. Be sure to give him a nice little tip. He will, I promise you, say, “Well, thank you very much!”


  1. Ann Murdy says:

    Great human interest story, very touching. It’s very true, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.

  2. I knew part of John’s story but what you wrote made me want to stop to talk with him. I wonder if he wants to talk or prefers to keep his story for himself. Thanks for posting this, Susan!

    • Susan Tungate says:

      Thanks for your comment Patrizia. Best not to chat with him about his story. Took me 14 years to learn what I included in the post. He told me what he wanted me to know. I never felt it was for me to ask for more. Thanks again for reading.Susan

  3. Betsy Walker says:

    I’m wondering if this is the same newspaper seller who ran for City Council a few years back…? He was not in my district, so I couldn’t vote for him. But I would have if I could have. Like “John” he read the paper front-to-back every day. He was extremely verbal about the plight of the homeless here in Santa Fe and put that at the top of his political agenda. I’m sorry he wasn’t voted onto the council.

    • Susan Tungate says:

      Greetings, Betsy. I know exactly the man you are referring to and, no, “John” is a different person.
      Same book by the cover issue, though. Thanks for reading. Susan

Speak Your Mind